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Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Reporter’ at the Reason Rally

There are lots of different stories that I want to tell about my experience at the Reason Rally. Today’s story is about Bill O’Reilly’s reporter. Yeah, Papa Bear himself sent a reporter to our rally to interview atheists.

My brother and I were wondering around the Rally much of the time and I remember as we were coming out of the Organization Tent and heading up the side toward the stage, we saw a television crew. I’m a bit of a media gigolo, so I had to go over there.

The “reporter” was talking to a young couple about various topics. There were two cameras on the couple both of which were facing away from the crowd. I actually didn’t notice this until someone pointed it out to me. But then there it was the obvious spin in the “No Spin Zone.”

The couple on camera seemed to be pretty intelligent people who were obviously knowledgeable about atheism. The interviewer on the other hand asked leading questions clearly from a fundamentalist perspective and his smug grin was extremely unprofessional.

I know my way around the media and I don’t recall reporters spending 15 minutes or more on a single interview like this guy did. Usually reporters want a sampling, so they have a few questions that they ask as many people as they can find. This “reporter” wanted to argue with the couple about philosophy and theology.

As I watched what was going on, it became clear to me that he was trying to get the couple to say something he could edit and turn into his story. He was basically giving them space to talk with the intent of taking their positions out of context to fit his narrative. It is no surprise that I later learned he was from Bill O’Reilly’s show.

I don’t know if it aired on “The Factor” yet because I don’t watch the show. But I am sure the spin will be misleading and that the editors did their job to make smart people sound stupid. That is new for them though since they usually spend a lot of time making a stupid person sound smart… and usually failing to success.

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Closeted Christians

One of the most amazing things about the Reason Rally was it was like opposite day. Atheists had no fear in expressing our atheism. We didn’t have to hide from anyone. Christians on the other hand, were often the ones afraid to come out of the closet.

There are four different groups of Christians at the Reason Rally. The first group was the street preachers. These guys are used to being the lone wacko since they are pretty far out there even for Christians. So they had no problem being open about their ridiculous beliefs.

The second group was the Westboro Baptist Church people. Surprisingly the Phelps were a little shy at the Reason Rally. They showed up toward the end and hung out blocks away from the Rally. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying they were closeted, they certainly weren’t their usual selves. It seemed like they were afraid. Personally, I think they were afraid of Nate Phelps, their son who was speaking at the Rally as an atheist. Maybe Fred just didn’t want the kiddies to hear their brother speak.

The third group was the True Reason people. They are fundamentalist Christians who posted on their website that they would be going to the Reason Rally to hand out water and proselytize. They even informed the media of their intention. I wrote an article about them on Examiner and was looking forward to seeing them. What a letdown, they were hiding in the closet.

My brother, ShaunPhilly, and I walked right past them and ShaunPhilly didn’t even know they were Christians. I told him who they were and he suggested that we talk to them. They looked really bored, so I agreed. There were only three of them and they really needed us to get them into a conversation. I should add that they were across the street from the Rally too.

It seemed to me that “True Reason” was a little afraid of all the atheists. They had pamphlets (not books as promised on their website), but they weren’t really giving them out. They were just handing out water to people without coming out as Christians. I thought the whole point of them being there was to proselytize. That’s kind of hard to do when no one knows you are even a Christian. They weren’t even wearing Christian t-shirts.

Then there was the final group of believers. Those were the people who were completely in the closet. Yeah, there were Christians who were walking around the Reason Rally afraid to come out, but curious about the Rally. I talked to one on Twitter, so I know they were there. There were probably not very Christians of this sort, but there is no way to tell because they were completely closeted. Too bad too, because they would have had some great conversations with people if they had just come out and told an atheist that they were a curious Christian. We wouldn’t have eaten them or anything and we certainly wouldn’t have told them that they deserve to be tortured for all eternity for their ridiculous beliefs. We would almost certainly had a nice pleasant conversation with them.

I don’t want Christians in the closet; I just don’t want them to be dicks.

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Under Reporting Our Numbers

I know where I got my numbers from the Reason Rally, but I have no idea where everyone else is getting their numbers from. Some sources are reporting as little as 5000 people. My source said over 30k. Most sources are reporting 20k or 25k. Why is the media trying to under report our numbers?

While the numbers don’t really matter too much since everyone who came had an awesome time and atheists who couldn’t make it will be watching clips on YouTube or getting the DVD in the coming weeks, it does seem like the narrative that the media wants to paint is that the Reason Rally was a failure. It wasn’t!

I have never been to a rally like this before, so I have no idea how to judge crowd size. But the National Mall Park Service does and they were telling people in the organization tent that it looked like more than 30k people. I also asked some friends who have been to huge rallies before and they told me that it looked like about 25k to 30k to them.

Does the media just make up these numbers? Where are they getting their information from? Interestingly enough, the more religious the media outlet, the less people apparently showed up for the Reason Rally. The smallest numbers came from the most religious outlets with the Religious News Service reporting 8 to 10 thousand people.

The Religious News Service is pretty liberal too, so this isn’t conservative spin, it is religious spin. The religious (even the liberal religious) are afraid of us. They are afraid that they are losing ground and that atheism is on the rise. They see it, every poll and survey shows it, but they still want to pretend that it isn’t happening.

Religion is dying! They know it too. The Reason Rally is a sign that atheist is on the rise and that it is only a matter of time. But we have to keep the pressure on. We have to keep spreading doubt and getting people to think. We have to continue to push for more critical thinking and give people the tools of logic. We have to continue to be outspoken about our lack of belief in ridiculous ideas. The time is now!

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Reason Rally Was Awesome!

