Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Don't Know What I'm Thinking

I was having a conversation on twitter with a Christian who was using the tired old line that atheists just want to sin, they know God exists but they pretend he doesn't so they can do whatever they want. I see this line of argument a lot and it gets under my skin so I figured I would engage. I asked him if he thought it was possible for someone to simply not believe God exists. He said no, everyone knows God exists, then cited a bible verse as proof. I told him that I don't believe in God and asked if he thinks I'm lying. He tried to avoid the question but ultimately said yes, I must be lying.

photo credit: wikipedia
This really gets on my nerves, and demonstrates that they are not interested in conversing or understanding our position, they simply want to preach to us (I know, I know, big surprise). They have their idea about what is going on in my mind and there is nothing I can say that will disabuse them of it. It's quite insulting and arrogant of them. I have my ideas about what is going on in the heads of Christians, but I am constantly trying to find out if I'm right. I like to ask them what they think about things and see what they say. It isn't terribly uncommon for me to find new Christian perspectives on various topics, honestly, understanding how people think is one of my favorite things about blogging. Sometime people are deceptive, but for the most part I believe people when they tell me what they think about something. I just wish they would extend me the same courtesy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Getting Back to Blogging

The new addition to my family has been going great, although it is extremely tiring. While the grandparents were here my free time was spent hanging out with them, and blogging was slowed down quite a bit, bible blogging was abandoned altogether as it does take quite a time to prep those posts. The grandparents have all gone home now, and being away from the blog has made me realize how much I enjoy doing it, so I definitely want to find time to get back to it somewhat. However, free time is extremely limited and posting every day is certainly out of the question. I'd love to work back up to my old schedule eventually, but I want to start more modestly and build up rather than try to do too much and fall short.

During the week, I used to post 3 bible posts and 2 other random posts. My initial goal is going to be to do 1 of each minimum, and if I can get ahead of schedule I will post extra ones. Eventually I hope to get back to doing 3 bible posts a week, but given all the prep and recording the podcast, that probably won't be for a while.

On Sunday I've recently started doing highlights posts. I've liked doing these, they are easy to make and I get to give a shout out to the blogs and podcasts that I like, seems like a win-win. These will continue and I will probably put one up most sundays

On Saturday's I recently started doing a politics post. I like doing them, as I feel it is a decent way to learn about a topic I am woefully uninformed. However, it takes time that I would rather devote to other things. These will probably come back eventually, but not for a while.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Do We Just See What We Want to See?

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Last year I started this blog to read the Bible and find out what is in it for myself. My motivation from the beginning was that I would often hear atheists claim that the bible is full of really terrible things and Christians would always claim that it was full of really wonderful things. Both sides seem to think that if you read the Bible you would come around to their way of thinking. A very curious situation indeed. Before I started I figured there were a couple possibilities for what I would find.
  1. The Atheists were completely right, the bible is full of horrible things, God is a jerk, Jesus is overrated, and while there are a few good verses here and there, they are vastly outnumbered by bad verses
  2. The Christians were completely right, the bible is full of good things. Sure, there are a few passages that look bad in isolation, but when taken as a whole even those passages make sense coming from a loving God
  3. The truth lies between both of these extremes. There are enough passages on both sides of the ledger that each group can pay attention to stuff that fits their point of view and ignore things that don't. 
When I started this, I assumed that 3 would be reality. The interesting part would be to discover how much it leans towards either option 1 or 2. I think it is important to be as fair as possible, to count both the good and bad equally. In fact, given my bias I think it is important to push things in the opposite direction a bit, try to highlight any little bit of good I come across, and dispense with the nitpicky bad things (or at least admit they are nitpicky). I think I succeed pretty well in this matter most of the time, I really try to highlight good aspects of the reading, the Christian commentaries have definitely helped me on that account a few times.

Nevertheless, after reading all of the New Testament and Genesis all I see is number 1. There are terrible things everywhere and there's not that much good stuff. What's more, the good stuff is usually mixed up with an equal portion of bad (take the sermon on the mount for example). It's hard to me to imagine someone sitting down and reading this book and thinking it came from a loving God, and yet they do. I used to think that Christians must just not read the thing, but I come across people all the time who do read it. People say they have read it cover to cover X number of times in their life. I will occasionally see someone post the challenge to read the whole bible in 90 days and chart their progress. 

