Open thread on AETV #824: The Failure of Scripture

Don Baker and Russell Glasser on The Failure of Scripture.


  1. says

    I don’t mean to be rude, so I apologize in advance.

    I’m just puzzled how at times the screeners or the hosts of the show cannot tell when someone calling is just doing it to hear himself talk. I know the excuse is that there are theists who do truly believe these claims and make them publicly and I also agree with Matt that some shit callers can lead to good discussions, but today was a textbook example of a waste of time.

    Also – and though I can’t be absolutely sure, but I’d bet money on it – the two “theist” callers were the same person. The tone of the questions (pausing for a moment as if reading them off a list), the attitude in the questioning, and just the voice itself was the same. It appears through past experience that most of the bogus callers use pedestrian names (Tom, John, Tim, etc.) from (large metro city in the US) and follow this form fairly closely.

    Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it just seems that by now the production team should be wise to such things. Perhaps I’m not cutting enough slack. A live show is difficult to pull off. It just seems you have such a short time to present each week and it would seem best not to waste it on throwaway calls.

  2. unfogged says

    There’s an old joke about a company losing money on every unit it sells but making it up in volume. Sometimes the theist arguments sound like that to me. Sure, each one on its own offers nothing of value but when you add up all the hundreds of zeros it must total to something, right?

  3. jacobfromlost says

    “Also – and though I can’t be absolutely sure, but I’d bet money on it – the two “theist” callers were the same person.”

    I went back and listened, and I don’t think they the same person. The phone connection isn’t very good, and sometimes that makes voices seem more similar. (Listening to speech patterns helps also.)

    But I do share your concerns with trolls. I know the counterargument is that some people just have crazy beliefs and so they all have to be treated as genuine (and that “sometimes” crazy believers just have crazy beliefs so why would we think caller ABC is a troll?), but what is sometimes ignored is that a show like this ATTRACTS trolls, so that the likelihood of trolling is far more probable than some may realize.

    I would agree that the first caller just went on way too long after it was so very obvious he was trolling (I would say it was obvious after his first couple sentences of inappropriate laughter at his own arguments). He kept waiting for someone to call him on it, and no one did, so he just kept going.

    What I find fascinating about the variety of levels of people’s powers of observation is that even after someone like “Mark” was outed as a congenital troll and all of his various calls compiled into over two hours on a youtube vid, you STILL have most of the commenters on that youtube vid thinking his is totally legit!

    To reiterate, people can sit and WATCH 2 hours of a guy trolling with different names and voices (many of them the worst attempts at accents ever heard) and completely different personal histories and argumentative approaches…and they STILL think he is real!

    For the most part these calls are entertaining, but at a certain point it starts to feel like the hosts are falling for a very badly executed prank that a tiny bit of skepticism would eliminate.

    Matt’s approach of flatly hanging up, or flatly asking them point blank if they are a prank caller should be used more often. You can’t always tell just from a voice reaction to that question, but quite often you can.

    When one of my high school students tells me something I know from experience has a 95% chance of being a lie, I flatly tell them, “I don’t believe you” while looking them straight in the eyes and then measuring their reaction. Obviously that is far more difficult to do over the phone, but I would suggest something like a *confidant*, “I don’t believe you are a real caller” or “I don’t believe this is a genuine call” and then remain SILENT to judge their reaction. Some red flags could be ignoring the question completely and immediately talking a bit too fast, disingenuous offense, feigned stupidity–“I don’t know what you mean. This is Mark from Austin Stone”–or a pause that feels just a little bit too long followed by one of the previous things.

  4. Chip Cherry says

    I’m guessing that the screeners only share a few sentences worth of conversation with the callers. I doubt anyone would have been able to peg these callers as trolls in such a short period of time.

  5. says

    The first guy was snickering the whole time, I could hear him. The fact that he had no arguments and just jumped around disparate talking points outed him immediately.

    You guys have to be quicker with dispatching the trolls.

