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A Non-Trivial Problem

June 12, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons

I’ve been trapped in an endless and ultimately pointless debate on this blog for over a week now.  It all began when a pseudo-theistic pseudo-apologist commented on one of my “Live Blogging the Bible” posts with something that amounted to

“Tee-hee, yeah, this is a pretty silly part of the bible.  I agree.  But still, man is that book incredible and divine.”

Of course, I haven’t read the whole book and have barely crested the “preface” stage, but I still have to take issue with this assertion.  The book cannot be more than the sum of its parts.  If there are any genuinely meritorious parts of the book, one would still have to weigh them against the unscrupulous horrors in other parts of the book.  And honestly, the rest of the book would have to pretty damn good to make up for the misguided anti-morality of the first three books.

The crux of the apologists argument was that my cursory reading of the bible was worthless as I wasn’t taking the time to understand it in context.  I was also focused only on the bible and not the rich theology that has evolved through the ages.  Christianity, he argued, is not the bible.  The bible is just a starting point and the theology of the faith had advanced so much since the days of Moses’ foreskin aided wrestling match.

I pointed out that it’s not really possible to say that theology “advanced”, as one can no more say that theology of today is in accordance with the divine than the theology of yesteryear.  It’s like talking about a breakthrough in homeopathy or phrenology.  If the endeavor has no measurable value, it can’t be said to advance.  Advance suggests a destination.

Instead of answering that charge, my esteemed opponent instead accused me of “religious intolerance” as though I did not boast of it.  He suggested that I’d simply divided the world into the good people who are against religion and the bad people who are in favor of it.  It was a thinly veiled charge of anti-theistic bigotry that rested on my continued insistence that without a goal one can draw no nearer to the goal.  How dare I be so intolerant of people making bold and demonstrably false truth claims while insisting that they’re point of view should be respected and accepted without the burden of evidence?

This is a common tack from the “liberal” theist (and by liberal I refer here to their theology, not their politics).  Atheists are bullies that are every bit as dogmatic as the believers.  We’re intolerant of religious people (which is true) which means we’re just like the Muslims who are intolerant of the Jews (which is bullshit).  They, on the other hand, are agnostics with a property-less god and the only honest position: self-imposed ignorance.  We should just live and let live and who cares if fundamentalists stand in the way of science or oppress gays or mistreat women?  That’s not religion’s fault.

It is an intellectually dishonest position and what’s more, anyone smart enough to take this position is also smart enough to see why it’s bullshit.  Religious extremism is (as the name would suggest) simply a point on the spectrum of religiosity.  Some people have benign tumors but that doesn’t mean tumors aren’t a problem.  Fundamentalism is a problem that (a) all religions share and (b) cannot be found outside of a religious context.  This would suggest that fundamentalism is a necessary byproduct of religion.  And it really doesn’t matter what a bunch of Muslim scholars say about peace and love if the true believers are hacking people to death in the streets.

This is not a “live and let live” situation.  This is a situation that demands intolerance.  Religion is a non-trivial problem.

No rational person would wish for the destruction of the world.  Such a proposition is as irrational as any you might propose.  What’s more, no person irrational enough to wish for the destruction of the world could possibly acquire the means and assistance he or she  would need to make it happen.  While technology does give us the means to global catastrophe, it is hard to imagine that anyone with the stated goal of world destruction could find anyone willing to lend a hand.  Sure, a clever statesmen could use nationalism and deceit to trick enough people into helping him, but the very nature of logic forbids any large scale attempt to bring about the end of one’s own species.

But, of course, if logic can be removed, there is no such safeguard.  If one can be convinced without evidence that a whole different universe exists after you die that is way better and way more important than this petty world, you could overcome your natural survival instinct and happily march the planet toward the apocalypse that your god has promised you.

No doubt the liberal defender of theism would roll their eyes at this nightmare scenario.  They would pretend it is ridiculous.  They would pretend that there aren’t large, organized, multi-national groups with exactly this goal.  They would pretend that somehow reason can prevail amid a group that has outlawed reason.

And of course they would.  They have to.  They can’t accept that the same thing that gives them their own personal love-Jesus might also have a dark side.  And they certainly can’t accept that the dark side eclipses the bright side.

Religious extremism is just religion without constraint.  No religion has ever voluntarily tempered itself.  No religion has ever neutered its own power.  It is the job of the secularist, the job of the scientist and the job of the atheist to castrate religion every time it thrusts its scrotum into the rest of the world.  As fond as religion is of mutilating it’s own genitals, they still leave that job to us.

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Episode 16 – Partial Transcript

by Noah Lugeons, Heath Enwright and Lucinda Lugeons

(Note: Transcript may contain material edited from the final episode for time purposes)

Sponsor:

Today’s episode of the Scathing Atheist is brought to you by the new brand of perforated Catholic Condoms, Kingdom Cum.  These confusingly labeled condoms are no more contraceptive than cheesecloth, but we’re willing to wager we’ll catch a few drunken fornicators with this ruse.

What, you think that’s immoral?  You should see what Catholics do when they take over a hospital.

And now, the Scathing Atheist:

Intro:

It’s Thursday, it’s June 6th and I know Jake Farr-Wharton has already opened up the show once, but the dude sent the quote to me in six different voices and I’m not letting good shit go to waste.

