Open thread on AETV #843: Russell and Tracie

Thanks to Greg and Chip for the reminder to discuss “The Polar Express” today. I’d like to talk a little about the film’s handling of the Problem of Evil, using Santa as analogous to god, and using the character of Billy to represent the underprivileged of the world, and one of the unbelievers. The song “When Christmas Comes to Town,” describes Billy’s short life without any visit from Santa to his poor home, ever, and contrasts that against the message of a young, well groomed girl, who sings about all her happy Christmas memories. The song is sung as a contrasting duet. Here are the lyrics:

I’m wishing on a star, and trying to believe
That even though it’s far, he’ll find me Christmas Eve
I guess that Santa’s busy, cause he’s never come around.
I think of him when Christmas comes to town.

The best time of the year, when everyone comes home.
With all this Christmas cheer, it’s hard to be alone.
Putting up the Christmas tree, with friends who come around.
It’s so much fun when Christmas comes to town.

Presents for the children, wrapped in red and green.

All the things I’ve heard about, but never really seen.

Billy & Girl together:
No one will be sleeping on the night of Christmas Eve.
Hoping Santa’s on his way.

When Santa’s sleigh bells ring.

I listen all around.

The herald angels sing.

I never hear a sound.

And all the dreams of children.

Once lost will all be found.

That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

Billy and Girl together:
That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

After a visit to Santa’s magical world at the North Pole, Billy becomes a believer, and upon his return home finds that Santa has visited his home and left something. However, Billy is never provided with any explanation from Santa about why Santa favors the well-off children in his town, and seems to be years behind schedule visiting the more economically challenged households.

Billy is presented as a timid, shy, and humble personality. And so there is no reason provided to think that Billy has landed on the “naughty” list. And at such a young age, it can hardly be the case that Billy could be held to account  for not believing at times in his life when belief was not even possible, due to his cognitive development (at say ages 0 – 4 or so). Where was Santa then? How is his absence explained? How is Billy responsible for those missing Santa years and visits?

I personally think the story would have been better off eliminating the character of Billy. By including that child, the film presented a glaring error in the character of Santa, and also the narrative of rewarding good children annually with gifts, all over the world. Santa appears to be guilty of discriminating due to economic disadvantage, and no viable explanation is provided. Additionally, the blame is placed up on Billy in some respects for not accepting the narrative, when his brief life experience up to this point indicates that narrative is faulty. And that, also, is never corrected nor explained. If the film is going to present the problem, and reconcile that to Santa’s goodness, it should at least attempt to supply an answer or explanation. Presenting the problem and providing no justification for Santa’s negligence leaves the viewer hanging. Why even ask, if the goal is to explain Santa is good, and then leave no satisfying answer, except that Santa seems to think it’s correct to neglect Billy for the crime of being born poor–until Billy proves he’s worthy, by believing at an older age. Alternately, the Girl appears to have every advantage and not to have been overlooked in her earlier years in a far more prosperous home. She has also been provided, by Santa, every reason to believe in him. It’s an unfair contest on every level.

Anyway, that and calls.


  1. Will says

    gee… how do i put this…

    it seems now that “atheism” or the ism is completely being misused even MORE so than ever…

    wrongly “classifying” atheists as one CORE group of (ALL encompassing ideological grouping) as opposed to the correct nomenclature…

    i would greatly appreciate if people could just simply comprehend… that being “atheist” is just ONE aspect of ONE position about ONE subject…

    i wouldn’t lump ALL christians as being a “creationist” etc…

    simply being “atheist” would be just as comparative to any other human being, whilst having many DIVERSE opinions, about many different subjects…


    Unfortunately people like the first caller “Faith”… seems to be the general consensus on the ridiculous lack of common comprehension and or “indoctrination” propagated by further continuing ignorance…

    ahhh… the lovely stereotype…. 😉

    Great way to respond Tracy… by positing that question is specifically a PHYSICS question, namely astrophysical question… rather than an “atheist theory” question… 😉

  2. brianpansky says

    reminds me of that time i left chronicles of narnia playing in the background while i did homework. (i had never watched it before)

    my attention was suddenly caught by the scene where the old professor man chastises the children for not immediately believing the younger girl about finding a magical world. he shames them, saying they are supposed to be family.

    it’s gross. why doesn’t he just tell them they should take a look for themselves (instead of immediately dismissing her claim)? isn’t that family-like enough? nope, needs to be belief! because we can obviously just choose to believe something is true out of friendliness.

  3. Narf says

    On one sense, it was being absolutely faithful to the writer. C.S. Lewis was a major proponent of throwing false dichotomies/trichotomies/whatever around like candy at Halloween. That scene, which jumped out at me when I watched it as well, seemed fitting to the man’s crap apologetics.

  4. Will says

    uggg… we humans (all of us)… not necessarily those with just the singular “atheistic” viewpoint … really need to push for better schooling (regarding critical thinking skills, and how science works)…

    otherwise… it may be our downfall…

    of course WE… in itself are natural, and therefore, we in turn, ARE directly natural selection in action…

    anything we do is subject to ourselves i.e. (nature)… because WE are nature…

    so with that being said…

    with regards to the “polar express”… indoctrination is “akin” to child abuse…(and not necessarily WITH INTENT) considering the fact that someone could have no clue or idea, that what they are telling their children “isnt the truth” to them that is the “truth”…not in a physical sense abuse…

    Although, not in a physical sense abuse… but the mental programming’s from a “religious” standpoint is VERIFIABLE detrimental… because it postulates a “certainty without facts”…

    hence why i mentioned… that we need to teach critical thinking… as that gives a free sentient being the CHOICE to assess… ALL the facts presented… and make their OWN decision, on coming to the best possible conclusion…and at least the most HONEST position on what reality IS NOT…

    By the simple process of ruling out what reality is NOT (aka science)…

    we can at least get to and CLOSER to the BEST possible answer for our current rate of mentally comprehensible abilities…

    and p.s. the caller Sean… (driving while on the phone) with divided attention (NOT SAFE by the way)…

    just goes to show (no matter what stance on ANY ideological concept)… even people with an “atheist” viewpoint… sometimes cannot use critical thinking either… 😉

    i guess the saying… “common sense, isn’t so common”… 😉

  5. Narf says

    I’ve puzzled about that one before. We have physical abuse and emotional abuse. What is this, logical abuse? Mental abuse? Intellectual abuse? What’s a good modifier, guys?

  6. Will says

    in my observations regarding familial anthropological behaviour… and other similar biological species…

    i have seen people who use the “elf on the shelf” “santa” and whatever “suits” their need at the time…

    as a way to “watch over” their children and or in order to “keep them in line”…

    it would seem… that it is easier telling children that, as a way to “manipulate” the offspring’s behaviour into something the “dominant” animal of the house’s own liking…

    my hypothesis is that animals(us humans) “exploit” this “dependency” that its young have, with regards to a biological and genetic predisposition(and learned process) of “trust” that is gained from its upbringing since the child came out of the womb…

    then as we got more complex as a species… we now use “communicative skills”(i.e. stories) to make use of this “advantage” of trust between parent and child…

    this in turn… is the simplest form of manipulating the behaviour of offspring to act in a manner and also “think” in a manner conducive to that of the parents “liking”…

  7. Will says

    simplest form other than… well using food or water or any other physical stimuli to manipulate behavioural characteristics…

    now what would REALLY constitute abuse then… would be by using food in a manner to induce a change chemically in the brain based upon the “dependency” factors of the “reward system” in the brains…

    however we currently as a species and or “society” dont see it as “abuse” even though it is a form of “mental slavery”…

    which in turn… anything that has a DIRECT influence on “the physiology” of the intended target “aka child” is and could constitute a form of “physical abuse”…

    and ESPECIALLY abuse by using a “lack of food” till behaviour responded in the desired manner…

    however stories dont count for some reason even though they DO have a physiological effect on the children by creating a chemical reaction in their brains DUE TO OUTSIDE stimuli…

    aka… the communicative interpretation of the vibrations (known as words) which then ONLY have meaning to the child from the parent because the PARENT gave the “definition of meaning” in the first place…

    p.s. by the way the capitalisation i use is not (scream or angry) just using some other mode or frame of communicating a stressor of importance to the word, other than quotes… 😉

  8. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Tracie (46:57):

    If you start going at somebody from the position of “The bible’s not the word of god because look at the nasty things it says” you’re gonna probably nine time out of ten lose that argument. Because they are not gonna see anything in there as nasty or wrong or a problem.

