Matt’s comprehensive new takedown of Pascal’s Wager

Matt has been Patreoning a new series of videos in which he plans to take on arguments for belief in as detailed and complete a manner as possible, and the first of these is now available. It’s a full-on brilliant demolition of Pascal’s Wager, which he has addressed many times on AXP itself, but never to this degree of fine-tooth analysis and rebuttal. In particular, he distinguishes between modern colloquial versions of the Wager Christians today commonly use, and Pascals’ original wording. Definitely worth the 27 minutes. Enjoy.

So have you heard the one about the pastor who wants to sentence gays to 10 years’ hard labor?

Yeah, sure you have. It’s the latest thing blowing up the atheist blogosphere and social media. Some utter fool named Pastor Michael V. Williams, who runs a website called (to which I am not linking — take note of this brilliant trick, other atheist bloggers), has, in a YouTube video, offered up this solution to the homersectionality problem as he sees it.

Can I just make an observation?

Yes, this is a recapitulation of the “don’t feed the trolls” thing, but it bears mentioning that Williams’ YouTube channel, on which this drivel appears, has all of 10 subscribers. Generally, his videos get fewer than 100 views, and most get fewer than 50. He has some that have gotten only one.

Except this one, which has, as of this writing, gotten close to 10,000. Because some people got their panties in a twist, decided this mouth-breather was actually someone in a position of being able to influence real policy and lawmaking decisions (here’s the Progressive Secular Humanist blog calling the utterly obscure Williams a “Christian leader” and treating his “proposed amendment” like it’s a clear and present danger and something that may be about to go up for a vote on Capitol Hill any minute now), and have — O! irony, you cruel mistress — given Williams exactly the exposure he’s always dreamed of but never would have otherwise gotten by embedding and sharing his asinine video everywhere they can.

For fuck’s sake.

Look, religious bigotry against gays, atheists, women, minorities, what have you, is a vile thing and an ongoing real problem that produces real victims. This is not in dispute. But the real battles against those things are being fought in a much bigger arena, and while there is a long long long way to go, headway is being made. There has been a sea change in public attitudes towards marriage equality, for instance, and the momentum is on the side of the good guys here. We are almost certain to see nationwide legal gay marriage by the 2020’s, at least.

But the ongoing threat to equality does not mean we need to do the enemy’s work for them, overreact to every online outlier with a webcam and a Neanderthal opinion, and elevate his importance by giving him unwonted and undeserved exposure. The proper reaction to the Williamses of the word is to point and laugh, people. History is already leaving the pathetic, benighted clowns behind. So let us make merry at their increasing irrelevance, and their butthurt at this state of affairs. Point and laugh.

First rule of holes…

I can only think that what was on Richard Dawkins’ mind when he composed his most recent series of tweets was that he hoped to reassure critics of his, erm, often problematic approach to social issues that he wasn’t really saying or suggesting the awful things they thought he was. The result has, I fear, made an awkward situation worse. For starters, the tone of scolding condescension doesn’t help.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.  Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think. X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of X, go away and don't come back until you've learned how to think logically.

Someone might have tapped Dawkins on the shoulder at this point and gently suggested that addressing rape survivors as if they were creationist numbskulls who never grasped the whole thinky thing might have been the wrong approach. So he attempted to clarify some more.

[Read more…]

An observation on the concept of “callout culture”

So if you call yourself a skeptic, that means — or should mean — that you embrace the notion that no idea is sacrosanct, there is no dogma, and every idea and statement should be subject to criticism and rebuttal.

Crazy talk, right? But check it: there are some people, even in our august society of self-styled skeptics and freethinkers, who don’t actually hold to this. Oh, sure, they pay a great deal of lip service to it, but that’s easy to do as long as safe ideas are all that are brought under critical scrutiny: young earth creationism, Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing, UFO abductions and crop circles, “I had a three-way with Bigfoot and Slenderman,” or whatever fortune cookie word salad Deepak Chopra tweeted today.

But the minute they say something stupid, suddenly, the core principle of skepticism doesn’t apply. It is a thing to which they should be immune, because how could they be wrong!? Dammit, they are rationalists! Says so right there on their T-shirt.