The Reason Rally was awesome! But you already knew that. For me, the highlight was meeting so many awesome people. There were a lot of small conversations and situations that happened that I will be talking about in the coming week or so. But today I want to talk about my general experience.

My brother and I got to the Rally at 7:30am and there were just a handful of people. So we went to the Ronald Reagan Trade Center to get some breakfast in the foodcourt. On our way we met up with some atheists from Boston. When we left, we met up with some atheists from my backyard in Philly. When we got back to the Rally site at a little after 8am, the first person I saw was my favorite atheist, Fred Edwords.

For those who don’t know, I think Fred Edwords is the greatest atheist ever. Even though we are friends and technically he is my boss (since I’m the head of PhillyCoR), it is still always a thrill for me to see him. So if you ask me who the best speaker of the day was, I would have to go with Fred seconded by maybe Penn Jillette or Jessica Alhquist. But to be honest, I didn’t hear a lot of the speeches and performances but I made it a point to listen to those speeches. I figured I’d hear all the speeches either online or on the Reason Rally DVD. I wanted to focus more on meeting people on the ground and asking people where they were from and what their experiences were.

I didn’t really stay in one place like most people, but kind of just roamed around talking to people. I popped in and out of the organization tent a bit too.

It was great to meet some of my friends on facebook in person and some of the people I have been talking to for years. I would love to give shoutouts to all the people that came up to me and told me how much they love my Examiner articles. Wow, it really amazed me. I felt a little like a celebrity at times. I’m not used to that, but I do appreciate it.

There is so much to talk about. My official story on the Reason Rally is HERE. I will be talking about lots of little conversations and incidents over the next week or two.

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Find Me At The Reason Rally

I’m going to the Reason Rally and if you are reading this blog, you should be too. My plan is to drive down with my brother on Saturday and stay pretty late to party with fellow atheists. Celebrate with us.

I plan on wearing my signature Dangerous Talk shirt and if I can remember, a nametag. I’ll be hanging out mainly at the Freethought Society table and the UnitedCoR table. But I do intend to walk all over the place and stop by all the various tables. Although Christians will be there and I love to converse with them, I think I try not to do that this time around because I can do that anywhere. This is a great event because it will have so many atheists in one place and I want to talk to so many different atheists that I just don’t want to waste my time with crazy theists. I want to talk to you, so find me and say hello.

I should add that I am terrible with names, so even if I have corresponded with you a ton of times, I still might not remember your name. Don’t be offended, just remind me about some of the conversations we have had or just introduce yourself.

I probably won’t be going to the big blogger afterparty for a few reasons. First, it is only for the first 150 people and out of the 10,000 expected, the odds are that I won’t be one of those. Second, the food looks pricy and not really my taste. Third, I would rather talk to you than other bloggers. So my plan is to meet some cool people and go to a venue of our choosing.

Finally, it is supposed to rain on Saturday, so we should all chant, “Rain, rain go away and come back another day.” If enough of us chant that at the exact same time, we should be able to alter the laws of physics and stop the rain. Ready? Go! 😉

PS No blog tomorrow. I’ll be busy getting ready for THE REASON RALLY!

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The Benefit of the Doubt

I don’t believe in original sin. As a result, I don’t treat people as if they are evil sinners right from the start. Instead, I am a Humanist and so I treat people as if they are trying to be the hero in their own story. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt unless I have a reason not to.

When someone says something that I think is wrong, I will assume that the person making the error is unaware that they are mistaken rather than assume that the person must be deliberately lying to me unless that person has a history of deliberately lying. I give people the benefit of the doubt.

People within the greater community of reason tend to be humanistic minded. They tend to be good without gods. As a result, if someone is in the greater community of reason, I am that much more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. So if someone tells me that some prominent atheist in our community holds some crazy view, I am going to be skeptical and ask them about it. Usually, I will discover that their “crazy view” is more nuanced than others have given them credit for. They still maybe wrong, but they probably aren’t crazy or dishonest.

It seems however, that I am one of the few who do give this benefit of the doubt to people in general and those in our community in particular. Far too often, my fellow atheists label other atheist as women-haters, homophobes, anti-vaxers, racists, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I have little doubt that some people in our community fit those labels, but I think we should give people the benefit of the doubt. Most probably don’t.

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Atheists Love Drama!

We almost made it, but nope. Less than a week before the Reason Rally, drama has now ensued. It seems that atheists are better at sabotaging ourselves than even the Democrats… and that is really hard to do. So instead of dealing with our common problem (i.e. the theocrats) some people in our community have decided they would rather attack other atheists and sabotage our Reason Rally in the name of purity.

The Rally is for everyone in our community and shocker, not everyone in our community likes or agrees with everyone else in our community. There are plenty of prominent atheists I think are irrational, but this Rally isn’t about me, it is about us. We all have our pet causes and pet peeves, but this Rally is not about those things. It is about our community as a whole.

Stop with the drama and let’s focus on the values we all share. Let’s focus on showing the Washington and the nation that we are here, we are godless, and we vote (or can vote)! If you have an issue with someone, take it up with them. Don’t bring your drama to the Rally. TNT knows drama and last I checked the Reason Rally will not be televised on that network.

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Atheist Purity

As we all know, the Reason Rally is next weekend and it seems that some people are upset because the purity of the atheist race will be tainted with some video speeches by people who are unreasonable about something in their lives. We all know that every speech must not only be 100% pure, but also that each speaker must be pure as well. We must all march lockstep to the Reason Rally and agree not only with everything said, but with every opinion that everyone speaking has ever helds. Anything short of that is blasphemy!

