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Which church was that again? November 24, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, UbiDubiKids.
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UbiDubikid#2 got a wonderful letter from her school yesterday.  I’ve redacted the personal details to avoid embarrassing anybody, but the typo in this is too good not to share:

Moron Letter

At least I assume it was a typo.  This just made my day!

Things that were great when you were a kid… November 17, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, Questions.
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….but suck in hindsight.

This post was prompted by the comment thread on this post from Quixie.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, there were things that I liked.  Stuff that was just great.  And in hindsight, some of it was really great, but now when I revisit it, it turns out that a lot of it is awful.  Just really painfully terrible.  So bad that I wish I hadn’t revisited it, and just kept the memories of how great this stuff was back then.

A few examples from me, and then I’d love to hear some from everybody else.

Spaghetti-O’s.  The “neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon” turns out to be way overcooked.  I liked this stuff?

Kool-Aid.  I remember being excited by Kool-Aid, now I just see big glasses of red dye # 40, sugar, and citric acid, just waiting to permanently stain a carpet.

Saturday Morning live action children’s programming from Sid & Marty Krofft.  This was ubiquitous.  H.R. Puffinstuf, Land of the Lost,  Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monster.  Did I really look forward to Far Out Space Nuts?  (Essentially Gilligan in space.) (OK, I still have a soft spot for The Bugaloos.)

Sugar Daddys.  Sometimes I was given these on Halloween.  Who does this?  It’s sort of caramel, but too hard to bite into without breaking your teeth.  And it’s not quite hard candy either, so it’s too awkward to just suck on it.  It’s too large to pop into your mouth to soften up, plus there’s a stick in the way.  Did anybody actually like these? (Could have been worse, I guess, could have been Necco Wafers or Good & Plenty.)

Animated Star Trek.  OK, I admit that we were in Trek withdrawal, only having three seasons of the original series to watch over and over until we had them memorized.  But really, this was the best they could do?

And of course, the copious reading material available for kids in every doctor’s and dentist’s office.  Looking at these now, they are the complete opposite of fun.

I’m sure you younger people have stuff from more recent eras.  Tell me!

17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists October 19, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Questions, Responses, Uncategorized.
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Godless Mom was contacted by a christian student with a series of questions.  And, surprise, instead of being “gotcha” questions, they seem to be actual genuine questions, a real effort to understand non-belief.  So I’ll answer them here, and also cross-post them in the comments to the original blog entry, here:


Other bloggers and commenters have answered them, but I’m going to give my own answers without comparison to theirs.  So I apologize if this comes out as repetitive.

1. Why are you an atheist?

Because I don’t have enough evidence to warrant belief in any god.

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?

Sure, I was raised liberal Protestant, and it was just the assumption everyone made.  God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, so let’s sing some more songs about love.  I was the kid that was involved in everything – Sunday school, youth group, youth choir, retreats, conferences, handbells, VBS, I showed up for everything, and I had a great time too.  If you ask me whether a bad experience at church put me off religion, I’ll have to say no.

3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

No.  Traumatic things happened, and they might have been some of the factors involved in my thought processes, but no specific traumatic event made me stop believing.

4. If not, why did you stop believing?

In college a lot of factors came together that finally got me thinking about what I believed, and whether the stuff the church said was true was actually true.  Dealing with judgmental fundamentalist students.  Listening to Brother Jed’s ranting, among other crazy campus preachers. Reading great books.  Tons and tons of science and math classes. And especially reading the bible all the way through for the second time.  When I looked at everything, I realized that the belief system I had been fed, while very nice and lovey-dovey, was not something I thought was actually true.

5. What do you think happens to us when we die?

The same thing that happens to any other animal.  We stop existing, and the atoms that we are made of go on to be part of other living things.

6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?

As social animals, we need to live in groups to survive, and get along together.  We’ve worked out rules for doing this over thousands of years, by trial and error.  We keep improving these rules, which is why there are things that people thought were OK hundreds of years ago that we now have decided are unacceptable.

Personally I got my morals from my parents, from school, from society in general, and my personal senses of empathy and compassion.

7. Where do you think the universe came from?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to have an answer to this either, I’m OK with not knowing stuff.  Scientists are working on this problem, and have some interesting ideas.

