The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2005 August

The Test (Updated)

August 31, 2005 | 81 Comments

I have devised a test to determine whether someone is truly an atheist. Or a believer. In either case, it’s the same test.

A common misperception about atheists is that they really believe in God, but merely hate Him or fear Him. This has arisen because they talk about Him so much, something they presumably wouldn’t do if they were unconcerned about the possibility of His existence. (The perception has been reinforced because when people think of atheists they think of the most vocal ones, who by definition are the ones who talk about Him the most). The test I have in mind puts the belief into action and reveals the true level of concern.

Ask your atheist to look up at the sky at night and say this out loud: “Hey God, you’re a [expletive]. Do me a favor and give my [wife, baby, mother, father, brother, sister, beloved friend] the most painful, lingering form of [brain cancer/leukemia/AIDS] imaginable and let me watch as they suffer and waste away. You [expletive] [expletive].”

Tell the atheist to make sure to refer to the loved one by name and think of him or her while saying that. You can try it yourself, preferably in front of a witness. I’ll give partial credit if you just say it to yourself — even in a whisper — as long as it’s out loud.

I once challenged a friend to take the test [dialogue approximate]:

Friend: I’m not going to say that.
TRA: Why not?
Friend: There’s no point to it.
TRA: It’s just words. Are you afraid of God?
Friend: What’s the point of it?
TRA: To see whether you believe in God.
Friend: Why should I say I want terrible things to happen to [my girlfriend]? It’s not true.
TRA: You lie all the time, and this isn’t even a lie because you’re just saying the words without meaning them or intending to deceive anybody. I’ll know you don’t mean it.
Friend: It’s a waste of time. It’s pointless.
TRA: So you really think all that stuff might happen just because you say it?
Friend: Why say such terrible things? It’s a waste of time.

I badgered him for about ten minutes with no success. You know that when someone spends ten minutes arguing against doing something that takes five seconds on the ground that it’s a “waste of time,” time isn’t really the issue.

No, it’s not a nice test. Most believers reading this post will wonder why atheists mire themselves in such negativity. That the thought could even occur to someone, they think, is evidence of a diseased mind. I suppose: as diseased as the minds that believe that perfectly decent people with a life of good works get tortured eternally for disbelieving, or for never discovering some silly dogma or scripture, or for never sprinkling water on their heads.

As I said, it’s a test for believers as well. Believers, at least those believe in God as loving or good, wouldn’t worry that the Almighty would actually grant such a prayer. They would certainly reject the idea that God would grant the prayer of a stranger to harm their family. Some might say that wishing it upon your own loved ones is different, but it’s not. Would a loving God do that to unknowing, innocent people out of pure spite, without even considering their wishes, to grant a wish which by its own terms is not really sincere?

Believers, naturally, have an easier “out.” There are countless scriptural prohibitions in every religion against blasphemy, against harboring evil thoughts, against “testing God.” (Though every prayer for something good tests God, it would seem to me). What a substantive atheist objection would be to taking the test, however, I don’t know. I suspect many of them are deterred by subconscious phobias carried over from childhood. They won’t do it for the same reason they won’t walk through a graveyard at night, even though they don’t believe in ghosts. Or walk under a ladder. Or step on a crack. (Or tell the Devil to come out from behind that dark fence and get them like I did when I was eight and you should have seen me run when those dogs I didn’t know were on the other side starting jumping against it and barking).

The thought of this test first occurred to me about a year ago when I was trying to think of something to top the cruelty of The Atheist Jesus Poetry Contest. (The prize was the pledge of a terminally ill blogger to die for the winner’s site). The new contest would have called for the nastiest prayer directed at a loved one. I scrapped the idea when it occurred to me that the entries might all be interpreted as death threats.

What made me think of the test more recently watching the end of Brian Flemming’s The God Who Wasn’t There. The last few moments alone justify the entire price of the documentary (which, in my opinion, so far outstrips The Passion in intellectual content and compassion that I want to bang my head against a wall every time I consider the comparative popularity of the two). Flemming has described the chapel scene, involving a test of sorts, as “very cathartic.” I’ve seen it twice in theaters and although the immediate reaction of (primarily atheist) audiences each time was laughter, I don’t think even the most hardened viewers were unmoved, even those whose road to atheism did not being at fundamentalism.

My test, however, is harder than the film’s test, which involved a form of blasphemy which would come easily to most non-believers. Perhaps one day a blogger, maybe Mr. Flemming, will administer my exam; he’s “moved on” as he said, and is a probably a better, braver atheist than me. Unless he thinks it’s just a waste of time.

UPDATE: Brian Flemming takes the test.

Although I had only suggested that he administer the test, not take it, his post and his comment make me realize that a few modifications to the exam are in order:

(1) The prayer may not be about another atheist, or about the person who challenged you to take the test. You may take the test in front of that person, however.

(2) The prayer may not be directed at yourself.

(3) The “loved” one must be someone you would conceivably look in the eye and say “I love you” to, or have sex with, not someone you merely respect or love in that phony, all-encompassing Christian sense.

(4) Directing insults or curses at God doesn’t count (what do you think this blog is about)? Doing so is a sure sign that you are too cowardly to take the test and, more than likely, a believer.

(5) Remember that you can just say the prayer out loud without posting it on a blog for your family to see (perhaps Mr. Flemming’s would like to revise his weasely comment to reflect that he has done this).

TSK, TSK:

(6) Don’t immediately qualify the prayer with statements about how bad or mean you felt (unless you’re trying to get back on God’s good side, you pussy faux-atheist).

(7) Remember to curse God at both the beginning and end of the prayer. A polite request beginning with “Dear God” doesn’t count. Rule No. 4 meant only that cursing God alone, without simultaneously wishing ill upon a loved one, didn’t count.

Anything Goes

August 30, 2005 | 129 Comments

There are plenty of purely philosophical, a priori proofs purporting (how’s that for alliteration) to demonstrate the existence of God. But not even the shrewdest Christian theologian has attempted to demonstrate that his son Jesus is a metaphysical necessity. So once the nebulous God of the Philosophers has been established, apologists frequently resort to the “historicity” of events surrounding Christ’s life and death. The theories usually rely heavily on psychology and sociology, explaining how the alleged facts supporting His divinity are made more probable by the motives and reactions of witnesses and other participants. In God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, Christian advocate William Lane Craig explains why certain events relevant to the resurrection have the ring of historical truth:

After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

Given the understandable hostility in the early Christian movement toward the Jewish leaders, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.

Given that the testimony of women was regarded as so unreliable that they were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law, the fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the historical facticity of the narrative in this regard.

The earliest know Jewish response to the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, namely, “The disciples came and stole away his body” (Matt. 28: 13-15), was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and thus presupposes the empty tomb.

The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of world.

Notice the convoluted theme here: the Bible’s authors would be unlikely to include improbable facts injurious to their case, unless they were in fact true. Putting that odd logic aside, atheist debater Walter Sinnott-Armstrong offers a number of plausible countervailing psychological theories and concludes that there is “no reason to give up well-established physics on the basis of decades old reports by self-interested parties who faced social pressures and promptings with predispositions to believe.” I have a couple of broader philosophical objections.

First, if the hard sciences of physics and biology went so far awry that dead men were rising, the softer sciences of psychology and sociology should have gone out the window as well. There’s no reason to engage in a tedious exposition of societal attitudes towards women and Jews once everybody’s been transported to the Land of Oz. In that context, it’s inconsistent hold the laws of human nature constant. Perhaps when dead men rise, only women who juggle turnips and turn purple are considered unreliable by men, men who in turn respond by blowing horns. But the Gospels don’t mention turnip juggling by purple women or horn-blowing, so there’s nothing surprising about the witnesses being identified as female. Which is evidence that the authors concocted accounts of reliable, non-juggling women as witnesses to bolster their case (you know there’s something wrong with an argument when its refutation also makes almost no sense).

Second, even if human nature is held constant, the reported reactions don’t resemble anything you’d expect in the face of miracles. If the Starship Enterprise swept down and whisked everyone out of Jerusalem, they’d probably start shrieking. And you wouldn’t expect craven observance of gender roles on board from people terrified out of their minds. But nobody’s all that freaked out by Jesus’ zombie routine.

This, of course, is consistent with the blas

We All Don’t Worship The Same Non-God

August 29, 2005 | 42 Comments

There is an element of syncretism in every faith. The problem is particularly serious in atheist religions. Newsday asked a group of Unitarian Universalists whether they believe in God. Michael O’Neill teased them with this answer:

A sky god who willed the chemical origins of the cosmos and Earth’s evolving life? The jealous Zeus of massive temper tantrums that is Yahweh on a bad hair day? The vindictive, wantonly cruel God of Christian fundamentalists, who sadistically watches people burn in hell or promises mass slaughter for most of Earth’s people in a grand finale of rapture . . . is an unlikely God for Unitarians. In our congregation, half the people are atheists who do not believe in imps, incubi, Satan, archangels, holy or unholy ghosts; the other half believes in some kind of “God.” Both believe we are hard-wired to a spiritual dimension that seeks meaning and metaphor through the passage of life and death, which compels us to compassion and justice.