    * I think a more defensible wording would be “The god you believe in is not the one described in that book…”
    In my experience with that approach, the first response is often “*gasp* It doesn’t say that.” Later comes “um, context?”. Or transmuting Yahweh’s gory threats into “just a prophecy”. Or change the subject to nice-sounding passages. Just a series of pitiful stock phrases for anything they do see as a problem to distance themselves from, but that they’d never heard before or thought about. The succesive failures culminate in their trying to end the conversation with a face-saving idiom about all opinions being respectable.

    The closest someone came to openly accepting bible-style Yahweh was saying “Yes, I would kill a room full of kindergarteners if the voice I hear in my head told me to. I… know how that sounds. *stares at floor*”
    * Back to the show’s quote, what does “lose” mean? It’s occasionally been mentioned on AE/etc that theists’ positions almost never budge during an exchange, or even soon after, regardless of the arguments.
    The best one can hope for is to make them uncomfortable with their current position – by making them aware that the position doesn’t meet their own standards (for evidence, ethics, consistency, etc) – and that eventually such dissonance might accumulate to drive them to start the futile search for answers themselves, which does more to disenchant than any conversation could.

    Then again, hosts of the show have untold hours more experience with a wider variety of believers than I do. Am I mistaken?

  9. Danny the Infidel says

    You talked about the Red Cross in the show;

    the Red Cross symbol is an inverted Swiss flag, as it was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, by Henry Dunant and Gustave Moynier.

    So as the Red Cross symbol is taken from the Swiss flag it’s a Christian cross, but as I understand it, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is supposed to be politically and religiously neutral, but sometimes on a national level is not.

    In Israel the movement is/was called Magen David Adom (Red Star of David). Outside Israel they sometimes use the Red Crystal symbol out of Religous/political reasons.

    I wonder if we could start the Red Flying Spagetti Monster?

  10. Russell Glasser says

    When I talk about “winning” or “losing” an argument, what I mean is: “Suppose a reasonable neutral observer, who was not strongly committed to either position, were watching this conversation between us. When it was over, would he be slightly more likely to agree with me, or less likely?” Believe me, I have watched many debates where, despite my sympathy for the atheist argument, I’ve felt very clearly that the atheist lost.

  11. says

    If I had been offering a written reply, I likely would not have used the word “lose.” But it is live TV, and I had to communicate the idea on the fly without benefit of editing, as can easily be done in a posted thread. What I was trying to convey (and probably tried to clarify, In context), was that it will get you nowhere. Often, the response can even include, “I agree it seems awful, but god knows what is best, and we are limited in knowledge and just have to have faith it was for the best, even if we can’t understand it.” There is not much that can be offered to that and similar apologetic responses, other than that their blind following is unwise. Others declare that god made you, and therefore has a right to do anything he wants, no questions asked. And others declare parts of the bible are not authoritative, and that personal revelation is what one should actually follow, as the bible has had too many iterations to be of primary use any longer. In the end, the bible content can be easily dismissed by a number of different methods for the believer to reconcile it to their own satisfaction, and still retain their theism and even Christianity. So, if the goal is to get that individual to question their belief in god, “how bad is god in the bible” is an extremely inefficient path to take. There are many other more productive, and far less frustrating routes. I never recommend this one, for that reason.

  12. houndentenor says

    I have not seen Polar Express and now I know to skip it. How odd that they would present the counter-argument for their own thesis so clearly and then not address it. Could they have done that on purpose?

  13. houndentenor says

    I’m glad someone brought up The Elf on the Shelf. I watched that last year and it was nothing more than a very boring long form commercial for a Hallmark product. Virtually no plot or conflict. Product placement is common in the background of movies and tv shows but to have product placement BE the show was bizarre to me.

  14. Narf says

    I’ve seen that sort of thing a lot in apologetics books, when they’re supposedly answering skeptical objections to theistic claims. They’ll answer a bunch of stupid questions that a skeptic would never put forward, but then occasionally they’ll purpose a real objection. Every time, they’ll answer a completely different question from the one proposed and act as if they’ve addressed the actual objection. Theistic arguments often involve a great deal of sleight of hand.

  15. says

    I hated it. I found it to be incredibly anti-intellectual. The entire moving was about bashing the viewer over the head with the notion that it’s bad to be skeptical about think that aren’t supported by evidence (while providing evidence).

    I’ll never understand why people think achieving a state of Total Gullibility is a worthy goal.

  16. Narf says

    And of all of the possible metaphors to use … Santa? Really? We should blindly accept other things, like we accept the existence of Santa? Are they trying to create more atheists, when kids discover there’s no Santa?

    Oh, hey, wait … this is a good movie. ^.^

  17. TxSkeptic says

    Caller Faith certainly had an appropriate name. Her blind assertion of hundreds of miracles without nary a detail nor evidence for any was irritating enough, then to toss out the ‘how do you explain the big bang’ would have had me throwing the white card for a call dump.

    Maybe ya’ll can get Lawrence Krauss to come on sometime though to address the “something from nothing” question, then you can just refer these callers to episode X.

  18. Monocle Smile says

    It’s the Catholic MO. Talk a big game, then pussy out because you don’t actually know anything and merely accept what you’re told by the higher ups.

  19. Narf says

    And most religious types don’t do the same thing? When they hear something that sounds good and sounds like it fits within their preconceptions, most people will just repeat it without bothering to research the claim independently.

  20. Monocle Smile says

    Oh, it’s typical of all religious types, but Catholics in particular get all wrapped up in the Catholic church’s woo and act shocked that other people don’t buy their bullshit. Maybe I feel this strongly about Catholics because I have a great deal of family experience dealing with them. I have particular issues with the RCC because it has another layer of authoritarianism compared to Protestantism…and, you know, AIDS in Africa and birth control stuff, etc.

  21. Will says

    in any argument or mode of communicating (in front of an audience that is)… and regardless of majority of the audiences’ original positional frame of “beliefs” i.e. atheist or religious…

    it is easy to “win” that argument, from the standpoint of “getting an audience on your side” so to speak…

    all you have to do is “trap the opposing side into being “forced” to have to respond and or make a statement that will make them appear either idiotic and or look like a “harmful person”…

    it is similar to playing a game of chess… where (you) are actually “directing the flow of the opponent” into a “fallacy corner”… 😉

    this usually “reveals”…either the abhorrent nature of the person, or shows the other sides’ lack and willful ignorance in making their statements… and usually nullifies any argument they may have in their favor…

    I feel that Tracy and Russel argue quite well… and usually have VERY good counter arguments and DO have many clear and concise statements…

    and well of course Matt did that too.. but “his style” which was different so to speak ;)… came from… and to his defense… appearing “arrogantly annoyed”… of having to “deal with” many ridiculous statements by callers…

    he became “annoyingly Especially familiar” with Multiple viewpoints and being quick of wit enough to recognise the “stupidity” of the argument… and then just be able to respond to the other side quickly with the counter… and or “put the caller on hold” LOL 😉

    So basically in summation… unlike “win/lose” computing robots… i empathise with all who do “The Atheist Experience”… and see that they Clearly aren’t doing this just for “arguments sake”…

    it seems very clear that they are (all on the show) are very passionate about not just winning, but more concerned with the advancement of “rational thought” and concerned about the people they talk to, in order to help them “out of their delusional mindframe”…

    p.s. on a side note… if you want to “win/lose” an argument “oldschool ape style” lol…

    we could always resort to our animalistic nature and just be the “dominant ape” in the conversation by being the loudest and waving the hands around the most…LOL 😉

    that usually wins in a crowd of idiots though… (or at a local zoo)…so i wouldn’t try it in a formal debate setting with scholars… 😉

  22. Matzo Ball Soup says

    There was this article in Slate recently (or maybe it was a repost of an older article, like they tend to do with articles themed around various holidays for some reason) about why it’s totally not a bad idea to lead kids to believe in Santa Claus. The main thesis was basically that having a rich imagination is beneficial for kids, and they cited some study about giving kids in a war zone stuffed animals to “look after”, where the ones who got a stuffed animal suffered less psychological damage, or something. Because “rich fantasy life”, apparently.