Every religion has an origin story, and none of them match up. This tells me that people who think invisible spirits talk to them are not a reliable source for accurate information about the universe.

8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?

Stay quiet

They’ve brought atheism into the public arena as something that can now be talked about openly.   Their books have helped a lot of people find their way out of religion, and that’s great.  Individually, each of them has/had positions that I agree with, and some that I don’t agree with.  They are just three voices among a chorus of many other voices, though.  They get the most attention, but they are not necessarily our best thinkers.

9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

If you use the definition of strong atheism as a positive belief that there are no gods and weak atheism as lack of belief in any gods, then I would be a weak atheist.  However, those terms make my position seem wishy-washy and timid, so I don’t like them.  I prefer agnostic atheist.

10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

You can’t.  However the first problem there is that there are so many different definitions of “god”.  If you pin down one specific idea of a god that’s actually testable, someone else will pop up and say “well, that’s not the god I believe in.”  Some modern theologians go all the way to completely nebulous definitions like “the ground of all being.”  If you can’t even define it, how would you go about proving or disproving it?

11. Do you believe in miracles?

You mean localized violations of the laws of nature, to demonstrate the particular favor of a supernatural being?  Nope.

12. Do you have a support group/system?

When I originally deconverted, no I didn’t, but that was in the 1980’s.  Back then my only support system was books.  Sagan, Asimov, Bronowski, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Jay Gould.

Now, with the internet, all nonbelievers can have a support system.

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?

I try to get others to think more clearly.  I try to help them understand the limitations and biases of the human brain, and how it often leads us to jump to conclusions.  I try to get them to think about why they believe what they believe, instead of just accepting what they are told.  Once someone starts thinking, they often reach the conclusion that religion is BS on their own.

Once someone has taken the first steps toward non-belief, I do try to support them in that, because there are so many pressures on them to remain a believer.

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

That doesn’t really come up much for me.  I’m not a very social person, that’s just my personality.  My friends and immediate family all know, most of them are atheists or non-christians anyway.  At work and in my arts group I consider my religious views to be “not their business” and I don’t bring it up.

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

On the internet, all the frikkin’ time.  But they usually try apologetics, which aren’t any good for that purpose.  Apologetics are for reinforcing believers’ confidence in their beliefs, not for changing the minds of non-believers.  What it would take to change my mind is evidence, and they never have any of that.

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

My spouse and children are also atheists, so no problems there.  As for my extended family, there’s quite a few fundamentalists, and I don’t generally bring it up with them (see “not their business” above.)  Although we’ve had some interesting emails from my fundamentalist brother-in-law.

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

She did some really important work, including helping get rid of compulsory bible-reading in public schools.  Her public image was certainly abrasive and confrontational, but at the time that might have been the only way to get any media attention for the points she wanted to make.   I might not have liked her personally if I had had a chance to know her, but I think her work has had lasting effects.

Thoughts on The Martian September 3, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Books.
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Just finished The Martian, by Andy Weir.

Woot!!!!  This is one of the most wonderfully nerdy books I’ve read in a long time.  I’d spend a lot of time talking about it here, but XKCD already summed it up so well:

The Martian

Hovertext: I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you’ve just bricked something important because you didn’t pay enough attention to a loose wire



Thoughts on Inkheart September 1, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Books.
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1 comment so far

(Spoiler Warning.  Sorry.)

Even now after all these years, I’m still in Harry Potter withdrawal.  I’ve been looking for other book series to help make up for the lack of new Potter, and I’ve also been listening to books on CD during my daily commute, so I recently picked up the recorded version of  Inkheart.  I’d heard some people say they really liked it, and I also remembered that it had been made into a movie fairly recently.  It was read by Lynn Redgrave, that also looked promising.  So I decided to give it a try, with at least reasonable optimism.

I was fairly disappointed.  The book had a great basic premise, a person who can bring characters out of books to life just by reading aloud.  Lots of potential there!  However, the execution from there was pretty lackluster and uncreative for most of the book.  It was also about twice as long as it needed to be for the amount of plot.  (Lynn Redgrave did a terrific job with the narration, though, no complaints there!)

