Caller “Josh” from Episode 21:20 – Further Thoughts

I understand what Josh is asking with regard to hard solipsism. I’ve held since I’ve understood the problem that we can’t know reality is what it seems to be. But we are confronted with no option but to accept what we’re confronted with as the foundation of what’s presented to us to work with. What is the alternative?

When I hear something like Josh has to offer, my immediate thought is how it’s possible that someone can’t differentiate between accepting what confronts us as unavoidable, versus accepting what we aren’t confronted with, and calling that unavoidable.

I get what Josh is trying to communicate. He’s saying that he sees the same reality I do, plus god. And he’s suggesting that just as I accept the rest of that reality, he must accept that same reality, plus god. And we both agree that we shouldn’t deny what we’re confronted with in some unavoidable way.

However, Josh seems to want to define a “feeling” that something is there, with being confronted by that something in a manifested form. The disconnect is that I don’t believe there is a computer on the desk in front of me based on a feeling. I believe it based on a manifestation.

I’d like Josh to imagine a reality we both agree is not real. Let’s say Josh and I have access to a video game that includes some form of simulated reality. In the game, as we navigate the levels, we encounter characters that are manifestations built within the simulation—trolls, goblins, elves, humans. They have territories they inhabit and weapons they use. Some of them can use magic. I tell Josh about a magic golden sword that the elf can access. He has not encountered this yet, so I navigate the game to show him the sword, and there it is, in a box that the elf opens. We both see it, and it manifests to us just as the characters and the territories and other weapons. Josh tells me the humans raise horses. I say I haven’t seen horses in the game. He then navigates to a part of the territories I haven’t visited yet and shows me stables and fields filled with horses.

None of this is real, and yet there are things we can see manifesting, and things we experience with regard to this game. For example, the humans can’t fly, but the elves can, using elf magic. The golden sword can be used by the elves and humans, but turns to ash once it’s grabbed by the hilt by a troll or goblin. And so on. None of this is real—we know it’s only a simulation—and yet there are rules. There are parameters. There are things we can see manifest, and things we can test to see whether they can or can’t be done.

Then Josh tells me the dragons are his favorite characters in the game. I say I haven’t seen the dragons yet, and ask if he will show me the dragons. Josh tells me he can’t show me the dragons. In fact, he can’t actually see them manifested. But he has a feeling there are dragons in the game. I ask him why? He can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling that he believes would not exist in him unless there were dragons in the game.

Even though both Josh and I know nothing in this game is as it seems–it’s all simulated and fake, there is a great deal of difference, between the characters we can encounter in the game, versus the dragons Josh simply feels must be there, although neither of us actually can observe their manifestation in the same way we experience manifestations of every one of the other characters. In the end, whether the reality we inhabit is real or unreal is irrelevant. What difference does it make? What matters is the difference between how we’re determining the elves “exist,” and how Josh is determining the “dragons” exist. When Josh says the dragons exist, he means something very different, apparently, than what we mean with regard to the elves.

I don’t understand what Josh is considering “existent” with regard to the dragons. I don’t understand how a “feeling” within one’s mind translates to a manifestation outside one’s own mind. Just because the reality is all simulated does not make the dragons just as “tangible” within the framework of this game, as the elves. Accepting the existence of dragons in the game—by either Josh or me—represents a departure from how we have, with every other aspect of this game, agreed that things “exist.”

It could be that Josh is trolling. But even if that’s the case, he is by no means the only person to ever use this explanation for the existence of god—to assert that somehow solipsism makes believe in the existence of a god as justified as belief in the existence of the air we breathe. I’ve heard people say this before: We can’t know anything we experience is real, so isn’t god just as believable as that telephone? No. No it’s not, because the telephone manifests in a vastly different way than the god—regardless of what this reality is or is not. Until a god manifests, I don’t agree, or even see how a feeling justifies saying it’s there in the same way we agree the phone is there. Adding things to reality as feelings, in the absence of manifestation, is not how I’ve come to the conclusion I must accept there’s a phone on my desk.

I agree it could be they are both are delusions—but we have to be honest and admit they are delusions of a very different sort.

Caller Kris from Episode 21:20 – Further Thoughts

I have often wondered to myself what I might have said to my younger, theist self, if I had that opportunity now, and whether anything I could have said would have made any difference to me then. The idea for me was, knowing so well how I thought, could I have, with my current understanding, have altered my views? The most honest answer I have given myself is “not really.” I honestly do not think there is anything I could go back and say to prior self that would have made any impact at the time I was a staunch believer.

When caller Kris came on the phone and began to testify, I was stunned how much she related that reminded me of myself back when. She initially called to say she wanted to share some of her experiences, and I asked her what her goal was—mainly to be clear that she wasn’t expecting to be allowed to testify unchallenged. When she said she was hoping to show us why she believes what she believes, we let her proceed. I even stated just a short time later, before she began to clarify, “What you’re saying is that to the best of your knowledge, what you’re about to relay is your accurate account of the events as you remember them.” And she confirmed. Sight unseen, with no knowledge of anything about Kris or what she was about to convey, I expressed our acceptance of her good faith effort to be honest in her statement.

She said she “came to faith” because she was at a point where she wasn’t sure, and she was searching for “truth”—she was searching online by watching videos about “experiences that people had of god.” Part of me wishes I would have inquired why this was an area of interest for Kris, as she stated that she had no religious upbringing. She then relayed she watched one testimony that convinced her to the point she actually believed. And that night she prayed. And here, I wish I would have asked Kris, if she had found the answer—and concluded a god exists, what was the point of further testing? Why pray to god to reveal itself, if you already have your answer?

She then says her prayer was answered a couple weeks later. Someone later at dinner joked she should have ordered through God Prime—so she wouldn’t have to wait weeks for the answer. But the interesting thing about receiving a revelation from the god of the universe showing you itself, was that apparently it’s not as impressive as you might think, because it took her some time to finally decide that the event actually was a demonstration of the god of the universe showing itself. Later, when she realized god had revealed itself, she was amazed—but somehow at the time it occurred, it wasn’t all that impressive or evident. In fact, the event was that a nonreligious event happened to be scheduled in a church, as a venue, and a relative was going to attend, and invited her to come along. This mundane episode is what Kris took as the almighty creator of the universe revealing itself to her. In fact, we often hold the annual ACA Bat Cruise lecture at a local church because it’s a convenient venue. Is this an annual revelation from the creator of the universe to the atheist Bat Cruise/Lecture attendees, that we’re all missing?

