jump to navigation

Ten “Oh so clever” questions for Atheists – Part 3 January 30, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,

Finishing up my responses to Herald Newman’s transcriptions of apologetic questions from a Braxton Hunter Video.

Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 is here

7 – Most atheists I’ve met humbly admit that they don’t think they can have absolute certainty about much of anything but what they want from the Christian is a demonstration that God exists. or that Christianity is true, when we offer the reasons to believe that we do have those are typically deemed “not good enough.” So what sort of evidence, if any, would be enough to convince you?

I don’t know.  I don’t have to know.  If this apologist is in contact with an actual omnimax god that knows everything, then that god already knows better than I do what the right sort of evidence would be.  Why not go ask it?

But I can tell you some things it won’t look like:

It won’t look like an apologetic argument.  Or a sermon.  Or a bunch of quotes from an old book that you happen to like.

It won’t look like a personal testimony from a believer in your religion.  Any religion can and does produce people who give similar testimonies.  Which makes them worthless for establishing the truth of your particular flavor of religion.

It won’t look like a prophesy that was made and fulfilled within a book or set of books.  Any author could write that. Or a vague prophesy that you claim has happened, that could have been fulfilled by a ton of different things that you can twist to make them kind-of-fit.  Or a self-fulfilling prophesy that only came true because people who believed the prophesy decided that they wanted to make it happen.  All those are human things, not evidence of anything supernatural.

It won’t look like a “miracle” that can be reproduced by a stage illusionist, or that conveniently goes away when you try to investigate it.  Or one that is an occurrence of a low-probability event, that’s only called a miracle because humans are really bad at statistics.

It won’t look like knocking down a field of science.  Even if you were successful, that would only get us back to “I don’t know” and not ever to “and therefore god”.

It won’t look like a personal experience that happens to only me.  Because when I look at the likelihood of something going wrong in my brain, versus the likelihood of a “Damascus Road” event, I think the brain problem is by far more likely.

Since an all-knowing god would know what it would take to convince me, would be able to send it, but hasn’t, apparently your god wants to hide from me on purpose.  Which isn’t my fault, and I can’t do anything about it.  I don’t need to spend any brain power on trying to find an invisible omnipotent being who doesn’t want to be found.

8 – To what extent did social and moral issues start you down the path toward your atheism? that is to say the typical Christian or religious views on sexuality, gender rights, and acts and commands of God in the Old  Testament, it seems that many deconversion stories online begin with, or at least include LGBT issues, purity culture, or hell, as instrumental in the deconversion process. It strikes me that what should matter most is the truth and not what we might prefer that the truth were. I honestly wonder how much those issues, and ones like them, motivate the deconversion rather than all this talk about evidence?

I agree that what should matter most is the truth, and not how we feel about it.  But when someone joins a church for emotional reasons, somehow that never comes up.  If someone has an emotional experience at a church service, answers an altar call, wants to join the church, are they discouraged from joining because it’s based on emotion and how they feel about it?  Nope.  So quite a bit of hypocrisy there.

Regarding his list above, perhaps someone may start on a path of investigation because they have realized that all these nasty culture warrior issues conflict with their ideal of a benevolent god, and they need to get to the bottom of it.  Perhaps it’s something else. It could be something trivial, even.  But whatever the thing is that kickstarts their path out of religion, it doesn’t invalidate where their further investigations eventually lead them. People almost never deconvert based entirely on just one social issue, so it’s disingenuous to belittle them over what their first problem with religion was.

As for me, those social issues had almost nothing to do with it.  As a liberal protestant, none of that was being pushed on me, my religion was nice.  It was loving and friendly and tolerant.  But looking at the rise of the religious right, which was happening around that time, did give me pause, in that the people who supported those awful political positions were using the same source book I was, and yet coming to completely different conclusions.  Why wasn’t Biblegod telling the “Moral Majority” to knock it off already? How could they be getting it so wrong?