But which half is Gentle Mike in? He doesn’t say. Janet Hanson is probably in the other half, though:

I have to believe in God because I see so many things — both good and bad — done in God’s name. God exists in the minds of people. To say that I don’t believe in God would be absurd.

So God exists in her mind because it exists in the minds of others who say He does things. But what if those people are all doing the same thing — basing their beliefs on Ms. Hanson’s conviction that God exists, a conviction that itself is based only upon her opinion of what’s in their heads? God might just be a belief about what other people believe you believe about what they believe.

Algebra

August 29, 2005 | 21 Comments

Does prohibiting “X” act demean the “Y” class of people by depriving them of their status as moral agents?

God Squad Review CXL (Abusing Women and Gays)

August 29, 2005 | 14 Comments

What does Christianity say about the treatment of women? A Squad reader’s husband has gotten involved in an independent fundamentalist sect in which the women are not allowed to speak in church. Furthermore, she notes, “[w]omen must obey their husbands without question . . . [t]hey must wear dresses at all times, and you cannot read any Bible other than the King James version.”

Of course they won’t let her read the King James Bible — that’s the trick version published by the He-Man Woman-Hating Society. The Bible itself calls the King James version a fraud, warning readers to go with Gideon’s or the New International versions. But of course the poor lady never found this out because, the KJ falsely declares that it is the only true translation. The Squad gently explains to her how she’s been duped:

Whatever your husband or your husband’s minister might say, this is not authentic Christianity. Christianity does not teach that husbands be abusive to those they should love and respect. We have seen many who were depressed and angry, lonely and adrift find their way to cults or fringe religious groups that reinforce their paranoia and further isolate them. The cults know that their greatest threat is the love their new members have for their families. So they try to get these sad, impressionable people to believe that the people who most love them actually are the ones who most hate them.

Note that the Squad talks about “authentic Christianity,” not the Bible, and a prohibition against being “abusive,” without addressing the reader’s specific complaints about being silenced in church and being required to obey. But again, as demonstrated by 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 they’re absolutely right:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Ephesians 5:22-24 makes this even clearer:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

In case you’re confused, recall that these passages have to be interpreted, and authentic Christianity can only be based upon authentic interpretation. For that, as the Bible says, you must go to the Squad. According to the Squad’s interpretation, at least.

The Squad also fields a query from a gay man whose parents have shut his partner out of their lives. The reader complains that “[t]his means no birthday cards, minimal gifts, and mostly it means he will not be invited to family events . . . [t]his seems excessive, and it would mean hurting my partner, or at least standing by and watching as he was excluded.” This time the Squad does base its answer squarely on the Word of God, which requires homosexuals to be put to death:

We . . . believe homosexuality is biblically prohibited because it is considered a morally disordered state.

The way we have reconciled this is to love all our friends and family and honor all our teachers regardless of sexual orientation. If they were to ask us to sanctify their unions or perform a marriage ceremony for them, we would decline because such requests are not requests for simple kindness and respect, but requests to speak for a religious and moral tradition that has a loving but firm critique of same-sex marriage and sexual relations. It would be cruel for us to mistreat them or ask them to deny their passions and their love, but it is also wrong for them to ask us to distort our passions and beliefs to assuage them.

We believe the restrictions your parents have imposed are severe but not utterly unreasonable. We would hope they could ease up, and then you might ease up on what you expect them to accept. The best course is to hold your beliefs strongly but accept the holiness of all people unconditionally.

So “put to death,” in context, is merely a “loving but firm critique” which allows gays to have sex but requires that they be shut out of family events (until people “ease up”). It also requires that gays “strongly” believe that they’re entitled to have sex, while accepting unconditionally the holiness of people who believe it’s an abomination.

Must be the King James version again.

Daily News Revises Plane Crash Coverage to Comply with Divine Guidelines

August 28, 2005 | 13 Comments

New York, New York, August 28, 2005
Special to The Raving Atheist

God’s new rules for faith-based media coverage of aircraft disasters went into effect today, with the Daily News correcting its earlier godless coverage of a Peruvian crash by running a crowd-pleasing story that properly highlights the Almighty’s role in sparing 57 of the jetliner’s 88 passengers.

The News last week published a story on the crash entitled “Just Get Off the Plane” which credited the Vivas family with saving itself and failed to mention the Lord’s name even once.

Today’s headline, however, is “Wing and and a Prayer” — virtually identical to the one employed by the New York Post story that God praised on Friday. An additional banner, “Clutching Rosaries, Peru Jet Crash Family takes to the Air Again,” also paid tribute to the Creator, Who is Catholic except during El-Al collisions.

On Saturday, God suggested to the News that if He didn’t exist the truckers’ and typesetters’ union might realize that “anything is permitted.” The deity further hinted that upon in a proper debriefing, the News’ reporters might extract from the Vivas family a wealth of evidence showing that last week’s jungle disaster was part of a continuing divine allegory rather than an instance of mere mechanical error. Consequently, today’s coverage contains the following quotes from the Vivas regarding their latest flight, which experienced some minor turbulence upon touchdown:

“A wide-eyed Jharline [Vivas] looked heavenwards and gripped a multicolored rosary, a gift from a Catholic priest at one of the hospitals where the girls were treated after the crash.

“I was like,

Hell of a Question

August 27, 2005 | 78 Comments

LucyMuff points out that the Devil will insult and otherwise torment Kafkafool in Hell, a conclusion I will accept for the sake of argument. But my question is this: doesn’t that effectively make Satan God’s ally, or at least His employee? It sounds like Lucifer is the warden running God’s prison. Presumably the two get together and decide who gets tortured how bad and things of that nature. Are they actually friends? If God really hates Satan, and ultimately destroys him, who would end up doing all the torturing?

I gotta believe that some theologian has considered and answered these questions. Any ideas?

God Approves New Gloating Rules for Plane Crash Survivors

August 26, 2005 | 27 Comments

Pucallpa, Peru, August 26, 2005
Special to The Raving Atheist

In the aftermath of a fiery plane crash in the Peruvian jungle, God has applauded the gloating of the survivors and their families and issued new rules for press coverage of the beneficiaries of His special protection.

On Tuesday, a Boeing 737 carrying 98 passengers and crew crashed near Pucallpa Peru, leaving at least 37 dead. Six members of the Vivas family escaped, and were immediately joined by other relatives in boasting of divine intervention.

“I always said I have an angel guardian, and they took care of my sons,” said Sylvia Vivas, the mother of two men who survived the wreck. “May the infidels that God smote have their bones picked dry by ravenous snakes.” Moments after the plane burst into flames, one of the sons, Gabriel Vivas, instructed his nieces to thank God for saving their lives. “And we are most grateful to witness the slaughter of the wicked,” he added.

God told the Vivas family that they were most welcome and that He looked forward to sparing most of them on the return flight to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean next week. God also faxed instructions to all newspapers reporting on mass disasters, pointing with approval to the New York Post’s use of the words “prayer,” “miracle” and “grace” in every headline related to the carnage. Among the revised guideliness are the following:

(1) Don’t forget that it is a statistical near-certainty with every commercial flight that some people will have cancelled their reservations or otherwise missed the plane. They, too, are entitled revel in God’s grace and to speculate that their salvation was “for a reason” — especially if their continued existence permits them to serve humanity as late night telemarketing associates..

(2) The closer the cancellation was to departure time, the better. Emphasize, if possible, how trivial or unexpected the intervening event was to draw attention to God’s subtlety and cleverness.

(3) When posing survivors for the victory shot, make sure at least one of them is wearing a crucifix half the size of her head so that your readers will know what caught God’s eye when He snatched the plane out of the sky.

(4) If more than 75% of the passengers survive, focus on God’s great generosity. If it’s just a handful, note how special each one must have been.

(5) The fatality rate in crashes involving larger aircraft generally approaches 100%. While search efforts are still ongoing, encourage family to pray extra hard for a miracle, especially after a hopeful sign like the discovery of dime-sized piece of the tailfin on the top of a coconut tree.

(6) Remind grieving parents that God sometimes needs musicians for Heaven’s marching band, even though Jesus just eats the babies.

God gave the Post high marks compliance with these rules, albeit expressing disappointment at the paper’s failure to mention that “Vivas” means “alive” in Spanish. In contrast, the New York Daily News was chided for neglecting to mention God even once. The News also angered God by marring the heartwarming story of the infant rescued from the jungle mud by revealing that it was found next to its dead mother.