Obviously, I am being sarcastic here and if you can’t read that between the lines then you have a serious problem. However, there are people who are upset that Senator Tom Harkin, Bill Maher, and Penn Jillette will be delivering pre-recorded video speeches.

The issue with Harkin isn’t that he irrationally believes in Catholicism (which carries a host of ridiculous superstitions), but rather that both he and Maher believe in alternative medicine. It is unlikely that either will actually be talking about their views on alternative medicine or that either will have something negative to say about the audience at the Reason Rally. Instead, Harkin is presenting a nice speech welcoming people to the National Mall for our rally even though he doesn’t agree with us on every issue. Maher will undoubtedly be keeping his remarks aimed at the religious.

So why are people upset that these people are allowed to speak? Have we really gotten to the point where everyone needs to be vetted for their atheist purity? Have we learned nothing from that South Park episode featuring Richard Dawkins? Okay, forget South Park, have we learned nothing from the religious or even from history?

I get it if we wouldn’t want Rick Santorum to speak at the Rally because he would obviously say some negative crap about us as an audience and he would promote a lot of things that we as a community stand against, but we have to have some bounds of reason here. Obviously we can’t allow everyone with ridiculous ideas to speak, but there are some people who are on our side on most of the important things but disagree with some of us on a few issues.

I really think that those who have a problem with these individuals speaking really need to pause and take a deep breath. Is it really reasonable to be upset that some people speaking might not agree with you 100% on every single issue?

We are a diverse movement and we have diverse opinions on a diverse range of issues. Let Harkin, Maher, and Jillette speak. They aren’t even speaking about the issues you take issue with, so get over it.

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Christian Testimonials For Christians

If you ever go into a Christian bookstore or read a Christian newspaper (yes, they do exist), it is generally filled with testimonial stories about how great their God is. But don’t Christians already know how great their God is? If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be Christians, right? So what’s the point of these testimonials?

I know when atheists have testimonials of this sort about how we became atheists it is because we want to understand the process of how people de-converted so we can replicate that. But for Christians, God does all the work. So there is no need for such an understanding. Besides, it doesn’t really seem like that is the reason why Christians do it anyway.

Atheists also have started doing testimonials to inspire closeted atheists to come out of the closet. Christians don’t have those concerns. So what is the point of a Christian testimonial to other Christians?

The only thing I can think of is that it is a way to reinforce their belief. They have to keep reminding themselves how great their deity and their faith is because it is pretty hard to see otherwise. I see it as a form of brainwashing, but I am open to alternative explanations. I just can’t see any practical reason for it otherwise.

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Your Miracle

My wife and I have been watching an old short lived sci-fi show called “Jeremiah.” The show is about a post-apocalyptic world. One of the main characters in the second season claims to talk for God. He has proven himself to be a trust worthy character in all other avenues, but most people think he might be a little nuts. In any case, in one episode he tells the other main characters that God is willing to prove that he is real. If the main characters show up to a particular place at a particular time, God will grant them one miracle.

I found this pretty interesting on a few levels. First, what miracle would you ask for and would you show up? Three characters were offered this deal. The first said that he wanted to see God to give him a big fuck you personally. He didn’t show up. The second, wanted his dead loved one back, but he left early. The third wanted all guns to disappear. He also left early.

For me, I am more in line with the guy who wanted all guns to disappear, but I don’t think I would put it that way. But I think I would show up and stay the course with this. Even though I am an atheist, I would go and I would stay. Would you?

Now I know we can’t do this for every wacko who claims to speak for God, but some people are more sincere than others. In the setting of this show, this character is pretty trust worthy. He isn’t playing games and he really believes his shit. So yeah, I would show up and I would want my miracle to help all humanity. For me, I would play Pascal’s Wager on this one.

So my question to you is this. If a really trustworthy Christian friend told you that God would grant you a miracle if you showed up at a particular place at a particular time (maybe within 20 miles of your home and within a week) what would you ask for and would you go… and stay?

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Mr. Phelps Goes to Washington

The Westboro Baptist Church is coming to the Reason Rally. Don’t worry; they were invited… sort of. The National Atheist Party sent them a tongue-and-cheek invitation and the WBC tweeted that they will accept that invitation.

I like this idea. First, it should be pointed out that the WBC go where the attention is. So if atheists are going to have a huge rally in DC, the WBC are going to go whether they are invited or not. No one every invites them anywhere so it isn’t like they are sitting around in Kansas waiting for invitations to be assclowns. So if they are coming anyway, why not invite them?

Inviting them sends the message that we aren’t afraid. It sends the message that we are welcoming. No one likes the Westboro Baptist Church and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Therefore most people will be more sympathetic to us just for having these clowns nearby. The general public gets to see the worst of Christianity next to the best of atheism. It’s a win/win.

Plus, we know the real reason why most of the religious don’t like the WBC anyway. You see, religious believers often call the WBC extreme, but they really aren’t that extreme when you think about it. Ask your favorite fundamentalist what part of the WBC do they disagree with. They really can’t tell you.

The fact is that most fundamentalist Christians believe that, “God hates fags.” They just don’t like how the WBC pickets funerals with the message. It isn’t that the Westboro Baptists believe something more extreme than Kirk Cameron and other fundamentalists; it is that they talk about it so openly, in your-face, at funerals, and with clownish signs.

That’s why I love the Westboro Baptist Church. They are really honest fundamentalist Christians… and yet, they are still pretty liberal by the Bible’s standard. I mean… the Bible talks about stoning gays to death. Compared to that, the Phelps are downright polite.