  6. The Divine Phallusy says

    Hell yes! My endless complaints for the return of the Non-Prophets have paid off! FSM be praised, ’tis a glorious day.

    On another note- Russell, is there any way that us die-hard fans of the Non-Prophets could get access to pre-4.13 episodes? I’ve wanted to hear these mysterious eps for a while now. I remember on a very old show you, Jeff, Denis, and Matt discussing a listener who had the old shows saved.

    Oh, and now you can officially take down the hiatus notice on the Non-Prophets site now! Congrats! I look forward to many an “asshat.”

    Are these going to be done via Google Hangout?

  7. thebookofdave says

    On the plus side, none of these callers tried to run out the clock on a clumsy Gish Gallop. Keeping them focused on topic long enough to rebut individual claims and get a straight response seems to have dragged down the pace of recent shows. Don was able to devote quite a bit of time to this week’s topic and still have time for six call-ins.

  8. thebookofdave says

    After the closing credits, Don reappeared to ask if there were going to be any more calls taken off-air. Don’t taunt us like that! I can’t help the feeling that the best stuff always happens after the show ends.

  9. Antithesys says

    Here’s my take on it and why both of the callers screamed “obvious troll” to me within just a couple minutes.

    If you’re calling from anywhere in the world besides Austin, it’s unlikely that you’re just “stumbling onto” TAE. You’ve found it because you’re actively looking for this material: someone forwarded it to you, or it was recommended to you by Youtube because you were watching similar material, etc. And the vast majority of the YT clips are highlights of the worst, sub-remedial theist arguments being effortlessly crushed by the hosts over the past decade. So if you’re a person who lives anywhere besides Austin, and you hold beliefs such as “science is just a theory,” it’s unlikely that you’re going to get to the point where you actually want to wait until Sunday to call in without having those basic arguments addressed for you long before you pick up the phone.

    It’s possible a person from Austin might wander around the dial, find the show, and call in to ask if we’ve “looked at the trees”, because they have no buffer. They were able to jump right in without the reruns. But the rest of the planet usually gets introduced to the show through this introductory wall of smackdowns. When theists from out of town call in, they typically have “better” arguments, trending more towards apologetics. Those arguments are refuted in clips all over YT too, but they’re not really the kind of things that get forwarded or watched casually by people who disagree.

    So when a guy starts firing off rapid-fire, disjointed, sub-remedial nonsense, and he’s calling from Washington, it raises a big flashing red flag. The second guy tried repeating something that he had heard “from another caller a few weeks ago.” Okay, so you’re a fan of the show, but you still ask “can you prove God doesn’t exist?” I know there’s a tendency toward cognitive dissonance among theists, but come on. Obvious Poe is obvious.

    I think Russell can do better.

  10. Dagor_annon says

    I think a large part of the problem is recognized in Poe’s law – if they truly believe, it is indistinguishable from parody.

  11. says

    Kudos for talking about Thomas Paine, whom I consider the “father of modern freethought”. I read “The Age of Reason” and I knew after the third paragraph Paine was a kindred spirit when he wrote “My own mind is my church”.

    Relevant to your last show, Paine made many critical observations on the failure of scripture.

    As Don Baker noted, Paine made the argument which is that revelation is not a sufficient claim of evidence, or in Paine’s own words “It is revelation to the first person only, and heresay to every other person, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it”.

    The second observation apropos to the topic of the failure of scripture is Paine’s observation regarding the bible that, “it is impossible to conceive a story more derogatory to the Almighty, more inconsistent with his wisdom, more contradictory to his power, than this story is”. b/c Satan was capable of “defeating, by stratagem, … all the power and wisdom of the Almighty”, since Satan “compelled the Almighty to the direct necessity either of surrendering the whole of creation to …. Satan or of capitulating for its redemption by coming down upon earth, and exhibiting himself upon a cross in the shape of a man”.

    On a historical note, it is interesting how reviled Paine was for publication of these brilliant thoughts. Even though the fundamentalist fringe has grown significantly in the last 30 years, even as early as Paine’s time, religion had got its insidious little hooks into America.

