Category Archives: SKEPTICISM

Mmm, smells like scorched earth!

So, there’s a bit of drama going on in atheist circles dubbed “gelatogate.” The Angry Astronomer has a decent, and not very angry, explanation of the deal on his blog; but in brief, here’s the deal:

Christian local businessman pops over to the annual free “Skepticon” conference to see what’s going on. Thinking, understandably so, that it might be all about skepticism on UFOs and ghosts and whatnot (which it somewhat is), he’s treated to a few minutes of Sam Singleton’s parody act of a holy-roller revivalist sermon, not promoting gettin’ saved, but parodying religion and promoting skeptical atheism — and the crowd participating in the parody by, not yelling “amen!,” but rather “goddam!”

So, said Christian businessman runs over to his neighboring gelato and smoothie business and posts a sign reading:

“Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian business,

where it remains for anywhere between 10 minutes (he says) and two hours (others say), possibly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The near immediate result? Atheists with access to the Intertubes (purt near ev’rybody), went apoplectic and completely decimated his online rankings on such social media services as Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google reviews. I mean, decimated. (Although, will taking a store’s ranking down to 1 star, or 5%, or whatever on one of these, really harm a business? Especially in a town that’s not very social media savvy? Meh, doubt it. But it’s still something that would make a struggling businessperson’s stomach turn to water.)

So, he posted an notpology on his Web page: a very thinly veiled “please lay off, m’kay?!” apology. After that made the rounds of critical mockery, he posted an extensive and reasonably sincere-sounding apology over on Reddit, where his infamy across the world was begat. Some atheism/skepticism bigwigs and muckymucks accepted the apology. Others did not. Boy-howdy, did they not. And this is where my opinions on the matter begin….

As this drama played out, plot twist by plot twist, my own views changed somewhat with each new development.

  • Posted the sign: I freaked-the-flip out.
  • I learned he posted it after watching some undeniably inflammatory and reverse-offensive Sam Singleton: I nodded my head sagely and with tee-pee’ed fingers murmuring, “Indeed. Quite understandable, wot!”
  • The notpology: “OMG hes such a lyingjerk!!1!”
  • The full apology: “Ah, good show, old bean!”
  • JT Eberhard’s non-acceptance: “Yeah! Totally! We ride!… whoa… wait a second… Really?”

See, JT Eberhard’s a quickly-growing muckymuck of atheism in his own right. He’s the driving force for the first three years of Skepticon and is a very vocal opponent, and mockerizer, of religion. And nearly all the time I agree with nearly everything he posts (although, I find his frequent use of profanity completely unnecessary and juvanile… but whatchya gonna do). Yet, I’ve decided that in this late stage of this already getting old issue, his approach (the first “non-acceptance” post linked above, and his ironically-titled follow-up: “We Have No Choice But To Invade Gelato Mio” is wrong and likely do to far more harm than good. (But FSM help the person who tries to suggest JT might be wrong about something, unless you already happen to be in his inner-circle of friends. You take your metaphorical life in your hands. But, here goes….)

There is a time and a place and a need for bulldog firebrands. And, in JT’s day job, I rather think his style of take-no-prisoners scorched-earth approach is necessary! As he’s “a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance,” I believe he has to work on a daily basis dealing with some absolutely terrible bigotry from people in positions of unquestioned authority toward kids who have little to no defense against the religious intolerance they face. He has to defend students’ rights, legal and ethical, to express their beliefs and even form legally-allowed student clubs and associations which are constantly under attack from school administrators. Atheist students, especially those still in the closet and in much need of vocal and voracious support, need people like JT and his “give no quarter” single-mindedness. And I celebrate him for it!

But, there’s also a need, and a time and a place, for choosing one’s battles, deciding when discretion is the better part of valor, and allowing the “enemy” to slink away with a noggin-bump, instead of nuking them from orbit and then salting the earth for good measure. Yes yes, I know, JT’s actual demands are:

“Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.”

…and they’re not unreasonable demands, really. (Well, there’s valid debate over whether demanding a struggling small business owner [who is likely in great debt and probably not even paying himself a wage — if the average situation of small business owners is applicable in this guy’s case] make a large personal donation is unreasonable or not. Although, I can see how that 10% discount the guy’s offering might be seen as patronizing and a cynical ploy to simply help his business.)

