I keep being told what I believe

A lot of people don’t know what atheists are, but they’re sure certain about defining them, and somehow, we’re always so BAD. Ophelia finds a doozy of a redefinition of atheism, but I can top it: Steve Cornell, a pastor at Millersville Bible Church, makes a long list of the sins of the atheist. In it, he nestles himself securely in the Christian tradition of babbling assertively about subjects in which he is completely and manifestly ignorant, but will sell well to his equally ignorant flock. It’s the usual stuff about how it takes more faith to believe in the absence of god, atheists are amoral, they reject “historical proof” (i.e., the Bible), yadda yadda yadda.

Read it for the entertainment value, but I’m afraid I just can’t get motivated to bother to rip it up.

(via Susan Cogan)


  1. BJN says

    As to living life without a “purpose”, I prefer muddling along and setting my own goals to the common Christian notion that life is merely an audition where you may qualify for an eternity of singing hosannas to the bearded thunderer (or his other two manifestations).

  2. says

    I like the last one best, as it’s the only one he gets close to correct. But we do seem to differ from other animals in that no other species seems to have produced anything half as foolish as his list.

  3. Markus says

    If by ‘religion’, he means a brain washing cult, then yes, us atheists do generally oppose to such things.

  4. says

    The atheist must also suppress the demands of logic. He is like the man who finds an encyclopedia lying in the woods and refuses to believe it is the product of intelligent design.
    If I find a book in the woods it is a sign from god? What an astonishing leap! In fairness he does say an encyclopedia, what would it mean if you were walking through the woods and stumbled across a copy of Mien Kampf.

  5. Markus says

    It is the atheist’s anti-supernatural bias..
    Yes, I admit I have that.

    ..that keeps him from allowing history to prove anything.
    Like that history that tells us Caesar was killed by spectral beings using mental powers. Rather than, say, a big knife in the back by a fellow cohort.

  6. says

    If books could breed, and if learning truly were beautiful, then we would not need “intelligent design” to write an encyclopedia. Natural selection would build it for us.

    Echoing Hume, we can also say if we found an encyclopedia in the woods, we might reasonably infer that it had to be written, but we could in fact deduce very little about the writer. Perhaps it was written entirely by Isaac Asimov on a dare: “Hey Isaac, I bet you couldn’t write a whole encyclopedia over the Thanksgiving holiday!” Or, it could have been produced by the Encyclopaedia Britannica editorial board. Maybe it was cobbled together by a million Internet surfers with too much free time. If we know nothing beyond the bare fact that it is an encyclopedia, we cannot decide among such alternatives.

    Ah, if books could only breed. . . .

  7. Mark says

    I love the bit about ignoring historical documents. Because historical documents would NEVER be forged and are ALWAYS 100% true. Just ask the Mor(m)ons.

    Meanwhile, at least we adults have the freedom to choose our own heresies.

    This poor kid didn’t have a choice. Still laid the smackdown on the teacher, though.

    Good for him.

  8. Molly, NYC says

    From Cornell’s bio:

    Steve Cornell is Senior Pastor of Millersville Bible Church, Millersville Pennsylvania. Steve attended Citadel Bible College, Philadelphia Biblical University, Institute for Biblical Studies, Lancaster Bible College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (North East extension), and Biblical Theological Seminary.

    Six schools and not one proper college among them. Did this guy even finish high school?

  9. says

    My irony meter blew up when I got to “Although he realizes that he does not possess total knowledge, his assertion that there is no God requires that he pretend such knowledge”.

    What a fucktard.

    And good call, archgoon. Just like when creationists claim their beliefs are based on science in one sentence, then attack science the next.

  10. Steve_C says

    I tried posting this feedback… not sure it will take.

    Re: It’s not easy to be an atheist

    Actually it’s very easy.

    One let’s go of the god myth and POOF you’re an atheist.

    Just like when you let go of your belief of the tooth fairy or santa claus. That’s all it takes. There’s no belief required. NOT believing is required.

    Then you go have lunch and the world isn’t any different then before.

    Sorry that’s wrong. Now you have Sundays to sleep in.

  11. craig says

    “…his belief that religion ought to be eliminated, that the world would be radically better off without it. Atheism entails a certain narrative about historical progress: we can move to a new and better age once we have dispensed with superstition. The prospect of a future without religion is good news.”

    Well. I of course know that this is wrong and this is not the definition of atheism… but I gotta say, if it WERE, I’d be ok with that.

  12. says

    Odd claiming that atheism takes more faith. I thought faith was supposed to be a good thing.

    That’s part of the standard conversion rhetoric.

    1) Convince the mark (in this case the atheist) that they already have “faith” in something.
    2) Since the mark has “faith” already, try to convince him that his faith is misplaced and that he should have faith in JEEEEEEEEEEEE-SUS-AH
    3) Praise JEEEEEEEEEEEE-SUS-AH! Oh, and don’t forget the tithe.

  13. Chris says

    Apparently, encyclopedias are the new watches.

    Seriously, how many schools did this guy go to to remain ignorant of how many times each and every one of his arguments have been refuted? He actually argues that because people *want to believe* they are immortal, that means they must actually be immortal!

    Like PZ, I’m not going to spend all day listing, categorizing and classifying the mistakes in this. Although it might be an interesting exercise for a very low-level philosophy or logic course.

  14. 99 bottles says

    Those who want to cut debate with evangelicals short, just call them reckless, illiterate idolaters. They worship a book (in English, no less) rather than the God that supposedly inspired its creation.

    So, when you see “atheists believe X and True Christians believe Y,” just substitute “idolater” for Christian and fire it right back.

  15. 99 bottles says

    Am I the only one, who upon finding a watch on the beach, or an encyclopedia in the woods, would think, “Gee, some dumbass left their valuables here. Hey kids, want a nice new ________?”

    Now, to prove God you don’t have to find a watch on the beach, you have to find a dead angel. Finding a watch on the beach is orders of magnitude more likely than finding a penguin in NY harbor. And both have natural explanations.

  16. tacitus says

    I don’t have time to do it myself, but this article cries out for a rebuttal with the title “It’s not easy to be a fundamentalist Christian” and keeping almost all the same section titles intact:

    “The fundamentalist must also live with the arrogance of his position”

    “The fundamentalist must also deny the validity of historical proof”

    and so on.

