Open Thread / Show #699: Tracie & Matt

I would like to talk a bit about something I explained in a recent viewer mail to someone who wrote in to ask the following (emphasis mine):

In agreement with the Big Bang theory, where the existence of the Universe was once an immeasurable “ball” of infinite density and mass, and wherein a reaction took place causing the creation of the Universe; was the matter always existent? Was the matter created? If everything has a beginning, would not the matter need a beginning as well? If science cannot explain such a question, then why is the unexplainable or supernatural not more plausible than “no, it wasn’t created”, considering that science will never be able to explain before the existence of time and space? (And yes, I’m aware of quantum gravity and physics)

After I replied, he said only: “I thank you very much for you reply, and the information relating my cosmological questions. This was very informative. Again, thank you!” This leads me to be hopeful that my response actually may have been helpful to a person who did not know why supernatural explanations are less valid than natural ones. If it can shed any light, then I would like to share it:

The second part of your question is why supernatural hypotheses would be considered less valid than natural hypotheses in claims of causation. The short answer is “things that do not exist cannot be the cause of other things.” This is not a claim that supernature does not exist. It is a statement asserting that in order for anything (including supernature) to be put forward as a valid cause, that “thing” must at the very least be existent. Nature (matter) is known to exist. Supernature is not known to exist. So, if we wish to posit supernatural explanations, we then compound the problem by putting forward an explanation that also needs an explanation. In other words, to make our supernatural explanation even begin to be valid, we need to find a way to show that there actually is such a thing as supernature that can do what we’re claiming. Until we can examine supernature, we can’t make any valid assertions about what supernature is or what it does.

So, we have an unexplained event-X. And we have nature which can be examined to see if it can do what is required to achieve X. Then we have supernature, which we can’t examine, neither can we demonstrate, and about which we can make zero informed claims. So it is literally just an unknown variable: Y. In this case, if we put supernature forward as the cause, we’re saying something we can’t explain was caused by a thing we can’t know anything about and for all we know doesn’t even exist. So, mysterious event-X is caused by unknown, possibly nonexistent cause-Y.

Saying Y caused X where Y cannot be defined is not an explanation.

I hope this helps.

Part of why I put this forward is that it seems to me to be the first step in many conversations that gets shoved out of the way as though it doesn’t matter. We forget to verify our cause exists and jump into arguments regarding what it does, what attributes it may have, what motivations (if any), and so on. However, we can’t verify any of our claims about this cause-Y are valid if we can’t examine cause-Y. It’s a very different question to ask “can this occur naturally,” where we have nature to examine and investigate the answer, than to invoke supernature, where we have no means to compare claims against the cause-Y we’re claiming.

The practical benefit, I hope, will be less people arguing with theists about what sorts of things god does/doesn’t do, and whether or not there is actually a god. I would hope that the atheist who finds himself arguing against endless or repeated claims of god’s attributes or actions would see a light come on and ask “Wait–how can we be arguing over the attributes or actions of something we can’t even say exists?”

Fan mail…oh the irony…

I wont bother ripping this to shreds, because the author doesn’t care to hear from us (yet we’re the closed-minded ones)…so, enjoy:

I am not Theist.

I have never seen a bigger bunch of Cop-outs and evangelists such as yourselves. You feed on the blood of the ignorant with your rediculous commentary and outdated science and philosophy. Why not just state that you people are MAterialist, or naturalist, perhaps even objectivists ect. I have listened to the numerous arguments you have with believers, and your rediclous attitude gets worse as the shows go on. You people DO NOT have open minds, nor do you get your science correct.

This show, more-so these two idiotic hosts can be likened as the Alex Jones of Atheism. But it is not Atheism you people subscribe to, its naturalism, or at least in my opinion. One moment you make remarks, which are only half theories about Quantum mechanics, and then have the gaul to tell a caller that everything is made of Atoms? From which ERA were you people born into? Or from which era are you getting your scientific explinations. On top of which, you interperate this information as poorly as the man who said there was a God because a banana fits in your hand!

I could not care less what your response is, because you will speak more bullshit to me than you have anyone else. Your method is distasteful, your ideals are shallow, your science is dated and your philosophy is mangled. You only appeal to more ignorant fellows who are atheist rather then theist. Like a damn buzzard picking the eyes out of a half dead human. You are both the kind of people who believe the conversion to Atheist is the release of Ignorance. You only consider anti-materialists to be ignorant.

I wish you both the Utmost shame. You can wave the magic in your response to me, if any, but the issue remains in the back of your mind, and I hope these words haunt you forever.

I am not a Theist, but you both make me sick to my stomach, like a news reader using authority to establish truth, rather than the exposition of truth. Like a child wanting to be a rock star, you want to be Richard Dawkins, the copout version beta’s!