    But I found the whole thing really unconvincing because the article never established the distinction between reaping these psychological benefits and the belief that the story is actually true. If anything, I’d expect kids who are told that Santa Claus is just a fictional character to have a “richer fantasy life” than kids who are told that he’s real – they have to do more imaginative “work”. After all, if you believe Santa Claus is real, then thinking about him is basically the same as thinking about, say, the president (or some other real person you’ve never met).

    But, of course, those are just my a-priori thoughts; I’m not a professional psychologist. I do seem to remember that when I was 4 or 5, I was pretty obsessed with the D’Aulaires book of Greek myths and incorporated the stories and characters into games I played, in the complete awareness that the Greek gods didn’t actually exist.

  23. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says


    So, if the goal is to get that individual to question their belief in god, “how bad is god in the bible” is an extremely inefficient path to take.

    When that is the goal, I agree.
    Plus, there’s always dystheism.

    But my goals are irrelevant. I’m sorry I wasted your attention on the first point: trying to salvage some merit of citing unpleasant passages. You had a specific type of situation in mind, and I interpreted your words broadly.
    As for the second point about “losing” & “getting nowhere”, I was caught up in wondering what it’s like to recognize a route will more likely get somewhere.  : /

  24. Corwyn says

    “But how do you explain…” heralds the argument from ignorance that always follows.

    My understanding is that physicists are pretty confident that they know where the matter comes from. Namely, that it did NOT exist at the beginning, but needed to wait for the universe to expand and cool a bit (still a tiny fraction of a second). So the matter in the Universe is not really a problem, it comes from energy. The energy is also thought to not exist at the beginning (or rather it is zero). There is negative energy for each bit of positive energy. Space-time is also barely there. The size of the Universe is much smaller than the size of a single proton. Time may not have an arrow yet, which confusingly might mean that time as we understand it doesn’t exist. So what’s left? I think just low entropy. The ‘order’ that theists claim isn’t there.

  25. John Kruger says

    I get the feeling that she has not really thought very deeply about why Catholicism might be true at all. She seemed pretty taken aback that she was asked for an actual example after brazenly stating that there were hundreds of examples to choose from. No doubt she swallowed the “hundreds of examples” line because it enforced what she liked and never gave it even a second thought.

    It was too bad the call ended before the “how do you know that account is more than something entirely made up?” question that was sure to come. Perhaps next week.

  26. says

    I’ve never seen The Polar Express, but I’m a little nonplussed by the majority of Christmas movies and specials in which the plot hinges on convincing someone to believe in Santa Claus. I consider Miracle on 34th Street an exception, because in that film Kris Kringle’s identity is declared valid mostly through the combined effort of people acting in their own self-interest (nobody really believes Kris is Santa, but they like the old guy and/or don’t want to be the jerk who publicly declared Santa to be fictional), so in a sense, it’s sort of a humorously cynical film. I’m talking about the original movie, of course- not the remake in which the judge decides that because “in God we trust” is on our money, we might as well say Santa exists as well.

    A good example of what I mean is this “Elf on the Shelf” animated special I saw last year. I’d never heard of Elf on the Shelf prior to this, but the special felt like a commercial for a completely manufactured holiday “tradition.” If you’re as in the dark as I was, it’s basically a creepy toy elf that supposedly watches kids and reports back to Santa during the night, and the kids know the elf is alive because the next morning he’s magically changed location in the house. Anyway, the plot of the special was about this kid who’s lost the Christmas spirit because he’s stopped believing in Santa Claus, and the titular elf sees it as his duty to get this kid to believe again. Naturally, the kid does regain his faith in Santa by the end, though not really through anything the elf does, since he’s not allowed to actually move or prove that he’s real; the kid just literally takes it on faith. My main gripe was that this boy is at the age where he probably doesn’t have many years left in which Santa would seem plausible anyway, so getting him to believe again just feels like a waste of time. After all, it’s not like he’s going to carry a Santa belief on into his teenage years and adulthood. He’s going to have to learn to enjoy Christmas without the B.S. sooner or later.

    I don’t really have any strong opinions about parents passing on the Santa myth to kids, and I don’t mind holiday fare that treats Santa as real, the same way I don’t mind other fantasy themed entertainment that presents vampires or space aliens or what-have-you as real. But what’s strange to me is when the moral of these movies and specials is all about how important it is to believe in Santa (like 2012’s Rise of the Guardians) when the people writing and producing these things know very well that they’re promoting a lie. Then again, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather makes an interesting case for childhood belief in fantasy characters: that kids have to believe the small lies before they can believe the big ones, like mercy, justice, etc. Not that I necessarily think that’s strictly true, but it’s a better thought out rationale than the sentimental pap most writers offer when it comes to this type of thing.

  27. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Article: TvTropes – Epiphanic Imprisonment

    * Bonus: look up the definition / history of “epiphany”.

  28. gfunk says

    I was a little sad I didn’t get to hear Faith’s elaboration on her initial claim that she had issues with how atheists were dealing with miracle claims. Was she going to say why she thought they couldn’t be so easily dismissed?

    Of course, when she was immediately challenged to present a compelling miracle, she imploded. As usual, she had too many examples to list, but when you ask for just details on just one, they have no details. I think this exposes their lack of understanding of proper evidence- they tend to value numerous anecdotes over individual details. They pair ad populum (all these people can’t be wrong) with their confirmation bias (it’s their religion) to apply credibility that isn’t deserved.

    And Faith said something about a museum she had been to with 250 miracles, but evidently the most memorable one was something jumbled about sacrament turning into muscle- an incredibly dubious claim which immediately made me think of the “faith healers” that use sleight of hand to do things a lot more miraculous looking than that. And I’m pretty sure she just saw a story about that, not even the original “miracle.”

  29. Monocle Smile says

    The “transubstantiation” miracle she mentioned is an old bit of garbage that other callers have blathered about. I don’t know when the story originated, but the story itself tells of a preacher a few hundred years ago who had doubts, and the god supposedly turned the wafer into the LITERAL TISSUE of Jesus before it reached his mouth.

    The Catholic Church claims to still have this live tissue and claims to have had it tested (and of course it came back with 23 chromosomes because virgin birth, duh), but of course when demands are made to put up or shut up…they shut up. Because that’s all they ever do: speak loudly and carry an imaginary stick.

  30. Matt Gerrans says

    A lot of children’s stories hinge on accepting nonsense with blind faith. I think it is part of the religious agenda; butter them up for believing not just without, but in spite of the evidence.

    I first noticed it when I was a kid with the Peter Pan story. You only get the magical abilities if you believe. Believe, believe, believe! Don’t think! Don’t investigate! Just believe. They pound the message home over and over again throughout.

    This is such an awful thing to teach children and it is immoral to do so.

  31. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I was a little sad I didn’t get to hear Faith’s elaboration on her initial claim that she had issues with how atheists were dealing with miracle claims.