I’m your host Noah Lugeons and from abbreviated NY, NY, this is the Scathing Atheist.

On this week’s show,

  • We’ll add contractual obligation to the list of reasons not to get addicted to meth,

  • I’ll try desperately to come up with another nickname for Pope Francis,

  • And Heath and Lucinda will join me in discovering that Leviticus is every bit as fucked up as you think it is.

But first, the Diatribe.

Diatribe:

I’m sick and goddamned tired of hearing about where people fall on the “Dawkins Scale”.

Before I go any further, I should note that I’m a big fan of Dawkins and I admire his non-sexist parts…  he’s like the Benny Hill of atheism in that way.  And what’s more, I completely understand the rhetorical utility of his sliding scale of theistic probability.  In the hands of a skilled debater like Dawkins, it’s a valuable asset.  But in the hands of a lay-atheist, it’s often a hell of a lot less than that.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the “Dawkins Scale” refers to a seven point scale Dawkins proposed in The God Delusion.  A one on this scale represents absolute certainty that god exists, a seven is absolute certainty that god doesn’t exist.  The point he’s making is that atheists generally fall on the “6”, not the “7”.  It’s a useful explanation of the fact that atheism is the product of doubt, not certainty.

But certainty appeals to a lot of people, so when Dawkins talks about this publicly there’s often a backlash.  People in the media stammer about how Dawkins is uncertain and concedes that there might be a god afterall.  They don’t seem to understand that he’s not actually conceding that in any way.  They just see two guys in a debate where one is saying he’s absolutely sure and the other’s saying he holds a tentative position that’s in accordance with the observable evidence.  Somehow they don’t see this as an idiot vs. a responsible thinker, but rather they see it as confident guy vs. indecisive guy.

In the context of the book and in the context of some debates, employing this scale makes perfect sense.  But before we lean too heavily on it, we should probably point out that this scale can also be applied to any other belief.  Does gravity exist?  Well, I’m pretty damn sure it does, but as a responsible thinker, I’ve got to go with a 6 on the scale, because if convincing evidence arose to the contrary, I would change my mind.  I am not an immutable “7”.  We could be part of a computer simulation titled “what if there was gravity?”, so as a proper logician I have to carve out a little, tiny, itsy-bitsy “margin of error” on the gravity thing.

Same thing for evolution, right?  I mean, just because all the available data suggests and confirms it, that doesn’t mean that I’m absolutely certain beyond the shadow of a doubt, irrespective of future data.  I’d have to hold the responsible position of “6” on the scale.  But why hamstring oneself in debate by pointing this out only with respect to the thing you’re arguing about?

I feel the same way every time I hear Dillahunty, or anyone else for that matter, talk about Agnostic Atheism vs. Gnostic Atheism.  Before we start making this distinction, somebody show me one of these gnostic atheists.  Show me somebody who says that no matter what level of convincing evidence could be offered to the contrary, they would never believe in god.  Show me somebody who says he would still be an atheist if god appeared in the sky before the whole world at once and said, “I am god, sorry about all the mysteriousness and shit and to prove my godness you’ll note that all the people who had cancer are now cured.”  Show me that guy and then let’s start carving atheism up into gnostic and agnostic.

This isn’t just a semantic thing.  And it’s not just a “trip-you-up-in-an-argument” thing either.  The use of these devices is actually fucking this movement up internally.  I can’t tell you often I see atheists offering up false-equivalency compromises with this nonsense.  Search “Dawkins Scale” on Twitter and it won’t take long to find an atheist saying something like, “I’ll admit that being a 7 on the Dawkins scale is as ridiculous as being a 1”

What?  No the  fuck it isn’t!  That’s a complete misreading of the point of the rhetorical device.  Keep in mind that on this scale, 7 actually represents the thing that is right.  1 represents the thing that is wrong.  The point of the Dawkins Scale is to point out the flaw in “Absolute Certainty”.  But if you’re going to be absolutely certain of something, it’s still way better to be certain about the thing that conforms to all the known evidence.

Substitute anything else for the god assumption and it becomes painfully obvious.  Somebody who is absolutely certain that the earth is round should, for the proper employment of scientific thinking, concede that overwhelming evidence could sway him… from a pedantic, vulcan, it’s-an-oblate-spheroid-bitch point of view.  But that doesn’t mean that he’s exactly as wrong as somebody who is absolutely convinced that the earth is flat.

There’s a cat on my lap right now.  If I was pressed, I’d admit that it could be a hallucination, it could be a robot, it could be a phantasm from another dimension taking the form of my cat.  But if I say, “No, damn it, this is definitely my cat”, it may be technically wrong, but it’s certainly not as wrong as “No, damn it, this is definitely a phantasm from another dimension.”

The problem is with 7 point scales and binary choices like gnostic and agnostic is that there’s no way to truly express the 6.999999-ness of one’s atheism.  If god appeared before me right now and we had a twenty minute conversation, I’d assume I’d lost my fucking mind before I’d assume that it actually happened.  It would take a hell of alot more than than personal experience to overturn my conviction.  I’d need tangible evidence that could be verified by multiple sources and, in addition, I’d need volumes of refutations for the hundreds of logical contradictions his existence entails.  I’d need a world-overturning amount of evidence.  I’d need an amount of evidence that one can reasonably assume will never exist.