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Fundamentalists in Disguise

Every once in a while, I find a fundamentalist pretending to be an atheist or at the very least they are trying to fool atheists into coming to their website. The one that comes to mind most is Mariano Grinbank. His website is called, “TrueFreethinker.com”

Grinbank also writes for Examiner as the “Christian Apologetics Examiner.” However, I just learned that he also writes as the “Worldview and Science Examiner.” Fortunately this clown has no audience and no one takes him seriously at all. Oddly enough, despite all the other wacky Christians out there, this guy still can’t manage to find an audience.

Now, let’s look at this strategy and put it to the “Staks Test.” If we were to swap out this Christian and put some other religious group in its place, how would people react? For example, what if a Muslim were to write under the title of “Christian Examiner” and for every article, he would trash Christianity with bad arguments?

I can’t speak for all atheists, but I for one would never write with the intention of fooling Christians into thinking I was a believer just so I could refute their ridiculous beliefs. No, I’m an honest broker. I want Christians to come to my articles knowing that I don’t believe their bullshit. This way, those who have already started to question will come and see what I have to say. I don’t however have a problem with going to forums they frequent, like the religion section of the Huffington Post.

As a Christian I am sure that Grinbank believes he is doing the right thing. Even though his own Ten Commandments claims that lying or deceiving is a sin punishable by death, Christians like Grinbank believe they are forgiven from such rules because of their belief in Jesus. So they often don’t have a problem breaking their own rules if they believe it will help to spread their message.

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Reason Rally Draft Campaign

I’m excited about the Reason Rally on March 24th at 10am. I’m so excited that I posted my second HuffPost article on it and really pushed to get it through. I am excited to see all the guests… and not just the speakers either. However, I want more. There are several famous atheists who should be going to this event but have not yet confirmed that they will be there… to my knowledge anyway. So, let’s draft them!

Let’s start a massive grassroots campaign asking some of these celebrity atheists to come to the Reason Rally. Why should be bother? Well, if some really famous people showed up, the media would be more likely to talk about it. It brings attention to the Rally and to our movement. Plus, I would love to see some really cool famous people wandering around the National Mall.

If we are going to draft famous people or even semi-famous people, we need to find a way to contact them. Twitter is usually the best option but if someone has another avenue, let’s hear it. If you know their twitter handle, share it. The idea is to have lots of people tweet (or whatever) to that person and tell them that we want them to consider coming to the Reason Rally and include a link to the Reason Rally website (reasonrally.org).

Now, who should we draft? I have a few names, but am open to suggestions. Here is my short list:
Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie
Bill Maher
Ricky Gervais
Howard Stern
Natalie Portman
Morgan Freeman
Jodie Foster
Adrianne Curry
Cenk Uygur
Seth McFarlane
George Takei
Hugh Laurie
Eva Green
Daniel Radcliffe
Rachel Weisz
Miley Cyrus
Pretty much almost any famous comedian

And just for kicks, Denzel Washington. 😉

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Dawkins and the Aliens

Yesterday, I talked about one of Aaron Tabor’s favorite arguments. Today, I want to talk about his other favorite argument. Aaron claims that Richard Dawkins believes that aliens seeded the Earth with life and since Dawkins is the Pope of atheism, all atheists are wrong and therefore Jesus.

Aaron has presented this type of argument to me multiple times and every time I refute it. But he keeps using it. Over the weekend, I got him to concede slightly. Now he claims that Dawkins “may” believe that aliens seeded the Earth with life, but he still continues to argue as if Dawkins seriously believes this.

So where is Aaron getting this from? Well, as it turns out there is a scene in the film “Expelled” in which Dawkins talks about this. For starters, Expelled is a ridiculous film starring Ben Stein. It is basically Creationist propaganda. The film makers heavily edited the Dawkins interview and Ben Stein talked over him a lot. Here is that interview.

So there it is, proof that Dawkins believes aliens designed life on Earth. Well not exactly. The point that I think Dawkins was trying to make was that even if life on Earth were designed, the designer would also need to be designed through a natural process of evolution via Natural Selection. In other words, the question of who designed life could just as easily be applied to the question of who designed God. I think he was also probably trying to make the point that many things are possible, but that doesn’t make those things probable. Dawkins has stated many times that he does not in fact believe aliens seeded the Earth with life and that he finds that possibility to be highly improbable.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Dawkins really did believe something like this. Who cares? How does it relate to what you or I believe? Dawkins isn’t the Pope of me. No one is. Atheism isn’t a religion and as a point of fact, most Catholics don’t even agree 100% with their actual Pope of them. One of the great things about being an atheist is that we are free thinkers. We think for ourselves and we have no dogma, no doctrine, and no sacred text. Sure, we joke about The God Delusion or The Origin of Species being our Bible, but it is a joke. I think you would be hard pressed to find any atheist who would worship either of these books in the same way Christians worship the Bible. No, our only holy book is evidence!

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You Can’t Explain It… Therefore Jesus!

Over the weekend, I got into another conversation with Aaron Tabor. You don’t know who he is? He has more friends on facebook than anyone! He runs the “Jesus Daily” page with 12 million fans. Every once in a while, I’ll post an article on the page and to my surprise Aaron always responds. But we never really had a dialog… until this weekend. Aaron generally uses two arguments. The one I am going to talk about today is his view that science hasn’t yet found strong evidence for how life began on Earth, therefore Jesus.

First, I’m not up on the latest science on this topic. So I really don’t know if that is even true and Aaron tends to flat out lie. But let’s for the sake of argument assume that it is true and that the leading scientists in the field have no idea how life on Earth began or at the very least don’t have any strong evidence for their hypothesis. How exactly does that lead to the conclusion of Jesus?