    You know how you realize the perfect response days later?

    I have issues with how Roman Catholics like you deal with miracle claims. I have issues how you can barely cite even one modern day miracle, and I have issues that even for that miracle you have not read up in detail what evidence is available, and what alternative explanations are available. I have issues how you are not practicing critical thinking in the slightest.

  32. Will says

    yeah… i agree as well… it would seem that “commercial-ism” is the new ideological method of getting people to “worship” (insert product or god here)… in these days…

    it would seem ever since the jump in technology, that it is growing ever more rampant…

    perhaps this is where the “newer” forms of “religion” will move forward when people evolve out of their older traditions of BS mysticism…

    i guess down the road of time, we in our old age, eventually will be missing the good old days where those “sermons on the mount” and or “street preaching” occurred… at least then you knew that the crazy message could only reach a small audience…

    as it keeps progressing, i will just presume, that in 20-30 yrs from now it will probably be “advertised” within everything…

    geez… “religious advertisements” are even here in these blogs… and these are “atheistic” web pages… 😉

  33. Will says

    as i elaborated on this earlier as written above…

    people should be allowed to believe whatever they want to believe… that is a part of freedom…

    it only becomes destructive when they decide to ACT upon that belief… and thus the delusionally destructive circle begins…

    The Main cause and effect is simply just bad animal behaviour in which BOTH “acting upon” AND “allowing” a purposeful lie to “instruct” a targeted demographic…

    in this case “kids” in which they haven’t reached the cognitive developmental level to differentiate fact from fiction… and to be able and or even Allowed to question such outlandish beliefs…

    belief in anything can be just as destructive, as it can be creative…

    but it is actually not the belief itself… it is the behavioural characteristic of an animal’s body, in which chemical processes “learn to please itself”… 😉

  34. Will says

    yes… absolutely Narf… it annoys me to no end when they just go “dodging” the f-ing questions like that…

  35. Aaroninmelbourne says

    Faith’s question at the end of her call about ‘How do you account for…” misses the fundamental problem of theism: you could disprove absolutely *everything* that we think we know, and you *still* would have not moved a single step towards justifying belief in a deity.

    That’s because it’s not an either/or problem: it’s not a case of “either science, or failing that, Godidit!” This might seem counterintuitive to a theist because the science basically disproves their deity, but from this atheist’s point of view, the science is superfluous to the question of their deity. In fact, her commentary on “miracles” demonstrates what I see as the fundamental flaw in theistic thinking: rather than looking at the facts, and then carefully determining what those facts may represent as a “root cause” for that particular object, ensuring that you don’t go beyond the facts, instead theism starts with a feel-good story, and then holds up various “how do you account for that!?” theatrical props and “mysteries” which don’t actually connect to the story in any factual way.

    Let’s say that there really were a statue that turned into human flesh. All that we could do with that is state that “silicone has been known to rearrange into DNA for some reason we have not determined”. That’s it. That’s as far as it goes. The whole “… and therefore, there’s a man with a beard who makes universes and grants wishes to people who clasp their hands together in particular ways” storyline is not shown at all by that evidence. But the fact that such supposed “miracles” are never shown to be factual (and often start with “there once was…” as a stock-standard literary story opener) we don’t even have to consider them as far as that.

    Let’s take it a step further: if your “evidence’ is along the lines of “either account for this totally nebulous and unsubstantiated story, or Godidit!” then you need to understand that it’s a “we’re all living in The Matrix” story that tries to make meaning of things, by putting yourself at the center of everything (i.e. “this was done for our benefit”) but has no basis in evidence. If you try the “oh, we’re all entitled to our opinion!” on that one, then you demonstrate you’re not interested in reality but only in how reality can be twisted to make yourself the center of attention. That’s the point of all these deity mythologies, that there’s there’s something “beyond” as a Deepity, but rather a way to try to give personal meaning to stuff that is outside of ourselves. Sorry, but “how do you account for miracles?!” gets nowhere.

    To give a really obvious example, “Either account for how the center of the earth is molten rock, OR therefore you must accept that there’s a magical strawberry pixie who tried to use the earth to make strawberry jam but it burnt so bad it became hot lava and that’s where it came from!” It’s the same thing as your deity: “How do you account for X” will never, ever, under any circumstances, do anything to help you demonstrate your deity.

    To prove a deity, you need actual evidence… not stories, claims to special knowledge, or “account for X otherwise Y!” games held up by theatrical props.

  36. A Bipedal Tetrapod says

    Having seen The Polar Express a few times, I noticed that a bit of what Tracie says about the movie is wrong.

    Billy’s issue isn’t that he is a non-believer. It’s that he’s afraid of people and doesn’t trust them. It’s not just a Santa issue and it hints that his parents, one or both, have let him down often.
    Billy also doesn’t get placed in the last car by himself. The main character stops the train to let him get on and Billy chooses to sit by himself in the last car. The girl (the unnamed believing girl) actually tries to join him more than once, the first time she brings Billy hot chocolate (after the most annoying song ever) because he missed out on the whole event. The second time is when they find the boy singing about Santa getting to his house.
    The third time they join him is at the North Pole when Billy decides he doesn’t want to leave the train and sit by himself. At that point, the main character says (paraphrasing) “Even if Christmas doesn’t work out for you, you need to be with your friends. Don’t always stay alone by yourself.”
    So not only does Billy’s story have nothing to do with belief, but the other characters are kind and welcoming to him and you’re never led to think of Billy as a bad kid but as a kid whose had a difficult life.

    The non-believer storyline belongs the main character and that’s where the story gets annoying. If it left the ending vague where he doesn’t have the bell from Santa but maybe meets the girl and Billy later without showing them talking about it, THAT would have been a better ending and maybe it would have helped a little. It would be more consistent with belief because the characters and the audience wouldn’t know if what happened was a dream or not. But the movie still treats him like a horrible person and equates his non belief to Billy’s self-isolation, the girl’s self-esteem and confidence issues (yes, the girl also has a problem she needs to overcome), and being a complete asshole courtesy of another side-character who is smarter than everyone else and his intelligence makes him annoying. Yes, intelligence being shown as a bad thing is also a problem in this movie.

    The main character fits every negative stereotype associated with skeptics and he gets constantly degraded and insulted by at least two Tom Hanks characters. Constantly. Over and over and over and over. And in the end he’s not allowed to even see Santa unless he accepts beforehand that Santa exists.
    Now THAT was useless. If the main boy’s little sister (seen at the beginning and end of the movie) was the kid who got on the train or if Billy was the main character, it would have been a better story.

  37. John McG says

    Thank you Tracie for your analysis on the movie; it is very thought provoking. We watched the initial release of the movie in in the theatre and I never took much notice of these items, but I do recall them; we just enjoyed the Hot Chocolate song. We were excited to see this movie as the BOOK had been part of daughters christmas for many years.

    The book, by Chris Van Allsburg is a wonderful, simple story with beautiful illustrations. The movie is based on the book, yes, but it embellishes the story quite a bit. In the book, the boy gets on the train and goes to the North Pole, interacting with no one, although the train is full of kids and the illustration shows them enjoying a hot beverage. So no girl, no Billy no god propaganda. It is just a wonderful story about the magic of Santa and our copy came with a bell that we would ring at the end to the girls excitement. I strongly recommend this book to any one who enjoys Santa with kids.

    Atheist John

  38. Will says

    G-day Aaron… very good points you brought up…

    my favourite response thus far from theists when i ask for evidence from them is…

    first… a slight pause lol to see their brain start to scramble for “reasons” and then…

    they just start making “ludicrous analogies”… and if that doesn’t work…

    then its Waffle time… LOL 😉

  39. John L says

    Russell’s comment about the “Christian Swingers” website reminds me of Eric Idle’s “Naughty Religion” quip from a skit about fringe religions in the UK: “We go in for a bit of ‘love your neighbor’, and who doesn’t now and again.” I’ve been quoting that line (amongst many others) so long I can’t remember the first time I saw that episode. Just thought I’d share that.

