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Inner Demons January 19, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Brain Glitches, Responses.
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Still reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature.  I’ve just finished the chapter on what it is about human brains that leads us into violence that ought to be avoidable.  Again, this chapter really could be a whole book on its own.

He sums up at the end of this chapter by re-listing five “inner demons” and I think his list is a good summary.  He didn’t number the list, but I’m going to here:

  1. People, especially men, are overconfident in their prospects for success; when they fight each other, the outcome is likely to be bloodier than any of them thought.
  2. People, especially men, strive for dominance for themselves and their groups; when contests of dominance are joined, they are unlikely to sort the parties by merit and are likely to be a net loss for everyone.
  3. People seek revenge by an accounting that exaggerates their innocence and their adversaries’ malice; when two sides seek perfect justice, they condemn themselves and their heirs to strife.
  4. People can not only overcome their revulsion to hands-on violence but acquire a taste for it; if they indulge it in private, or in cahoots with their peers, they can become sadists.
  5. And people can avow a belief they don’t hold because they think everyone else avows it; such beliefs can sweep through a closed society and bring it under the spell of a collective delusion. (pg 570)

The chapter has a really detailed examination of each of these points.  This is a really interesting book, and I wish it was required reading for every politician before they were allowed to take office.

Self-delusion January 14, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Questions, Responses.
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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?

Wealth Inequality – the real picture October 15, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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This video was posted by Nan over at Nan’s Notebook, and I thought it was important enough that I should post it also.  Regardless of what you think the solution to wealth inequality is in our country, it’s important that everybody have a good understanding of what the problem actually looks like:

(Nan reports that the source of this information is Michael I. Norton, the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. The information was originally published in the Harvard Magazine in 2011.)

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

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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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…)

Women in Secularism 4 April 20, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
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I have not seen much buzz about this event yet, but I got an email about this and want to do my part to make sure word gets around.

CFI has announced that there will be a Women in Secularism 4 conference this fall, September 23-25, in Arlington, VA.  I had been concerned that Melody’s leaving the DC office might mean that this conference would end, so I’m very glad it’s continuing.

I’ve been to all the past versions of this conference, and they’ve all been thought-provoking, spawned important conversations, and let me hear other voices that I otherwise might not have known about.

Speakers for this conference include Julia Sweeney and Rebecca Goldstein.  I’ll plan to be there!

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

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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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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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.

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

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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…

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48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 2) June 17, 2015

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So continuing on with this set of thoughtful answers to stupid questions.

9. Do you know that Jesus loves you?

No, because he doesn’t.  He’s dead, so he doesn’t love anybody.  Dead people don’t feel emotions, it’s one of the major side effects of being dead.  I know that his fan club says that he’s alive and he loves people.  But then some members of Elvis’s fanclub still think Elvis is alive.  They know because they saw him shopping down at the Piggly-Wiggly.

10. If Christianity is false, then why is it popular?

Ah – the old argument ad populum, if it’s popular it must be true.  For hundreds of years bleeding was the most popular medical treatment. That didn’t mean it was effective.  Power Balance bracelets were so popular that the company had the money to buy naming rights to a stadium!  But the bracelets turned out to be overpriced rubber bands with a big campaign of deceptive marketing behind them.  There’s plenty of things that are popular that are still complete rubbish.

And you also have to consider the availability heuristic, which is a fancy phrase that means we give too much importance to the information we see right around us, and ignore other factors.  If you live in the US Bible Belt, it’s easy to think that christianity is the most popular, because it’s what’s around you every day.  But only about 1/3 of the world’s population is christian, the rest are muslim, hindu, buddhist, etc etc.  If christianity were so obviously true, you’d think it would be more popular.

11. If you say Christianity is not true, then why do hundreds of people continue to become saved every day?

Now we need to talk about confirmation bias.  We pay attention to and remember things that are different,  interesting, or that agree with the opinions we already have.  We ignore information that is ordinary,  boring, or that contradicts our opinions.  So hundreds of people are becoming “saved” every day?  How many are quitting?  You don’t actually know.  Your church doesn’t pay attention to those numbers, or at least they don’t tell you if they do, and you don’t notice when somebody stops showing up, unless it’s a friend.  Can you imagine if a church had an announcement in it’s bulletin that said “Well this week we saved two souls for jesus, and five other people stopped believing”?  Yeah, they don’t print that part.