I asked if her prayer was specific. It was not. This is a Christian tactic. First you convince the person there is something valuable riding on the answer to the question “does god exist?” Then you tell them to go and ask for a sign or revelation—but nothing specific (not that even a specific answer would be confirmation—but at least it narrows the field a bit). Then you tell them they’ll know it when they see it—and as Kris demonstrates, even if you don’t know it when you see it, you can always go back and reinterpret past events to make them fit the bill. Kris even said, regarding god’s revelation that “he can do it in whatever way he chooses.” Literally, anything can be god revealing itself to you. She followed up with “you just know”—completely missing the point. But that first step is investment: If you can’t get someone to feel invested in the answer to that question—then they won’t care if there is or is not a god. I very much wish I’d have asked Kris what her investment was—as someone with no religious history. My own history was being raised in fundamentalism, so, like a later caller, fear of potential hell was a strong motivation. In fact, I prayed for approximately two years straight for evidence of god before my family’s preacher invited me to a class about evidence for faith. If that class had not happened—is there much doubt that going down the path I was on—praying for years, every night—something would eventually have happened that could be interpreted as “a sign” from god—especially with a fear of hell, and being separated from my family for eternity, looming over my head? But with Kris—never being taught she had any dog in the fight—what difference did it make to her, one way or the other, if there is/is not a god?

The fact that Kris was motivated to find an answer showed some investment—she wasn’t just mildly curious. She was “searching” for this answer—spending time watching others explain their experiences—why? I don’t doubt Kris was not raised religiously, but I do have to say this smacks of religious influence. Someone convinced Kris the answer to this question had some bearing on her—enough that finding the answer was important. She had, at this point, accepted some level of buy-in to some religious doctrine, sufficient to convince her of this.

Additionally, she had bought-in to special pleading. Imagine you lost your watch and couldn’t find it. You desperately want to know where it is—to know the truth of where you left it, so that you could find it again. Would you go into your bedroom and think hard to the cosmos, asking the location of the watch be revealed to you? If you wanted to know if the stories about Big Foot represented a real species of large ape in North America—would you mentally ask Big Foot to reveal itself to you in some nonspecific way? This is not how you discover the truth about the reality you live in. It’s not how you learn about things outside your own mind. What else do we apply this sort of “searching” to? I suppose to some degree, things like remote viewing might qualify? But in the end, most folks realize this is not the way to discover truth. If a scientist published a conclusion with his evidence being “I asked the cosmos to reveal the truth to me, and I really feel this is right,” it would be ludicrous. If an investigating law enforcement officer said he had made an arrest and identified the perpetrator of a crime by asking the cosmos to reveal it to him—again, I would seriously hope we would not consider that sound investigative technique.

An honest search for truth is not handled in this way—except if the thing you’re searching for is god. And you only know this if someone with a religious background has convinced you to use this form of special pleading for god. Just trash everything you know about how truth is discovered—and use this technique that you’d consider ridiculous in any other context. I accepted this when I was younger, because of years of conditioning. It’s a bit odd to me that someone who was not raised with this ideology would buy in so readily to it. Again, I’m not saying Kris was raised in a religious home—but it’s clear that someone was exerting Christian religious influence on her—because these methods and ideas about god and how to find truth regarding god—are not learned from life experience, but from indoctrination.

When Kris went into the church she says she found a text for a prayer that explained how you could give your life to god. Again—if your question is “does god exist?,” and you’ve answered it—what exactly are you doing here? She says she really didn’t even know what “giving your life to god” entailed, but she decided to go with the prayer, anyway. Why? What makes you think, that if a god exists, there’s a need to “give your life” over to that god? What convinced you a god wants your life devoted to it? Again, evidence someone was influencing her religiously. She doesn’t explain this beyond watching some videos, but it seems clear to me that religious influence is affecting Kris’ decisions and thinking here. These are not ideas you’d come to on your own, without someone telling you these things work in this way and these assumptions should be made.

In sum, Kris’ assumptions don’t make any sense if you’re not already presupposing things about a god’s nature and intentions. And what a coincidence that her assumptions happen to perfectly align with pre-existing Christian doctrine about god?

She went on to say she’s experienced a lot of “amazing” things since. But “amazing” is relative, in the same way “I went to an event that was held in a church” is relative as a revelation of the existence of the creator of the universe. She additionally has experienced a unique form of joy. I will never stop explaining to people that emotions are self-informing and self-generated. There is a ton of current evidence showing that emotions are feedback generated by our own brains in response to our own interpretations of events—whether those interpretations are accurate or not. Confronted by something that cannot harm you, a person can still experience unwarranted fear. It’s a response to their personal interpretation of the external reality. And it simply informs them they feel this way about that external reality. There is no evidence to date that emotional experience and feedback is the result of gods manipulating our brains or thoughts or feelings. Zero. Why this idea that emotional responses are convincing evidence of god persists, in light of today’s understanding of human emotional responses, is baffling. There are people whose brains don’t work normally who experience problems with emotional response, and we have clearly tied this to brain chemistry. You can even manually manipulate emotional response using chemicals or electrodes—further showing it’s your brain, not god/s, that determines your emotional states. There should be no question about this. “Joy” is as much evidence of god as a headache or being hungry.

Eventually I asked Kris what she was referring to when she used the label “god.” This was what my 10-year search culminated in. When I finally realized I had no meaningful definition of god, the phrase “I believe a god exists” was no more meaningful than “I believe ? exists.” I wasn’t expressing a belief, because I can’t believe in something I have no definition for—that has no meaning even to me. What am I saying is true? If I don’t know—then I’m not saying anything meaningful. I’m expressing nonsense. And so, I wondered what Kris’ response would be to this question. She gave several very flailing attempts to explain. At one point when I asked her to explain what god is, she actually responded “I’m not sure I understand the question.”