  12. Lord Narf says

    Ditto. I just listened to the podcast a few hours ago. Both of those guys were fakers.

  13. jdon says

    To be fair to the guy talking about UK prison populations being less religious, that’s true-ish:‎

    Pertinent bits:
    – 29.4% of prison population, 24.1% of general population aged 15+ listed as “No religion”.

    Not atheism, but no religion so only true-ish. And of course he started with a worldwide claim

    However it’s about as good an argument as talking about the higher rates of religion in the US prison system.

  14. Raymond says

    I haven’t verified this, but I was listening to the news on the radio as I was driving today, and they said that over the past 3-5 years, incarcerations in the U.S. are declining. Of course they attributed this to a variety of causes that seemed to stretch believablity (we are finally throwing enough money at the problem, people have just decided to not break the law, we finally have enough rules in place, etc). While I understand that there are a variety of things impacting the incarceration rate in the States, does anyone else find it more than coincidental that the decrease in incarcerations seems to coincide with the increase in atheism in the States? Just something I think might be interesting to look into.

  15. Lord Narf says

    Are you sure that isn’t just new incarceration rates, in the US? Maybe we’ve just got so many people locked up that there aren’t enough people free to keep up the numbers?

  16. Sids says

    It appears through past experience that most of the bogus callers use pedestrian names (Tom, John, Tim, etc.) from (large metro city in the US) and follow this form fairly closely.

    It appears through past experience that most of the legitimate callers also use pedestrian names (Tom, John, Tim, etc.) from (large metro city in the US) and follow this form fairly closely.

    Most people have common names (thats what makes them common), and live in large cities (thats what makes them large). Don’t fall victim to selection bias. Look at all of the data.

  17. Lord Narf says

    Heh, yeah. I was thinking a lot of the same thing, but I haven’t really been involved in this discussion. Something like 90% of the population has the 40 or 50 most common names, probably. And you would expect very religious sorts to lean towards the more common, Biblical names, wouldn’t you?

  18. Transhumanist says

    Regarding the claims on Stalin/Hitler etc. being atheists…

    I think Non-Stamp Collector defeats that claim quite effectively:

  19. Lord Narf says

    Err, I’m getting a whole playlist there. Is there a specific one we should be watching?

  20. says

    I didn’t articulate that very well. Maybe it was due to the text.

    The point I was making with that selection was the it is that in some cases (Matt from Oslo for example) would often use a moniker of Sam from Seattle, Washington to call into the show. As someone mentioned, the screeners may only be taking two or three sentences from a caller and can’t ascertain if they are legitimate or not. Considering Matt’s accent (put on or not) I would think it would be easy to pin him down.

    My position on this was based on frustration more than anything. Therefore I might fall into “selection bias.” This week in particular seemed to have a troll caller that screamed out he was a troll in the midst of his idiotic inquiries and perhaps Russell gave him more time than warranted. The same goes for the second “theist” caller as well. Just my opinion. There’s no doctrine to it.

  21. says

    This is a specious argument. Atheists are people, not gods, so there are good atheists and there are bad atheists. Trying to justify or deal with the minutiae of historical facts regarding Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc is totally unnecessary. It is simply a a theistic tactic to try to discredit atheists, pure and simple.
    Part of the whole idea behind atheism is that unlike religion, the truth and validity of atheism does not depend on any one person, so what one person does in no way vitiates the truth of a principle.

  22. Lord Narf says

    It’s sort of a one-two punch, though.

    First off, it doesn’t matter, even if the theist was correct about Hitler.

    Second, the theist is ignorant or dishonest, since Hitler was not an atheist.

    This can be a good way to demonstrate how bad an argument is, like the first-cause argument. Most formulations of the first-cause argument fail in at least 4 or 5 different places, for different reasons. It doesn’t hurt to nail each one.