So how do we know whether christianity is gaining or losing converts overall?  Here’s a chart, made with information about the US gathered from the Pew Forum, showing the religion people were raised with, and their current religion.  There’s a lot a switching, but it’s apparent that  a lot more people are switching out of religion than are switching into it.

religion switching

This second graphic shows that all US christian groups declined in membership from 2007-2014, but the numbers of unaffiliated increased dramatically.

religious landscape

So at least in the US, you are not converting more people than you are losing.  Sorry.

12. Why do we not see half trees and half carrots, fronkeys, and crocoducks if evolution is real?

Because that’s not the way evolution works, and this question shows a refusal to even try to understand the basics of it.  If we saw crazy things like that, instead of slow stepwise modifications over time, it would be evidence that our theories about evolution were totally wrong, and we’d have to rethink things.  But we don’t see those.

13. Why is Richard Dawkins afraid to debate Ray Comfort?

He’s not afraid, a debate with Comfort just isn’t worth his time.  There’s several reasons for that.

  • He’s a famous and accomplished biologist and science communicator, and engaging Comfort in a debate would indicate that he thought Comfort was a worthy adversary and raise Comfort’s perceived status.  To paraphrase Dawkins’ comment on this (in American English) “It would look better on his resume than on mine.”
  • Comfort offered $10,000 as a challenge.  That’s much less than Dawkins’ usual speaking fee for a regular appearance.
  • Comfort is not an honest debater.  Matt Dillahunty once accepted a debate with Comfort, agreeing on the format and subject matter ahead of time.  But once the debate started, Comfort declared that he didn’t care what the subject of debate was, he was just going to preach, and launched into his usual soapbox spiel.  I listened to this entire debate, and Comfort was rude and dishonest about his intentions from the beginning.  Matt has said he would never accept another debate with Comfort, and I don’t see any reason why anybody else would want to either.
  • Debates are not a good format for arriving at truth or changing minds.  There are better ways to go about it.

14. Did you know Christopher Hitchens was saved before death?

No, because he wasn’t.  You don’t get to make stuff up and claim it’s true.  He was very definite about not believing, right up to the end, and had harsh words for the people that he knew would try to propagate a fiction like that. This is called “lying for jesus” and it doesn’t make you look like someone who should be listened to and trusted.  If making up stories like that is the best you’ve got to support your religion, then give up now.

15. Are you aware Ray Comfort disproved atheism with a banana?

I’m aware that Comfort made a fool out of himself with a banana.  This is one of the questions that is so silly it makes me think this entire list is a spoof.  But for the benefit of those few people out there that still think this is a legitimate question, I’ll explain.

Ray (with Kirk Cameron) claimed that the shape and tastiness and convenience of bananas was evidence that god had designed them for us.

This is a wild banana.  If a god had designed bananas, this is what he designed.  It’s green and hard and full of seeds and really unappetizing and inconvenient.


Sweet yellow seedless bananas don’t happen in the wild.  They are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding by humans.  We selected for the traits we wanted, and over time produced a plant that suited our needs.  So of course it’s handy and tasty and  easy to peel and seedless.  (Duh.)

And how does Ray then explain a pineapple?  The best fruit in the world, hidden under a nasty hard rind that won’t peel off, with spiky leaves in your face.  Is that god saying “pppppbbbbbfttthhhh on you!” or what?

16.Why do people laugh at evolutionists?

It’s a defense mechanism.  Fundamentalist christians (unlike mainstream christians) have based their entire worldview around the literal truth of every single word of their book.  Anything that undermines any small part of that belief is a threat to all of it.  Ask a Presbyterian or a Methodist if the Garden of Eden was a real place and most will say “That’s obviously a myth, meant to teach a moral lesson.  Now lets sing some more happy songs about how great god is.”  They aren’t concerned about the literal truth of every word, so evolution is not a threat to them, and most of them are just fine with it. But for a fundamentalist, if you undermine even a small piece of their book their whole faith could come crashing down.