But it’s not just the demands themselves as much as it’s the inflammatory approach and words JT uses. The demeanor, the tone, the insults, the mockery he uses, feels to me less like a noble battle, and more like curb-stomping the local bully after getting a lucky break and jumping him when his back was turned. And while in the battlefield of protecting students from bigoted school boards and principals and teachers, for the sake of establishing proper laws and rules and making sure they’re enforced, one does not concede the battle until the other side gives unconditional surrender. But in the battlefield of public opinion, media, the general public, that approach does the atheist “movement” far more harm than any possible good.

In the minds of the general public, they see a situation where a local businessman does something, and are shown by the outraged minority that the something was discriminatory and bigoted, we now have the upper hand. We now are seen by many people as having rights and that there is discrimination that goes on, and the general public (including liberal Christians), now have the seed planted in their head that discrimination’s not cool and we’ll call them on it. They themselves may not disagree with the bigotry, but at least they may be thinking about the repercussions of it and may even be questioning the bigotry itself as something they never really thought about before. It’s not a big win, but it’s progress.

Then, the guy apologizes, and the atheist community at-large generally, and publicly, accepts it. What happens? The general public and the liberal Christians have their preconceptions of the angry, religion-hating atheist challenged! We’re shown as reasonable, ethical, diplomatic, and perhaps even calmer and more sane than your average holier-than-thou religious leader and spokesperson who appears on FOX News. Now they’re more willing to listen to what we have to say, to consider our positions, to truly rethink their bigotry and not just the outward acts of discrimination. Now they’re willing to concede issues and work with us in other issues.

But then, what happens when prominent atheist spokespersons demand heads on spikes? (Metaphorically.) The walls redouble in size, the shields go to maximum, and the us-versus-them mentality is reinforced. The general public and the liberal Christian (which, really, by and large, are greatly overlapping Venn Diagram circles), believe their preconceptions are well-founded and continue to ignore our valid complaints and criticisms.

If we let this one bigoted business owner go, probably not having had a real change of heart but just a show of one, what do we really lose? If we accept his sincere-sounding apology and let him off with tail tucked between his legs and a stern “Okay, off with you — but we’ll be watching,” is that really so terrible if it means we gain great PR and the willing and open ear of millions of other people? So he’s not beaten into submission — but will anything we do really, possibly, change his “heart”? Do we seriously think that we can possibly convince this guy he was truly wrong by continuing to berate and insult and bash him and demand things of him? Will that make him, and many like him, watching this, see the light? Have a true conversion?

No, it will not. No amount of continued battle against him will truly change him or others, and will only harden them all to us. But diplomacy, some forgiveness, leniency, will not only be more productive to our cause in the long run and on a wider scale, but may actually do more good in setting this guy on a path to the real and sincere atonement that is currently being demanded at the point of a verbal spear.

*blog post image taken from this lifehacker post: “Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse.”

Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

(This is the 10th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Hopefully this will be a short post as well; I don’t seem to have that many notes for this session. I think Nicky is kind of winding down a bit as he’s coming to the end of the course.

One side remark: In small group, it’s been brought up a few times that people wished there was an additional, more advanced course than Alpha. There is. It’s called seminary school. It’s basically this, except in Greek. 🙂

Well,let’s get right to it….

Does God Heal Today?

Right at the beginning of the video, Nicky starts talking about what’s called, “words of knowledge.” This is basically any kind of information a person believes they receive from God/Holy Spirit about another person, their ailments, their concerns, etc. In Nicky’s example of experiencing an American faith healer, John Wimber (more on him in a second), the preacher handed out words of knowledge like, a woman here has a bad back, a man here has a back that’s been hurting him, etc. No way! A huge room full of people, and there are some with bad backs? You need the Holy Spirit to tell you this? The preacher then mentioned “a woman who’s barren.” According to the CDC, 10% of women can’t conceive. Tell a congregation of people that “there’s a woman whose barren,” and if there’s more than 10 or 20 people, you’re going to get a hit.

Speaking of “hits,” these words of knowledge are really nothing more than “cold reading.” It’s basically where psychics and faith healers, throw out vague, ambiguous, somewhat common ailments, names, information, that will likely hit on someone in the audience, fishing for a response.

Continue reading Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

respect(This is the 9th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

After last week’s monster of a post, you’ll be glad to hear that this week’s will be shorter than usual. But first, a couple of semi-related things I’d meant to refer to in earlier posts but missed.