    John L

  40. Matzo Ball Soup says

    Yeah, you’d think that the fairies would have a pretty big incentive to live among humans and make sure everyone knows they exist. But at least Wendy et al. got some evidence that Peter could actually make them fly before they went jumping out of windows.

    And I can’t give any concrete examples, since it’s been about a decade, but a lot of the forgettable young-adult low fantasy I used to read in middle school tended to have as protagonists people who were portrayed as “sensitive” and “imaginative” (and thus “different”) but were really just very gullible. They believed in magic with no evidence, and then got evidence. Not very interesting in terms of characterization, in my opinion. But I always preferred high fantasy anyway.

    This is the Slate article I was talking about:

    Like I said, I’m sceptical of the conclusions drawn here. But then, I am 23 and don’t have the foggiest idea about how to raise children.

  41. Corwyn says

    people should be allowed to believe whatever they want to believe… that is a part of freedom…

    No they shouldn’t. Truth matters. If someone tells you that they are going racing on a twisty mountain road, and you know that the bridge is out, do you try to convince them that they believe something that is false? Let’s hope so.

    Now that doesn’t mean that force is (often) justified in the pursuit of this, but it really is a moral imperative to help people believe what is true. This works both ways of course, if you are theist and truly believe that atheists are going to burn in hell forever, the only ethical thing to do is to find evidence and arguments that are actually convincing to an atheist, and present those.

    “People should be allowed to believe whatever they want” is the rallying cry of someone who knows that what they believe is wrong.

  42. Narf says

    To add to what Corwyn said, I find your position on actions and not beliefs to be a deceptive dodge. Do you have a lot of strong beliefs, like you’re religious beliefs, which don’t strongly impact your actions? I find the idea ludicrous.

  43. Will says

    lol corwyn… although i also agree implicitly that Reality and Truth are of the utmost importance…

    are you going to go around and create the “thought police” ??? come on really?

    you may have not understood completely the premise to my statement… 😉

    but what i inferred from your statement is that ideologies are only valid within the context of “already have had evidence for such, to eliminate the need for belief in what hasn’t been proven yet to exist”…

    what about “science fiction”??? just one look at an old Star Trek episode’s tech… and that “invention” didn’t exist, but the “belief” that it could someday would… and now look at cell phones and tablets…

    see what i mean now by saying “belief can either be just as destructive as creative… 😉

    if you have questions please feel free to ask.. and perhaps i misread your context as well…

    sadly…it may be sometimes in this mode with the limited communication of typing messages, very hard to distinguish “context” without having to write a novel 😉

  44. Will says

    hi Narf…

    as it too would seem you have misread my comment…

    hopefully my response to Corwyn helped shed some detail into what i meant… by saying belief can be just as destructive as it can be creative…

    it is the “behavioural” responses to those beliefs which is the key issue… 😉

  45. says

    Well, it would take nailing down their specific god. What is it? When they hear a claim about a god, such as “god wrote the Bible,” to what do they turn to examine that claim? If I tell you a mug that I own is made of porcelain, in order to verify that, you’d have to compare my claim to the reality of the mug and what it is.

    First, the person must be able to hand down a god that is available for examination and comparison to claims about that god’s nature and attributes. Without that, I don’t see how a discussion can proceed productively?

    But whenever the question is “does god exist?” Looking at effects attributed to the god isn’t the most direct route to examination of the god. One way to filter this in my own mind that I use is “If this fails, is there any reason to think theism would become untenable?” In the case of “The Bible was not created by god,” there are simply too many theists who accept that proposition for me to suppose that tearing down the Bible will undermine the individual’s theism.

    That being said, I’ve met atheists who say that their faith in Christian doctrine fell at the same time their faith in god fell. I think it was most likely that their criticisms were applied broadly, not only to Christian teaching, but also to the theistic claims generally. If that is NOT the case, and they honestly thought “if god did not write the Bible, there can be no god,” that person has denounced their theism for extremely poor reasons, since there are a number of non-Bible based gods to choose from historically and also presently. I’m not an atheist because I don’t believe the Bible is a product of a god. I’m an atheist because I do not believe there is a god to produce ANYTHING.

    And that is the core question and foundation: What makes you think a god exists that is responsible for ANYTHING? When you suppose god has caused a thing–to what do you compare that claim to verify a god exists and would cause such effect? If there is nothing there they can demonstrate, then pretty much they’re acknowledging “nothing” is what they compare their claims to in order to verify the nature of this god. And to that I’d have to assert their god is not any different from what I can understand them to be saying, than “nothing.” And if they disagree, they need to explain how it can be different without any god to examine? “OK, so your god is not *nothing*…so where is the SOMETHING to which you compare these claims?”

    I derive this from correspondence theory of truth–basically the idea that “what is true” is derived from that which can be demonstrated to correspond to reality. If there is nothing in reality to which we can compare the claim…then what does it mean when we say we “believe” the claim–that we have assessed it and concluded it’s true? How did we do that without a means to compare it to reality?

    And this, to me, is the core where I need the theist to go, before we can even start a dialog about their god that can have any meaning.

  46. says

    Well, that’s my understanding of the modern Xmas metaphor. “Christmas Magic” is meant to embody childhood innocence and imagination. But Polar Express couldn’t be more of a religion play if it were Narnia. It leaves “childhood” behind and pushes for as close to apologetic reasoning as I’ve ever seen in a Santa portrayal. As Narf indicated, knowing what we know about Santa as adults, it’s a bit funny, since the ultimately conclusion, regardless of how quaint and nostalgic, is that it’s a fiction.

  47. says

    Yes, something I thought later was that even as a Fundamentalist Christian in my early life, and a nonreligious theist, later in life. I still thought miracle claims were ridiculous and laughable. It’s really not an “atheist” stance to doubt Catholic miracles. It’s a position even non-Catholic theists often hold.

  48. says

    >Faith’s question at the end of her call about ‘How do you account for…” misses the fundamental problem of theism: you could disprove absolutely *everything* that we think we know, and you *still* would have not moved a single step towards justifying belief in a deity.


    And this was what I was trying to convey every time I said “But YOU’RE the one making the claim.”

  49. says

    >Billy’s issue isn’t that he is a non-believer. It’s that he’s afraid of people and doesn’t trust them. It’s not just a Santa issue and it hints that his parents, one or both, have let him down often.

    Billy does not believe, correct? But it appears my point—POE and the position of the screen writer, flew straight over your head. It’s pretty well IRRELEVANT if Billy believes or not. As I noted during the show, the story of Job suffers from the same issue, and Job was a devout theist character. In fact, if you’re correct, and Billy’s nonbelief does not matter, we have an EVEN BIGGER MESS, because now we have Santa leaving a poor child presentless every Christmas, even though the kid seems nice enough and also believes in Santa. So, now the POE issue just got even more difficult…? Why has Santa continually fucked this child over every year? What is Santa’s justification?

    >Billy also doesn’t get placed in the last car by himself. The main character stops the train to let him get on and Billy chooses to sit by himself in the last car.

    Did I say he was forced to stay there by the other characters? The point, that you’re missing, is the METAPHORICAL nature of the fact of Billy being placed on the LAST stop and the LAST car as part of the narrative. Just so you’re aware: Billy does not exist. Billy is a character in a story. And the WRITER chose to place him last, repeatedly. Not only in society, but as the last stop and as the last kid in the last car. It’s a pattern that is hard to miss.

    >The girl (the unnamed believing girl) actually tries to join him more than once, the first time she brings Billy hot chocolate (after the most annoying song ever) because he missed out on the whole event. The second time is when they find the boy singing about Santa getting to his house.

