Tag Archives: Atheism

Atheists set up a “Megachurch” and some folks have a problem with it.

Atheist-Church

An artist’s rendition. Clearly it has some appeal.

There’s a couple of comedians over in the U.K. –  Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – who happen to be atheists that decided it was time atheists had a church of their own. So they set about creating The Sunday Assembly, a monthly gathering of atheists that’s somewhat akin to a church service without all that God nonsense. The first service was held back in January and there was a smattering of news articles about it which made the rounds back then, but was otherwise mostly ignored. I think most folks thought it was a silly idea and would fade away quickly even if 300 people did show up for that inaugural session in a deconsecrated church. The following months would see that number grow to upwards of 600 people requiring a change in venue.

Now they’re back in the news again because the assemblies have branched out to 30 other cities around the world including Dublin, New York, San Diego, and even one in Grand Rapids. The founders have set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to grow the organization even further (they’re at £29,556 of their £500,000 goal so far) with a world-tour to promote the idea taking place right now. It would appear they’ve struck a chord that is resonating with a lot of atheists.

Which shouldn’t be too surprising considering that a lot of atheists are, like myself, former believers. There are studies done all the time that reveal that there is no shortage of atheists who continue to attend church long after they stop believing. Some of them do it for their kids or spouse who continue to be believers, some do it because they enjoy the community and/or rituals involved, and some do it because they find the experience meaningful despite their lack of belief. Many former-believers-turned-atheists report feeling a sense of loss of community and belonging after leaving their faiths so the appeal of a non-religious substitute for that community seems like a no-brainer.

Not surprisingly, the success of this movement has attracted no small amount of criticism with some of the most pointed of it coming from fellow atheists. Take as an example this article from Michael Luciano titled Why “Atheist Churches” Are a Disaster For Atheism:

Despite the best efforts of obfuscators to assert the contraryatheism is not a religion – not in any meaningful sense, anyway.

And at a time when atheists are trying to fight this mischaracterization – including in the courts– it is incredibly counterproductive for Jones and Evans to feed the misconceptions with their charade because the fact is, an “atheist church” makes as much sense as a Baptist synagogue.

Michael’s primary criticism seems to be that this movement will allow believers to claim that atheism is very much a religion because it now has a “church” and, undoubtedly, some folks will indeed try to make that argument. Of course that ignores the fact that plenty of religious nutcases already make that argument anyway including someone named Zac right here on SEB. He tried to make the argument that atheism was not just a belief, but a religion and that Richard Dawkins was our Pope. Will the Sunday Assembly contribute to that misconception? Possibly, but it’s not like it wasn’t there already so I’m not sure how much more harm it can cause.

Michael goes on to say:

Earlier this year, the duo explained their motivations in the New York Times: “[C]hurch has got so many awesome things going for it. Singing together in a group? Super. Hearing interesting things? Rad. A moment to think quietly about your life? Wizard. Getting to know your neighbors? Ace.”

Based on my own personal experience attending church, as well as other believers-turned-heretics I have spoken with, church had so few “awesome things going for it,” that we left. For atheists every religious service is predicated on a falsehood, regardless of whatever feel-good niceties may accompany its production.

The above is arguably true for a great many atheists, but not all atheists are the same. The above comes across as the No True Scotsman fallacy. Simply because Michael and some atheists he happens to have spoken with don’t think there was much that was awesome about church attendance, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate atheists out there who do. Plenty of atheists don’t participate in Christmas or Easter festivities, but I and many others that I know personally do. We just take out the religious nonsense from it and I don’t consider myself any less of an atheist for doing so. While I may not be all that big on the community aspects of church attendance, I can certainly see how it might be appealing to others. I don’t begrudge them their indulging in it if that’s what makes them happy.

Of course, the blame for this silliness cannot be placed entirely with Jones and Evans. Clearly they have tapped into a market of nonbelievers who for some reason still find it necessary to attend “church” to infuse their lives with meaning. It really is a sad state of affairs, as what they are aiming for can just as well be accomplished by an informal gathering at a coffee shop, bar, book club, concert, lecture, or in their own homes. For the freethought movement’s sake, I sincerely hope that the Sunday Assembly is a fleeting cultural idiosyncrasy and not emblematic of a broader trend.

Other than the idea that this will give believers an argument to claim atheism is as much of a religion as any other, Michael doesn’t do a very good job of stating why Sunday Assembly is a “disaster” for the atheist movement. Perhaps he’s right that the same results could be achieved by an informal gathering at other random places, but I’m not sure I understand why that’s an argument against the Sunday Assembly itself. If you prefer your atheist meetups at bars there are groups out there doing just that which you can participate in. Bars not your thing, there’s all manner of other atheist meetups out there to look into. Many of which seem to have similar goals to the Sunday Assembly. The only thing I can see about SA that is upsetting to Michael is that they’re using churchy terminology.

SundayAssemblyLogoIt’s also not clear that Sunday Assembly is all that formal. I’ve never been to one myself (and I suspect Michael hasn’t either), but if the YouTube video for their Indiegogo project is anything to go by then “formal” is probably not an accurate description of the proceedings.  According to the About Page on their website, the three core ideas behind SA are as follows:

We are here for everyone who wants to:

  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.

That sounds pretty innocuous to me. They go on to be a bit more specific with:

The Sunday Assembly

  1. Is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
  2. Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
  3. Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
  4. Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
  5. Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
  6. Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
  7. Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organisations or services
  8. Is here to stay. With your involvement, The Sunday Assembly will make the world a better place
  9. We won’t won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can
  10. And remember point 1… The Sunday Assembly is a celebration of the one life we know we have

Again, this doesn’t sound like a terrible thing to me. That doesn’t stop Sadhbh Walshe of The Guardian from declaring that Atheist ‘mega-churches’ undermine what atheism’s supposed to be about.

Determined to show that those who believe in nothing are just as good as those who believe in something, the faithless are establishing a church of their own, and a mega-church at that. On the surface it seems like a rather brilliant idea. What’s not to like about beating the faithful at their own game? Apart from the one small caveat that establishing a place of worship for the faithless, even a godless one, rather negates what atheism is supposed to be all about.

Really? I must have missed that day of Atheism 101 Class wherein we were told what atheism was “all about” because as far as I know it’s only about not believing in God(s) with everything else being up to the individual to decide.

This past Sunday, the groups’ inaugural assembly in Los Angeles attracted some 400 people. Similar gatherings across the states have also drawn big crowds, bursting to do all the good stuff religious people do, just without the God stuff. As one of those non-believing types – the kind who’d be inclined to tick off the “spiritual but not religious” checkbox on a dating profile – I should fall right into the Sunday Assembly movement’s target demographic. If only the central idea of dragging atheists into a church so they can prove they are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers didn’t strike me as a bit of joke.

I’ve read through the entirety of the SA website and I can’t seem to locate the part that says the goal is to prove atheists are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers. I’ve seen a lot of stuff about providing a community to do awesome things with and love and compassion and some other vaguely hippy stuff, but nothing about proving atheists as worthy. Maybe that really is the goal of the founders, but if it is they’ve done a good job of hiding it.

She goes on to write:

I don’t mean to downplay the human need to find like-minded communities either or to explore the deeper purpose of our existence. I just can’t quite embrace the notion that atheists should be under any obligation to prove their worthiness to religious types, or that to do so they should mimic the long established religious practices that non-believers have typically eschewed.

As near as I can tell, and again I’ve gone over the website carefully, the founders aren’t suggesting that atheists are under any obligation to do jack or prove shit. Nor do they say atheists “should” mimic anything. They are saying that if some of the stuff you used to do in church appeals to you and you’d like a place to do it again without all that God nonsense then they have an option for you to explore. How is that a bad thing?