First, the book took waaay too long to get going.  I felt that I had been listening for hours before we actually had an event that really got the plot moving along.   Eventually we get around to the central conflict of the book – the main character’s dad had accidentally read several characters out of a book some years back (the eponymous Inkheart) and a couple of those were villains who are intent on taking both the dad and all existing copies of the book back to their secret HQ for nefarious purposes.

The book these villains are from is full of magic – fairies, goblins, etc.  So what magic do these villains have?  None!  They are just plain-old gangsters and thugs.  What’s their motivation?  Money and power.  Yawn.   As many books as we have full of people dealing with real-world gangsters, why pull characters out of a magical book only to have them be as ordinary as this?

A lot of the rest of the book is taken up with our heroes finding the bad guys’ hideout, being captured and held there, escaping from it via a long cross-country trek, searching out help, and once more being captured and held there.  This being caught and running away and being caught again occupied too much of the length of the book. (Sam and Frodo, get across the swamp already!)  There were a few points where the author could have used characters from other books to bring some real interest into the story, but missed the chance.  for instance the evil mastermind has ordered Dad to read treasure out of books for him, and he inadvertently reads a character out of 1001 Arabian Nights.  Does he bring us Ali Baba, or Aladdin, or a genie, or a roc?  No, he gets an ordinary kid, with nothing particularly interesting about him.  Later, our protagonist Meggie (a 12-year-old girl, no surprise there) finds she can also bring characters out of books when she unexpectedly reads Tinkerbell out of Peter Pan.  Now we’re getting somewhere, right?  The power has finally brought us someone who can be helpful, right?  Nope.  At that point in the story Meggie is being held prisoner (again), and could have used some fairy dust and a few happy thoughts to fly right away from her captors.  But no, one of the thugs grabs Tinkerbell and stuffs her in a jar for most of the rest of the story, taking her out of the action. Not until the final confrontation is the power to bring characters out of books used with any intent to help resolve any of their problems.  If the entire book were as interesting as the ending, I would have liked it a lot better.

A few other weaknesses jumped out at me, like the character of Aunt Elinor.  If someone was going to do something stupid, or have an emotional outburst, it was always her.  Too predictable, there should have been some unexpected resourcefulness from her at the end, but there really wasn’t.   And there was a lovely marten with horns that had been read out of Inkheart, and his special ability?  None, he’s just a pet, sort of, and not a very tame one at that.  As far as I can tell he doesn’t figure into the plot at all, he’s just set dressing.

I remember back when I was a kid that fairly often I would read an old book or see a TV special written as “children’s literature”, that supposedly had a magical story, but really the magic didn’t show up at all until right at the very end, and when it did it was totally underwhelming.  A big build-up, and then pffft.  I’d list some examples here for you, but those stories were so unmemorable that I can’t even recall any of their names.  That’s what this book reminded me of.  I’m debating whether to continue on and read any more of the series, to see if the author will really dive in an make more creative use of the “read characters out of books” idea.  Has anybody read the rest of the series, and does it get better?

I ♥ Pluto! July 18, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Events, Wow.
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Over the past few of weeks I’ve been pretty obsessively following the news from the New Horizons probe.  It’s distracted me from the volcanocam and even the photos of Ceres from Dawn!  I’ve watched the images rapidly go from small and smudgy:

Pluto May

To showing some surface features:

Pluto June

To an amazing image of a world that’s far more interesting then I would have imagined:


Wow!  Look at the color, and how few craters there are, and it even has a heart!

Of course, in space, there’s not actually an up or down, and so the orientation of this photo is rather arbitrary on the part of NASA.  They could have published it like this:

Pluto inverted


Then instead of saying “Pluto has a heart!”  We’d be saying “Pluto is mooning us!”  Which is probably a good reason for NASA to have the photo orientation the way they do.

Here’s probably my favorite image from this past week:

Love Pluto





48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 6) June 22, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Previous post in this series

One last set and we’re done.

41. How did the moon form?

Finally, one question that is not stupid!!  Congratulations!!

One hypothesis is that the moon formed early in the formation of the solar system.  Most likely the newly forming earth was struck by another very large body, and the debris from this collision coalesced into the moon.  This explanation fits a lot of the things we know about the moon, but not everything.