And while I was in college our campus was visited by a couple of campus preachers.  My freshman year there was some guy ranting in the quad with a giant sail painted with “Hell is for you and forever!”  A year or two later we were graced with a visit from a young Brother Jed, prattling the same nonsense he always has.  I was “christian” and they were “christian”, yet their religion had turned them into arrogant obnoxious idiots.  And the campus fundamentalist groups were filled with people who walked around with big Jesus-smiles plastered on their faces, and yet were some of the most judgmental people I knew.  The Methodist student hall was occasionally rented by ultra-conservative Orthodox Presbyterians, who were so close-minded and insular that would say that they were risking their salvation just by talking to a Methodist minister.

So it wasn’t so much that my church held regressive moral positions, because it didn’t. It was that religion as a whole was such a contradictory mess.  That should be enough to prod anybody into rethinking their childhood indoctrination.

9 – Can you name the last three academic books you read by theists on the subject? How long ago did you read them or is most of your understanding of apologetics and atheism from non-scholarly internet sources, pop level books, and let’s face it YouTube videos? And be honest with yourself about this. Anyone can google up a list of books and paste them in the comments section but i want to know are you getting the best from the other side?

Here we have the standard “Courtier’s Reply”.  (This term was coined by PZ Myers on Pharyngula, and you can read more about it here: https://pharyngula.fandom.com/wiki/The_Courtier%27s_Reply) The “Courtier’s Reply” is referring to the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. When the little boy in the story observes that the Emperor is naked, the Courtiers respond to him that you can’t possibly have a valid opinion about whether he is naked until you have done advanced studies in his fine Corinthian leather boots, his ultra-sheer brocades, and the feathers on his hat.  Without all that pointless intensive study of imaginary clothing, they are just going to dismiss you as unqualified.

Now while I appreciate the value of study, and some subjects really do require quite a lot of it to reach valid conclusions, my problem with it here is the hypocrisy of expecting the person leaving a religion to do an intensive study into the details of that religion, but not requiring it of someone joining the religion.  Are new converts asked whether they have read at least three academic books on non-belief before they are allowed to get baptized?  When someone comes up to the front of the church for an altar call in the heat of an emotional moment, are they handed scholarly books on Islam and Hinduism that they need to go study before they “ask Jesus into their hearts?”  No, they are not. Nobody makes them “get the best from the other side.” This expectation of academic work is only ever put on the person who disbelieves.

I also think it’s relevant that our questioner is an author of the very type of apologetics book he’s insisting a non-believer should read.  As with his “which apologetic is the best” question, he’s desperately trying to have his field of “study” still be relevant to ex-christians.  And it just isn’t.

And to answer his question, none of the sources I read as I was deconverting were internet sources, because I deconverted long before the internet was a thing. I’ve been a non-believer for over thirty-five years.  My sources were books, mostly.  I grew up on the Narnia books, but also the Oz books and every book of mythology I could get my hands on.  I went to church every Sunday, but I also read Asimov, Heinlein, Sagan and Steven J. Gould and Douglas Adams.  I read Augustine and Dante, but also Lucretius and Galileo and Einstein.  I’ve read the Nag Hammadi Library, and about a third of the Qu’ran.  On TV I watched “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Ten Commandments” and “The Ascent of Man” and “Cosmos”.  I’ve read a lot of Bart Ehrman and a huge multi-volume set of books by Joseph Campbell called The Masks of God.  I read the bible, twice through, cover-to-cover, in two different translations, just to be sure.  When I started on the first bible reading, it was because I was a young believer in confirmation class, and the pastors said we should read it to strengthen our faith, and I’m a completionist.  I finished the second read-through, of the KJV no less, in college and was a non-believer by the time I finished it.  Everything just finally clicked into place, that this was a human book, written by men for men, and the whole god-thing was just pretend.

Since then, my reading has focused more on learning about why human brains are so susceptible to holding weird beliefs.  It’s been much more interesting than any book about the picky details of one specific religion.

