Janet Heimlich and the Last Episode

Here it is ladies and gents

For reasons I explain in the podcast this is the last episode of Leaders in Free Thought, unless something way cool comes along that I just have to make an episode about; an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, perhaps. Or I find persuasive evidence of the coming rapture and biblical apocalypse necessitating that I warn everyone and let everyone know that what we’ve been saying on the podcast is WRONG! However, I imagine the probability of that scenario coming to pass is unlikely at best.

The long and the short of it is that A) I do not have the time to dedicate to the podcast that I used to, and B) There are only so many times you can affirm something does not exist or that magic is not real before you check that box and move on. To be sure, I believe this topic is an important one – very important – however, there are others more knowledgeable and more competent than me who can continue to carry the torch.

This episode features an interview with Janet Heimlich who recently authored a book titled Breaking their Will: Shedding a Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. It is mostly a collection of accounts of children suffering (physically, emotionally, and sexually) at the hands of religious parents or religious authority figures and usually in the name of a given religion. If you enjoy reading about such things then this is the book for you. My thoughts on it are pretty close to this review I found on Amazon.

Happy trails everyone!

*Bonus Episode* Drunken Roundtable

Listen to this Bonus Episode

This episode is almost a sequel to the last episeode we did. If you will recall last episode I interviewed my cousin’s fiancee about his recent conversion to Christianity. This recording takes place about an hour after the official interview was concluded. It features my uncle Flip, my mother Jamye, my grandmother we call Nanny, my cousin Christi, her fiancee Jeremy, and of course yours truly. There was enough funny/interesting/poignant moments in there I wanted to make it available to listen to, but not structured enough to make it into a bona fide episode. Hence the *Bonus Episode*

I feel slightly strange talking to the mics alone in my room. I’m not sure why, but I do. So I brought in my sister Emily to bounce some ideas off while doing the intros and outros.

The segue music near the end is something I got off of archive.org called Mirach by Jon Wheeler.

Luke Muehlhauser and WLC dissection transcript

In my interim time between moving and waiting for the fall quarter to begin I decided to transcribe another of my episodes. It didn’t take quite as long as last time because half of the transcript was done for me. The discussion with Luke is mostly copypasta from that blog post, with a few minor amendments.

My original blog post of this episode doesn’t mention too much about the background of the interview so I will give a bit now. Sometime in the Fall of 2010 Jeric mentioned some speakers he had lined up to come to CSU. One of these individuals was Luke Muehlhauser. “Luke who??” I asked. I obviously hadn’t heard of the guy. Jeric informed me that Luke ran the Common Sense Atheism blog/website, but it didn’t ring any bells. It might be interesting, I thought to myself. I was also preparing a freethinking podcast at the time so I asked Jeric “You think Luke would be down for an interview?” “I dunno. I’ll ask him,” Jeric said.

In my research for the interview I looked through his website and listened to his podcasts, and discovered that 1) I had been to Common Sense Atheism a few times looking for debates (it has a large archive of atheism debates), and 2) That this was an exceptionally bright and prolific individual. At the time I was reviewing his site he would post almost daily to the site, and it wasn’t some bullshit about his day or his cat. It was original content that obviously took time and effort to craft like book reviews, debate critiques, or essays on philosophy.

Anyways, upon meeting Luke I found him to be incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and as tall as me!! I actually never think about things like height unless I meet someone as tall or taller than myself. It’s surprisingly rare. He gave a great talk. It was a bit over my head at first, but after watching the whole thing about three times I can understand the ideas he presented.

I really found him to be an interesting cat and have been quietly following his career since then. He has scaled back significantly on Common Sense Atheism and his podcasts in order to write great articles on Less Wrong. He has also moved to Berkeley, CA to become a Research Fellow at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, where I imagine he is living quite a charmed life.


Jeric: How’s is going Seth?

Seth: Great! How’s it going Jeric?

Jeric: Not too bad, man.  How’s your week been?

Seth: Uneventful. I’ve been studying carotenoids and High Performance Liquid Chromatography.

Jeric: Oooo! HPLC.

Seth: Yeah, it sounds fancy. I have yet to run a HPLC to be honest.

Jeric: Good luck. So what do we got this week?

Seth:  This week we have a Mr. Luke Muehlhauser who runs the Common Sense Atheism blog. He came to CSU recently, and you and I caught up with him after his talk at Coopersmith’s Pub in downtown Fort Collins and we had a good time. Here is our interview with Luke Muehlhauser.

Jeric: Enjoy.

SETH: I’m speaking with my guest, Luke…

LUKE: Muehlhauser.

SETH: Mulhauser?

LUKE: Muehlhauser.

SETH: Muehlhauser. Wonderful. Is that German?

LUKE: ‘Tis.

SETH: Right on.

LUKE: What’s Yoder there, buddy?

SETH: Yoder is Amish.

LUKE: Definitely is.

SETH: Or at least I’m told. So… you run a site called CommonSenseAtheism. It’s really a wonderful site, got a lot of content on it. Over 500 debates, some book reviews, your own essays and opinions and podcasts dealing with philosophy and morality, and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. How did you get the idea to do something like this?

LUKE: Well, I had recently gone through a deconversion from evangelical Christianity to atheism, so I wanted to explain to people why that had happened, and also I saw that a lot of the debate between believers and non-believers was not of the quality that I would like it to be. There was a lot of sniping or people who were not interested in how the arguments worked but just wanted to say that all of their arguments worked and none of the arguments from the other side had any force at all, and I wanted to take an approach that was more sympathetic to the worldviews of others that I disagreed with. So I thought there was a gap for me to fill in taking that kind of approach this debate between non-belief and belief.

SETH: On your website you say: “Right now the ethical theory that seems most plausible to me is desire utilitarianism (aka desirism), and the next most plausible is error theory.” For someone like me who’s not very philosophically literate, what do those terms mean, and why do you find them compelling?

LUKE: The easier one to explain is error theory. This is a theory that was propounded by J.L. Mackie, and today the leading proponent is Richard Joyce. It’s basically a two-step argument. The first step is that morality is essentially committed to something-or-other – like categorical imperatives or moral absolutism or this kind of thing. The second step is that that thing – that morality is essentially committed to – is false, so all of moral theory is in error. The way J.L. Mackie explained this is that it’s very much like the way most atheists think about God. The God concept is essentially committed to this being that’s omniscience or omnipotent or supernatural, and then we’re gonna say, “Well, there is no supernatural. So God talk is fundamentally in error.” So error theory is basically atheism about morality. It’s non-belief in morality – because there’s nothing that exists that fits that description. So that’s what error theory is. Desirism is a different account of morality that is much harder to explain in a short time. The only thing I can say about desirism very quickly is that it’s a theory that places moral condemnation and moral praise at the center of the moral theory. It says the only reasons for action that exist come from desires. It might be nice if there were such things as intrinsic values, but in fact there aren’t. It would be nice or make moral theory easier if there were such things as categorical imperatives but there just aren’t. It would make moral theory very simple if there were divine commands that could serve as reasons for action, but divine commands do not exist. A lot of the proposed reasons for action just don’t exist. So all we’ve got left is desires. My desire for coffee is a reason for me to drink a cup of coffee. That’s not a controversial type of reason for action. But in the end it’s the only one I know how to defend. It’s the only one I think exists. Unless somebody gives me better evidence for the others. So desirism is a moral theory built up explicitly and only from reasons for action that come from desires. This is drawing from a famous paper by Philippa Foot – she proposed that morality could be a system of hypothetical imperatives, which basically means reasons for action that come from desires. This was heretical, because most people think that if you’re going to talk about moral theory, you have to be talking about categorical imperatives or intrinsic value or something like that. But Philippa Foot thought that they were wrong about that, and that we could develop a robust moral theory solely by talking about reasons for action that come from our desires. So I’m following Philippa Foot in that. Interestingly, in her last book Philippa Foot recanted of her heresy and said “No, actually morality does have to come from categorical imperatives or something like that.” But there are a lot of people who stick by that original paper and think that we can develop a robust theory of morality from just reasons for action that come from desires. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to explain a moral theory that can make sense of moral practice and what we should and shouldn’t be doing with the only reasons for action that I know to exist, which are the reasons for action that come from desires.

SETH: You grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota?

LUKE: Lamebridge. Of 5,000 people. And one slow-ass train right through the middle of it.

SETH: You were the son of a pastor?

LUKE: I am the son of a pastor.

SETH: You attended Christian schools that taught creationism?

LUKE: That’s right.

SETH: Is it fair to say you were indoctrinated into the Christian faith?

LUKE: Definitely.

SETH: I was also, like most people in America. I was indoctrinated into Methodism. I don’t know about you, but I hold some resentment towards my parents for doing that, and I give them a hard time about it sometimes. Do you hold resentment toward your parents?

LUKE: I don’t know whether I’m justified to hold resentment against them, but as a psychological fact I just don’t. I have a lot of regrets. I wish I hadn’t spent 20 years learning creationism. Because I suddenly had to catch up on a lot of science that I had not been taught. I was really ignorant of science at age 19. Things like that, I wish I would have avoided. On the other hand, being indoctrinated in that way may have made me more empathic towards believers, because I know what it’s like to experience God. I know what it’s like to be certain of your beliefs. I know what it’s like to live in a community of people where it’s affirmed over and over again. I think the reason I don’t hold any resentment toward my parents is because they are very good parents, and very loving. The new that I’m an atheist and I reject all the values they raised me with is very difficult for them, but they’re handling it with incredible maturity, and we still love each other, we still have an open relationship, we still have an enjoyable relationship, so I don’t hold any resentment toward them, I can’t – they’re too cool for that.