What the hell is going on here? How can we both read the same book and have such a different impression of it? Is it not as bad as I think and not as good as they think? I think I can make a pretty compelling argument that there is a ton of horrible things in the bible, but am I also missing a bunch of good stuff? Honestly, I don't think so. I think there are many stories that I count as bad and they count as good. Look at when God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac for example. I read that story and I'm horrified at what I see, obviously both the God character and the Abraham character here are terrible. And yet Christians will almost universally describe this as a good story because Abraham is obedient. They want the bible to be a good book, and so they twist their perception to make it good even when it is plainly not. They are seeing what they want to see.

Now the question is, am I doing the same thing from the other side? Am I looking for the bible to be a piece of shit and that is what I'm finding? I feel like I try to be as fair as possible and highlight the positive as well as the negative. I really try not to be bias, but it's pretty hard to explain the disconnect without it. Is it really reasonable for me to think they are taking a book that is THAT terrible and twisting their perception to see it as good, or am I also twisting my perception to make it worse than it is? While I think it is important for me to be self-reflective and consider my own bias here, looking at a few examples such as the Abraham and Isaac story it really does seem that I'm on solid ground. In that story there's no middle ground to be reached. God is a horrible character and so is Abraham. The question then becomes whether that story is typical of the bible or an extreme example.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

This Week's Highlights

My son is 2 weeks old, I figure he should start life on the right foot, so I'm reading him the demon haunted world. As I was reading a line really popped out at me that I thought would be perfect for the blog, as it is one of the big reasons I think religion is dangerous. Since I'm reading the kindle version I can't tell you what page it's on, but it's location 414 on kindle

The second item today is from the bitchspot report episode 17. Cephus said this right near the beginning of the episode (2.5 minutes in or so)

As much as I think religion is a problem, and I very much think religion and a lack of skepticism go hand in hand, I would rather have someone stay religious but be generally skeptical in the rest of their life than become an atheist and continue thinking uncritically about the claims they come across.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Opium of the Masses [Guest Post]

As I mentioned recently, I have a newborn in the house right now and therefore my blogging has slowed down quite considerably. Christian from I am an Atheist and this is why was kind enough to send me a guest post to help me fill in the gaps a little while my sleep-meter is on empty. Enjoy this post, and go check out his blog for more.

Back in 1843 in the introduction to his book Critique of Hengel's Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx had the insight to make his now famous quote “Religion is the opiate of the people.” So I got to thinking the other day and was wondering how religion not only oppresses people that believe in it, but also oppresses people who do not believe in it. Well here is my list of 6, which I know by no means is comprehensive.


  1. Abortions are considered illegal in many countries worldwide as its considered murder, but its not a self sufficient organism how can it be.
  2. Women are discriminated against in the majority of religions. The obvious ones that come to mind been the discrimination in Muslim countries, even though other religions deny it its still there.
  3. Teaching of unscientific theories in schools, like creationism instead of evolution. Pseudo-science just the thing to keep people oppressed, whats next?
  4. You can't eat certain food stuffs, Jews are not allowed to eat pork Hindu's are not allowed to eat beef. Beware if you actually want to try something new, I mean you may end up in hell.
  5. Religion does not tolerate sexuality, so your sexuality should be determined not by genes (like science is shedding more and more light on) but by some laws written in a book.
  6. You better like self-righteousness, I mean after all I am going to heaven and you are going to hell, no no no we are both going into the ground to become microbe food.

So here is my list of six, now a question “how has religion oppressed you or people you know today?”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why Do They Repeat Defeated Arguments?

As Cephus pointed out in a recent post, there is this phenomenon that most atheists will have seen if they have spent much time arguing with the religious. The theist will present an argument and it will be completely destroyed, perhaps they will be shown to have a faulty assumption, have faulty logic, or just be factually incorrect on some point. Nevertheless, on a later date that same theist will present the exact same argument which you debunked previously. No revision of the argument to account for your correction, no admission that there could be some flaw, nothing, it's as if your conversation with them never happened. It's infuriating, but what is really going on here? There are a few possibilities as I see it.

One which seems easy to jump to immediately is that they are lying. They know that their argument is flawed and they don't care, they think repeating it as if there are no flaws will be effective for the general population. I definitely think this is true of (most of) the professional apologists. They know the arguments extremely well and they generally seem to be intelligent. Certainly they can see the enormous glaring holes in them. They are either true believers who are only interested in converting people (or keeping their flock), or they are profit motivated. Either way, fuck those guys.