I would have thought the message of atheism (if there needs to be one) is that churches and ritualized worship (whatever the focus of that worship might be) are best left to the people who feel the need to have a God figure in their lives.

cf978bb3Again, I must have missed that class. As far as I’m aware atheism has no message. There are no tenets, no holy book, no rites,  no great wisdoms handed down from on high. From what I can see of Sunday Assemblies — and I’ll say again that I have not attended one — it’s a church only in the sense of being a gathering of like-minded people communing with each other and perhaps working towards making the world a better place. Considering that Miss Walshe goes on to say that she’s dabbled with Buddhist retreats and Hinduism meditation, both of which are ritualized in many ways, I’m not sure what her problem with SA is.

Here she tries to explain what her problem actually is:

That is why I have a fundamental problem with the so called atheist mega-church movement that Jones and Evans are spearheading. While they have every right to form congregations and get together with like-minded people and to share hugs and plan good deeds, they don’t have the right to co-opt atheism for their cause.

Ah, it’s the old THIS-THING-IS-MINE-YOU-CAN’T-HAVE-IT-CAUSE-IT’S-MINE problem. Yet again I fail to see anywhere in anything I’ve read about Sunday Assemblies that they are out to co-opt atheism for their cause. I don’t think they’ve managed to raise enough money to hire a private Atheist Mercenary Army with which to force all the atheists to attend their church and abide by their holy writ lest they be rounded up and sent off to the Atheist Gulags for reeducation.

In point of fact, comparing the Sunday Assembly’s approach to organizing atheists (which is what they are doing) to another attempt at doing so seems an apt thing to do. When the folks behind Atheism Plus launched their effort to bring together like-minded atheists to push for social justice issues there was quite a bit of talk about them doing exactly what Miss Walshe is accusing the folks behind SA of doing in terms of trying to co-opt the movement. When Jen McCreight wrote her infamous entry that launched Atheism Plus titled How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism she made it quite clear that the goal was to redefine the atheism movement:

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.*

[...] The Boy’s Club may have historically ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We can.

It’s quite clear that her goal is to weed out the folks she considers “bad” from what she views as “her” movement. This was repeated by other early adopters of Atheism Plus such as Richard Carrier who wrote:

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all (I mean people like these and these). I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea (inspired by Anne C. Hanna) to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values.

If you’ve never read his whole article then it’s worth doing so. Whether you agree or not with Carrier’s opinion on what constitutes a good atheist vis–à–vis a bad atheist, it’s clear that he thinks Atheism Plus should come to dominate the atheism “movement”, inasmuch such a thing exists. Carrier’s remarks in particular were seen by many in the atheist community as a you’re either with us or against us and if you’re against us we’ll do everything we can to kick you out of the movement polemic that turned off a lot of otherwise sympathetic people. So much so that no less than Jen McCreight herself repudiated his comments:

McCreightonCarrier

Which I find interesting as he didn’t really say anything she hadn’t suggested herself in her original blog entry about it. Atheism Plus was the next chapter in what some would consider the growing schism in the atheist community online that started with the ElevatorGate incident. The whole thing got so stupid that it caused me to stop reading a lot of atheist bloggers I respected on both sides of the “debate” because they spent most of their time trash talking the other side.

In comparison the Sunday Assembly folks don’t seem to me to be attempting to do anything other than offer folks who miss the community of their old churches someplace to experience it once again without all the God nonsense. How Miss Walshe sees that as co-opting is beyond me. She concludes her article with the following:

I’m sure the Sunday Assemblies have the potential to benefit many people and will fill a void for anyone who likes the idea of being part of a community. But if faithlessness ends up becoming a quasi-religion with its very own church, where are the true atheists – the ones who don’t feel the need to join a congregation or to sing and hold hands to show the world we’re good and worthy – supposed to call home?

Again with the idea of “True Atheists.” If someone attending a SA event doesn’t believe in Gods then how are they not a True Atheist?  Again I’ll ask: Does the fact that I put up Christmas lights and a Christmas tree and eat Christmas dinner and exchange Christmas gifts mean I’m not a True Atheist in her book? I don’t believe in Gods, but I do enjoy Christmas rituals and can even find beauty in Christmas songs such as O’ Holy Night. If Miss Walshe doesn’t want to attend an atheist “church”, but still wants someplace to call home then why doesn’t she look into any of the other atheist events I mentioned earlier in this essay? Does she think every atheist out there is going to fall under the siren song of SA such that all those other events and meetups all dry up and blow away?

Personally, I’ll probably not become a member of a Sunday Assembly if one sets up shop nearby (Grand Rapids is a helluva drive from Ann Arbor even if it is only once a month), but that’s just me. I’ve only ever attended one meeting of a local Skeptics in the Pub. I didn’t have a problem with the group, I’m just not the sort of person who attends events like that regularly.

About the only real problem I can foresee with SA is the same problem that crops up in any grouping of people once it gets large enough. The seemingly inevitable power struggles that occur between competing visions of what said group is supposed to be about. No group is immune to it and the bigger a group gets the more likely it is to fall victim to it. We see it in politics, religion, World of Warcraft clans, and any number of online communities. The atheist movement is experiencing it just as the video gaming community is (and often over the same issues) just as the Republicans are and as the Democrats will (as they have in the past). That’s just human nature I suppose, but to claim that Sunday Assembly is a “disaster for atheism” or is “co-opting the movement” just isn’t supported by what I’ve seen of it so far. Compared to Atheism Plus I’d go so far as to say it’s relatively harmless to the greater movement. And if it makes some folks happy then what the fuck is the problem?

My appearance on the West X Midwest podcast.

For those of you who didn’t watch it live, which is probably the vast majority of you, here’s the YouTube video of my appearance on the West X Midwest podcast:

If you prefer to listen instead of watch you can do so either at Libsyn or on iTunes. However you go about it, I make my appearance about half-way through. Don’t skip ahead, though, as the whole thing is worth a listen. In fact, if you’ve spent much time around SEB you’ve probably heard (read) most of what I say anyway. Still, for those of you in love with the melodious sound of my voice, this should fit the bill.

SEB Mailbag: How not to convert an atheist.

61182_402075513237596_1585133137_nThe SEB Mailbag isn’t as active as it used to be, but then neither am I. Every now and then I’ll get a missive from some good natured person who is worried about my eternal soul. I got one such email this morning and I thought I’d present it as a good bad example of attempting to convince someone to believe in Jesus. Note: I’m not naming the person who sent it because it was an effort at good will even though the subject line read “hate mail.”

Here it is in its entirety:

God so loved you that He now even give you the chance again to call upon His Son Jesus Christ Name just to give Him a chance in your live. You are going to stand in any case in front of Him one day. Jesus loves you and that is why I also love you, please give Jesus a chance. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

First off, thanks for taking the time to sit down and compose such an amazing argument on your Blackberry. It shows just how shallow your concern for my soul really is that you couldn’t be bothered to make sure it was completely comprehensible or required more than two thumbs to type.

There’s three statements in this argument which we’ll breakdown one at a time starting with that first attempt at a sentence:

God so loved you that He now even give you the chance again to call upon His Son Jesus Christ Name just to give Him a chance in your live.

It’s not entirely clear what you’re trying to say, but my guess is that in spite of all the terrible things I’ve done in my life I still have the opportunity to ask God to let Jesus into my heart blah blah blah and I should just give Jesus a chance.

1010245_494868663920957_892655251_nAs I said in the reply I sent you, what makes you think I haven’t given Jesus a chance? Anyone who spends any amount of time reading my blog (particularly under the About Me category/tag) will know that I used to be a pretty faithful Christian in my youth. Up until I read the Bible from front to back and found myself with a whole host of questions that the clergy in my life couldn’t readily answer. My faith was never at question until I started to seriously study the Bible and then the folks who should have reasonable answers to my questions instead told me to try not to think so hard about it. During that time I prayed to Jesus quite a bit. I’d say I gave him more than enough chances over the years and, even now, I’m totally willing to be convinced that he does exist and gives a shit about my well being, but so far I’ve yet to see anything that would lead me to think that that’s the case.

Surely if Jesus does exist and does want me to believe in him he’s more than capable of providing me with ample reason to accept both of those facts. The fact that he hasn’t implies that he either doesn’t really give a shit or, more likely, doesn’t exist to give a shit. I’m still open to the possibility, but I’m not going to believe without good reason to do so.

