Unfortunately, I didn’t due anything all that blasphemous today…at least no more than usual. But aside from repeating my denial of the “Holy Spirit’s” existence, the one unforgivable sin in the Bible, I figured I’d just repost this new article from Ayaan Hirsi Ali titled “It’s time to fight back against death threats by Islamic extremists” and the following two videos about the importance of free speech:
I came across an article from a misguided Christian fundamentalist and felt inclined to respond to it. The article is titled Ten Ways To Make Atheists Cry.
1. Discuss the Fermi Paradox. Atheists love aliens because they always assume that, a) brainy creatures gushing out of every galactic cranny shows that Earth is low-rent cosmic real estate, and b) the smartest aliens will be atheists. Against this giddy optimism, the famous physicist Enrico Fermi asked a quite innocent question: If Earth is a typical planet, and there are lots of planets in the universe, then why haven’t any extraterrestrial critters dropped by, or even sent us a text message (“ur nt solo, n btw ur nt vry smrt”)?
No actual atheist I’ve ever met has ever resembled this straw man you’ve constructed and the only thing atheists have in common is their lack of belief in any deities. So every sentence here that begins with “Atheists believe…” is entirely baseless since, unlike religion, atheism comes with no core tenets.
The very premise here is self-refuting as the assumption being made is that “atheists believe” that “Earth is a typical planet,” and thus that humans are a typical species. So if we lack the means to traverse the universe to find other intelligent life, why would the expectation be that similar species in the universe would be technologically advanced enough to seek out other intelligent species? And the amount of nuance involved in such a close encounter that’s simply ignored by you is enormous.
2. Join Mensa. Atheists are obsessed with their IQs and they love to flaunt their membership in an organization of people dedicated to self-congratulation. The atheist assumption is that religion is a sure sign of evolutionary atavism. A devout believer whipping out his Mensa card is entirely incomprehensible and ultimately indigestible.
I am an atheist and I have no high regard for either Mensa or the vague and almost meaningless concept of IQ. Mensa is already full of a bunch of pompous windbag religious people often with little to show for their allegedly amazing intellects. No thank you. There’s a big difference between IQ and the ability to think critically. Typically, people who think they’re too smart to be fool are the easiest to fool.
3. Bait and Switch # 1. Atheists love to talk about the Spanish Inquisition. Get them, ever so casually, to talk about persecution by zealous believers in general, and then the persecution by zealous Marxists in particular. Finally, since atheists like math, have them compare the number killed by the Inquisition over several centuries (2,000-6,000) with the number killed by devout Marxists in one century (100,000,000).
This Marxist thing has already been thoroughly refuted in every bestselling atheist book over the past few years. Marxism and Nationalism are ideologies in the same way as religion is an ideology. Again, atheism itself has no core beliefs of any kind. So while individual atheists may hold ideologies, it’s no more an attribute of atheism than pedophilia is an attribute of Christianity. I know Marxist atheists, libertarian atheists, and many more atheists who ascribe to no such political or economic ideology. And one this that is quite clear from the history is that none of the 20th century atrocities Christians love to cite that were arguably ordered by atheists were ever committed in the name of atheism, and the fact that some of these people happened to be atheist was as wholly irrelevant to the events as the fact that they had mustaches. The same cannot be said of the Crusades or the Inquisition, which were ordered by the highest Church leaders and was almost exclusively motivated by religion for religious purposes.
4. Bait and Switch # 2. Despite their pretence to moral relativity, atheists will still grant that Adolf Hitler was epically evil. Having gotten them to admit this point, offer to read aloud some of the most offending passages from Mein Kamp (a special copy of which you just happened to be carrying). After about a half-hour, suddenly strike a quizzical look and say, “Wait a minute,” removing the dust jacket, “How did that happen? This is my copy of Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization! Say, wasn’t she the founder of Planned Parenthood?”