In the last post, I briefly discussed (due to the subject of “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia), the concept of left and right brain hemispheres, and how one controls language and the other is the emotional center. Sometimes the emotion, to convey it to others or even to express it for one’s self, the language centers of one half of the brain need to be bypassed in order to “speak” directly to the emotional regions of the right-brain.

Well, here are a couple of absolutely fascinating videos which address this dual-brain dichotomy.

I Can Smell Your Spicy Brains!

The first is an excerpt from a show about the brain, and features Alan Alda interviewing a doctor and a patient who has had the connection allowing the two brains to communcate, severed. The results are fantastic:

There used to be a model of “understanding” the human, the personality, called dualism, that was the accepted and simply assumed model since Plato at least. Philosopher René Descartes did a lot of work on the subject, so we’ll often hear it refered to as “Cartesian dualism.” It’s basically this: The brain and the mind are two separate and distinct entities. The mind is a result of the spirit, or animae, and operates with the influence of, but apart from the physical brain. Of course, this belief, utterly philosophical (and religious) and not based on any hard evidence, makes sense to those who believe in the soul, spirits, ghosts, etc.

The problem is, we know without a doubt that everything about the person, behavior, personality, wants and desires, fears and memory, are all derived from the physicality of the brain. We know this because the brain can be manipulated, whether from internal damage (disease, stroke, etc.), by injury, and by experimentation (surgery, drugs, focused magnetic resonance), and any changes can create marked and stark changes in the “person.”

Continue reading Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

(This is the 8th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Oh boy. I’m going to try to keep in reigned in, but this is going to be a doozy edition (as if the previous novels haven’t been). Wife and I attended the weekend Alpha retreat which included three Nicky videos and discussion sessions after each one. Plus, there’s the whole weekend experience surrounding it to talk about.

Camp Galilee

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I went to Camp Galilee Methodist Church Camp when I was a teen. It was a very formative, wonderful experience, and the crest of my religious belief. Saturday, we had two Nicky and talk sessions (one of which rather emotional), and nice bonfire. So Sunday morning, after a terrible sleep on a horrible mattress in a rather nice cabin, I was exhausted. But after a tasty breakfast, everyone went down by the lake for a devotional and I stayed up at camp to read a bit from Paul Kurtz’s Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance; a humanist “devotional.” Then I had a moment to write this:

It’s 8:30 on a beautiful morning here at Camp Galilee. It’s overcast, cool, slight breeze, the tease of rain in the air. For me, that’s a perfect morning. I’m sitting on a park bench maybe 200 feet from the pavillian where when I was a camper here, 15 years ago, we had our nightly services and testimonials and music and song. I gave my testimony as a Christian there at age 17. It was sincere, and I felt I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, I know it to have been a very human, very wonderful, self-created emotionalism. It was an incredible feeling, one that I can just touch with the “tips of my fingers” when I performed in plays, sometimes when I watch an effective play or movie, hear a particular song. It’s an awesome feeling, this kind of pathos, no less wonderful because I had it in during a period of religious delusion. I actually treasure that time; I’ve come to terms with it. I’m glad it’s in my past, and I feel I now understand the emotion better, and I’m extremely glad I can have bits of it when I can enjoy touching art or feel awe and wonder at some amazing aspect of the universe. And having that past experience, I can relate better to other humans who continue to feel that emotion in connection to a religious belief. I can understand their not wanting to even entertain the idea of giving that up. The shame of it is, though, that one does not need to give that feeling up. And, like the “mysteries” of the universe, science, reality, understanding it does not eliminate the wonder and, dare I say, goodness of it.
.
A formation of Canadian geese just flew over, honking the entire way. A few moments ago I heard the call of a buck. All around me is the sound of the wind through the trees, dead leaves shifting and tossing, and nuts falling from trees to crash to the ground or bonk on a roof and roll off. Earlier in my life I used to do this — sit and just listen to nature. It was the best part about camping as a Boy Scout, taking those moments. I’m thankful for this moment right now, this feeling of refueling.

Just a few more words about camp before I move to the meat of the weekend:

Continue reading Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

The devil’s in the details.

(This is part 7 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 6, is here.)

(Update: I just read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to this night’s topic — if you have to read just one, read his! It’s much better written and entertaining, and the core of our reactions are almost identical!)