You are going to stand in any case in front of Him one day.

This statement only makes sense if you accept that Jesus does exist. To someone who doesn’t believe that to be true it’s just silly. You may as well argue that I should continue to leave out cookies for Santa Claus because someday I’ll meet him and he’s going to want to know why the fuck I stopped doing that.

Before that statement would have any meaning to an atheist you’d have to have a reasonable argument for why a God of any kind might actually exist and then you’d have to have a reasonable argument for why your particular God exists and how you have any clue what-the-fuck-ever what he wants from his creation. In short, you’re a long way from a point where that statement would be even the tiniest bit effective. You need to remember that you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe in God(s) of any kind. Saying that they’ll have to stand before one of them someday is just a form of veiled threat that is hard to take seriously when you don’t believe in the thing you’re being threatened with.

 Jesus loves you and that is why I also love you, please give Jesus a chance.

So, in other words, the only reason you give a shit about me is because you believe God wants you to. That implies that without said God you wouldn’t have any concern for my well being at all. Christians like to toss around the word “love” quite a bit, but I worry that they don’t fully understand its meaning because all too often what they say they do out of love doesn’t feel all that loving to me.

cat-bible-thumperMaybe I’m too cynical, but often these sorts of pleas from believers to “give Jesus a chance” feel less like they’re about any genuine concern for my soul and more about the believer’s attempts at scoring brownie points with their God. Seriously. This email is a half-assed attempt at spreading the word that is the minimal effort required so that once they’re standing in front of their God and are asked why they didn’t convert more people they can shrug and say “Hey, I tried, but the assholes wouldn’t listen to reason!”

You’d think that if they were really serious they’d take the time to get know someone and try to understand their viewpoint before trying to convince them to change them. That takes an investment of time and energy that most Christians just aren’t interested in devoting to the cause. Instead it’s much easier to toss out short, three sentence “arguments” that they must know have no hope in Hell of being convincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe in their God. Go ahead and wipe your hands on your pants ’cause you’ve fulfilled your Christian requirements.

I’ve thought about the existence of Gods and the afterlife for many, many years so it would take a pretty amazing argument — or an act of Jesus himself — to convince me to believe. So I’m not surprised that most Christians wouldn’t want to invest that amount of time and energy into convincing me. Which is fine as I’m not overly concerned that I might be wrong, but if you’re going to bother then at least put some effort into it, eh?

“The Four Miracles of Atheism” aren’t miracles.

thinklikemeIn a blog post last December (which I just stumbled across on Twitter) by Clay Kraby over at Reasonable Theology the argument is made that atheists take some things on faith. While that’s almost certainly true, the four things they cite as prime examples aren’t very good ones. They refer to these examples as The Four Miracles of Atheism:

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define a miracle as an event which occurs outside of the natural order and cannot be repeated or explained by the scientific process.

OK, we can work with that definition.

Consider the following four miracles which must be accepted by the atheist in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary:

1. Getting Something from Nothing. There has never been an observed example where something was created from nothing. No person would attempt to build something without materials, and there is no theory outside Big Bang cosmology which reaches this conclusion without ridicule from the scientific community

It’s a common misunderstanding of the Big Bang cosmology to claim that prior to that event there was “nothing” and that “something” came from it. The theory makes no such claims. If you trace time backwards to the Big Bang you end up with a singularity. That’s not nothing, but something. In fact, it’s everything. All scrunched up into one mind bogglingly small point of energy. The law of energy conservation tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. Which is pretty much what the Big Bang was. Now it’s true we’re not entirely sure why it expanded and became the Universe and that’s in part because a lot of the math involved starts to break down the closer you get to the singularity, but the theory doesn’t say the Universe came from nothing.

As for there never having been “an observed example where something was created from nothing”, well, that’s not entirely true either. One experiment that made use of the the Casimir effect resulted in photons spontaneously appearing in empty space:

Quantum physics explains that there are limits to how precisely one can know the properties of the most basic units of matter—for instance, one can never absolutely know a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. One bizarre consequence of this uncertainty is that a vacuum is never completely empty, but instead buzzes with so-called “virtual particles” that constantly wink into and out of existence.

These virtual particles often appear in pairs that near-instantaneously cancel themselves out. Still, before they vanish, they can have very real effects on their surroundings. For instance, photons—packets of light—can pop in and out of a vacuum. When two mirrors are placed facing each other in a vacuum, more virtual photons can exist around the outside of the mirrors than between them, generating a seemingly mysterious force that pushes the mirrors together.

This effect was predicted back in 1948 and the experiment has been repeated numerous times. There’s some debate on whether it’s truly something from nothing, but it’s certainly a good candidate.

These are both very high-level simplifications of the science. If you’re interested in a more involved explanation then Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing is worthwhile reading. Or you can check out this lengthy talk he gave about the subject on YouTube:

The upshot is, given the law of conservation of energy, there’s really no need for faith that something came from nothing because that’s most likely not what happened. Even if it was what happened there are already aspects of Quantum Mechanics that would allow for it.

neilongodinlabYou’ll note that Kraby doesn’t bother to provide any of the “scientific evidence to the contrary” that something from nothing is impossible, he just says it’s a problem and assumes you agree with him. He makes the clever remark that no person would attempt to build something without materials and yet that’s precisely what his god must have done by sheer will alone if it is the creator of the universe and everything within it. That apparently isn’t a problem for Kraby in spite of the fact that it would be infinitely more magical than a universe just popping into existence on its own. Certainly we don’t have the full picture nailed down just yet and it’s possible we may never be able to fully explain how the universe came to be, but that doesn’t mean “goddidit” is the correct answer by default.

2. Getting Life from Non-Life. Even if naturalistic causes could have created the universe, it would still be necessary for non-living material to become living. This is also an unproven (and impossible) feat which must be accepted when denying the existence of God.

There’s really no need for faith in this either because it’s pretty self-evident that life had to arise at some point or we wouldn’t be here to discuss the issue, but let’s carry on and show the flaws in this argument.

The first problem with this argument is that it assumes there are only two possibilities: Either something is alive or it isn’t. Reality isn’t black and white. Things aren’t just alive or not-alive. Rather it’s more of a continuum from non-life to life. The more simple an organic form is the more blurry the line between life and non-life becomes.

For example, most folks consider viruses to be living things, but they really straddle the line between living and non-living things. One of the traits of life is the ability to reproduce and viruses can’t do that on their own. They have to invade living cells and hijack their systems to reproduce. Nor do viruses have any metabolic systems. Yet they do have genes and can evolve. They blur the line between living and non-living and support the theory that life could have started as self-assembling organic molecules.

Then there are Prions. These are small bits of misfolded proteins that aren’t alive in any sense of the word. They don’t contain any nucleic acids, they don’t have a metabolic system, nor genes, or a cell membrane, yet they have the ability to infect you and kill you. They are the cause of Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cows (natch) and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. They do this similarly to viruses by hijacking the functions of living cells to reproduce. As they reproduce they form a plaque known as amyloid which literally drills holes in your brain (making it spongy, hence the name) destroying you slowly over the course of decades. The odd thing is, these proteins are already in you, though not in the misfolded manner that causes disease. You’ll find the normal form in the membranes of your cells. They are a part of your cellular system, but they are not alive in themselves.

Kraby says that life arising from non-life is unproven and impossible without providing anything to back that claim up. Life is just a chemical process and spontaneous chemical reactions happen all the time — not to mention molecular self-assembly. Not only is there evidence that life came from non-living molecules, but scientists have been getting closer to creating artificial life with each passing year. In November of 2011 Martin Hanczyc did a TED talk where he showed the results of his experiments with protocells. Bonus: He also talks about how life is a continuum:

For being non-living, those protocells sure do look alive. Which is pretty impressive when you consider how simplistic they are compared to your standard human cell or even your average bacteria. Just with these basic chemical molecules there’s already lots of life-like activity taking place. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine how this could be a possible beginning of all life.