So as to where I fall on the Dawkins Scale, it ultimately comes down to the question of how many 9s you can put after the decimal place before you run out of 9s.

Headlines:

Joining me for headlines tonight is my fellow skeptic, Heath Enwright.  Heath, are you ready to sharpen Occam’s Razor?

Is another old book club making outrageous claims?

I’m starting to think god is worse than Oprah.

In our lead story tonight, Oxford University researcher and author Kathleen Taylor made waves this week when she suggested that religious fundamentalism may one day be a curable mental illness.  Now, when you and I hear this statement, the only new information is the word “Curable”, but when the religious folks hear it they’re once again forced to confront the fact that believing in magic people in the clouds is, technically, fucking nuts.

I hope the cure for religion comes out in some sort of weaponized form.  I’m picturing a reality dart, and you can heal the radically ignorant right in the side of the neck with a blowgun.

This is only the latest in a long line of academics accidentally forgetting that we’re supposed to publicly ignore the fact that extreme religiosity and mental illness spend a lot of venn diagrams spooning.

Definitely got a shared region in the extra-wide vagina shape.  That’s more like scissoring than spooning, I guess.

The media reports it like it’s a scandal and then they dig up a bunch of peacemaker psychologists who dutifully point out that technically it’s not a mental illness until it interferes with your day to day life and at the same time they’ll dutifully not point out that by the same argument believing that you’re Napoleon and your left testicle reminds you to water the house-plants is also not de-facto crazy.

And the Napoleon left testicle belief system is VASTLY more likely to be true than those of any major religion.

Worst thing that happens if insane people become radically orthodox about science is they make an atheist podcast.  Nobody’s ever protested a theist funeral, or bombed a fetus rescue clinic, in the name of Darwin or Dawkins.

But don’t worry, it’s not like we’re going to now have a rational conversation about this topic, as the major media outlets have reported that, in fact, the pachyderm droppings on the loveseat were likely man-made and placed there intentionally.

Pay no attention to the Republican mascot behind the curtain, taking a shit on society’s couch.

Could religious fundamentalism be treated as a mental illness? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/kathleen-taylor-religious-fundamentalism-mental-illness_n_3365896.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

And speaking of fundamentalism and mental illness, our next story brings us to Kentucky and Ken Ham’s ailing “Ark Park” where Ham is inadvertently demonstrating the absurdity of the Noah story by showing how hard it is to get an ark of that size built when you’ve got modern shipping channels and $25 million dollars at your disposal.

Well Noah had the old-man strength going.  You know how the best softball players are 45-year-olds?  Noah did all the ark stuff between the ages of 480 and 600, so unfair advantage.

Plus, Ken Ham probably has far fewer Jewish slaves at his disposal for the project.

In addition to not having enough money to build the ark that will fail to serve as the centerpiece for this not-likely-to-exist theme park, Ham’s team is also not building other Old Testament attractions, including not breaking ground on a Tower of Babel observations deck and not moving ahead on a planned “Ten Plagues” themed ride.

I think they need to reread Genesis 11.  They’re constructing a replica of the tower whose construction got god to smite everyone.  That’s like re-airing the seizure-inducing anime clip.  

Many atheists will remember hearing a lot about this park a couple of years ago when the state of Kentucky agreed to award it huge tax incentives to build it’s testament to credulous stupidity.  It would seem now that the “Ark Encounter” has found a clever way to circumvent that controversy by failing to raise the requisite funds for construction until the proposed tax incentives expire in May of next year.

So Kentucky said, “Yeah, you guys can have these huge tax breaks, as long as you can build an impossible boat and an entire infinite tower to heaven before next May.”

Ark Park having trouble: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/noahs-ark-theme-park_n_3367579.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

And in “Are-They-Still-On-About-That-Shit?” News, a number of prominent Baptist leaders have called for a mass withdrawal of support for the Boy Scouts of America after they slight  and decades overdue backpedaling of institutionalized of bigotry.  Arguing that we can’t allow gay people to learn how to tie such good knots, homophobic pastors across the nation are urging their flocks to cut their ties with the Boy Scouts.

“I know this seems like it’s about the gay thing, in the standard cause and effect sense.  But we’re just uncomfortable – in general – of a dozen 10-year-old boys and a weird adult in a tent, wearing matching short shorts and ascots.  Whether or not there are any actual homosexuals present, it’s just too faggoty.”

Pastor Tim Reed of Arkansas forestalled that argument when he told a CNN reporter that (quote) “It’s not a hate thing here”, adding a bunch of other thinly veiled lies and bullshit that he has to tell himself to continue to believe that he’s not a bigoted anal-wart that cherry picked through one of the most egregiously horrific parts of the entire bible, bypassed laws against tattoos, fabric mixing and crustacean eating and selectively chose to enforce the one line he found that reinforced his hateful bigotry.

“It’s not that they’re gay, it’s that they’re evil BECAUSE they’re gay.  It’s all in the book, you can check.  Our hands are tied.”

“We’d also be this pissed if they endorsed uncovering your wife’s daughter’s nakedness!”

Sorry Pastor, but it’s still racist when you say hockey players are better than basketball players at water polo.