(Update 2: I just discovered my iPhone’s WordPress app renamed my blog post the same as a previous post. I just fixed it. Sorry for any confusion.)

Was thrown for a bit of a loop at first: we were supposed to do the section on the Holy Spirit this night, but evidently the two-part Spirit section is being saved for the “retreat” this weekend. This night we discussed Ol’ Scratch, El Diablo, Mr. Mephisto, Dick Cheney, or, the devil.

Before I get into mocking, er, critiquing this night, a word about this weekend’s retreat. I’m looking forward to, in this extended and casual setting, to maybe get into some real discussions with people. I hope so. On the other hand, being a weekend in which people have to drive for 2 hours and spend half a weekend out in the quasi-woods, I have this slight guilt-pang that makes me not want to ruin anyone’s weekend by being a caster of doubt and skepticism. (In a moment, you’ll see why after this night, that lack of desire to spread guilt is increased.)

Which leads me back to the difference I see between Alpha host Nicky Gumbel and the fellow classmates. I have no problem saying that Nicky seems like one of the nicest fellows you could meet, and I would love to spend a day with him. But make no mistake, he’s the enemy. He’s a promulgator of bad reasoning, uncritical credulity, logical fallacies, and out and out lies. Yes, lies. You can’t be as steeped in Christian apologetics as he obviously is, and not have encountered factual contradictions to the things he’s telling earnest listeners as truth. For example, using Tacitus, Josephus, etc. as “contemporary sources” for the historical events of the gospels, when that’s demonstrably, factually not true.

Continue reading The devil’s in the details.

Does God guide us?

(This is part 6 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 5, is here.)

I’m going to try something new this time and write my reaction less than 5 days after the event. Like, the next day, maybe. Well, I’ve started it the day after session 6, but I have recordings of Stargate: Universe and Caprica calling me….

(Update: I failed. See mid-way for a bonus Interlude.)

How Does God Guide Us, Nicky attempts to explain in this session. In general, this was a session full of special pleading and bad rationalizations. Which is a shame, because Nicky seems like a real nice guy, but his logic and critical thinking skills are nearly non-existent.

He starts by telling us that the Bible is a clear-cut explanation of what God’s will is. Nevermind that the Bible is neither clear-cut nor direct, and is responsible for a great many bloody conflicts among Christians over how the Bible should be interpreted. The book has been translated and re-translated into English alone scores of times, each one with some significant differences in literal meanings let alone what someone can infer from them. And countless denominations of the one religion have branched off with different interpretations of key passages. Like I mentioned last essay, putting your instructions in the form of a book written by many authors is probably the least wise method of communicating to your loved children, that I can think of.

Continue reading Does God guide us?

Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

(click to read)

(This is part 4 of a 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. Part One: Twisted history; Part Two: The cruel illogic of substitutional atonement; Part Three: Faith makes mountains of of molehills.)

This week’s Alpha Class was on the power of prayer. This was a particularly… interesting.

But before we get into it, some preliminary info: As you may know, uber-blogger Friendly Atheist mentioned my blog recently! In the comments, someone mentioned a much better British atheist blogger who chronicled his own Alpha Course experience: Stephen Butterfield’s “Alpha Course Reviewed”. If you’re here to read a non-believer’s reaction to Alpha Course, go read his! He’s a better writer and actually had dialog with other attendees. If you’re here reading this because you know me, still go read Stephen’s — it’s better and he writes with a sexy British accent. 🙂 I’ve only read the first few posts of his; I want to be able to write my own reactions unaffected by a better one.

And now, before I discuss problems with prayer, another interlude:

Continue reading Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

I am the Alpha and the… Beta.

I’m working on the fourth installment of my reaction to the Alpha Course, (which will feature the concept of the efficacy of prayer!), but I wanted to make a quick post that’s a little meta.

First, I got a mention on Friendly Atheist! OK, full disclosure: I asked him about it. 🙂 But he was kind enough to make a mention on his site. I’ve been a reader of Friendly Atheist for quite some time now, and I’m quite the fan. So, I’m gleeful.