3. Getting Order from Chaos. The Laws of Thermodynamics tell us that all things tend towards disorder, not order. Left to themselves buildings crumble, gardens are taken over by weeds, and living material decays. If unguided natural causes produced the universe (from nothing) and produced life (from non-life) these processes would necessarily go against observed scientific principles in order to produce the complexity, beauty, and order that we observe in the world around us.

Ah yes! The Second Law of Thermodynamics! Always a favorite of the apologist crowd though they never seem to make use of the First Law of Thermodynamics or the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics (yes, there is a Zeroth Law). It always amuses me how readily theists will accept a scientific theory if it allows them to refute a different scientific theory they don’t like. It’s a shame so many of them don’t understand what it really says.

The first thing they don’t understand about the Second Law is that it isn’t about order or chaos, it’s about heat:

Second law of thermodynamicsHeat cannot spontaneously flow from a colder location to a hotter location.

The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the universal principle of dissipation of kinetic and potential energy observable in nature. The second law is an observation of the fact that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential tend to even out in a physical system that is isolated from the outside world. Entropy is a measure of how much this process has progressed. The entropy of an isolated system that is not in equilibrium tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

In classical thermodynamics, the second law is a basic postulate applicable to any system involving heat energy transfer; in statistical thermodynamics, the second law is a consequence of the assumed randomness of molecular chaos. There are many versions of the second law, but they all have the same effect, which is to explain the phenomenon of irreversibility in nature.

The second thing they don’t understand about the Second Law is that little bit I put in boldface up there: It only applies to isolated physical systems with no external source of energy. The Earth, where abiogenesis and evolution have taken place, is not an isolated physical system. It has an external source of energy. You may have heard of it. It’s called The Sun. All life is possible because of the sun inputting energy into earth’s natural systems allowing for local increases in order that allows things like people to exist.

But, you might say, the Universe is a closed system with no external source of energy and it started in a high entropy state, but went on to form galaxies and stars and DVD rental kiosks. All highly ordered (low entropy) things. Doesn’t that violate the second law? Thanks to inflation the answer is no:

The Big Bang seems, at first glance, to violate the second law. It starts off as a dense almost perfectly homogeneous gas (thus at almost maximum entropy) and then seems to separate into clumps that formed stars and galaxies. Hasn’t order increased and thus the entropy decreased, and since the universe is a closed system, hasn’t this violated the second law?

The solution here is that because the universe is expanding it keeps getting shifted out of equilibrium, and in the drive to reach a new equilibrium state, you can get pockets of order occurring without violating the second law, because the maximum allowable entropy also keeps increasing.

In more technical terms, if we consider the universe to be a sphere of radius R that is increasing, the maximum allowable entropy increases as the square of R, while the actual entropy of the universe increases less rapidly, only linearly with R. Thus even if the initial universe was at maximum entropy for its size, as the universe expands its entropy can increase while still being easily able to accommodate the increasing order we see. In fact, calculations done assuming that there exist ten planets per star, 100 billion stars for every galaxy and 100 billion galaxies (which are our best current estimates) show that the ordering of the planets produces changes in entropy of only one part in 1011 of the total current entropy. Victor Stenger (Has Science Found God?, 2003, p. 152) summarizes the situation:

No violation of the second law of thermodynamics was required to produce the universe.

It’s clear that Kraby, like most apologists who try to use the Second Law to disprove other theories they don’t like, doesn’t have a firm grasp of the subject. That’s not a criticism. Thermodynamics is a complex subject that involves some serious math and can be difficult to follow, but it helps if you actually read what scientists have to say about it and not other theists.

Finally we come to his last so-called atheist miracle:

4. Getting the Immaterial from Physical Matter. If nothing was able to produce everything, non-life was able to produce life, and chaos was able to produce order the atheistic worldview would still encounter an insurmountable obstacle. No matter how organized, it is impossible for physical material to produce the immaterial realities of human consciousness. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences all exist outside of mere physical matter.

Kraby is making a pretty big claim here without providing anything to support it and it’s just flat out wrong. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences certainly do not exist outside of mere physical matter. They’re all contained within the human brain along with the rest of your personality. This is easily provable by studying people who have had a traumatic brain injury. There are literally thousands of documented cases of people developing whole new personalities, beliefs, desires, and preferences after brain injuries. Sometimes the changes are minor and sometimes they result in what could be said to be an entirely different person depending on how much damage there is and where in occurred. Passive people become violently aggressive (and vice versa), chaste can become hypersexual, introvert can become extrovert. One of the most famous examples is Phineas Gage whose personality changed dramatically after a tamping rod was propelled through his brain in an explosion. Even your beliefs can be changed by a TBI.

“You” do not exist outside of the confines of your brain and you can even change your personality without a TBI. Drugs are a common way to modify your personality in major and minor ways. People drink alcohol because it lowers inhibitions which results in them taking risks they probably wouldn’t if they were sober. Drug abuse can permanently alter your brain chemistry and, thusly, who you are.

Kraby concludes his little essay with the following claim:

Each of these examples go against the natural order and could be labeled as miracles. Naturalistic worldviews such as atheism, evolution, and neo-Darwinism regard this evidence for God with what Dawkins would certainly consider an unscientific approach: each item must be taken on faith.

As I’ve demonstrated, none of these goes against the natural order in any way nor do they require any faith to accept. We don’t have all the pieces to all the puzzles just yet, but what we do have points to very real and very natural processes that can be understood without invoking the supernatural. Again, even if it turns out that these theories are incorrect that doesn’t mean the only other explanation is “God”. It would be nice if Kraby could provide some reasons why a god is the explanation for these “miracles” beyond the implication of well what else would it be?

Kraby has demonstrated some startling ignorance of the topics he puts forth and provides nothing to back up the claims he makes. This could be avoided with just a little study outside the realm of Creationist websites. There are a number of good books from well respected scientists covering these topics in-depth that are still quite readable by the layman. All in all this was a pretty piss-poor argument. Hopefully the next apologist will do a better job.

SEB Mailbag: JESUS LOVES YOU ALL CAPS EDITION!

FUCK YEAH CAPSLOCKIt’s been awhile since I’ve gotten an email from a True Believer™, but that drought has come to an end in a most spectacular fashion.

I received an email earlier today from a Janet Wittek who had an urgent message for me. So urgent that it required full use of caps lock.

Warning, this is going to be lengthy:

From: Janet Wittek
Subject: Letter from Janet
Time: 7:18 AM

JESUS LOVES YOU.  I AM A GIRL FROM THE FARM WHO HAS VISIONS OF MAJOR DISASTERS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN.  LIKE 911.  EARTHQUAKES. TSUNAMIS. FLOODS. FIRES. AND OTHER THINGS WHEN PEOPLES LIVES R IN DANGER.  I AM COMMANDED BY GOD TO PRAY OVER THESE MATTERS AND TO SAVE THEM FROM DISTRUCTION.  MY REV GORDON WILLIAMS IS A PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY GRADUATE. HE IS WELL KNOWN BY CANADA AM TV SHOW.  HE IS ON ONE HUNDRED HUNTLEY CHRISTIAN TV SHOW. HE HAS A MIRACLE HEALING SERVICES WHERE PEOPLE GET HEALED OF ALCOHOLISM. AND OTHER ADDICTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS LIKE ATHIESM. SEX ADDICTIONS. FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. BACK PROBLEMS. ETC.   I THINK THAT U SHOULD GIVE HIM A CALL AT [number redacted]. OR [number redacted].  MY BACK AND STOMACK AND BLEEDING PROBLEMS AND OTHER NUMEROUS PROBLEMS LIKE BAD KNEES SORE LIVER.  DIABETES AND SORE LEGS AND ENTIRE BODY SICK AND CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN BRAIN AND SKIN DISEASE AND BROKEN HEART HEALED CAUSE MEN ABUSED ME CAUSE THEY IN LOVE WITH MY ROOMATE SIZE THREE BLOND HOOKER AND I TOLD THEM NOT TO HURT HER CAUSE THEY GANG RAPE HER AND BEAT HER UP.  AND I YELLED AT ALL OF THEM TO STOP HURTING HER.  UNIMAGINABLE BASTARDS.  REPENT OF YOUR SIN OF BEING ATHIEST.  I AM A CHRISTIAN AND I WENT THRU HELL BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHO DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD AND DON’T FOLLOW HIS COMMANDEMENTS.  YOU R A SINNER.  THE FOOL SAYS IN HIS HEART THAT THERE IS NO GOD.  B U T.  T H E R E.  IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU CANNOT DENY IT NOR CAN ANYONE ELSE.  HOW COME WHEN 911 HAPPENNED EVERYONE WAS SCREAMING OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! AND RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES.  THE ATHIESTS SURE DO FIND GOD QUICKLY AND CRY OUT WHEN MAJOR DISASTERS HAPPEN AND THEIR LIVES ARE IN DANGER.  HOW COME THEY REMEMBER HIM THEN.  YOURS IN JESUS.  JANET.  GO AND GET YOURSELF A BIBLE AND START READING IT.  AND START EXAMINING YOURSELF NOT ONLY EXAMINING OTHERS FAULTS AND FRAILITIES.  DO YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE AND MERCY MEANS. AND STOP SWEARING.  ITS KIND OF OBNOXIOUS BEHAVIOR AND SHOWS THAT YOU ARE A JERK.