And another feature of christianity is that it puts mankind up on a pedestal as it were, insisting that the entire universe was created just for us.  We are the center of everything, we are special, we are different.  Everything we discover that puts us farther away from being the center of the universe must be fought tooth and nail. That’s why the catholic church fought so hard against Copernicus and Galileo when they proposed heliocentrism.  Not being in the center of everything made us seem less special, and they couldn’t have that.  Evolution likewise pushes us off that pedestal of specialness and puts us as just one animal among many.

So evolution tells us the bible is wrong and that we are not the pinnacle of creation.  Rather than face that possibility, fundamentalists make up nonsense “creation science” that doesn’t actually discover anything, and ignore inconvenient scientific findings, and tell themselves that all the professional biologists are making it all up.  And they laugh, and cover their ears, and say “LA LA LA!!  I can’t hear you!!” because if they didn’t they might actually learn something that would endanger their fragile belief system.

Next Post in this series.

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 1) June 16, 2015

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

First, I’d like to thank Makagutu for linking me to this list of questions on a hardcore christian blog, here.  As much as I want to think that we are dealing with a Poe, as far as I can tell the writers of that blog appear to be genuine.

Some people say “There are no stupid questions!”  Well, apparently there are.  So if the questions are stupid, why would I take the time to respond to any of them?  Because sometimes the questions are stupid, but the people asking them aren’t.  They may be deeply indoctrinated, and have been fed misinformation since they were children.  This is not their fault. (I have a young niece who once sincerely asked me one of these questions.  And she was surprised that there was a real answer to it; she wasn’t expecting there to be one.)

These questions are presented to believers as “checkmate atheist!” questions that don’t have real responses, but then the apologists just pat themselves on the back about how clever they are, and never actually check with real atheists to find out if there are answers to any of them.  In hopes that there are some christians out there who are wondering if their “gotcha” questions are as good as the preachers say they are, I’d like to supply sincere, thoughtful answers to each of them.  Since there are 48 questions, I’m only going to respond to a few per post.

So I’ll start with the intro:

Dear Christians,

Are you tired of atheists claiming they are more intellectual and smarter that Christians? Do you want to continue the good fight against the satanic secular machine that has hijacked this nation from being Christian? Look no further! Here are a bunch of clever questions you can ask atheists. When they fail to answer these questions, show them the truth from the Bible and watch as they are lead to the light.

So they’re starting right off with the smug back-patting about how great these questions are.  As if they are somehow magic, and have atheists converting right and left.  Sorry, your questions aren’t actually clever.

1.  If creationists can’t do science, then why do Kent Hovind and Duane T. Gish, who are creation scientists, have professional degrees in science?

Kent Hovind’s “degree” is from an unaccredited diploma mill.  I tried to read his 1991 “dissertation” once; it was painful.  There is no real university that would award a doctorate for that.  My children wrote better arguments in middle school . He is in no way a professional “scientist”, he’s an evangelist. To be a scientist, you must be open to changing your ideas in the light of new evidence, and Hovind just doesn’t qualify. Duane Gish is a more interesting case, because he does hold a real degree in biochemstry.  Indoctrination is a powerful force, and not everyone can resist it.

But I think the real question here is not why one isolated person with a science degree is a fervent believer, but why so few of our top scientists are.  If christianity, or theism in general, were correct, you’d think that scientists would have found so much evidence that points them to that answer that they would be more religious than the general public.  But they are far less religious.  A 2009 Pew survey showed 83% of the general public having a belief in god, but only 33% of scientists sharing that belief. Of our elite scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, only 7% hold a belief in god.  So learning more about the way the universe really works leads to less god belief.  Hmmm.

2.  If dinosaurs turned into birds, why are we not afraid of them?

There are several assumptions in this question.