From the comments on that post, I’ve discovered that a lot of atheists and other non-theists have come in contact with the Alpha Course. And their reactions have generally been similar to mine. But one person posted a link to a blog by a fellow (Stephen Butterfield) who’s also been posting his reactions to the course — and it’s fantastic! He’s so much more succinct and clear and interesting to read than my babbling rants. His 2nd post, “Why Did Jesus Die?”, is really a great read. One of the reasons is because Stephen actually engages his discussion group in challenges and dialog — something I’m having a very hard time trying to do. But his doing so makes for some fun, and educational, reading. Check it out!

Oh, and I just came across a link I blogged about a couple of years ago, on the subject of God “never gives more than you can handle” drek. That sentiment keeps popping up in discussion. Here’s an essay I read in ’08 that I think is the best response possible to that canard: Reasonable Doubt About the Problem of Evil/Needless Suffering As A Test

Discover… The Power of Stuff!

My daughter (and I, when I’m too lazy to work on writing like I should), watches a lot of Discovery Kids Channel. It has a lot of non-U.S. programming that’s a few years old, but much of it is educational or at least semi-educational while still being entertaining.

Well, I discovered a couple of days ago that Hasbro acquired controlling ownership in the channel, and they’re giving the channel a complete makeover including a new name (The Hub) and programming line-up. I took a look at the new line-up, and saw something interesting, but not surprising considering who bought them: the educational programming is being replaced with high quality shows like “Transformers”, “G.I. Joe”, “Pound Puppies”, “Family Game Night”, “Clue”, and the like. Your basic 30-minute product commercials.

I took a look at the shows that my daughter watches on the channel, where they’re made, and their focus, and found this:

Continue reading Discover… The Power of Stuff!

How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

(This is part three of a, likely, 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. For an explanation of the course and a reaction to “Who Was Jesus,” see part one: Explore the Meaning of… Bitten Tongues. Night two was “Why’d Jesus Die?“)

Before I get into this night’s topic, “How Can We Have Faith,” I wanted to break away for a moment for…

An Interlude: Ideas, Identity, and Debate

I write these posts like I write all my blog posts — very stream-of-conscious. I write as fast as I think it, and I pretty much never edit. What that often means is that my musings tend to get tinged with a goodly amount of emotion and a lack of refinement. And reading through my posts, that often results in a certain negativity, snarkiness, perhaps an insulting attitude. And recognizing that in the writing, I want to state in no uncertain terms: I attack the idea, not the person who holds the idea.

Before the evening began, after we ate, a high school girl asked if she could ask all of us to consider judging at an upcoming speech and debate tournament. I jumped at the chance; it’s been years since I judges debate. When I was in high school, debate (and drama) was my life. I wasn’t great by any means, but I loved it, and it was really the only thing (aside from role-playing games and reading sci-fi/fantasy) that I had any interest in. And, appropriately for this Alpha Course reaction, and my reaction to my reaction, I recall some very important life lessons I gained from four years of debate.

Continue reading How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

Why’d Jesus Die?

…To get to the other side! HEY-OHH!

(This is part two of a (potentially) 10-part series on my response to the Alpha Course. Part one, with an explanation of what all this is, is found here: Explore the Meaning of…Bitten Tongues.)

(Post-pre Script: I’m finishing this at 3am and don’t plan on re-reading to proof-read, so please forgive errors and typos.)

So, night two. The first night I walked out with a thinly repressed feeling of ire and frustration. The second night felt like relaxing into the second half of a root canal. You know there’s no escape and it must be done, so you just relax into the Novocaine masking the pain, and allow yourself to float until it’s over.

OK, that was harsh; it wasn’t that bad, I just like the analogy. 🙂 Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as last week, but I still had face pain from keeping from eye-rolling all night. It’s a few days since that night, so my memory is a little hazy, but here’s what I can recall from my notes:

So Nicky opened up this night’s video with a fatuous attempt to use an old George Carlin (or is it Sam Kennison?) comedy bit about how odd it is that people wear crosses. It’d be like wearing an electric chair or a hangman’s noose. He was trying to make a point as to why Christians revere the cross, which is this night’s theme of explaining why, allegedly, Jesus, allegedly, died as a gift to us all. But his reasoning (which are as old as apologetics itself) is barbaric (despite trying to deny it) and illogical.