Ah Margaret Sanger, the woman who makes Christians cry. Sanger may have had some unsavory views. I’m not entirely sure which stories about her are myths and which aren’t. But many people in her time has unsavory views by today’s standards. But that’s not what you dislike about her. You dislike the practice of abortion. And because you can’t find a rational argument against abortion, you feel it necessary to attack the messenger instead. Fine. Go right ahead. I am an atheist and I don’t really care if you malign Sanger as a person or not. She could have been the most evil person in history and it still would not invalidate abortion as a legitimate medical procedure.
5. Learn to talk like William F. Buckley. A comfortable prejudice for American atheists is that religious believers all speak with a heavy Southern accent and use small words.
As an atheist, I hold no such prejudice.
6. Have Lots of Children. Atheists love humanity as long as there is less of it. They are especially grieved by biologically prodigious believers who seem to be taking Darwin at his word, but for all the wrong reasons. Nothing is more irksome than to behold their own future self-imposed extinction amidst the swelling tide of the God-fearing.
As an atheist, I don’t care how many children you have so long as I don’t have to pay for them. Besides, it doesn’t matter how many children you have as either way, your religion is doomed and there’s nothing you can do or say to stop it. 14% of Baby Boomers have no religion affiliation. 19% of Generation Xers have no religious affiliation. And 24% of Millennials have no religious affiliation. If things continue at the currect rate (and all signs indicate that they are), a third of the following generation will have no religious affiliation.
7. Host a Darwin Read-a-loud. Invite some atheist friends to read and discuss Darwin, and then read some purple passages from his Descent of Man where he waxes eloquently on the importance of eugenics, the biologically based moral and intellectual inferiority of “lesser races,” and the inevitable evolutionary extermination of the “negro” and the “Australian.”
Most of what I have to say about this is just a retread of what I said about Singer. Darwin’s personal beliefs say nothing about the validity of evolution. However, that being said, it’s also worth pointing out that you don’t seem to have ever read the text yourself or else are deliberately lying about its contexts. When Darwin used the word “race,” he meant what we call “species.” This is quite clear when read in context. Darwin was in fact an abolitionist in his day while the church at the time was pro-slavery. It’s also worth noting that its always best to keep in mind what the common attitudes were at the time. It would be easy to condemn George Washington for owning slaves but he was after all a man of his time and owning slaves was customary in that time.
8. Talk about the Impending Crash of the World Economy. Ideas have consequences, and some of the worst economic ideas were hatched by John Maynard Keynes. Make clear to your atheist interlocutor that the wide-scale adoption of Keynes’ conception of government as the grand fiddler micromanaging the economy through narcotic stimulation with freshly printed money is the single most important cause of the current American and European financial implosion. Then mention ever-so-casually, “Wasn’t Keynes an atheist?”
Here you make the same mistake as with #3. No reasonable person would claim atheists are incapable of being wrong about things. That’s just ridiculous. This would be like me condemning all Christians because Hitler was a Christian. I don’t care about John Maynard Keynes, nor do I care what his personal beliefs were. It says nothing about atheism in general or even about any other person who associates themselves as an atheist. This simply demonstrates either your inability to draw distinctions or your deliberate dishonest. No other option exists.
9. Stage a Nietzsche Practicum. Atheists love the nihilistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who famously declared “God is dead.” More exactly, they love it in theory, but invariably cringe at the practical implications Nietzsche quite logically drew out: without God, there is no moral order and the strong should devour the weak, for “life itself is will to power.” Invite your favorite atheist to meet you for lunch to discuss Nietzsche. Order the most expensive meal on the menu, steal his iPhone while he’s in the bathroom, and then at the end, stick him with the check. Then on the way out snatch the keys to his Saab and speed away in it singing at full lung, “I love Nietzsche! He’s really rather peachy. A world devoid of moral qualms is far more fuuunnnn…than one that’s preachy teachy!”
I am an atheist and actually I have mixed feeling about Nietzsche. Like many historical figures, I think he had some good ideas and some bad ideas. And I’m far more closely aligned with Existentialism than Nihilism. I don’t even really know how you could have even come up with this idea that atheists worship Nietzsche like some kind of profit. On many points, I don’t care very much for him at all.