    Actually, the boy sings that Santa has never come to his house. And again, it’s irrelevant that anyone/everyone joined him. The behavior of any/all of the other characters is, in fact, pretty irrelevant to my presentation–with the exception of Santa. With Billy, it’s about POE, the narrative and the metaphor that comes of “the last, and the last, and the last.” And the way that ties into the fact that he is, in fact, also “the least” in a clear way when it comes to economics. And then the really important part: That Santa blows him off every year without fail and without justification, and still expects to come out looking like roses.

    >The third time they join him is at the North Pole when Billy decides he doesn’t want to leave the train and sit by himself. At that point, the main character says (paraphrasing) “Even if Christmas doesn’t work out for you, you need to be with your friends. Don’t always stay alone by yourself.”
    >So not only does Billy’s story have nothing to do with belief, but the other characters are kind and welcoming to him and you’re never led to think of Billy as a bad kid but as a kid whose had a difficult life.

    Again, Billy does not believe. However, that wasn’t even my point–why are you focusing on these irrelevant aspects? It’s not about how the other kids treated Billy. Do you know what “problem of evil” is? Did you get that was what my presentation was about? My point was the horrific Problem of Evil twisting they attempted in the story: Santa has never gone to Billy’s house. How does this jive with the narrative nature of Santa as child-loving, kind and generous–one who brings gifts to deserving kids annually at the holiday? How does Billy fit into that narrative? He doesn’t. The mere existence of a child like Billy is an indictment against the “truth” of the claims regarding Santa.

    >The non-believer storyline belongs the main character and that’s where the story gets annoying.

    That’s where the story becomes every Christmas story ever told, actually. And boring.

  50. Monocle Smile says

    The ellipsis-fest is really, really annoying.

    Corwyn specifically stated that we merely have a moral imperative to convince people using reason to believe true things and that force isn’t justified except in exigent circumstances. Good job ignoring that part and invoking “thought police” anyway.

    Science fiction isn’t sold as anything that reflects reality. That was an incredibly dishonest implication you just made. Also, cell phones and tablets don’t exist because of Star Trek. That’s asinine. Imagination is one thing; delusion is quite something else. Again, it’s extremely disingenuous to conflate the two and then bitch at Corwyn for condemning one and not the other.

  51. says

    Thanks! Books are often different. Earlier when describing this to someone else, I specifically said “screen writer” for this very purpose. I have not read the book, and so have no comment on it.

  52. Corwyn says

    are you going to go around and create the “thought police” ??? come on really?

    I find it very telling that the only way you can conceive of changing someone else’s mind is through the use of thought police. The concept of having a conversation doesn’t even enter your mind?

    you may have not understood completely the premise to my statement… 😉
    but what i inferred from your statement is that ideologies are only valid within the context of “already have had evidence for such, to eliminate the need for belief in what hasn’t been proven yet to exist”…

    If that is your paraphrasing of your argument, then yes, I have not understood it at all. Care to try again a bit more clearly?

    what about “science fiction”??? just one look at an old Star Trek episode’s tech… and that “invention” didn’t exist, but the “belief” that it could someday would… and now look at cell phones and tablets…

    If you “believe” in Start Trek tech, there would be no need to invent it (from your prospective). Those who DON’T believe in it, but were inspired by it, are the ones who created it.

    Would you care to actually address my point? That it is a moral imperative to help others believe true, as opposed to false, things.

  53. Pete says

    Catholics make my skin crawl with their flesh fetishes and WFT? A crisp turns into a lump of flesh therefor supreme being? Barking!

  54. Will says

    its funny how the same species like you and i, who have such similar positions on a specific subject such as the existence of any gods… could possibly have such a broad misunderstanding… 😉

    even across from the computer i sense the pheromones of “competition” for argument winning lol… however im not here to “cross swords” with anyone…

    as i’m here for genuine reasons as i have come to appreciate TAE and the crew for what great work that they do…

    and most importantly i am also here to have dialogue between fellow humans to learn…

    gotta just love how each brain of our species is individually wired… 😉

    perhaps there is a fundamental mishap in the comparative meaning or interpretation of the word “belief” that i have learned over the years… So i could be mistaking that we BOTH have the same understanding of the word…

    just as there is a crucial difference between “theory” as a layman’s term… and “theory” when it comes to scientific principles…

    perhaps the word “belief” should have a general consensus on which one is being used (belief) 1 or (belief) 2 or (belief) 3???

    i am not trying to use semantics just trying to get some groundwork on basic interpretive principles for us to have better understanding…

    Merriam-Webster’s definitions all state that “beliefs” are “Feelings” so since “feelings” and even including the terms “state of mind” (which that too is a feeling of thought)…

    so with that “definition of belief” being established “feelings” and “beliefs” i.e (feelings of thoughts) are not based upon “any facts”

    communication is different when typing than it is in person, and so also different than math… since math(numerical language) is generally simple in the transfer of info between two, whereas verbal language is not…

    i guarantee that if we were talking in person this misunderstanding would never have taken place… 😉

    and thank you Monocle Smile for making more clear on what Corwyn was stating earlier… you, as im sure have seen his writing more often than i, and probably have a better recognition of his writing…

    it was my impression that when Corwyn said “no they shouldn’t” it was taken in the context of not “allowing” someone to believe in anything” because that was directly in response to my statement that people Should be allowed to believe whatever they want to…

    And to add when i mentioned “thought police” doesn’t necessarily mean that i was under the impression that Corwyn meant that by ONLY invoking that force was necessary either…

    police “without the use of force” write tickets all the time and “explain” to people why they are “breaking the legal system” … so perhaps i should have used better terminology “thought counselors” or perhaps “thought brigade” Sincerely my bad…

    but i took it as Corwyn stating that people “didn’t have the right” to believe in anything… and thus i responded accordingly…

    and thank you Monocle Smile as well for bringing up the point as Science Fiction isn’t sold as reality… I never claimed that it had been sold as reality, and don’t understand how you could have derived that from my statement…

    we all should know by now vast majorities of religions are obviously sold as reality…

    and MOST certainly just because people “believe” in deities, doesn’t mean that they will be “created” in the future with the advent of newer technology either… (oh crap just had bad thought of a bleak future)

    gee i hope no one invents something like that… imagine a life-sized thor running around shooting lightning bolts and smashing anyone who didn’t worship him… that would suck… lol 😉

    when i mentioned star trek it was not the “belief” IN “star trek”, nor did i even suggest that “because” of star trek these items of tech were created…

    i was using the “science fiction” reference to describe something as simple as if you “asked someone” from the late 60’s who “watched the show” if Flip cell phones OR computer tablets existed they would most certainly say no…

    However… the Scientists who were working on the technology “back in the day”… of what was yet to come… would most definitely say that “the tech” doesn’t exist now but “believe” “felt” that it will exist in the future…

    Otherwise… why would someone ever bother to further see those inventions through if they didn’t believe that they would ever work in the future in the first place?

    “beliefs change with knowledge, but the ignorant stagnation of “Faith” will always remain the same”…- Me 😉

    i strongly dislike the usage of the word “belief” when it comes to an “atheistic” or “theistic” viewpoint…

    because what Really should be used is the word ACKNOWLEDGE…

    people that “acknowledge” the existence of deities… do so “based” upon a “feeling” or “belief” however they most certainly do not acknowledge the existence of deities based upon “actual facts or testable evidence”

    I agree… we ALL need to encourage others to Learn and to constantly inquire about the world around us but invoking some form of “control” (yes even in simple dialogue of inferring that control over their thoughts ) Regardless of use of physical force or NOT… in my most humble opinion and through years of observation have never seen that to be the most fruitful way to “bring someone” out of their delusion…

    i hope this clarified my earlier statements…

  55. Will says


    Great show as always Tracie… like ive said before i really appreciate the work you all do and wish you guys the best…

    it too always amazes me to see how people can take such giant gaps in knowledge and fill it in with (insert deity here)… lol

    sorry for misspelling your name earlier by the way… i should have paid more attention…

  56. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    I appreciate your continued interest, but you needn’t have written so much. I’ve been following the show and related podcasts since maybe 2006. Your segments in particular are among my favorites, so I’m *very* famililar with what you’re saying. That said…

    I’ve met atheists who say that their faith in Christian doctrine fell at the same time their faith in god fell. [If ] they honestly thought “if god did not write the Bible, there can be no god,” that person has denounced their theism for extremely poor reasons.