The Problem

Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

This last Wednesday I began attending a 10-session weekly Bible study course at the behest of my wife who wanted to involve my non-belief outlook and feedback. I’m going to give it one more shot, but if this first session is any indication of what the rest of it’s going to be like… *sigh*

The course is called Explore The Meaning of Life: The Alpha Course. by an English Anglican priest, Nicky Gumbel. Evidently, he’s taken this course, which has been around for decades, and turned it from being an introduction for new Christians into a study for people outside the faith looking to understand more about Christianity. (While I’m by far no expert, I can safely say that as a non-believer, I already know more about Christianity than I ever did as a believer and more than most of the life-long believers in the class.)

Here’s the nightly setup: provided food, then a video, then break into small groups (15-ish people each) for discussion. Let’s just say the food was OK and then it was downhill from there. Seriously, though, I went in with a positive attitude and hope for the best! I had reservations whether I’d feel comfortable speaking up at all, (aside from introducing myself, I didn’t), but I didn’t have much apprehension about the content. Until 2 minutes into the 30-minute video.

Continue reading Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

Worthy of worship?

wrath of godJen from BlagHag.com posed a really good question today on her blog:

If you knew God was real, would you actually worship him?

It’s an interesting question, though not exactly a fair one. A fair question would be, “Is there anything that could convince you (a) (G)od was real?” I could unequivocally answer that with a “yes, of course.” I’m a skeptic, not a bull-headed cynic. But as for worship this deity? Oh so many equivocations!

The real question is: What version of God are we talking about? Are we talking about Morgan Freeman God from Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty? Because that version of God seems almost worship-able. Though, ironically, that version of God seems like someone who doesn’t really need people to worship him, and would most certainly not send people to eternal torment for the crime of not worshiping him.

The more someone does not demand and require you to love and adore them on threat of pain and punishment, the more worthy they are of being loved and adored.

Continue reading Worthy of worship?

Sermon on the Mount: Bad sermon from a very human source

Sermon on the MountThe Iron Chariots Wiki is a fantastic collection of knowledge, info, facts, resources that serve as a “counter-apologetics.”

According to the site:

Iron Chariots is intended to provide information on apologetics and counter-apologetics. We’ll be collecting common arguments and providing responses, information and resources to help counter the glut of misinformation and poor arguments which masquerade as “evidence” for religious claims.

The complexity of issues surrounding religion ensures that any proper assessment requires us to delve into a number of philosophical, historical and sociological topics…

They got the name for their site from this verse:

“And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron – Judges 1:19″

(Kinda makes you wonder, eh?)

Anyway, I came across this comprehensive analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. As a Christian, like most Christians, I had always thought of it as the greatest example of divine wisdom possible. And, like most Christians, I never really gave it much more thought than that. Since losing my religion, I’ve done more Biblical study than I ever did as a believer, but this part of the NT has escaped my attention up to now.

This Iron Chariots investigation really makes a person question how anyone could really hold the Sermon up as an example of inspired wisdom, much less divine. At least, anyone who’s really read it. The Wiki uncovers a mess of contradictions and bad advice just from a superficial reading — and they don’t stop at just a superficial reading.

6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist That God Exists

This is amusing: Earlier today I posted a short blog called “Getting Your Attention” in which I mention John Loftus’ observation that it looks like only believers are really interested in converting people and not any omnipotent or omniscient deity, and a quip from another on what would convince him God exists… I just discover that Greta Christina, (the writer and blogger who I take my Atheist Meme of the Days from), has a new essay: “6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God

It’s also amusing that in the fantastic article she mentions how when asked what would convince her, she used to cheat and just refer to “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“, by Daylight Atheism blogger Ebonmuse — I’m likely to do the same and just point to Greta’s essay. 🙂

Spoiler alert: here’s part of her final summary of her list of developments:

Now, some believers will probably argue that my standards set the bar too high. They’ll argue that I’ve created standards of evidence that are obviously not being met: that I’ve created a counter-factual world in which God might exist, but that clearly is not the world we live in.

To which I reply: Yes. That’s my whole freaking point. The whole reason I don’t believe in God is that there is not one scrap of good, solid evidence supporting the God hypothesis. The whole reason I don’t believe in God is that every piece of evidence anyone has ever shown me in support of the God hypothesis has completely sucked. The whole reason I don’t believe in God is that these criteria — criteria that would be completely reasonable for any other hypothesis — are not being met.