At this point, in response to me saying I’d wasted ten years of my life on this and was frustrated by the thought of her potentially wasting her own life, she replied, “I’m not wasting my life believing something I know is the truth.” This is a segue, but I wanted to note that at the end of the call, she denied having said this, and Matt called her out for lying. What she said was inaccurate. But let me say that I know what Kris was experiencing here. When someone begins asking you questions you aren’t prepared for in defense of your religious beliefs, you start saying anything to defend—no matter how far down the hole of absurdity you have to go. You flail and begin making nonsensical statements, and even contradicting yourself. It’s actually quite possible that Kris didn’t even know, at the time she said she wasn’t claiming truth, that she cognitively realized how many times she’d actually referred to her beliefs in the call as true/truth. After the show, in talking to Chris Johnson about how much Kris reminded me of my past self, he asked something like “But would you have said ‘God is love’ and all that other ridiculous stuff?” My answer was “yes. Absolutely I would have been saying ridiculous things—and probably thinking I was making complete sense.” The ability to self-contradict and not realize it is part and parcel of indoctrination, and how you defend these beliefs at any cost. It’s completely common. Take a religious person off script—and no one knows, not even them, what you’re going to get.

When Matt asked how she can know her views are true, he asked what if someone had a pair of lucky socks they “just know are lucky.” And at that point, she reverted again into special pleading. She refused to compare her belief that it’s true a god exists with someone else’s belief it’s true their team wins games like when they wear their lucky socks. There is no reason to refuse to use both examples to determine the difference between your knowledge of the truth about X, and their knowledge of the truth about Y. Just explain how your knowledge is different. It’s not hard. But it is if there is actually no difference. So, rather than address the structure of the justification for how she knows—she simply dismissed it based on the fact that her god is deserving of unique categorization that is not ever comparable to anything else: Special pleading.

She then reverted to the apologetic expression: “God is love.” She even reached to say that it’s a unique use of the term “love” to mean “something positive.” But this helps not at all. Of course I believe things happen that we can interpret at positive. Of course I accept the existence of the emotion “love”—even as subjective as it is. But she began to say fire and park benches are synonymous with love. It was the point where her apologetics were beginning to unravel—in view of the audience. I don’t mean to imply that she actually viewed her responses as going off the rails. But I think at this point other viewers were able to see things quickly disintegrating as far as her credibility as a reasonable person willing to honestly converse.

At this point, Matt referenced the call log to say she had woken up with “Matt’s name in your spirit.” And she explained that she felt the fact she remembered his last name was another revelation from god. And again, it’s a testament to how literally anything can be communication from the almighty creator of the universe.

Going back through the call, I feel that I did give a good attempt to deconstruct her testimony based on the experience I’ve had since my own deconversion. I don’t think there is much else I could have added. I’m not saying there weren’t other paths to pursue. Potentially a discussion on Bible origins may have been useful? But outside of that I walked her through most of what impacted my views on belief in god.

Perhaps the worst part of that call, however, was her dismissal of my past experience and Matt’s, when she used the tired and dishonest stereotype that anyone who really believes a god exists could never stop believing. This was offensive on many levels, but the worst for me was possibly that I started the call by telling her we would take her at her word in good faith—when it came to her explaining her own experiences. Many times I told her I believed she believed and was wholly dedicated—because I understood that experience myself. My past belief and devotion didn’t diminish her own, in fact, it validated it. We only called her beliefs into question when she wasn’t able to explain what she believed to be true, and when she outright contradicted her constant claim she had knowledge of the truth, by saying she’d never said that. Up to the point she began to stop making sense, and to contradict herself, we never attempted to invalidate her version of the events leading to her interpretations. We may have challenged the interpretations, but not her experiences. Her response to us, to say that we didn’t believe what we claimed to believe—that we were sitting there lying—was an affront to every atheist deconvert, but most especially those who were most dedicated and spent the most time devoted to religious ideologies—some of whom, I wouldn’t mind comparing to her own devotion to see how she stacks up.

The call frustrated me. And I’m glad, going back to see that I didn’t seem as hostile as I feared I might have. I don’t think my interaction with her altered her view in any way. But I’m hoping that some others who were watching may have gained something from it—which is most often how the show impacts people. Who knows?

“AS” strikes again

The 16-year-old who wrote to us with many proofs of god, featured a few posts below, has replied via e-mail. I wanted to share the reply, and my response, interspersed below:

well, to reply to you very first paragraph, lol.. does George washington exist? well, you know he does in fact exist because of documents, and history books. You know, he said MANY quotes, JUST like Jesus did.

No, it’s not “just like Jesus,” because Jesus never wrote anything himself that we know of. We have no autographs. And we have no records of Jesus supplied to us by reliable eye-witness, contemporary authors. So, it’s not “just like” what we have for Jesus when it comes to George Washington. The mountain of records available for the existence of George Washington, and the specific records by contemporary peer sources for his actions during his lifetime, and his personal correspondences, make George a historic person, where Jesus becomes more myth than man. And when we’re given events that sound even a bit “iffy” about George, we don’t accept them as accurate. So “he never told a lie” is discarded as myth. And with Jesus, so many of the claims about his life are outlandish, far beyond “he never told a lie,” that we have to reject quite a lot of what is recorded about him by even the second-hand sources. So, it’s not comparable at all.

how can you believe one side of history, like George washington, when you don’t believe in the history side about Jesus, doesn’t make sense AT ALL.

Because I already explained that history rests on evidence available—realizing that what we claim to “know” must be supported by what we can actually reasonably support. With Jesus, again, not one reliable contemporary eye-witness account. That means what we have are stories about stories. That’s not the best to work with in trying to piece together facts. The “historic” Jesus that is put forward by historians is nothing like the Jesus recorded in the Bible. I am willing to accept that there may have been a rabbi upon whom these myths were based, since this is expert opinion. I never said I think Jesus never existed. But I reject the miracle claims (as do serious historians), the same way I would reject them about Washington—or about Homer’s claims as I explained already earlier. I accept “Jesus” historically, with all the same requirements I apply to claims of all other historic persons.

expert? lol, who’s to determine an expert?? we could all be dummies here on the Earth. While some are smarter than others, I don’t think that term was correct, noone is completly 100% an expert on things, if they were we’d all have the answers.