Baptists plan exodus from Boy Scouts: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/31/southern-baptists-to-urge-churches-and-members-to-cut-boy-scout-ties/

And in quasi-constitutional legislative acrobatics this week, we’ve got the state of Ohio hoping to pass a bill that would award high school credits to kids for going to church and learning about how evil gay people are and stuff.

I’d be willing to give PE credit to altar boys, especially if, you know . . . they swallowed.

Proponents of the bill argue that (quote) “It’s an attempt to reinstall some of the same things that made this country great”, which, in the mind of Democratic representative Bill Patmon, include religious indoctrination and rewarding people for knowing things that are wrong.  Patmon went on to complain that we’ve taken prayer out of the schools, we’ve separated religious demonstration from learning areas, we’ve taken religious displays out of schools, I mean, it’s getting to where there’s hardly any way at all to exploit the public schools to evangelize.

“Some of these kids are going 7 . . . 8 hours in a row at school, in the middle of December, without seeing a single piece of visual Jesus propaganda.  Do the math.  You just can’t brain rape kids under these conditions.  I thought this was America.”

Opponents of the law point out that giving educational credit for things that aren’t actually “education” kind of defeats the purpose and then they just kind of stare at the proponents and wonder why this isn’t enough to persuade them.

I got my health credits in high school by interning with a psychic chiropractor who cured headaches with leeches.  And now look at me.  I run a lucrative wishing well business.

Shifty payouts for religion by state of Ohio: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20130601/NEWS/306010059/Ohio-may-OK-public-school-religion-credits?gcheck=1

And from the “Who-Will-They-Molest-Now?” file, Las Vegas’ oldest Catholic School will be shutting its doors permanently at the end of the academic year.  The St. Joseph Catholic School has been instrumental in Vegas’ international reputation as a paragon of chastity and virtue since 1948, but a steep drop off in people gullible enough to entrust their children to Catholics has led to the school’s inevitable demise.

I think it’s telling, that the oldest Catholic school in Las Vegas, is named after Jesus’ stepdad, the patron saint of some other dude fucking your wife…the patron saint of “cuckolded by god’s dick”

Over the past decade about a quarter of all Catholic schools have been shuttered nationwide leading many to believe that god has abandoned us and no longer cares about the travails of mankind, instead focusing his divine attention on beating Contra without using the cheat code.

It’s all about the spreader gun.  Maybe the laser near the end.  The flamethrower didn’t get the good blast radius effect until Contra 2.    

Beating Contra without the cheat code is like god… I’ll believe it when I see it.

Oldest Vegas Catholic school to close permanently: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/may/30/citys-oldest-catholic-school-falls-victim-low-enro/#axzz2UqCW1wru

And in this week’s forecast on international demon activity we find that despite papal intervention, the guy who thought that he was filled with devil spawn is still fucking crazy.  Despite the Pope Frankenberry’s exorcism that wasn’t, a wheelchair bound man identified in the press as Angel V. insists that he is still possessed by demons.

Looks like he has a malpractice case, at the very least.  They seem to have botched a fairly routine procedure.  But I’ve seen a lot of spinals, dude, and it sounds like this Angel guy is a fake.      

The fucking goldbricker claims to have undergone more than 30 exorcisms and somehow no matter how much holy water they throw at him while intoning latin platitudes, his clearly malfunctioning brain refuses to be miraculously cured.

What’s the problem, he’s hearing demonic voices, telling him to kill babies and eat them?  Everyone get those sometimes, right?  We don’t all have to act on them every time.

Instead of responsibly suggesting he seek psychiatric help, prominent Catholics affirm his harmful delusions by saying things like (quote) “the demons that live in him do not want to leave,” and (quote) “God exists”.

Man exorcised by Pope still possessed by demons: http://www.newsmax.com/edwardpentin/pope-excorcism-possessed-angel/2013/05/29/id/506975

And finally tonight, a story that comes to us from Friendly Atheist, prolific author and inaugural Farnsworth quoter Hemant Mehta and his Friendly Atheist blog.  It would seem that a couple of parents in Utah have finally found the secret to instilling the importance of good moral judgement on their children: Cold hard cash.

Mother Katie Hughes had her daughters sign a contract that promises a reward of $1000 at the age of 20 if the now pre-pubescent girls can refrain from the use of drugs, alcohol and premarital sex between now and then.

“We’re willing to pay as much as 34 cents a day for you to have a shitty, sheltered childhood.”

Seems like a non-binding legal contract might not be the best way to tackle the subject.  Are kids gonna need to start bringing legal counsel to have “the talk” ?

So yeah, setting aside the obvious fact that in another eight years these girls could earn that much in a night by breaking the pledge, one also has to doubt that the paltry sum of a thousand 2026 dollars will remain a sufficient carrot to forestall teen angst.

So, nine days of future minimum wage later . . . or drunken orgasms and cocaine now…

Mother offers daughter $1000 to stay a virgin: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/06/05/christian-mother-to-daughter-if-you-remain-abstinent-until-youre-20-ill-give-you-1000/

And since there’s nothing better to close on than drunken orgasms and cocaine, that’ll do it for headlines tonight, Heath, thanks as always for joining me.

And when we come back, Lucinda will join us to bust open our bibles and dig into the dirty parts.

Song:

After writing poems for Genesis and Exodus, I felt obligated to the Herculean task of capturing the mind-raping insanity of Leviticus in two rhyming minutes.  To complicate matters, I used a weird rhyme scheme and upon recitation it had this really awful “middle aged white guy rapping” feel to it.