There are other possibilities:  Perhaps the Earth and Moon formed together out of the same part of the original accretion disc.  But that leaves open the question of why Venus does not have a similar moon, or why our system has so much angular momentum.  Or perhaps the moon formed separately, and was captured by earth’s gravity.  We are learning more all the time



42. Did you know that famous scientists like Newton, Sir Richard Owen, Einstein, Galileo, and Copernicus were creationists?

Einstein was certainly not a creationist.  He said, in a 1954 letter “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”  So it’s a really bad idea to lump Einstein in with the others.

Each of those other men were raised in religion-soaked atmospheres, and despite that each discovered an important part of how the universe works.  (In the case of Copernicus and Galileo, the church did everything they could to put a stop to their work and suppress their results.)   Newton invented calculus but also believed in alchemy.  Does that mean we are under an obligation to believe in alchemy too?  These were brilliant men, but they weren’t prophets.

43. Why do we not see black people come from white people?

Because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time.  We’ve gone over this before.  Isolate a population for thousands of years, in an environment where darker skinned people have better reproductive success than lighter skinned people, and when you check back their descendants  will probably have generally darker skins.



44. Why are fruitflies still fruitflies in the lab experiments if they are claimed to prove evolution?

Sigh.  Again, because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time.  We haven’t been at the lab experiments long enough.

45. Did you know that the Piltdown Man was a hoax used for Darwinist propaganda?

No, because it wasn’t.  Piltdown man was a hoax perpetrated on scientists by people who wanted the evidence to show that humans had evolved in Great Britain instead of Africa.  (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a strong suspect for being one of the perpetrators.)  And it was the scientists who exposed the hoax, by doing science the right way.  They collected actual evidence from many places, evaluated all of it, and realized that Piltdown didn’t match anything else they had found, not by a longshot, which was suspicious.  Once they developed the tools for dating bones, they quickly determined that it was not an ancient skull but a modern fake.


The Piltdown bones, a medieval cranium and a stained orang-utan jaw.

The Piltdown bones, a medieval cranium and a stained orang-utan jaw planted in a quarry. Scientists exposed it as a forgery in 1953.

46. Why do we not see frogs turn into birds?

One more time!  Because evolution only moves in small steps and takes a long time!  The last common ancestor of birds and frogs was over 300 million years ago (and was neither a bird, nor a frog).  Both lineages have been adapting in different directions ever since then.  The amount of difference between the anatomy of a bird and a frog is so large that you are unlikely to see something of that magnitude happen again unless you are willing to wait hundreds of millions of years.

47. Why is Fox News dishonest if it is a network run by truthful Christians?

You’ve already stated the problem right there. You are assuming that being christian makes one more likely to tell the truth, whereas this is not the case.  Christians have a vested interest in never having to change their minds about anything they believe.  So if truth is getting in the way of faith, it’s the truth that has to go, not the faith.  So Fox is the channel of self-deception and confirmation bias.  They don’t tell it like it is, they tell it like they want it to be, and trust that their viewers will never bother to check on the facts.

48.  Why did Hitler fail to make a superior race if evolution is true?

Triple Facepalm

Triple Facepalm

Now you’ve invoked Godwin’s Law, which I suppose is as good a way as any to conclude a really long list of stupid questions.  Hitler was not using natural selection, he was trying to use artificial selection, which has been known and used for thousands of years by farmers.  And that kind of selective breeding doesn’t make plants and animals superior, it makes them different.  We breed in traits that are useful to us, but that comes at a cost of the change or loss of other traits.  Bananas are lovely and seedless, but that has resulted in all our banana plants being grown from shoots, and so they are genetically identical and a blight that kills one plant will kill them all.  Wheat and corn can no longer reproduce without human assistance, sheep must be sheared because they no longer naturally shed their winter fleece, and most of our domestic animals are now too stupid to be able to avoid predators.  

If Hitler had had enough time (which he didn’t because humans breed so slowly,  and also because we rightly put a stop to it) he might have produced people that were different, but could not have created the supermen he envisioned.


Finally done!  Has anybody else out there been asked any questions that are worthy of a list like this?