    Almost too easy.

  17. valhar2000 says

    “…his belief that religion ought to be eliminated, that the world would be radically better off without it. Atheism entails a certain narrative about historical progress: we can move to a new and better age once we have dispensed with superstition. The prospect of a future without religion is good news.”

    Wanna talk about historical proof? There certainly is a lot in history that suggests that is true!

    At the very least, without religion, people would know that they are collecting tithes in order for the pastor to live well without actually having to work, rather than thinking that they are doing some sort of “god’s work”. Or they would know that they are crashing a plane into a building as part of a creative political campaing, not as part of a “struggle for the greater glory of God”.

    If they still want to do those things, well, at least they know why they’re doing them.

  18. junk science says

    If you think “friendship and love, pleasure and sorrow, Mozart and Plato” are “smaller meanings of life,” that’s your misfortune.

    The attempt to claim logic for intelligent design is weak, pathetic, and empty, and no doubt completely satisfying to believers.

    I remember believing in god as a teenager and feeling threatened by atheists. I’m sure I spent much more time thinking about them than I felt they deserved.

  19. says

    Was anyone else tempted to take the test to see whether your worldview is that of a Christian or a “modern-day liberal?”

    Why do I have this funny feeling that almost anyone who took it would be diagnosed with unseemly liberal tendencies that require the purchase of multiple Worldview Week materials to root them out and replace them with True Christian beliefs?

  20. says

    He is like the man who finds an encyclopedia lying in the woods and refuses to believe it is the product of intelligent design.

    These dorks can’t even argue their own “logic.”

    No one disputes that the encyclopedia was intentionally created (or “intelligently designed”). But the IDiots claim that therefore, the cells in the body of the person who finds the encyclopedia were intelligently designed. What does one have to do with the other? And if the cells in the encyclopedia’s finder are designed, what about the forest itself? Is an ecosystem made up of creatures made up of “designed” cells somehow not designed, or what? And if the forest is designed, how can it be any kind of control for or contrast to the encyclopedia, since both are “designed”?

    And BTW, how many people actually find still-ticking watches while sunbathing, or encyclopedias while hunting? Just wondering.

  21. says

    Funny! Pastor Cornell was beaten to the punch a long time ago by a deluded young Christian at Fresno State, who wrote a letter to the editor of his hometown paper. The title was A look at atheism using logic (not exactly an accurate description). If you haven’t seen it, you may be amused. (I’ve linked to it before.) It’s here.

  22. Gobear says

    Of course, the good pastor omits the fact that encyclopedias don’t have sex or pass on genetic traits to their offspring.

  23. Mark Uk says

    I used to be an atheist but this article has made me see the light. That whole encyclopedia story did it for me. I can finally see the light… It’s so beautiful!

    How do people like this actually tie their shoe laces in the morning? I suppose what this article once again points out is the enormous fear these people have of atheists and how scared they are about the whole “meaning of life” bit.

    By the way, Kristine, I once found a watch on the beach. Proof if anything of intelligent design! It had a calculator…

  24. says

    Kristine wrote:

    And BTW, how many people actually find still-ticking watches while sunbathing, or encyclopedias while hunting? Just wondering.

    A couple weeks ago, I found a set of bondage restraints under an overpass in Somerville, Massachusetts — but that’s a different matter.

  25. j.t.delaney says

    The word “atheist” has been used almost exclusively as a perjorative for 1500+ years, with each new generation of theologans and politicians coming up with new ways to poison it. Considering the sort of over-the-top religious society that we live in, I think it would be a miracle if people didn’t attack this oh-so-traditional straw man.

    I think this is part of the reason a lot of people choose to describe themselves as “agnostic”, even though they have no more of a belief in SkyDaddy than the rest of us apostates. The atheist straw man is deeply engrained and very popular, and it’s hard to shake off all that baggage. In Catholic parochial school, I was taught that atheists were people who were absolutely convinced that there is no God, and not even a possibility of God — such a person sounds strange indeed. Until I was in my late twenties, I continued described myself as either “agnostic” or “non-religious”. It was only in the last couple years that I’ve finally been confortable with saying “I’m an atheist”.

  26. commissarjs says

    The atheist must also live with the arrogance of his position.

    So when I am state a position that is opposed to the position of someone else it is arrogant. Is that solely due to me being an atheist or is something else involved here? Because it sure seems that the stated positions of most christians are opposed to those of other religions or different sects within christianity yet they don’t somehow label themselves as arrogant.

  27. False Prophet says

    If I find a book in the woods it is a sign from god? What an astonishing leap! In fairness he does say an encyclopedia, what would it mean if you were walking through the woods and stumbled across a copy of Mien Kampf.

    Posted by: ckerst | November 15, 2006 12:15 PM

    This reminds me of my favourite scene from “The Messenger”, when Joan of Arc (Milla Jovovic) has been captured by the English, and a black robed man representing her self-doubts (Dustin Hoffman) appears to her in her cell asking her why she thinks she was chosen by God.

    “I found the sword in the field.”

    “You found a sword in a field. Of all the ways a sword could end up in a field,” (about 3 rational ways are shown), “you chose this:” whereupon it cuts to a shot of the clouds parting and a sword coming down on a beam of golden light.

    That scene made up for the watered-down Braveheart-esque scenes from the film’s first half.

  28. Hank Fox says

    I tried to post a response over there. The site says they “review” feedback before posting it. I wonder if “review” means “freely censor.”


    On vacation recently, I sat next to a lady who teaches (and serves as principal) at a Christian (Seventh Day Adventist) private school. Early in the conversation, I said “You know you’re sitting next to an atheist?” And we had a great talk for about two hours, about evolution and all sorts of other stuff. We found that we agreed that Pat Robertson was a mean-spirited little man, the Republicans had betrayed the public’s trust, and a lot of other things besides.

    Turned out she’d never actually TALKED to a realio-trulio atheist. I was her first. We both laughed when I said “I’m a lot less evil than you’d expect, huh?”

    Just out of curiosity, Steve, do you actually KNOW any atheists? Have you talked to one or more for any length of time, in an earnest, non-confrontational way? Or do you take your image of atheists solely from Christian sources?

    Because, wow dude, you have some seriously, embarrassingly silly, ideas.