In an effort to counterbalance that I put a little music behind it, but I want to apologize to any musicians who might be listening.  I was really under the gun on this thing so it’s basically A minor and E the whole way.

So without further ado, I present the book of Leviticus in rhyme:

Leviticus in Rhyme:

Let me tell you how to sacrifice a goat, bitch; First you cut it’s throat which,

seems a little mean and maybe more than a little gross, it’s

Nothing when compared to; What the Levites bear through,

Details of the entrails should be plenty enough to scare you.

The fat goes on a pyre; Set that shit on fire,

The smell’s a rancid hell but it’s the odor god desires.

How to kill a bird now; Case you hadn’t heard how,

Twist it’s little heard until it’s dead and when it’s burned, bow.

This is for atonement; Offer no postponement,

Couple jugs of blood is a critical component.

Now a proclamation; Regarding ordination,

light the candles right or you might risk assassination …From the Lord.

 

Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie,

Thou shalt not do it guy on guy,

Thus unto Moses spoke the Lord.

 

Let me tell you what to eat bitch; Tell you who to sleep with

Tell you how to burn the heretics about that bewitch.

Tell you ‘bout your penis; And all it’s uncleanness,

For someone all-knowing I’m not much of a hygienist.

Oh, and if it pleases; Quickly on diseases,

Sacrifice a turtle dove if anybody sneezes.

Menstrual blood and semen; Need a lot of cleanin’

Best I never catch you whorin’ with all those goat demons,

Tell you ‘how to shave, man; Who you can enslave, man,

Tell you how to stone the motherfucks who misbhave and,

If you disobey me; I will not just slay thee,

Many generations I’ll be all up in your game, see …I’m the Lord.

 

Thou shalt be pure, thou shalt be true,

Thou shalt not get a damned tattoo,

Thus unto Moses spoke the Lord.

 

Thou shalt speak up, Thou shalt not cheat,

Thou shalt not dine on rancid meat

Or stick your dick in things that bleat.

Thou shalt not mix thy rye and wheat.

Thou shalt be just, thou shalt be kind,

Thou shalt not trick the deaf and blind,

Or touch cadavers left behind.

Or let two fabrics be combined.

Thou shalt fear god, thou shalt be straight,

Thou shalt not look to kin with hate,

Thou shalt not ever masturbate,

Thou shant put weasel on your plate.

Thou shalt not rob, thou shalt be bold

Thou shalt rise up before the old,

Don’t get your daughter’s pussy sold,

Thou shalt give all my priests your gold,

…Thou shalt be easily controlled.

Thus spoke the Lord.

Outro:

That brings us to a quick recognition of this week’s most astonishing vertebrates, Steven, Lindsay, Ward and other Lindsay.  These four vampire hunting, ninja decimating, time bomb deactivating, bus jumping heroes have distinguished themselves above all other carbon based lifeforms this week by giving us money.  Drawing on stupendous reserves of tenacity, intelligence and spare cash lying around, these four fine folks have provided an example that all tenacious, intelligent people with spare cash lying around should aspire to.

If you’d like to join these noble few in the pantheon of Scatheist glory, you’ll find the donate button on the right side of our homepage at Scathing Atheist (dot) com.  Oh, and Lindsay, if you’re listening, I was talking about the other Lindsay when I said, “other Lindsay”, not you.

That does it for tonight’s show, but we’ll be back in 168 hours with some hastily put together shit that’ll keep me up until 2 in the morning at least twice this week.  But if you can’t wait that long without risking a stress induced seizure, be sure to check out our erratically published blog and our erratically Tweeted Twitter feed.

Oh, and please help us spread the word about the show.  If you know any atheists that have auditory canals, please give us a plug when you can.  I put every diatribe up on YouTube and I’ll be putting the Leviticus song up this week as well, so if you wouldn’t be risking will-altering alienation from your family, I’d humbly ask that you give one of our videos a share on Facebook or whatever.

A quick thanks to Heath and Lucinda for joining me tonight and to a bunch of dead Israelites for making the jokes so easy on the Holy Babble segment.  And a quick thanks to you, dear listener, for giving us half an hour of your life.  We’ll be working really hard to earn another thirty minutes next week.

If you have questions, comments or death threats you’ll find all the contact info on the Contact page at Scathing Atheist (dot) com.  All the music used in this episode was written and performed by yours truly and yes, I did have my permission.

Religion, Atheism and False Equivalency

May 25, 2013 4 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I’m so tired of hearing it that I’m tired of saying that I’m tired of hearing it.

Christians and their cohorts are desperate to seize the middle in the culture wars and that’s damn hard to do when you’re still dragging your heels on subjects like birth control, gender equality and premarital sex.  The tenets of religion are so far behind the mainstream that the only hope they have of appealing to the masses is taking the focus off how medieval and fucked up their beliefs are.

You can see this in their constant attempts to publicly back-pedal everything their religion stands for.  They’ve already distanced themselves from God, from all the crappy stuff Jesus said, from the entire history of their religion’s expression and practice, from the current hierarchy that controls it, from almost every passage in the bible and from almost every major precept of their faith.  They try to water it down so much that god just means love and there’s no way to disagree with them.