    “You’re dead in the water from this point on, because this premise is flawed … but even if it wasn’t, the argument is invalid at this point … and even if there wasn’t that hole there, this part of the argument is circular … and even if we ignore the circular nature of the argument, you’re engaging in special pleading here … and ignoring all of that, it ends in a fat, grotesque argument from ignorance.”

    It’s how you demonstrate that someone isn’t just wrong but fractally wrong.

  23. jacobfromlost says

    “the truth and validity of atheism does not depend on any one person, so what one person does in no way vitiates the truth of a principle.”

    Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. It’s not a claim of any kind, thus has nothing to do with validity or truth. (Atheism isn’t even a belief.)

    Atheism also is not a principle.

    You may be thinking of skepticism, rationalism, humanism, critical thinking, etc. But none of those are required to be an atheist. All that is required to be an atheist is a lack of belief in gods (and a lack of belief by definition isn’t even a belief).

  24. jacobfromlost says

    My other concern (that I’m reluctant to say) is that a troll that goes on that long makes it look as if the hosts are not really that skeptical of anything. They may have indeed only taken the “treat every caller as real” principle too far, but when there are dozens of clues that a caller is a troll and they don’t even ASK the caller, or challenge the caller on those clues…

    I think it mars the image of skepticism a bit (because if you can’t use skepticism and critical thinking a bit of observation to see THAT troll, what use is it elsewhere? when the problems are more subtle and more difficult?).

  25. says

    To be fair Russell and Don are the most sedate and laid a back of the hosts–Matt, Jeff, or Tracy would have challengened them earlier.

  26. jdon says

    If I had to guess I’d say it had more to do with changing laws.

    A lot of people go to prison over simple marijuana use/possession. Now less people do because the laws regarding it have started changing.

    Any argument that atheism is the cause is, to my mind, a pretty desperate grasp at corollary straws.

  27. Vall says

    I think if a caller is using standard arguments, they will address the argument anyway, even if it’s a fake. As long as they aren’t shouting donkey noises from the backseat of their UFO, they usually have at least as good an argument as a true believer.

    An actual religious caller would probably admit personal revelation is important in their beliefs, if not central to it. Jackzega @8 mentioned Paine’s thoughts on revelation, and to boil down every call to that would be boring. Not that Paine is boring, just that he nailed it a long time ago and there really isn’t a way around it.

  28. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, I know some atheists who believe in some bat-shit insane, new-age crap … just not gods. I think you’re glomming a whole bunch of other attributes onto atheism, in the way you’re speaking of it, Jack. Atheism, at its core, is just the rejection of a claim.

  29. Lord Narf says

    Well, Russel pointed him out, as a troll, at the end of the call. He just let him run on for quite a while, before ending it.

  30. says

    He may have wondered but had it cemented by the caller’s Obama comment…they often get criticized for being too quick to hang up on folks–they are in an odd catch 22.

  31. Lord Narf says

    Yup, either way, someone will be upset with the way the call was handled and will want the call to have been treated in the opposite manner.

  32. jacobfromlost says

    I think you guys are being far too generous.

    Matt has handled the trolls well in the past–either immediately hanging up and moving on, or calling them out so forcefully that they hang up and run away.

    No one in my memory has ever complained about that, and I’m in the chat room 99% of the time.

    (Also, I have no idea why the Obama comment is so clearly trollish when none of the other dozen things he said were. There were calls of “troll” in the chat WAY before the half-way point of the call. There was nothing in the Obama comment that was dissimilar from anything else, it was just one MORE.)

  33. Lord Narf says

    I’ve seen them complain about it on here, a lot.

    A lot of the indication that he was a troll was in the tone. Towards the end of the call, he just started tossing crap out there. Plus, the Obama-is-the-anti-Christ crap is the sort of thing you get out of an incoherent fundie, not someone who was attempting logical arguments, like he was earlier in the call.

  34. jacobfromlost says

    “I’ve seen them complain about it on here, a lot.”

    I wouldn’t say “a lot”. And the only ones I can remember complaining seemed to LIKE the trolls calling in because it is entertaining.

