Bored gaming

The demented duo, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, are at it again. I’ve already posted lengthy responses to their “Way of the Master” series, covering episodes on atheism and evolution — but it seems they haven’t bothered to read and learn.

Their latest endeavor is a new board game called “Intelligent Design versus Evolution”. According to Kirk Cameron,

We are very excited about this game because it presents both sides of the creation evolution argument, and in doing so, shows that the contemporary theory of evolution is perhaps the greatest hoax of modern times.

Which means that they haven’t actually presented both sides, they’ve simply presented their side along with their grossly misunderstood view of the actual science that supports evolution.

The goal of their game is to collect “brain cards” and the player with the most brain cards wins. The irony is so thick that the responses nearly write themselves…

Endorsing this brain trust is Ken Ham, the creationist responsible for www.AnswersInGenesis.com and quotes like:

I don’t use science to prove my religion. I use the Bible to build my science.

Evidently Dr. Dino is a little busy.

Atheism is responsible for mass murder?

Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history” is the title of a recent opinion piece posted at the Christian Science Monitor. The author, Dinesh D’Souza, feels that the recent books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others exaggerate…

“the crimes attributed to religion, while ignoring the greater crimes of secular fanaticism.”

After making that accusation, the author goes on to down-play religious atrocities while making the unsupported assertion that many more people have died in “the name of atheism”. This sort of character assassination is a prime example of why I openly identify myself as an atheist and why I feel that it’s important for us to vigilantly rebut the lies and misinformation spread by fearful zealots. They attempt to prop up their beliefs with fallacious appeals to the dire consequences they’re certain will occur if we reject fanciful claims about gods. Consequences which every bit of evidence continues to refute.

Let’s dig in and expose the lies and fallacies for what they are…

The first major claim is that atheists (specifically Harris and Dawkins) are exaggerating the crimes attributed to religion. In response to this, the author claims that fewer than 25 people were killed in the Salem witch trials and that 10-110,000 died in the Spanish inquisition. If we assume that those numbers are correct, how does that prove his assertion that these atheist authors are exaggerating? Did they use different numbers? Of course not. If they had, the author surely would have provided those numbers to show how exaggerated their claims were.

There were only 12 killed in the Columbine school shooting. Does that mean it wasn’t a tragedy? Is the death toll more critical than the circumstances surrounding the incident? Why does D’Souza think his low-20’s number should diminish, in any way, the nature of the vile injustice committed in Salem?

D’Souza is dangling a red herring in front of us, hoping that we’ll be so distracted by the facts that he’s presented that we’ll completely forget what he’s actually claiming – that atheists misrepresented these facts. Instead of making his case that these atheists are lying, he’s completely missed all the relevant points and opted to simply down-play these injustices as “not so bad” and expands this misdirection with the tired old appeal that these incidents occurred long ago.

I’m not sure why, but when faced with undeniable evidence of the harm caused by religion one common response is that religion “isn’t all bad”. Neither is heroin, but we generally discourage people from becoming regular users who allow it to influence or define the decisions they make. If your most salient defense of your beliefs is that they “aren’t so bad”, you’ve already sold out. You’re either a junky or supporting the dealers who supply junkies.

Does Dinesh sincerely believe that Dawkins, Harris and others are actively complaining about the Salem witch trials or Spanish inquisition? I doubt it. It’s more likely that he’s aware of the great social injustices and atrocities that are the direct result of religious belief and has wisely opted not to attempt to defend them. These atheist authors aren’t outraged over centuries-old murders, they’re railing against modern injustices which are the direct result of religious belief. They’re attempting to point out the divisive, destructive and delusional mentality that religion fosters.

The second major claim is that Harris and Dawkins have ignored crimes of secular fanaticism. Based on the points that Mr. D’Souza makes on this issue, I have to conclude that he’s completely in error. Both of those authors have spoken about the sort of crimes he’s referring to and provided clear responses to silly accusations like the following:

“In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.”

Whether or not Hitler was an atheist is a subject of much debate. He repeatedly identified himself as a Catholic both publicly and privately. He was supported by the Catholic church and the Pope described Hitler’s opposition to Russia as “highminded gallantry in defense of the foundations of Christian culture.”