And that public face is, of course, contradicted by almost everything that the majority of the faithful do and say, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s a PR campaign and if you’re trying to sell a product that everyone knows breaks immediately, the first words you’re going to attach to it our “long lasting”.  Think about how often you hear about Islam being a “religion of peace”, Judaism being “modern” or Christianity being a “religion of tolerance”.  The hope is that if you can put your slogan on the complete opposite side from the truth, people’s opinions will land somewhere in the middle.

Which brings us to the false equivalency.  Because the Christians have no good answer for “your religion is insane, unverifiable and it’s a tool to justify bigotry, sexism, child abuse and ignorance”, they have to deflect.  They can’t reasonably stand there and try to pretend that their religion isn’t insane, unverifiable, bigoted, sexist, abusive and ignorant, so instead they opt for the “Oh, yeah?” tactic and say, “Well, atheists are even worse!”

Think about how often you hear a Christian imply (or directly say) that atheism:

  • Takes just as much faith as religion
  • Is just as militant as religion
  • Is just as unverifiable as religion
  • Can be used to distort morality just like religion
  • Is just as “bad” as religion

This seems to be the Argument Du Jour with online apologists right now.  They say that “Dawkins is just as bad as…” and then they’ll insert the name of somebody who just said something about how gay people should be beaten to death or that women should learn to shut up and listen to their men… in the name of the son, the father and the holy ghost, amen.

And as Dawkins recently responded via Twitter;

Yes, I’m just as bad as the fundamentalists.  Now excuse me while I throw acid in a woman’s face and then behead someone with a machete for disagreeing with me.

Shall I bother to refute it further?  Should I bother to point out that nobody has ever been killed in the name of atheism? (And remember apologists, being killed by an atheist isn’t the same thing)  Should I bother to point out that there is no doctrine or authority that can alter morality within atheism?  Should I bother to point out that the most “militant” atheist you can find has never called for the killing of anyone anywhere?  Should I bother to point out that even the really sexist atheists never talk about covering women from head to toe and then stoning them to death?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no.  The very act of refuting this type of argument gives it more credit than it deserves.  I’m an atheist blogger, podcaster and from what I hear, I’m one of the most vicious atheists out there.  And the worst thing I’ve ever done to a Christian is made him cry because I used potty words and talked about Jesus’ naughty parts.  I’m an “atheist extremist” and the only weapon I own is a thesaurus.

Live Blogging the Bible, Exodus 10:1

May 6, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

Holy shit is this god guy a dick.

So I’ve gotten to the plagues and I have to admit that even though I knew how many their were, I never bothered to check out what all of them were.  Sure, I knew about the bloody Nile and the staff into the snake and the boils and the first born and the frogs, but I didn’t realize he also plagued the Egyptians with gnats and flies and hail and shit.

But the other thing I never realized was that God made pharaoh disobey him just so he could show off how many flies and gnats he could make.

It actually says that throughout the plague narrative.  Again and again the bible talks of god “hardening pharaoh’s heart” so that he will disobey Moses’ commands.  He hardens the hearts of both pharaoh and his officials.  He ensures that pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go just so he can send more plagues.

I could back this up by directing you to passages like Exodus 4:21, 7:13, 9:7, 9:12 and 9:35, but why bother when you can just look at Exodus 10:1-

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them…

And if this doesn’t spell it out plainly enough, the next verse really nail it down,

…and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them – so that you may know that I am the Lord.”

Thus far there haven’t been many things that were clearly spelled out in the bible.  The authors and editors seemed to have a thing for ridiculously vague and ambiguous.  But this is one of the minority of instances where they make good and damn well that you know what’s going on here:

God is threatening the people of Egyptian with Eli Roth level horrors, he’s circumventing pharaoh’s freewill so that he won’t obey the directives, he’s perpetrating the horrors and then he’s doing it some more.  And why is he doing this?  Because fuck Egyptians, that’s why.

I suppose an apologist could argue that sometimes God just has to remind everyone how bad-ass he is and I’m willing to concede that, but couldn’t he show how awesome he was by curing diseases instead of creating them?  Couldn’t Moses have sauntered in there and said, “Hey, if you let my people go, God will cure all the disease in Egypt, turn the Nile to beer and give you a lot of kids (which seemed to be the only currency these biblical folks cared about)”?

Or if he insisted on being so damn negative, couldn’t he have just given boils and gnats and shit to the pharaoh?  How much more effective would the hail storm be if it was following pharaoh around and not hitting anyone else?  That’s some seriously divine intervention.  But no, he makes his point by giving all the people boils, killing slaves with hail, starving people with pestilence, dehydrating them with stinky, fatal blood-water and murdering their first born children.

What irresponsible fuck gave this guy omnipotence?

Why Atheists Always Win at Twitter

April 15, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I just reached the satisfying conclusion of a five day flame war on Twitter.  My wife’s kind of new to the whole Twitter thing, so I’ve been explaining my technique a bit as I go.  It’s been educational for both of us, as it’s forced me to think a lot more about it than I normally do.  And over that period, I’ve developed a theory to help explain why I always kick so much ass in Twitter fights.