SETH: Do you think your life now would be any different if you had been raised more secular?

LUKE: It would be radically different. The most probable thing is that if I had been raised more secular, I wouldn’t care so much about these issues, and I wouldn’t be talking to you about them. I suspect that the reason I’m passionate about bringing the good news of naturalism to people is because I lived as a Christian for 20 years, and I understand what it’s like to live in that way, and I had this rather traumatic experience of coming to know the truth, and saw a lot of benefits to my life because of that. I don’t think I would be doing the things I do now if I had been raised a nonchalant secular person instead of being raised really dogmatically religious, and then having this crisis of faith and this really emotionally wrought experience of being ripped out of faith.

JERIC: I’d like to hear more about your deconversion…

LUKE: I was so in love with God, and so in love with Jesus. I really believed that God had rescued me from a tough time in my late teenage years where I was depressed for the awful fate of a tall white American male… very depressing. But God rescued me from that by showing me the beauty of his creation, and showing me that it was a gift from him to me. And this understanding of the world pulled me out of my depression and made a big difference in my life. So I was on fire for God, and I wanted nothing but to be like Jesus to the people of a lost and hurting world. The problem was that lots of different theologians and pastors had different ideas about who Jesus was. Did he have a social gospel? Was he really into metaphysics? Was he more focused on works or faith? Lots of debates. And I thought: “If I’m gonna be like Jesus, I have to figure out what Jesus was really like!” So I looked at the historical Jesus: what is it that we know about Jesus when we do rigorous historical inquiry? And I found a lot of stuff – even when reading evangelical Christian scholars – that we had never heard from the pulpit. Things that are well known to everyone who goes to seminary, including people like my father, but are not shared with the lay people in the church because it would be too threatening to them. Things like: Paul and Jesus preached very different messages and it turns out that what’s practiced as Christianity today has more in common with the message of Paul than it does with the message of Jesus. That was disturbing and shocking to me. I studied more about this, and getting a different perspective than I had received from the pulpit challenged my faith, and that led me into Christian apologetics because I wanted to bolster my faith and come up with “What’s the great arguments for why I should believe even though there’s all this disturbing data from Historical Jesus studies?” In the end, when I was comparing the apologetics of Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne to the very simple, no-nonsense of somebody like Dan Barker, the atheists just had a better argument. This was terrifying for me. I didn’t want it at all. I would pray to somehow magically take this stuff from my brain that I had learned, so that I wouldn’t remember it, and I could just go back to being in love with God and on fire for Jesus. But that didn’t happen, and I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned. That was very depressing, and then about a month later I discovered that billions of atheists had had plenty of meaning and purpose and morality for thousands of years without deities, and then I was like, “Oh! Actually this isn’t so bad.” And I’ve gotten a number of benefits from not believing in gods since then, so I want to share that with other people.

SETH: You seem to be quite a fan of the Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Why?

LUKE: Well, “quite a fan” is an interesting way to put it. I engage his work a lot for a couple of reasons. He’s got a Ph.D. related to the historical Jesus and a Ph.D. in analytic philosophy related to arguing for theism. So he’s supremely qualified and he published in academic journals. But he also does very good work popularizing these arguments for a lay audience. And because he’s written so much, and it’s easy to tell what his views and arguments are on things, he’s really easy to engage. And, people are very familiar with him, so if I can talk about why William Lane Craig’s arguments fail, I can reach a lot of people, whereas I’m not going to reach them if I explain why Peter van Inwagen’s arguments fail, because nobody has ever heard of him. So that’s one reason I engage William Lane Craig. The reason you might call me a “fan” even though I disagree with so much and think much of the way he thinks is really improper is because he does make a serious effort to engage the arguments in a way that a lot of atheists do not. Honestly, in a lot of debates with atheists, it’s William Lane Craig who is being more logical and more faithful to the arguments than the atheist opponent is. A lot of that just has to do with the fact that he’s better philosophically trained, so he thinks like a philosopher, but I really think that should put some atheists to shame. If they really think their’s is the rational position, they should be able to win on grounds of argument and evidence and logic, and when they don’t, it shows that we are probably just arguing from a psychological perspective: “We know we’re right, and he’s obviously wrong, and here are the reasons why, and I don’t really have to take the logic or the arguments seriously or study these issues.” I think that reveals that when we talk about searching after truth, we’re mostly not. It’s really hard to actually be someone who seeks after truth. I really feel like a seek after truth, but I think a lot of the time I’m not, and it just feels that way. That’s how I interpret the data from the psychological literature. I think the way the debate goes between theists and atheists reveals that psychology very crisply. So I admire the way that William Lane Craig uses logic and engages the arguments and I think he’s wrong, but I think he does a better job than most of the atheists he debates.

SETH: How does one “win” a debate?

LUKE: A lot of it has to do with presentation and confidence and the way that you rephrase at the end of every section of the debate why you’re ahead. William Lane Craig does that very well. But another way that William Lane Craig wins a debate is not just in the presentation but that he literally gives better arguments. And it’s not because the theistic arguments are right, it’s because the people he’s debating are not very familiar with the arguments at all. So for example, the atheist will give the problem of evil, and William Lane Craig will give skeptical theism or the free will defense, and the atheist will misinterpret these and give a response that is totally irrelevant, which is very frustrating because this is Problem of Evil 101 stuff, folks. If you’re going to be debating these issues… this is what you read on the Wikipedia page. You should be expecting skeptical theism and free will defense. This is really easy stuff. It’s like Craig has the first six moves of the chess game memorized, and the atheist has the first one, and then after that they’re confused or don’t know how to respond. So in many cases, William Lane Craig wins the debate that way – by giving better arguments, and by not getting good responses from the atheist, who is unfamiliar with the arguments.

SETH: I’ve seen two debates. One was with Hitchens at BIOLA. Another was with Bart Ehrman… I remember most vividly the one with Hitchens. He comes out. He has five arguments. They’re really good from a theistic perspective. And then he just keeps repeating those arguments, and he doesn’t address anything that Hitchens says. And then the last time he’s up, he proselytizes, and drops the arguments altogether, and says “Forget the debate, guys, what really matters is your relationship with Jesus.” And that seems to me like a Hail Mary. And he does it with Ehrman, too. The last time he speaks, he’ll drop his arguments and proselytize and go for what I think is the Hail Mary. Is that really good debating technique?

LUKE: I would challenge you to rewatch those debates and watch for this: What happens in the Hitchens debate is that at the opening for each of his speeches in the debate, William Lane Craig quotes Hitchens’ arguments almost verbatim, and then gives a response for why they don’t work or why they aren’t relevant to the case. This was, in my interpretation, so devastating that Hitchens actually ceded the final section of his debate time and didn’t use it. So Craig had nothing left to respond to, so he had plenty of time to proselytize. A similar thing happened in the Ehrman case. The highlight of that debate was when Ehrman gave Hume’s basic argument against the idea that we could have historical evidence for the occurrence of a miracle. Most of the literature in the last 20 years on Hume’s argument has focused on a mathematical tool called Bayes’ Theorem. Ehrman was unaware of this, apparently, because Craig pointed it out and correctly showed that Hume’s original formulation of the problem could potentially be overcome by Bayes’ Theorem. Ehrman had no idea what Craig was talking about, and obviously hadn’t read anything on Hume since, probably, Hume, and was shown to be not up on the arguments. Again, in that debate with Ehrman, Craig repeated Ehrman’s arguments at the beginning of each of his speeches and gave a rebuttal to them, and again by the end of the debate was so far ahead that he had time to stand there and proselytize. That’s how I saw it. Listeners can go to those two debates and see which way they interpret it.

SETH: Do you think debates really matter? By that I mean do you think they change people’s opinions?

LUKE: I think they do. Especially debates on college campuses. College is when our minds and attitudes are open to exploring new things. Do we want to be like our parents? Do we want to think differently? Do we want to think like that peer group? Do we want to think like this peer group? When you’re presented with new ideas from smart and charismatic people, I think that can have a big effect. I doubt people convert on the spot, but I think a lot of seeds are planted. I know from a couple of people who do debates that they get many letters later – sometimes years later – saying, “I remember the debate you had with Eddie Tabash, and it really had an impact on my thinking.” So apparently they do have a big effect, especially when they happen at college campuses when our minds are open to change.

SETH: In recent years, there’s been the rise of the New Atheism. I’ve read statistics that a few years ago the non-religious portion of the United States was around 8%, and now it’s around 16%. To me, as an atheist, that’s heartening. But at the same time, if I zoom out and look at the big picture… since the beginning of recorded history there has been dissent from religion, dating back to Epicurus?

LUKE: Sure, much earlier. Democritus and many figures in ancient India. Ancient India was largely atheistic.

SETH: Oh really? Wow! And then of course Darwin comes along with evolution in the 1800s. Which would seem to be the nail in the fucking coffin of any religion. But still it persists, and thrives! Why do you think that is? I’m just curious.