If my sink breaks, I don’t call a heart surgeon. Would you? There are men and women who have devoted their lives to the study of specific areas of history. It has nothing to do with being smarter. It’s about them having access to the best evidence and information available—that the rest of us will likely never see. And also the fact they’ve studied these areas of history to a far greater extent than the lay population. That makes them better qualified to comment on the issue than you or I.

To claim nobody is any more expert in a historic opinion than anyone else is not reasonable. And to claim, then, that we can’t accept anyone’s explanations, even the most educated people in the field of history—as being “the most” trustworthy—undermines your own views as much as anyone else’s: If you can’t trust anyone—why trust the people who wrote and produced your Bible and told you it was about a god? If we have to put our trust in anyone—why would anyone assert it wouldn’t be the people who are best informed in any given area of study? Again, if you’re going to say that your beliefs don’t have to stack up to evidence or expert opinions, then why are we even talking about this? What is your method of determining if your beliefs are likely to be true or not, if you reject evidence and expert explanations of that evidence? What do you trust in that case, and why do you trust it?

And who said you have to know anything 100 percent? I’m saying that if you care whether or not your beliefs are likely to be true—then you will align your beliefs to the best evidence available and the most educated explanations of that evidence.

Example: I come home from work tonight, and my house is a shambles inside. My television and computer are gone and a window has been forced open, do you think it is more reasonable to assert that I have been robbed or that I have been violated by a poltergeist? It’s hard to accept that you seriously believe that evidence should have no bearing on our beliefs, or that some beliefs are more or less likely to align with the available evidence. What you’re claiming is that if we can’t “know” a robbery has occurred, then saying it’s a poltergeist makes just as much sense. And I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable it is to hear someone say that. I hope you’re more reasonable in other areas of your life than you are in your religious beliefs—otherwise, you’re a con man’s dream come true—since you have no apparent method of telling fact from fiction, evidence and reason have no value in your worldview, and you’ll believe outlandish things based on stories.

And about the tower of Babel, NO they clearly were trying to get away from the flood, as well, as get to God.

No, they weren’t “clearly” trying to get away from a flood. You are simply wrong. Here is the entire script of the story of the tower. Where do you see any mention of any flood concerns from anyone?

Genesis 11
1And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Of course NONE of this matters if you don’t believe in God.

Uh, your subject line, just to remind you, is “AE Show – Proofs of God”—what good are proofs of the existence of god which are only convincing to people who already believe god exists? If your proofs of god don’t demonstrate a god exists to people who don’t believe god exists already, why exactly did you contact unbelievers to present these “proofs”?

My advise is, as BEST as I can give it, is that if you TRULY want to know if God, exist you WILL ask Him, to prove Himself to you,

And if you truly want to know if atoms exist, you will ask them to prove themselves to you. Do you approach other things in your life this way? When you want to know if a thing is real—you ask the thing? You don’t verify it against evidence and reality? You just “ask it’? This is NOT how we determine if things exist. This is not how to tell fact from fiction. This is not the process we use if we care whether or not our beliefs are likely to be true. Existence is manifestation in some measureable way. That’s what it means to “exist.” If your god exists, then it should not be difficult to demonstrate that. If there is nothing there to measure—then in what way is your god different than nothing? Did you read the Carl Sagan essay “Dragon in my Garage” that I linked you to? If not, I assure you it’s very short, but very useful in explaining why we don’t go around asserting things exist if we can’t actually tell them apart from nothing. It’s also the lesson of the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” in case you just don’t have time to read the Sagan essay.

If your god answers you when you ask him for things—as you’re telling me that if I need proof I can just ask—why don’t you pray and ask him for a proof that actually convinces nonbelievers? If he exists, you’ll get it, right? If he truly wished his adherents to seek and save the lost—that is, the unbelievers—why did he only supply you, this round, with reasons that you say only convince those who already believe?

 I can sit here and give you everything I know,

You just told me you can’t know everything, and that, therefore, “we could all be dummies here on the Earth.” So, why should I believe that you “know” any of these things you’re asserting? Why should I believe the people who told you these things “know” anything? What I know, is that you can’t claim to “know” what you have not verified and what you have not demonstrated to be true. When you admit you have nothing convincing to offer for why you believe what you believe, it’s ridiculous to immediately turn around and call it “knowledge.”

and every word in the Bible,

It’s like I’m sending letters into a void. Did you read what I wrote when you claimed your Bible was perfect and that even the strongest scrutiny hadn’t shown any errors? I sent you Bible translators’ notes, right out of the Bible, telling you there is forged material in your Bible. Why then would you use the Bible in your next letter without addressing how it’s reliable in light of the fact that it’s been edited with inserted passages? Why do you trust its content? I believe the Bible scholars, you don’t. So, I’m asking you, who do you believe, because you believe it’s perfect. Since that’s not the expert view, who has told you this, and why do you accept that as true above actual Bible scholars?

but it won’t mean 1 thing if you don’t see God for who He is.

And here I am again. Ironically, a Muslim once used this exact argument with me. He told me that if I read the Koran, it would convince me Allah is real. I told him I would get it from the library and read it. In his reply to that, he wrote that it would only be convincing if I read it believing it was written by Allah. I hope that sounds silly to you. And I hope you can understand why changing out “Bible” for “Koran” and “Jesus” for “Allah” makes it no less ridiculous.

Dishonesty and Hypocrisy

Because the full exchange was very long, and my breakdowns are also long, I’ve done my best to pare down the following content to the vital bits. It’s possible I will later regret not including particular parts, but that’s the price I pay in order to avoid making an over-long post even longer. While the exchange was between Russell and a theist viewer, I wanted to provide my thoughts about this particular theist and what I observed in his responses that I found particularly unbearable. Kudos to Russell for keeping it civil to the end. I’d have been fed up with this very early on.

The two things I loathe most in a correspondence are dishonesty and hypocrisy. Recently Russell engaged a theist, Caleb, who wrote to us to assert the following:

“I am a christian and believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.