10. Assault Them with Charity (cont’d. from No. 9). Drive around the block to the restaurant again, and pull up to your fuming atheist friend. After returning the keys to his Saab and his iPhone, and shelling out your share of the tab, say “I just can’t bring myself to act as if God doesn’t exist.” Then, forever after treat him with unfailing kindness, as if he were Indian Untouchable and you were Mother Teresa.
Reports of Mother Teresa’s charitable work have been more than mildly exaggerated…mostly by her. But that’s besides the point. I love when Christians do charitable work. I’ve even encouraged fellow atheists to organize programs where atheist groups and Christian church groups work together for a charitable cause while promoting the message of tolerance at the same time. You see, I actually care about making the world a better place. Quite frankly, if the only reason you’d do charity work is because you foolishly think this “will make atheists cry,” then I feel sorry for you. And I think most Christians would as well.
While vandalism should not be condoned, these recent events shed light on what some Americans will do when they feel that their freedom of speech is threatened. An atheist spokesman in North Carolina said their message is needed to “let people know we exist and that there’s a community here.”
Yet he failed to mention the concerted effort of atheist groups to stop religious Americans from freely exercising their religion. Not content with having the freedom themselves to worship or not as they see fit, militant atheists increasingly seek to shackle the beliefs of their fellow citizens through their own distorted interpretation of “separation of church and state.”
It is perhaps not surprising that some of those fellow citizens object.
Friendly Atheist sums it up nicely here:
I look forward to Dao’s next posting, where she says that rape is wrong, but if a woman wears revealing clothing, she’s just asking for it.
This bitch seriously has the audacity to say it’s the atheists’ fault because they should have expected Christian hypocrisy. Well I agree that we should expect Christian hypocrisy. I’m just shocked she would admit to it.
And as for the claim that we’re trying to steal their religion, that’s just asshole dumb. No one is stopping Christians from freely expressing their beliefs. Rather our goal is to protect the rule of law that keeps government bodies and public resources from being exploited to promote sectarian ideologies. Now if the religious were smart, they’d want to keep the separation between church and state because it keeps government from meddling in religious affairs. You see, it works both ways.
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- Institute for Creation Research Explains Atheist Billboard Vandalism (friendlyatheist.com)
The video is somewhat disconcerting. But is it wrong that I also found it somewhat hilarious. And was she beginning to speak in tongues?
Wow, just wow. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have mental institutions.
Frequent readers probably know that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Steven Novella, who’s an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, president of the New England Skeptic Society, blogger, and lead host of the most popular skeptical podcast in the world, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. Novella is a major reason I call myself a skeptic today.
I’ve been an outspoken atheist for some time but it’s only been about three years that I’ve even known about the skeptical movement. It was the autumn 2007 that I first discovered James Randi. Randi was being interviewed by an internet atheist radio show I listened to and on their website, they’d linked to some videos of Randi on YouTube. One of those videos was a lecture Randi gave to Yale University years ago. It was the standard Randi lecture but it was the first time I’d seen it. And at the time I was still a bit of a believer in a number of classic paranormal claims but was already sort of realizing that there wasn’t much to them. Randi’s Yale lecture pushed me one small step closer to renouncing my woo woo beliefs.
Around that same time I discovered YouTube videos of Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine. And I found myself liking a lot of what he had to say. And by the time, later that fall, I caught Shermer debating the evidence for alien visitation on The Larry King Show, I’d already moved to a position where I completely agreed with Shermer that the evidence just wasn’t there. Shermer’s opponents in that debate were Stanton Friedman and Buzz Aldrin, both long-time heroes of mine. It was during that debate though that I realized my hero Stanton Friedman was a complete nut.
The one issue that I did take issue with Shermer on though was that in many of the videos I’d caught of him on YouTube, he rejected the label “atheist” and embraced the label “agnostic.” Then on November 15, 2007 I attended an atheist event where several famous faces were in attendance, one of whom was Michael Shermer. I briefly talked to him about the current Uri Geller television show at the time that also featured skeptical magician Criss Angel. I wanted to ask him about the “atheist” label issue but didn’t get around to it. But when I heard him use the label himself later that night my concerns were alleviated.