What’s odd about this message is that it was one of two that came in around that time and not the one I saw first. The first one I saw omitted the use of all caps and was relatively brief:

Time: 7:28 AM

The woman who did that to her child obviously had something wrong with her.  Any fool can see that.  Yours in Jesus. Janet.

Being that I saw this second missive first and that it was somewhat vague (I assumed she was talking about something I’d written on SEB, but wasn’t sure what) I replied asking her to clarify what she was referencing. Being the jerk that I am I made a somewhat sarcastic statement that I’m not a psychic because, like God, they don’t exist.

Hours passed and I thought that was the end of it. She had said what she needed to say and had gotten on with her life. Boy, was I ever wrong about that:

Time: 2:26 PM

THE WOMAN WHO ABUSED HER CHILD FOR NOT SAYING AMEN AND WAS NOT GIVEN ANY MEALS AND STARVED THE 2 YEAR OLD TO DEATH.  I HAD A VISION OF A SIMILAR OCCURANCE TO 2 CHILDREN WHO WERRE ABUSED IN TORONTO WHO WERE IN THE CARE OF CATHOLIC CHILDRENS AID SOCIETY AND A TORONTO POLICEMAN SAID THAT IN ALL OF HIS LIFE HE DID NOT SEE ANYBODY TREATED THAT BADLY ABUSED CHILDREN.  IT WAS A BOY AND A GIRL WHO WERE SEVERLY ABUSED. THE BOY DIED BUT THE GIRL ESCAPED.  I HAD VISIONS OF THEM DAYS BEFORE THE LITTLE BOY DIED IN A HOUSE IN TORONTO. THE HOUSE WAS AN OLD VICTORIAN HOUSE LIKE MINE RED BRICK WITH UGLY GREEN PORCH.  THEN DAYS LATER I SAW THE CHILDREN ON TV ON W FIVE TV SHOW AND W FIVE TV PRODUCERS WERE EXTREMELY MAD AT CATHOLIC CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETY FOR NOT TAKING CARE OF THESE CHILDREN. THE LITTLE GIRL WAS SAVED AND PUT IN ANOTHER HOME.  THE LITTLE BOY DIED A HORRIBLE DEATH.  POOR THING. I SHOULD OF ASKED GOD EXACTLY WHAT STREET HE WAS ON AND WENT THERE AND TAKEN HIM OUT OF THERE WITH THAT NICE POLICEMAN WHO WAS HORRIFIED WITH THAT CASE.  IT WAS ON CANADIAN TV SHOW ON W5.  REV GORD WILLIAMS KNOW THE PEOPLE ON W5 AND HE IS WELL KNOWN BY CANADA AM AND CTV NEWS AND ONCHRISTIAN RADIO TV STATIONS AND ALL OVER THE WORLD.  HE IS FROM PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY.  HE IS ON ONE HUNDRED HUNTLEY STREET TELEVISION CHRISTIAN SHOW.  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET. HOW CAN YOU NOT BELIEVE IN GOD. I SEE THAT YOU HAVE SOME BRAINS AND FEEL BAD FOR THE LITTLE BOY CHILD WHO WAS ABUSED BY HIS MOTHER BECAUSE HE DIDN’T SAY AMEN AFTER PRAYERS AND WAS THOUGHT TO BE DEMON POSSESSED AND SHE STARVED HIM TO DEATH.  AND THEN THE CHURCH PEOPLE SAID THAT THEY WOULD RESURRECTED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  HE WAS 2 YEARS OLD.  POOR LITTLE BOY. GOD HAVE MERCY ON THESE LITTLE CHILDREN AND SEND ANGELS TO SAVE THEM FROM THE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.  THE PSYCHIC GIFT THAT I HAVE IS CALLED THE GIFT OF PROPHECY.  IT IS EXPLAINED IN FULL DETAIL IN REV GORDON WILLIAMS BOOK. LIKE A MIGHTY RUSHING WIND.  AND ALSO IN THE BIBLE.  IST CORINTHIANS 12 AND 14.

Then a half hour later I got this:

Time: 3:05 PM

IN THE OLD TESTAMENT PEOPLE DID BAD THINGS TOO.  IF EVIL EXISTS THEN SO DOES GOOD.  YOU KNOW THAT BAD THINGS HAPPEN WELL SO DOES GOOD THINGS HAPPEN .  YOU KNOW THAT WHAT HAD HAPPENNED TO THE LITTLE 2 YEAR OLD WAS BAD AND EVIL.  DO YOU NOT.  SATAN EXISTS BUT SO DOES GOD.GET A COPY OF THE BIBLE AND START READING IT.  DO NOT SAY THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A GOOD KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE. I BELIEVE IN GOD AND BEING GOOD LIKE HE TELLS US TOO.  I BELIEVE IN WHAT HE WRITES AND SAYS IS TRUE.  I HAVE LAID HANDS ON THE SICK AND THEY HAVE RECOVERED. MY FRIENDS BACK WAS COMPLETELY HEALED WHEN I PRAYED FOR HER AND SHE WAS SHOCKED THAT HER PAIN WENT IMMEDIATELY AWAY.  SHE IS A HOUSECLEANER AT THE CHURCH.  ANOTHER WOMAN GOT HER BACK HEALED AT THE CHURCH ON CHISTMAS EVE SERVICES WHEN I HUGGED HER.  MY DEAR MAN. GOD DOES EXIST JESUS DOES EXIST.  HE WILL PROVE IT TO YOU.  MIRACLES DO HAPPEN EVERYDAY THROUGHT THE WHOLE WORLD.  I BELIEVE THAT YOU EXIST THATS WHY I AM TALKING TO YOU.  GET IT.  YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST. THAT’S WHY YOU ARE TALKING TO ME.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND.  I KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT PSYCHIC. MAN.  I AM TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE WHO EXISTS JUST LIKE GOD AND JESUS EXISTS.  YOU EXIST !!!!!!!!THEN WHY DO YOU THINK THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST!!!! IF YOU EXIST.  R U REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT THE FACT THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST.!!!!!!!!! A LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU. EXIST IN THE WORLD. ATHIESTS. I MEAN. A LOT OF THEM.  MANY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND THE BIBLE.  THEY HAVE NO ACCESS TO THE BIBLE IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE IN NUMEROUS COUNTRIES.  ALL OVER THE WORLD AND ARE NOT HOLY SPIRIT FILLED.  I BELIEVE YOU EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD. CALL REV GORDON WILLIAMS AND HE WILL PROVE TO YOU THAT GOD EXISTS.  [number redacted] OR [number redacted].   GO AND GET A COPY OF THE BIBLE AND READ IT SEVERAL TIMES.  AND YOU ARE NOT STUPID. BY THE WAY.  STOP TELLING YOURSELF THAT.  GOD GAVE YOU BRAINS FOR A REASON!!!!!!!  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.

