Todd Stiefel schools the Blaze

Stiefel has been doing a series of interview with the Glenn Beck’s Blaze, and the latest is slammin’ Jesus. It’s vastly entertaining: Stiefel is a fierce and uncompromising atheist, and the commenters…hoo boy. Pascal’s Wager in the second comment, if that tells you anything.


  1. Loqi says

    Next week, Mr. Stiefel will do a series of interviews with a loaf of banana bread. It will be slightly more intelligent than the discussion with Mr. Beck.

  2. jakc says

    The comments over at the Blaze are about a hundred pounds of stupid in a ten-pound bag. I’ve always thought Pascal’s wager shows more about the fraudulence of religious faith than anything else. The claim that god can’t tell between a last-minute claim of faith designed to avoid hell, and “real” faith (whatever that is) suggests that Pascal doesn’t believe there’s any difference. All you need is a few magic “get out of jail” words. Perhaps, it will be enough for someone to edit a few sound bytes after you die to take care of it. Now there’s a good project for the Mormons. As for me – eternal life or eternal damnation, it’s all eternal baby!

  3. combat says


    I didn’t get the feeling he was talking directly to Glenn Beck, just doing an interview for a publication that Beck owns. Did I miss something?

  4. Teh kiloGraeme says

    The amusing thing is that the Christers are already laying into one another. Someone make popcorn!

  5. Akira MacKenzie says


    What tomb?

    How do they know (outside of the Bible) that there was a tomb?

    How do they know they have the right tomb?

    Are they utterly ignorant of ancient Jewish burial rituals were the body is left in the tomb to rot for a year and the bones are the cleaned and transferred to an ossuary?

    Even if they didn’t, what makes you think that a body, bones and all, would last longer than a few centuries?

    What evidence (again, outside of the Bible) do they have that anyone “rose from the dead” from that tomb?

  6. mbrysonb says

    Pascal was quite clever about his wager- he considered the issue of how to come to believe (recognizing it’s not directly under our control) and argued that by being observant and immersing yourself in a life that includes religion and expressions of faith, you could manage to improve your odds of becoming a real believer.

    Of course that completely trashes his argument– there’s a chance that you’ll come to believe if you do as Pascal suggests, and a somewhat lower, but still non-zero chance that you’ll come to believe anyway if you don’t. Either way, since the gain is infinite, the expected value of trying to come to believe or of simply not worrying about it is exactly the same (i.e. infinite) (assuming the hypothesis that Christianity is true has non-zero probability…).

    The ‘other possibilities’ objection was answered pretty well by (William) James (“The Will to Believe”), who pointed out that, for different people, different religious options may be ‘live possibilities’, and we can only seriously entertain those that are live for us. (That leaves me out altogether…)

  7. mbrysonb says

    Re 6: The abysmal ignorance of these people is especially apparent in the remarks about rising from the dead being some kind of unique idea. Nothing could be further from the truth– many fertility figures did this. And of course the Greek myths contain all kinds of hanky-panky between gods and humans, with issue. So Xianity adopted and combined a couple of very common myth patterns of the times– incorporating elements of the sun god, as well, and taking over many popular holidays and ceremonies by adding Christian elements to existing traditions. One could (just barely) forgive Aquinas’ ignorance when he claims that Xianity motivates people to give up ‘vices’ that they enjoy in an exceptional way, or that homosexuality doesn’t occur ‘in nature’. Today, anyone who’s paying attention knows better.

  8. says

    I need to have a sticky note by my computer or something:

    “DON’T read the comments at The Blaze. DO NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, read the comments at The Blaze.”

    The stupid is nuclear over there.

  9. jakc says

    Perhaps Beck will rename the comments section “The Stupid”.
    As for Pascal, well if you have to spend most of your life pretending to believe, that’s plenty of reason to not take the wager.

  10. says

    It really is shocking–though not by much–how pathetic some of these comments are. Pascal’s Wager, the “you can’t disprove god, thus yay Jesus!” fallacy, the namecalling, the statements that they can prove Stieful wrong SO VERY EASILY, but why bother, since he’s just a hellfire-bound atheist?