LUKE: There’s a lot of interesting work going on right now about why it is that we are predisposed to religious thinking. I don’t know which theory is correct. One theory is that it’s an evolutionary biproduct. One theory is that it’s actually evolutionarily adaptive. One theory is that is develops in culture based on other types of things that are adaptive, for example what Michael Shermer calls our hyperactive agency detectors, where we just assume everything is an agent instead of a natural cause because that’s a better mistake to make. If I’m lying down sleeping and I hear a stick break in the woods, I’m way better off if I make the mistake of thinking it’s an agent – like a tiger – than I am in making the mistake thinking it’s nothing, and then the tiger eats me. Assuming everything to be agency is better for your survival. Maybe religion is a biproduct of that. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we dream, and it seems like dead ancestors are visiting us in some way, but not in their physical body, but we definitely experienced them last night in some way. Maybe it’s an extension of that. It’s hard to say, there are many interesting theories out there, I’m not sure which one is going to be correct. But there do seem to be many things about humanity that pulls us to religion. But luckily, we now have very good data that it’s not essential to the human condition. We can overcome religion and live without religion and be very happy. This is especially evidenced in Northern Europe, where they don’t believe in gods or religion, but they have some of the most healthy democracies in the world there, with excellent health care and human welfare and security and prosperity, and they do it all without deities.

SETH: You sparked a small online controversy with one of your blog posts over sexy scientists.

LUKE: Well I published a fun little post of some female scientists to remind people that females are in science, and they were ones that I also happen to think are sexually attractive – a list of 15 sexy scientists and then the last one was P.Z. Myers as a joke. And I was immediately attacked by a huge portion of the atheist blogosphere, saying I’m objectifying women, and this is harmful to women. It wasn’t something I’d really thought about that much, so I was interested to see if it was the case that, “Well, maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t be making posts like that. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it much.” So it seemed plausible to me that I could be wrong. So I went to the different blogs where I was being criticized, and asked for the arguments – the reasons why posting that list was so harmful. A lot of the people said explicitly that they didn’t care what the arguments were, they just know that they know that they know that it’s wrong. That was disappointing. Especially from supposedly rational, skeptical, atheists. A lot of the other arguments were just really bad, so I decided to seek out arguments from a professional philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, who writes on objectification. I explained why I didn’t think her argument was any good, either. Then I found another article that did convince me there might be something wrong with the post, and then I apologized, but that really didn’t make anybody happy; everyone was still pissed at me.

SETH: The controversy to me just seemed absurd. That’s me. Like, one of the arguments was that if you call a female sexy, that shows a presumption of sexual availability…? Which is absurd.

LUKE: Another one that was weird was that people said that when I was calling women I was sexy I was “exercising male privilege.” As if women do not have the ability to call men sexy back? I don’t know. That confused me.

SETH: Another one I heard is that if you call someone sexy, that presupposes that that is their only value. I mean, I call my wife sexy all the time, but that doesn’t mean the only reason…

LUKE: It’s a complete non-sequitur. Yeah, it makes no sense.

SETH: Maybe the most compelling argument against your blog post was about consent. You posted their pictures and called them sexy without their consent. Which is… reasonable. However, if you’re talking about pictures without consent, then every journalistic enterprise should be shut down.

LUKE: A lot of them, especially on the internet. These were photos that were already available on other websites. It wasn’t photos that they didn’t want people to see, apparently. But yeah, that was more persuasive to me than the other reasons that were given.

SETH: You run a blog, produce podcasts, speaking engagements, a day job. Where do you get the time and energy to do this?

LUKE: What I do seems impressive to some people but is way, way easier than, for example, trying to be a husband and a father and go to school and work a job as well. I don’t think I’m super-productive. I think it mostly helps that I am not a father or a husband. But my other response is one that P.Z. Myers gives when he’s asked how he produces so much content, which is: “Well, how can other people waste so much freaking time?”

SETH: Reddit.com. That’s how I do it. What’s next for you? Do you have any other irons in the fire?

LUKE: I do. I’ve been working on a website about naturalism as a worldview with some friends of mine. I’m really excited about it.

Atheism is a narrow topic. I’m glad I chose the blog title ‘Common Sense Atheism’ because I rode the wave of interest in that term – atheism – that came with the bestselling books from the New Atheists, but I don’t really care all that much about non-belief in gods. That’s an empty thing to care about. What I really care about is the positive worldview naturalism – this way of looking at the world as something that we can discover best by means of science. Science happens to be the thing that works best for figuring out how the world works. What happens when we take that seemingly very obvious fact and apply to the way we try to get truth about morality, the way we try to get truth about meaning and purpose, how we answer questions about epistemology in general or reasons or politics. What happens when you take science seriously, and apply it to your whole worldview? I think a lot of really good things fall out of that, and it’s already the dominant perspective movement in analytic philosophy in the West. So I just want to translate all that for people because I think it’s useful to people. Much of the website is about scientific self help! There’s lots of good scientific research about how we can achieve our dreams, achieve our goals, and it’s almost never mentioned in the popular books, because those are written to sell, not to help. That’s a practical benefit you get if you take science seriously. Other benefits are too numerous to name. You won’t be withholding medicine from your child because you have an unscientific belief about vaccines creating autism or something like that. There’s many benefits when you take science seriously.

SETH: Luke Muehlhauser, thank you for speaking with me today.

LUKE: Been a pleasure, Seth.

Jeric: Well that was great Seth. That was a really good interview.

Seth: Thank you so much. So today… Well what we’re gonna do today is… Luke challenged us and our listeners to re-watch the whole Hitchens vs. Craig debate.  I did. I watched that a couple of times, and I wanted to say first of I know I mentioned in the interview that Craig has five really good, solid arguments. I wanna take that back. I want to say he has maybe one—MAYBE—maybe one decent argument for the existence of God.  And so we are going to kinda go over that whole debate, so if you’re not familiar with it you might just want to turn this off right now.

Jeric: No, but if you want to find out about Craig’s debates. He always has these five points that he pretty much regurgitates for the past, what, ten or fifteen years?  Ever debate he goes to he has his five major talking points that he always presents in the same way. So this is a good introduction. And a lot of these are ones you’ll hear a lot of theists make, but by no means are we gonna sit here for four hours and go through every little point, every little detail because you can find stuff on the internet or you can find people who are much better authorities on this; people who are really big into philosophy that can probably break it down and do a lot better. This is going to be our take on it and what we think… Going over it superficially, but not, y’know, not really in a lot of detail.

Seth: Yeah, I don’t have the bandwidth to—

Jeric: I don’t have the patience.

Seth: —to give an exhaustive kind of criticism of the whole debate. But we are joined today by my good friend Mr. Tony G who we—Right before starting this podcast, right before recording it he watched this debate for the first time. So Tony, will you introduce yourself?

Tony: Yeah, hey guys this is Tony G. I just watched this debate and I found it very interesting. Just a little background: I was raised 18 years Irish Catholic from my parents, and once I got to college it just—it didn’t really stick as well as my parents had hoped and so I’ve been just kinda going on my own as of late. Right now I would have to say that I’m more of a pantheist than anything. Thank you Seth. But, um, y’know but I’m not really devout in any particular area so I really don’t mind pointing out the differences and, y’know, the strengths and weaknesses of both of these great, great minds that debated tonight because they both had some really great ideas.

Seth: So Tony, what did you… What was your impression of the debate? I don’t think you were very familiar with Christopher Hitchens or William Lane Craig. So what was your overall impression of the debate?

Tony: Yeah so I was definitely not very familiar with either of them. As a general overview I think that they both dodged the question quite a bit. The big question, especially on the movie, is “Does God exist?” Throughout the debate my general impression was that they both tried to dodge actually giving a real answer to the question and instead gave more reasons why the other person was wrong.

Seth: Do you think there was a clear “winner”—quote, unquote—of the debate?

Tony: As far as ideas I don’t think there was a clear winner. I’d have to say that Craig did a little bit of a better job of appealing to what Hitchens had put forth, and really focusing on the topics that he had argued and refuting those as well as the topics that he had attacked with and defending those on his own. Hitchens didn’t really do as well of a job. Hitchens, in my opinion, liked to assert new ideas each time he got up to the stand.

Seth: Both of them have a very different style when it comes to debates, ‘cuz Craig is obviously very methodical. He even goes to the point where he will number his arguments, and then when he gets back up to the stump for a rebuttal he brings his legal pad with him and he goes down the list of the things he wrote down that he wants to refute.  Whereas Hitchens, seems to me, will go up to the stump and just riff. And he’ll just talk and pontificate about whatever the hell pops in his head. Y’know it’s a very different style and maybe Craig is more skilled in the formal debating technique. Or at least he’s more adherent or respectful of the formal debating technique. I think Hitchens makes perfect sense in everything he says, but a lot of times he’s not directly addressing a point that Craig has addressed.

Jeric: I don’t think anybody here is like a philosophy buff or anything like that. I’m not a philosopher, and I think—I don’t think philosophy is the best way to get to a knowledge. Call it bias, because I’m a scientist, but I think the scientific method is much better than this kind of philosophical mental masturbation.

Seth: Why don’t you queue it up?

William Lane Craig: Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one’s ever been able to come up with a successful argument. The question of why anything at all exists is the most profound question of philosophy. Typically atheists have answered this question by saying that the universe is eternal and uncaused, but there are good reasons to think that the universe began to exist. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. Mathematicians realize that an actual infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example: What is infinity minus infinity? […] The universe must have begun to exist. There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being. This being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power. Moreover, it must be personal as well.

Seth: Okay Tone, so what you just heard was… It’s kind of a quasi famous argument called the Kalam cosmological argument. What did you think of this argument?

Tony: If you’re trying to think logically about it and you’re trying to explain exactly what happened, if there was nothing to begin with then some abstract being would have to create something in order to start something. Maybe the flaw in this logic is that there always has to be something that creates the next thing, so what creates the first creator?