10 – If you found out today, to your satisfaction, that Christianity were true would you accept God’s authority, repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as your king?

First of all, the tone of this question is very pushy and manipulative.  It seems like he’s trying to get you to say in advance that if he gets to some “Aha, checkmate atheist!” point successfully, then you would have already pre-agreed to convert to his specific brand of religion.  This is not an honest tactic.

But as to my answer to his question, it’s this:


To be more specific, it would depend on which “christianity” turned out to be true.  There’s something like 40,000 different sects, and you’d have to be referencing a specific one.  If the liberal Presbyterianism I grew up with turned out to the true, I suppose I could go back to it without any major problem.  They never used their religion as an excuse to be awful to anybody, they tried to be socially responsible, and did a lot of service projects in the local area.  There was community and music and potlucks. I had a positive experience there, no major complaints, apart from boredom.  If all the culture warriors and christian dominionists would switch to PCUSA or similar churches, it would be a very good thing indeed.

But he is not trying to get me to go back to liberal Protestantism, that would not be a win for him.  That’s not what he’s selling, and make no mistake, he is a salesman.  Apologists like this are only able to claim a win if their mark joins their specific sect, and becomes a butt-in-the-pew, fully tithing, fundagelical, all-in culture warrior.  He’s looking for sheep for his flock, new recruits for “Team Jesus”. And even if I thought his religion was correct about Biblegod, that’s just not happening.

The state of modern evangelicalism is a corrupt authoritarian cesspool.  Their bible says “you shall know them by their fruits” and the fruits of this religious movement are rotten. If these are the people with “god in their hearts” then count me out. People who join up don’t automatically become better people, they often become smug arrogant assholes. Their leaders take their unearned unsupervised power and demonstrate that they have this power by abusing it.  There’s financial mismanagement, psychological abuse, sexual abuse of children, and sexual harassment of members, and their church members are seldom able to hold any of their leaders accountable for any of it.  People are indoctrinated to support regressive social positions, vote for unethical politicians who pay lip service to the evangelical leaders, and to shut off their critical thinking abilities to the point that they become easy prey for conspiracy theorists.  Oh, and they want your money.  Gobs of it, and before taxes, please.  Even if I thought the beliefs were correct, I want nothing to do with any such organization.

Look at that telling phrase in his question “…would you accept God’s authority…”  Except that his god never verifiably tells anyone anything, so what this translates to is “accept my church’s authority.”  Which also translates as “accept the authority of me and other men like me.”  (Because in evangelicalism it’s almost always men, isn’t it?)  Which boils down to “give me the power to tell you how to live your life.”   Big old nope on that.

For comparison, consider a religion that you consider actively harmful to its members and the community around it.  Maybe the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Scientology.  If you read Dianetics and conclude that L. Ron Hubbard was right about engrams and thetans, does that mean that you will immediately sign a billion year contract with the Sea Org, and obey every order that David Miscavige gives you for the rest of your life?  I hope not!

Or, another comparison.  There’s a supernatural being that a lot of christians believe exists.  According to their lore, this being is powerful, has opinions on what humans think and do, and would certainly like to be worshiped. Of course, I’m talking about Satan.  They think he’s real, and yet they don’t do what he wants.

So belief in a being doesn’t automatically lead to submission and worship.  That’s a separate question, and if I thought a god existed I’d need to evaluate the character of this god before I change my life in response to its existence.  According to at least some parts of their bible, belief alone is sufficient, anyway.

So, having now gone through this set of just ten “honest questions”, I’ve found equivocations, deceptive phrasing, logical fallacies, pushiness, sermonizing, culture warrior dogwhistles, and belittlement of the non-believers’ deconversion process. This is typically the sort of thing I see when an apologist shows up to a non-believer’s website or group.  They claim to be “Just Asking Questions” (or JAQ-ing off, for short), but then they hit us with not-so-cleverly disguised “gotcha” questions such as these.  If any would-be apologist wonders why the “heathen” aren’t willing to talk with them, this kind of thing is one big reason why.

