1. Hannah says

    Hello! I was the second to last caller on the show. If anyone is interested in knowing the punk band my old man is in, they’re The Sawed Offs. Pretty good if you’re into old school punk.

  2. Jordan Mitchell says

    My sincerest condolences about you lost Phil, your story touched my heart and I wish the girls my best. It’s great to hear what you’ve done for the two girls, and I hope we can also come together and help.

  3. paxoll says

    Mark from London seems like a professional Troll, the stuff he brings up is just patently ridiculous and intellectually dishonest.

  4. Mobius says

    Re: Phil from California

    I am of course reminded of Douglas Adams’s puddle analogy.

    The first time I heard the Fine Tuning Argument, my immediate response was, No, no, no. The universe was not made to fit us. We evolved to fit the universe. The theist argument on this has always struck me as being based on “We are special.” We are not special, we are just what has survived the process.

  5. Rexlee says

    I skipped through Mark from London pretty quick. Same sort of nonsense as last week.
    As to the last question, Easter Bunny, Tooth fairy & Santa is just good fun for the kidskin and parents alive. My 9 yo grandson, thinks the Easter bunny & the tooth fairy are fake. He is not sure about Santa and I suspect that he is doing Pascal’s wager on Santa as the presents are pretty good. I doubt that he will believe in Santa in a few years.
    So enjoy those things in a secular environment and all will be OK. I believe he/she will benefit from the experience of realising , that which was once believable turns out to be a crock of shit once it has been analysed in a citcal way.

  6. says

    i’d been wondering if we’d ever get a more detailed accounting, from anyone, of what happened to the smith family, but i wasn’t expecting to hear it from someone actually on-site or personally involved. that was genuinely riveting. thank you phil, for braving some unforeseen anguish in delivering that story.

    regarding our regularly scheduled nonsense, tonight’s money shots all come from one caller:


    mark: a talking snake, um well … yeah, why not? it’s god …


    mark: i’m really confused by the word “standard”.


    phil: shouldn’t you establish the fact first?
    mark: that’s, that’s — that’s regardless of the point.

    in the bitter end, mark’s arguments reduce to “truth is a matter of perspective, and only mine counts.”

  7. says


    mark: i’m really confused by the word “standard”.

    a great example of feigned ignorance common among theists. as is often pointed out to them, theists (presumably) do not exercise such naiveté when performing the quotidian chores of their lives. mark is trying to pretend that he cannot understand the same reasoning that explains why he uses things like rulers, scales, clocks, thermometers, etc, in every other aspect of his life.

    because standardized measuring tools of any sort, as convenient as they are to creating the stable infrastructure mark lives in, they are also fatally inconvenient to the fantasies he is desperately trying to peddle.

  8. Correctrix2 says

    I have never seen a host ask a caller to stay on the line to be quizzed by the call-screeners before. I highly suspect that Russell highly suspected that the Scottish woman was the infamous Hamish doing another voice.

  9. StonedRanger says

    Once again you gave mark way too much time. How many times does he have to call before the hosts determine he has nothing of interest to say?

    To Leslie: My mother was raised catholic. She is now 90 years old and suffering the early stages of dementia. I am an atheist and have in the past few months had occasion to talk to my mother about my lack of belief in a god and/or an afterlife. It wasn’t contentious at all nor does it have to be. Most older people can handle that kind of conversation as long as they don’t perceive it to be threatening to them. Your mom may react differently, but until you try you wont know.

  10. RationalismRules says

    For anyone who encounters the “bible is older than all the other books” argument, the earliest Hindu holy texts (the Veda) date from hundreds of years earlier than the Old Testament (ca.1200 BCE vs. ca. 600 BCE). It’s a better example than Roman gods or Chinese dragons, because it’s a holy text of an existing religion, so it’s a more direct parallel.

    If you’re going to use this it’s worth being aware that the Veda are not the only Hindu texts, there are lots of others, many of which date from much later. But this in itself parallels the bible – an aggregation of books written over a wide time period.