Enjoy your wasted time on Earth, preaching about humanity and REligion, when you have not even taken the time to study any of the scriptures. Your take on history is utterly bias, and I have yet to meet an educated fellow who takes this show seriously.

Kind Regards,
Someone much smarter than to abide by this crap.

P.S. You should become street preachers, so we can finally regard you as completley insane. Perhaps I will drop a coin into your hat.

Facebook friends…not always friendly.

I’m currently unable to add any new friends and that turned out to be a pretty good thing. Beth and I both received friend requests from a “Michelle Kay”. We noticed that she didn’t have any mutual friends, but Beth went ahead and accepted the friend request after noting that she listed herself as a fan of The Atheist Experience.

This evening, Beth got a message from this person which confirmed our suspicions:

Anonymous, Westboro and free speech.

UPDATE: Anonymous isn’t going after WBC

Or are they? That’s the problem with anonymity and a free-form organization that isn’t an organization…how do we know which announcement represents them or if there’s a ‘them’ to represent? It’s pretty silly, really.


Let me be perfectly clear:

The activities of the Phelps family and their Westboro Baptist Church are some of the most vile, repugnant and disgusting exercises of free speech in history.

That said, they’ve recently been warned by Anonymous that:

“ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.
Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover. It is in your best interest to comply now, while the option to do so is still being offered, because we will not relent until you cease the conduction & promotion of all your bigoted operations & doctrines.

The warning has been given. What happens from here shall be determined by you.”

Even some of my friends are rooting for Anonymous…after all, the Phelps clan is beneath contempt.

I’m not rooting for Anonymous, and I’m shocked that any thinking person is.

Despise the Phelps’ protests all you like, but they are operating within the law and have repeatedly gone to court to protect the freedom of speech that we all enjoy. Anonymous, on the other hand, seem to have appointed themselves as the moral conscience of the planet and have decided to dictate what sort of free speech should be permitted.

This group of anonymous hactivists are not only breaking the law, they’re attacking free speech while claiming to revere it. They’ve taken it upon themselves to be the sort of Orwellian authority that one would presume they’d be opposed to.

They’re hypocrites – and dangerous ones.

I really don’t like coming to the defense of the Westboro Baptist Church and yet I’m forced to do it over and over again because well-meaning but misguided people stupidly attempt to attack them for exercising the same freedoms that the rest of us are exercising.

Now, this blog may vanish tomorrow – but I won’t be cowering to terrorist threats just because they’re made against someone I despise.

God, $20, Skepchick, Dickishness …

This is long, has quite a few links – and I’m going to call some skeptics out for being decidedly unskeptical…

The Religious Antagonists, Mike Lee, posted a new video on January 25th and the response has been mixed.

The short description is that he offers a homeless couple $20 to remove the word “God” from their sign.

Hemant Mehta, at Friendly Atheist, offered his thoughts.

Mike and I had a private e-mail exchange where I pointed out that I’m on the fence about this particular video.

I wrote:

“I’m somewhat torn. On the one hand there’s a very important point made in that video. On the other hand, it seemed like a bit of a lose-lose. You’re going to appear overly antagonistic as it’s hard for a homeless couple to appear anything other than sympathetic especially when they have a kid and especially to the majority of Christians who would probably be cheering them on.

I’ve been thinking about it off and on all day – which is great – but I don’t know who the target audience is and whether or not they’d give it the same thought. To someone like my parents, you just look like a dickish, agent-of-Satan who is harassing homeless Christians. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like the AFA used your video to drum up more donations.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they used many of my videos to drum up donations and my parents think I’m a dickish, agent-of-Satan…so we’re in the same boat.

I’m still completely undecided on this. It’d be hypocritical of me to complain about Christian homeless ministries who offer food in exchange for a sermon while endorsing your actions. Right now, the only thing that might trump that issue is that you were making a point and aren’t (as far as I know) starting a campaign with this as the default reaction to homeless people with religious messages on their signs.

The commentary certainly makes me favor the video a bit. The more I think about it, the more I’m leaning that direction…but this one is still far from settled, for me.”

Mike responded and I asked him to sit in on a future episode of The Non-Prophets so that we could openly talk about all aspects of this, including the response.

And then, just a short while ago, Masala Skeptic from Skepchick posted her thoughts on the video and I had to wonder if she actually watched the video and thought about it for a few minutes before posting.

As I started reading the comments, hoping someone would point this out, what I saw amazed me. Several of these skeptics simply refused to watch the video and made up their mind based on Masala’s comments.

So, I’ll point out the problems with her commentary, in the hopes that discussions about this video (about which I am still undecided) might be a bit more thoughtful and relevant to the content.