Sweeney, Unambiguous

August 25, 2005 | 41 Comments

Julia Sweeney, on her transition from agnosticism to atheism:

I just became a stronger agnostic, and then I started to realize that everyone who was saying they were agnostic really hadn’t thought about it that much. Still, I went with agnosticism for a long, long time because I just hated to say I was an atheist — being an atheist seemed so rigid. But the more I became comfortable with the word, and the more I read, it started to stick.

Good move.

Undeservedly, agnosticism is frequently viewed as a “safe” or even unassailable philosophical position. It appears to be a reasonable, half-way compromise between the outrageous claim of the theist (who proposes the existence of fantastic being that is everywhere, yet surprisingly undetectable), and the seemingly equally preposterous claim of the atheist (who, in purporting to “prove a negative,” implies that he or she knows, or has examined, everything in the universe). But the agnostic, having said “I do not know,” can calmly sit back and reserve judgment until proof, one way or the other, comes along.

Agnosticism is, in fact, the least tenable theological position, completely inferior to atheism* and in some instances less defensible than theism. Sweeney is correct that agnosticism for the most part constitutes a failure – and commonly a studied refusal – to think about the God question that much. I will first deal with theological agnosticism–the view that nature and/or existence of God cannot be known or disproven—and demonstrate why it so miserably fails. I will then briefly criticize a form of nontheological agnosticism — really a type of generalized skepticism or even solipsism– which is frequently invoked as a last resort whenever it appears that the argument for theological agnosticism is not going well.

Theological Agnosticism. The threshold, but often overlooked or ignored, question in any theological debate is what is meant by the word “god.” There are thousands of definitions of the term, and the arguments for atheism, theism and agnosticism will necessarily vary with the precise god under discussion. However, in general the gods may be placed into two categories: 1) gods whose nature and attributes are undefined or underdefined, unknown or unknowable and 2) gods whose nature and attributes are defined.

In connection with the first category, a common agnostic (as well as modern theistic) argument is that god’s existence cannot be disproven because god’s very definition, nature and attributes are beyond the comprehension of mere humans. Analogies involving ants are for some reason popular in making this point. Thus, it will usually be noted that although an ant lacks the cognitive ability to understand anything about the nature or powers of human beings, it would be unreasonable (and plainly false) to conclude that humans don’t exist simply because ants can’t comprehend them. Thus, it is argued, it is similarly unreasonable to conclude that god doesn’t exist simply because our puny, ant-like (compared to god’s) brains cannot comprehend the definition or nature of god.

The problem with this argument is that despite appearances, it is not really talking about god at all. In fact, it is talking about nothing at all. It reduces the word “god” to a mere sound devoid of any meaning, indistinguishable from utterances such as “poy” or “blark” or “unie, or, for that matter, the sounds made in barking or coughing. Most people, confronted with the question “does X exist” would not answer “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know,” but would rather demand to know what is signified by “X.” It is simply impossible to commit to the belief in, the disbelief in, or even the unknowability of a concept which lacks any definition whatsoever. The next time you hear an avowed agnostic that a theist’s faith in god is as justified as any other position because god is unknowable, ask whether faith in [mumble mumble cough cough] is excusable on the same grounds.

This is not to say that there are not things in the universe beyond the comprehension of humans, or things within our comprehension that we simply have not yet discovered or cannot discover. Science is discovering new, previously-unknown objects every day, and I am willing to concede that there may be things that are not even theoretically detectable by any means that humans may someday devise. My point here is that one cannot attach (or refuse to attach) the term “god” to any of those things unless that word is assigned some sort of definition.

One agnostic response has been to simply define god as the set of all presently unknown, or unknowable, things. However, this argument again fails to provide a satisfying or usuable definition. Horses were once unknown, at least in North America; did this fact make horses gods? Quarks and atoms were once unknown–should the “god” label be applied to them? Suppose tomorrow astronomers discover some new, far-away orb with properties unlike any other previously-discovered celestial object, brighter and denser than any star, and composed of elements not found on the periodic table. God? Or finally, let us hypothesize that there are millions of green, cube-shaped objects so small, distant, or otherwise elusive than no human instrument can ever detect them. Does their mere unknowability make them gods? What criteria could one possibly apply to make that assessment, if the word “god” lacks any definition?

Plainly, no one would attach the word “god” to horses, quarks, atoms, orbs or undetectable green cubes. We exclude those things from godhood precisely because we do have some (albeit vague) definition of god in the back of our minds which excludes horses, etc. from its scope. While it is also possible to refuse to exclude anything from the definition of god, to say that god is anything or everything, that god is the universe, that approach results in a sort of pantheism which is indistinguishable from atheism. It simply substitutes the word “god” for the word “universe,” without positing the existence of any being outside the universe.

Another agnostic variant on the argument is to assert the possibility of the existence of some undetectable or unknowable “higher power” or otherwise superior form of intelligence in the universe. Since this theory supplies at least some substance or definition to the concept of god, implying that it is possessed of some kind of power or intelligence, the discussion of it belongs primarily in the next section of this essay. However, insofar as the definition stops with nothing more than a reference to a superior “power” or “consciousness,” it does not supply a meaningful definition of god. There may be stars with far more power or energy than the ones currently discovered, or planets with aliens whose stupidest member is as intelligent as Steven Hawking, but again, stars or aliens do not fit the definition of god. And in any event, Steven Hawking is an atheist.

In short, an agnosticism based upon the notion of the incomprehensibility or undefinability of god simply avoids the question. And the fact that ants find humans incomprehensible, does not strip humans of definite powers and attributes, or, more importantly, make humans gods.

Most theological debate, however, centers around the existence of gods with specifically defined powers and attributes. On the low end of the spectrum are the highly anthropomorphic gods such as Zeus and Wotan with limited powers which are not really gods but little more than glorified humans, somewhat akin to fairies, leprechauns, goblins, witches, and ghosts. On the high end, and really the prime focus of the god debate, are the “gods of the philosophers” including the modern monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, having (in various permutations) the attributes of being conscious, all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), all good (omnibenevolent), immutable, immortal, infinite, omnipresent, immaterial transcendent, disembodied and eternal. (Sometimes the attributes of incomprehensibility, ineffability and invisibility are thrown in, which converts god into the undefined or unknowable type previously discussed).

The atheist attack on the modern god is generally two-fold. The first prong again generally centers on the definition given and demonstrates that the god proposed is logically impossible due to contradictions among its various attributes; some of the standard arguments are set forth in my Basic Assumptions and elsewhere. These arguments demonstrate that the term “god” is akin to a “square circle” or “married bachelor.”

The agnostic has no adequate response to these arguments. They are purely analytical, “arm-chair” refutations of god which allow no resort to empirical inquiry or speculation. The agnostic cannot suggest that maybe, in some far corner of the universe (or perhaps invisibly in the room) the god in question exists, any more than he can suggest the same of a square circle or married bachelor. The only real avenue open is to address the arguments, to demonstrate whether they are valid or invalid. But in doing so, the agnostic will be forced to commit to either theism or atheism.

The agnostic can, of course, simply back away, refuse to address or focus on the arguments. But in doing so, the agnostic fails to make any assertion at all. He remains an agnostic only in the way that a baby or a cat are agnostics, undecided or neutral on the issue merely because they have never given consideration to the question.

The second most common atheistic attack on god is “negative atheism,” which focuses on refuting the theistic arguments in favor of god, including the ontological, teleological, cosmological and moral proofs. Without discussing the arguments and their refutations, two points may be made with respect to agnosticism regarding them. First, none of the arguments purport to establish well-defined god with particular powers and attributes, so they all succumb to either the arguments against the undefined/underdefined gods discussed above, or to the analytic attacks regarding the logical impossibility of god set forth in this section. Second, and to the point, the agnostic is once again placed in the position of either converting to atheism (or theism) by addressing the arguments, or of ignoring the arguments altogether.

Non-Theological Agnosticism. Another form of agnosticism which occasionally surfaces in the course of theological debates is actually an extreme form of skepticism with no special relevance to the god question. It is simply the denial of reality, the denial of certainty regarding the existence of anything, coupled with the assertion that if nothing is certain, there cannot be certainty regarding the existence or non-existence of god. For all we know, it is argued, we may merely be brains in vats in the laboratory of a mad scientist; the universe may be an illusion, or may have been created five minutes ago; or the universe and everything in it may be doubling in size every second without our perceiving it, because everything, including our bodies, is growing in proportion.

I agree that there is no strictly logical refutation to the brains-in-vats hypothesis, or to the illusory, five-minute-old or size-doubling universes theories. But all of those scenarios are perfectly conceivable (if seemingly improbable), and thus do not imply any contradiction. However, the question of god’s existence (or square circles) is largely a logical, definitional one, fully subject to refutation by the demonstration of a contradiction. However “magical” the brains-in-vats situation might seem, it would not prove that the mad scientist, or anything else, was God. Your vatted brain would still be required to provide a definition and demonstrate that it was beyond refutation.