    Oh and also atheism is a belief system centered around hating god, yadda yadda. I must be as foolish as some of them think for wading through all of their mucky comments.

  11. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    @ mbrysonb

    The ‘other possibilities’ objection was answered pretty well by (William) James (“The Will to Believe”), who pointed out that, for different people, different religious options may be ‘live possibilities’, and we can only seriously entertain those that are live for us.

    The brilliant William James.

    I was rather disappointed reading The Will To Believe (*) after having read his “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and “Pragmatism”.

    James is a bit hard to pin down. He is not really religious, but seems to think there are many good aspects to religion. And he was an opportunist and, in some respects, an apologist.

    I am amazed that the xtians have not taken all the ideas, that he handed them on a plate, and made something of it. They seem to like wallowing in their self-indulgent shit, rather than forming a more profound defense of their religion. This is really sad, as the quality of godbot could be so much better if they would even just read, at the very least, “The Will To Believe”.

    * He was later to regret calling his book thus. He would rather have called it “The Right To Believe”. The first part of the book has ridiculously weak arguments. (Though still far better than your average apologist.)

    For completion, linky to free e-book: The Will To Believe.

  12. IslandBrewer says


    I didn’t think before I clicked, and lost a few of my remaining IQ points!

    Shit, shit, shit.

    I’m going to go listen to some Feynman lectures and see if I can regenerate them.

  13. mbrysonb says

    At least the pragmatic line acknowledges that there are limits to what constitutes a real alternative or an available choice. I think Pierce is better at explaining the special virtues of the scientific approach– the exceptional record of arriving at agreements that are stable, broadly independent of culture etc. (In this it’s like ordinary observation and description, out of which science emerged, but more detailed, systematic and both more predictively owerful and more reliable.) Unlike widespread claims of some objectively special status for particular religions, which don’t stand up to examination except for the already pre-committed, the scientific world view really does provide a better way to describe and explain our world (and, to anticipate the relativists’ objections, ‘better’ here invokes a common-sense standard that pre-dates the emergence of the scientific world view).

  14. robro says

    I’m surprised that The Blasé is even doing this “Ask an Atheist” shtick but, hey, they gotta sell add space too, and a click is a click. It’s not surprising that the stupid Beckers are fuming about it with all their clichés, rhetoric, and misinterpretations of out-of-date “wisdom.”

    As for M. Pascal and his wager, the idea always struck me as cynical, and it emphasizes the intrinsic fear-mongering of religion. Besides, as a Baptist, gambling was evil even if for your soul.

  15. nathanwren says

    Don’t know if it’s just my mobile browser, but the Pascal wager-er’s name came through as PROSECUTE_CONSTITUTIONAL_TREASON_IN_WASHING. Nearly shat myself laughing. Damn treasonous libruls with their washing…

  16. bad Jim says

    I love consequential reasoning: global warming can’t be true, because otherwise I’d have to give up my SUV. There must be a God, because otherwise I cease to exist when I die, and my life was not part of His plan.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the selfishness annoys me more than the fractured logic.

  17. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    James’s classic example (hypothetical I must add) of where belief trumps knowledge, is that of a hiker trapped on a mountain path. His only means to escape from this predicament is to make a leap onto an adjacent ledge, from where he can traverse to safety.

    He explains that a rational person would take account of the fact that he had never before taken such a leap and become torn by doubt in making the decision between leaping (and perhaps falling) and remaining (and perhaps dying of hypothermia). The person of faith, however takes control of the situation by believing fully in his ability to make the leap and, being beyond doubt, thus succeeds. He does not, IIRC, then say:”Therefore GAWD!”, but leaves it there as an example of the positive effects of a strong, doubt-free belief in such a drastic situation.

    I am sympathetic to such a “Just DO It ™” attitude in such extreme circumstances, but find the attitude rather preposterous for our day to day functioning. Dangerous even.

  18. says

    I was surprised that the article itself was unbiased and let him say what he wanted… and he didn’t mince his words.

    But the comments. Oh the comments…

  19. Deacon Duncan says


    Actually, I think the prominence of the empty tomb story is pretty good evidence that the resurrection DIDN’T happen. If Elvis Presley rose from the dead and drove a limo to the Grand Ol’ Opry to put on a free concert, would the news be full of pictures of the empty limo, and interviews with people who had seen a limo with no Elvis in it at all?

    An actually-resurrected figure would totally overshadow any amazement that might be felt over the absence of the recently deceased from some place else—unless, of course, the actual resurrection was missing, and the absence was the only part of the story that was really real. And that’s just a missing corpse, not a resurrection.

  20. says

    I lost count of the number of people there who believe that atheism is a positive claim, rather than just a description of belief.

    Ricardo: “I was surprised that the article itself was unbiased and let him say what he wanted… and he didn’t mince his words.”

    I don’t know. I could have done without all the editorial interjections between his quotes. And we can’t tell if his whole answers were included each time. I’d prefer if he’d been given editorial control of the piece. By which I mean that it was presented as a first person article with Stiefel as the author.

  21. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    I made it through the first page of comments. No more. I need a long shower and a gallon of mind-bleach.

  22. says

    By which I mean that it was presented as a first person article with Stiefel as the author.

    I think the idea of an atheist speaking directly to their congregation was too much for the editors. Perhaps they think that they can protect their readers from catching the athei if it’s not transmitted directly.

    No. I was more surprised the article didn’t end all his quotes with “…said the baby eating bible burner”.

    It’s progress of a sort.

  23. Tyrant al-Kalām says


    How is that even beginning to be a valid argument about faith versus reason? It’s a pure straw Vulkan, something that gets thrown around a lot by christians who are too dumb to understand what reason means, as an argument against atheism. It’s called straw Vulkan because Mr. Spock is often displayed as someone who can only act on absolute certainty and has great difficulty if there is incomplete information. Some christians think that that is what rationality is about, and that that’s what atheists are like.

    If course, it is exactly the rational approach to estimate the risks of either course of action using all the information available, and then to carry out whatever is the more promising approach. That may be jumping, or it may be not jumping. The christian propagandists ignore the importance of the fact finding and evaluation process, and would like people to believe that simply jumping to one of the conclusions on faith (why not have faith than one should remain where one is??? Maybe the ledge is too far away and the chance of dying is 100%!) is what one actually should do in this situation.

    That’s patently idiotic and dishonest.

  24. says

    Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m not familiar with The Blaze, but the Beck connection together with the comments gives me a clue. The comments are the sort that sometimes convinces me to sign up just so I can pitch in and point out all the obvious fallacies. Generally though, even pointing out the most slam-dunk factual inaccuracies – eg they’re confusing the Dec of Independence with the Constitution – gets you no-where. Somehow they still manage to keep replying without admitting they got something obviously wrong.

  25. julietdefarge says

    A chap calling himself Joe. R. Piehole is doing some heavy lifting in the Blaze comments. He provides this fascinating link to a story about a creationist textbook that says the Loch Ness monster is real:

    If visiting the Blaze today, also check out the sidebar link to the map of earthquake epicenters
    No mention of tectonic plates, of course.

  26. mbrysonb says

    The psychology of James’example is certainly pretty crude. Not that some kind of ‘faith’ or confidence (loosely speaking) might not help some people in some circumstances, but it surely doesn’t always help (the confidence might lead you not to notice something that would change your decision). Worse, linking that kind of everyday confidence to belief in a God or the resurrection is a stretch. Sometimes the fear of death that atheists must feel, in contrast to the ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection…’ is cited as showing the advantages of faith, allowing acts of courage to believers that the rest of us would find impossible. But fear of death doesn’t seem noticeably less amongst believers (in fact, believers are, apparently, more likely to insist on extreme measures to prolong life). And many atheists display great physical courage. But the waters are muddy here: after all, it’s also true to say that a believer has much more to fear in death (eternal hell) than any atheist (as Lucretius emphasized, saying that there is nothing to fear in death because, ‘where death is, I am not’).

  27. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    @ Tyrant al-Kalām

    That’s patently idiotic and dishonest.

    Don’t shoot the messenger! ;)

    William James was certainly not an idiot. Perhaps a little dishonest in that he would play up to his audience. But no more than that. He certainly took these issues very seriously. Though the example may seem simplistic, we can admit to situations where an unquestioning commitment – as opposed to a situation of doubt or indecision – could save the day.

    Perhaps this issue of doubt versus belief (of which this little exercise is an example) should rather be traced back to C.S.Peirce (that mbrysonb mentions above). As I read it:

    There are certain things that we are certain about (wether proven or not) and for the rest is doubt. To the religious sensibility, there is a tendency for: ” the instinctive dislike of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague dread of doubt, makes men cling spasmodically to the views they already take.”& “We seem to be so constituted that the abscence of any facts to go upon we are happy and self-satisfied; so that the effect of experience is continually to contract our hopes and aspirations. … Where hope is unchecked by any experience, it is likely that our optimism is extravagant.”

    This is certainly a strong incentive to cling to a comforting ignorance rather than face perpetual doubt (such is a constant in science and , well, reality). If people can get away with it, as they can, it is understandable that they should cling to such a worldview.

  28. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    Free “h” seeks good home.

    I have commented on Blaze and think that perhaps it is not a bad thing. If we can spread a little doubt, we might get people to think. In a small way we can help teh ‘Merkins.

  29. nonny says

    It’s good that they allow an atheist to be interviewed on Blaze. Even if 99% of the commentators think he’s wrong, there’s a possiblity that 1% might find what he says interesting enough to do their own research.

    Reading the comments is exhausting. The mischaracterisation of evolution is especially irritating. One guy seems to think we think human bodies just appeared from nowhere, which is actually much more like the biblical account that evolution.

  30. says

    Though the example may seem simplistic, we can admit to situations where an unquestioning commitment – as opposed to a situation of doubt or indecision – could save the day.

    Or end it.

    I can think of quite a few instances where we would be better off if people felt comfortable having measured doubt.

  31. kreativekaos says

    robro @ 18,

    Yes, even at the tender and impressionable age of 27, in one of my philosophy courses, Pascal’s wager quickly flat and could be picked at relatively easily. No meat on those bones.

    Perhaps any future installments of ‘The Blaze’ that may include references to Pascal and his wager should be renamed,’The Blaise’.

  32. lamanga says

    Best. Ever. Comment.

    There are many of you who demand proof that Jesus is the son of God and that God exists at all. Well you are never going to be convinced. It is an overwhelming sensation when you let God into your life. It is not something you read but something you feel. I would have to be crazy to think the relationship I have with God is imaginary.”

    (Also, probably not a Poe. Check this dude’s other comments on The Blaze.)

  33. kreativekaos says


    Interesting, this guy’s comment. As a young kid–right through my young adult life, right up to the present– I could look into a clear night sky, see the our part of the visible universe and contemplate both the level of our knowledge of it as well as what we don’t know but continue to discover.

    Many times I’ve felt that chill down my spine thinking about this incredible universe, feeling the ‘awe and mystery…’ (to borrow from an old sci-fi TV show of the ’60’s), but never once attributing any of it to a supernatural force(s)–only the intricate processes of nature that forged it. That’s always been good enough for me, and I’ve never felt a need for a personal ‘relationship’ with it, other than appreciate the grandeur of it all.

  34. jnorris says

    I loved this part of the article:
    “For example, was the stone of the tomb open when they got there (Mark 16:4) or did an angel open it in their presence (Matthew 28:1-5),” Stiefel wonders [editor’s note: Matthew 28:1-5 doesn’t necessarily claim that those visiting the tomb saw the angel move the stone].

    Why did the Blaze editor have to tell True Christians what a Bible verse reads? Its as if True Christians haven’t a clue about the Bible.

  35. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    @ Ing

    I try to understand such thinking, I do not endorse it.

    The Blaze is a veritable smorgasbord of trolls and godbots. I wish we could use it as a take-away menu for TZT:

    “What shall we sharpen the fangs on today?”

    “How about a vacuous godbot as aperitif, a steaming troll for main and finish off with an apologist for desert…”


    We can dream…