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 5) June 21, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Previous post in this series

Stupid questions continue, is there no end?

33.  If there is no God, then why do we have laws that govern us, such as speed limits?

Ah, this is a good time for me to talk about the two kinds of things we might be talking about when we say “laws”!

First, there’s the rules that humans make for ourselves to allow us to live together in large prosperous groups.  If you live in a small group, say of hunter-gatherers, you’d know every person in the group, and what your relationship is with them.   You’d know that if you kill someone, his family will come kill you.  You’d have customs about how people usually respond to social infractions, but there’s no need for a permanent code of laws.   Laws are needed when people are living in a group so large that everybody can no longer know everybody else.  Then there needs to be official rules for behavior and how you treat others in your group, and there can be different rules for how you treat outsiders.  These rules have been worked out through trial and error over thousands of years, and we continue to modify them still.

Then there are natural laws, which are descriptive.  We observe how the universe works, and figure out the mathematical relationships of the behavior of matter and physical forces.  Thus, when we say the law of gravitation is that gravity is proportional to mass and inversely proportional to the square of distance, or when we say the speed of light is a constant, we are describing the way things are, not imposing a rule for the way things ought to be.

34. Do you know where you are going when you die?

Yes, I’m going to stop existing and not go anywhere, and the atoms that currently make up me will go on to be parts of other things in the future.  The world will continue, I just won’t be part of it.  I don’t expect it to be any different than it was before I was born.

35. Why do we not act like monkeys if it is true we came from monkeys?

First, we don’t come from modern monkeys, we share an ancestor with them.  But why would you say we don’t act like them?  Have you ever spent any time studying monkeys, or our closer cousins, the great apes?  They live in social groups with complex social behavior and communication.  Their children are dependent on their parents for a very long time, and parents spend a lot of effort caring for them.  Males put on dominance displays, individuals sit around bonding with each other (they groom, we make small talk), members of the group both compete with each other and look out for each other.  Chimps make and use tools and make war on each other.  How are we so different?

36. Why do we display The Ten Commandments in the courtrooms if you say the Bible is not real?

Tree Widdling

37. Why should be it wrong to rape if God is not real?

Considering the treatment of rape in the bible, that’s probably not the best question for you to be asking. Why is it wrong to rape if there is a god?  The Old Testament is full of rape, but there aren’t any commandments saying “Thou shalt not rape”.  The Israelites are commanded by god to destroy everyone in a town, except that they are allowed to take the virgin girls as sex slaves.  Or how about Abraham having a child by Sarah’s slave Hagar, and nothing is said about whether Hagar consented.  Or how about the verses where the only penalty for rape is a 50 shekl fine, and then the victim has to marry her rapist?  And did 13-year-old Mary really have a choice to say no when she was told god was going to impregnate her?

Without religion, we can say we do not wish other people to harm us, so we should not harm other people, and violence against other people should be right out.  Remember that humans depend on one another, and are accountable to each other, not to an invisible god.

38. Why is The Passion of The Christ very high on the Box Office?

How old are these questions?  It was popular for a little while, but not anymore.  If we are using box office earnings as a measure of truth, I’d suggest that we should be following Harry Potter. (He saved us from Voldemort, you know!)

I watched The Passion of the Christ on DVD, to see if it was appropriate to show my children for cultural background. It was straight torture porn, and I got rid of the DVD very quickly.  I guess this was a way for christians to pretend to be doing something virtuous and be able to watch torture porn without having to feel all guilty about it.

39. How can America not be a Christian nation if there are way more churches than mosques?

America can be a nation with a lot of christians in it, without being a “christian nation”.  Our founding fathers weren’t ignorant of  hundreds of years of European history with countless wars over religious differences, and endless persecution and oppression of those who even slightly differ from acceptance the official dogma.  They saw how dangerous it was to give the government to power to tell the citizens what to believe, and so wisely built a separation of church and state into our government.  Ironically by today’s standards, it was the evangelicals who were some of the strongest supporters of that separation, because at the time they were a small minority sect.  If there had been an official religion, it would either have been Congregationalist (dominant in New England) or Anglican/Episcopalian (dominant in the south), and their freedom to practice as they wished would have been suppressed.  Too bad modern evangelicals don’t know their own history.