As I was leaving that night I saw several fliers for other upcoming events and one of them was a Saturday afternoon lecture hosted by a group calling itself the New York City Skeptics. The speaker was someone I’d never heard of by the name of Steven Novella. It sounded interesting enough and so I attended. And I was so impressed by Dr. Novella’s lecture that when he mentioned that he hosted a podcast, I decided to check it out. And today, it’s my favorite podcast. I also now write for the New York City Skeptic’s official blog, the Gotham Skeptic. But since that lecture, Novella and the other skeptical rogues on the podcast have become my biggest skeptical influences and were the biggest reason I’m part of this movement.
But as Steven Novella reminded me this week, there is at least one issue we do not see eye to eye on, and that’s whether science and religion can coexist peacefully. While he identifies as an “agnostic” and feels science is agnostic toward the untestable claims of religion, I disagree.
The problem I have with this position is that just about every issue skeptics address is unfalsifiable. Maybe our primitive science just can’t detect the water memory of homeopathy and anyone testing the efficacy of homeopathy is sending out negative vibrations that screw up the tests. Maybe vaccines really do cause autism but all the data to the contrary has just been faked by an omnipotent evil conspiratorial force that will stop at nothing to poison us with toxins in the vaccines. Sooner or later, every form of pseudoscience, denialism, and paranormal claims moves its goalpost outside the bounds of falsifiability. And yet we never seem to have this conversation when it comes to homeopathy or ghosts or vaccines. But some skeptics seem to feel they need to apply special pleading to religion because it’s religion.
Few people seriously argue the “hard atheist” position that we know with certainty that no gods exist. The principle argument is that there’s no evidence to believe that one exists and the burden of proof lies with those claiming otherwise. And it’s because the burden of proof is on the believer, that once they introduce an unfalsifiable position, they fail to meet the burden of proof and thus automatically lose the debate. This is true whether we’re talking about homeopathy or religion.
But for all intents and purposes one can reasonably conclude that gods almost certainly don’t exist. It seems that some don’t want to put their nickel down on a position and risk the minute possibility that they could be wrong. But I have no problem being wrong. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. And if one day new evidence is presented that proves a god does exist I’ll gladly admit that I’m wrong. But until then I have not been sufficiently persuaded that I am wrong. Take the Bible. The very first verse of the book is objectively and scientifically wrong by many orders of magnitude. And it only gets worse from there. It’s scary to me that in another universe we might all be having this same insane discussion over whether science can conclusively dismiss The Cat In The Hat.
At a certain point it’s unreasonable to keep a case open. If Judge Ito was an agnostic, the OJ case would still be running because maybe one day new evidence would drop from the sky. No, make a bloody decision, at least provisionally, and move on.
Now to be fair to Steven Novella’s position, he does address the unfalsifiable claims of pseudosciences like homeopathy. However, I don’t happen to find his answer particularly satisfying.
I don’t feel that once the true believer makes it a faith argument that the skeptic just has to take it on the chin and has to concede that they can’t disprove it. There are certain ideas that are simply too idiotic to even entertain in intellectual discourse and that line in the sand is falsifiability.
Unfalsifiable claims about reality have no place in intellectual discourse and are cause an immediate disqualification from the realm of science. The believer hasn’t met their burden of proof so they’re done. Case dismissed. We can proceed to mock them. What you don’t do is keep a case open indefinitely just in case new evidence one day comes to light. It’s about practicality. If a claim can’t be demonstrated or doesn’t say anything useful about our reality, why am I paying lip service to it? It’s utterly useless. It’s garbage. And I have no problem being honest enough to tell the believer this, especially since it’s proven far more persuasive than being coy and overly agreeable. And at least they’ll know that I respect them enough to be honest with them instead of treating them like fragile children. And sure there are skeptics who believe in some god or another. There are skeptics who believe in ghosts too. They’re simply wrong.