    I don’t think the complaint that trolls should be allowed to continue on the grounds of entertainment is exactly the same kind of complaint.

  35. Lord Narf says

    Well, it’s enough that I’ve noticed it, from time to time, anyway. I shouldn’t use weasel words, like “a lot”.

    I think it was more about Matt hanging up on idiots who might not have been trolls, but were definitely idiots, whether real theists or not.

  36. jacobfromlost says

    “I think it was more about Matt hanging up on idiots who might not have been trolls, but were definitely idiots, whether real theists or not.”

    This is where I would say that whenever Matt hung up on someone as a troll, I was just as sure as he was that they were a troll. Could we have been wrong? Sure. But unlikely.

    “George” was actually called correctly by Matt as a troll, and George back-pedaled, acted offended and befuddled, until Matt apologized and George continued, lol.

    I think that is the aim of the trolls–to “get one over” on the hosts. (I think Matt actually did hang up on him at one point, and he called back the following week or so.)

  37. MrPendent says

    This is something I don’t understand. We know that they talk to people past the show time. Why don’t they record the audio for release on the mp3? I never watch the show live (I always stream) and it would be great to have the rest of it. I wouldn’t think they were clearing out of the studio or they wouldn’t be able to continue “off the air”, right?

  38. unfogged says

    If you watch the ustream live there is often 5 or 10 minutes of “aftershow” and they are tearing down the backdrop and moving equipment around and the hosts are packing up. There is a lot of background noise and much of the talk is “we don’t have time to go in depth now, call back next week”. Usually the stream drops in mid-sentence anyway depending on when somebody happens to cut the feed.

    It is worth watching if you catch it but I wouldn’t worry about missing the best stuff if you don’t.

  39. says

    I dunno, I was watching one of Matt’s debates where he was saying for every person who emailed that felt he did a great job on the calls where he hung up on folks, other fellow atheists chewed him out saying that he didn’t have to be such a dick and he was “hurting the cause”…

  40. says

    What I don’t understand is why do some theists used the” Hitler was an atheist” excuse as evidence to prove that all atheists are fascists when in fact there is no correlation between fascism and atheism. There is no relevancy between the two, so there evidence only stands to prove their ignorance. As far as Stalin being an atheist still doesn’t prove that atheism is relevant to Communism. The only thing this proves is that they are the ones who are the bigots because then they are being unreasonably biased.

  41. jacobfromlost says

    Just look at all the murders committed by people throughout history who didn’t believe the Easter Bunny is real. I bet it’s pretty close to 100%. Now think of all of the people who DO think the Easter Bunny is real. How many have NEVER committed murders? I’d venture to say virtually 100% have never committed a murder.

    If we only believed in the Easter Bunny, we would have NO MURDERS.

    Use logic, people. LOGIC.

  42. korben says

    To those that say that Stalin was an atheist and that’s why he was a killer: Stalin also had a moustache, maybe that’s what really made him a killer? (one could say that he had a “killer moustache”). There’s no direct connection between not believing in a magical being (or sporting a moustache for that matter) and killing people. I wish believers (Christians or whatever else) would stop and think for a second instead of just recycling ignorance.

  43. Pete says

    Didn’t Stalin defeat Hitler, ending WWII (in Europe) thus saved countless lives? Sure, he had his bad points too.

  44. TheMaskedTraveller says

    On the subject of Thomas Paine’s “The age of reason”, it is available as an audiobook (mp3) legally and free of charge (in the public domain, to be precise) on

    PS: I wish your video on YouTube allowed comments (which it doesn’t at the moment). I won’t redo the whole C0nc0rdance-PZ argument about it but I just wanted to let you know the way I prefer.

  45. Raymond Soto says

    Hello, everyone. This is my first time here. I am also an atheist by the way, but I sometimes want to hear arguments from both sides. I have a question: What do theists consider as evidence for God and why do the hosts on the show, and other people, dismiss it? I have heard of Josephus, Tacitus, and Talmud on the show. A detailed explanation would be very much appreciated. Thank you.