    Your title, “It’s Not Easy To Be An Atheist” is at times truer than you know. But not because it’s somehow illogical or leaves us with deep existential angst.

    It’s because people like you – and the people you will help convince – smugly insist on whacking at straw men.

    Problem is, the blows fall on real people.

    I’m curious to see if my comment actually gets posted over there.

  29. Magnus says

    I once lost a watch on the beach. Does that constitute for some new strand of logic proving or disproving something.

    If a watch falls out of your pocket while on the beach, it has violated the laws of gravity by moving up instead of down, ergo the laws of gravity are no longer laws only theories not supported by ACTUAL FACTS!!!!!

  30. hal says

    It’s not the content of atheism that these hucksters are shivering about: they have no intention of representing it accurately or any other way. It’s the noise being made in favor of considering atheism. Now that Dawkins and PZ et al. rival in volume the unearthly howling from belief-based belief, peddlers of god recognise and are alarmed at the virtuosity displayed by rational thought. What’s more, they can’t match the humor.

  31. Cris says

    I like this bit at the end of his third point:

    It’s hard to believe in miracles without God.

    I don’t mind agreeing: it is hard. Material explanations of the origins of the universe and of species are difficult to comprehend. They require us to think on much larger scales than we’re accustomed. So naturally, many of us wimp out and decide to label them “miracles” and ascribe them to a simplified, personified “god.”

    What is the name of this fallacy? “I don’t understand it, therefore it must not be true.”

  32. Mena says

    Actually Magnus, I think that it means that you *are* god. Well, maybe the messiah at least. ;^)
    (now go out there and convince them to give you money like Steve Cornell et al!)

  33. Efogoto says

    “… God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen …” That there’s my problem – the total inability to see the invisible qualities of God.

    If Steve Cornell comes across an encyclopedia in the woods, does he refuse to believe it was left there by a human being?

  34. Steve LaBonne says

    hal- I agree with you completely, and Larry Moran has eloquently expressed the same point around here. Because of the taboo about atheism in the US, many, many people have never in their lives encountered a confident, matter-of-fact expression of atheism from an obviously ordinary, well-behaved person who doesn’t have two heads. And that’s exactly why breaking the taboo openly and forcefully (rather than pussyfooting around with declarations of “agnosticism” and suchlike rubbish) is so important. Encountering our point of view for the first time is likely to start some of the more intelligent among the believers thinking about just why they believe what they do, and who knows where that process may lead once it starts? It seems quite clear to me that that’s exactly what the Steve Cornells of the world are so worried about.

  35. Carlie says

    Wow – that test is the first “rate yourself on something” test I’ve ever seen for which the authors proudly proclaim which are the correct answers. Not just that you don’t agree with them, but you are incorrect if you don’t. And you can get a neato certificate if you agree with them enough! Excuse me while I go wash my brain out now.

  36. MReap says

    I took the quiz and scored a minus 1. I have a “socialist/communist/Marxist/secular humanist worldview”. Well of course I do, I’m an Episcopalian. We’re the spawn of Satan!

  37. MartinDH says

    Well of course I do, I’m an Episcopalian. We’re the spawn of Satan!

    Damn! I thought you were the spawn of Santa. I guess leaving those Christmas wish lists in St John’s mailbox was a waste of time.

  38. Gobear says

    I scored Socialist Worldview Thinker, which makes no sense because I answered a soundly libertarian Strongly Disagree to every “The federal government should. . . ”

    I don’t think they know what socialists actually believe.

  39. George says

    Job opening: Pastor.

    Required: Willingness to waste the rest of your life spewing mindless claptrap at gullible parishioners who will swallow your b.s. unquestioningly.

    Perks: You get to make it all up as you go along out of a book written a long time ago. How great is that! Plus: get your ya-yas out insulting atheists. What fun!

    Apply today!

  40. jonno says

    Having been raised in a fundy home, I know what the “correct” answers are. Thus of course I have you all beat in the negative scoring.


    It’s actually hard to answer some of these questions, since most of the nature-of-god-and-the-bible questions should be answered “Strongly Disagree” by an atheist. But in some cases, that’s the correct answer! According to the re-Neducators at WorldviewWeekend, that is.

  41. CCP says

    no, see, if you find a book in the woods it’s only a sign from god IF there is also a white salamander present not being consumed by all those flames from the burning bush (also not being consumed). And it helps if it’s not a “book” so much as some engraved tablets. Also not being consumed.
    A watch on the beach? That was mine.
    Bondage restraints under an overpass in Somerville MA? Which overpass?

  42. 386sx says

    I once lost a watch on the beach. Does that constitute for some new strand of logic proving or disproving something.

    Yes. When one is on the beach, one loses a watch. You have indeed discovered a new law of nature, my friend. Naturally the atheists will try and suppress it though, so good luck. (They are very arrogant, you know.)

  43. Magnus says

    That test sure is hard. Can someone tell me the correct answer for the first question. Well, first of all there is no question, and the alternatives are as follow (and you can only choose one):
    I am taking this test before I read a worldview book
    I am taking this test before I take a worldview class or conference
    I am taking this test after I read a worldview book
    I am taking this test after I take a worldview class or conference
    I am simply taking the test

    Oh, I see now, thats the background survey i have to take before the real test. Somehow I think I’ll fail the real one.

  44. Mark UK says

    I took the test, I’m a communist as well. Who would have thought… Funny, they have a link to their global results yet there is no option to register by country, only by state.. Bit of a limited worldview. Or did god only create the united states?

  45. Magnus says

    And what is the correct answer to this question:
    George W. Bush is the President of the United States of America.

    Am I supposed to agree or disagree. strongly or weakly. I seem to recall him being elected for president, and I know what i think of him being president, but I did not know I should have an opinion on whether or not he actually is in office. Am I supposed to check the No Opinion alternative, since I’m not a US citizen, and therefore cannot vote in the States

  46. Ichthyic says

    I’m with tacitus. Steve Cornell’s article is projection incarnate.

    indeed. one more datapoint in the endless stream of fundies who exhibit this symptom. Projection is as common to fundies as warm blood is to mammals.

    I do wonder why there are so few articles that attempt to look at approaching the fundie condition as it really is: a psychological disorder.

    an aproach based on a logical treatment of factual data won’t convince a schizophrenic to seek treatment; you have to point out that they have a disease, first.