Even if the author is correct about Hitler (a point we have no reason to concede) he lists those men as “atheist tyrants”. Was atheism the justification for their actions? Were these murders done “in the name of atheism”, as the author claims? Absolutely not.

At the beginning of his article, he blamed these murders on “secular fanaticism” and now he’s blaming atheism. What is “secular fanaticism”? I’m not completely sure, but D’Souza does nothing to justify the bait-and-switch he performs by equating “atheism” with “secular fanaticism”. Should we equate “religious extremist” with “Christian” or “Muslim”? As a thinking person, I certainly see a much stronger tie between the two (as I see no way to justify fanatic actions from non-belief), but I don’t think it’s fair to portray them as equivalent.

Atheism is, simply, the lack of belief in a god. There are no tenets, no dogma, no rituals, no common socio-political beliefs, no agendas, no ethical code, no “holier than…” or “better than” — there’s nothing within atheism that could support the claims he’s making. Those tyrants and murderers didn’t kill people “in the name of atheism” and atheism wasn’t the cause of their actions.

Without a causal link between atheism and the evil actions of these men, what we really have is coincidental correlation. The author could have labeled them “male tyrants” and come closer to a causal link than his preferred label of “atheist tyrants”. The actions of those men weren’t carried out on behalf of atheism or caused by atheism – they were carried out for reasons that transcend atheism.

D’Souza has done nothing to support his notion that atheism is responsible for great evil – he’s simply asserted that it is true and tap-danced his way around the issue.

In the case of the Salem witch trials, the cause of the action was religious beliefs. The Bible says ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ and the people persecuting witches used that verse as a justification for their action — that is a causal relationship. Whether they killed 1, 25 or 25,000 hardly matters. The same holds true for other religious atrocities including the faith-based initiative we commonly refer to as 9-11.

D’Souza fails to support his accusations about Harris and Dawkins as well as the claim made in the title of his article: that atheism is the real force behind historical mass murders. Given the actual state of affairs it’s clear that a much stronger case can be made for the claim that the only people who have been killed “in the name of atheism” are those people who were killed, by religious zealots, for being atheists.

Where are the atheist suicide bombers? Where is the low-quality video of a beheading carried out by an atheist activist? Where are the atheists who string up non-atheists and burn large ‘A’-frames on the lawns of Christians? Where are the budget cuts and gag rules that prohibit funding to clinics that mention abstinence?

Whenever we see a prominent religious figure publicly disgraced or read about women who slaughter their children for their god, the most common excuse is that those people weren’t “real” believers. In the case of Christianity, the Big Book of Multiple Choice (also known as The Bible) includes verses that serve as warnings about false believers which are conveniently tossed around on these occasions.

What we’ve learned is simple: If someone does something that makes a given religion look bad – they weren’t a “true believer”. Until they do, they’re probably a true believer, but there’s no way to tell. Hopefully, more people will realize this and we’ll finally have a majority that stops thinking in terms of “what you claim to believe” and focuses on what we do, what is true, and what is most beneficial for the survival of our species.

This sort of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ mentality is rampant among believers. It’s a coping mechanism that prevents them from ever having to deal with the harsh truths of reality. Their general misconceptions about atheism are the result of a desperate need to personify evil and shift blame. Kent Hovind, in his creationist propaganda includes an entire lecture which hangs the responsibility for all of the evil in the world around the neck of Charles Darwin. Evolutionary theory is, in his mind, the root of all evil.

Dinesh D’Souza is attempting something similar here. He’s desperately attempting to focus our attention on anything other than the man behind the curtain. While his attempts are as laughable and feeble as the great and powerful Oz, they’re hardly as endearing. While his prose may be better, he’s no different from the Internet forum troll who calls atheists evil and compares them to Hitler. His article, and the articles of those who echo his claims, may be the best evidence against his claims.