    (Full disclosure: I have not studied Hinduism, I am simply going from what I have learned from online. Feel free to set me straight.)
    I suspect Mark might be a troll, but I waver between that troll feeling and the other times when I he seems sincere, just lacking any understanding of rational thought process. I think he needs to come here and get subjected to a bit of blog scrutiny…. 🙂

  11. says

    Desperately scrambling for some nerd cred myself, I have to point out that the concept of “the hero’s journey” is from Joseph Campbell, not Joseph Conrad.

  12. says

    RationalismRules @7: Mark from London is a regular commenter here, and an annoying one at that. My feeling is that he’s sincere in his belief, irrational in his thinking, and occasionally intentionally trolls in the gap between the two.

  13. says

    Me @9: I’m listening to the episode now, so I’m assuming that “Mark” from London is the same guy as the other “X from London”s that comment here. But that might be unwarranted, considering that a lot of people live in London. The description sounds like that guy, though.

  14. Mobius says

    @3 aarrgghh

    Yes, Phil’s account of the Smith tragedy was very moving. I don’t blame him a bit for breaking down and crying. My own eyes were starting to tear up listening to him.

  15. Mobius says

    Mark in London doesn’t seem to realize that Common Sense is neither.

    His attitude that facts can be looked at from different perspectives mirrors Ken Ham’s view, that facts can lead to different interpretations depending on how you look at them. This completely misses the point of the scientific method, which is that your interpretation has to be tested against reality. How you interpret the facts has implications on what reality is, and leads to how you think other aspects of reality should be. Mark and his ilk just assume that how they think reality should be is how it actually is, without doing the testing that science requires to validate an interpretation.

    Mark had some strong view on dating methods, yet ignores the fact that the many and varied dating methods science has developed agree with each other. Mark’s Biblical view doesn’t agree with any of them, or much of anything else.

  16. sayamything says

    I was with Russel on the Kardashev scale, but getting Joseph Campbell’s name wrong? Hand in your nerd card, sir!

    I kid, but I was tickled by that.

    “Fine tuning” always struck me as someone not taking the time to understand what was meant and just looking at the words on a very superficial level. But the fact that we happen to exist in a universe that happens to support us isn’t proof of a god. I just watched a TAE clip last night where Matt was talking about I think Hawking saying that if the universe is designed for anything, it’s designed for creating black holes. It’s so egocentric to think that because there’s one planet we know can totally support us (and only on a portion of the overall mass), that it’s all about us.

    The Satanist bit, as well as earlier calls, brings up the importance of defining one’s terms. People have specific ideas of atheists and Satanists, and while that doesn’t mean we should stop using these terms, it does mean that there’s almost always going to be an issue in dealing with people. All of the Satanists I’ve ever personally known are secular humanists who use Satan either as a metaphor or just adopted the label like the big temple did: as a way to battle religion by claiming religious freedom. Doesn’t mean all of them are in one or both of those camps, just that those camps exist but that people hear “Satanist” and hear “let’s sacrifice some babies!” which is ironic, if you’re of the Abrahamic religions. And, of course, “atheist” means “Satanist” to a large portion of the culture. I’m sure I’m not telling the cast of TAE anything new there, but I like to talk these things out. It’s therapeutic.

    One of the big arguments about Slavery under Jewish and Christian law is that it’s a different kind of slavery. That argument quite likely just cost me my relationship, but that’s another story. IT just hitkind of close to home right now.

    The extension of renaming it “bondservant” to differentiate it from modern slavery such as US slavery falls apart when you understand that “bondservant” saw use in the US as well. Not that the name changes the fact that it’s outright horrible, but there’s like a hundred clips of callers from this show trying to argue in defense of slavery, so I’m pretty sure that’s also pretty well understood around these parts. I’m just saying that the bondservant dodge is a hollow one.

  17. Einyv says

    Stop taking calls from Mark, He calls in to waste your time, he asks the same questions over and over. I

  18. Monocle Smile says

    Given that Mark was asking the same dishonest, malformed questions as last week and was a bit too eager to go into young Earth creationism, I’m also on board the “professional troll” bandwagon.

    LOL this tool mentions “radiocarbon dating” in a discussion about the age of the earth. Either a troll or too stupid to live.