One final agnostic “argument” I frequently is really nothing more than an objection to certainty and the supposed “arrogance” that accompanies it. Sometimes this is joined with the concern that if either side is “too sure” of its position it will attempt to “force” it upon the other. But there are arrogant physicians and an arrogant faith healers, and modest specimens of each profession. The agnostic seeking to choose between them for treatment would do better considering their claims on the merits rather than disregarding them or using personality as the sole criterion. And the argument based on the impossibility or undesirability of certainty collapses under its own weight insofar as it lays a claim to being the Truth in a way the alternatives are not.

* As used here, the term “atheism” refers to what is know as “strong” or “positive” atheism”, i.e., the claim that the existence of god can be affirmatively disproven and that all statements regarding god are false, self-contradictory, incoherent or meaningless. It is to be distinguished from “weak atheism,” which is simply a disbelief, or lack of belief, in god, without the assertion that god’s existence can be disproven. The distinction is important in the context of this discussion because most agnostics are also weak atheists–people who believe that god’s existence cannot be proven or disproven but feel that it is highly improbable Some agnostics are also theists, believing in god although they do not believe that god’s existence can ever be proven.

Flying Spaghetti Monster

August 25, 2005 | 16 Comments

Who started this whole flying spaghetti monster business in the Forums? That phrase has now even surpassed “atheist” as the top search word in my referral logs.

Cut it out. Recall that this site is dedicated to disproving the existence of some contrived, ridiculous invisible being in which no sane person could possibly believe. Please stay on topic.

Atheist’s Pro-Life Stance Exposed as a Ruse

August 24, 2005 | 19 Comments

New York, New York, August 24, 2005
The Raving Atheist

Addressing suggestions that he is either exploiting or feigning pro-life beliefs merely to win converts to atheism, The Raving Atheist has issued a statement clarifying his true views and motives.

“Atheism in and of itself is without ethical significance. I would never compromise my core moral values for the sake of empty godlessness, any more than I would do so for the trivial goal of promoting disbelief in unicorns or elves.”

“However, I unconditionally support a woman’s right to chose abortion up to the moment of birth. The reason I am pretending to be pro-life is to foster acceptance of Fermat’s Last Theorem. There are no positive integers x, y, and z such that x^n + y^n = z^n in which n is a natural number greater than 2.”

The Raving Atheist explained that many pro-lifers are mathematical illiterates who waste their lives cubing pairs of numbers and adding the products in a vain attempt to create a third cubed integer, which is precisely the result the theorem proves impossible. He added that unlike atheism, the theorem may one day find practical application in improvements to marine refrigeration systems and weather forecasting.

The plan has met with success because, as predicted, abortion opponents cannot fathom what benefit an atheist could possibly derive from faking support of pro-life causes and volunteering at crisis pregnancy clinics. The Raving Atheist says that the quasi-spiritual bond formed by the celebration of quasi-life is conducive to instilling an aversion to Pythagorean triples bearing exponents of 3 or higher. He vowed that next year he will use his blog to campaign for the dismantling of Social Security and the elimination the capital gains tax — both goals he actually opposes — in order to draw adherents to belief in the divergence of the prime reciprocal series and The Cauchy-Schwarz inequality.

Atheist’s Pro-Life Stance Exposed as a Ruse

August 24, 2005 | 1 Comment

New York, New York, August 24, 2005
The Raving Atheist

Addressing suggestions that he is either exploiting or feigning pro-life beliefs merely to win converts to atheism, The Raving Atheist has issued a statement clarifying his true views and motives.

“Atheism in and of itself is without ethical significance. I would never compromise my core moral values for the sake of empty godlessness, any more than I would do so for the trivial goal of promoting disbelief in unicorns or elves.”

“However, I unconditionally support a woman’s right to chose abortion up to the moment of birth. The reason I am pretending to be pro-life is to foster acceptance of Fermat’s Last Theorem. There are no positive integers x, y, and z such that x^n + y^n = z^n in which n is a natural number greater than 2.”

The Raving Atheist explained that many pro-lifers are mathematical illiterates who waste their lives cubing pairs of numbers and adding the products in a vain attempt to create a third cubed integer, which is precisely the result the theorem proves impossible. He added that unlike atheism, the theorem may one day find practical application in improvements to marine refrigeration systems and weather forecasting.

The plan has met with success because, as predicted, abortion opponents cannot fathom what benefit an atheist could possibly derive from faking support of pro-life causes and volunteering at crisis pregnancy clinics. The Raving Atheist says that the quasi-spiritual bond formed by the celebration of quasi-life is conducive to instilling an aversion to Pythagorean triples bearing exponents of 3 or higher. He vowed that next year he will use his blog to campaign for the dismantling of Social Security and the elimination the capital gains tax — both goals he actually opposes — in order to draw adherents to belief in the divergence of the prime reciprocal series and The Cauchy-Schwarz inequality.

C’mon People Now

August 23, 2005 | 27 Comments

I consider myself an Engine of Love, Powered by Truth. But Tertius — a militant and aggressive anti-atheist blogger whose scorched-earth rhetorical style I greatly admire — considers me a fox in the henhouse. In the comments section of The Dawn Patrol, he warned her readers of the dangers of playing footsie with the devil, even if he’s pro-life:

The Raving Atheist is a militant and aggressive anti-Christian who attracts a sizable audience of Christian-haters to his site — which serves as a platform for attacking God, Jesus and Christians at every opportunity. He is not an advocate of peaceful coexistence but is adamantly opposed to Christians having any explicit Christian voice in the political, economic, educational and social issues that confront society.

However I recognise that RA is a more logical and consistent atheist than many of the merely misinformed, foul-mouthed “internet infidels” who spew forth hatred of God all over the Web – and in his comments.

That RA’s stand on abortion is idiosyncratic from an atheistic perspective is demonstrated by the flack — scorn, derision and vilification — he has generated from many of his fellow atheists.

I do think that RA is genuine and sincere in his opposition to abortion-on-demand and I can stand with him on this issue as one who shares a common humanity, decency and concern towards the most vulnerable of our fellow humans. I commend him for his principled stand and would like to extend the courtesy of accepting that his atheism is an equally principled stand.

I would however caution Dawn that she had better have a long spoon if she is going to start supping with the likes of RA. Abortion is a terribly serious and pressing matter but not half as serious — and pressing — as hating and denying God.

I welcome people of goodwill — regardless of creed — standing together over issues of shared concern but ultimately they can be no true fellowship between atheists and Christians. They are irreconciably opposed and while Christians may want to be “nice” the atheists will take no prisoners.

I plead guilty to the first “militancy” charge, with the following caveats. I reject the central empirical and moral claims of Christianity as false, illogical and/or incoherent (see here and here for a brief summary of my objections to the salvation-by-belief-in-the-resurrection narrative and here for some general objections to the underlying god of the philosophers). Acted upon literally, those beliefs can have dangerous consequences, and I certainly direct derision at those Christians who misbehave in obedience to their delusional beliefs. Because all religions are false, I also attack the followers of other faiths who act on the harmful tenets of their religion. As I’ve noted before, I primarily focus on injustices arising from 1) penalizing innocent people and innocent conduct on the basis of false and irrational religious beliefs and 2) awarding people special privileges based upon their religious beliefs (for some examples, see the list in the first answer at this post, as well as here). I also attack atheists who reject good moral rules merely because they are coincidentally also held by religious people (see here), and agnostics who believe it is possible to evaluate a religiously-generated rule without also determining whether the underlying factual premises of the religion are true or false (see here).

As to the second charge, of intolerance, “peaceful coexistence” is not possible with people who seek the legal power to enforce their superstitions by punishing others for harmless conduct. But the breach of the peace is caused by those undertaking such efforts, not by those opposing them. I am certainly not opposed to Christians “voicing” their explicit beliefs — I’ve never so much as deleted a comment at my own blog, much less advocated that Christians be excluded from the public debate — but I certainly have an equal right to voice my opinion that they are wrong and oppose the enactment into law of penalties or rights which I consider unjust. If what Tertius means by Christians having an “explicit Christian voice” in policy is that the Christian view be granted some privileged status entitling it to easier enactment merely because it is Christian, yes, I do oppose that. However, I don’t reject laws merely because they happen to coincide with a Christian doctrine (which is inevitable insofar as Christians disagree among themselves on every debated moral issue).

Tertius probably does not really differ with me much on these points. He doesn’t want laws to be based on explicit principles of Islam, Hindu, Wicca, numerology, astrology, or even some sect of Christianity other than his own. But he wouldn’t oppose a law which impose a policy in conformance with his Catholicism merely because it was also supported by some other religion. So I am puzzled why he believes “fellowship” is impossible with atheists only, rather than with every faith that rejects the tenets of his.