Then 20 minutes later:

IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT I EXIST THEN WHY DO YOU BOTHER TO TALK TO ME AND OTHER PEOPLE . AM I A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION.  ARE OTHER PEOPLE?  I DON’T EXIST OR GOD DOESN’T EXIST. HE SURE DOES JUST LIKE YOU KNOE THAT I EXIST THAT’S WHY YOU ARE BOTHERING TO TALK TO ME.  MY DEAR MAN. YOU MADE MY DAY. I KNOW THAT YOU EXIST. YOU MADE ME LAUGH ALL DAY EVEN THOUGH YOU AR. AN ATHIEST. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE AMAZING.  ONE MINUTE YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE AMAZING AND THE NEXT MINUTE YOU CALL YOURSELF STUPID.  YOU KNOW THAT YOU EXIST.  YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE AMAZING AND THEN SOMETIMES YOU R STUPID.  IF YOU EXIST AND OTHER PEOPLE EXIST THEN WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS.  WHY. YOU TELL ME ONE GOOD REASON THAT TELLS ME THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST THAT MSKED SENSE TO ME..  IT IS TRUE THAT IN MANY PEOPLES MIND GOD DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF HIM.  IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS.  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET

Then 33 minutes after that:

Time: 4:58 PM

I BELIEVE IN GOD AND YOU ARE TALKING TO ME AND YOU BELIEVE IN ME. YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST THAT’S WHY YOU ARE TALKING TO ME AND I BELIEVE IN GOD.  SO THEREFORE YOU AN ATHIEST REALLY DOES BELIEVE IN GOD BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE IN ME AND YOU ARE.  TALKING TO ME BECAUSE I EXIST

And, finally, 22 minutes ago:

Time: 5:16 PM

I BELIEVE IN GOD. YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE TALKING TO ME BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST.  AND I BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS AND I AM CONNECTED TO HIM SO THEREFORE YOU AN ATHIEST BELIEVES THAT I EXIST BECAUSE YOU ARE TALKING TO ME A BELIEVER IN GOD AND YOU ARE AN UNBELIEVER IN GOD AND I KNOW THAT YOU ATHIESTS EXISTS THAT IS WHY I AM TALKING TO TO YOU.  TO PROVE TO YOU THAT HE DOES EXIST. BECAUSE IF HE DOESN’T EXIST THEN WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE?     YOU ARE RIGHT. IN YOUR MIND AND MANY OTHERS GOD DOES NOT EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU ATHIESTS ARE TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE.  WHY R U TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE. IF HE EXISTS AT ALL YOU SHOULDN’T BE TALKING ABOUT HIM.  YOU ARE RIGHT. YOU ARE AMAZINGLY STUPID BUT GOD STILL LOVES YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU ATHIESTS DON’T EXIST.  YOU ARE NON EXISTANT JUST LIJE GOD.  YOU HAVE NO SIGNIFICANCE AND YOU DON’T EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU KNIW THAT YOU DO EXIST.  DON’T YOU. YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.

About three emails back I had started in on a reply to answer a couple of her questions and make a point or two about the assumptions she was making about me (which is an odd thing for someone gifted with Divine Visions to do), but as I typed away these additional responses came in and I was no longer sure there was much point in bothering. It’s really hard to argue against the logic she’s using because there’s no logic to it. It’s just a bunch of wild claims and silly circular arguments.

Now for all I know this is just someone trying to pull a Poe in hopes I’ll write about it. If so, mission accomplished. It could also be someone who’s not entirely playing with a full deck through no fault of their own due to illness or injury in which case it would be bad form to make fun of them. Then there’s always the chance that this is someone who has so much faith that it’s made them just a little bit crazy. As too much faith is often wont to do.

Being as it’s difficult to distinguish which of the three this is, or if there’s much of a point in the messages to discuss, I’ll just leave it here without my usual snarky comments. If nothing else, it’s an interesting example of the sorts of emails I get from time to time.

andthentheresthisasshole

SEB Mailbag: The Grinch that stoled Christmas Edition.

Got the following email from “Kathy & Steve Ripka” yesterday — apparently written by the male half of that duo — and thought I’d share my response to it here. It opens with the following:

Subject: Just saw your website

Unfortunately, you are exactly what this movie portrays atheists to be.

A quick note before moving into the reply proper: I wasn’t sure which movie our learned writer was speaking of — though I had my suspicions — so I sent a reply asking for clarification. Apparently he had stumbled upon this entry I had written back in September of 2010 (way to be current, Steve) about the movie Christmas with a Capital C.

Unfortunately, you are exactly what this movie portrays atheists to be. You want any mention of Christmas removed from wherever you walk. Your kind is “The Grinch that stoled Christmas.”

Evidence of my hatred for Christmas.

Evidence of my hatred for Christmas.

OK Steve, right off the bat I have to wonder if you read the entire entry I wrote.  Nowhere in my writing did I call for all mentions of Christmas to be removed from wherever I walk. I generally don’t have a problem with Christmas and if you were to visit my home you would find it decorated with lots of Christmas lights and a proper Christmas tree.

Do I think nativity scenes belong on courthouse lawns or in front of city hall? No, I do not. It gives an improper impression of government favoritism, but so long as the government allows anyone who wants to put up a display alongside it to offset that impression then I have no problem with it. I also don’t have a problem if there’s a nativity scene on the front lawn of every private residence, church, and business if that’s what people want to do. Hell, I’ll go so far as to help you set up your nativity scene on the front lawn of your home/church/business if you need the assistance. I also don’t have a problem with people saying Merry Christmas to me — or for that matter Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, or Merry Festivus.

Your website says it all.

Yes, but apparently you can’t be bothered to read it.

I get so tired of watching the news just to see atheists ruining everyone else’s Christmas, traditions, etc.

Well, you could always stop watching the news. Better yet, you could work to ensure that the separation of church and state is respected by your local government and then there wouldn’t be any need for anyone — atheists or otherwise — to ruin Christmas. It’s not like there aren’t tons of other places you can stick one where everyone will see it, but if you’re going to insist on it being on public property then you have to be prepared to share the space with others who may not agree with your beliefs.

Hey, if you don’t believe in God, that’s fine, but why do you have to get into everyone’s face about it? I don’t believe in ghosts, but you wouldn’t see me up in anyone’s face that does.

When did I get up in anyone’s face about it? I wrote a blog entry. You came here and read it. I didn’t go to your house and force you to come to my blog and read my opinions. If you were to meet me in person and ask my beliefs I’d tell you I’m an atheist. If you didn’t ask any more questions that’d be all you’d get out of me on the topic.

As for getting into the face of ghost believers, as far as I know there aren’t any ghost believers who demand the government place displays representing sacredly held ghost beliefs on public property. Apples to oranges, Steve. When was the last time you saw Halloween display in front of City Hall that represented a sincerely held belief of ghost believers?

I don’t believe that life comes from non-living matter, but if you do, hey, more power to you. I promise I will never get on a rampage, and confront every atheist and take them to court on it.

That hasn’t stopped plenty of your fellow believers from doing just that, though. Admittedly, they confused the Theory of Evolution with the Theory of Abiogenesis, but the point still stands.

If you are not happy with your life, and belief system, why don’t you find something that will take away the anxiety from being an atheist that causes you to go on mindless crusades about how Christians are infringing on your rights,  you might just like the diversion. But don’t use your bitterness to ruin every one else’s Christmas season.

Who said I’m unhappy with my life and belief system? There are aspects of my life that I’m not thrilled about — I could use to earn a bit more money — but overall I’m fairly content. Being an atheist doesn’t cause me any anxiety and none of my “crusades” are mindless. If you took the time to read what I write you’ll find I’ve given them plenty of thought, but it’s apparent that you’re not willing to do much more than skim a single entry and then try to proclaim you know exactly the sort of asshole I happen to be.