Jeric: That’s one of the big problems that I have with pretty much all of his five arguments is that you have to accept the premises of his argument to follow him down the rabbit hole. For him to talk about the origin of the universe—nobody knows the origins of the universe. Any scientist will say we don’t know. I don’t know why that’s such a hard thing for theism to say is “We don’t know.” If anybody claims that they do know I can tell you right now they’re fucking lying to you because nobody knows.

Seth: He asks “Why is there something instead of nothing?” I think that presupposes that there should be nothing. Right? Like my kneejerk—My kneejerk reaction to that would be, well, okay how do you know that the universe didn’t always exist? Right? Or there are theories of this oscillating universe, that it kind of expands, y’know and then eventually will contract into—

Jeric: There’s multiverses, there’s budding universes, yeah all sorts of stuff. So I mean there’s all sorts of theories.

Seth: And so… Why couldn’t the universe, in some form or another, have always existed? And then his rebuttal to that would be “Well mathematicians claim that there are no—There’s no such thing as an actual infinite” and that’s how he kind of gets out of that. First of all he doesn’t name any mathematician; he just says “Mathematicians say…”

Jeric: “Nine out of ten doctors…”

Seth: Yeah. “…actual infinites don’t exist. And we can prove this by infinity minus infinity equals what? You don’t know! So therefore infinites don’t exist.”

Jeric:  Well that was no infinite, ‘cuz I mean if he’s like… What was it? Infinite, uh… Infinites lead to a contradiction, so I guess that means that God is not infinite, like he hasn’t always been around, because if God is infinite doesn’t that mean that God is a contradiction?

Seth: Yeah. He invokes a timeless, ageless, supernatural, all-powerful being that’s somehow immune to the actual infinites.

Jeric: Yeah. To this, y’know… It works for everything else, except for the thing I’m positing the thing it doesn’t go for.

Seth: And then at the end of the argument he says “It must be a personal being.” That seems like a non-sequitur to me. Personal? How do you get personal?

Jeric: Yeah, he kinda put that there at the ass-end.

Seth: He said it must be a transcendent—which, I don’t even know what he means by transcendent, but it obviously means immune to any kind of scientific logic.

Jeric: I know whenever he started also, one of the first things he said was, which really just like, I just had to squint my eyes and say “what the fuck?”—but he says there’s no good arguments that atheism is true, which is just kind of a misunderstanding of the whole point where it’s, like, y’know… It’s up to you. You have the burden of proof. It’s up to you to convince the atheist or the aunicornist why unicorns or God exists.

Seth: It’s kind of sinister on the part of Craig, because I think he knows—I’m almost certain he knows what atheism means.

Jeric: I’m sure he knows. I’m sure somebody mentioned it to him or he Googled it once in a while.

Seth: He’s got two doctorates. He’s not—

Jeric: Well are they doctorates, like uh…

Seth: One’s a doctorate in theology and one’s a doctorate in philosophy.

Jeric: Okay. So he’s got a doctorate in bullshit is what you’re saying. A doctorate squared, I guess.

Seth: He studies this. This is his bread and butter. This is how he makes a living; this right here. What we’re doing, what we’re watching—This is what he does, and this is what he does best.  And then he constantly will misconstrue and misrepresent and give a little parody, put out a straw man of whatever the atheism argument is. And then Hitchens—He’ll say something, y’know, like “We have a terminological problem here: Craig obviously does not know what the atheism stance is.” And then he’ll misrepresent it again in his second time up at the stump. Hitchens will come back and say like look, no! This isn’t what atheism means. I don’t have to prove awitchism. I don’t have to prove atoothfairyism. I don’t have to prove aSataClausism. All I have to do is say ‘I’m not convinced by the people that believe.’” And in the cross-examination you’ll notice that Craig will say “So apparently atheism means some sort of atheism?” He plays dumb. Yes that’s what it means, and you know that’s what it means. You’re unfortunately trying to misinform your flock.

Jeric: Your flock or just the people that are watching; fence-sitters or anything like that.

Tony: The reason why later we see that he is trying to play dumb about atheism is that he’s trying to put Hitchens on a certain belief. Because Hitchens will not commit to a certain belief I think that’s where Hitchens has a little bit of an advantage, because Hitchens doesn’t have to prove anything. All he has to say is that your reasons for God existing are wrong.

Seth: Are we done with KCA? You wanna go on to fine-tuning?

Craig: The initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. […] Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist. To give just one example: The atomic weak force, if it were altered by as little as one part out of 10 to the 100th power would not have permitted a life-permitting universe. […] Now it can’t be due to physical necessity because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. In fact string theory predicts that there are around 10 to the 500th power different possible universes consistent with nature’s laws. […]

Jeric: Here we go.

Seth: So we just heard the fine tuning argument, which is—

Jeric: I think I need some more whiskey for this, ‘cuz this is getting… The bullshit is getting knee-deep in this room.

Seth: In my opinion the Kalam cosmological argument, his first major point, was probably his best and most original point.

Jeric: His flagship.

Seth: Yeah. From now on it kinda steadily devolves, if you will. The fine-tuning argument, in short, is: There are constants in the physical world, in the natural world, that exist so as to permit life. Therefore God exists.

Jeric: Therefore God exists.

Seth: Common objections: It could very well be that these constants—there’s no… It’s not like they have a choice. These constants are constants; they couldn’t be any other way. Somehow he dismisses that by saying “these physical quantities are independent of nature” and he uses string theory as somehow a proof of the fact that these constants are not due to necessity.

Jeric: Glossing over string theory in his String Theory for Idiots book or whatever. String Theory for Dummies.

Seth: Now does anyone buy this?

Jeric: Like he said, okay if everything’s fine-tuned so far… Okay let’s start with Earth: only like—what is it?—seven percent or point seven percent of Earth is actually suitable for life. If you take the whole entire planet: the core, the mantle, all the shit like that. Seven percent, just the surface right there is the only place you find life.

Seth: If you want to take the whole universe—

Jeric: And then you extrapolate that to the whole universe where we haven’t found anything else yet? So it doesn’t seem like the universe is all that fine-tuned for life.

Seth: As far as we know life, biology, biological organisms, in terms of the mass of atoms that are available in the universe is one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent…

Jeric: How many percents is that?

Seth: Ad infinitum maybe of what exists in the universe. So maybe this whole universe was not fine-tuned just for this incredibly small iota of—

Jeric: Desert sand people to come up with a book that outlaws masturbation?

Seth: Exactly. Just so someone in Bronze Age Palestine could be tortured to death.

Jeric: Exactly. Yeah.

Seth: What did you think of the fine-tuning Tones?

Tony G: You know kind of like I talked about at the beginning with everybody kind of dodging the bullet he doesn’t outline the solid proof for it being a god, he more outlines the proof against it being anything else.  That’s one of the big things that I’ve picked up on on this the fine-tuning element. And you know you guys were talking about there’s a very very low percentage of life that exists on Earth and there’s even a lower percentage of life that exists in this universe, and I think that he’s also trying to use that to his advantage because he’s saying, y’know, look it is fine-tuned because we are the only place in this universe that has life versus, y’know, using the string theory or something like that where several other universes can survive. There might not be any life, thus it’s a miracle—which he preaches I know again in the future in this video—and so maybe he’s trying to use that as an advantage as more of like a miracle of God.

Jeric: I was gonna say I don’t think there’s a low—I think there is a percentage that there is gonna be life out there, it’s just that we haven’t discovered it. Even at that if the universe was so finely-tuned for life I would think it would be much more hospitable and you would see it teeming everywhere.

Tony: I can definitely see that, especially with the potency of his argument of fine-tuning. I would definitely see that there would be a bigger percentage than the very low percentage now. Definitely.

Seth: And then Hitchens will go… Hitchens later says yes, the universe does have certain constants. There are certain laws that the universe abides by, but of course the religious will claim that there are miracles which suspend—just totally fly in the face of all these constants—like resurrections in the case of Christianity. Or if you want to talk about, um…

Jeric: Flying to heaven on a winged horse that’s on fire.

Seth: Something like that.

Tony: Umm… It’s name is Pegasus.

Jeric: No, that was Muhammad.

Seth: Y’know these laws can be suspended in any number of ways, in any number of circumstances just for your own benefit which is, he says, “having it both ways in the most promiscuous manner,” which I have to agree with.

Jeric: Did he really say that? Having it both ways in the most promiscuous manner?

Seth: Yeah.

Jeric: Wow!

Seth: Quite a wordsmith.

Jeric: Yeah, exactly.

Seth: Do we wanna move on to the moral? Or do we have anything more to say about fine-tuning?

Jeric: No, other than it’s just BS loaded on BS.

Craig: If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. […] I just don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality which has emerged among these imperfectly evolved primates we call Homo sapiens is objective, and here Mr. Hitchens seems to agree with me. […] On the atheistic view there’s nothing really wrong with raping someone. But the problem is that objective values do exist and deep down we all know it. […] Love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. But then it follows logically and that God exists.

Jeric: So… The moral argument.

Seth: The moral argument.

Jeric: This is the classic case of you have to accept his premises for the rest of the shit to flow downhill.

Seth: Tony, do you have anything to say before we delve into this?

Tony: Well first of all it’s a good argument. Y’know he says that without the presence of a good deity, without the presence of a really good influence—He’s saying that morality couldn’t be possible. But you can look past that and say that maybe because the thought or the presence of a deity such as God could possibly influence the outcome, but not positively but possibly negatively because there’s always that big message that if you are a sinner and you don’t refute your sins you will go to hell.