The key, I suppose, is that he considers God denial (or “hating,” if one can hate what doesn’t exist) twice as serious as killing. Implicit in that belief is the notion that the Almighty is this insanely vain creature who tortures people merely for failing to believe what He has failed to make evident. Or for calling Him names. Now, I’m personally not sure if Abe Vigoda is dead or alive, but I doubt he’d roast me over a pit for doubting his existence, or even calling him an old fart. And technically, Tertius doesn’t know whether I actually exist (or whether I’m several bloggers) and he’s called me names

God Squad Review CXXXIX (Evolution vs Intelligent Design)

August 22, 2005 | 36 Comments

A religious ninth-grader who wants to be a scientist wants to know if the Squad agrees with Darwin’s theory of evolution, whether they accept the Biblical account of creation, and whether the two accounts can be reconciled. The Squad starts out with these confidence-inspiring credentials:

We love God, but we are not experts on God. We also love science, but we are not experts in science.

Ordinarily these concessions would disqualify one from answering the questions, but with the Squad, apparently “love is all you need”:

Here are our answers to your very good questions: We agree that Darwin had a good theory, but it is a theory, which means it might or might not be true. His theory is that mutation and natural selection determine how life on Earth evolves. If that theory is false, it’s false because scientific facts make it false. Darwin’s theory cannot be false just because it doesn’t agree with the Book of Genesis. Genesis is a religious book, which includes the science of 4,000 years ago.

But isn’t the science of 4,000 years ago still “science?” If Genesis contains “science,” wouldn’t it also be false only because scientific facts make it false? You’d think it would be more accurate than any science that could be conducted today, insofar as the observational data would have been collected at the time the universe was created — rather than four millennia later. After all, the Bible is trustworthy in other respects:

The Bible is definitely true in what it tells us about how God wants us to live, but some scientific statements in the Bible (like the idea that the Earth sits on poles in a pool of water and that there’s a hard shell above the Earth with gates that open for the rain to come down) are not good science.

Sure, God has some crazy, Rube Goldberg conception of how the very thing he created works. Humans are entitled to correct Him about those sorts of matters. But when it comes to living their own lives, they have to defer to God. Now, you might have suspicions that both the scientific and moral rules were just written by a bunch of cranky sexist homophobic old men — but that’s resolved by the Bible itself, which says that it was written by God.

Darwin said that what he wrote was true, too. Is that good enough? No:

Maybe Darwin’s theory is good science, but some scientists don’t think so. They point to the cell, for example, saying that all the parts of a cell had to work correctly from the beginning for cells to exist, and that if each part of a cell had to evolve, there never would be cells at all. These scientists say Darwin did not know about DNA or about the parts of a cell, so he didn’t understand how everything had to be in place all at once and not over time. They say some intelligent power had to design life on Earth.

Who are these “some scientists”? Are there any “other scientists” who have looked at cells and come to a different conclusion? Is the conclusion regarding the “intelligent power” a scientific one? Is there a scientific theory regarding how something intelligent enough to create the universe thought that “there’s a hard shell above the Earth with gates that open for the rain to come down”? Let’s ask cell-expert William Paley:

Think of a watch. If you look at one, you know there had to be a watchmaker because only a smart designer could have made something with so many parts that works so well. Scientists who differ with Darwin point to the world, noting that it has even more parts and works even better than a watch. Their logic says that just as we know watches are designed by watchmakers, it’s clear that a world maker created the Earth.

Hey, wait a minute! If the world works better than a watch, how come we have leap years? Isn’t the world off by a few seconds every year? Don’t we know that by looking at our watches?

But let’s get back to the cell analogy. Aren’t the little parts of the watch and the raw material that goes into them the equivalent of “cells”? You don’t need a smart designer to make them, because they don’t have “so many parts that work so well.” Or is there an itsy-bitsy watchpartsmaker that we haven’t seen? Does it have a name?

The Squad doesn’t say. But the scientists are unanimous about one thing:

Some of these scientists call the world maker God, while others refer to Intelligent Design.

Or Allah, or Ganesh, or Zeus. What should we tell the kids?

We do not think the biblical story of Creation should be taught in school, but we do agree with President George W. Bush that the concept of Intelligent Design should be taught in science class as another scientific theory on how life came to be.

Maybe Darwin’s theory will win out over the theory of Intelligent Design, or maybe ID will win. In any case, we don’t think science teachers should keep you from hearing both sides of the argument.

But they just said that some scientists call the world maker God. Doesn’t that “scientific theory” get into the classrooms too?

Chesterton

August 22, 2005 | 12 Comments

Science announced nonentity
And art admired decay;
The world was old and ended:
But you and I were gay.

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

Neigh!

August 22, 2005 | 17 Comments

Is The Raving Atheist a Trojan horse? Dawn Eden is concerned, having permitted him to guest post on her blog:

I’ve read other writings by the Raving Atheist and I see that his blog is a strong rallying point for those seeking affirmation that there is no God. Although I believe his pro-life views are sincere, it’s quite possible that in posting to my blog, he wishes to draw readers away from faith. Moreover, even if that’s not his motive, it’s a risk that’s present anytime I draw attention to him and his blog.

Dawn concludes, ultimately, that my moral message is more important than my [a]theological one. She also concludes, it appears, that her readers will be able to “filter out” my anti-faith message in the same way that atheists manage to ignore the faith shown to them by the religious.

I am deeply grateful to Dawn for lending me her forum. I can assure her that converting her readers to atheism played no part in my motives for posting. Whether such conversions might be the indirect result of exposure to my blog I don’t know. It’s an interesting question, one which was touched upon in of one of my Questions of the Day last year (“Would an anti-abortion atheist blog be more likely to (1) convert anti-abortion Catholics to atheism, or (2) convert pro-choice atheists to anti-abortionism?”).

But in saying that I posted with no intent to convert, I must make one thing clear. I did not make that assurance because I am one of those atheists who “doesn’t want to impose my views on others” or who graciously concedes that “atheism is just a belief like any other.” I made the assurance because as a matter of fact, my only intent in making that particular post was merely express a pro-life view. Otherwise, I make no secret that I am evangelical atheist. I do not believe that conversion, whether in politics or religion, is a dirty word, or that people should simply keep their beliefs to themselves.

In this respect I am no different from Dawn Eden. She believes in her Christianity and proselytizes through her blog as fervently as I do through mine. She does not believe in the “tolerance” that declares Christianity is “one equally valid vegetable in the great salad bowl of accepted religious traditions.” She rejects the idea that “we all worship the same God,” the impossible multiculturalist notion that was the subject of my very first post. She is, in effect, an atheist with respect to every “god” which differs in any material respect from her particular Catholic conception. So her blog, too, “is a strong rallying point for those seeking affirmation that there is no God” — if that God is a pro-abortion Hindu, Muslim, Jewish Wiccan or even Christian deity. Her concern that I might “draw readers away from faith” does not, as far as I can tell, encompass faith in those sort of entities.

But she also believes in listening and thinking and changing her views if convinced. She used to deny the divinity of Christ as much as I do, but eventually converted from Judaism. I’m not sure what she means by “filterng out,” but she does not put her fingers in her ears. She believes in a free exchange in ideas and following the truth wherever it may lead. Indeed, the first post she allowed me to make made that very point

Sweeney, Unleashed

August 20, 2005 | 38 Comments

Julia Sweeney has a couple of reflective posts relating to her dialogue with Dawn Eden about the Jesus-and-the-pig passage. Direct links to the posts are not possible; to get to them, click here; once the home page loads click on “Blog,” which will take you to the latest entry and the archive listing.

The first post, “Dawn’s Demons,” Sweeney gives the background of the exchange, reproduces the comment she left at the Dawn Patrol, and provides some additional thoughts on why she found the Bible story “even more upsetting.” In today’s post, “Anthropomorphizing Demons as Ideas,” she reveals that she actually woke up this morning thinking about the issues raised by the controversy and engages in some self-psychoanalysis over why she “mangled” the passage her San Francisco Chronicle interview. She even links to Austin Cline’s critique of the Jesus’ conduct at the Atheism section of About.com, following up with some choice thoughts on evolution and Christian capitalism.

It’s refreshing to see a celebrity discuss religious issues with intelligence, honesty and integrity. Someone in Hollywood who understands that there are alternatives to Christianity other than Scientology and Kabbalah, and who can express the reasons for her disbelief coherently. I can’t think of anyone on the theistic side of the wall out there who’s as reflective and articulate about faith

Sweeney, Unsaved

August 19, 2005 | 22 Comments

We win!!! Comedian Julia Sweeney responds to criticism of her atheism and her Biblical analysis over at the comments section of The Dawn Patrol. And she doesn’t pull any punches.

For background, see here and here.

Not so coincidentally, I’ve been posted about (and guest posted) over at The Patrol this week, although not about Ms. Sweeney. Scroll down Dawn’s site if you’re interested.