I tried to explain to Aaron that I have no problem saying that I don’t have an answer and no need to make up an answer if I don’t have one. Also, just because I don’t know an answer doesn’t mean that I have to accept an answer which doesn’t seem plausible and is downright silly… especially when there is insufficient evidence for that answer.

But let’s give Christians like Aaron the benefit of the doubt and let’s say that their answer isn’t as ridiculous as it actually is. At most, they are making an argument for some kind of divine creator. But which one and how do we even know that it is just one? Even this extremely weak line of reasoning doesn’t get us to Jesus.

The tides go in and the tides go out… and even if we couldn’t explain it (and we can) it still doesn’t support the idea that God did it and even if it did, it wouldn’t support the belief that the Christian God did it. To make matters worse, Aaron is a doctor who conducts gene research. He should fucking know better!

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Faith vs. Thinker

I recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and while there, I saw my favorite sculpture, “The Thinker.” After looking at it for a few minutes, I noticed some of the other works around it. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words:

What does this photo speak to you?

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Taking the Message to Where It Matters

The audience of Dangerous Talk is almost always my fellow atheists with the occasional Christian or other fundamentalist believer. My Examiner articles get a more diverse mix of people. Religious believers often read and comment on my articles there. But I want to reach out to more religious believers than I get through Examiner.

For a while now I have been trying to get published on Huffington Post for this purpose. While there is certainly no shortage of atheist comments on their articles, there are very few atheist articles on there and yet their primary audience is liberal religious believers with a few fundamentalists mixed in.

One of the editors of the religion section of Huff Post told me that, “We don’t have many atheists who write on huffpost religion because most of them tear down other people’s beliefs and that is not what huffpost religion is about (we also don’t have Christians who tear down Jewish beliefs etc.)” I had to call him out on this, so I wrote back, “I want to point out that there have been a great many articles in the Religion Section usually written by Rabbis which primary function has been to tear down atheists. If you would like a short list, I can certainly provide that.” Indeed, just today an article from a Rabbi was published attacking atheism.

Still, I submitted an article that didn’t criticize religion. My article on atheists being spiritual was accepted. Now I need your help. I need to you follow me on Huffington Post, spread my article, and comment on it there. I know a lot of my readers don’t like the term “spiritual” and I understand that. But it isn’t about the word, it is about the experience. More importantly, it is about getting me established there so that I can be more vocal down the road. This article is just my foot in the door.

If my article does well I will be able to post new articles there. At first, they will be sanitized to accommodate religious sensibilities. I hope to publish articles that are supportive of the greater community of reason rather than criticize the ridiculous ideas of religion at first. The idea is to let liberal religious believers see what kind of people we are and to remind them that we exist. In time, I will be more vocal in my criticism of ridiculous religious ideas as my popularity as a contributor rises. Hopefully in my next piece there, I will add some minor criticisms of ridiculous ideas.

Currently, there are a few other atheists on there, but they seem to be mostly from the extremely accominationalist camp like Alain deBotton. So I am hopeful I can start to change that tone over time with your help.

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‘Just Random Chance’

It seems to me that every time I talk to a Creationist or an Evolution Denier, they tell me that Evolution is “just random chance” and that they see so much order and design that there must be a deity behind it. Many of these people claim to have some knowledge of evolution too. For me, as soon as I hear the phrase “just random chance,” I almost automatically discount the person’s claim of knowledge on the subject. Evolution is not about “just random chance” and anyone who claims that it is clearly has little to no knowledge about the topic.

If there seems to be some sort of design in life, that is because there probably is some sort of design in life. But that doesn’t mean that there has to be a designer. The designer in the case of evolution is a natural process called “natural selection.” While there are random chances and mutations within all species, it isn’t random which mutations or traits are passed on and cause the species to evolve. That is determined by natural selection.

Here is an example. Let’s say I hire 20 people randomly to do a job. Over the course of a week, 5 of those people get burnt out and quit. The following week, 6 people are fired because they did a shitty job. After another few weeks, 4 more people are either fired or quit. Eventually, the people who stay with the job will be the people who have learned how to do the job best and who are the most skilled. They will then be the ones who will hire and train that next batch on workers. The skills that of those who survived from the original batch will be passed on to the new batch. The new batch will then learn even better ways to do the job and will pass those skills onto the next batch and so on down the line. That is natural selection.

Now, five years later the company is doing really well and is known to have the most skilled workers in the industry. How do you explain such skilled workers? Someone comes along and says that the head of the company must have designed the perfect workers using genetic cloning because those skilled workers couldn’t have possibly been hired by random chance. Someone else says, “No it wasn’t genetic cloning, but such perfect workers couldn’t be random chance, so it had to be aliens.” Because those workers are so skilled, it leads one to believe that there must have been someone infinitely more skilled than those workers who had taught those workers because you can’t have a less skilled worker teach a worker to have more skill; that goes against the law of master/apprentice. In fact, people will start to make up all kinds of ridiculous stories to explain what Darwin explained with Natural Selection.

Natural Selection is a slow process, but it works. We see it working every day with all kinds of systems, not just biology. We talk about evolution in all kinds of human endeavors. If something doesn’t adapt to change, it dies out. If something continually adapts to change over time, it gets better. That’s evolution and it isn’t “just random chance.”

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Believing in Nothing

I was watching American Atheists president, Dave Silverman on Fox News yesterday and toward the end of the segment, his opponent made the remark that atheists believe in nothing. In fact, yesterday after I posted a comment on an article at Huffington Post, a Christian made the same remark. But yesterday wasn’t the first time I have heard this attack and I am sure it won’t be the last time either. Still, I want to address it.

First, I don’t want to speak for all atheists, but I will say that I have never met an atheist or a theist for that matter who literally believed in nothing. Even Nihilism which is often misrepresented as a belief in nothing is not really a belief in nothing. But I digress.