He then went on to cherry pick verses in order to claim that there is no hell and there is no afterlife according to the Bible. Clearly Caleb is in the minority with regard to Christian orthodox reading of the text. In his own words:

“Another truth about the Bible is the teaching of the immortality of the soul, the bible clearly teaches that when we die we simply die.

Russell replied by pointing out that atheists aren’t particularly concerned about what the Bible teaches, because, to the atheist, it’s just another book.

Caleb replied with “No True Scotsman,” that the majority of Christians don’t understand the Bible correctly—”correctly” being how Caleb understands it.

“I don’t assume that you care about the Bible. However I truly feel that a lot of your assumptions and conclusions have been based solely on stories out of the bible that have been twisted and defaced by false religion.

And he then accused us of of using twisted interpretations of the Bible to make it say horrible things that it doesn’t. In reality, we’re simply going with an orthodox Christian view that has been orthodox for centuries.

“…when you have a story such as hellfire and eternal torment that makes your side of the argument appear to lean to your side, you use the bible against itself and it sounds credible

He seems less interested in the reality that it’s Christians—Bible defenders—who promote hell fire and afterlife, not detractors. Like so many others, Caleb has written to us to complain, when, in fact, his real issue is with other Christians. If he thinks the orthodox Christian view is maligning the real Bible message, an atheist program isn’t going to be able to help him out with that problem. We respond to what Christians actually believe and promote, we don’t dictate it.

And Caleb understands that we’re presenting orthodoxy, he just doesn’t understand that Christian orthodox views aren’t under our control:

“What the Bible really teaches is credible, but it will never be credible as long as you have the twisted stories that are presented to you on your show by these traditional Christians.

All I can say is that while this is the traditional Christian view, it’s the view we’re going to critique when we talk about Christianity. If we presented Christianity using minority views, such as Caleb’s, we’d surely (and rightly) be accused of misrepresenting Christianity. Caleb has taken his “fight” to the wrong arena. If he wants us to address his views when we discuss what Christianity is about, then he’ll need to work to make his view the orthodox view with his fellow Christians.

Caleb then stated something we need to pay special attention to:

Also there are many Bible prophesies in the Bible that Show its credibility.

What do you think is meant by Caleb when he says that the content demonstrates the Bible’s “credibility”? I don’t think it is very confusing. He means that it’s credible evidence of divine authorship—as he indicated previously (quoted above) as his view. What other sort of “credibility” would Caleb think ancient prophecies in the Bible demonstrate?

Then he says something we’re all used to, the Bible is supported by, and does not conflict with, science. Note especially the spherical Earth claim, as this is going to come back as well.

In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser? Also the Bible goes hand in hand with science as far as science goes take for instance the Genesis account, and this goes back to what I was talking about earlier most Christians believe the Earth was created in 6 literal days about 6-10,000 years ago. Again this is crazy that simply does not match up with science. However a further examination will reveal that the Bible does not specify the amount of time it took to create the Earth.

Russell’s reply was quite brief but hit several points:

1. That Russell has read the Bible himself and isn’t just assuming what’s in it based on stories he’s been told.

2. That some of what is in the Bible is correct, and some is not, and that he disagrees with the claim a god exists.

3. A link to an article talking about Flat Earth ideology and how it was understood by ancient Greeks, and that the word Caleb is translating as “sphere” can mean “circle”—which can still be flat. And also that the Bible contains passages that indicate you can stand on sufficiently high points to see every location on Earth—something impossible on a globe.

4. Russell points out Genesis indicates plants existed prior to the sun, which does conflict with science.

Of all the points above the ONLY point Caleb responded to was the question of the “sphere” vs. the “circle”:

OK I have done some research on the Hebrew word at Is 40:22, the Hebrew word chugh, translated circle, can also mean sphere…

And he didn’t touch Russell’s point that other passages clearly indicate a flat Earth. Again, if the word means either “sphere” or “circle,” and we have several other verses indicating you can see all areas of the Earth from a sufficiently high point, what is most likely the model of the Earth to ancient Hebrews? In fact, the idea of seeing all points on Earth from a single, sufficiently high area, isn’t even restricted to Old Testament texts. Such descriptions are also found within the New Testament books (see the link further below for further examples). But Caleb ignores this, and upon realizing the word means either “circle” or “sphere,” he then just ignores “circle” (the predominant usage) from that point onward and sticks with “sphere”—the position that supports his view of miraculous knowledge. We know he’s not interested in honestly examining what the word most likely meant to the people writing at that time—otherwise he’d have addressed the larger context, the question of the “high vantage point” problem, that he, instead, chose to completely ignore.

But what we see is Russell agreeing it can mean “circle” or “sphere,” but simply saying (to paraphrase) “based on who is writing and what else they say about their model of the Earth, what is most likely meant here?” Russell takes the full range of meaning, looks at the most likely scenario, and concludes it’s likely intended to be a flat circle. Caleb ignores the larger context, sees that it can mean either a “sphere” or a “circle” and then latches onto the meaning that suits him, while dismissing the definition that does not.

Then Caleb says something else interesting. And this reminds me of the apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell specializes in presenting data that supports his view, and holding back any data that conflicts or would undermine his assertions. McDowell does what is normally called “a lie of omission.” In other words, you say only what needs to be said to make you sound credible, and you don’t provide the information that calls your claims into question, and you hope the party you’re talking to is none the wiser, so you can “win” even if you’re “win” is based on dishonest survey of the evidence and data, rather than an honest one. So, here is what we have:

“The point is the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E(778-732 B.C.E) which was centuries before Greek philosophers theorized that the Earth likely was spherical, and thousands of years before humans saw the earth as a globe from space.

And again, Russell comes back to point out to Caleb that he’s not considering all data, just data that suits him:

Initially you were claiming that the Bible absolutely makes some kind of scientific claim that could only be interpreted as imparting knowledge which was not in any way available to people of the time it was written. Now you’re clinging to this explanation that if you take an alternative meaning of a word which primarily means ‘circle,’ as filtered through modern translators who are trying to prove the Bible correct, then the authors might conceivably have been obliquely referring to knowledge which already existed in other cultures around the same time.

“(Incidentally, your note about the authorship of Isaiah is incomplete. Parts of it were written in the 8th century BCE, but parts of the book, including chapter 40 onward, are dated to the 6th.