40. How is the bible not real if it’s the most popular book read by man?

It’s a real book, but that’s probably not what you mean.  It might be the most popular book right now, but that wasn’t always the case.  Back when the Old Testament was originally being written the Hebrews were a small unimportant tribe, and there were lots of other texts that were way more popular.  You’d have had a much easier time finding a copy of the Iliad or the Odyssey or the Story of Sinhue.  Any Egyptian rich enough to buy one had a copy of The Book of the Dead put in their tomb.


And if the growth rate of Islam continues, the Qu’ran will probably overtake the bible in popularity someday.  Would that make the Qu’ran real and the bible not?

One more of these sets of questions left.

Next post in this series

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 4) June 19, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Previous post in this series.

These questions may be getting stupider, if that’s even possible.  Sorry if these answers seem so obvious, and kind of like Atheism 101.  I’ve known this stuff for a long time, but for somebody who’s been told all their life that these are clever questions, this might be unfamiliar material.

25. If creationists can’t do science, then why does the website Answersingenesis have proven science articles from creationists that do science?

It’s not that creationists can’t do science, it’s that they don’t do science. Science means testing your ideas against reality.  Science means being open to the fact that your ideas might be wrong, and may need revising or scrapping.  If there is no possible answer that you could get from your experiment that would show your hypothesis is wrong, then it’s not science.  If you start with the conclusion you want (i.e. “the bible is true”) and then cherry pick some data that supports your conclusion, that’s not science.

If those guys were really doing genuine science, they could get their papers published in real scientific journals, not some fake one they publish themselves.  The stuff they put out is religion, not science, so they can’t qualify for real journals .

26. If evolution is true, then why can’t white people compete to be good in basketball like black people? After all, white people can’t jump!

(So in addition to the stupidity, now we’re adding racism.  This just keeps getting worse and worse!)  White people can be good at basketball.   White people can jump just fine.   I refer you to  Dick Fosbury, the famous Olympic gold medalist high jumper:


The Fosbury Flop

If there were an isolated population of people where success at basketball  was necessary for reproductive success, over many generations you would see the traits that permit success at basketball begin to dominate, and there would be an evolutionary shift towards those traits in that group.  But right now it’s possible to raise lots of kids while being terrible at basketball, so that change is not likely to happen.

27. Where do you decide to fit God in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?

Wait, what?  This question demonstrates that the questioner is completely unclear on the concept of “not believing in things.”

Do you believe in Thor?  No?  Then where do you decide to fit Thor in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?  Where does Krishna fit?  How about my invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit friend?  Where do you decide to fit Harvey into your life? 

Really, before you ask some of these questions, try substituting in some religion you don’t believe in, and imagine someone from that religion asking you the question.  If it makes no sense that way, then maybe you shouldn’t be asking it either.

28. Why is Christianity the fastest growing religion if it’s false?

Because it’s not.  Remember when I said you can look this stuff up on the internet?  Well, you can look this stuff up on the internet.  Worldwide, the fastest growing religion is Islam.  In the US, the fastest growing group is the unaffiliated.  The fastest growing church in the US is probably the Mormons.  But I think that the Pastafarians are actually growing much faster than any church, there’s just nobody keeping the statistics on that.

Here’s this chart again, just as a reminder as to that in the US, christianity is not the fastest growing group.

religious landscape

29. Do you feel free to commit murders, homosexuality, go to strip bars, steal, commit adultery, and do other sins since you believe there is no God?

Wow, so much to unpack with this question.

First, this idea of “sins” is problematic.  A “sin” is doing something that god told you not to do, and if there’s no god, then there’s no “sins”.  This whole idea of “sin” is just religion trying to convince you that you have a disease and need their cure.

And then you have listed a whole bunch of behaviors, some of which harm other people and some of which don’t, apparently classifying them as equally “sinful”.  This is ridiculous.  Murder and theft cause direct harm to others, so we can agree that they are not acceptable.  Adultery is the private business of the people who are married, and what promises they made to each other.   If you promised your spouse fidelity and then violate that, that’s a breach of trust and certainly wrong for your relationship, but not on a par with murder.  I’ve got no problem with strip bars as long as the people working there are of age and are working there of their own choice.   And homosexuality is not something someone commits, it’s something they are, and there is nothing harmful about it in any way.  Conflating unlike things into one big pot of “sin” like this may be one of the things that’s putting our young people off religion.  (One in three young Americans is not religious, a huge increase in recent years.)