    It’s not the religion that causes the disease, it’s merely the enabler.

    much like those predisposed to alcoholism, the alcohol merely enables the underlying addictive personality. It’s the personality disorder that needs treatment; decrying the evils of alcohol simply doesn’t work.

  47. GH says

    Ok I took the ‘test’ and I am also apparently some form of marxist/humaist/moderate biblical person. That was simply a ridiculous exercise in futility. All that despite being a republican with libertarian leanings in the real world.

    It’s funny how the questions are asked, answered, and the point values given. Only nuts would put something like this out there.

  48. Ichthyic says

    Okay, I took the liberal worldview test that they had and it turns out that I am Communist/Marxist/Socialist/Secular Humanist Worldview Thinker.

    you actually registered?

    no doubt when the next McCarthy commission gets formed, they will use this as evidence against you.


  49. JakeB says

    Well, I got -3. Oddly enough, I got a nearly perfect score on the social issues section, but for rather different reasons than they intended, I suspect.

  50. Don says

    Yay, I got first response in. They took out the para breaks, though. It read more elegantly with paragraphs.

  51. 601 says

    In fact, the atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion. For there to be evil, there must also be some real, objective standard of right and wrong. But if the physical universe is all there is, there can be no such standard (How could arrangements of matter and energy make judgments about good and evil true?). So, there are no real evils, just violations of human customs or conventions. How hard it would be to think of murderers as merely having bad manners.

    Steve Cornell is correct here (except for the “merely having bad manners”, most community based ethics systems consider murder extraordinarily bad manners).

    Even Dawkins talks about “evil,” and I think this is a mistake, evil (and good) as absolute references are part of the supersititous realm. “The rule of law” has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with community ethical standards (e.g. majority rule limited by minority rights).

  52. Greco says

    From the test:

    Believers should not only base their philosophy in Christ, but they should know how to respond to the critics and skeptics of Christianity with the reasoning and basis of our biblical worldview.

    Oh yeah, please do that. Not only it is really easy to beat them, but we have great fun with fundamentalists’, huh, “reasoning”.

  53. Rienk says

    “Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.”
    ~ Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifest

    The best definition I can find.

  54. says

    CCP wrote:

    A watch on the beach? That was mine.
    Bondage restraints under an overpass in Somerville MA? Which overpass?

    I found the restraints under Route 28, between the Brickbottom artist community and a tow-truck company. About halfway between Union Square and Lechmere, if you want more globally relevant terms. (Google map of environs.)

    Why, are they yours?

  55. says

    It’s easy to poke fun at articles like this, but it might be more useful to read it as a handy guide to why people cling so strongly to their theism. If they believe that atheism implies a lack of ultimate purpose and pulls the rug out from under the only system of morality they know, it is almost rational to maintain your religion as the only available protection from the howling void.

    There needs to be a guide, “how to be a moral and fulfilled atheist”, that answers these objections in simple language.

  56. Anuminous says

    A couple weeks ago, I found a set of bondage restraints under an overpass in Somerville, Massachusetts — but that’s a different matter.

    Yes, ever since we let gay people marry, they have been flooding into the state. Prices on bondage equipment, lubricant and other recreational gear have dropped through the floor! Everybody wins!

  57. Anuminous says

    About halfway between Union Square and Lechmere, if you want more globally relevant terms.

    That is even funnier — I drive past there on my way to and from work every day. The bastards at that tow company towed my car while I was at the nearby courthouse doing my civic duty (no empanelling for me though)

  58. Erasmus says


    damn i was pretty happy with my -22 until i saw jonno’s -94. BUT i reckon he was trying to bomb it.

    It’s just hard to even have an opinion about most of those stupid questions.

    And I’m proud to be a Communist/Marxist/Eskimoist/Socialist/Satanist/Homosexualist/Bestialist/RockAndRollist/Linguist/Mexicanist/Misanthropist/Nihilist/Anti-Realist/Secular Humanist Worldview Thinker, where at least I know I’m Free! And I won’t forget the men who died to do nothing to contribute to those rights for me! And I’ll proudly Stand Up! next to you and turn my back today. because there ain’t no doubt I love this land, Gawd Bless the You S.A.!!!

    Lee Greenwood is a pussy. and i really resent having to hear that bullshit while I’m trying to eat a dolphin-killing-tuna sub at the Subway the other day. wish I had this test with me then.

  59. Mrs Tilton says

    Ha! Unlike most people round here I am a theist, so I had a handicap, yet I still scored -58!. I will be in, oh, a much deeper part of hell than all y’all. D00d i tot4lly pWn3d yuor athi3sTs!!!!!11!!

  60. Kseniya says

    Have you guys noticed the (possibly supernatural) phenomenon that once you’re IN Somerville, it’s almost impossible to get OUT?

    I think it’s because of all those streets that seem to be parallel but aren’t, and the innumerable “squares” that are, without exception, either triangles or circles.

    Conclusion: Satan is real!

  61. Anuminous says


    You did not used to hang around Gene and Amy’s place in Teele square did you? I ask because I once saw a video made by some people who did which was about a man cursed by a gypsy to be unable to leave Somerville…

  62. Dave Godfrey says

    -25 I couldn’t believe that I got some “right, i.e.

    God used the process of biological evolution to create the world as we know it today.
    God didn’t do anything, what with not existing.

    The Bible is a reflection of God’s character and nature.
    God is obviously a pychopath.

    The Bible states that money is the root of all evil.
    Love of money is the root of all evil). I got a few more biblical ones half-right. There are an awful lot of sayings that people think are in the Bible, but aren’t quite. (And everyone gets the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne wrong too.)

    Making as much money as you can is more important than whether you have a good reputation.
    I’d rather be remembered as being a nice guy than a rich guy.

    A Christian can develop a biblical worldview for every major area of life by studying the Bible from beginning to end in context.
    If you’re going to have a biblical worldview it helps to study the source. And I’d take a look at the Apocrypha too.

    And of course George Wanker Bush is President of the US. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  63. Troublesome Frog says

    Hmmm… I had a seagull drop a watch on me at the beach once. It wasn’t a particularly nice watch, but apparently it was shiny enough to be worth picking it up and flying with it for a while. What are the theological ramifications? Anybody?

  64. says

    Abandon all hope ye who enter Somerville.

    Does anyone here remember the Somerville Song?