Moving the date to the 6th century means that the idea of a spherical Earth would have been broadly understood. And it undermines the idea that the Hebrews—even if they used the term to mean “sphere”—were working from divine knowledge. Although figuring out something before someone else, really isn’t evidence of divine knowledge anyway—someone is always the first to figure a thing out.

Russell then shared a link to an article full of Bible support for Flat Earth ideology. It’s written by a skeptic who is examining what the Flat E
arth society believes, what they promote, and upon what Bible verses they base their Biblical interpretation:

Again, this is the doctrine of other Christians. Other believers. Others who hold the Bible to be the true and unerring word of the divine creator. And they don’t agree with Caleb. What is their ulterior motive to misrepresent the god and the book they are devoted to? Who could be more honestly devoted to a religion than a group that could deny the tremendous body of evidence for a spherical Earth? That’s actually quite a commitment to your holy book, in my view. As Caleb demonstrates, most people, even most believers, couldn’t hold to that level of devotion to the concepts promoted within the Bible. Most Christians, like Caleb, are willing to cherry pick in order to make the Bible fit better into reality as we learn more and more about the universe around us. It’s ironic that Caleb will try to make a text from several thousand years back fit into the paradigms of today, while claiming those who do not do this are the ones “twisting” the meaning. But here we are, right?

True to form, Caleb writes back with his myopic view of evidence. Sure, parts of Isaiah could have been written in the 6th century—but that doesn’t mean they were…therefore Caleb concludes, against the obvious, they weren’t. He then goes on to do some wild thrashing to quickly change the subject and get out of the frying pan:

“The fact that that Isaiah was incomplete can be refuted, but the fact remains that there are plenty of holes in the evidence that points to life being traced to previous organisms, the bible is not a science book but what is in there is in line with the scientific discoveries today. The bible does not contradict itself…”

Caleb is confusing “refute” with the idea that there is often a range of scholarly opinions concerning dating something from thousands of years ago. The idea that parts of Isaiah were produced in later centuries isn’t “refuted.” The fact there are a range of opinions is not “refutation.” What Caleb really means is that since the scholarship asserting that parts of Isaiah were written at a later date can only be expert opinion—even if that’s a majority opinion—he has all he needs to assert (as he absolutely did earlier, above) that it was, in fact, written in the 8th century BCE. This is dishonest. Caleb didn’t say earlier that it could have been written anywhere between the 8th and 6th century BCE, he said, “the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E”—and that’s “Josh McDowell”-level dishonesty right there.

Russell’s reply was short and concise—and fair:

“Way to change the subject. Can you please acknowledge that your first argument didn’t work as a proof of god before trying to sneak into another one?

“After you’ve done that, then you’ll be free to explain why you’re trying to claim simultaneously that the Bible agrees completely with modern science, and the Bible is completely incompatible with the core principles of modern biology.

Caleb’s final response drove me to this blog post. My desire, if I’m honest, was to reply directly to Caleb. However, there were four things that made me hold back:

1. It was Russell’s dialog.

2. Caleb dismisses anything that conflicts with his ideology.

3. Caleb ignores any points he can’t address, as though they were never made (and bear in mind, although I didn’t include Russell’s full replies, they were quite brief. This wasn’t a case of pages of rebuttal where it was only human to choose which areas to respond. Ignoring points in a note that only contains three or four clear points is simply dodging.

4. Caleb takes things that require interpretation (sphere/circle, 6th/8th century origins) and lays them out as fact. He doesn’t get that it’s not sufficient to say “it can mean this,” to demonstrate your point. You actually have to show it does mean it. Russell actually pointed this out using an illustration to make it crystal clear:

“This kind of reminds me of how James ‘The Amazing’ Randi speaks about Uri Geller, a parlor magician who claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind. After proving that this can easily be done through sleight of hand, Randi said ‘He might be doing it through telekinesis, but if so, he’s doing it the hard way.’”

Caleb is “doing it the hard way.” We have a book that presents a pervasive theme of a flat Earth, but Caleb will do all he can to just ignore context and alternate (common) meanings, in order to cling to the “sphere” ideology. He does this as a means to try and bolster his original claim that it must have been a god that produced this book. And even if Isaiah does present a sphere, and we have a range of possible dates for the text from 8th to 6th century (and it would have been mundane to know this in the 6th century), trying to cling to the 8th century in order to bolster your divine authorship claim, is, at best irrational, and at worst, dishonest. The most likely scenario, if it was a sphere described, is that this, along with the other points that make scholarship lean toward 6th century authorship, would probably be a result of the later chapters having been written or revised in later centuries. Revisions, updates, and additions to Bible manuscripts are commonly recorded. Would it be more likely that a later update referenced a then-common model of a spherical Earth, or that a spirit being imparted magical knowledge to ancient herders to prove to people, thousands of years later, that it was a god that wrote it—especially considering that the methods to discern a spherical Earth existed as much in the 8th century as the 6th. Again, even if some clever Hebrew had figured it out 200 years earlier, is that evidence of the divine?

So, upon weighing the odds of my success in getting Caleb to grasp the level of his own hypocrisy and dishonesty, I ultimately concluded that contacting him directly would be nothing short of an exercise in futility. So, this seemed like one of those times when my ideas would do more good shared publicly than privately with a correspondent who would not likely be able to actually internalize them. At any rate, here is the final response from Caleb, that left me incredulous:

“No I will not acknowledge that, that was not an argument of proof of god.”

Caleb started out asserting that god wrote the Bible, and then tried to claim it had valid prophecies and also that it had miraculous scientific knowledge. This statement, above, is simply less than honest.

“I was trying to convey that the bible does not contradict science or itself, I was conveying the authenticity of the bible.”

Why is it important the Bible doesn’t contradict itself? The Bible is “authentically” what, Caleb? If it’s authentically the product of goat herders and not a god, what is your goal in trying to claim internal consistency and valid prophecies and miraculous scientific knowledge? Remember where you asked if the Hebrews knew the world was spherical due to a “lucky guess”? What do you mean to imply in this quote below?

“In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser?