  19. Ed Goodman says

    Phil, please remember that you are among the victims here. No, you didn’t just lose your parents, but you’re going to have trauma from this too. Make sure to get help when it hits you. I had a buddy kill himself, and I spent so much time being strong about it. Like a year later, I broke down while cutting the grass. The first time I talked to him was when he was weed whacking his fence.

  20. Luc says

    Phil from CA: The argument you’re referencing is known (though it is a bit of a misnomer) as the Anthropic Principle. Knowing the name might help you seek out different versions (e.g. Weak vs Strong) and the different challenges to it. Personally the only interesting argument against it that I’ve heard is that it discourages scientific inquiry, which I’m not sure is a really a valid argument at all. There are many other paths of scientific inquiry that a lot of people find discouraging for various reasons, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of pursuing, and that hasn’t stopped at least some of us from doing so.

  21. Robert, not Bob says

    Second Ed Goodman: take care of yourself, Phil.

    Mark from London’s arguments look like brain puree, so a lot of people call Troll! because they (understandably) can’t understand someone really thinking that way. I see no reason to doubt he’s a real believer: to such a one, the details of the argument don’t matter, since the Truth is already Truth by definition.

  22. Monocle Smile says

    For me, it’s not the muddled thinking so much as the combination of this week’s and last week’s calls. My radar starts chirping whenever someone tries to have the exact same discussion as before, especially in back-to-back weeks (with the same host!). That sounds like someone not interested in having a real discussion. I tend to file that under “troll,” given the purpose of the show.

  23. Ian Anity says

    In regards to the fine tuning argument for human life, I do like the quote from the evolutionary biologist, J. B. S. Haldane –
    “[if there is a God] it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.”
    When it comes to success stories, they’ve got us beat.
    I’d also like to recommend the series, How Creationism Taught Me Real Science
    The title is slightly ambiguous but it is anti-creationist.

  24. RationalismRules says


    the only interesting argument against it that I’ve heard… which I’m not really sure is a valid argument at all

    For clarity, are you saying that you are, on balance, convinced by the Anthropic Principle? Or are you simply assessing argument / counter argument from a disinterested perspective, as one might say “I’ve not seen any convincing arguments that a deistic god could not possibly exist” ?

  25. TheraminTrees says

    Phil, it took a lot of guts to make it through that extremely painful story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Take care.

  26. Luc says


    I personally do find it convincing, yes, and as a result I am disinterested in the fact that an incredibly tiny deviation in one of the fundamental constants would result in a dead universe. That said, I don’t support shutting down science regarding those fundamental constants (as, perhaps, a “my version of god fine-tuned those constants so it doesn’t matter” believer would), because I’m not totally convinced that *nothing* useful will come from that research. I just wouldn’t choose to do it myself.

    I should point out that the Anthropic Principle is more a philosophy and a non-supernatural answer to the question of why the constants are what they are. It’s not a scientific theory, so I guess that’s a mark against it.

  27. Jennie B! says

    This might be one of my favorite episodes. I really appreciated Phil telling his story about the Smith tragedy, and was moved to make a donation on the spot.
    Additionally, both Phil and Russel were so compassionate with the callers, and explained things so patiently. That is the kind of bridge building that keeps people from being defensive when discussing belief.
    Thanks Guys!

  28. Brotherdave0000 says


    The anthropic principle suffers from the same problems as any other god-of-the-gaps explanation. Namely, if intelligence requires a universe finely tuned to produce it, implying an intelligent fine-tuner (god), then from where could this fine-tuner arise other than another fine-tuner. And back and back and back and so on. “Turtles all the way down.”