Maybe religious believers can take a moment to dial down the hate and actually ask an atheist what we value and/or what we believe. While atheism isn’t a belief system in and of itself, every atheist does believe something (usually on pretty solid evidence) and in the interest of compassion, it might be nice to ask that atheist what that something is.

As it turns out, most atheists in our greater community of reason tend to share a certain set of beliefs and values. We tend to value reason, logic, science, evidence, and in most cases humanistic values like compassion, equality, justice, fairness, etc.

It’s true that every Christian is different too. Not every Christian values the same things and not every Christian values the values they do share in the same priority. However, Christianity is at least a common belief system. Atheism is simply a lack of a god-based belief system. Atheism doesn’t tell anyone about what an atheist values. Christianity at least gives you a general ballpark.

I tend to generalize Christians into about three categories in my writing to a general audience, but on a one-on-one basis I make a point to inquire further into someone’s beliefs and values because every Christian is different. This is once again an example of my humanist values giving a greater courtesy to the religious then the religious generally give to atheists.

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The Verge of an Enlightenment or a Dark Age

This is a topic I have talked about often, but recently two advocates have come forward in support of two competing visions for the future. These two views represent a stark contrast from each other and we really need to think about this now. The future of humanity is being written right now and we are on the verge of either a new enlightenment or a new dark age.

First, I give you my former Senator and one of the leading candidates for President of the United States, Rick Santorum. Santorum recently came out against college education. I’m not kidding. Santorum actually said that college is bad. Santorum favors home schooling with no standards for education. This is because education has a notorious liberal and atheistic bias:

There is little doubt that Santorum wants a new dark age in which religion runs the world and education is vilified. The scary thing is that Santorum might be the Republican nominee and he might beat Obama and become the President of the United States. That crowd loved his speech and they loved the fact that he spoke out against education. So it isn’t Santorum; he is just an advocate for this point of view. The problem is already there.

On the other side of the coin is Neil deGrasse Tyson who is advocating for the future in which people are motivated toward science. While promoting his new book, he spoke to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show last week. Here is the video:
We are on the cusp of one of these two visions of the future. But we don’t have to be hapless bystanders. We can fight to help make Neil deGrasse Tyson’s view of the future a reality. It will not be an easy fight, but we have to be vocal and not only promote a scientific future, but criticize Santorum and his view. We live in an interesting time and we have a responsibility to those who come after us to give them a better future.

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All Christians are Dogmatic!

It seems to be making the news lately that Richard Dawkins, the “world’s most famous atheist,” is agnostic. Well shit, so are most atheists. But the religion can’t understand this. To them, you can only be one or the other. Either you are 100% certain there is no God or you are agnostic. We can play this game too.

Are Christians claiming to know with 100% certainty that their particular god exists? If so, they are dogmatic because no one can possibly know this with such certainty. If they are not and for the record, many will admit to doubts even if it is the same amount of doubt Dawkins has toward his lack of belief, then they aren’t really Christians at all according to their own definitions. They should call themselves agnostics. Therefore, if someone calls themselves a Christian, they must dogmatically believe with 100% certainty that their particular god exists.

Now, of course I am just having a little fun here. I don’t seriously believe that all Christians are dogmatic, but I am trying to make the point that Christians often try to pigeon-hole atheists in this exact same way and that it is just as fallacious when they do it to us as it is when I do it to them.

I commented on this initially in an Examiner article and have been discussing it on various comment boards on the web… including on the Religion News Service, which initially reported the “story” and on their Monday Roundup which reported on their reporting of the “story.”

Also, the very first article in my Atheism 101 series is on the terms “atheism” and “agnosticism.” Feel free to check it out. Thanks 😉

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I Could Never Be a Christian

I have often said that I don’t believe in a deity believe the idea is ridiculous and no sufficient evidence has been put forward to support such a ridiculous belief. I have told many Christians that if they wanted to convert me, all they had to do was to present some valid evidence for such a belief. That however, isn’t entirely accurate. Even if I were shown solid evidence for the existence of the Christian God, I still wouldn’t be a Christian.

If I were shown indisputable proof that there is in fact a god and that god is the Christian God (which if God were God, he would already have shown me), I would obviously be forced to believe God existed, but that is where my conversion would end.

I could not worship such a cruel deity. Despite and because of the threat of eternal torture for all those who refuse to worship this deity, I could not in good conscience worship this deity. I would believe, but not follow. This would be a true use of free will from the Christian point of view.

While I reject the idea of free will, Christians often assert that God gives us a choice to believe or not believe. But in the absence of evidence, it is not a real choice at all. A real free will choice would be if God revealed himself to everyone and we had the choice to follow or not to follow without the threat of eternal torture. But I digress.

My point here is that it takes more to be a Christian than just believing in their deity of choice. One must follow and worship that deity. That is something I cannot do.

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Parsing Atheism

When we talk about atheism, we are talking about a lack of belief in a god or gods. But not all atheists are the same. Duh, right. Not all Christians are the same, so why would anyone expect all atheists to be the same. All the term “atheism” tells you about someone is that they lack a belief in a god or gods. It doesn’t tell you why we lack a belief or how much we have considered the possibility.

Some atheists were raised religious and have rejected the deity of their former faith. Some atheists were never religious in the first place. There might even be some person somewhere who might not have ever heard of this whole God concept thing.

Atheism also doesn’t tell anyone the degree to which we lack belief. Is the concept something that is worth considering or is it so laughably absurd that it is rejected out of hand? This is where people start throwing around the word, “agnostic.” But that is a different issue entirely.