Now, it’s too broad a generalization to say that atheists always win on Twitter, unless you define winning as being the person who turns out to be correct in the end.  I’ve seen a few atheists get their asses handed to them by clever apologists on Twitter, forums, Facebook threads, Reddit, blog comments… you name it.  But it seems that the vast majority of the time, I see the atheist beating the religious clod into the ground until they’re pounding their keyboards randomly with shaking fists.

So before I lay out my theory, we have to define two things.  One is what I consider “winning” in a flame war.  The second is, strangely enough, the word “faith”.  We’ll start with the easy one.

The old trope about somebody being wrong on the internet is used to justify a lot of losses in online arguments.  I’m not saying there isn’t something to the notion that arguing online is often unproductive, but I think one goes to far when one says it’s “useless”.  As I’ve said before on this blog, it helps you hone your skills in live debate, it helps you reinforce your understanding of your own position and it helps you build a community of online support.  But there’s also another benefit; it can be really fun.

Debates online are okay.  I usually let somebody else takeover when the philosophical arguments get too far in the weeds because that shit bores me eventually.  I don’t have the patience to walk theist after theist through all the errors in “irreducible complexity” or “Pascal’s Wager”.  But I never back down from a good old fashioned flame war.  Hell, I’ve been doing that shit since CompuServe.

In all that time, the enemy hasn’t changed, the wars haven’t changed and thus my tactics haven’t had to change much.  Once an argument moves beyond any exchange of rational ideas and turns into a name-calling, juvenile insult war, there’s only one way to win.  You have to be the one who maintains your cool longest.  Eventually, if you do it right, you’ll get a response like:

You’re a pathetic, tragic, stupid, evil waste of breath. FUCK YOU!!!!1!!!

And then you can break out the champagne because you’ve won.  When you’ve reduced a person to something like that, they’ve admitted that they’re through being clever or even intelligent.  You’ve cracked their facade of confidence and revealed them to be your intellectual inferior.  What’s more, you can pile on all you want at this point because they’ve gotten emotional and you haven’t.  You can make them drool if you try hard enough.

For my purposes, this is the only measure of victory in a flame war.  Being the last person to lose their cool says that you’re the one presenting the rational argument and they’re the one presenting the emotional one.  It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not because all participants have long abandoned the logical standing of their position anyway.  It’s simply about who can piss who off first.

And it is in this way that I see atheists win over and over and over again.

Part of this is certainly the fact that we’ve just got the better arguments.  There can be little doubt, especially in the mind of a non-believer, who is approaching this question logically and who is approaching it emotionally.  It also helps that we are forced into positions where we have to justify our worldview far more often than theists (and, of course, I’m speaking only to the culture I’m familiar with.  Can’t say how true that is for my readers outside the US).

And that ultimately brings us to the role “faith” plays in all of this.  Religious people love to talk about “faith”, but when they use it, it has a special meaning.  If I were to use faith, it would be to describe a near-certainty: I have faith that the porch will hold my weight; I have faith that Heath will show up to record on Tuesday; I have faith that I will win Twitter wars with theists.  But that type of faith is entirely different than the “faith” that believers talk about.  So much so that they should really have to use a different word.  It’s almost the polar opposite of what I mean.

Me: Faith is the expectation that something will behave exactly like it always does.

Them: Faith is the expectation that everything will eventually behave in a way I’ve never observed it behaving.

Ask an atheist and virtually all of them will tell you that they’d be willing to change their minds on the “god” question if compelling new evidence appeared.  Ask a theist and virtually all of them would tell you the opposite.  Theists look at that and see doubt in the atheists, while we look at it and see doubt in them.  After all, I’m confident that my porch will hold my weight, but it would only take one time of me falling through it to change my mind on the subject.  It’s a belief I’m so confident about that I don’t have to worry about changing my mind on it.

But consider the religious type of faith in that analogy.  They would have to keep walking out on that porch every day, even after it collapsed.  They’d have to walk out the back door, fall into the pile of broken lumber below, pluck splinters from their limbs and tell themselves that the porch was still holding their weight.  No amount of evidence would sway them from their “faith”.  But our kind of faith breeds a certain kind of apathy.  If you’re confident enough about a belief, you don’t care.  You’re not emotionally invested in the belief that the porch will hold your weight.  You don’t bother justifying the belief to yourself with logic puzzles and wagers from long dead mathematicians.  I need invoke no syllogism to prove to myself that the porch will hold my weight.

Which brings us back to the flame wars.  I won’t deny that I’m emotionally invested in the atheist movement.  I’m as emotional about fighting against religious intrusion as I am about any subject.  I passionately donate my time, money, creativity and effort to furthering this cause and that is all fueled by an emotional investment.  But what I’m emotional about isn’t the fact that god doesn’t exist.  I have faith in that the same way I have faith in my porch.  I might need a fancy analogy or two to justify it to a believer, but I don’t need anything but the evidence (or overwhelming lack thereof) to settle that question to my own satisfaction.

So when I’m battling with a believer, they keep expecting to find that emotional trigger.  They fire blindly because they think there’s something about my atheism that has spurred my activism.  In reality, it’s actually something about their religion.  Meanwhile, it’s kind of easy to find their trigger.  They want to tear down your intelligence because it irks them to think that a smart person would look at the data and conclude that there is no god.  So simply being intelligent with your responses is enough to eventually bring out the worst in them.