    “a sub shop graces every hill…
    you might think you’re dreaming
    but maybe you’re not
    it’s all a state of mind in Somerville”

    Amazingly, this doesn’t seem to be on the web anywhere.

  65. Kseniya says


    No, I don’t know “Gene” or “Amy” (if those are their real names) nor did I hang around their “place” (probably some Somerville cultist’s dive bar) but I do know where Teele Square is (and that it’s another one of those damned triangles – I swear, you could lose a battleship and a squadron of fighter planes in Somerville, which is amazing considering how small a “city” it is) but I’m sure the Gypsy story is REAL and I’d love to see the video and don’t you hate silly people who type in run-on sentences full of parenthetical comments?

    Somerville is dense. No, really. This is intuitively obvious, but it’s also a fact. Somerville is at (or near) the top of the list in population density because of its small size. At yet, it’s a nearly limitless labyrinthine maze from which there is little chance of escape. So. Either there are supernatural forces at work, or Somerville is in fact an extrusion into our STC of a much larger, four-dimensional place.

    (“And He Built A Crooked Town…”)

  66. George says

    How does the song go?

    There Ball squ-a-ah, and Union Squ-a-ah, and Inman Squ-a-ah, and Davis Squ-a-ah…. Somerville, oh Somerville, I really think you’re pissa!

  67. Anuminous says

    Ah, well Kseniya. You missed a good time. Wierd people, good conversations, speed chess (the topical connection here is that Gene and Amy were neo-pagan/liberal/archeologist/ socialist/artists)

    As for local songs, it is really about Cambridge/Boston, but I prefer Tom Lehrer’s (now somewhat outdated) Ode to the Red Line:

    H is for my Alma Mater, Harvard
    C is Central the next stop down the line
    K is for that cozy Kendall Station
    C is Charles which overlooks the brine
    P is for the posh and pompos Park Street
    W’s for Washington you see
    Put them all together you get
    HCKC – PW
    That’s what Boston really means to me!

    The expectorating sound he made in the penultimate line was really something else.

  68. Kseniya says

    Yeah, but Inman Squ-a-ah is in Cambridge (barely, but still).

    You know, satellite photos taken directly over the only geometrically honest feature of Somerville, that is, Powder House Circle (next to Tufts, but still in Somerville) show the Circle to be the body and eye of a creature from which emanate six arms (disguised as “streets”) that wind their way through every neighborhood of Somerville like… like tentacles…

  69. says

    I see Anuminous posted the Tom Lehrer subway song before I had the chance. Back in the early days of Napster, I snared an MP3 of Lehrer singing that, marked “very rare”.

    My mathematician friends describe Boston as a city in which no meaningful distance metric can be defined. The rules of Euclidean space stop working between Newton and the Atlantic. I made a wrong turn once heading from an apartment near Central Squa-ah to Somerville (foolish enough, I know, but I was coming out of a back lot and all mixed up) and ended up in downtown Boston and the Back Bay before I could get myself turned around.

    My understanding of the city is made more torturous because I learned its geography starting with the nuclei right around the T stops. When the neighborhoods of familiarity threaten to overlap, all sorts of brain hurt ensue. Fuckin’ A, Moishe, it’s a wicked pissah retahded topology.

  70. Kseniya says

    Yup, it sounds like I missed a good time with Gene and Amy… but if it was more than four or five years ago, I was too young to be in Somerville anyway. ;-)

    HCKC – PW – LMAO!

    Tom Lehrer was brilliant, even my younger brother (still only 15) loves him. Who needs F-bombs when you have wit like that?

    I have one for you… from Lehrer’s Heir (I just made that up, actually it’s a guy named John Forster). Entering Marion. It’s a jaunty little tune about… uh… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s better heard than just read, but I don’t have the mp3…

  71. Anuminous says

    You might say that Boston and the local area evolved with inadequate selection in force. This provides an appearance of complete randomness. It makes much more sense if you realize that not all the land which is there now was there before (some very expensive real estate around here is in fact on landfill put in place to get rid of the stinking tidal swamps). Sadly, I have never been able to figure it out, so I just get lost a lot. My wife is much better at navigating around here than I am.

  72. Greg Peterson says

    An atheist assigns himself to life without ultimate purpose.

    >An atheist FINDS himself in a life without ultimate purpose. That’s just being honest.
    >The “ultimate purpose” the Christian imagines for himself is not his purpose, it’s God’s. Purpose, to have any meaning, must be one’s own. Otherwise we’re talking about function, not purpose. Christians essentially imagine themselves bristles in God’s backscratcher.
    >What does “ultimate purpose” even mean? Does something have to be eternal to be ultimately purposeful? Because Jesus taught that marriage is not eternal–people are not married in heaven. Does that mean that marriage is without purpose? And if it doesn’t mean that, doesn’t that imply that some things are intrinsically meaningful, even if they are not ultimately purposeful–whatever that could mean?

    If the atheist is honest, he will admit to feeling that there is something more to existence -something bigger.

    I think I’m pretty honest, and while I admit that there is something MUCH bigger than MY existence…that is, the rest of the cosmos (including thought and experience), I don’t think there’s anything more to my existence than the experiences, thoughts, and actions of my lifetime. I’m not a solipsist–I think the universe will go on without my presence. But I don’t think my presence will go on without my material self.

    The atheist must also suppress the demands of logic.

    On the contrary, atheists I know consider logic paramount. If the DNA actually bore more than the most trivial likeness to an encyclopedia, perhaps the atheist’s logic could be questioned. But far from appearing designed, genomes bear the unmistakable marks of jerry rigging, contingency, and Rube-Goldberg contraptionism. The LOGICAL conclusion is undirected evolution.

    The atheist has to believe in miracles without believing in God.

    I believe that things that are statistically improbable occur, sure. I also believe things happen that I don’t understand. Surely more has been meant by the word “miracle” than something that is either statistically improbable or not well-understood.

    We don’t actually know that whatever begins to exist is caused to exist–at the quantum level, some things seem to occur without a cause, and it is very difficult to imagine what the cause and effect dynamic might have been like prior to the existence of space-time. But even if we grant the truth of the idea that everything that begins to exist is caused to exist, what does this have to do, specifically, with God?