The Christian Fantasy

In a recent forum debate with a Christian, the subject of the “burden of proof” was raised and the frustrated Christian was complaining that it seems “unfair” that Christians should bear that burden simply because they’re making the claim. Don’t atheists bear a burden of proof? Shouldn’t they have to disprove God? Don’t “both sides” bear the burden of proof?

While he eventually agreed with my explanation, he was still unwilling (unable may be more accurate) to provide any evidence to support his claim. He then made an accusation intended to impugn my character…which backfired. Trying to get back to the burden of proof issue, I asked him to provide evidence or argument to support the Christian fantasy.

Realizing that I had just made my own claim/accusation, I thought I’d give him an example of how one actually defends a position. Enough people enjoyed the following that I thought I’d post it here, as well. Without further ado, my defense of the position that Christian religious beliefs are fantasy…

Fantasy: an imaginative or fanciful work, esp. one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters.

Any story with unicorns would be considered fantasy. Does one need to prove that unicorns don’t exist in order to relegate them to the realm of imaginative or fanciful? Of course not. Stories containing unicorns are fantasy until unicorns are demonstrated to exist.

The same is true for stories with magic (supernatural, not prestidigitation). Do we have to prove that magical spells that allow one to become invisible or fly don’t work in reality? Of course not. Stories with supernatural magic are fantasy until such time as supernatural magic is demonstrated to exist.

Does a story have to be entirely imaginative or fanciful to qualify as fantasy? Of course not. Portions of the Harry Potter books take place in England, a real place, and involve many mundane items and characters we witness in daily life (beds, fireplaces, castles, etc.) Thus, the reality of some portion of a story has no bearing on whether the story is classified as fantasy. (The common examples is that Spider-Man lives in New York and the reality of that place infuses the story with a “sense” of reality, but those elements don’t take Spider-Man out of the “fantasy” realm.)

Does a story have to be predominantly fanciful to qualify as fantasy? No. If someone were to write a book (and I’ll bet someone has) that had an ordinary schoolgirl in the real world, who had a unicorn as a pet – the book would be on the fantasy shelves even if everything except the unicorn were mundane. Thus, any story which contains a single fantasy element could be fairly classified as a fantasy.

Do religious stories, which certainly include fanciful, supernatural elements typically get exempted from the fantasy category? Yes….but only by the implied fiat of believers. We are trained to generally afford religion a “hands off”/”special category” respect that it simply hasn’t earned.

The Ancient Greek gods are now considered fantasy and mythology, because almost no one considers them to be real. Stories of druidic magic are considered fantasy by anyone who doesn’t believe in druidic magic.

As no supernatural claim has ever been proven true (and anyone who can do so will earn a quick $1M – oh, and they’ll completely change the world we live in, more than any person in history), those who believe in the Christian religious stories are no different from those who believe the Hindu religious stories, the American Indian religious stories, the ancient Greek/Celt/Roman/Norse religious stories…or those who believe druidic magic is real.

The Christian religious stories contain supernatural elements that would be described as magic by any non-believer (creation, parting of a sea, virgin birth, resurrection, walking on water, water to wine, multiplication of food). The fact that believers prefer to label them miracles is largely irrelevant, as religious miracles are supernatural.

This alone supports the idea that Christian religious stories can be classified as fantasy. Add in giants and other fanciful creatures, and the claim is strongly supported.

Just as we don’t have to disprove unicorns and “Expelliarmus”, we don’t have to disprove the claims of the Bible. Until they can be demonstrated to be true, they fall in the same category….

Fantasy.

Discussions, reasonable and otherwise…

I get a lot of e-mails at my various addresses and some of them are requests for discussions or debates from people who are convinced that something I reject (god, supernatural, afterlife, etc) is not only true, but easily provable if I’ll just have a discussion with them.

The most recent of these requests came from an Austin resident (we’ll call him Larry) who stumbled across our TV show a few weeks ago. His initial mail to me included the following:

“I’m a Christian but I’m not trying to redeem you. I respect your decision. Instead, I’m merely seeking a rational discussion of objective facts because the world seems to be operating under a strange delusion and I thought maybe you could help me sort things out.”