As many atheists point out: If God were real, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If God were real, it would be freaking obvious. If God were real, nobody would be an atheist. Nobody would even disagree about religion. The most obvious explanation for God’s existence not being ridiculously self-evident is that God does not exist. As Julia Sweeney says in her brilliant performance piece Letting Go of God, “The world behaves exactly as you expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.”

Getting Your Attention

John W. Loftus has a brief post in his continuing series “Reality Check: What Must Be The Case If Christianity is True,” about God getting your attention. He makes a very good point in revealing that there is no objective evidence that an omnipotent and omniscient deity is trying to get the whole world’s attention, despite scriptural claims that he’s quite capable of doing so. In actuality, the fact that his believers are doing all the work of getting peoples’ attention, and not doing that great of a job at it either, is rather telling in regards to if not the existence of said deity — then at least his actual interest level in the whole endeavor.

It reminds me of Matt Delehany (sp) of the Austin TV/Internet show “The Atheist Experience” who often responds to the question by believers “What would it take to convince you God exists,” with something like “If there is an omniscient god, he knows exactly what it would take to convince me, even better than I know myself.”

“Christianity is a Cultural By-Byproduct”

John Loftus, (former evangelical preacher and theology student who’d studied under the reknown Christian apologist William Lane Craig), author of the thought-provoking book, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, (and edited the recent collection of essays, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails), has an interesting blog post today:

“Christianity is a Cultural By-Product and That’s All it Is”

“… I say this evolutionary development looks entirely like the human quest for knowledge–that it doesn’t look as if there is any divine mind behind this human quest. If Christians had faith in any particular era of the past they would believe what they did and that God led them to their beliefs. In this era they say what they do because they live in this era. And although they would reject the theologies and moralities of the past they still think there is a divine mind behind this quest.
[…]
Christian, you believe what you do now. But it is patently obvious that what you believe now is not what the earliest Christianities did, nor the what the Medievals did, nor what the early moderns did, and it won’t be what future Christianities will believe either. You say there is continuity but we must ask if earlier Christianities would embrace you or excommunicate and kill you for what you believe, and we know the answer to that. …”

Why did God create atheists?

Greta Christina is the source if my “Atheist Meme of the Day” posts, and today she has an article: “Why Did God Create Atheists? — If God is real, and religious believers can perceive him… why is anyone an atheist?”

There’s really not a thing in this article I don’t agree with!

… “I want to understand the world. I care about reality, more than I care about just about anything. If there really is a God who created everything, who guided the universe and the process of evolution so conscious life could come into being, who animates all life with his spirit — I bloody well want to know about it. I don’t want to be flatly wrong about one of the hugest questions humanity is faced with. In my years as an atheist writer, I keep asking believers again and again, ‘Do you have some evidence for your belief? If you do, please tell me about it. I want to see it.’ And I’m not being snarky, or baiting them into a debate I know they can’t win. (Well… not mostly.) If I’m wrong about this, I sincerely want to know.” …

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!

It’s Everybody Draw Muhammad Day today! Because depicting Muhammad is severe enough of a crime to fundamentalist Muslims that people who have done so have been attacked, beaten, even received death threats.
PZ Myers at Pharyngula posted “Violence is not free speech”, decrying the asinine violence and includes a video of a Danish cartoonist being attacked (he’s not harmed) at a university while giving a talk, appropriately enough, on free speech.
Hemant over at Friendly Atheist explains the reasons why we should all draw Muhammad quite well — I won’t belabor the point (any more). He also includes a compilation of Muhammad drawings; I like the recursive blasphemy of Muhammad drawing himself, and the three identical stick figure one.
Well, here’s my Muhammad doodle:

No, he’s not flying. 🙂 It’s just him hanging out, chillin’.
That’s enough to be blasphemous, which is patently ridiculous, I don’t feel it’s necessary to, say, have him be smitted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster or doing something gross. The point is to point out the absurdity of being labeled heretic, apostate, evil, insulting, blasphemous, for doing nothing more than innocently drawing a religious figure. Going out of my way to depict the figure as a dog, or a rapist, or particularly ugly or cruel looking, might be free speech which is also perfectly defensible, but I think detracts from the more reasonable message that religion is not universally sacrosanct and people who do not believe should not be victimized by whatever ancient and barbarous rules the believers follow.
It’s enough for me to say, “I don’t believe in Yahweh,” I don’t need to go out of my way be rudely insulting about it.