    There are substantial issues, by the way, with a God outside of space and time deciding to create space and time…because the very acts of decision and creation imply that time already exists (and time does not exist without space). If time and space already exist, and God exists eternally, then time and space must exist eternally as well. A decision-making, acting God could not exist without time, but there is no logical contradiction in saying that time can exist without God.

    An atheist must also suppress all notions of morality.

    This is the most offensive, bigoted, and just plain wrong statement here. Of course I am able to declare some morals superior to others–I don’t need a perfect, Platonic sphere to see that a rugby ball is more rounded than a football. Knowledge can be derived comparatively without recourse to a perfect absolute. We accept that idea with language, for example–that it is an innate human capacity, that some people are better at it than others, and that Shakespeare was a greater writer than…well, pretty much anyone. No one says we have to suppress all notions of conversation because we don’t have access to a divinely appointed perfect language. And some people are indeed mute, just as some people are sociopaths.

    It should be pointed out as well that Jesus’ ethic was completely secular: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you requires exactly no God to be effective, reasonable, and attractive as a personal ethic. The fact that every major ethical system says something very similar to this implies that it has to do with being human…because often this central ethic is all that two wildly different religions will have in common with each other.

    The atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion.

    “Evil” is a name we give to causing undue suffering or unduly preventing flourishing. Of course I believe that people cause suffering and prevent flourishing. Often the source of the suffering is religious–such as the 9/11 attacks. Very often the source of impeded flourishing is religious. As to how an arrangement of matter and energy can make a moral judgment, we evolved mind, a property that emerged from matter and energy, but transcends mere matter and energy. We are conscious, and we can observe unnecessary suffering, and the chains that prevent people from flourishing. We do so imperfectly, but we do it well enough to make a difference. We can imagine no good reason for children to suffer abuse at the hands of adults, or of corrupt regimes. We see no logical advantage to crushing poverty or enforced ignorance. The real question becomes, if we, flawed physical beings that we are, can so easily register such things, where is the all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God to prevent such suffering, and promote flourishing? I do not think it is the atheist who has the weak hand here.

    The atheist must also live with the arrogance of his position.

    How is “I don’t have a god” any more arrogant than “I do have a god”? All most atheists that I know say is that they don’t have a god…that they do not see convincing enough evidence to compel belief in the existence of a personal god like that of the Abrahamic faiths. The real hubris, I think, belongs to the believer, who claims to know things that she can not know. Things for which no evidence exists.

    The atheist must also deny the validity of historical proof.

    It is true that I am skeptical of historical “proof.” There really is no such thing. There are only accounts that can be judged as more or less likely. As for Jesus Christ’s resurrection, there is no “the account.” There are four (or five, if you count Paul’s description) accounts, and they do not agree in several key details. By “manuscript evidence” all that is meant that a great many copies of a document exists. That says precisely nothing about the truth of documents. As Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” The fact that something is widespread is no guarantee of its veracity. It is very unlikely that ANY of the Gospels was written by an eyewitness, and Paul only had ecstatic visions of Jesus and wasn’t an eyewitness to anything about Jesus’ life. There is no corroborating testimony from Jewish or Pagan sources (despite the attempt to forge such testimony and clumsily interpolate it into the writing of Jewish historian Josephus’s writing). There is nothing to indicate that we know a single historical fact about Jesus of Nazareth–though his existence and some of his sayings seem very likely authentic.

    As to an anti-supernatural bias, of course! We don’t encourage, for example, a jury to consider that despite forensic evidence against a defendant, they also take into account the possibility that mystical sprites committed the crime, do we? We all have, in our day-to-day lives, an anti-supernatural bias. We assume that most things occur naturally, or that perhaps we do not understand their cause. To say this “bias” (based on rational precedent) prevents an atheist from “allowing history to prove anything” is absurd. The claims being made are not that Jesus ate fish or talked to friends, which would seem entirely likely. The claims are that Jesus cloned fish out of thin air and brought friends back from the dead. Should we NOT be skeptical of claims that lie so far outside of our experience? If we do not doubt such reports, are there any reports that we should doubt?

    The atheist must admit that human beings are not importantly different from other animals.
    Ah, the “just” fallacy. Would the theist accept the argument that a baby is “just” the result of a random meeting of a globby egg and some gooey ejaculate? Of course not. Humans are special, because we are self-aware, thinking, feeling beings. We are not just or merely anything–we are spectacularly what we are, and that includes, yes, a capacity for achievement and dignity. It is also true that we are only a relative handful of mutations away from our non-human primate cousins. Why this can’t lead to a sense of cosmic connectedness rather than a threat to our supposed superiority is beyond me.

    And incidentally, this is a breathtakingly inept strawman view of evolution, which rather than speaking of “blind chance operating on the primordial ooze” instead teaches of a process of selection operating on variation. The variation, true, is random, but selection is not random. Selection is the opposite of random.

    According to the atheist, we are simply the result of blind chance operating on the primordial ooze, and differing from animals by only a few genes. Yet, the wonders of human achievement and the moral dignity we ascribe to human beings just do not fit with the claim that we are no different than the animals. The realities of human creativity, love, reason, and moral value seem to indicate that humans are creatures uniquely made in the image of God.

  73. says

    Yep, I used to live on some of that land, the land which used to be hills outside of town, brought in to fill the fetid swamp. Unsurprisingly, the basements of the buildings built on that land — we’re talkin’ Victorian townhouses worth a few mil’ apiece — are full of rats the size of sea otters. My old roommate sat up at night and shot them. Yeah, he’s from Texas. I got one with a butcher’s knife, and a musician friend of mine hunted them with a katana.

  74. Anuminous says

    Damn, that’s brave. Some of those rodents will sit you down, lecture you on proper ecological behavior, then eat your liver.

  75. M31 says

    As a proud former Somervillian I give you the following:

    How does the Somerville alphabet go?

    Fuckin’ A
    Fuckin’ B
    Fuckin’ C


  76. Kseniya says

    (Just kidding, Greg, that was a very fine rebuttal.)

    A katana? Brave, indeed. I’d have insisted on a naginata.