Seth: Yeah, I don’t think he even goes into the whole fire and brimstone and hell and everything because he doesn’t… He probably doesn’t want to put that message out there to people who might be on the fence. The moral argument is pretty popular among Christian apologists. There’s usually one of two ways they go, and it’s either we, as humans, don’t know… [cell phone buzz]. Tell her we’re doing a fucking podcast! Okay, so there’s two ways you can go with the moral argument. One is we as humans don’t know what is right and what is wrong and we need to be told (via the Bible, usually) how to behave. We need these Ten Commandments. We need people who communicate with God to tell us what is good and what is bad because wouldn’t otherwise know. There’s another way you can go which is we know what is right and we know what is wrong, and we know that because God has written that on our hearts. I think Craig is going for the latter. I think that’s what Craig is saying. If he wants to go down that route then there’s the Euthyphro dilemma. I’m not a philosophy guy. I’ve only taken Philosophy 101, but this is some Philosophy 101 shit right here. The Euthyphro dilemma is… fuck. I’m drunk.

Tony: Yea booze!

Jeric: Is what God says moral because God says it, or is it moral with or without God? Basically. Which makes sense, but it seemed like for most of this third argument he was kind of agreeing—One he agreed that humans were evolved, these imperfectly evolved primates. But then he was also agreeing that there was no objective morality. I agree also that there’s no objective morality, y’know, really at all because any kind of socially evolved animal is going to have these kind of evolutionary ingrained behaviors. Whether it’s… Any kind of social animal, whatever it is.

Seth: I think at its heart this is more of a emotional argument, ‘cuz there’s really no proof here.

Tony: I think that’s a very, very strong argument, especially on his part. But it’s also a really big, almost contradictory argument, because a lot of people are doing it on the basis of a promise of reward. When you have that promise of reward, y’know, if anybody says they’ll give you a certain something for doing some certain act then of course if the reward is great enough you’re gonna do that act, regardless of what it is.

Seth: Economics.

Tony: Economics! 101 right there. Y’know, it’s not always about the love of God, sometimes it’s about the fear of god and the fear of the power that he can potentially bestow upon you. And in this argument Craig makes—

Jeric: If you accept the premises.

Tony: I agree. In this argument when Craig argues it, it’s very heavily in the favor of God versus in the fear of God. This is one of the points where I think Hitchens doesn’t really focus—which I think he should in his following arguments—but with Craig’s argument he really focuses on the good of God and the happiness, the power that he can bestow upon you versus the fear and the devastation that he can really bring into your life by doing wrong.

Jeric: Personally, I don’t think it teaches you morality. I don’t think being a Christian or reading the bible or anything like that teaches you morality. What it teaches you is obedience to the word of God, to the Ten Commandments, however you want to see it teaches you obedience. Obedience and morality aren’t the same thing.  So for him to say that without God there is no morality, well…

Seth: Well fuck you!!

Jeric: Exactly! You can take that bible and fold it ‘til it’s all corners and shove it up your ass!

Tony: Without God I’d suck your dick and I wouldn’t feel bad!

Seth: That’s going in the podcast.

Tony: Fuck that!

Jeric: Asshole.

Seth: Before we move on I want to say Craig says, quote, atheists say there’s nothing really wrong with rape, which I think is extremely risky on his part considering if you want to look at the Old Testament there are at least one if not multiple occasions where God will say take these women, take these children, do with them what you will.

Jeric: It seems like the Old Testament is the one that doesn’t have a problem with rape.

Seth: But anyways, moving on.

Craig: Historians have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority. […] If Jesus did rise from the dead than it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God. [..] Fact number one: On the Sunday after His crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of His women followers. Fact number two: On separate occasions different individuals in groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death. These appearances were witnessed not only by believers but also by unbelievers and even enemies. Fact number three: […] Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising Messiah. […] The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. And therefore it seems to me the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be.

Jeric: So the resurrection, huh? This is what he wants to go with? Especially when he started at the fucking very beginning saying we’re not gonna discuss biblical inerrancy. Hmm… interesting! Jackass.

Seth: And yet here are the facts.

Jeric: Yeah his facts! His quote unquote—His little air quote facts.

Seth: The biggest problem I have with this is that the meat and potatoes of this one argument rests on people who presumably would not believe that Jesus was the son of God claim that Jesus is the son of God. So he’s saying that he knows the motives—which is extremely, extremely tenuous—he knows the motives of people over two thousand years ago. He knows what they would be inclined to believe, and not only that but he knows that what they end up believing is a fact and… It just hurts my brain. Anyone else want to give their thoughts?

Jeric: Some of this stuff it doesn’t really follow how he—his thought process through this. It’s just kind of—he’s paying lip service to everybody else that’s from the church that’s there showing up, because these certainly don’t seem as well supported as all his other arguments. It’s just like “There’s miracles!” and “There’s no naturalistic explanation. Therefore the Christian is amply justified in believing that God exists.” And it’s just like, well, how—where the fuck did you come up with that shit from?

Seth: Jesus dies. People saw Jesus alive after—

Jeric: They claim they saw Jesus alive.

Seth: But they were Jews so they must have been telling the truth.

Jeric: The Jews, though, don’t believe in resurrection. There’s no reason they would have believed that Jesus would have been resurrection, err, resurrected as the son of God except for the fact that he said he would have been resurrected as the son of God, so I don’t know where they got it from!

Seth: If a Christian says he saw Jesus alive after he died then whatever, but if Jews do it it must be a fact! So that’s his proof. You can believe it if you want, but… fuck. That’s all I gotta say.

Tony: Well, so as being the third party here I must admit that I am a little bit biased towards this. Lots of times the basis on a testimony of spoken word two thousand years ago, to me, just never seems as concrete as people want to believe it is.

Jeric: Even now! When is a verbal claim, a testament like that, considered as evidence? His fourth point is definitely the least substantial of all.

Tony: I would definitely say it’s been the weakest so far. Definitely.

Seth: Wait until we get to point number five. That’s the best, and by “best” I mean “worst.”

Jeric: Dammit. I can’t believe I’m out of Maker’s Mark.

Tony: Oh man. We’re out of beer and whiskey. This has taken a turn for the worse. Let’s get this over with!

Craig: Finally, number five, the immediate experience of God […] Philosophers call beliefs like these “properly basic beliefs.” […] Now, if this is right there’s a danger that arguments for God’s existence could actually distract your attention from God himself. If you’re sincerely seeking God then God will make his existence evident to you. We mustn’t so concentrate on the external arguments that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

Jeric: So what do you think about this? The properly basic belief as, uh, as he said it’s not an argument, it’s just a claim.

Seth: That’s about all you can say with his last argument. It’s not an argument whatsoever.

Jeric: The argument from personal experience. The absolute weakest that there is. I mean there are mental hospitals full of people who think that they’re made of string or that they’re a glass of orange juice because they have properly basic beliefs just like he does!

Seth: Yeah and so here’s another example of why I think Craig is involved in a little bit of Orwellian doublespeak or doublethink. He says we must not concentrate on the arguments that we fail to hear God in our hearts. So he brings out, he trots out four arguments, and he’ll criticize Hitchens for not addressing each of these arguments. Then of course one of his, quote, arguments is forget these arguments and listen to your heart! What does your heart tell you? God will speak to you—

Jeric: If you listen!

Seth: —in his own way. He doesn’t tell you how or in what language.

Jeric: If you’re seeking! It’s kind of the blame the victim thing. If you’re not praying hard enough, if you’re not seeking hard enough it’s your own fucking fault for not finding God.

Seth: Properly basic?

Tony: In my own personal opinion I actually find that this argument is very, very strong but it only appeals to those who are believers. I think that’s why maybe he makes this argument because, y’know, he did mention the fact that he wants everybody to check their beliefs at the door, but you still can’t get away from the fact that he believes in what he believes in. So I think that this argument is very, very strong for already established believers of what he’s trying to say.

Seth: It’s targeted toward believers or maybe those who really, really want God to exist or really, really want to find God.

Tony: But I also find this argument unfortunately very weak, um, due to the point where he mentions—I can’t quite quote, but I can paraphrase—where he says, he basically tells people that God only exists if we want him to exist, if we let him into our hearts. To me that almost says that what if we let our hearts open to some other deity or to some other entity? Can that exist as well?

Seth: Like Shiva.

Tony: Like Shiva! Like Jesus, Allah, Buddha… possibly Tom Cruise! If we let our hearts open to these certain deities, especially Tom Cruise, does that make them actually exist? We’ve seen him in movies. Have we ever seen him in real life? We don’t know. But again, to me, it just seems almost like God won’t exist unless somebody spreads this rumor to you or somebody spreads this idea to you and you open your mind to it. But then again that’s where you get any other religion, But y’know when we look at like Mormonism or Scientology which are obviously mad-made religions—

Jeric: And we know their origins… as opposed to like Judaism or Christianity.

Tony: Yeah. We know their origins. It’s very different because here he is saying open your heart to what’s already there versus open your heart to what people say is there. And to me this is also a weak argument much like argument number four. Unfortunately, you know, I wish all five of his points really hammered it home just to really present his position. I’m not saying that I am in favor of his position specifically, but I just wish everything that he had had a little bit more background and evidence to it than it does. I fell like points number four and five really faltered a little bit, and it’s more based on the belief versus the proof that God exists. And like I said he does have a little bit of a disadvantage trying to prove that God exists.