Ten “Oh so clever” questions for Atheists – Part 2 January 30, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,

Continuing my responses to Herald Newman’s transcriptions of apologetic questions from a Braxton Hunter Video.

Part 1 can be found here.

4 – If it’s a lack of belief sort of atheism what is it? Is it 50/50, 60/40, 75/25, and at what point do you feel disingenuous saying that you merely lack a belief as opposed to leaning towards “I believe that God does not exist.“?

That’s a weird way to put this question.  What are these odds supposed to be for, anyway?  And again, he’s equivocating here.  We’re talking a lack of belief in “gods” in general, and he’s equating that with a lack of belief in his Biblegod.  Not the same thing.

I don’t feel disingenuous in saying that I have no belief in any god at this time, but that I am open to considering the specific definition of a god someone is offering, and evaluating the evidence they have for it.  And at the same time I can say that my assessment of the likelihood of Thor, or Zeus, or Osiris, or Biblegod or Pikkiwoki being fictional human creations is very, very close to 100%.  (And Pikkiwoki not only gives you eternal life when you die, but also all the coconuts you can carry and a pig!  Bonus!)

5 – Doesn’t it bother you a little bit that, when we come to talk about the origins of the universe, and if there’s a multiverse the origin of that too, that the only real options you’ve got besides God is a past infinite universe – which is impossible – or the universe coming to exist uncaused out of nothing, or something far less clear than even those? It seems that for any world view that includes atheism there’s a massive blind spot when it comes to the origin of the universe and all the attempts to try and circumvent that problem seem desperate and at least far less likely than theism. … Doesn’t this issue destabilize you a little bit? It seems to fit really poorly with any worldview that includes atheism.

If these are supposed to be honest questions, then starting out with “Doesn’t it bother you a little bit that…” is a dead giveaway that they aren’t.  “Doesn’t it bother you” has the clear implication that “I think this should bother you” embedded in it. The questioner isn’t interested in an honest response from a non-believer about this, that’s just an opening that says “I’m about to sermonize at you here, with a serious dose of gaslighting, don’t interrupt me.” 

If this apologist can only come up with those options for how the universe got here apart from “goddidit” then that seems like a limitation on his mental capacity to come up with alternatives, not a limitation on possibilities for how the universe got here. I can think up a bunch more, easily.  Maybe the condition of “nothingness” is unstable, and always decays into something immediately. Maybe there was never “nothing”, but just something very different than the universe we inhabit now. Maybe new universes with different sets of laws and constants are popping into existence all the time, but only a few configurations are stable enough not to collapse immediately.  Maybe when a black hole collapses, it buds off a new universe with similar properties.  Maybe it was a magic hyperdimensional unicorn that farts universes.  Maybe we perceive time as linear, but it actually is doing loop-de-loops:

As we have investigated our universe, we have found that the aspects of it that are outside the scale of our normal daily experience, such as quantum mechanics or general relativity, turn out to be far weirder than our savannah-adapted overgrown monkey brains can easily deal with.  The universe is under no requirement to be obvious or comprehensible to us. 

When it comes to the question of the origin of the universe, the typical apologist is never satisfied with the real answer, which is “we don’t know yet, but we’re working on it.”  Right now, looking as far back at the early history of the universe as we are able, we appear to arrive at a singularity which currently acts as a wall for our knowledge.  We just have no way to investigate anything back beyond a certain point.  And when you have no information, and no way of getting any information, that’s where the discussion has to stop.  (Thanks to Neil DeGrasse Tyson for that thought.)

So the apologist is here committing the classic god-of-the-gaps fallacy. He’s trying to take a great big “We don’t know the answer to this question” and insert “therefore it must have been my invisible friend.”  When he says “Doesn’t this issue destabilize you a little bit?” I can confidently answer “not in the least.”  I have gotten used to the idea that there is a lot of stuff humans don’t know yet, and some things we may not ever know. If science ever knew everything, it would stop. The fact that we don’t know everything means that there are more things still to discover.  Cool!  The human habit of making up stories and fictional characters to fill the gaps in our knowledge is a nuisance that gets in the way of actual investigation.  Nothing more.