– doesn’t seem to understand that Mike flatly acknowledged he was being a jerk.

– discusses the video with no acknowledgement of the clarification and commentary that Mike added.

– doesn’t seem to get the important meaning behind this (that religion encourages poor decision making – to the point that a starving family will turn down money)

– doesn’t seem to realize that Mike never asked them to stop believing (she wrote: “Mike tries to get the couple to give up their faith in a higher power for the temptation of $20.” Mike specifically states the opposite. Did she watch the video?)

– doesn’t seem to realize that they acknowledged that they weren’t putting their soul on the line. (She wrote: “An offer of $20 simply isn’t going to make someone put his eternal soul on the line if that is what they believe is at stake.”…when it was made clear in the video that this wasn’t REMOTELY the case. Did she watch the video?)

– doesn’t seem to realize that those people got the money and got to keep their “god” at the end of all of this

– doesn’t seem to think that Mike would say that he believed in god for $20 – I would if it was obvious that I was just uttering words to get cash, rather than stating my honest beliefs. I suspect Mike would, as well. If I was homeless, I most definitely would.

– takes an irrelevant and silly shot at Mike’s sweater

– completely misrepresents the video as if it were intended to be a “funny” video.

– pulls the passive-aggressive ‘probably can’t see the irony of thinking he’s right’ bullshit while explaining why Mike is wrong and she’s right…

As I said, I’m still torn on the video and I’d like to see more discussion about it, but I’d rather discuss it with people who have actually seen the video and with people who are open to fairly and intelligently representing it. People who refuse to watch it, or watch part of it only to rely on other people’s commentary for their unskeptical dismissal aren’t helping the discussion. People who misrepresent the video definitely aren’t helping the discussion.

The knee-jerk, “don’t be a dick” crowd annoy me – mostly because they’re hypocritically and blindly being dicks about not being dicks. (And almost exclusively on the subject of theism/atheism…)

Make no mistake – Mike is being a dick and he acknowledges it. Masala isn’t.

I do like Masala’s suggestion for alternate ways to handle this situation, but she doesn’t seem to realize that Mike isn’t advocating his method as the new de facto standard, it’s a single incident constructed to highlight an issue. How can it not be an important issue?

So, what’s your take on the video?

Understanding atheists

A response to this posting by Rabbi Adam Jacobs:

“My dear Rabbi Jacobs,

If your goal is to try to “walk back” some of the clamorous dialogue and understand each other better, perhaps you shouldn’t start by presuming to define atheism on your terms and proceding to tell us that we’re not really atheists.

Beating on the straw man of absolute certainty immediately discredits your commentary.

Perhaps you shouldn’t claim to already understand our perspective while demonstrating, at every turn, that you most certainly do not (and claiming to be seeking this understanding).

If you really wanted to understand our position, you wouldn’t claim to already understand it, you wouldn’t write such a transparently concern-troll-like sermon, you’d actually engage in conversation instead of, ironically, engaging in the very sort of dialogue you claim to be trying to avoid.”

We get email

Hard to keep coming up with creative new titles for these, so may as well just stick with the time-tested one.

Dear AE, please stop being naive & guilble.

You’re blinded & deceived by the devil.

I pray that you, along with every fellow atheist find the light through all the darkness you all

remain In & accept our Lord Jesus Christ as your almighty saviour.

Whats the purpose of preaching atheism, when you don’t go anywhere after life?

Whats the point?

You say us Chrisitans are waisting precious time here on earth, while thats quite hypocritical.

You preach atheism, aren’t you waisting precious time as well?

Us christians actually believe In a beautiful life after death with our king & saviour, so we have

more then a reason to preach, It’s our purpose.

We want to save people from there sin & the devil because we love them & don’t want them to end

up In hell.

Whats your purpose?

Life Is a lesson that we’re here to learn & experience, our reward Is heaven.

All of you are being controlled by the devil, you don’t even know It because you cease to have an

open mind, you cease to even try to understand his existence because Its much to difficult.

You would rather just take the easy way In life & say there Isn’t a God.

You would rather be your own God, have your own control, your own reasone for existence because

thats what YOU want & find easiest.

Quite honestly, I think life as an Atheist would be quite sad & depressing because to think we are

only here once & that all this that we’re living currently Is all for nothing?

That would mean there Is absolutely no purpose for anything.

I’m not going to get Into detail because as long as you all keep that hard head of yours, you won’t

ever see the truth & you will end up pershing in hell for the rest of eternity.

For your sake, please try & see the truth.

Call out to the lord & ask for his help, he won’t let you down.

Seek him diligently & you shall find.

It takes time, but be patient & wait on the Lord because those that remain patient & wait on the

Lord have a special place In the kingdom of God.

There Is all to much Info out there, you just need

to seek diligently & you shall find.