  77. llewelly says

    I assign to myself a life without ultimate purpose. The purpose of my life is not subject to the whims of The Pope, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Jesus Christ, Zeus, L. Ron Hubbard, Rael, Mao, or any of various written myths and legends. I am free to determine my own purpose. Carl Sagan chose to promote understanding of the world around us, to promote peace and to promote human welfare. Bertrand Russell chose to promote understanding of philosophy and an end to unnecessary wars. While there are atheists who have chosen despicable or destructive purposes for their lives, I am not constrained to follow their example. An atheist accepts no perceived risk of offending God when discarding a harmful belief system. In contrast, if a religion is shown to have a harmful purpose, the religious person has little recourse; such a person must either change the religion, or abandon the religion. But if the religion is founded upon God, such change or abandonment is in opposition to God. The only escape from this contradiction is to claim that the nature, or the orders of God have changed, or were previously misunderstood. I am left with the impression that God is as mercurial as any fallible human being, or has as much difficulty communicating His Purpose to his creation, as fallible humans often have in communicating with each other. History has repeatedly shown that attaching the purpose of one’s life to such a God has wrought great misery.

    I must suppress the demands of logic if I am to believe that an all powerful and benevolent entity allowed many varied and contradictory interpretations of his purpose to be used whip up the fervor of hate necessary for humans to commit any of the numerous atrocities the ‘Word of God’ has been used to justify. I must again suppress the demands of logic to accept the seemingly endless textual legerdemain which theists perform in order maintain the appearance that their belief in God is logical.

    Ironically, I am also asked to believe that the tautology ‘whatever begins to exist is caused to exist’ is a miracle. Perhaps the argument is that one must believe in God, because only Divine Intervention can explain the belief that a tautology is a miracle. Unfortunately, there those who actively (and often unknowingly) engage in the destruction of the logical facilities of their progeny. This sad reality is sufficient to explain the acceptance of a tautology as a miracle.

    I must suppress all notions of morality which are founded on a belief in God. For example, I am told God has labeled homosexuality as immoral. In suppressing said ‘morality’, I am enabled to choose between respect for homosexuality and suppression of homosexuality, based on the effects of each position on human beings. I observe that the belief that homosexuality is immoral has enabled people to assault, abuse, and even rape and murder people perceived as homosexual. I observe that attempts to change the sexuality of homosexuals has resulted in many of them suffering from severe depression, sometimes to the point of suicide. In sharp contrast, I observe that homosexuals who are allowed to engage in consensual homosexual relationships without being subjected from such prejudice and insult, derive as much happiness and comfort from such relationships as heterosexuals do from their relationships. Were I to accept morality founded on a God who condemned homosexuality as immoral, I would be forced to accept the marginalization and brutalization of a substantial segment of humanity. Astute readers will point out that the God of Goal-post-moving does not condemn homosexuality. This is true, but it is irrelevant to the majority of Christians, Muslims, and many other theists, who believe in a God or Gods that condemn homosexuals, women, atheists, members of competing religions, and/or other peoples. If one accepts a God who does not engage in these condemnations, one must ask, why does God allow its existence to to be used to justify such assaults on humanity?

    In fact, I must conclude that Evil, defined as opposition to God, is an illusion. In the same vein, I accept that the Grinch, and Santa Claus, are both fictional.

    I must live with the arrogance of my position that the moon is not made of green cheese, that the Easter Bunny is not real, that those who unquestioningly accept mythologies are at best, sadly mistaken. It is quite unfortunate that certain cultures have defined all conceivable objections to ignorance or illogic as insulting and elitist, but I can only hope to change the minds of a few.

    I must deny the validity of the notion that a bible constitutes historical proof. I deny that Jesus rose and left his tomb after being crucified and declared dead. I deny that the Whore of Babylon rides astride a Great Beast with seven heads and ten horns. The paleontological record, the archaeological record, physical descriptions of the properties of water, and medical descriptions of injury and death, conflict with many of the events described in the bible. Therefor I deny it.

    Finally (but not quite finally, see below), I must admit that human beings are not self-importantly different from other animals. I can observe that other animals have altered their environment, in a ways that endangered, or even eliminated their species. I can conclude that in principle, altering our environment in ways that result in the death and suffering of other humans is possible, and therefor, we would be wise to prevent undue harm to our environment. I am able to admire the amazing bush of evolution as it is described by observations of the fossil record and the species around us; I am not forced to contort it according to a perceived superiority of humanity.

    Always remember that my problem with belief in God is not the absence of evidence, but the suppression of it. Whenever evidence against a claimed aspect of God is raised, the majority of theists will either deny and suppress the evidence outright, or engage the God of Goal-post-moving in order to portray the evidence is irrelevant, often in clear contradiction to their previous claims about efficacy of prayer, the omniscience of God, and / or the benevolence of God. Where they cannot suppress evidence against a particular God by insisting that such evidence does not exist, they suppress it by claiming that it is irrelevant; they believe, they all too often tell us, not in the God they believed in last week, but in a God whose omnipotence is seemingly used solely for the purpose of rendering himself immune to all falsifiability.

  78. says

    It was ever thus. I remember being asked in university if I was a captitalist. I said, “Sure.” Then I asked, “What do you mean by capitalist?” and the fellow said something about unearned money and battening off the toil of the workers. I said I thought it was someone who believes in getting paid for their work.

    That plus “all right-thinking people think the way I do” leads to an endless argument.

    I’m with the faction that says, “By their deeds ye shall know them” or to be concise, “Deeds speak.” And I don’t see self-proclaimed Christians acting any better than the mumbling majority nor the self-proclaimed unbelievers.

  79. Dave says

    Ok, if I found an encyclopedia in the woods, the first thing I would do (assuming it was in english, and I knew how to read) is open it up and read about how books are made. I bet it would give all kinds of details. I would then turn to the section on evolution and read that books are not alive, do not reproduce, and must be written. I would learn about how paper was made (while I was reading it on paper, how cool is that?). Yes, I would be gaining knowledge. At some point I may tuen to the astronomy section, and I might look up at the sky and understand what those glowing balls are. I could even “test” some of the stuff in there by my own observation to find out if they are true. No faith would be needed for understanding it.

    All of us here call this knowledge and learning. Our facts can be checked by others to find out if they are true. When they are not, we refine them, or throw them out to make way for things we find to be more true. Ahh, I can see the light!

  80. says

    These dorks can’t even argue their own “logic.”