And now we’re supposed to believe none of this is about using the Bible to demonstrate a god exists?

You then audaciously put forward this bit of clear projection:

“But you have made it clear that you have no vested interest in even understanding what the bible really teaches. Therefore if you are only willing to look at one side of the evidence then you are making a conclusion that is incomplete and unjust.”

Russell pointed out repeatedly we have a range of data we must consider in making assessments. If part of that range offers a reasonable and mundane explanation, reason dictates we should go with the most likely answernot try to force-fit “the hard way.” Caleb, however, insists on “the hard way,” and denies the existence of any reasonable and easy way. He works quite hard to make the data seem miraculous and incredible, ignoring every piece of evidence that points to far more rational and simple explanations. And for asking Caleb to stop ignoring the data that doesn’t suit his ideology, Russell is accused of being myopic.

Then we have what I can only label a
real bit of insanity from Caleb:

“I have to ask, have you never wandered why there is so much suffering? Why there is so much injustice? Why isn’t there a human government that can solve even the little problems? Such as the national debt, the greed that prevails in politics, or corruption. None of these things have never touched your heart?”

For the record, the Problem of Evil is not a problem at all in a realm where the beings at the helm are not all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. There is nothing miraculous about organically evolved beings in a realm being unable to produce a Utopia. I’m amazed that Caleb sees the Problem of Evil as a problem for nonbelievers rather than for believers. What, one has to ask, is Caleb’s model of god? Is it malevolent, ignorant, ineffective—or all three? What sort of god is Caleb promoting that has produced such a mucked up world and allowed it to continue on with all the “problems” Caleb is crying about? This is a problem that has plagued believers for centuries—not nonbelievers.

“Do you feel you have a purpose? Why do we grow old and die?”

Again, this is really a problem for believers, not nonbelievers. When a believer tells me the universe is designed, one of my first questions is “what exactly do you see as a purpose of the universe when you look at cosmic events? What exactly have you demonstrated this universe is doing?” And as far as why do organisms die, it’s a natural progression. Matter and energy are extremely durable, but the organized set of chemical reactions we fuzzily label “life,” don’t maintain that organization forever. They wear down, the same as all chemical reactions. How, again, is this evidence of a god? It appears to be a natural occurrence that aligns quite well with natural laws that govern the universe. I surely don’t see any miracle evident in this process. How does “people die” demonstrate the existence of a spirit realm? We might as well ask “Why do ants die?” Is that evidence of The Great Ant God? How do we verify that if a god created people he would create people that die? How did Caleb come to that conclusion?

“I hope in our discussions I have not offended you or anyone else on your program.”

Caleb’s presentation was polite enough. But his dishonesty and hypocrisy is what galled me. I wouldn’t say it offended me, though. I’d say it more disgusted me. And while Caleb surely wouldn’t see any of this in his own dialog, I’m hoping that, just like callers on the show, others who see this might learn from Caleb’s mistakes here, and recognize that if they’re doing it the hard way, they’re not being reasonable nor are they being honest.

In which Mike demonstrates once and for all the proof that God exists

Having some problems with the blog comments on this post and hoping that starting a new one will fix it.

Please direct your attention to the comments section, where MikeAdAstraSmith shall valiantly demonstrate to us poor, benighted sinners that God irrefutably exists.

[Edit: Actually we traced our problem to an overzealous spam filter, which probably thought that some comments looked too much like the work of a certain D**** M****. We’re retraining it as fast as we can, but in the meantime, please do enjoy the thread.]

Open Thread / Show #693: Jen & Tracie

As always, we air at 4:30-5:30 PM (CST) today (Sunday). You can watch live on ustream:

My plan is to discuss a few of the willfully ignorant things theists say in response to discovering people are atheist activists, including statements such as “why are you so angry at god?” and “I think you’re just searching for god.”

Example: Person X has a loved family member who swears by a particular homeopathic doctor, who is conning them out of their money and resources and “treating” them for a dangerous and potentially fatal illness. The family member will not seek demonstrated effective treatments from a conventional doctor, because the homeopath has convinced them that modern medicine is a hand-puppet of Big Pharma and therefore an untrustworthy conspiracy. Eventually the family member dies. Person X begins a blog and a youtube channel to tell their story to help expose the dangers of homeopathy. They are contacted by others with similar stories, and they form an association to spread information to people about the lack of support for homeopathic claims and hopefully to help others avoid the same suffering they have experienced at the hands of charlatans.

They should expect to get letters from believers expressing they are wrong. They should expect to be accused of being cogs in the Big Pharma conspiracy. They should expect to get testimonials from well meaning people with anecdotes about their “successes” with homeopathy and the “good” they are convinced it does.

But I’m sure they would never expect some willful idiot will suggest that they are fighting homeopathy because they secretly want desperately to find evidence showing it really works, or that they secretly already believe it does work, and are angry about the fact it works.

These particular rebuttals to the anti-homeopathy movement would be ridiculous. It seemed to me time to provide a link calling it out as “stupid,” for people to use. I’d rather atheist skeptics, anti-theists and activists spend their time letting theists provide their demonstrations for their claims of gods existence, than spend their time having to defend against accusations that even a fool should recognize as foolish.

I have heard theists confuse hypothetical uses of “god” with belief in god. But I find this utterly dishonest, because we all use hypotheticals routinely. There is no reason someone should suddenly be unable to recognize a commonly used method of examining a claim. I might say to you I think a problem with your car is that you have an oil leak. But you know of some reason that isn’t correct. You say “If it were an oil leak, though, I would expect XYZ to be happening, too, right?” That does not mean you agree it’s an oil leak. And nobody should misunderstand that. In the same way if an atheist says “If there were a god that killed all these people that would be morally inexcusable,” the atheist is not asserting believe in god and belief in the claims of the Bible. It’s clearly a hypothetical, and even more-so due to the fact he wears the clear label “atheist” to alert the theist he doesn’t accept this god is real. There is no excuse for any misunderstanding in these dialogs. I’m convinced these “misunderstandings” are willful dishonestly and red-herrings to get the atheist off track and in a defensive mode so that the theist is then relieved of having to defend an indefensible position.