Fair enough. I’ve had some really productive discussions with believers in the past, so I thought I’d give this guy a chance. I’m curious about what people believe and why – and I’m a big fan of “objective facts”, so this discussion seemed to be one I might enjoy.

I’ve taken clips from his e-mails and summarized my responses to constructed the following pseudo-dialog, which gives an accurate picture of the discussion without expecting anyone to read a dozen long e-mails:

“There’s not an organized religion on the face of the earth that advocates/believes the God of the Bible yet atheism perpetuates the fallacy that there is.”

I clarified what atheism is (and isn’t) and that I’m not making a value judgment on whether or not someone is a “true Christian”, I simply refer to people by the titles they choose.

“When I first saw you on TV I thought, “Here’s my kinda guy!” I appreciate your taking the time.”

“All religions/denominations–no exception–are variations of Baal worship calculated by men to lead people away from the God of the Bible and under the oppression of theocracy. Baal is self-worship, the “imagination of men’s hearts,” and this includes making the God of the Bible out to be anything you want Him to be.”

I pointed out that he’s really just claiming that he’s a “true Christian” while others aren’t – something he’ll need to justify, not just claim. I also corrected many other misperceptions about atheism and tried to get him to better define some of his claims to avoid confusion.

“Atheists claim that Bush and his cabal are Christians yet it’s common knowledge that Bush was “born again” into Yale’s Skull & Bones and the cabal worships Asherah each summer at the Bohemian Grove.”

I pointed out, again, that atheists don’t claim that Bush is a Christian, I simply use the label he’s chosen. Additionally, I don’t believe in Asherah any more than YHWH and I have no method for determining how any other individual is going to view someone else’s religious claims. At this point, I’m a bit concerned about where this conversation may be headed. Larry has made several “absolute” statements and has started to refer to his own value judgments and opinions as “common knowledge”. Unfortunately, my concerns seem to have been justified…

“…history shows this country was set up as a Masonic (Baal) institution from the git-go.”

“The very concept of “one nation under God” is Masonic theocracy.”

“I recently had a Baptist friend tell me that I was going to hell because I believe Christ fulfilled all prophecy. Such is the effective brainwash of the Southern Baptist Convention. My friend would rather believe the Pharisee Scofield’s interpretation of the Bible instead of the Word of God.”

“…the world is relentlessly, systematically going under the bondage of Talmudic law and I see organized atheism as contributing its fair share to speed the process, but you are a gentleman and a scholar and I hope to hear from you soon.”

I informed Larry that I wasn’t interested in unsupported conspiracy theories and that I thought we were going to have a rational, intelligent discussion about theology and doctrine. We had a quick side-discussion about his thoughts that Christ had fulfilled all prophecy. His religious beliefs mirror those of the Southern Baptist Convention with one huge exception; he believes that the “second coming” occurred in the first century and all of the current “end-times” beliefs are heretical nonsense which is part of a global conspiracy perpetrated by Pharisaic Jews.

His comments could easily be viewed as anti-semitic, though I’m sure that he’d claim that he doesn’t “hate” Jews – just everything he thinks they stand for. The scope of his conspiracy accusations make Larry an “equal-opportunity” bigot and afford him the opportunity to claim that he’s fighting the good fight against evil – and not simply spewing venom against those who disagree with him.

“You say that absolute, literal Bible belief is impossible. I say it’s a piece of cake and I encourage you to challenge me.”

At this point, I provided examples of contradictions, inconsistencies and logically incoherent passages in the Bible which make literal belief impossible or raised doctrinal contradictions. I asked a number of conventional, difficult questions specifically designed to show that he doesn’t really have an absolute, literal belief like:

  • Do you believe that unruly children should be stoned?
  • Do you feel that infinite torture is a just punishment for a finite crime?
  • Do you believe that it is just to punish someone for the crimes of others?
  • Is slavery morally correct?
  • Would God accept human sacrifices?
  • Have you sold all of your belongings and given them to the poor?
  • Do you have health insurance? If so, why – if prayer can heal?
  • How many languages existed prior to the Tower of Babel?
  • If God cursed Cain to be a wanderer, how is it that he immediately settled down and established a town?
  • If Abraham’s mental picture of God included the concept that God could, would and did demand that he kill his own son, why do we currently punish people who commit similar crimes that they claim were ordered by God?