6 – Of the arguments for God’s existence is there one that to you seems more interesting than the rest? Is there one that for you actually does weigh in favor of theism? which one?

Nope.  Not any.  None.  Presuppositionalist claptrap is probably the worst of the lot, but there aren’t any good ones.  Why?  Because you can’t argue a god into existence.  What is needed is evidence, and they haven’t got any, which is why they spend so much brain energy on convoluted sophistry.

Apologetics aren’t for converting non-believers anyway, that’s not their real purpose.  Apologetics are a way of letting intelligent people feel smart for continuing to believe in a religion, even though their initial embrace of the religion had nothing to do with intelligence or rationality.  It’s for keeping smart people in the church.  It’s about distracting them from thinking about the real problems with their religion.  And once someone has seen through all the bad arguments and logical fallacies that apologetics is full of, throwing more of the same at them is not going to bring them back into the fold.

And also, this question is asking me to do your homework for you. And to validate the field of apologetics for you as something worth pursuing.  Neither of those is going to happen.

I’ll finish this up in Part 3.

Ten “Oh so clever” questions for Atheists January 29, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,

Herald Newman, over at The Truth Seeking Atheist, bit the bullet and watched a YouTube video from evangelical christian and professional apologetics professor Braxton Hunter.  Hunter laid out “Ten Questions for Atheists”, and Herald did the work of transcribing the questions from the video.   I’m accepting his transcriptions rather than try to duplicate the effort.  You can read Herald’s answers to these questions here: Answering Braxton Hunter

And if you really want to, you can see the original source video here: Braxton Hunter Video.

I think these questions are a good example of the typical apologist’s usual style of interaction with non-believers, so I’m going to look at each of them in some detail.  Since this is going to be pretty long, I’ll split it into several posts

1 – What facts about reality, that you and I agree are real facts about the way that the world is, does your worldview account for, but my Christianity doesn’t account for, or at least doesn’t account for it well?

“Account for” is one of those clever phrases apologists really like to use.  They like to pretend that if something is “accounted for” in their system, as in, they have an explanation for it, that means that they have the correct explanation, which is not necessarily the case at all. After all, Rudyard Kipling’s The Just So Stories accounts for camel humps and elephant trunks, but that doesn’t make it not fiction.  A better phrase to use would be “consistent with”.  Here’s some things that I observe about reality that are inconsistent with the claims of christianity:

The universe is vastly hugely enormously larger and vastly hugely enormously older than it needs to be if it were created with us in mind.  (Whereas if intelligent multicellular life is a low-probability event that takes a long time to develop, then a very huge very old universe is the only place where you could expect to find it.)

Except for the teeny sliver of it we live on, the rest of the universe appears to be overwhelmingly hostile to our form of life, and utterly indifferent to whether we survive.  Go to any random spot in the universe, and what will you almost certainly find?  Nothing, because you’ll be very quickly, extremely dead.  There is no reason this would need to be the case in a universe created for us.

Likewise, our own planet is largely indifferent to our wellbeing.  Most of it is covered in water, and a significant fraction of the land area is not habitable, either being too cold, too dry, or too mountainous.  Natural disasters happen without regard to the safety of humans, or which invisible friend they claim to have.

The bodies of living beings are often living beings are often bodge jobs; ours certainly are.  From backwards retinas to fallen arches, we have to make do with modified components from our recent ancestors, even when they are not optimal for the job.  A god with the ability to design beings from scratch could do a lot better.

And of course, and this is a point I often make, there are thousands of religions in the world, and despite thousands of years of trying, humans have not been able to come to any kind of consensus on what sort of god there is, what we can know about it, what it wants of us, and how we should live in response to that.  Human religion is a big confusing mess, and human brains aren’t up to the task of fixing this problem.  A god that didn’t know about this, or didn’t have the ability to fix it, or didn’t care enough about us to fix it, certainly isn’t consistent with the benevolent omnimax Biblegod preached by the christians.  I’ve discussed this idea in greater length before, you can find that discussion here.  