So, if it helps, save the link to this blog post. Whenever you’re told you “hate god” or are “searching for god,” copy-paste and tell them atheists are worn out arguing dishonest stupidity and unless they have something of actual substance to offer in support of their unjustified beliefs, you aren’t going to waste your time debating people who can’t grasp basic levels of communication such as how to recognize the use of a hypothetical, the meanings of common words (“atheist”) or how to apply the simplest context (“I don’t believe in god, therefore I cannot hate god”).

*Correction: I updated the headline to reflect Jen replacing Matt today as host.

Viewer Mail: Are There Other Gods?

I’m not posting the writer’s full letter because he is an atheist who wrote to ask how we might reply to a theist he encountered. I provide sufficient input to give you an idea of the claims he said were put forward:

>…[to an atheist] there are no concepts of evil and suffering.

Well, that’s just stupid. Evil may be self-defined, but that is what a “concept” is–an idea you hold. An atheist may say “I don’t use the term evil because it’s too ambiguous,” but he could hold “X” as a criteria of evil and accept X is evil. Meanwhile “suffering” is less ambiguous. While we can talk about what constitutes suffering, anyone who has ever broken a bone or burned themselves or lost a loved one understands suffering–both physical and emotional. Even animals understand suffering–we know, because when they’re given choices to avoid it–they take those non-suffering options. If a dog can understand it, why not an atheist?

>To an atheist, there is no difference between a tree falling over and crushing a bees nest and an earthquake causing a building to collapse and kill a group of human beings.

In-group bias exists in all social species. Wolves, for example, hunt prey–but how often do you see them hunting wolves? This person is trying to give god credit for biologically derived realities. Bees are not people. And we are biologically geared to care about other humans, because we are human social animals. This is why you don’t see cultures that routinely raise other humans for food–anywhere on the planet. All people, all wolves, all chimpanzees, see a difference between members of their own species and animals that are not members of their own species. Again, a wolf can get it, but a human can’t–without god?

>Seeing as all living things are just random matter, what’s the difference to an atheist?

Seeing as all people are depraved and deserve death and hell, why does a Christian care if a building falls on other people? Didn’t they deserve it?

>He claims that only biblical faith offers objective standards of good and evil

Actually, it doesn’t. Euthyphro shredded this years, and years, and years, ago. You can either personally understand why X is wrong, in which case you are using your own moral judgment, or you can’t understand why it’s wrong, and you’re nothing but a trained monkey who does X because he’s been taught to, with no employment of moral judgment. Following orders is not a morality and requires that I exercise no understanding whatsoever of moral thinking or behavior. Beyond that “Thou shalt not kill” was followed by god ordering the killing of people all over the place. How is that objective? Is killing wrong? Is slaughtering your neighbor, his wife, and his toddler sons–but keeping his (most likely underage) daughter as a “wife” (i.e., sex slave)–the sort of objective morality he means?

>Atheists have no reason to feel pity for anyone or anything.

So, rats empathize, but not people. What a sick view of humanity–we don’t even have the natural emotional range of a rat?

>he said there that there have never been any other gods.

What about the Ugarit god “El” that the Hebrews borrowed to create the god he worships today? Pantheons have been demonstrated in Egypt, Greece, Rome…the idea there are no other gods is so demonstrably false (if we mean gods people believed in and worshiped) as to make his claim ridiculous. Even Ba’al and Ashterah and Sophia are mentioned in his own Old Testament. Sophia (the goddess “Wisdom”) even gets a speaking part in the Book of Solomon:

Ashterah was the wife of El (another name for Yahweh), and was worshiped by the Hebrews alongside Yahweh (because both El and Ashterah were borrowed from the Ugarit pantheon). King Hezekiah abolished the worship of the wife of El, according to the Old Testament:

Ba’al is mentioned all through the Old Testament: (see the box on the right for more Ugarit gods)

>and are not really gods because they exist within the Universe, not outside it.

He doesn’t get to define what people call gods. If there are so many gods that don’t fit his personal definition, he can’t argue they’re wrong, only that he doesn’t personally consider these as gods. But he can’t say nobody else did or does. They are gods. They are worshiped. They do exist as legitimate concepts of gods that stand in glaring and direct opposition to his claim.

>Only Christianity has ever had the idea of an eternal, infinite creator God.

Let’s say that’s true. So what? What if I found only Egypt ever had the concept of a god with a hawk head…so what?

>Any religions younger than Christianity have copied it…

Wow, how can he claim to know what every religion after Christianity has taught? That’s a bold claim, and one I doubt he’s informed enough to make. But funny he worships a god borrowed from Ugarit by the Hebrews, while he claims other religions don’t fly if they borrow from his?

>But I just wondered what your guys thoughts were?

I think he’s ignorant about animal psychology and the roots of his own religion and instead of informing himself, he stays ignorant so that he can use his ignorance as a springboard to claim support for his beliefs–which shrivel and die in the light of actual information.


Lame YouTube Apologist Caught in a Lie

I know, it’s shocking. YouTube apologists lie. A lot. The one calling himself Shockofgod has been getting a lot of attention lately, because he claims that he called The Atheist Experience and that his question “terrified” the hosts. Here, take a look:

What’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s ever watched or listened to an episode of The Atheist Experience is that this isn’t us. Of course, that doesn’t stop Shockofgod, whose real name is Rich Allen, by the way. Rich, who is known for his YouTube videos in which he mounts a camera to his helmet and rides his motorcycle in traffic while spouting bad apologetics, truly knows no shame. He not only posted the clip above, he posted the following on Yahoo! Answers:

Note the answer he chose as the best answer, and the fact that he totally misrepresented what Michael was saying to him. He dismisses all the other gods, because no one has presented sufficient evidence to support their existence. Likewise, we dismiss his god for the same reason.

Now, you could argue that maybe Rich is just so dumb that he didn’t realize what Michael was saying. I’d think that too if he hadn’t chosen this answer after I posted the following response to him:

So now that Rich has so thoughtfully provided written evidence of his dishonesty, feel free to call him on it whenever you can. Of course, you can’t do that on the video above. He’s disabled comments. So now which one of us is terrified again?

I guess we could all hope that he really does call the show tomorrow, but I won’t be holding my breath.