Seth: The first time I watched this I kind of went away with the impression that Craig was firing on all cylinders. I was like this guy is good. He’s well prepared, he’s methodical, he knows his shit and he brings up some pretty good arguments. But that was kinda the first time—That was the first time I watched this and I—I think I watched it with Jeric and I think we were drinking. Okay his first point is decent. I have many problems with his Kalam, but it’s probably his best argument. And then the rest of his arguments, like the fine-tuning or the biblical inerrancy or the moral argument, they’re just—they’re recycled and warmed-over argument that I’ve heard a hundred times, except that unlike most Christian apologists he dresses them up. He presents them with a lot of confidence. He presents them with a lot of quotes from other people, even though they may be obscure and even though their methodologies for calculating whatever are unknown or dubious. If you don’t look at his arguments with a very, very critical lens I can easily see how you would be led down a path of yes God exists, yes Jesus is Lord, yes I need to accept him. Um, I could go on about Craig. I mean, there’s obviously a round two and a round three that I kind of almost desperately want to go into because I think there are some serious issues there. However, there’s obviously not enough time. So I guess in closing is there anything anyone wants to say?

Tony: Well in all truth the big bang theory presented by Craig actually really threw me off, because I’ve heard of the big bang theory plenty of times but only through the minds of scientists. I’ve never heard it through the minds of actual Christian believers as being a really big source or power of God. I’ve never heard of it like that before. I’ve heard a lot of big bang theories, and then I’ve also heard a lot of people who refute the big bang theory in favor of a god who created the universe. I never heard of this mix of the big bang being caused by God.

Seth: You wanna wrap up here? Well, uh, that’s our show for today. Thanks you Tony for coming in and being a part of this.

Tony: No, thank you guys. It was great. Check out Tony G and the Cure for Cancer on YouTube!

Seth: TG and the CC! Jin us next week where I think we’ll probably have Dr. Darrel Ray on the podcast. Visit our new, uh, blog page: leadersinfreethought.wordpress.com for, uh, all our news and stuff. Thanks for joining us. Goodbye.

Texas Road Trip Part 1 with Jeremy Schlaepfer

Link to mp3

I’m back!

After a few weeks of hiatus I’m finally getting my shit together and putting together episodes again. Although this episode and the next would not have been possible without my father flying me down to Texas for a week. So here’s how it happened: My father wanted me to visit for a bit in the summer, but I had no scratch so I had to decline. Eventually he offered to buy a plane ticket for my wife and I, so I accepted his generous offer. My wife on the other hand  had to work every hour she could get so we could pay rent and eat, plus she is not a fan of Texas anyway (especially in the summer). So I ended up flying down and spending a little time in Azle with friends and family which did me some good.

Can I just say that I think the number of churches in the Azle area have increased by 100%? Really. I didn’t do any counting but I did notice quite a few protestant churches that did not exist when I left in 2007. Some were those manufactured steel frame buildings, some were nestled in little strip mall areas next to a subway and a family jewelry store, and I even noticed some that looked like they were double-wide trailers. Plus the older churches that existed while I was growing up all have undergone new remodels and renovations and additions to accommodate their growing memberships. I mention this because for the past few years I have been very involved in this so-called New Atheism movement that, according to polls and relevant statistics, has been growing steadily. I have become interested in books and films and all kinds of media, really, that give voice to secular humanism, skepticism, atheism, free-thought, and what-have-you.  But it was interesting to get out of my atheist bubble for a bit and look around at Smalltown, America and realize that (in at least some areas) religion remains unfazed by the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens and seems to be growing quite nicely. That’s my observation anyway.

So as I mention in the episode I had no more content to publish so I went ahead and brought my audio equipment in case there was an opportunity to record something interesting. Luckily for me my cousin’s fiancee had recently been released from prison (or is it “jail” or the “penitentiary”? I never know) and was hanging around and wanted to talk to me about his recent conversion to Christianity while inside. His name is Jeremy and he’s a real gregarious guy so I was happy to talk with him. To be honest I went into the discussion thinking it was going to be some kind of a debate, with Jeremy trying to prove to me the truth of Christianity. I was kind of thrown for a loop, though, when I realized that he just wanted to explain to me how and why Jesus worked for him. There ended up being not a lot to debate.  I’d like to thank Jeremy, Christi, and my mother for giving me some time while I was there.

Here's a pic that I yoink'd from Facebook of Christi and Jeremy

Dustin Lance Black

Dustin Lance Black mp3

LiFT on iTunes

Dustin Lance Black everybody! I can’t believe we got an Academy Award winner on the podcast.

I discovered this little event kind of inadvertently. Christopher Hitchens was slated to come to CSU and debate Dinesh D’Souza in April. I was quite stoked as you can imagine. Hitchens coming to little old Fort Collins, Colorado in spite of his health problems. Who knows how much time he has left, right? I better get while the gettin’s good, as they say. The tickets were cheap–like two bucks or four bucks—so I got a few because I knew it was gonna sell out soon, which it did. I have seen and heard plenty of debates online featuring Hitch, and I love his style, his speech, even his mannerisms. But a few months after his diagnosis he debated William Dembski in Plano and it was a drastic change. It seems to me like his whole approach to debating had changed, and I really dug it. So, again, I was chompin’ at the bit when his debate was announced. However, the event was cancelled not long after it was announced. Hitch’s cancer was getting worse and he was scheduled to undergo some heavy treatments at the time. So I emailed the SLiCE (student leadership involvement and community engagement) office about a refund and received a reply that my refund should arrive in a few business days, and I could get some complimentary tickets to see a Dustin Lance Black talk for my troubles. (I later found out that tickets to Mr. Black’s event were free to all, but no matter.) I accepted those gratis tickets and started searching online for some contact info to try and get him on the podcast because I was a big fan of his work. Well, Milk at least. I never saw Big Love–although I have heard good things– I’m not wealthy enough to afford such luxuries as HBO. Anyway, I came up with zilch on any kind of contact info, so I wrote the SLiCE office again and asked them to ask Lance on my behalf if he would be willing to do an interview with us. I informed them of the nature of the podcast and included links to our past shows. I received no response from anyone, so I assumed it was a no-go. Eventually I got an email the morning of his talk stating that we could have 20-30 minutes with Lance about an hour before he goes on. So I took the day off work to prepare some questions and informed Jeff that this DLB thing was happening if he didn’t have plans and wanted to join in.

When Jeff and I got there we discovered that the event was catered with some quality food, but no time for feasting we have an interview to do! We went into the theater and set up our equipment and played the waiting game. As you have no doubt noticed by now these are extraneous details surrounding the interview that are probably boring you right now. The rest of this post will just be more details surrounding the event with no big payoff or twist-ending. If you are not enjoying this then why are you reading good sir (or madam)? Either deal with it or go back to Facebook. So anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, so Lance’s plane into Denver was delayed so when he finally came in it was about 30 minutes before he was scheduled to speak. Our event contact informed us that we could either do a quick ten-minute interview now or we could wait until after the talk which would mean less pressure on everyone. I said “I don’t mind either way, but if we do it after will we get more time with Lance? I don’t want to be rushed.” “Of course,” was the reply, along with “I’m gonna need a copy of your questions to review before you see Mr. Black.” Is this normal? Is there anyone reading this that’s in the journalism biz that can tell me if this is a common occurrence or an affront? It actually didn’t bother me beyond my obviously thinking that she didn’t trust me. I can’t really blame her, though, when you consider that Jeff is about 6’5” with a good amount of meat on his bones and I am 6’6” and just shaved my head so I may have appeared like some neo-Nazi skinhead. She may have thought we were out to do some kind of hostile interview. At any rate, after she gave our questions her seal of approval Jeff and I decided to help ourselves to the smorgasbord of cheese and vegetables and fresh fruit that was available and did some mingling.

Lance gave a great speech. I recorded it, too, so I will likely put that up as the Android app bonus content for this episode. After it was over Jeff and I shuffled quickly into the green room, met with Lance, and dived right into the interview. The disappointing part was when we were five minutes into the interview the event contact who had approved my questions earlier slipped us a note to wrap it up. I mean, it’s not like we wanted to talk for hours but five minutes? So I ended up having to scratch a few questions about Prop 8, but it was still a great interview. I was very honored (and intimidated) to meet and talk with Mr. Black, and I am grateful that I got even a few minutes with him.

Dan Barker Transcript

The post

The mp3

Howdy podcast listeners! I moved to Seattle about a month ago and haven’t been able to find work yet. It sucks, so to put my spare time to good use I got the idea to write out transcripts of my podcast episodes. I figured it would be good for SEO (or Search Engine Optimization as it’s known in the biz), and maybe for some listening-impaired individuals should any exist that might enjoy my podcast.

To be honest this transcribing took quite a bit more time than expected. I was thinking maybe two hours of transcribing for every one hour of audio, but in reality it was more like 8-12 hours/per audio hour. The ambiguity is because for about 4 hours I was transcribing while watching Mimic and Constantine, so it’s hard to say how much actual time was spent transcribing. After transcribing this one-hour episode I doubt I will transcribe any more episodes myself. I might pay someone at Scribie to do the rest of them, but don’t hold your breath because I have no money. Scratch that. I just looked at the fees for Scribie and I wouldn’t pay that much for a transcription even if I had the money.

So anyways, I’m tired of typing so here’s the transcript. Please email me or comment if you notice any major errors. If you notice minor errors, like a missing “that” or superfluous “of,” I don’t care so don’t bother me.