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Another possibility is that they didn't really understand your counterargument. It might have looked to you like you were convincing them, but really they didn't follow you and didn't feel like having you repeat yourself or clarify, perhaps they were bored with the argument, or embarrassed that they don't follow and didn't speak up. It might have even seemed reasonable to them during the argument, but later when they were reviewing the confrontation in their own mind they couldn't remember some key step. At any rate, things weren't communicated as properly and that is the source of the problem here. In this situation we need to be patient and explain once again the flaw in their logic. Ideally it will be explained in a slightly different way, but simple repetition might be enough.

But a third possibility is what has really interested me and has been rolling around in my brain going for the last few days. These are people who are bouncing back and forth between what they can see through logical argument and the indoctrination that is embedded deep within their minds. I find this the most interesting because I was in this state for a number of years. To be fair, it was mostly internal argument that I was having with myself on long car trips, but I'm pretty sure it would have been similar if I had a regular debate partner.

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I'd be driving home from college to visit my parents and I would be thinking about something I learned in church that had been bugging me. I had a few hours here, and I would run through all of the reasons I thought the church was feeding me garbage. It would either be various messages that conflict with each other, or the problem of evil, or the existence of hell, or whatever. I'd run through all of the reasons I thought it was nonsense, and I would completely convince myself I was correct. But then a few days later I'd be driving back home and I would consider everything from the opposite perspective. What would the church have to say about my points? Is there anyway I could explain those things away from their perspective? Usually I could, especially near the end, it took some pretty extreme mental gymnastics, but I could justify some pretty crazy stuff. My indoctrination was deep and implanted at an early age, counter arguments were installed in my brain, and I knew how to make new ones if necessary.

Even when I thought I had a perfect argument against Christianity on one day, I was able to convince myself on another day that there was a flaw in my previous argument. Now, imagine if I had been arguing with atheists rather than with myself. How would this have played out? The atheist would have produced an argument against me, and perhaps even convinced me that they were right. I would have thought about it the next day and convinced myself that the atheist had been incorrect, then I would have gone back to my original argument as if my conversation with that atheist had never happened. I wouldn't be lying, and I understood the atheist's argument (at least at the time), but nevertheless I would have been back to square one. Indoctrination is a bitch!

So I ask myself, how did I break out of this? It's all about repetition. Each time I had to do the mental gymnastics it was a little bit harder. There's a new wrinkle to the argument, a new aspect I had to get around.  I was able to do it for a long time, but eventually the house of cards came falling down. I've always been a detail oriented person, so I was only able to push my concerns to the side temporarily. Eventually they would push themselves to the forefront of my mind and I would have to admit to myself that my patchwork to explain them away wasn't quite adequate. I did this mostly on my own, but I think a lot of people could use a push to keep considering their arguments. They aren't going to reevaluate their patchwork themselves, they need someone else to keep poking at it. Every time they present their poor argument, someone needs to point out the flaws. It's that repetition that is necessary to get through the indoctrination.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Want Video Evidence of Evolution

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I was recently browsing twitter and stumbled upon a Christian who was asking for video evidence for evolution. Of course, anyone who knows anything about how evolution actually works can immediately see how ridiculous of a demand this is. It is so silly in fact that the first instinct for many people might be to simply call him an idiot and move on. It's tempting to assume they are just screwing around, making demands that are impossible just to derail the conversation. If you've thought a lot about evolution these ideas become second nature, it's easy to forget that many people don't have the slightest idea how evolution works. Add to this misinformation they are getting from Church and various bits of media, it's not terribly surprising that some pretty huge misconceptions are out there.

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Evolution doesn't happen to an individual. An animal doesn't evolve into another animal. If you didn't know anything about evolution, but you watched pokemon, perhaps you might think the first picture I linked is supposed to be the evolution of an individual instead of the evolution of species. If that has happened at some point in the past, and there are still monkeys, why couldn't it happen again in the future? Why couldn't we get it on video at some point? It's interesting how a potential misconception can snowball and lead to such a ridiculous question, and yet, with this incorrect starting point, why not? It's a shame pokemon didn't use the word metamorphosis instead of evolve, it seems to match what is happening much better. Is that the mistake this person made on twitter? I don't really know, it's the only thing I could really come up with though. How else could they expect we could get evolution on video?

So the question becomes, how do you respond to these types of ridiculous requests? As I said, it can be tempting to just call them idiots and move on. I see this as a missed opportunity. It seems much more useful to explain that evolution happens to populations and not to individuals. No individual ever evolves, you have the same genes you were born with you entire life. Will they absorb this information when you tell them? Probably not, but hopefully it will sink in. And of course, there is always the possibility that someone else is watching who isn't so invested in the argument that can learn from the exchange. Once you call them an idiot it's game over.
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