2 – If your definition of atheism is merely that it is the lack of belief in God, and you’re just waiting to be convinced, but then you speak of [God] as if he is in some way synonymous with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or fairies, doesn’t that at least send the message to your listeners that you actually believe that there is no god?

Here we see a common equivocation that apologists use to confuse their listener.  The word “god” is a mushy badly defined word.  It can refer to the particular god of a specific religious sect, or to any being ever worshiped by humans, or to some vague deistic “first cause,” or to any of the enormous number of possible beings that might be classified as a “god” if they were shown to exist.

In this case, the apologist is conflating a stated lack of belief in “some god” with a lack of belief in “their specific god”.  So that I don’t make that same error, I will call the generic idea of some sort of vague higher power “god” with a small “g”, and the smitey fundagelical literalist being that the apologists are pushing “Biblegod”. 

Now while I can’t claim to have proof of there being no god of any sort, I certainly have opinions about the probability of certain proposed gods’ existence.  My assessment of the likelihood of the christian god’s non-existence is so close to 100% that I feel comfortable rounding it off to 100% for regular daily purposes.  So yes, I think that your Biblegod doesn’t exist in the same way that I think Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  Some christians get very butt-hurt about the comparison between their god and a children’s fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean that the comparison isn’t apt.  

3 – When atheism becomes part of someone’s worldview they typically change their positions on other issues like abortion, sexual morality, and a number of other things. I actually have several videos of well known atheists saying there’s nothing wrong with prostitution, that they hope their children don’t save themselves until marriage, and that sex workers should be put up on a pedestal no different than the military. I didn’t use those here because I didn’t want to seem combative to individuals specifically the individuals who made those statements. But even if you didn’t become an atheist “just so you could sin”, and I believe you, do you at least understand why those moves could send that message to people who might say that to you?

When someone leaves a religion, especially one like fundagelicalism that includes an intense indoctrination, they often have a lot of baggage to unpack. They have not only been taught to believe unquestioningly in a set of religious dogmas, but there’s also a whole set of social and political dogmas that were packed right in there too.  As someone rebuilds their opinions after having left such a religion, they have to take a look at each of their views on each of these dogmas individually, and figure out whether there is a good reason to continue to hold them, other than “my religion said so.”  And so a lot of the regressive, patriarchal, authoritarian stuff eventually gets dumped.  Not all ex-christians wind up as progressive liberal thinkers, but most of them take a big step away from the hard-right-wing positions that were pushed on them.

And notice here how the apologist is picking on some of the culture warrior’s favorite topics.  That’s not an accident.  He skipped over the issues that his religion teaches that most deconverts don’t change their views on, like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, and generally being a kind and responsible person.  The sort of thing that Jesus told his followers to do, and they will say that it’s the kind of thing believers should do, but mostly they just don’t want to do it. Nope, our apologist is harping on sexual morality, a favorite hot-button issue.  He says “ I didn’t use those here because I didn’t want to seem combative” but he certainly did use it because he wanted the fundagelical christians to see him sneer at how “immoral” those non-believers are.  I think they are here as a dogwhistle for his real audience.

When I’m deciding what my positions are about sex work, sex outside of marriage, abortion, or homosexuality, I’m arriving at those opinions based on my internal code of ethics, and my view that people should be allowed to live their lives free of the prudery of religious morality police.  I am most certainly not arriving at my positions based on how they might “look” to those still within religion, that doesn’t concern me in the least.

More to come in Part 2.  

Fun personal questions February 21, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , ,

The Shameful Sheep posted a set of questions that are pretty much just light and fun personal stuff. Since I can use some light and fun right now, I thought I’d do them.  If you like substance in your blog reading, you might want to skip this one.