Jeric: Today’s guest is Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but before we get to Dan I thought we could talk a little bit about Bill O’Reilly and recent proof of God’s existence using the cycle of the tides.

Seth: So I’m gonna play a clip of Bill O’Reilly on the O’Reilly Factor speaking with David Silverman of the American Atheists, and right after that will be O’Reilly’s YouTube response.

Silverman: This is not brain surgery and this is not world news. Everybody knows religion is a scam.

O’Reilly: Everybody knows? I don’t know Mr. Silverman.

Silverman: Yes you do. You sit and you’re skeptical every day, and then you go to church and you get on your knees and pray to an invisible man in the sky? And you don’t think that’s a scam?

O’Reilly: No I don’t and I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why it’s not a scam in my opinion. Alright? Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.

Silverman: Tide goes in, tide goes out…

O’Reilly: You see the water of the tide it comes in and it goes out Mr. Silverman–

Silverman: Maybe it’s Thor on Mount Olympus making the tides go in and out.

O’Reilly: But you can’t explain that. You can’t explain it.

Silverman: A scam and a myth are the same thing. It doesn’t matter if I can explain it.

O’Reilly: It doesn’t?

Silverman: That doesn’t mean an invisible magic man in the sky is doing it.

O’Reilly: David, Beverly Hills, Florida “What do you mean when you refer to the tides when you ask about the existence of God? Science explains the tides. The moon’s gravity pulls on the ocean.” Okay, how’d the moon get there? How’d the moon get there? Look, you pinheads who attack me for this, you guys are just desperate. How’d the moon get there? How’d the sun get there? How’d it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that, and Mars doesn’t have it? Venus doesn’t have it. How come? Why not? How’d it get here? How did that little amoeba get here… crawl out there? How’d it do it? Come on.

Jeric: What. The. Fuck. What do you think about this Seth?

Seth: There’s at least two things wrong.

Jeric: Oh, there’s probably more than that I’m sure.

Seth: The first thing that comes out to me is that he’s using the God of the Gaps argument, which is if you don’t know how something works then God must’ve done it. “I can’t explain this. God did it.”

Jeric: “I can’t think of anything better. Therefore, God exists.” Yes.

Seth: And then the other thing that comes to mind is: Would he believe in God if there were no tides? If we didn’t have a moon would he be an atheist? I don’t think so.

Jeric: Apart from pretty much the whole clip he didn’t let Silverman get a word in edge-wise. He brought him on the show to be like “Hey, explain your billboard” and then he’d get like five words into his explanation and he’d be like “Wait, wait, wait, wait! Why are you insulting these people?” And the guy’s trying to explain “We’re not insulting them. Here’s our stance.” He even goes into “We’re just trying to get that 1% in the churches that are going over there. Get them out let them know it’s okay.” But Bill in his normal Billy stance is having no part of that.

Seth: That’s par for the course I think for Bill-O. If anyone comes on his show and he even mildly disagrees with them he just shuts them the fuck out, y’know.

Jerc: Just kinda bulldozes over ‘em. That’s why personally I try not to watch too much Bill O’Reilly.

Seth: Unfortunately, as nuts as he is, he’s probably the most level-headed guy on Fox News.

Jeric: Yeah, but that’s comparing him to the other guy, the Mormon guy, the…

Seth: Glenn Beck.

Jeric: Glenn Beck! That batshit crazy motherfucker. Yes. He goes up there and draws his little conspiracy theory lines on his chalkboard like he’s giving class. It’s definitely a soft-shoe routine that you definitely don’t want to watch too much, but anyway back to O’Reilly and his tides. It’s just “How do you explain that? They go in and out. There’s no miscommunication.” There is an explanation. I mean first of all it didn’t really have anything to do with it being a scam. But his proof of God exists because the tides work fine… c’mon. If you’re gonna posit something that’s more implausible than the moon pulling on the tides. You gotta at least have something to back that up; some kind of testable hypothesis, some kind of evidence, something.

Seth: And then the rebuttal: We know how the tide goes in and goes out, so what do you have to say about that? And he’s like “Look you pinheads, how do you explain the moon then?”

Jeric: My favorite part is “Where’d the moon come from? Who put it there?” Like it had to be a person or a being that put it there.

Seth: What gets me is like he says “Why does Earth have a moon, and then Mars and Venus doesn’t have a moon?”

Jeric: Well why does the other planets? Jupiter and Saturn have tons of moons.

Seth: Again, so it’s like If Venus and Mars had a moon, there is no God? Is that the deal? Whatever.

Jeric: Exactly. Yes. It’s the same thing. There’s explanations of why there is a moon, where it came from, evidence supporting that it’s made of the same stuff as the crust of the Earth. So it’s not central matter to the Earth. It’s all the crust so it must have come off the front.

Seth: Do Mars and Venus even have moons?

Jeric: Mars does.

Seth: Okay. Well, I’m not an astronomer or anything, but… I mean okay, if a planet next to ours has a moon or doesn’t have a moon what the fuck does that have anything to do with anything?

Jeric: But in the universe as we know there’s only these twelve planets. Or it’s eleven since Pluto got voted out.

Seth: And then three more got added on or something.

Jeric: I don’t know. But yes, it’s definitely interesting to see the mind at work with that guy. I guess the mind not at work. The mind at sleep. I don’t know. It was just interesting. This is something that’s been all over the internet with people as soon as it came out you saw it all over the websites. I hadn’t even seen his rebuttal, his reply, until you showed it to me. So what else? What’s new with you Seth?

Seth: What’s new with ME?

Jeric: Anything happening in your life?

Seth: Well I had something interesting happen about a week ago. I was at a lab meeting. I’m working in this lab, I’m trying to get into grad school.

Jeric: Yeah, you just recently took a different job with a different professor at the university. I guess in your field. Before we used to work together at a plant genetics lab, and now you’re working with an actual nutrition professor.

Seth: Yeah. I’m a nutrition guy so I’m working in a nutrition lab and last week – Monday I had my first day and we had a lab meeting.

Jeric: On that Monday? On your very first day?

Seth: Yeah. Monday morning there was a few people in the lab giving presentations about different things.

Jeric: About their research?

Seth: Yeah, about the research their doing. One person finishes their presentation and goes and sits down and another person gets up to the computer and starts booting up their powerpoint or whatever. And I guess my advisor or my professor or my boss, apropos of nothing he starts talking about this tooth, right?

Jeric: Like his tooth?

Seth: It was a tooth apparently found in some prairie or some field that I don’t think he mentioned. So he says that some anthropologists or some scientists found this tooth.

Jeric: Was this a recent discovery?

Seth: I think he said it was in the 70s.

Jeric: It wasn’t in Texas with footprints inside dinosaur footprints – it wasn’t that thing was it?

Seth: I don’t know. And, um, he says scientists start studying this tooth and they start inferring and extrapolating all these theories and all this information from this tooth they found, like this tooth came from, like, a transitional fossil between apes and humans. And this tooth, essentially, is the missing link that we’ve been looking for.  So he goes on a little about this tooth…

Jeric: The “missing link.” See that would be a red flag right there because apparently even if you find a quote-unquote missing link, oh it just creates two gaps now you gotta find two more missing links between those.

Seth: Uh-huh. So he says, okay, scientists studied this tooth and they were nuts about this tooth and they wrote hundreds of papers on this tooth and then science, or technology, had advanced to the point where they eventually concluded that this tooth was a pig and it wasn’t a hominid at all and was not a missing link at all.

Jeric: Oh, you know what? I think this was in Heidelberg, Germany in a ditch by the road is where they find, uh, Homo heidelbergensis over there and I think this is something that was going on… I think I heard about this and it was a farmer that discovered this. Yeah.

Seth: I had never heard about this, because I’m – I think you and I are pretty much up on all the arguments for/against creationism/evolution whatever. I had never heard of this.

Jeric: We try to stay relevant. Yes. Certainly.

Seth: But—and so then he goes “So that tooth was a hoax. Which means evolution is wrong. There are no missing links. There never have been any missing links, and it’s obvious that humans never evolved from apes.” I’m sitting there, uh…

Jeric: Wait, so he extrapolated that it’s obvious because somebody misclassified a tooth?

Seth: Yes. Which to me is like if someone forges a Van Gogh then art doesn’t exist, y’know? Then art isn’t real. Art is a big hoax. Whatever his logic is I’m not sure. I’m sitting there and I’m just kinda like trying to avoid eye contact and hope he doesn’t, y’know like… whatever man.

Jeric: Yeah, you probably don’t want to make waves on your first day.

Seth: Yeah, and I’m just—If you’re religious, whatever, I don’t care. Your personal life is one thing and your professional life is another thing, but don’t try to convert the whole lab into being a bunch of creationists.

Jeric: Yeah if this is your spiel in between the powerpoint presentations loading up…

Seth: It was out of nowhere. And it just kinda—I had never heard of the tooth. So you’ve heard of this tooth before?

Jeric: I think so. I mean from the—I didn’t research this or anything before because you didn’t tell me about this, but I’m pretty sure I’d heard about that and it – Like I said it was like a ditch in the road. This might have been the story of how the guy found heidelbergensis. But I’m pretty sure I’d heard something that was at least attached to that. I think it was in the same area, cuz it threw up something that I remembered about that story it sounded really familiar. But that seems like really weak evidence to be like “Okay we’re gonna throw out confirmed science from the last 150-200 years.

Seth: But this is the same kind of logic that I’ve read on a Chick tract, you know? Like I’ve–In whatever tract it is that he talks about evolution—“One of these transitional fossils was a hoax. Therefore evolution is wrong.” Which is just the worst kind of fallacy, I think.