So what happens is that sometimes a person like this will say something other folks think is really stupid, and instead of doing what skeptics pride themselves on doing — entering into a dialogue involving argument, rebuttal, and counter-rebuttal — they’re just so sold on the complete unassailability of their ideas that the only rational conclusion is that their critics must be just doing everything wrong in every way.

Well, that's settled then.

Well, that’s settled then.

See? It can’t be that one of our own might be a fallible person who doesn’t actually get everything right all the time. You’re just getting something wrong. Haven’t we already established that we’re the skeptical community, which my character sheet tells me gives us an automatic +20 on our “smarter than everyone else” die rolls? Indeed, if someone from within the ranks is criticizing your ideas, well, they are simply malcontents and agitators who are looking to create…


So it’s like this.

To sum up:  Atheist YouTuber makes humorous video mocking the worst aspects of callout culture.  Atheist public figure tweets said video.  Atheist callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.

Atheist YouTuber: Here is my new video in which I put on a wig and mock people I think are wrong.
Response: Okay, but this whole thing is a big straw man fallacy. If you’re going to criticize people, why not just criticize what they actually say?
Atheist YouTuber: SEE? CALLOUT CULTURE! And I totes predicted it. Where is my million dollars, Randi!?

All you have to do is slap a dismissive term on anyone critiquing your critique, and voila, you are immune from critique. Anyone who disagrees with me is just wrong about everything, because SKEPTICISM.

Let’s see how else we can play this game.

Creationist: “Look, I posted another video about how the universe is only 6000 years old, and evolutionist callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Psychic: “Look, I went on Montel and talked to the dead relatives of everyone in the audience, and those James Randi callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Moon landing hoaxer: “Look, Alex Jones posted another video about how the government totally faked all this shit, and the brainwashed sheeple callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
9/11 Truther: “Look, I posted another video in which I scientifically explained how exploding jet fuel burning at thousands of degrees could never in a million years structurally weaken a skyscraper and cause it to collapse, and the police state callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”

Huh…when those people talk that way, suddenly it sounds kind of stupid.


Well, fuckin A.

Here’s an idea.

Be a skeptic.

Step one: realize that you could be wrong too!

If someone else’s ideas are stupid, then it should be enough to address them accurately, not misrepresenting them, and on the sole basis of their merits. And if someone thinks you are wrong, then you should listen to what they say, and pick apart their criticism based on its merits, rather than simply slapping labels on them that are little more than the rhetorical equivalent of “lalalala I can’t hear you!” Because maybe it isn’t “callout culture” coming after you after all. Maybe you actually just said some stupid bullshit. People do. And you’re a people.

I know. No one ever said this skepticism thing was easy, or that handling its sharp edges would mean you’d never get cut yourself.

Sorry if that’s what someone told you when you came on board. But some men will just tell a pretty lady anything. You should have been more skeptical.

Open thread on episode #868

A very enjoyable show today, I thought, and always nice to be back in the cohost’s chair. As for the YT channel running behind, yes, I know, sorry everyone. But I am already underway in getting caught up — stuff is uploading as I type this — and the plan is to be completely current once more within a few days at most.

Here are the two G+ hangouts I mentioned partaking in last week.

Atheist Analysis:

A Debate Show Without an Interesting Name:

Update: To discuss the debate between Matt Dillahunty and Sye Ten Bruggencate, please go here.

Open thread on episode #859

Matt and I did the show today, and though there weren’t any theist callers of note (we think the one we got might have been a weak troll), we had at least one feisty call with an atheist viewer, who tried to make an argument in favor of allowing creationism to be taught in schools. As you’ll see in the episode, we thought his whole argument was informed by a naivety in thinking that students who were only at an introductory stage in their education would be able to evaluate (and do so correctly) creationism’s claims without first having an actual grounding in the basics of skepticism and critical thinking (which I sure as hell wasn’t given in junior high or high school). It was essentially a recapitulation of the “equal time” arguments creationists themselves have attempted to use down the years, except the caller thought that science and evolution would benefit from it.

Leave your thinks below.

Open (late) thread for episode #852

Many apologies for the delay in getting this up. The HD capture completely failed this week, for some reason. Not only did we only get a standard def capture, it wasn’t even properly formatted in 16:9. This one required extra work in post, especially to boost the sound, which still isn’t great. Anyway, talk amongst yourselves, as usual.