Self-delusion January 14, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.  It’s an enormous and thorough work on the decline of violence.  Each chapter could really be a book on it’s own, and it’s taking me a really long time to work through it.

A day or so ago, though, this sentence jumped out at me.  It’s in a section where he’s discussing why humans tend to think they are more competent, smarter, and luckier than they actually are:

“… Positive illusions are a bargaining tactic, a credible bluff.  In recruiting an ally to support you in a risky venture, in bargaining for the best deal, or in intimidating an adversary into backing down, you stand to gain if you credibly exaggerate your strengths.  Believing your own exaggerations is better than cynically lying about it, because the arms race between lying and lie detection has equipped your audience with the means of seeing through barefaced lies.” (pg 512)

Hmm.  I’ve been looking for reasons why humans tend to be so good at self-delusion, and this idea could factor into the explanation.  But its validity would hinge on humans being reasonably good at detecting lies.  I’m not convinced that they are, especially given recent politics.

What do you think?

Share your world – questions November 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions.
Tags: , ,

Godless Cranium found a fun prompt at Cee’s Photography, with some personal questions to answer that are a little more fun than the usual stuff I see.  So I thought I’d give them a stab.

What was your favorite subject in school?

Anything but P.E.  I didn’t care for writing much, either.  It’s not that I hated actually writing, it’s just that what we were writing about was usually so boring, and I could never figure out exactly what the teachers were looking for.  So I was putting in the amount of work that should have gotten A’s, but still often getting B’s.

Anything to do with music was always a favorite.  But a good teacher could make up for boring material in most other classes.

If you could have a servant come to your house every day for two hours, what would you have them do?

Clean.  Vacuum, sweep, mop, clean toilets, scrub out the fridge, then vacuum again because the cat will have shed all over the carpet since the first vacuuming.

Where did you live when you were in the third grade of school?  Is it the same place or town you live now?

Grew up in the DC suburbs, and now live in a different part of the DC suburbs, but in a place that’s a lot like the place I grew up.  I’ve lived elsewhere, but this is where I wanted to raise my children, because the schools are so good here.

In your opinion, list some places that are great for shopping?

Ethnic stores!  In my area they are the place for spices, seafood and produce.  In my neighborhood I have a choice of two full-size Korean supermarkets, and the regular supermarkets can’t come close for those items.  Plus they have samples on the weekends, and that’s such fun.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that we’re almost done with these friggin elections. And I’m grateful for the people like Samantha Bee and John Oliver that can help me laugh instead of screaming.

Answers to “A Question for Atheists” August 14, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Godless Cranium linked to a post at flyinguineapig, with two longish questions for atheists. Flyinguineapig appears to be a strongly christian blogger, but these questions aren’t really the typical “gotcha” questions that I would expect to see on a blog of that sort, so I’ll go ahead and tackle them. Rather than try to answer in the comments at either of those blogs, I’ll post my answers here, and link back to them.  Also, I prefer to write my own answers before I read through everybody else’s answers.

My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?

Let me start with this part of the question: “People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence…”  Most atheists I know don’t actually do this, so the question is starting out with rather of a strawman assumption.

The difficult part of this assumption is – how do you define a god?  It’s a really nebulous term.  I know what the christians mean when they talk about their god, but the question here is “any deity”.  What characteristics would a being need to have in order for us to consider it a god?  Let’s look at a few examples: (more…)

Our two faces August 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions.
Tags: , , , , ,

When I was working on my last post on the arrest of the Mayor of Fairfax, I pulled a picture of him off the interwebs.  As I was looking at it, I noticed that his expression was pretty asymmetrical.

Scott SilverthorneNow I’m not just picking on Scott Silverthorne here, this is often true about a lot of people.  We often seem to have two different expressions at the same time, one on each side.  But this photo seemed to be a good example.  Let’s take a closer look. (more…)

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

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor, Questions.
Tags: , ,

….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?


animated trek

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.
Tags: , , , ,

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.