  29. drawn2myattention says

    To Phil of CA: a good source for objections to the fine tuning argument (FTA) is the now inactive blog, Common Sense Atheism. The blog’s creator had great fun with the FTA, asking if the universe was fine tuned for iPads, since they depended on millions of years of primate evolution and are therefore more improbable than humans. What about the AI of the future? Maybe that was the deity’s goal all along, and humanity is no more than a means to an end.
    Also, some fatal objections to the FTA come ironically from Christian philosophers Tim and Lydia McGrew. They actually specialize in probability theory, and among other things, point out something well known to mathematicians: you can’t do probability calculations with infinite numbers. And the McGrews offer the “rough tuning objection”: imagine that the value of any constant could fall within an interval trillions of values wide, and still produce life. Now zoom out from the infinite number line and watch that immense interval grow smaller and smaller, until it disappears. The probability of landing in that interval is either inconceivably low, zero, or indeterminate in principle. So, rough tuning, mid tuning, fine tuning: nothing can be concluded when the probability space is infinite.
    I suspect that the McGrews were concerned that their devastating criticisms of the FTA might trouble the faith of some believers, so they had a vigorous debate with W L Craig, “offstage”. But it leaked out. Google the McGrews. We shouldn’t underestimate the heavy lifting done for atheists by honest theistic philosophers.

  30. Justin says

    Call screeners/hosts: Mark/Edward from London is a troll. Stop taking their calls. Also “Mary from Scotland” was clearly Hamish using a voice changer. Get on top of this! You guys get plenty of callers and don’t need to rely on these repeat trolls that try to change their names and voices to waste show time with the same tired arguments.

  31. sayamything says

    @Monocle Smile I don’t know. I can’t rule out a troll, but I’ve seen people like this in real life too often to immediately call troll. People get upset when they think their point isn’t being heard, even if it’s been torn down and dismantled. If I were running the show, I don’t think I’d waste any further time on someone who was just retreading the same stuff (though I’m certainly not telling the cast what to do here), but I don’t know that I’d declare them a troll, either.

    There’s probably come clinical name for the effect in play here.

  32. Gail Herr says

    Leslie from NM: why are you concerned with what your Mom believes as she is entering the end stage of her life? You said she has changed in the intensity of her beliefs, and becoming confused. Those changes are probably physical. She isn’t doing this to annoy you. Spend the rest of your time with her comforting her in any way you can, even if it means talking about her vision of afterlife. Just love your Mom while you still have her. None of the other stuff matters. Just your relationship, and the love you feel for each other. When she’s gone, are you going to say, “Wow, good for me, I deconverted her at last!” I recommend you talk to a social worker about how to support your Mom and get support for yourself.

  33. RationalismRules says

    @Gail Herr
    Towards the end of Leslie’s call it becomes clear that she is not talking about converting her mom, rather she’s exploring the question of how far should one ‘go along to get along’. To put it another way, if an aged relative is pushing their religion onto you there is a choice to be made as to how far you go along with that in order to support their happiness vs. being honest / true to oneself. To consider the extreme case, would it be ‘right’ to lie and pretend to be Xtian in order to save the mom the worry / grief she will feel believing her daughter is going to hell?

    It’s actually a very deep question – if you love someone, wouldn’t you want them to know who you really are? Or is it more important that you support their happiness at all costs, even at the expense of honesty?

  34. Marcel says

    @31 Justin
    I don’t think Mary is Hamish. Now, if Mary had begun with “I’m deeply disturbed by …”, then sure.

  35. Mobius says

    An aside…

    To my knowledge, as of Wed. night Roy Moore has yet to concede the election in Alabama. In a speech, he stated that “God is always in control”.* Well, given how the election seems to have gone, it looks like God was not on Roy Moore’s side.

    * Never mind what this says about free will.

  36. Monocle Smile says

    Last I checked, he was tossing a bunch of right-wing buzzwords into microphones like a toddler.

  37. RationalismRules says

    @Mobius @MS
    The election result made me think about ‘signs from god’. If Moore had won, the evangelicals would undoubtedly have taken that as a sign from god that they were right. I wonder if any of them are taking his loss as a sign from god that they were wrong to vote for him – somehow I doubt it.

  38. RationalismRules says

    From reading the Wikipedia article:

    The Weak Anthropic Principle basically says “for us to be here to observe it, the universe must necessarily be life-supporting”.
    I fully understand why you’d be on board with that.

    The Strong Anthropic Principle, if I understand it correctly, proposes that there is some inevitability that life would eventuate within the universe.
    Is that your understanding of it, and are you on board with this too? If so, why?