As for being bitter, you can ask anyone who has met me how bitter I happen to be and how much I ruin Christmas for everyone. They’ll probably laugh at the suggestion. When little kids stop me because they think I’m Santa Claus, something that has happened more than once as I’ve gotten older and more rotund, I’ve never once taken the opportunity to smash their belief in the jolly old elf. Nor have I ever told them it wasn’t the birthday of Christ even though I know it wasn’t. They don’t care about that anyway. They’re excited cause they think they caught Santa going incognito.

I know, you have fun trying to shock others with your endless driveling about atheism, and four letter expletives, but maybe it is because you like drawing attention to yourself.

And now it’s clear you’ve not bothered to read more than the one entry. Endless driveling about atheism? How about my endless driveling about video games or movies or Doctor Who or politics or the dozens of other topics I’ve written about over the past 11 years. If you look at the tag cloud in the sidebar you’ll note that atheism isn’t the thing I’ve written the most about. Video games and computing both outweigh it among many others.

And of course I like drawing attention to myself. You have to be a bit of an attention whore to be a blogger in the first place. My swearing doesn’t have anything to do with that, though. It’s just my one vice. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs so eating too much and swearing is my thing. Even as such it’s not like my entries are just sentences with the word FUCK as every other word. That would make this blogging thing entirely too easy.

Why do you suppose that most atheists love all the four letter words that offend others?

For the same reason that most Christians love all the four letter words that offend others. For better or worse, that’s how people talk. It’s not limited to “most” atheists. I know plenty of atheists who rarely swear and I know many Christians who would make a sailor blush with the way they talk.

Maybe you didn’t stay in school long enough to get an education that would teach you how to communicate properly with others.

andthentheresthisassholeI graduated from high school and I’ve attended a number of years of college, though I admit that I have never bothered to finish college. Is high school not enough education to communicate clearly? I suppose it depends on who you ask, but most folks don’t seem to have any trouble understanding me.

Perhaps you’d understand me better too if you took the time to actually read what I write and spent a little time browsing the archives. It’s clear you don’t have a clue about me based on what little research you’ve done so far, but that doesn’t appear to stop you from expressing your preconceived biases about me based on one aspect of who I am. You know one little fact — that I’m an atheist — and you used it to draw all manner of false conclusions.

I wonder what Jesus would think of that approach?

Merry Christmas,
Steve

And a Happy Holidays to you, Steve.

All my love, Les.

alien_jesus

Are you smarter than an Atheist?

That’s the question posed by the folks at The Christian Science Monitor and they give you a chance to find out with a short online religious quiz:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups in a 32-question survey of religious knowledge by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. On average, Americans got 16 of the 32 questions correct. Atheists and agnostics got an average of 20.9 correct answers. Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). Protestants got 16 correct answers on average, while Catholics got 14.7 questions right.

I got 28 out of 32 questions right giving me a solid B+ (88%) on the quiz. At least one of the wrong answers I got was due to my rushing and clicking the wrong button so it’s arguable that I should really have gotten an A on it, but I’ll accept responsibility for my haste.

That said, it’s a surprisingly easy test and I have to wonder why any reasonably well read atheist would get only 20 to 21 questions correct. It’s very surprising to me that Protestants and Catholics did so amazingly poorly, but I guess once you have the “right” religion there’s no need to pay much attention to anyone else’s, eh?

You can see how well you’d do on it by clicking here.

i-will-not-keep-calm

Turns out I’m not really missing anything…

I wrote this over the course of several days so if it seems a little disjointed or wandering in what it has to say, well, at least you know why.

Back when the Atheism+ “movement” was announced and the resulting uproar on all sides flared up, I decided after a period of much frustration that I was done paying attention to the atheist community on the Internet. I deleted every blog in my blogroll that was more or less solely devoted to the topic and dropped quite a few folks from Twitter as well. I’ve never been overly active in the community beyond this blog anyway and if I didn’t like where it was going there was no point in paying attention to it. As it turns out, this was the right thing to do. I’m happier and less frustrated than I was when I was paying attention.

That said, there’s still a few folks on my blogroll and on Twitter that I follow simply because, like me, they’re not atheist-only bloggers though it’s a subject they, like me, touch upon from time to time. As a result, I still get the occasional peek at what is going on in the atheist community and occasionally I’ll follow a link out of morbid curiosity. My most recent peek reaffirmed my decision to devote as little attention to the atheist community as I can.

Ever since the whole ElevatorGate kerfuffle and the resulting year-long shitstorm there’s been a growing split in the community that eventually led to the “Atheism+” nonsense. In the time that I stopped paying it much attention things have only gotten worse. Atheists whom I respect have ended up on both sides of the divide and it seems that there are now two competing blogging collectives — Freethought Blogs and Skeptic Ink — that are headed by some of the more popular atheist bloggers that spend a good chunk of time taking potshots at each other.

Things have gotten so stupid in the atheist community these days that organizations such as the Center For Inquiry have been inundated with objections over whom they invite to speak at functions they host. Demands that they are, fortunately, refusing to comply with:

I am motivated to write about this topic for a couple of reasons. First, Russell Blackford has recently announced via Twitter that he will not attend any conference at which Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers is speaking.  Second, in the last few months, a number of individuals have advised me that CFI and its affiliates should never invite certain persons as speakers.  This advice has often been accompanied with a statement such as “If X speaks, I will not attend the conference.”  There was a flurry of such advice around CSICon, the Nashville conference of our affiliate CSI, presumably because our speaker list reminded people of objections they had to this or that individual.  Some of the advice was prompted by an essay by Watson that appeared in Slate around the same time as the conference, which, among other things, contained a mischaracterization of one of my blog posts.  This was offered as convincing proof that Watson was beyond the pale and should be considered persona non grata by CFI.

In any event, the list of individuals that CFI has been advised not to have any dealings with is long.  In no particular order it includes: Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Ophelia Benson, Harriet Hall, Russell Blackford, Edwina Rogers, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, and Sharon Hill.  I am sure I am forgetting several more.

So this is what the atheist community has come to. People threatening not to attend or participate at an atheism/skepticism event if certain other people are invited to speak. Oh noes! I cannot be associated with such common rabble as that person! It’ll give me the vapors!

The ultimate example of this in action is, of course, Atheism+. When Jen McCreight first proposed this new branch of atheism she set off a shitstorm of entirely new levels of epicness. The idea was supposed to be that atheism+ would be a way for progressive atheists to show the world that they were about more than just not believing in God(s).

Jen explains In her own words:

It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world.  Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god.

It sounds innocuous enough and I have no issues with social justice or the other stated ideals above, but it’s clear right from that very first post that it was going to be divisive because of statements like this:

I want to improve the atheist movement, not create a splinter faction or something. But it’s fabulous marketing-wise and as a way to identify yourself as a progressive atheist, or whatever term you want to use. I know I’d love for people to start wearing A+ pins and Surlyramics so I know who I want to chat with.

She never intended to create a splinter faction, but that’s exactly what she ended up doing. Later she refers to Atheism+ as a “new wave of atheism” which pretty much ruffled the feathers of anyone who didn’t see anything wrong with the old wave. It didn’t take long before an “us versus them” attitude started to develop on both sides with several atheism+ supporters all but declaring that anyone who didn’t declare themselves part of the in-group would be assumed to be assholes/scumbags/douchenozzles not worthy of their company.

So far the total sum of their activism seems to have been limited to little more than setting up an official website with a forum, a Wiki page, and a sub-Reddit where they can control who is allowed to participate. Which I have no real problem with. It seems to me to be preaching to the choir, but I won’t begrudge them their right to do so. If they’ve done anything more substantial than the above it isn’t apparent in a casual skim of their sites. Which is, again, fine with me. I’d rather they had their spaces to chat amongst themselves if it keeps them busy and off the streets.