And do I feel free to do things that cause harm to other people?  Why would I want to?  I live in a society where I depend on other people for my survival.  My children will continue to depend on the stability of that society, and their children after them if they choose to have any.  I don’t want to live in a society where murder and violence and theft are acceptable behavior, so I don’t do that myself.  I’m accountable to the people around me for my actions, not some invisible god.

And the obvious counter to your question –  is your belief in god the only thing that’s stopping you from harming other people?  If that’s the only thing, then you must be a very bad person indeed.  And please keep believing in your religion in that case!

30. Why do the fossils say no to evolution?

They don’t.  (They don’t actually say anything, we have to study them!)  Looking at fossils is one of the things that leads to the conclusion of evolution.  We see that life has changed over time, that new animals don’t just pop in out of nowhere, but develop from prior forms.  We see that animals didn’t exist in isolation, but as part of populations living and breeding in different environments.  You should try visiting a real science museum sometime, it’s fascinating!

31. Why did Darwin admit that how the eye formed is impossible?

More mistakes!  He didn’t say that.  Here’s the full quote:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

And here’s an example of eye development, from marine animals, showing progressive stages of eye development, each useful to the animal that has it:


32. Where did everything come from if there is no God?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to know!  I may live my whole life without having an answer to this question, and I’m fine with that.  People have been working on this question a lot, but we don’t have an answer yet.  Maybe we never will.  Right now we don’t have enough information to begin to answer the question.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson has the right idea; this quote is from a discussion about UFO’s but is also relevant here:

COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY: More than three decades after Carl Sagan's groundbreaking and iconic series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," it's time once again to set sail for the stars. Host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sets off on the Ship of the Imagination to discover Earth's Cosmic Address and its coordinates in space and time in the "Standing Up in the Milky Way" Series Premiere episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY airing Sunday, March 9, 2014 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)

Well, if you don’t know what it is, that’s where your conversation should stop!

There’s lots of possibilities.  Maybe universes bud off of other universes.  Maybe there was always “something”, just in a different form.  Maybe “nothing” is unstable and always decays into “something”.  Maybe there is a hyper-dimensional cosmic cow that farts universes.  I’m not going to pretend I know, and I’m not going to believe that you magically know either.   Not knowing something is not a reason to fill the gap in your knowledge with a made-up “god”.

There’s still more of these to come…

Next post in this series

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 3) June 18, 2015

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Still more of the stupid questions…

17. How did the planets form when the Big Bang explosion all of a sudden happen? After all, you don’t see round objects form when something blows up.

Again, ungrammatical, and showing a lack of understanding of the science.  The “Big Bang” wasn’t an explosion, it was a sudden expansion of the universe itself 13.7 billion years ago from being very small to being much larger very quickly.  That expansion is continuing.  There would not have been stars and planets, not at first.   Those formed later (around 500 million years later), when things had cooled down enough.  Gravity working on dust and gas clouds  pulled them into stars.  (If there’s enough mass, gravity will pull anything into a spherical shape.  If you look at our solar system the only things that aren’t spheres are small rocks.  Everything else winds up round.)    At this point there weren’t any heavy elements, just hydrogen and helium, so there would have been no rocky planets, not for a long time.  Heavy elements are made inside of stars, and the really heavy elements are only made in the explosive deaths of large stars.  Our solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago, out of dust clouds that included those heavy elements from those ancient stellar explosions, and so could also form rocky planets that can support life.  So never mind about ancient Palestinians, stars died for you!

18.  If evolution is real, how can it explain gravity, angular momentum, human emotions, and why we worship God?

This question conflates “evolution” with “science”, a common tactic.  Evolution only explains how life forms change over time, and is part of the field of Biology.  Gravity and angular momentum are part of Physics, and not related to whether evolution is real in any way.   Humans evolved, so the brains that let us experience emotion are a product of evolution.  We aren’t the only creatures with emotion, if you are paying attention that’s obvious. Chimps laugh, elephants mourn their dead, your dog is happy to see you.  Emotions help us survive in our complicated socially interactive world.