    My wording was “The god you believe in is not the one described in that book…”

    When I quote unpleasant passages, it is *not* to disprove god, nor even imply their god does not exist. For my purposes, it doesn’t even matter where the literature came from.
    The people I encounter in-person appear ignorant of doctrine/scripture to the point of parroting happy-clappy catchphrases as smalltalk, like “I don’t know how I could make it through all that I have without Jesus. I can’t wait to die and go to heaven. Y’know, life isn’t worth living without Jesus.” (sic) The standard damaging social conservative opinions are present, absorbed from modern culture, and the bible is a talisman against being wrong.

    I seriously doubt they could begin to consciously answer *what* they think their god is, much less justify *why* they think that.

    However, many of the deconversion accounts I’ve heard/read include being long troubled by unconscionable passages. It’s never the only motivator, but it’s often present.
    So rather than confuse them with philosophical debate or give them carte blanche to pretend to believe in deism and not take the conversation seriously… I go after the tangible disconnect between the wonderful book of their imagination – used to theme their invisible friend – and the printed bible. I try to erode confidence in the misrepresentative stories they’ve heard *about* the bible and in the people peddling those stories, or at least give them pause before they tout how wonderful the whole thing is themselves.

    Even openly disavowing portions would be an improvement. My long-shot goal is to disentangle their invisible friend – which people are notoriously reluctant to let go of – from the book they’ve been loudly endorsing, oblivious to its content, and the harm caused by others who apply that praise to the ugly parts.

    On occasions when I focus on that disconnect, I’m trying to make it abundantly clear that I’m not attacking them as a person; I’m attacking a book they’ve never read, beyond fortune cookie snippets.

    I exaust their list of generic deflections until they *must* to engage with the actual passages in question, until they have to choose: between responding as a decent person of this century and region, OR what they think they’re supposed to say. And the sting of hearing the latter out loud, in their own voice, might linger and have some impact.

  57. Will says

    Made me LOL’d when you said “just so you’re aware… billy does not exist”… 🙂

    im glad you mentioned the crucial importance when deconstructing a piece of literature, movies etc… of having to explain the story from the “author’s perspective”…

    even though that wasn’t completely the Point you were trying to make…

    it would seem that people don’t take the time to read your “viewpoint” in order to respond to it accordingly.

    your interpretation of the “problem of evil”… is very consistent within the context of what Aspect you were bringing forth as a discussion, regarding the polar express’s version of “santa”,and of the narrative itself…

    Which i saw it as…

    Santa was “good” by DISCRIMINATION and never had to give a reason WHY… and… santa also gave every bit of evidence and reason for the Girl to acknowledge his existence… yet the narrative including the (character Santa) basically “fucked over” the poor boy as IF he shouldn’t even have existed in the story in the first place…

    unless that was the author’s point for people to “see” this sad display of what was wrong with the “story of santa”… which is possible considering the author Chris Van Allsburg ironic and sometimes deeper allegorical writing style…

    unfortunately… most people who see these movies cannot grasp anything “deeper” than that of “awe such a nice “christmas” movie” crap…

  58. Monocle Smile says

    “Believe” means to accept a proposition as true or likely true.

    Will, you’re making this much more complicated that it needs to be and your posts are extremely difficult to decipher because they’re unorganized, wordy (as in volume of words, because you don’t appear to type in complete sentences), and use too many damn ellipses.

    I disagree entirely that we should just let people believe false things. That’s what leads to the Dark Ages. That’s what leads to mass murder. That’s what leads to people who don’t know how fucking long it takes the planet to orbit the sun dictating public policy. What you suggest is perhaps the most harmful thing possible. This is why there is in fact a moral imperative to convince people to believe true things for good reasons.

  59. Will says

    sorry cut out a paragraph…

    so it should read…

    “shouldn’t even have existed in the first place” …

    *since movies tend to differ from their original book’s counterpart… perhaps the original author as an executive producer in the film may have included these things to “further illustrate” meaning into the story…*

    SO…unless that was the author’s point for people to “see” this sad display of what was wrong with the “story of santa”… which is possible considering the author Chris Van Allsburg ironic and sometimes deeper allegorical writing style…

    unfortunately… most people who see these movies cannot grasp anything “deeper” than that of “awe such a nice “christmas” movie” crap…

  60. Will says

    The dots are just pauses in a frame of speech. As if I were talking. I find that it is quite tedious and time consuming, to have to constantly use specific, and outdated grammatically structured sentences.

    I used to type like I am typing now. However, it seems as over the years of conversing over the internet, people have consistently not been able to follow.

    American is my second language. So I apologise for that.

    So, with that being said, I have resorted to “type as it would be spoken.” I have found this was the most efficient way to communicate.

    After many attempts to communicate to the general public, I had used many proper paragraphs. They were fully formed and structured.

    People found it to be tedious to read, and as is the phrase, in the colloquial terms today, tl;dr.

    So I now just use ellipses, and break up paragraphs as I have still done in this response, as a way to separate and construct a separate thought or idea.

    It appears that I may be more productive for me to use a more formal mode of type in this setting, on this blog for instance.

    I didn’t suggest that we do Nothing. I merely suggested that we not “shove” reality down peoples throats. Metaphorically speaking of course. And that we LET them believe in what they want to believe.

    The best way is not by reason. Because that is not how a majority of people are taught to interpret data. The best way is for the majority of people to mock and demonstrate that their Behaviour is ludicrous.

    Then, and only then, will people not want to associate themselves with a religious mindframe.

    This is simply due to their, and our animalistic nature. Herd mentality is what a majority of the human animal uses for its logic. So, since the human animal clearly does not, by in large numbers respond to reason or logic.

    It becomes quite clear what the best mode should be for culling such abhorrent religious and superstitious behavioural actions.

  61. Will says

    I also break up paragraphs because sadly to say, people seem to in this day and age, to not want to look at a “wall of text.”

    Yes, even if it is only four lines deep. Perhaps I may not come across this issue here though.

    When I say “mock,” I mean not in a hateful way either. I mean to say mock as in similar fashion to that of comedic satire.

  62. Will says

    Here is a simple formula.

    Step 1.) Teach your offspring to think freely, and to be rational. They in turn will grow up and spread reason throughout humanity en masse.

    Step 2.) Deride, deride, deride. Do this by means of satire(not towards the person) but towards the ideology and actions of any superstitious beliefs.

    Step 3.) Let no kooky belief without evidence drive any legislative policy. Let NO ONE be immune to this. Especially politicians or “leaders.” Mock them worse than that of any other.

    Step 4.) Do not be afraid to let your voice be heard. As more and more numbers grow, so too, the rest of the herd will follow.

    Step 5.) Atheism wins.

  63. says

    My thoughts exactly. Teaching a student about the variety of religions in the world wouldn’t be proselytizing and in my opinion would actually be teaching the students about mankind and what different beliefs there are in the world. However when you have people who what to introduce some pseudo-science theory like Intelligent Design and have it taught in a public school, then I as a tax payer feel that my rights are being infringed upon. Religious organizations are tax excempt for a reason and that is the seperation of church and state, so if they want to introduce their so called scientific theories in a public school then let them pay taxes just like the rest of us do. As atheists we should stand together ensuring that our rights are not being infringed upon and to preserve the seperation of church and state and to keep religious propaganda in it’s place.