I also asked Larry to provide his definition of a “true” Christian and to justify why his definition is correct while others aren’t. Larry was so thrilled that I bothered to seriously consider his claims and compose responses to his e-mails that the subject line of his next e-mail read “An Answer To A Prayer!” and his entire response was:

“God sent me you! I’ll be back to you soon!”

His next response didn’t really address any of my questions, though he promised to do so, repeatedly. In his last e-mail, he explains why he didn’t, but we’ll get to that shortly.

“I love atheists because they’re such an integral part of God’s Plan (I Cor.11:19 AV).”

He also included a few quotes from an eschatological encyclopedia that supported his idea that the Jewish concept of God is fictional and sets the Jews up as the ultimate divine authority.

I was a bit frustrated that Larry had avoided all of my questions. I tried to explain that he still hadn’t demonstrated anything and had simply responded with more unsupported claims, hoping that the authority of an encyclopedia would sway me more than the authority of the Bible. I reminded him that no book, be it the Bible or an Encyclopedia is “proof” of anything – the reliability of the contents must be established before they can be considered an authority or reliable source.

“Matt, I think you’re ready for the next step. There’s a little booklet on the Web that reads like I wrote it. Just Google “Charlie Samples The Greatest Hoax.” After reading it, I assure you I will address any loose questions you may have.”

“By the way, don’t atheist organizations get tax-exemp
t status from their oppressive Christian theocracy because they’re religious institutions? I thought so.”

I cleared up the tax-exempt status question and pointed out the case law which defines atheism (non-belief) as protected by the First Amendment yet doesn’t establish it as a Church. Additionally, many secular organizations have had difficult getting proper tax-exempt status in various states (including Texas) specifically because atheism is not a religion.

While I agreed to review “The Greatest Hoax”, I pointed out that I’d been doing most of the work in our discussion while he still refused to answer questions and some of his comments had started sounding snide (the “I thought so” comment was only one example).

“I apologize for any possible trace of snideness/sarcasm because I’m sincere when I say I appreciate your time and I have prayed to have a dialog with someone like you. You are a very sharp cookie! Have a great weekend!”

While working on my review of “The Greatest Hoax” (and waiting for any hint of an answer to the questions I raised) I pointed out that I had been a bit baffled by claims that God could take action in the material world yet these actions were somehow beyond the scope of empirical confirmation. After all, for someone who has a literal belief in the Bible, it’s clear that God interacts with the physical world on many occasions – in distinctly observable ways. Pillars of fire, parting of the sea, wrestling with humans, walking on water – all of these are testable interactions.

“I agree with you. There’s either a true, supernatural, DEMONSTRATABLE God OR there’s every conceivable concoction of god that the mind of man can conjure, i.e., there is no God.”

It’s a bit rude to consider this the “gotcha” moment, but it appears to have been the case. I immediately asked Larry if he could demonstrate God’s existence and he assured me that he could – and would. Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe he’d finally drop the conspiracy stuff and provide the evidence for this “demonstrable” God… it’d go a long way toward getting us on the same page.

“Christ said He is the way, the truth and the life. If He is not the truth then He can’t possibly be the way and the life. Conversely, if He is the truth then, by definition, He most certainly is the way and the life. Let’s prove Him first THEN ask Him some questions.”

Great! Please prove him and I’ll be happy to address your other questions and comments. Larry replied that he wouldn’t actually provide proof of God until after I’d submitted my analysis of Charlie Samples pamphlet. I immediately pointed out that this felt dishonest and that if he had absolute proof of God he may actually have a duty to provide that proof to any interested party without caveats and stipulations.

However, I had promised to review the Samples’ pamphlet and with all of his dishonest ducking and dodging, I didn’t want him to be able to claim that I hadn’t more than lived up to my end of the discussion. So I provided him with a lengthy analysis of The Greatest Hoax.