Ghouls

August 17, 2005 | 190 Comments

I call a cease-fire in the battle for Julia Sweeney’s soul to lend my enthusiastic support for Project MaxDawn Eden’s commendable campaign to publicize Planned Parenthood Golden Gate’s reprehensible pro-abortion animation, A Superhero for Choice. Although PPGG has apparently removed the cartoon from its site, you can view the abomination at any of the links listed here and/or read the full transcript here.

I have argued previously that the slogan “pro-choice is not pro-abortion” and the notion of “abortion neutrality” are largely myths. Since PPGG receives approximately $1.5 million to perform over 3,000 abortions (estimates drawn from the California State Attorney General’s records and PPGG’s Annual report), it is at the very least pro-abortion in the way that a pizzeria is pro-pizza. And PPGG’s cartoon certainly dispels any doubts about the mindset confronting any expectant woman who might walk through its doors.

In the opening seconds of the presentation “Dian” (who soon turns into the superhero “Dianysis”) provides a few examples illustrating how very trivial the organization deems the “choice” to terminate a pregnancy:

Every day you and I are faced with about a million different opportunities to make a choice. Like I choose to eat organic vegetables, or I choose to stop at a red light, or I choose to root for the Giants and not those Bushleaguers from Los Angeles.

(Emphasis supplied). Why PPGG considers compliance with basic traffic safety laws to be optional is mystifying, but it typifies the lawless amorality that follows — Dianysis’ slaughter of concededly peaceful and non-violent clinic protestors. Yes, I suppose it’s all tongue-in-cheek, and no, I don’t consider it incitement to murder. But the message is clear enough: the abortion decision has no actual moral content and those who believe otherwise are (as portrayed in the cartoon) foolish, grunting ghouls.

The cartoon cannot be dismissed as an mere aberration or accident. It plainly represents the official policy of PPGG, and was funded out of its $20 million budget. The protagonist “Dian” is deliberately modeled after the organization’s president, Dian Harrison. To date, Planned Parenthood’s national organization has not renounced it or even commented on it.

For nearly a year I have volunteered for a Crisis Pregnancy Clinic. It provides medical assistance, shelter, diapers, toys and other supplies for new and expectant mothers. Some of its clients are recruited from in front of abortion clinics by the “ghouls” so ignorantly portrayed in Superhero. But as demonstrated by the baby pictures lining the CPC’s walls, their “victims” join the ranks of the living rather than the dead.

Comedian Returns to Religion Upon Re-Reading Bible

August 16, 2005 | 3 Comments

San Francisco, California, August 16, 2005
Special to The Raving Atheist

Heeding pleas from Catholic bloggers to read the Bible more carefully and remain “open-minded” to faith, comedian Julia Sweeney has abandoned atheism and returned to religion.

On Monday, Amy Welborn chided Sweeney for misinterpreting a passage from Mark in which Jesus drowned demon-infested pigs. Sweeney was likewise excoriated this morning for the error by blogger Dawn Eden. “I can’t believe I thought Christ turned people into swine, when he actually converted people-demons into pig-devils,” say Sweeney. “It all makes sense now. Verily, we are consecrated in the Blood of the Lamb.”

The comedian also dismissed rumors that Eden would be tossed into a Lake of Fire for calling her “Sweeney Clod.” “Under Matthew 5:22, one risks Hell only for using the word ‘fool,’ and then only if it is directed against one’s ‘brother,” she explained. “Plus, properly interpreted, ‘Hell’ refers to a Land of Dancing Lollipops.”

Sweeney added that the experience has inspired her to re-read other sacred texts, including The Wiccan Rede. “To my surprise, I discovered that it is actually the werewolf who howls by the dread wolfsbane. I’m a witch . . . Eppe, peppe kakke!

Faith and Finances

August 16, 2005 | 20 Comments

Newsday asks, “What role should faith play in finances?” I cringe whenever I see that sort of softball lobbed at a panel of religious “experts.” This time, however, they also asked Gerry Dantone, coordinator of the Long Island Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. And guess what? A sensible answer:

Supernatural beliefs obviously have no role to play in planning one’s finances. There is no evidence to suggest that gods are helping or hurting the pious in making investment decisions. However, ethics should play a role in every decision that we make, and financial planning is no exception. One must consider whether a person could ethically invest in a company whose products are dangerous or in a company, for example, that discriminates against gays.

Not so sensible was the response of Ned Gandevani, the founder and director of the Muslim group Sufi-Circle. Now, he seems to be a bright enough guy: he’s an economist, the author of “How to Become a Successful Trader,” and he trains professional traders and hedge fund managers. Try to reconcile all that with this answer:

Prophet Muhammad has said, “When poverty enters from one door, faith exits from the other door.” Muslims are to express their gratitude toward Allah by pursuing a prosperous life and help their fellow humans by donating some of their good fortunes. Islamic faith encourages entrepreneurship and risk-taking business endeavors . . . . However, it prohibits Muslims from giving or taking any interest for any type of loans and credit cards. According to the Quran, the interest deprives wealth of God’s blessings. Muslims are to invest in socially responsible companies; therefore, investing in companies dealing with alcohol, gambling and alike is prohibited.

First, when poverty enters one door, you usually find a lot of highly religious people inside. Far from exiting, the faith breeds and breeds until all of the atheists run out of the house screaming.

Second, what the atheists are usually screaming about is people nutty enough to think that there’s some omnipotent being obsessed with the distinction between profits and interest. I don’t know what kind of advice Mr. Gandevani gives to his clients, but I don’t see how you can invest in any company without being tainted with the unholy stain of interest in some way. All corporations take loans, give loans, put funds in bank accounts, etc., and nobody gets to use the money for free.

Finally, do you know a hedge fund is? It’s a a highly speculative, largely unregulated investment device. That sure sounds like gambling to me.

Saving Julia Sweeney

August 15, 2005 | 68 Comments

Comedian Julia Sweeney (Saturday Night Live) is a Catholic turned hardcore atheist. She talks about it in this interview, in her one-woman show, Letting Go of God, and in her upcoming book, My Beautiful Loss of Faith.

It all came about when she was 38 and felt she was “being taken care of by God.” That made her decide to “get serious about religion” and join a church. That, in turn, led her to sign up for a Bible study class.

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooops!

To quote Sweeney: “[T]he most surprising thing overall is that anyone takes it seriously at all.”

But it’s not over yet

God Squad Review CXXXVIII (Prayer Healing)

August 15, 2005 | 8 Comments

What do you do when a neighbor who is about to have a cancer operation asks you to pray for him? The Squad gives an answer it apparently thinks would convince even the most hardened skeptic:

You should pray for him. Even if you personally don’t believe that prayer can cure cancer, remember you’re praying he can summon the courage to cope with his illness.

Now, the reader didn’t say anything about whether he believed that sky-mumbling can cure disease. But if the Squad thought he might be skeptical about that, it should have considered that he might also be skeptical about prayer’s ability to do anything. The sort of person who doubts the existence of supernatural beings who invade people’s bodies to fight cancer cells is unlikely to believe that there are nevertheless similar phantoms who go through all that trouble just to tinker with the courage-bone. (What the Squad itself believes about prayer-cures is anybody’s guess; they seem to think it works better for dogs than for grandmothers).

The Squad also counsels the reader not to cry in front of the neighbor and warns: “don’t talk about how great a place heaven is.” Let’s see: not two months ago another reader told the Squad he had colon cancer. Then, they they said:

We do know that someday, when you are called by God to your heavenly home, all will make sense.

Maybe you’re just not supposed talk about heaven, but it’s okay to write about it. Who knows. This sort of advice almost makes me respect the La Shawn Barbers of the world (okay, not really), who are so consistent in their believe in the afterlife that they skip over the cure nonsense and pray that you’ll get a seat in the clouds.

Gay Atheists Defame Top Priest

August 11, 2005 | 25 Comments

New York, New York
Special to The Raving Atheist

A high-ranking New York priest who frequently presides over Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Edward Cardinal Egan’s absence has been defamed by lying homosexual atheists, who accuse him of engaging in a home-wrecking affair with his 46 year old secretary.

The charges against 79 year old Monsignor Eugene Clark — a vocal proponent of the theory that gays are responsible for destroying heterosexual marriages — were raised in the course of a divorce action by the secretary’s atheistically queer husband, Philip DeFilippo. However, the only “evidence” cited by Mr. DeFilippo was (1) a videotape of the priest and Mrs. DeFilippo entering a hotel and exiting it five hours later, (2) a registry indicating that they stayed there under assumed names, and (3) the lying godless lesbian testimony of the couple’s daughter that she walked into a darkened room and discovered her mother sitting in the priest’s lap wearing a satin teddy.