My issue is when we parse our lack of belief with terms like weak, strong, hard, or soft. I understand what people are saying when they use these terms, but we don’t use these terms for anything other than a lack of belief in deities.

Are you a weak aunicornist? Or are you making a claim that you KNOW with absolute dogmatic certainty that unicorns don’t exist? Religious believers have set us up for a trap and we keep falling into it. For atheists, god is no different than unicorns. We are perfectly comfortable telling people that unicorns aren’t real without parsing our words with levels of certainty about this claim. It doesn’t take more faith not to believe in unicorns than to believe in unicorns and we should have to make excuses about how we are open to the possibility that unicorns exist. Of course we are open to that possibility, just not that probability. We are scientific minded people and that means that we are always open to possibilities given strong compelling evidence. But we still don’t go around telling people that we only weakly don’t believe in unicorns.

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Never Tell Me The Odds

A popular argument from religious believers is the argument by design or some variation of that argument. Instead of taking Han Solo’s advice, they talk about the odds. Well, they are usually correct in that the odds are pretty bad for whatever. In fact, if we are going to talk about bad odds, it is unlikely that you would have ever been born… or at least born as you were.

This might get a little uncomfortable, but think about it. The circumstances had to be just right for your parents to meet, to be attracted to each other, and have the game to get it on. That is a lot of chance that goes into that. What if they met someone else they liked better first? What if one of them wore the wrong color or went to a different destination the day they met? What if one of them said or did the wrong thing and as a result your parents never had sex?

The odds aren’t looking in your favor, but that is just the beginning. Let’s say they did manage to beat those odds and have sex at some point. What are the odds that out of the millions of sperm that your dad shot to impregnate your mom, that the one particular sperm with the right mix of your particular genes was the one to make it to your mom’s egg? If a different sperm made it, then you would have a different mix of your parents’ genetic material and would be someone completely different. If there are multiple universes out there the odds that you would be in one looking and acting anything close to how you are today is astronomical.

If that wasn’t enough, multiple that times your parents’ parents and their parents and so on down the family tree. The bottom line is that it is extremely improbably that you would have ever been born with the traits that you have and yet here you are. It must be fate… or perhaps you would have been born a different person or not born at all.

Or maybe, the more likely possibility is that if something happened differently, you wouldn’t have been born and someone else would have. That person might now be asking the same questions, but we will never know because the odds were just too much for them and they never existed.

The odds look differently after the fact than they do before the fact. What were the chances that the Giants would beat the Patriots with a score of 21-17 in the Superbowl? Would you take that bet today after the game was already played? Sure, because the odds change after the fact. The chances that you would be born as you were are now 100% since that was in fact the outcome.

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Ungrateful Theist!

Recently, a Christian told me that I was an ungrateful person because I was an atheist. He claimed that because I don’t thank God for my existence, that I was an ungrateful person. Personally, I think the opposite is true. I think theists are the ungrateful ones.

The people I am grateful to for my existence are my parents. They had sex and then spend the rest of their lives raising me. I am grateful to my friends and family for helping me to succeed in life and for contributing to my happiness. I only hope I can earn their gratitude with my support for them as well.

Football players waste their gratitude on deities instead of the coaches, trainers, teammates, and countless others who have helped them win their big game. So while they may be grateful to imaginary friends, they are ungrateful to those who actually matter most. It is the same with most who profess gratitude to the supernatural. Misplaced gratitude is no gratitude at all.

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‘If It’s Not God, It’s Atheism’

Occasionally, I run into Christians who are very upset when atheists oppose their attempts to push their beliefs on everything from high school gymnasiums to dollar bills. They are so upset that they can’t give a shout-out to their deity on everything that they actually try to play the persecuted card.

At some point in these conversations, the Christian will tell me that not giving a shout-out to their deity is pushing atheism. In other words, according to these believers, if you don’t mention God you are pushing atheism. Could this really be the case?

If you pick up a book on golfing and it doesn’t mention Christianity, then the book is pushing atheism? According to this self-absorbed view of Christianity, the answer is yes. I would ask, what is the reasoning behind this?

The answer: Well, atheism is a lack of belief in God, so if something lacks a mention of God, then it is pushing atheism. This is the type of logic you get from people who don’t respect logic. Atheism isn’t the lack of all things God; it is the lack of BELIEF in gods.

Pushing atheism would be pushing everyone to lack belief in gods. I’m more than happy to do that, but it should be pointed out that most atheist billboards don’t even do that.

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Atheists Show Too Much Restraint

I’m guilty of this too, but atheists show too much restraint and respect for other people’s beliefs even the ridiculous literal beliefs of fundamentalist believers.

Over the weekend, I was at a party that a fellow atheist was hosting. Knowing that my friend has some very religious family members, I pulled him over and asked him about the religiosity of the other guests. I didn’t want to say anything that might offend someone who was overly religious. I shouldn’t have had to do that.

On many other occasions in our society, atheists show remarkable restraint. The crossing guard down the street offers her blessings to God for me when I see her. She doesn’t know I’m an atheist and I don’t tell her because it would no doubt offend her. Instead, I show restraint and thank her for your blessings to God on my behalf. She shows no restraint in pushing her beliefs with her blessings, but this isn’t out of malice; it is because the Christian belief system has so twisted her sensibilities that she doesn’t realize she is being rude.

Time and time again, atheists are compelled to show restraint out of fear of offending the religious. We shouldn’t have to. We have actual evidence on our side. We don’t just make up a bunch of stories and demand people believe them on insufficient evidence.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t show that restraint, but I am calling attention to the fact that we do show that restraint. We live in a society dominated by people who believe in ridiculous crap and we rarely even point it out. People who value evidence, logic, and reason are made to feel like we are the most disrespectful people on the planet by people who push their ridiculous beliefs on all of society without even the courtesy of even presenting valid reasons for their beliefs.