Part of the problem with atheism+ is that it’s an attempt to impose feminism, an idea that not everyone agrees with, onto atheism. Some of the folks opposed to this are literally bigoted misogynists, but many others are of the opinion that feminism already has its own movement and doesn’t need to take over the atheism movement as well. There’s nothing wrong with being an activist for both movements, but to suggest that the atheism movement needs to be “improved” by feminism rankles a lot of people. It doesn’t help that there are more than a few bigoted and misogynistic atheists out there who reacted poorly to the attempt. Add in the ever present Internet Trolls — people who will say anything to piss others off regardless of what they really think of an idea — to the mix and things go from bad to worse. Because of the constant harassment by trolls and legitimate assholes there’s been a tendency on the part of the Atheism+ folks to brush off any legitimate questions about their movement and how it’s being run as evidence that the questioner is a misogynist asshole and thus deserving of nothing but mockery and being shunned.

As a result of all this there has been a number of notable recent events such as the Matt Dillahunty fiasco. For those of you who don’t know him, here’s a snippet from his bio on RationalWiki:

Matt Dillahunty (born March 31, 1969) is the current president of the Atheist Community of Austin (Texas), and is also the current host of the public access show “The Atheist Experience” as well as the weekly web radio show “The Non Prophets.” He is also a founder of the comprehensive counter-apologetics Wiki “Iron Chariots”.

Personally, I’ve never seen anything he’s done, but he appears to be a fairly popular atheist activist with an enthusiastic YouTube following. I don’t know if he’s as popular as PZ Myers, but he’s generally pretty well regarded in the atheist community. More importantly he has been a pretty ardent defender of Atheism+ even though he, himself, wasn’t paying it much attention.

Rather than type out the whole debacle here, I’ll post this snippet from The Misfit Atheist that summarizes it pretty well:

The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren’t as batshit crazy as all of the critics claim they are to new users. He created two accounts on the Atheism+ forum: One was “Matt Dillahunty”, and the other was a “sockpuppet” account called “Curious”. [Editor's Note: Matt said that the account under his name was actually created back when the site was first setup, but had never been used. - Les]

What set the whole thing off was this thread (do read the whole thread, it’s awesome). Curious/Matt’s post got deleted and was instructed in the notification email to take his case to the moderators. The post that got deleted questioned the merits of a ban (in particular, the ban of “skep tickle” over questioning the now-successful bullying of Justin Vacula). Matt then proceeded to start a thread asking to have his deleted post reposted in that thread or put in an appopriate forum. From there, they ravaged “Curious” like a pack of wolves over fresh meat. That is, until Matt signed a post with his real name. The moderator mocked Curious, going so far as to say (paraphrasing): “Hahaha! I know Matt Dillahunty. He’s a good man. You, however, are not”.

Then Matt directed the Atheism+ admins and mods to his Twitter feed, where they found this bombshell: “Hello to the admins at Atheism+ forum. Curious is me”. And then the mods’ attitudes flipped from “Fuck off, troll!” to “We’re sorry, we didn’t know it was you, Mr. Dillahunty. Had we known, you would have been treated better”.

Eventually they ended up banning Matt under the “no sock-puppet rule” they had put into place even though what Matt had done wasn’t sock-puppetry by the traditional definition. There were several moderators who refused to even consider the point of Matt’s experiment because they were so fixated on his supposed sock-puppeting. In the process they lost one more supporter because it turned out the critics were right. The folks that moderate the Atheism+ forums tend to assume you’re the enemy until you’ve proven that you’re not. Perhaps that’s only to be expected given how much of a backlash the new movement has brought upon itself, but it doesn’t really support their claims of being inclusive.

Not that my aversion to the community is all due to my issues with the Atheism+ crowd, because it’s not. There are plenty on the non-plus side that have been stunningly obnoxious in their reaction to these events. Just reading the comments in the CFI blog entry I linked to earlier will provide you with enough bullshit from both sides.

My feelings are probably best summed up by a commenter who posted in that thread under the name “Tired” who said the following:

Oh,  for F@$K’s sake!

I am a reader of various “skeptical blogs” and I am part of the large group of lurkers that rarely post comments, but probably represent the bulk of the traffic to these blogs.

I read a wide variety of blogs, and I read them for the Skeptical content.

I also don’t attend conferences or other “skeptical” functions.

I suspect there will be a significant portion of the audience who will agree with me when I say…… “I’ve had enough”

Enough of the in-fighting, the name-calling, the holier than though attitudes.

This is NOT why I read the blogs.

Lately it seems the general nastiness towards others in the movement has become the dominant theme of many of the blogs I read (perhaps it hasn’t really, but it does certainly seem that way).

Personally I don’t really care about the little cliques in the movement, the “personalities”, or the petty squabbles. It all comes across as so much schoolyard bullshit.

If you want to persist with your in-fighting, how about you treat your “skeptical* audience with a little more respect and keep it to your personal emails and private mailing lists.

I, for one, am tired of it.

I got tired of it a long time ago hence my decision to start ignoring the atheist community as it stands today. There’s a number of atheist/skeptic bloggers who have let their popularity inflate their egos a wee bit much. Some are claiming an authority they really don’t possess simply because they have a high web traffic volume. I’m not impressed with your hit counter stats. All this drama may be great for driving up your numbers and stroking your egos, but it just alienates me and others like me.

Maybe there’s not enough of us to give a shit about. That’d be a real shame if it ends up being true.

Pat Robertson thinks atheists are miserable and want you to be miserable.

He said so himself:

You’re wrong, Pat. Most of us aren’t any more miserable than anyone else in the world. Nor do most of us want to “steal your holiday away” from you. Hell, many of us celebrate it — the secular aspects at least — right alongside you.

It’s not clear what brought your little bit of bigotry out on this occasion, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s probably the news item about the city of Santa Monica deciding to end its traditional holiday displays because some Christians are all butthurt about atheists getting in on the action the past couple of years:

Atheists’ move halts Christmas tradition in California, churches go to court to get it back

Santa Monica officials snuffed the city’s holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious rumble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus’ birth, while the city aims to eject the case.

“It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Oh noes! The city won’t let us put our displays on public land anymore so we’re gonna sue!

So what did the atheists do that prompted the city to shut it down? They had the gall to participate! Can you imagine that??

In 2011, Vix recruited 10 others to inundate the city with applications for tongue-in-cheek displays such as an homage to the “Pastafarian religion,” which would include an artistic representation of the great Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The secular coalition won 18 of 21 spaces. The two others went to the traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display.

The atheists used half their spaces, displaying signs such as one that showed pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus and the devil and said: “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?”

Most of the signs were vandalized and in the ensuing uproar, the city effectively ended a tradition that began in 1953 and earned Santa Monica one of its nicknames, the City of the Christmas Story.

Here’s the thing that a lot of folks don’t realize when it comes to religious displays on public property: It’s an all or nothing proposition. The government is not allowed to give even the appearance of promoting one religion (or the lack thereof) over another. Santa Monica came up with their lottery system to ensure that all voices had a chance to participate. The atheists played by those rules and won the majority of the spots. Then the Christians got all upset and decide to vandalize the displays so the city decided it was way more trouble than it was worth and shut it down this year.

Rather than do something reasonable like put their religious displays on private property — there’s gotta be plenty of churches in that city that could provide them with the space — the Christians have decided that they’re going to sue the city to force them to change their decision:

“If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they’re free to do that — but they can’t interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum,” said William Becker, attorney for the committee. “Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive.”

Yes, because if these displays aren’t put on public land then CHRISTMAS WILL DIE!

The thing is, the atheists aren’t interfering with their right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum. The city points out that people can still carol in the park, hand out leaflets, and even stage a play if they want. The atheists were perfectly willing to play by the rules for the displays. It was the city that decided to shut things down because the Christians couldn’t cope with having to share the space. And all of that has made Pat Robertson sad. Those damned, dirty atheists. Always trying to steal Christmas by participating where they’re not wanted.

It’s all or nothing, folks. Either everyone gets a chance to participate or no one does. The government isn’t allowed to play favorites.

Update: It looks like a judge has turned down the Christian group’s request for an immediate injunction forcing the park to allow displays: Judge denies bid for park Nativity displays. Naturally, they plan to appeal.