Sure, we can be disrespectful, scathing and vulgar (hell, that’s kind of my niche), but we never abandon reason.  Even in the filthiest of flame wars, I’m always in the realm of logic.  And eventually that leaves them in the realm of ad hominem Fuck-Yous.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make someone drool.

Scathing Atheist on You-Tube

April 5, 2013 2 comments

by Noah Lugeons

By popular request, we’re putting select segments from the show on You-Tube.  We’ll be adding full episodes at a future date and Lucinda and I have been kicking around all kinds of weird ideas about adding puppets, animation, stop-motion and a bunch of other stuff that will probably prove more trouble than it’s worth.

Anyway, first things first.  We’ve uploaded a couple of the diatribes already.  You can check out our channel here and be sure to subscribe.  We’ll be adding all kinds of cool shit eventually and you’ll definitely want to be in on the ground floor of that.

And if you don’t have time to subscribe just yet, that’s fine.  You can get a sample here, too:

Belittling Christians

April 2, 2013 35 comments

by Noah Lugeons

Sometimes people say, “Noah, you belittle Christians a lot.”

And I respond, “Yeah, I do my best.”

So no, I’ll be offering no apology for it here or anywhere else in the foreseeable future.  When people point out that I belittle Christians, I respond the same way that an Olympic sprinter would respond if somebody asked her why she was in such a hurry… After all, that’s kind of the point.

Now, there are those that would say that this is counterproductive.  They say that the caustic brand of atheism I subscribe to is antithetical to the goals of minimizing the role of religion in society.  They present a “circle-the-wagons” mentality that I might inspire if I’m too insulting.  They point out that the more attainable goals of keeping religion out of science class and the courtroom can be hamstrung by the more grandiose goal of stamping out organized religion altogether.

And what’s more, they might be right.  I still don’t care.

My goal as an atheist activist is to marginalize religion.  I work toward a world where anybody who believes in something without evidence is embarrassed to admit it in public.  I want reason by way of shame.

I think it’s a sad commentary on our culture that my unwavering belief that all truth-claims should be subjected to the same scrutiny puts me in the extreme wing of a minority.  That shouldn’t be a bold stance. It should be nearly unthinkable to take any other stance and that’s precisely what I seek.

To be fair, I’ll concede that it’s entirely possible to take that stance without belittling anyone.  A lot of skeptics do yeoman’s work by patiently walking sasquatch hunters, UFOlogists and homeopaths through the ladder of logic without a hint of condescension.  I admire that ability but I do not share it.

And of course, many skeptics are crass and dismissive of nonsense like sasquatch hunters, UFOs and homeopathy.  They don’t bother to spare anyone’s feelings and simply treat it like the demonstrable bullshit that it is.  In the skeptical movement the battle between “soft” and “hard” is a hell of a lot more muted than the one in the atheist movement, but it’s still there.  Some people just insist that the “kill-them-with-kindness” approach is the only valid one.

Many much wiser observers than me have pointed out that there probably isn’t one “valid” approach, so I’m not going to spend any time retreading that ground, but there is something I’d like to offer to the kindness camp.  Sure, it’s an anecdote and can thus be easily dismissed, but I think it’s illustrative of the justification behind the approach that I share with a number of other scathing atheists.

Arrogance is a powerful force.  Those of us who like to think or ourselves as intelligent don’t like to be told we’re stupid.  It’s the only insult that really gets under the skin of some people.  Now, when somebody says, “you disagree with me so you’re stupid” it’s meaningless, but if someone you respect intellectually lumps your beliefs in with a bunch of the other “stupid” ones, that has an impact.

I’m not saying there’s anyone out there that respects me intellectually, but there are a number of learned men and women in both the atheist and skeptical movements who sport intellects that are beyond reproach.  An intellectually arrogant person hearing that his beliefs are stupid from those people will have an effect.

Now sure, some people are arrogant enough to just toss off the insult and say, “what does that ivy-league professor know?”, but those people are all-but unreachable.  But for many if not most intellectually arrogant people, the root of the arrogance was real intelligence.  And there are plenty of intelligent, arrogant people out there that still believe in some really silly stuff.

Those people are vulnerable to the caustic attack.  I know because that’s how I arrived here.  I got to atheism through simple observation and the correct application of logic, but I became a skeptic and (more importantly) a skeptical activist because somebody with an intellect I admire told me I was a dumb-ass.  And what’s more, he didn’t try to cater to my ego by telling me how okay it was to still believe this dumb-ass belief.

Now I know that the research shows that most people are far more inclined to listen to and consider your viewpoint if you’re non-confrontational and I recognize that, generally speaking, this is the optimum approach.  Hell, it’s the one I usually employ when I’m talking to someone in person.  But just because it’s the most widely applicable approach doesn’t mean it’s the only correct one.  A person like myself would never be swayed by it, as they would take the agreeable demeanor as a sign of intellectual uncertainty.  They would toss off anything you said that didn’t crack the armor of their intellectual arrogance and the only way to do that is to be caustic.

My mother told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything.  And a lot of people have told me the same thing since.  I get it.  I disagree.  I feel that it would be intellectually dishonest to say anything nice and it would be socially irresponsible to stay silent.

And if you disagree with my approach, that’s fine.  I strongly encourage you to get involved and run as far in the opposite direction as possible.  We need all the help we can get.  And I believe that we also need all the types of help we can get.