    No one disputes that the encyclopedia was intentionally created (or “intelligently designed”). But the IDiots claim that therefore, the cells in the body of the person who finds the encyclopedia were intelligently designed. What does one have to do with the other? And if the cells in the encyclopedia’s finder are designed, what about the forest itself? Is an ecosystem made up of creatures made up of “designed” cells somehow not designed, or what? And if the forest is designed, how can it be any kind of control for or contrast to the encyclopedia, since both are “designed”?

    It’s a fallacy known as a circular argument, and that is what is at the core of “Intelligent Design.” “Humans use their intelligence to design complex things, therefore complex things must have been designed by an intelligence.”

    The fact that there are numerous examples of complexity in the natural world that are complex without being “designed” (the forest itself, snowflakes, atomic structure, et cetera ad nauseum), that doesn’t faze them in the least. Rational people would take that as evidence to the contrary. But not ID proponents. That just means that since they are complex, they are “designed”. Because complexity can only come from intelligence. (“But trees are complex.” “That means they were designed, because they are complex and complex things can only come from intelligence.”) Oh, and it was designed by some unseen, undetectable “intelligence” that we have no evidence for.

  81. Brian X says

    Nancy Pelosi’s transition team head, Mike Capuano, is from Somerville — used to be the mayor as a matter of fact. He was actually my representative in my old home town of Belmont before it got redistricted out of the 8th shortly after we moved out. And a good friend of mine lives in Somerville with her boyfriend — I was just teasing her that the bondage gear might be hers.

    See, all I really know is what I believe, and I am a deist-agnostic — I believe, but in a God that cannot and/or does not make contact with us and is irrelevant to the daily workings of the universe. I really prefer the label “agnostic” for that reason — though I believe God in the form of YHWH is impossible, I don’t know that I believe that the idea that there is some higher power can ever be proven or disproven meaningfully. I think the only intellectually honest position to take on the matter is to simply punt on the question on the premise that it’s completely irrelevant.

  82. CCP says

    last time I got lost in Somerville (just last week; thought I’d stay off of 128 for a change and cut across on 16…big mistake)(that area around the powder house is indeed cursed by Satan, or Santa, or Somebody), I almost backslid into belief, just so I’d have somebody to cry out to in lamentation. Then I lost my watch.

  83. Interrobang says

    Blake Stacey, thank you for many minutes of amusement with “Ah, if only books could breed…”

    If books could breed…

    I’d wind up with a lot of very strange books.
    I’d have to fight my roommate for custody of the progeny of accidental matings between his books and mine.
    I’d shortly have no room in the house, unless I started giving away books in job lots.
    People would start selling upholstered bookcases and cute book accessories.
    An entire new industry on the care and feeding of breeding pairs (?) of books would spring up.
    Divorces would get a lot messier, because not only would couples have to decide who gets the house, cars, and kids, but also who gets custody of the books.
    Authors would start referring to trunked manuscripts as “abortions.”
    Those plastic covers that you find on library books would become much more popular.
    Religious fundamentalists would have new reasons to regard libraries as dens on iniquity…

  84. David Marjanović says

    Excuse the deviation from topic… I just like being precise:

    And of course George Wanker Bush is President of the US. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    Though… wouldn’t it help if he had been elected? At least once? By more than 5 people?

    It’s scary how easy American elections can be stolen.

  85. says

    Re: The worldview test that was linked to earlier:

    I was quite upset that they didn’t have essays attached to each question telling me why I was wrong. But it was interesting teasing out what they meant from their “correct” answers. For example, when they say “The Bible states that money is the root of all evil”, they simply say the correct answer is “strongly disagree”, without pointing out that the love of money is the root of all evil. Maybe that would go against their Libertarian “I’ve got mine, so screw you” Christian morals.

    Equally with “The wording ‘separation of church and state’ is found in the U.S. Constitution” – Well, the words “thou shalt not have gay sex” don’t appear in the Bible. Does that mean that God is down with boy-on-boy jiggety-jiggety?

    In the “family” section, I got an aggregate score of 0 (bringing me all the way up to “secular”), even though I strongly disagreed with them on every single point except one – “George W. Bush is the President of the United States of America”. I’m not quiet sure what that means. I’m also not quite sure what it will mean after 2008.

    Under “religion”, I actually agreed with them on a few points, but I’m sure that they were interpreting the context differently: “There is more than one way to God” (because zero is not more than one), “A good person can earn his or her way to heaven if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds” (we both agree that good people don’t go to heaven it seems), “Jesus was crucified on the cross but was NOT physically raised from the dead” (he’s mythological, therefore he was never crucified), “God had no beginning and has no end” (and no middle, either). And yet, I get points for these.

    At least I’m completely wrong about “science”. That makes me feel better. Oh, wait. Except for “God used the process of biological evolution to create the world as we know it today”, which we both feel is a false statement. I’m guessing they don’t think it’s because God doesn’t actually exist, though.

    On “social issues”, I actually agree with them, a fair bit. Some of them, we even interpret the question in the same way, and still agree!

  86. Kseniya says

    CCP: “Then I lost my watch.” – genuine LOL!

    Interrobang: “Those plastic covers that you find on library books would become much more popular.” – gleeful chuckle!

    I’m going to leave a copy of “A Christmas Carol” under the bed with a copy of “Dagon” for a few weeks and see what happens. I’m hoping for a little something to brighten up someone’s Cephalopodmas!

  87. Andrew Wade says

    The atheist must also deny the validity of historical proof. If he accepted the standard rules for testing the truth claims of historical documents, he would be forced to accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The account of Jesus’ resurrection is strongly validated by standard rules for judging historical accuracy. The extensive manuscript evidence of eyewitnesses to the resurrection is presented in an unbiased, authentic manner.

    Bwahahaha. Snorf. Actual historians know that there is no such thing as “unbiased”. Actual historians (including Christian historians, I might add) don’t know who wrote the gospels. They do know who wrote Josephus’ works, and guess what, they don’t trust them either. (Josephus’ works are a very important source of information about first century Palestine, but not trustworthy.) Actual historians do things like digging in old Christian catacombs for clues about the culture of early Christians. (Example: you don’t find crucifixes in early Christian art. You do find many paintings of a shepherd (presumably Jesus) carrying a lamb.)

    Now I am not, in fact, a historian; not even close. But the ignorance of this writer about the practice of history shines through very clearly. Hell, his ignorance in general shines through very clearly. Ignorance seems to be almost a defining characteristic of fundamentalism.