  39. Luc says


    That version of the Strong Anthropic Principle is probably closest to Barrow and Tipler’s definitions, which is stronger than Carter’s original. It is far too close to aspects of Intelligent Design for my tastes, so no, I’m not on board with that. Even Carter’s version of the SAP makes me a bit uncomfortable, whereas the WAP (especially Carter’s) strikes me as pretty much just stating the obvious. Of course (our section of) the universe was conducive to life, because if it wasn’t, nobody would be around to wonder why it wasn’t!

    In the process of writing that last sentence, I discovered perhaps what is perhaps an issue: the difference between saying it *was* conducive to life is different than saying it *had to be*. My understanding has always been the former, but on repeated reading, I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s kinda like a cosmic scale version of, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it…” If our universe (or any theoretical universe) was not conducive to life and observing it is impossible, can it be said to exist at all? Then if you preface it with, “in order for us to be here to observe it,” then saying it “had to be” is okay again.

    Blech, words suck. Suddenly I have the urge to dust off my John Wheeler autobiography and try to follow his “it from bit” observer-universe stuff again. Thanks for pushing me to think a bit harder on the topic.

  40. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @RationalismRules #38:

    If Moore had won, the evangelicals would undoubtedly have taken that as a sign from god that they were right. I wonder if any of them are taking his loss as a sign from god that they were wrong to vote for him

    @Monocle Smile #40:

    Moore losing is a sign of the End Times, dontcha know?

    Article/Video: RawStory via JoeMyGod – Trump Crowd Cheers After Warmup Speaker Predicts Return of Jesus Due to Trump’s Jerusalem Move
    /Odd. The blog quietly ate my first post attempt. Second attempt said “Duplicate comment detected. You already said that.” Tried a url shortener this time.

  41. RationalismRules says

    (small sigh of relief) I’m glad you’re not advocating Barrow & Tipler’s SAP. I agree, that one feels quite similar to a deist or ID argument, although it doesn’t actually posit a conscious entity, just some sort of driving force.

    If our universe (or any theoretical universe) was not conducive to life and observing it is impossible, can it be said to exist at all?

    Can we say (ie. have confidence) that any universe exists without observing it? No.
    Could any universe exist without observers? I would argue yes, based on our observations of our own universe, which we believe to have existed for billions of years before life-forms originated.

    It seems to me that any notion that observers are required to bring the universe into existence carries the implication that history poofs into existence once the observers arrive, which is obviously nonsensical, or requires a notion of ‘backwards causation’, which is what I’m now going to have to read up on. So thank you for pushing me too!

  42. RationalismRules says

    I see your Jerusalem article, and raise you this bible quote (I’ve emphasised the key points):

    And then the lawless one (aka Trump) will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception (Trump, Trump, more Trump) for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false (obviously a reference to fake news), so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.
    – 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12

    Funnily enough, MS’s comment had led me to thinking about this very issue – Trump as the initiator of ‘end-times’ – although I hadn’t made the Jerusalem connection.

  43. Grantus Maximus says

    @Justin #31 “Also “Mary from Scotland” was clearly Hamish using a voice changer”

    Hmm… I’m not convinced by that claim. There are a lot of people like Hamish and Mary in Scotland with some very deeply held fundamental and literal beliefs. Also, Hamish’s accent is definitely a genuine one that I’ve come across before, despite comments in the past from other commenters.

  44. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @RationalismRules #44:

    “…Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth..”

    Holy halitosis! So that’s why Trump carries Tic-Tacs.

  45. nocturn says

    I’m a bit puzzled by the fine tuning for life argument.
    Do they mean that life existed before the universe existed?
    If not, then how can the universe be fine tuned for something that doesn’t exist?

    I think this is the typical way that theists try to sneak a god into the argument without specifying that they used god.
    If you look at it from this perspective the argument becomes:
    1) God exists
    2) therefor life exists
    3) the universe is created to support that notion of life
    4) therefor god exists…
    or something like that 🙂

  46. nude0007 says

    I can’t get the youtube video to work. At the bottom time passes but nothing changes. no sound or pix. Went at it through several portals, made no difference.

  47. bigdude says

    Mark from London is not trying to understand. He is trying to convert you and/or your listeners, or just likes to hear himself talk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *