The destructive narrowing of internet atheism

Hussein Kesvani writes about how internet atheism sucks. As an internet atheist, I have to agree.

To understand where online atheism is at the moment, you only need to do a quick search on YouTube – the platform that acts as a gateway for most people entering the internet atheist community. Some of the most popular viral videos include “How Feminism Destroyed ‘New Atheism'” by ThunderF00t; “Rape, Feminism, and The Amazing Atheist” by “The Amazing Atheist”, TJ Kirk; and various videos of Milo Yiannopoulos talking about atheism on college campuses.

Spend some time looking at this stuff and you’ll find there are few videos critiquing religion intellectually, or offering support to new atheists. Instead, the videos that seem to resonate most are those that use atheism as a smokescreen to comment on the horrors of female body positivity, of sex dolls “triggering” feminists and, of course, those hooked on British tabloid articles claiming the impending overthrowing of Western civilisation by invading Muslims. It’s the kind of thing you might see your Britain First-following uncle post on Facebook, before calling for all halal butchers to be closed because “they fund ISIS”.

There are of course some youtube atheists who do provide the intellectual critiques they want; try Aron Ra, or Seth Andrews, or The Atheist Experience, or…oh god, I just searched youtube for atheism to remind myself of all the great channels out there, and just got a long horrible list of just the worst people. It really is drowning in hateful noise.

It’s also oppressive noise. One thing I’ve noticed about the rational, conscious side of the youtube atheists community is that they tend to avoid calling out the bad actors on the other side — this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’ve got an intellectual focus it is a huge distraction to have to slap down the horde of rotten atheists in addition to the hordes of rotten theists — but it does mean that there isn’t a lot of vocal opposition to the corruption of youtube atheism. It also doesn’t help that when someone like Steve Shives does directly attack the regressive atheists, he gets a ton of demented alt-right squirrels throwing 90 minute long raging monologues by talking kangaroos or suits of armor or chattering cow skulls.

The thing is that we need to do more than just declare how stupid believers are while shackling atheism to the likes of anti-feminism, racism, alt-right imperialism, and libertarian economic bullshit. We have to remember that our audience is more than our fellow smug unbelievers happily slapping each others’ backs at how clever we are. We have to also provide an intellectual and social home to people who are searching for answers.

“The majority of ex-Muslims leave Islam because they have issues to do with theology. There is a fear of being cast out by your community, but the process of leaving Islam is basically the same as anyone leaving a religion. Yet, the online atheist community – whose spokespeople are apparently white straight guys – make these videos talking about Muslim barbarians raping white women, or imposing sharia law on schools and cinemas. They don’t realise that they’re implicitly talking about our families, friends, the people we still care about.”

Those people, and people like them. Do you think black atheists want to share a space with people who argue for scientific racism? Or that women atheists find it pleasant to be told to go make a sandwich? We’re doomed if the only people favored by atheists are arrogant white dudes. Like me.

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Conversation with an ex-creationist

I’ve never been a believer, so who am I to say how to convince others to leave their faith? Tonight at 7pm Central, I’ll have a conversation with Glenn D., a former true believer who even donated money to Answers in Genesis, but has now seen the Light. Let’s find out what it took.

If you have questions you’d like me to ask, feel free to leave them here; he’s also commented here before so maybe he’ll answer you directly.

I have irked Ken Ham

I had no idea. Every few days to a week, Answers in Genesis puts out a youtube video called “Answers News”. It’s terrible. I watched all of this one.

They go through news stories and moan and groan about those dang secularists. There was a polyamorous marriage in Colombia — slippery slope! Gay marriage will lead to pedophilia. Rights are a Christian invention, you can’t talk about rights without accepting their version of Christianity. Canada just legislated gender theory into law — Georgia Purdom can be imprisoned if she doesn’t accept someone’s preferred pronouns, because it’s against her religion. There were brief snipes at various science papers, largely consisting of laughing at the idea that a fossil can be 50,000 years old, or 99 million years old.

One thing I learned, because I’d never listened to him before, is that Bodie Hodge is pretty damned thick. He kept interjecting explanations into the discussion: did you know that polyamorous is from a word meaning “many” and a French word for love? You gotta understand what the word “liberal” means: liberal means you’re taking liberties with things. It was nonstop dumbsplaining.

But mainly I listened because they spent about 5 minutes at the beginning talking about me. An atheist visited the Ark Park, shock horror, and he mocked everything. Ken has all my tweets printed out, and he was disgusted. How dare I say there wasn’t much information in the big wooden box? That seems to be what miffed them most. From the timing of my tweets, he calculated that I only spent an hour and 15 minutes in there, so I must have been racing through everything — why, when he personally takes groups through and explains everything, it takes about 2 hours to do the tour.

It sure felt like it was a lot longer than that — there was a lot of time spent slowly wending through ridiculously prolonged tours of empty boxes. But sure, I’ll believe it was objectively an hour and a quarter. I didn’t have to run to do that time though. It was more like a slow stroll, stopping at each room and display, and taking pictures. So once again, Ken Ham confirms my impression of the paucity of material in there.

He complains that I said the parking lot was ten times larger than it needed to be — it’s only twice as large, he said. No, that’s not true. I got there late in the morning, and got a parking spot right near the shuttle bus pick up, and sure drove a long way through empty spaces to get there.

About the weathered look of the outside of the ark — he says they intended it that way. OK. I guess grey is an attractive color.

Then Ken went searching through my blog for ways to psychoanalyze me. All atheists hate god, you know, and that can be traced back to some traumatic event that made them angry at god, so he singles out this post, Odious Christianity, in which I say that my father and my sister have died. A-ha! That must have made me hate god! But he completely misses the point of the post: it was that everyone suffers pain and loss in their life, but it takes a a Christian to turn that around and blame the victim. This is what enraged me: not god, not my grief, but that Ken Ham blames that pain on “sin”.

News items sometimes cite the major causes of death in humans as various diseases are discussed–but ultimately there’s only one cause–sin!

Yeah, everyone who has ever died, who has ever been in pain, deserved it. But don’t worry! All you have to do is believe in his hateful cult and you might die horribly for your sins, but you’ll be forgiven in your afterlife.

By the way, one problem with Ham’s diagnosis of my trauma is that I never believed in god, and became a self-aware atheist in my teens, long before those losses I mentioned.

Oh, well. One other thing I’ve now discovered is that there is actually a news panel show that is more stupid than Fox and Friends.

The Ark Encounter: Wood, plus animal noises

I visited Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter today, and my title says it all: it’s a big wooden box full of more fake wooden boxes, with recorded animal noises playing constantly to make it seem like there’s something more. A hollow cacophony. Maybe if you’re a church-goer, you’re used to that, but I’m not. I tweeted a bunch of stuff as I went along, and I’ll post that below with a litte more commentary below.

[Read more…]

They scam horses, don’t they?

Hey, veterinarians have to be pretty smart and disciplined to even be in that career, so it’s nice to see how many of them have to be rigorous and skeptical. Here’s an example of the universal problem of quackery explained by a vet:

One reason that many products and treatment methods remain on the market is because of this simple, and not entirely irrational, thought process: “I tried it, my horse got better, so it works!” Unfortunately, even when a horse’s problem improves following treatment, this, by itself, often cannot prove that the therapy was responsible for the improvement. Here’s an example. In other times, people did rain dances when the weather was dry and occasionally, it must have rained. Thus, they kept on dancing. That’s the same bit of logic I’m talking about as applied to determining whether treatments really work, or not.

There are some ethics involved here, as well. I believe that people who provide treatments and therapies for animals have a moral and ethical obligation to prove, first, that they are safe and, second, that they are effective prior to selling them to horse owners (NOTE: Not everyone agrees, as evidenced by the buckets of BS that are currently being peddled). It’s usually not that hard to demonstrate that a therapy doesn’t do any harm to an animal – the treatment is given, the animal doesn’t die, and there you go. Proving that it’s effective can be quite another matter, even if effectiveness is easy to claim.

This is a very common psychological exploit. Most organisms do have natural healing abilities; I’ve noticed over the years that if I have a cut, it magically heals, even though I don’t understand everything that is going on. Unscrupulous humans are able to hover over that ongoing process and claim that they’re the ones responsible for activating the magical healing power, even when they’re not, and there isn’t anything magical about it. We’re usually quite eager to have wounds and disease go away, so we’re psychologically willing to accept the ‘aid’ of said unscrupulous guru.

It’s especially potent for problems that have a variable progression, like cancer or back pains.

And it works on horses, too. Well, not actually on horses, but on gullible horse owners, who often have a deep emotional and financial investment in their animals. Once you’ve got the horse folk convinced, it’s an easy jump to bilking humans over human diseases.

My favorite example is Tellington TTouch, a kind of psychic massage therapy.

[TTouch] is a bodywork and training method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence — “turning on the electric lights of the body.” The TTouch is done on the entire body, each circular TTouch complete within itself. It is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments, or changing undesirable habits or behavior.

And, according to the unqualified and untrained woman who peddles this crap all over the world, it cures just about everything. Stress, migraines, depression, arthritis, stroke…it even enriches your relationships!

That’s a pretty impressive list of accomplishments for a system of touching rituals made up by one person based entirely on her own intuition. Unsurprisingly, however, there is absolutely no reliable evidence to support any of these claims. The TTouch web site claims, “We have also gathered a rich legacy of anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of TTouch to enhance personal wellness and quality of life” without any apparent recognition that this is meaningless in terms of validating the claims made for the treatment.

Unfortunately, the reason it’s my ‘favorite’ quack therapy is that it is heavily promoted by my university (well, one branch of my U — the backward and problematic Twin Cities branch) at the Center for Spirituality and Healing, the ongoing embarrassment thriving at the heart of one campus in this system. I’m looking at the long, long list of faculty and staff associated with this disgrace and thinking about how the science division at my campus is understaffed, and how all across the university we could use more support for the social sciences and humanities and arts, and how our students keep facing tuition increases, and right there is a fine piece of useless fat that could be cut away, and the loss would immediately benefit the University of Minnesota.

It’s a clear example of bad thinking doing actual harm.

I never get to feel smug about atheism anymore

The Southern Baptists had a big fight among themselves at their conference. What triggered it, among all the mundane minutia, was a proposal to repudiate the alt-right and reject racism.

…[a lot of “whereas”s citing the Bible deleted]

WHEREAS, there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing; and

WHEREAS, this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples; and

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray, both for those who lead and advocate this movement and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of their perverse nationalism, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

It was initially rejected, and they refused to bring it to a vote, which led to outrage and fury, especially among the black pastors, as you might guess. I’m reading a summary of the conference where all this battling went down, and feeling kind of smug and superior for an ephemeral moment, since we atheists would never have such a conflict. How can Southern Baptists be so obtuse and bigoted?

And then I remembered…you all must remember a few years ago when the big schism that split the atheist community was a simple statement that guys should maybe not hit on attendees at atheist conferences. Remember how people blew up at the very idea that there ought to be anti-sexual harassment policies at our conferences? Remember how some jerk atheist was made a pariah because he dared to publish an account of the rape of a young woman by a prominent speaker at those conferences? Or how about the long roster of loud atheist youtubers who are mouthpieces for misogyny and racism and the alt-right?

I’m also noticing that we atheists also do not have an organization that has formally denounced racism, sexism, and the alt-right as firmly as the goddamned primitive ‘stupid’ Bible-wallopers of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has done better than atheists on this one, and there’s very little likelihood that we’ll improve, since the official policy everywhere seems to be that atheism will not take a stand on issues of moral significance. There is the Copenhagen Declaration, which is brief and general and takes a step in the right direction, but could use some greater specificity and should be updated to reflect current issues, and definitely should be at least as strong as the SBC statement.

By the way, despite the wrangling, the Southern Baptists eventually accepted a revised version of the proposal; the major change seems to be a deletion of the repudiation of the “curse of Ham” nonsense, which is unfortunate, since that was a major argument that led to the Civil War, among other ongoing atrocities.

It’s also not perfect. It still has a line about opposing “racism…and vice“, which is code for continuing discrimination against different sexual orientations. But at least they took a stand against Nazis, which is something atheists should do, too.

And probably won’t. Too many alt-right, Nazi, libertarian crapsacks in our ranks.

I love infuriating creationists!

We have angered Ken Ham!

In a recent blog post to his Answers in Genesis website, leading creationist Ken Ham laments the supposed power of atheists and the “secularist media,” complaining that they are damaging the reputation of his Ark Encounter, and the economy of the surrounding local businesses, writing:

Recently, a number of articles in the mainstream media, on blogs, and on well-known secularist group websites have attempted to spread propaganda to brainwash the public into thinking our Ark Encounter attraction is a dismal failure.

Sadly, they (atheists and the secular media) are influencing business investors and others in such a negative way that they may prevent Grant County, Kentucky, from achieving the economic recovery that its officials and residents have been seeking.

In other words, Ken Ham blames atheists for his trouble. Ham is refusing to take responsibility for his own failure, and refusing to take responsibility for his broken promises to the citizens and business community of Grant County, Kentucky.

Uh-oh. A collision is coming. On one side, a bitter, pissed-off creationist who wants to blame atheists for every failing of his horrible phony theme park.

On the other, a certain atheist who is planning to visit said theme park and to write mocking, sarcastic posts about it (unless, of course, they finally convince me that science is wrong) this weekend. Yeah, that’s me: I’m flying to Cincinnati tomorrow for the 2017 Midwest Zebrafish Meeting, and before that meeting starts I was going to zip out to the Ark Park on Friday morning. Maybe it’ll be a very quick visit if the creationists happen to recognize me.

I should warn them that bad things happen to people who throw me out of creationist events. Better to let me wander about and gather ammo for ridicule.

Not even Gwyneth Paltrow believes in Goop

There was a Goop Summit in LA, where people paid $500-$1500 for the privilege of buying Goop merchandise and listening to goofy pseudoscientific quackery.

In the day’s first lecture, Sadeghi spoke for nearly 90 minutes about integrative photosynthesis, spiritual Wi-Fi, laterality to the body, neuro-vegetative signs and the ontological experience called your life.

He spoke of June 4, 1997, the day Paltrow first reached out, as the most important of his entire life, moreso than his marriage or the birth of his two children. He’s saved every email she ever sent him, and spent half an hour walking the audience through a detailed explanation of Paltrow’s first bloodwork, her then-recurrent urinary tract infections and an ovarian cyst that, he said, threatened to blow out her back. (One of the enduring mysteries of Paltrow’s success as a health and wellness guru is her endless stream of medical ailments.)

Sadeghi went off on some interesting tangents. What makes water wet? he asked, more than once. I nearly got a master’s in electric chemistry asking that question.

He stated that we still don’t know how birds fly, despite the Wright brothers inventing the airplane by observing birds in flight. I am probably one of the most authentic human beings you will ever meet, he said, a pronouncement usually reserved for anyone working a con.

The whole thing was oozing bullshit, but at least it was overpriced luxury bullshit.

What I found most interesting is that Gwyneth Paltrow did an interview on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, and it was incredibly revealing. She knows nothing about the stuff she sells! When asked about various items in the Goop catalog, all she provides is nervous laughter and embarrassed looks and denial.

It’s obvious that she is not a True Believer, so my impression of her intelligence grew a notch. Unfortunately, that means she’s a knowing con artist so my impression of her integrity and honest shrank two notches. I wonder what it’s like to be trapped in a lucrative job that you do not respect?

Actually, I also wonder what it would be like to be trapped in a lucrative job, period.