Larry responded with a handful of bible verses and added the “Global Bank” to his Pharisee/Talmudic Jew/Mason/Rhodes’ scholar/Illuminat/Olam Ha-ba/New World Order conspiracy, adding the Rockefellers and Rothschilds (along with anyone who has “old” wealth and influence).

Um, where’s the beef? I’ve answered his questions, provided an analysis of a 30-page manifesto and patiently pointed out that his nonsense lacks any support – while I wait for him to do anything he promised to do, specifically in proving that God exists. I told him that if his next e-mail didn’t include a proof that God exists or if it included unsupported conspiracy claims, our conversation was over.

“No offense, but I have heard your same canards and derash Bible exegesis from so many different sources that I want to hurl vomit out of my nose. I honestly think you all check in everyday with a centralized disinformation source that could only, of course, be traced back to Tavistock. I teased you with reponses to those “dilemmas” because I didn’t want you to tuck-tail on me and I SURE didn’t want you to bog us down! You need to find God first THEN your dilemmas will be answered!”

So, Larry admits the he’s a liar. He isn’t interested in responding to the questions I posed and only “teased” me with responses to string me along so he could help me find God. Yet he still refuses to demonstrate that God exists and now expects me to “find God”. Looking back at his original message, it’s clear that he was lying from the start:

“I’m a Christian but I’m not trying to redeem you. I respect your decision. Instead, I’m merely seeking a rational discussion of objective facts because the world seems to be operating under a strange delusion and I thought maybe you could help me sort things out.”

Larry continued his little tirade with:

“YOU need to educate youself that the supernatural concept of “evil” exists and when you do THEN you will have found God! THAT’S HOW I FOUND HIM! I will guide you, my brother, but you’re going to have to do some homework. I can’t wet nurse you. The first step is to quit washing that magnificent brain of yours with the twaddle of Pharisee whores like Voltaire and start getting in touch with the REAL world.”

Hmm, so I need to simply accept that supernatural “evil” exists and then I will have found God? Where’s this “demonstrable” evidence for God? Wouldn’t it be quicker to just accept that God exists, rather than accepting evil to find God?

It’s a bit sad that when his true nature is finally revealed, he goes off on a rant which includes even more conspiracy nonsense. Voltaire is a Pharisee whore? I suppose Ingersoll was also? It’s amazing how many atheists and freethinkers must have been Pharisee whores. I suppose I’m just another one.

I found it particular amusing that his first two sentences are sufficiently ambiguous to allow the reader to view it as “when you find evil, you’ve found God”. Oddly, if the Bible is an accurate representation of the “one true God”, I could agree with that statement.

Larry concludes with one final conspiracy theory and seems to think that I’m actually going to continue the discussion, despite the fact that I was very clear that a response like this would end the discussion.

“The Jesus Seminar was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. What an amazing coincidence! Could it have been conducted with “preconceived” notions? I’m all excited! Come on, let’s go!”

My response: “Yes, let’s go. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. This conversation is over.”

I’m sure Larry is still convinced that God sent me to him, and I’m convinced that Larry is insane. While he didn’t opt to use the secular New World Order conspiracy theory, (which is more fun because it’s just like Larry’s except that reptilian aliens are controlling the key players) he’s still a nut.

In conclusion, I’m sure that Larry discovered some of the same biblical problems that many atheists have discovered (which would explain his refusal to address them) – but his refusal to give up supernatural beliefs promoted rationalization instead of rationalism. When it was obvious that Jesus’ comments were directed at 1st century people and that he promised to come back in their lifetime, Larry just took Jesus at his word. For him, the second-coming came and went – and he’s managed to create this collage of supporting nonsense – which forces him to accept more and more craziness.

At one point during the discussion, I followed a few links that led to a conspiracy site. After about 15 minutes, I wa
s so overwhelmed that I nearly cried. A minor anxiety attack, to be sure, but it was simply so sad that so many people seemed willing to accept any wild claim if it had the ability to explain any of their observations.

The thought process seems to be similar to; ‘The world is evil – so there must be some evil behind. Some people have lots of money and power, so they must be promoting this evil.’ Etc.

I’ve never been happier that I managed to “escape to reality” than I’ve been during the past couple of weeks.