  64. Corwyn says

    Will: I find that it is quite tedious and time consuming, to have to constantly use specific, and outdated grammatically structured sentences.

    And we find it quite tedious and time consuming to have to decipher incorrect and haphazardly structured sentences.

  65. Russell Glasser says

    Do you find it saves a lot of time instead to have to constantly write extra posts to explain what you mean, and why you choose to oppose standard grammatical conventions?

  66. Monocle Smile says


    1) Be concise. Trust me, there are multiple ways to communicate your meaning with far fewer words than you’re currently using. I’m sorry if English isn’t your first language, but that’s the way it is.

    2) Acting dismissive towards grammar means that the problem is YOU and not the grammar. Writing standards exist to ensure clarity of communication between people. Sneering at these standards and using words like “outdated” just means that you are bad at following these standards and unwilling to admit to this shortcoming. Maybe it’s not your intent, but you come across as an arrogant d-bag when you post crap like that.

  67. says

    I do think there’s some value in holding the Bible up to scrutiny, though. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s going to convince anyone to give up belief in gods. But I think it does help to convey the idea that the book can, in fact, be questioned and analyzed on its own merits rather than the mythology.

    And by “mythology,” I’m not even necessarily talking about the mythology contained within the Bible. There’s a large body of mythology *about* the Bible itself, and what it does and doesn’t say. I’ve been reading it recently, and discovering that a lot of what I was taught about its contents as I grew up consisted of strategic omission, spin, and outright lies. Much of modern Christianity seems to be largely divorced from the contents of the Bible, as much as they seem to fetishize the book itself.

    I’m also concerned with political Christianity in America these days. So I also think that there’s some value in pointing out what an incredible mishmash of conflicting ideas the Bible really is as a way of showing moderate Christians why it makes no damn sense to support the legal ideas that fundamentalists pull out of it.

  68. Will says

    I apologise if I came off as arrogant. That is not my intention. It would seem, as I am not used to communicating in a comments section with people of higher intellects. I have no issues in person with scholars.

    I hardly ever write in comments sections, and have not for quite some time.

    I apologise if I also came off as “sneering” grammar. That was not my intent.

    It again appears that like I mentioned before, a more “formal” structured writing style would be more effective here.

    Thank you All for your critique, as again I am learning how to use English in a better and Broader manner, and to make sense to a specified audience. And not as an excuse, but more of a reason is, I grew up very poor and I had only access to literature written pre 1900 era. I guess it has stuck with me too much, and apparently to my detriment socially.

    And no, to Russell, apparently not. With all sincerity (nice quip). That’s why you are one of my favourite to watch on the show as well. 🙂

    I guess I should have studied the writing styles in this forum first. That would have enabled me to blend and communicate much more effectively, and saved both me and others from the miscommunication.

    By not paying attention to that, it was not intelligent on my part.

    My Bad.

    From now on I will use a more standardized method of writing structure.

    Thank you to all again for your critique.

  69. senor says

    What was the Super Catholic lady expecting? That you’d really just accept her assertions on face value?

  70. Sadako says

    Yeah, the symbol itself has a lot of baggage, but the Red Cross isn’t a Christian organization, and the symbol was chosen for its relation to Switzerland, not as an overt Christian symbol. Sectarian religious symbols aren’t allowed, and neither are specific regional symbols (so among others, the Red Swastika Society in China (a Buddhist organization mirroring the Red Cross), and the Red Rising-Sun-With-A-Line-Under-It-So-It’s-Not-Just-A-Regular-Japanese-Flag Society in Japan didn’t get accepted, lol).

    There’s also a Red Lion and Sun symbol unique to Iran, and is recognized as an official Red Cross Society symbol…even though Iran now uses the Red Crescent, lol.

  71. says

    Just jumping in since I just watched the show. The problem with Polar Express, or any Santa story is it doesn’t work if the point is to get you to actually believe. Santa, or God for that matter, is a myth about what we really want. Like one of the other callers said, if there really was a book with all the answers, I’d want that. It’s also true that our own doubts hold us back from getting things. Looked at as a myth, that’s what the Doubting Thomas story is telling us. The mistake is seeing it as actual magic. In the real world, simply removing your doubt might accelerate your move toward better things, or it might get you in a lot of trouble.

    Polar Express still fails. Sure, if the poor little boy believes he can get out of poverty, that will help him. But he still needs to do the work. He doesn’t need an explanation from Santa for why he didn’t get presents, The way the story is told, Santa represents some “invisible hand” that actually doesn’t care about individuals, he just pumps out goodness and lets it fall wherever. I know that’s not the traditional view of Santa, but when you take away the idea that he is real, different meanings can emerge from the mythology.

  72. kestra says

    That scene is also found in the book, and is actually a restating of one of Lewis’ favorite Christian apologetics, the “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” argument. Either Lucy is crazy, and there is no Narnia in the Wardrobe (Jesus is a madman), or Lucy is a liar, and there is no Narnia in the Wardrobe (Jesus is a fraud), or Lucy is the honest little girl she appears to be and Narnia is real (Jesus really is the Son of God.)

    This argument is very popular among some amateur Christian apologists, (which Lewis unreservedly was), but I have to wonder if any serious theologians bother with it. Firstly, it totally leaves out the possibility that Lucy is mistaken (stories about Jesus are exaggerated or wrong) and/or her siblings are misunderstanding her (Christians took early stories about Yeshua ben Yosef, itinerant Palestinian preacher, and built up a complicated dogma and ideology he’d never actually stated or implied.) It also ignores the Legend possibility (I believe Matt Dilahunty discussed this on a TAE show several years ago) that all the Jesus stories are a fanciful construction on a foundation that doesn’t exist, or would be nigh-unrecognizable to a modern Christian.

    Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the early church should also know this. The Christian canonical books weren’t even decided upon until four centuries later, and many early Christianities had no belief in Jesus as a divine descendent, or a firm belief that he was never a man at all, but always a divine avatar, and many other permutations. The Christianity that has taken root in America comes from just one strand of hundreds that existed once.

  73. Kimpatsu says

    On the Red Cross issue: it’s purely secular. The red cross on a white background is an inversion of the Swiss national flag (white cross on a red background) because the Red Cross was established at a meeting in Switzerland. That’s all.
    I thought you’d like to know.

  74. Flavio Farias says

    Hi everybody!
    My name is Flavio and i writing this from Brasil. I has a question to do about CC, i want to know if has a way to you publicate legends in english? A lot of atheist in Brasil dont now english very well and with legends understand become mo easy.
    This make mor easy for example to translate to portguese the program and this gonna help the community atheist in Brasil.

  75. mike says

    @Will It would probably be better to “communicate a stressor of importance” to these words by using boldface rather than capitalisation, which only serves to confuse people. You even indicated yourself than capitalisation is normally meant to convey shouting.

  76. Jeremy in Idaho says

    I liked the movie as a fantasy. It has a sadness and dreamy quality to it. The sadness appeals to the audience to give to re-enforce the idea of giving to those less fortunate. The dreamy quality lets those who had a good Christmas childhood experience to relive it a little, at the same time realize others don’t get the same good experience. Dreamy quality also reveals it to be just that, a dream, none of the people in the dream except the on kid narrating the dream are supposed to be real. Even though he mentions the bells which his sister later can’t hear anymore as they get older.

    This isn’t a moral story though. I never sought a moral code of conduct from it. But I saw it first when I was like 25. I saw it as a dreamy fantasy reliving the “magic” of Christmas. And the absurdity of the fable if it were real. And the sadness that does exist around the world, and the real “magic” is the idea of giving to those less economically fortunate. So maybe its an adult fantasy. Not for kid, because they’d get the wrong message?