I’m a pretty vocal atheist, but I don’t shout people down on the street. I don’t knock on anyone’s door on Saturday mornings, I don’t tell everyone I meet on the street that they are delusional. Unless someone else brings up religion, I generally won’t. I bet most of my readers show the same restraint I do but we shouldn’t have to. We do it because we are the respectful ones. We are the people who try not to be rude unless we have to.

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Full Monte Libertarianism

For some strange reason, there are a lot of active, humanistic, atheists who consider themselves Libertarians. In one sense, I get it. Libertarianism sounds great on paper (like communism), but once you put any type of real thought into it, it becomes silly.

On paper, Libertarianism is all about individual freedom. How can anyone be against that? Who is seriously going to argue against freedom? But it isn’t the freedom part I have a problem with, it is the individual part.

Sure, we could go Full Monte Libertarian in our society and grow our own food, weave our own clothing, do our own dentistry, and be completely self-sufficient and free. There would be no government restricting pollution (because no individual could pollute enough anyway) and there would be no law. It would be the perfect Libertarian paradise. The thought of it alone would make Ron Paul ejaculate.

But as a humanist, who loves science, reason, and logic, I think it would be better to have an actual society. It would be better for people to work together to form a government by the people to provide for the general welfare of everyone. Now, doing that Full Monte isn’t good either. That would be strict Communism where the state directs our lives completely. Instead of government providing for the people, the people provide for the government. But isn’t there a middle ground?

Yeah, it is what we got now. It is the delicate balance of trying to maximize individual liberty in an actual society in which governments provides some important services for the people. What should government do and what should individuals do for themselves?

These aren’t easy questions. Some regulations are important, like government regulations on pollution, food and product standards, etc. Some regulations like who can legally be allowed to marry, what drugs and unhealthy foods people can knowingly take, and what sex acts can be performed with your consenting partner(s) in the bed are not things that government ought to be regulating.

Capitalism is great, but government still has the important job of protecting people from the abuses of Capitalism. When wealth gets concentrated into the hands of the few at the expense of the general welfare of society, then the government needs to step in to protect the people from becoming de facto slaves of the wealthy.

Unfortunately, right now the wealthy have bought to government and the job of the government has ceased to provide for the general welfare and has instead become to provide for the wealthy alone at the expense of the general public.

It isn’t that there is too much regulation as Libertarians claim; it is that there isn’t the right kind of regulation. The best way to navigate through the role of government is to remember that governments are instituted by men [and women (except apparently when it comes to women’s health of course)] to provide for the general welfare of the people.

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Dawkins Gaffe

Richard Dawkins had a gaffe recently in which he talked about a survey that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science did showing that Britain is no longer a majority Christian nation. One of the criteria he used was asking people what the first book of the Gospel was. So some Christian asked him to give the full title of Darwin’s book on evolution.

First, Dawkins should have known that since he has spent a lifetime educating people about Darwin and evolution. But that isn’t my point here. My point here is that evolution isn’t a religion. I don’t know the name of Newton’s book or paper on gravity, yet I accept the theory. But if someone claims to worship Jesus and the only source of information about Jesus comes from a collection of books, It is reasonable to assume that the person should know at least some basic facts about that collection of books.

I’m an atheist, and I know the Gospels are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Hell, I even know that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark and Q as source material. More importantly, I know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t actually write the books ascribed to them. But I digress.

My point is that there is some pretty basic information that not only should everyone know, but that Christians in particular should know. Now, it probably wasn’t a good idea for Dawkins to use general knowledge of Christianity as criteria for Christianity, but that is another story.

As it turns out though, Dawkins wasn’t the only survey to reach that conclusion.  The British Social Attitudes survey had a similar result.

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‘Atheists Must Believe X’

Many times when I get into a conversation with a fundamentalist believer, they do more than strawman atheism; they tell me what I MUST believe because of my lack of belief in their deity. Well, that is very kind of them to tell me what I MUST think, but they are almost always wrong. Not only are they often wrong on their caricature of atheists, but they are over-the-top wrong.

For example, one Christian recently told me that I must be a rapist because without a belief in their deity of choice, there would be nothing holding my sex drive back and so I must believe that it is okay to fuck every woman I see. This is ridiculously silly of course, but this Christian tried to maintain that it was perfectly logical and that all atheists ought to be rapists. Apparently Denzel Washington agrees.

Now sure, I can try to explain to this guy that atheists generally are against rape and I could point to all kinds of statistic of prison rates and society of health indicators which show that countries that are more atheistic have a lower crime rate including a lower rape rate, but who are we kidding here. The very next time this Christian talks to an atheist, he is just going to say the same thing.

Let’s take a page from Louis C.K. and have a different argument. Why should religious wackos have all the fun? We can make up “logical” conclusions too. As a Christian, they must believe that in the Ten Commandments, right? Sure. So they should be out there murdering adulterers, atheists, and everyone working on the Sabbath. It’s right there in the Ten Commandments. If you want to include the rest of the Bible, every Christian should be out there murdering gay people too. Plus, Jesus said they should give away all their money. Why aren’t any Christians doing these things? They must not really believe.

Then we can talk about what a strawman is and how they ought to actually listen to what an atheist think before projecting what they believe we ought to be thinking. Now we can have an actual conversation and explain to them that atheists aren’t the evil sociopaths they believe us to be. Who knows, they might even decide that they don’t really believe in God either, but it was their fear of losing any sense of morality which kept them believing. Who knows?

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