Clark’s attorney unambiguously and emphatically denied the claims, calling them “contrived.” In his defense, Monsignor Clark reissued a statement he made in 1999, suggesting that it might contain the true reasons for the DeFilippo’s marital woes:

[Homosexuals are] the enemy of Christian marriage and Christian falling in love and all the tenderness that goes with that….They are saying, ‘Don’t pay attention to that business of permanence and fidelity.'”

Fidelity [is a] A serious business. We say faithful meaning faithful to one’s spouse. Faithful to my wife. Faithful to my husband that I will not wander . . . I will not be unfaithful in the sense of having a sexual union with someone else and thinking it of no account. It’s a shocking injury to your spouse and that’s what the Lord is telling us. It destroys family confidence and trust.”

Where are you at 45 if you’re a wife who preferred a handsomer, more interesting man than the man you married?” Clark asks. “If your children are deprived of a father or mother because of your strong desire, you’ve done something terrible to them . . . No way you can make it up.”

Creepy

August 10, 2005 | 16 Comments

I know La Shawn Barber’s just trying to be kind, but sorry, I find everything about this post to be downright creepy:

When It Rains, It Pours

The wife of the late Christopher “Superman” Reeve has lung cancer. I don’t know if Mrs. Reeve is a believing woman, but in case she isn’t, I’m going to pray for her salvation.

Lung cancer is “pouring”, indeed: it’s the world’s top cancer killer with 1.3 million deaths worldwide. I’m sure that’s the statistic to which Ms. Barber was referring. Unless of course she just meant Peter Jennings. If she did intend the late anchorman and the universe of raindrops is restricted to celebrities, I have several objections to the analogy. Aside from its elitism (and the fact that two drops do not a downpour make), keep in mind that (1) Mrs. Reeve is merely the spouse of a former celebrity and (2) Ms. Reeve is not dead yet.

The second point makes the prayers for salvation seem a bit premature (although the non-existence of God and an afterlife would make it useless in any event). No reason to rush the poor woman in to the grave. Why not pray for her to be cured, along with the other 1,299,999 non-celebrities? I know that this Washington Post article indicates that such entreaties to the sky are futile, but since Ms. Barber is not really intending to really help anyone in any meaningful way, it’s the thought that counts. Let’s go even further: why not pray that everyone who will die of any cause be saved, regardless of their fame or suspicions of their atheism.

That is what a moral person would do, even one crazy enough to believe in prayer. But Ms. Barber’s view of morality is also crazy:

The Bible declares that we’re all sinners, falling short of God’s glory. We’re not made righteous (sinless) through “morality” or by being a “good person” or following the law. We are righteous through Christ, as testified by the prophets of old and believers in the present age. (Romans 3)

Yes, morality has nothing to do with “morality” or being “good,” those terms being so contemptible they need to be ostracized with scare quotes. True morality involves being righteous “through” a crucified Jew, the quotes here indicating I don’t have the slightest idea what the word means in this context. Do I crawl “through” the holes in his hands or feet? Also, why do I do that? Such a wacky theory really calls for an explanation, certainly more than a bare citation to a book of mythology.

Assuming the salvation theory is coherent and/or correct, it might be more effective to e-mail Mrs. Reeve the details. The odds that she’ll chance across Ms. Barber’s blog are rather slim. It almost looks like Ms. Barber is merely using Mrs. Reeve’s quasi-celebrity to broadcast to her readers that she is a “good person,” which would not make her “good” at all. No, she really needs to contact Mrs. Reeve and carefully explain the roadmap to heaven. Especially since the stakes are so high:

God also says that the penalty for sin is death, spiritually (separation from God) and physically, but those who believe in Christ are “pardoned” and will have eternal life. We Christians need to remember that there will always be those who don’t know Christ and don’t want to know Him, even mocking us to our faces for believing such things.

Here Ms. Barber correctly (if dimly) perceives that those uninitiated in her superstitions might find her barking moonbat crazy. Once again, if her martyr-god theory has some underlying merit, this would be the place to lay it out. Barking louder doesn’t really help:

But God told us it would be so:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things

Dummkopf

August 9, 2005 | 76 Comments

Bill O’Reilly’s at it again:

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith.

Yes, I’m just playing the old put-Hitler’s-words-in-someone-else’s-mouth trick. But if you fell for it you deserved it, because everyone knows that Bill’s sentences are much shorter and snappier. If you’re still having trouble telling the two apart, just remember that Dur Fuhrer abhorred pornography.

You might also want to take a look at the post from which I pinched the quote: Robert Flynn’s analysis The SOMA Review of whether Hitler was a Christian or an atheist. Before we turn the comments section into a battlefield on that issue, though, let me propose a compromise: he wasn’t religious, but spiritual.

God Squad Review CXXXVII

August 8, 2005 | 14 Comments

It doesn’t seem fair that “some people skip through life, while others suffer tragedy after tragedy,” complains a Squad reader. The Squad has all the answers to this one, and I do mean all. No consistency between them, of course, so take your pick. They being with “luck”:

God gives us life. If we’re lucky, God gives us life and love, and if we’re terrifically lucky, God gives us long life, much love, and no big bumps. The truth is, luck is only part of it.

Sort of like a poker game, then. The luck is what cards you get and the skill is what you do with them. Exactly what you’d expect an omnipotent being to do. I mean, God is like your father

Welcome To the Club

August 6, 2005 | 28 Comments

Boo fucking hoo:

Boston Archdiocese Facing First Tax Bills.

Owners of vacant commercial property can’t go crying to the tax man just because they’re down on their luck. Even if there’s some justification for exempting a church as a charity, once it’s just an empty building it shouldn’t be treated any differently than an emply shopping center.

And quite frankly, even when a church is full it should be taxed to the max if its “charity” consists primarily of providing a place for people to talk to the sky and sing. A karaoke bar does as much. In fact, churches should be charged a luxury tax if the services they provide are truly as priceless as they claim.

Outrage

August 5, 2005 | 18 Comments

The lack of religion is responsible for the success of terrorism, according to Bill O’Reilly. “Terrorist acts are routinely justified and accepted by people who feel little for their fellow man,” says Bill, wagging a finger at all of us heartless atheists. And it all started when we began tearing down the courthouse nativity scenes:

The relentless attack on public displays of spirituality and religion by progressive secularists has been extremely effective worldwide. Church-going in Western Europe, for example, has collapsed in many countries. Harvard professor Niall Ferguson calls the decline of Christianity in Europe “one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.” Ferguson cites a Gallup Poll that shows barely 20% of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week.

What he means by “public” displays isn’t clear: does he mean government-sponsored displays, or members of the public expressing their religion by wearing crucifixes and erecting Christmas trees on their property, etc.? Perhaps the secularists were objecting to the former, but nobody was stopping private citizens from acting stupidly. So maybe the lack of public displays of religion was due to the public not believing in all that silly nonsense any more. That’s probably also the reason they stopped going to church, unless O’Reilly is suggesting that the secularists were blocking the cathedral doors. Or is he suggesting that the government should force people to go to church? Who knows. In any event, the consequences of this lack of religio-spirituality are dire:

In Britain, only ten percent of those polled said they would be willing to die for their religious beliefs. And guess who loves that statistic? Can you say the Islama-fascists?

“Only” ten percent? Whoa — you’ll never see me in London. I thought suicide bombing was the problem, not the solution. I may believe that Coke tastes better than Pepsi, but I’m not willing to strap on fifty pounds of explosives to prove it. And my soda thesis is a true, or at least coherent, sort of belief. Is O’Reilly seriously suggesting that the world would be a safer place if the majority of fundamentalist Christians were amenable to blowing themselves up? (Hmmm, maybe he’s on to something).

As to making the Islama-fascists happy, do we really care whether they smile or frown at statistics? They’re crazy. And more than likely, they’d love it more if the holy war involved millions of big explosions. Allah likes fireworks. Anyway, apart from making us unwilling to self-immolate, the lack of religion is turning us into perverts:

In America, the anti-religious forces are led by the ACLU and activist liberal judges who are aided by an increasingly secular media. It is no accident that we have thousands of child sex offenders running wild in this country. The crime of child sexual abuse used to be second only to murder. Now the ACLU defends the North American Man-Boy Love Association in court, claiming their free speech rights are being violated.

Certainly, there’d be no child-abuse scandals if priests were running the country. Put another way:

Well, if I took you down there then I’d want to take a shower with you right away, that would be the first thing I’d do…yeah, we’d check into the room, and we would order up some room service and uh and you’d definitely get two wines into you are quickly as I could get into you I would get ‘em into you… maybe intravenously, get those glasses of wine into you…

You would basically be in the shower and then I would come in and I’d join you and you would have your back to me and I would take that little loofa thing and kinda soap up your back… rub it all over you, get you to relax, hot water… and um… you know, you’d feel the tension drain out of you and uh you still would be with your back to me then I would kinda put my arm — it’s one of those mitts, those loofa mitts you know, so I got my hands in it… and I would put it around front, kinda rub your tummy a little bit with it, and then with my other hand I would start to massage your boobs, get your nipples really hard… ‘cuz I like that and you have really spectacular boobs…

So anyway I’d be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda kissing your neck from behind… and then I would take the other hand with the falafel thing and I’d put it on your pussy but you’d have to do it really light, just kind of a tease business.