First, is that dinosaurs “turned into” birds. Birds are one variety of dinosaurs, and were the only group to survive the mass extinction 65 million years ago. But there’s also the assumption that the (ancient non-avian) dinosaurs were all big and scary and modern birds are not.  Many dinosaurs were small, check out these guys.  It’s just that large bones are less likely to be eaten or broken before they fossilize, and they make better museum displays, so big scary dinosaurs are what you are used to seeing.  Jurassic Park wasn’t a documentary!


Small, cute and fluffy. I’m not scared.

Whereas, thinking of modern birds, a kick from an ostrich could kill you.  A parrot could take off your finger if it wanted to.  I was pretty unnerved the other day by a large flock of Canada Geese that thought I was going to feed them.  They are large and aggressive and everywhere in my area, don’t cross them! And how about the terror birds that lived in the southern part of the world for millions of years after the “dinosaur extinction”?  How were they not scary?

Terror Bird: 10 feet tall and weighed half a ton.  Glad they're gone!

Terror Bird: 10 feet tall and weighed half a ton. Glad they’re gone!

3. If homosexuality is right, then how come two people of the same sex not produce a child?

I have no idea what this has to do with whether there’s a god, and it’s also ungrammatical.  I also don’t know what you mean by “right”.  It’s certainly natural, and occurs in nature in many animal species as well as humans.   Many gay people do have children (sometimes because they’ve been pressured into a heterosexual marriage), and many others adopt children, or help raise their relatives’ children.  And gay/straight is not just an either/or thing, it’s a spectrum of behavior, just as with many other human behaviors.

4. What purpose do we have if evolution is real?

We don’t have a purpose!  The “purpose” of life is to exist and reproduce, since those life forms which are better at it exist in larger numbers.  Which is great news!  Since there is no pre-determined purpose for your life, you are free to decide for yourself what the meaning and purpose of your life should be.  It’s yours to create.

5. You say Jesus never existed, but have you heard of the Shroud of Turin?

Jesus might or might not have been a real person that existed, but all that stuff in the new testament is mostly hearsay and legend.

There was a great fad for holy relics in Europe in the middle ages, because a church that had a convincing one could draw pilgrims, and therefore fame and money. People came back from the Crusades with tons of “relics” they had found or bought.  There may have been as many as eighteen “holy foreskins” at one time, and you must agree that at least 17 of those were fakes.  There were so many claimed pieces of the True Cross that John Calvin remarked there was enough wood in them to fill a ship.  Faking relics was a big business back then. The cloth was dated by three different labs, and all came back with a date during the middle ages.   I have no reason to think it’s not just another faked Medieval relic.

6. Why do we not see humans being born in the zoos from monkeys if we came from monkeys?

Because evolution does not work that way.  Evolutionary change comes from a gradual accumulation of small changes that were favored because they increased survival in their environment.  Big jumps like the one above don’t happen.  This question shows a deep and deliberate misunderstanding of how natural selection works.  (Also, we didn’t come from modern monkeys. We share an ancestor with modern monkeys.)

7. Why do we go to church if God is not real?

To keep persuading yourselves that god is not pretend.  For things that we know are real, we don’t need a weekly coaching session to make sure we believe in them.  There’s no weekly services where we persuade ourselves to believe in gravity, or electric lights, or cellphones.  I don’t need to have “faith” in the change of the seasons or the day-night cycle.  I don’t need to go to weekly study groups to strengthen my belief in the phases of the moon. I don’t send my children to Sunday School to persuade them to commit their life to a belief that trees exist.   I sing no songs to make sure I keep my faith in Twinkies.

8. How did the Grand Canyon form?

Gradually, over a very long time, through the same processes of erosion and uplift we see working today. The creationist claim is that it was somehow formed in the flood.  But the obvious hole in that speculation is that, since the flood supposedly covered the whole earth, that it should have left huge canyons like that all over the whole planet, and it obviously didn’t.


I’ll do more questions in another post.  This is long enough for now.

(update – after a little more perusing, I think that the blog that is the source of these questions may actually be a spoof after all. It’s just so extreme that it’s got to be a joke. Poe’s Law in action, I hope. However, since real people actually are encouraged by evangelists to ask atheists these questions, I’m going to go ahead and answer them anyway.)

Next post in the series.


I like this Demotivator, even though I think there are plenty of stupid questions.