Start of by praying, asking for forgivness, accepting Jesus as your Lord/saviour & then ask him to

come Into your life & he will.

Then pick a bible up & start studying, you will see the truth.

You will finally experience the peace that comes with knowing & following him.

We love you, may God bless & have mercy on you.

[name deleted]

I like this one because it’s the complete opposite of the usual, unreadable “dozens of sentence crammed into a single giant paragraph” format that we often see. Instead of that, every sentence in this message has its own paragraph, and sometimes the paragraph breaks occur within a single sentence.

Also, for some unfathomable reason, it looks to me like every word that begins with the letter “I” is capitalized, (“It”, “Is”, “In”) as if the author was chided too many times for failing to capitalize the first person pronoun, and he went to the opposite extreme. A little knowledge being a dangerous thing, and all that.

I may be accused to responding to this email’s style over its substance, but really, in a case like this, what the hell else can you do?

Post-show thoughts for 1/10

Hi folks,

Thanks for watching the show last night, and thanks in advance to all of you who will eventually come across this thread after listening to the podcast. Sorry for spinning this off into a new post, but I felt like using my executive privilege to cut in line and not appear after 20+ comments.

I hear what you guys are saying about the positives and negatives of last night’s experiment. And believe me, this was definitely an experimental bit, and I didn’t have any idea whether this would be a good move or not. I suspect I will not really be sure until discussing it and reading feedback for a few more weeks. I’m sure there are things that could be improved.

I cut my intro short, because the obvious shuffling around on camera threw me off a bit and I didn’t want the introduction to seem phony. But I was intending to explain a little better why I decided to violate our usual stated reasons for not having Christians on the show. Obviously there are a lot of exclusively Christian shows out there, so we feel no need to provide “equal time.” But as we’ve noted often in the last year, it’s hard to get a reliable source of disagreement from the callers when so many people are internet fans who seek us out because they like us. I think yesterday’s show illustrated that very well, since all but the last two callers were atheists, and those two were a bit mediocre in my opinion.

So I have been wanting to see what would happen if we go offer an invitation to an experienced Christian speaker, rather than some clueless person who just happened to stumble on us. I sent out an email to everyone at Great Hills Baptist (which is among the biggest churches in Austin) and got feedback from Kyle right away. While acknowledging that this was possibly a stumbling first effort, I’d like to make a case for why this appearance was a success.

First of all, apologies to people who were hoping that they would see a full scale brawl and didn’t get one. I know that that’s a direction we could have gone, but that would have depended more on getting a guest who wanted to fight. We got Kyle. He’s a polite, friendly, non-creationism-promoting, non-atheist-condemning Christian, and that’s who we wound up with on the show.

At the same time, I completely disagree with somebody’s claim that this was so “softball” that it was like Fox News interviewing Dick Cheney. My opening statement was intended to point out that whether or not evil is a “problem” for God, there is no indication that there is any kind of God (whether Dionysus, Jonathan Edwards’ god, or Kyle’s god) taking an active interest in society; and what we see is exactly what we’d expect if every individual simply made up their own concept of god based on personal preference. To the extent that Kyle made specific claims about his god, we didn’t miss any opportunity to point out that there is no rationale for believing that this god actually exists, or that Kyle’s interpretation of God has any more weight behind it than that of Jonathan Edwards. And furthermore, Kyle didn’t provide any serious disagreement with this response, preferring to disavow any application of evidence.

Yes, the conversation still turned out to be pleasant and friendly. So what? The mission of the Atheist Experience is not to destroy Christians at every opportunity. It’s:

  1. To promote positive atheism — which wouldn’t have been as well served by hosting a Crossfire-style shouting match.
  2. To provide community outreach and clear up misunderstandings — which I think will only be helped if we can encourage more Christians to watch the show and not fear the atheist attack dogs.
  3. To present atheism as a rational point of view while pointing out logical inconsistencies in religion — which we most certainly did.

I must also report that Kyle was a fine dinner companion, listening respectfully to people who wanted to contest what he’d said, and talking about experiences that people were interested in hearing. That’s exactly why we regularly add “or atheist friendly” in our dinner invitations.

Finally, I hear some people saying that the segment wasn’t long enough, and that they were left wishing that we had left more time for it. Fantastic! I was initially worried that 30 minutes was going to be too much time. I was thinking that if it became a one-sided preachfest, at least we would have a time limit. Instead, the time I was on seemed to fly right past, and I was downright surprised when 6:00 rolled down. Apparently, so were our viewers. So if you actually wanted more, then that’s a good indication that this is something we ought to repeat.

Obviously I wouldn’t be averse to having a guest with a little more fire and brimstone in them. If you know a better way to get in touch with such people, post your suggestions.