Oops, sorry, that wasn’t in the essay

Feisty and Shrewd

August 3, 2005 | 63 Comments

You can read the Universist’s side of their dispute with the Cool Beans coffee shop here, and some other background on the controversy here. Personally, I’m not sure whether a coffee shop is the best battleground for shrill theological debates — I thought the public schools were proper place for that. But I do know that at an atheist website, the Christian side of the matter (if that’s what it really is) is always welcome to pull up a chair and set a awhile. So here’s the uncensored, unedited version of events from Cool Beans owner Amy Anderson. Quite frankly, I’d never thought I’d see the day when the main page of a corporate website would be devoted to defending itself against charges of discrimination against atheists:

Due to recent events involving Cool Beans Coffee House and a group, the Universists, I am compelled to make a statement to clarify the position of Cool Beans on meetings by various groups and/or individuals in Cool Beans.

First of all, historically, Cool Beans has been a meeting place for many different types of groups and individuals. We’ve enjoyed greatly this non-homogenous dynamic that has evolved within our place of business. We’ve embraced the diversity that is represented in our clientele on a daily basis. This fact is evidenced by the ongoing use of our location by both secular and faith-based groups and events.

As an owner of Cool Beans, I have to make decisions on behalf of the business in order to assure that our atmosphere is one that is inviting, non-threatening, and peaceful. These qualities are essential to the life and prosperity of Cool Beans. And so, to that end, I made a decision recently to close our location to the Universists, as a group, for a place to conduct meetings. The facts related to this situation are as follows:

Recently, I was approached by several members of my staff stating that a representative from the Universists was questioning the disappearance of brochures that had been placed within Cool Beans, and was apparently angry. As I later came to know, Ford Vox was this representative. He questioned the employees regarding the brochures and asked if the owner was Christian. I spoke to Mr. Vox shortly thereafter during which time he let me know that his intentions were to have his group meet at Cool Beans. I stated that I was unaware of his group in general, but that I was uncomfortable having them meet at my store as a group. I welcomed Mr. Vox, and any individual associated with the Universists stating that they would always be treated fairly and with the same respect extended to all customers of Cool Beans.

The basis for this decision on my part was a direct result of the the message presented on their literature which, in my opinion was blatantly antagonistic. The Universists boast on their literature a reputation of being “Especially feisty and shrewd”, as quoted by the New York Times. Other verbage suggests that the group is interested in “radical uprisings” against, in their words, “the faithful”. As a business owner, I cannot provide a venue for any such religious or political platforms which may result in the disruption of a peaceful business environment.

During my conversation with Mr. Vox, he asked if I was “Christian”. To this, I responded simply “yes”. This is a fact about me personally, but is not the basis for my decision as Mr. Vox has stated in recent publications.

Unfortunately, the facts about this situation have been misconstrued not only by the Universists, but by local congregations as well. To clarify any misinformation that may have been published, I am going on record now stating that we at Cool Beans have no policy prohibiting any group or individual from meeting here based on race, gender, age, sexual,or religious orientation. Any decision to deny access to Cool Beans as a meeting place is based solely on factors that may interrupt the normal flow of business and profitability.

Cool Beans Coffee House, Inc. is open to all individuals regardless of religious preference, race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. However, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who may disrupt the normal flow of business. Our policy is that any group meetings consisting of 10 or more participants are to be scheduled in advance with the owner(s) and/or manager.

Thank you for your interest in Cool Beans. Please address any questions or comments regarding this matter to cbcoffeehouse@charter.net. I will attempt to provide additional clarification as needed.

Sincerely,

Amy Anderson, President
Cool Beans Coffee House, Inc.

Brian Flemming’s analysis is here.

God Squad Review CXXXVI (Interfaith Marriage; Predestination)

August 1, 2005 | 22 Comments

Are the misanthropes who regularly comment at The Raving Atheist as mentally and emotionally crippled as the people who write The God Squad for advice? Not by a long shot, judging by the two letters to this week’s column. The scary thing is that both readers think that their psychotic ramblings pose perfectly sensible concerns. The first question is from a jackass who believes that superstition should trump every form of human relationship:

I’m Jewish and my girlfriend is Christian. We’ve dated on and off (due to arguments) for the past seven years and she’s now pregnant. We were planning to go our separate ways just before we found this out. Our main reason for not getting married has been because neither of us wants to change religions. My concern is that my family keeps a kosher house, and if we get married, my girlfriend will not want to be as strict about it. I also want to become more religious later in life. What problems do you foresee if we do get married? I also want to have more children, but with her they will not be Jewish. I don’t believe in Jesus or anything about Christianity. This baby will not be raised Jewish, and I feel I will not have the special bond with the child that my girlfriend will. I do love my girlfriend, but should I still marry her?

He wants to become more religious? Sure seems crazy enough to me. Rejects the Jesus crap as ridiculous, but thinks God is obsessed with what goes on in the kitchen. Oh, and doesn’t think he could bond with his own child unless he’s the one to drive it insane, and is about to dump someone he “loves” over this nonsense. Not that he actually takes it all that seriously now; he’s just planning to step up the madness “later in life” and wants to make sure the delusions will take center stage. Even the Squad seems taken for a loop:

Now, let’s get this straight: You’re “living in sin,” you’ve impregnated your girlfriend, and you’re worried that she won’t keep kosher?

So it seems the guy overlooked that God hates fornicators and their bastard children more than people who eat shrimp. But I bet the Squad will regret trivializing Kosher law next time they’re touting the “spiritual importance” of making sure that crispy thing next to your eggs wasn’t once running around on cloven hooves. In this case, however, it turns out that the couple’s problem has nothing to do with religion at all:

First off, you and your girlfriend desperately need counseling to determine if your arguments have been due to the natural growing pains of true love, or incompatibility and selfishness that would surely doom any marriage.

Growing pains/incompatibility and selfishness? Is that all the the guy was talking about? Let’s read his letter again (Squad, pay attention to what’s in fucking boldfaced and underlined):

I’m Jewish and my girlfriend is Christian. We’ve dated on and off (due to arguments) for the past seven years and she’s now pregnant. We were planning to go our separate ways just before we found this out. Our main reason for not getting married has been because neither of us wants to change religions. My concern is that my family keeps a kosher house, and if we get married, my girlfriend will not want to be as strict about it. I also want to become more religious later in life. What problems do you foresee if we do get married? I also want to have more children, but with her they will not be Jewish. I don’t believe in Jesus or anything about Christianity. This baby will not be raised Jewish, and I feel I will not have the special bond with the child that my girlfriend will. I do love my girlfriend, but should I still marry her?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the Squad got it the first time around. They’ve answered plenty of question from interfaith couples whose relationship is being destroyed by ancient fairy tales, and usually the solution is to dump love in favor of faith. This time, however, the response has something to do with a reform Jewish synagogue. The answer is confused enough that perhaps they had help writing it from the guy who wrote the next letter:

I’m a 53-year-old divorced man with six children. I’ve been raising these kids by myself for almost nine years. Their mother wants nothing to do with them. I do believe in God and that he sent his son to die for our sins, but I struggle with my faith. I have health concerns and am constantly worried about dying. I also have a question: The Bible says that God knew us even before we were born. If God knows us before we are born, he would know if we were going to go to heaven. How could such a God create someone and send him to hell?

What a sad, sad, jumble. I got six kids the bitch left us God killed Jesus for ours sins and I’m dying so answer my riddle about predestination.. The Squad fights fire with fire:

Just as you were asked to sacrifice for them when their mother left, so you can understand the power of the Christian belief that God sent Jesus to die for our sins. He wanted to show the depth of his love for us, as you’re trying to do with your children.

Yeah, but God didn’t sacrifice for Jesus, he sacrificed Jesus. Maybe the guy should just slaughter his offspring to atone for the sins of their mother. And as to the brain-teaser about omniscience:

To say that God knows us even before we are born does not mean God forces us to do anything, or that God has predestined our fate. On the contrary, God encourages us to choose life over death, virtue over sin and hope over despair.

To say that an all-knowing being knows us pretty much implies that he knows all about us. Certainly, if we mindlessly accept this odd notion that he knows us “before we are born,” it’s not such a leap of logic to assume he knows what happens “after we die.” And notwithstanding that we’re “encouraged” to choose life over death (except when killing our only begotten sons), we all die whether we choose it or not. Once that happens, I have to assume that it’s God who “forces” us to go to heaven or hell.

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