As for why people worship gods, that’s a more interesting question.  Probably it’s a side effect of other evolved brain functions that we need for survival (patternicity, theory of mind, agenticity, credulous childhoods) combined with our built-in mental failings and limitations (confirmation bias), like a sort of mental malware that crops up.

19.  How did pond scum make living things appear out of nowhere?

The snarky answer is that it didn’t make living things appear out of nowhere, it made them appear out of pond scum!

We don’t have the full answer on how life began yet, but it’s a question scientists are working on.  We can learn a lot about what was on the early earth by looking at our geology, and also by studying other planets and moons in the solar system.  We know there was a lot of water with a lot of chemicals dissolved in it.  We know there was an atmosphere, but not any free oxygen.  We know there were sunshine, tides, freezing and thawing, volcanic vents, and lighting, all affecting this ocean full of chemicals.  We know that there were different surfaces that the chemicals could interact with, such as rock, sand, clay, and ice.  Put all this together, and you get a lot of interesting chemistry happening.  Give that chemistry a long enough time, and you may get a molecule that can make copies of itself.  Once that starts, the “nothing succeeds like success” rule takes effect, and those molecules that were better at making copies left more copies.  That, plus four billion years, is all you need!

20. How can evolution be true if we don’t see pocket watches or airplanes form by themselves?

Pocket watches and airplanes don’t breed and produce offspring.  If they did, we’d see them evolving too.

This doesn't actually happen

This doesn’t actually happen

21. Did you know that dinosaurs and man lived together?

The Flintstones is not a documentary!  However some dinosaurs did live with man, and still do. I have three small ones at home right now, a yellow one, a green one, and a blue one, and my cat is very frustrated that he can’t get in their cage to eat them.  I also ate a dinosaur sandwich for lunch today.   But you probably weren’t referring to birds, were you?

The non-bird dinosaurs all died 65 million years ago, probably as a result of a meteoroid impact. (There’s a layer we can find in the rocks all over the world that has a high level of iridium (rare on earth, more common in meteors)  that was our first big clue.  Below that layer (older) – big dinosaurs.  Above that layer (newer) – no big dinosaurs.)   Humans didn’t diverge from their common ancestor with chimps until about 6 million years ago, and our modern form is only about 100,000 years old.  Sorry, no overlap there.  You know what humans did live with? Mammoths!  We have direct evidence of this – we find mammoth bones with butcher marks from stone tools on them, we have found bones with spear points still stuck in them, we’ve found human houses that used mammoth bones in their foundations.  If humans lived with dinosaurs, we should find evidence like that – but we don’t.

22. If evolution is real, then why do caring people like Rick Santorum argue that it must be challenged in the classroom?

OK, this is another one of those questions that tells me that these questions may be meant as a spoof.  Santorum?  A caring person?  Rick Santorum?  This guy?



The only thing Santorum cares about is shoving his religion into everybody else’s business.  I’ve never seen that he cares about actual people in any way.  But I do appreciate the opportunity to do my part here to add to Santorum’s little Google Problem.

And even if he were a caring person, (which he’s not) being a caring person does not prevent somebody from being completely wrong about something.  You can’t make something false into something true just by caring harder.

23.  Why are youtube atheists like AronRa and Thunderf00t afraid to debate Ray Comfort?

They each already have debated Ray Comfort.  You can look this stuff up on the internet you know.  Next question.

24.  Why do we celebrate Christmas if Christianity is not real?

The original celebration had nothing to do with christianity.  People have been celebrating the Winter Solstice for as long as they have been keeping track of the seasons.  The christians just usurped the celebration and now pretend like it was theirs all along.  But most of the associated traditions (evergreens, decorated trees, mistletoe, yule logs, gifts, images of a mother and baby, parties) come from the older pagan traditions.

Also, why does something need to be real to have a celebration?  I celebrate Star Wars day and Captain Picard day.  People can celebrate anything they want to, that doesn’t make it real.

More stupid questions to come…


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