Jeric: And you know the guy from…. What’s his name? He runs around on campus and he pretends to be a biologist. He runs the church over there… the people that are bringing, uh, the speakers onto campus, um, from the Creation Ministries International stuff… He was telling me this story about how they had radiometrically dated somebody, or this fossil, and then retested it again years later and found out it was like way, way off and this is why radiometric dating doesn’t work kinda thing. So therefore if radiometric dating doesn’t work then evolution is all a lie. I was trying to explain to him that they don’t place it there because of one thing. That’s why they have a bunch of different ways of dating these fossils, so if something like this happens they have two other ways to confirm or deny it. But he was just like “In this one case it was wrong, therefore it’s never right.”

Seth: I guess that’s the best they can do, really. But what about you? Anything new with you?

Jeric: Yeah, uh, like I was telling you I found this walking around campus I found a flyer for the same people—the same guy I was talking about—they’re a bunch of young earth creationists, a church group that comes on campus. And they have, uh—every once in a while they’ll bring in stuff. They do stuff out on the quad and they’ll say “Hey, evolution is not right” – you know, try to get people to talk to them. Kinda make a big scene.

Seth: Are these the same people that bring Brother Tom or something on the plaza?

Jeric: Yes, actually. I know at least last time he had come somehow they were affiliated with it. They’re bringing this other guy: Jonathan Sarfati. Which is another—I don’t know if any of our listeners know of, um, Ray Comfort, the crazy Kiwi. Well this guy’s another New Zealander, a young earth creationist, things like that. I think he has a PhD in chemistry. They’re gonna bring him on campus. He works for their Creation Ministries International, formerly of, uh, Answers in Genesis, right?

Seth: Sure. We were doing some research before the podcast and it came up.

Jeric: Something like that. But he’s a PhD in chemistry and he writes a bunch of things about evolution is false and he’s apparently this really good chess player. I don’t know too much about chess but apparently he plays people blindfolded and all sorts of stuff. But yeah, they’re gonna bring him on campus and he’s gonna play some people chess—play like 12 people at once. I’m assuming he’s gonna win. I kinda suck. Shit, I could go on there and play and lose, but… And then give a presentation about evolution and why it’s wrong called Design, Deluge, and Dilemma. And then over the weekend—this is all going on over Darwin’s birthday over that weekend also—and so over that weekend also they’re gonna have these presentations at their church. So it’s just interesting. It’s the same people who are bringing the same guys in. Last semester they brought this guy from Florida who was with Creation Ministries International also, so I’m hoping they’re charging this church because that’ll just make it a little bit better.  But he was doing the same thing about mitochondrial eve was his thing, showing… He was an evolution professor or an evolution PhD who had just gotten his PhD in—It was interesting, he had gotten it in real science for some kind of genes in zebrafish, but he was giving his presentation on mitochondrial eve and how genetics supports the bible, so… I’m not sure what this guy’s gonna talk about. It doesn’t really give a big description about his presentation, but it’ll be interesting to see, uh—Here we go: Leaving Your Brains at the Church Door. So I guess it has something to do with cognitive dissonance or something like that. But it should be interesting. We’ll probably start seeing a lot more of these flyers on campus.

Seth: I’m sure. We should go and crash that.

Jerc: Yeah, I’m thinking about definitely going to it. We’re supposed to have a speaker from the Biology department give a presentation about Darwin and about the theory of evolution, and he wants to do it on a Friday also so I figured we can do it a little bit before—I don’t want to do it at the same time ‘cuz then people can go to one then go to the other. It’ll be interesting to see the kind of turnout that goes to this. Usually whenever we go to ‘em there’s a good turnout. Half people are churchy people, half people are going there to say “You know what, this is nonsense.” Ask some really hard questions. Maybe not go there and make a scene, but… It would be interesting. I’d kinda like to see what is being presented. Apparently this guy has written a couple books and…

Seth: I bet it’s the same shit that’s always presented in these types of things.

Jeric: Yeah. I don’t expect anything new. Some kind of relevatory, you know, of course this is wrong. Yeah, should be the same tired, tired stuff. But you also got a chance to speak with Dan Barker didn’t you?

Seth: I did indeed. And for those of you who might be unfamiliar with Mr. Barker: He spent most of his life spreading the word of Christ to anyone who would listen. When he was younger he attended Azusa Pacific University which is a major Christian evangelical school in California. He was a preacher and Christian songwriter for many years, writing several popular tunes that he still receives royalties from. In the early 80s he lost his faith, and he’s now a co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation with his wife, Annie Laurie Gaylor. He is a popular author and lectires all over the world telling his deconversion story. His most popular book is Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. I encourage you to pick up a copy on Amazon or your local library, because I think it’s a great story.

Jeric: Yeah, yeah. And I think he also has a brand new book called The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God. But I know I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet ‘cuz it just recently came out. But anyway, so you caught up with him after he gave a presentation on campus at Colorado State University where you guys discussed a little bit about his journey from his book. A little bit of his journey of losing his faith. A little bit about the work that him and his wife and the others at FFRF are doing, as well as some of Dan’s own beliefs. So I guess without further ado here is Seth and Dan.

Seth: Dan Barker thank you for speaking with me today. I’d like to start off by saying that I’ve seen you and your wife, Annie Laurie, quite a few times on Fox News. The thing about that is you’re always treated as a punching bag or a villain in whatever narrative they happen to be pushing. So my question is why do you agree to go on Fox News?

Dan: Well, it’s not just religious right viewers that are watching the show. It’s on in the airports, it’s on in bars, it’s on in different places, and it’s on all over the place. We always hear from freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics who—they kind of apologize. “I shouldn’t have been watching Fox News, but I happened to have it on that day and I saw you.” So it’s publicity. We pick up new members and new supporters even from Fox News. And we really do hope to educate when we go on these shows. Maybe not the hosts, of course, but people who are listening because not everybody’s extreme right who watches. There can be moderate or liberal believers who are also watching as well so every little bit of education helps and why not, it’s a free country. They’re inviting us onto the show. It’s not like we’re being pushy. We’re guests on their show; they want to know what we think. And we do know they’re using us as a punching bag, we do know they’re using us. In fact, a lot of right wing groups—The Alliance Defense Fund, for example—they use our group to raise money for their group. “Look what those people are doing. Send money.” Right? So we know that’s how this whole PR thing works. But occasionally—like on Mother’s Day I was on Fox News for our National Day of Prayer. I don’t know if you saw that show.

Seth: Yeah, I think I did.

Dan: This was a weekend host. It was a young guy… What was his name? I forget his name.*

Seth: I can’t remember his name, but I, yeah, I remember him.

Dan: Actually, uh, actually they should fire him because he was good. He actually let me talk in complete sentences. He didn’t—I mean he disagreed with me, but he was a good host. He asked a question and then I answered, and when I pointed out that he made a mistake he admitted it. He looked down and he said “Yes, you’re right.” So I thought that was kind of refreshing. I think—I don’t know what was going on, but on the weekend they were probably trying some of their lesser—less pushy talent, let’s say. So it was refreshing to be able to speak all the way until the end of the sentence and to actually say some relevant things to him. You always hope when you go on shows like this. Also the members of our organization they like to see us fighting back. They like to see us doing debates. They like to see us putting up billboards. They like to see us speaking where they can’t necessarily because they have a job or they run a company or they have to kinda keep their heads low in their community. They like to see somebody out there doing that. And then it’s entertaining! We often play some of the clips from those shows on our own radio show to play what the host said and then what we said, back and forth, so a way to entertain and educate and do some PR.

Seth: So you and your wife are both co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation?

Dan: Yeah.

Seth: So what exactly is the Freedom from Religion Foundation? What does it do?

Dan: Two things. The group started—it started locally in 1976. It became a national organization in 1978. The two purposes are: 1) To keep state and church separate, and 2) To educate the public about the views of nontheists or nonbelievers, whatever we call ourselves. We’re not strictly an atheist group. We have atheists, agnostics, secular humanists… We don’t care what people call themselves. In fact, a few religious people joined because they support state-church separation. We just did a survey of our membership and almost 4,000 responded and about 88% use the word “atheist.” The other 11 or 12 prefer the word “agnostic” and that’s fine with us. Our little joke is that it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, we all disbelieve in the same god. So, uh, on our first purpose of keeping state and church separate we take lawsuits, we make legal complaints. This year we hired our second full-time staff attorney for non-litigation work, writing letters and complaining to school boards and mayors and governors and that over violations of the state-church separation. We have lawsuits. This year we had that victory in federal court on the National Day of Prayer. Those are time-consuming. Those are expensive.  We have six or seven other lawsuits in the courts right now as well, including challenging the—it’s called the Parsonage Exemption. Members of the clergy do not have to report their rent or their house payment as income! It lowers their tax liability, and in fact some of them are abusing it. Some of them were getting their whole salary paid as a housing allowance. And they’re abusing it in other ways like they’re giving it to basketball coaches at a Catholic high school for example and calling him a clergy-person. So we’re challenging that. We don’t think it’s fair that there is a special class of people that gets that break that the rest of us don’t get in their taxes. By the way, we think conservatives ought to agree with us. Why should there be a tax break for certain people and not for others? There should be equality.

Seth: So what’s the big deal with the separation of church and state? If you look at England they have an official church, the Church of England, the Anglican church and they seem to be doing just fine. So how important is the separation of church and state?

Dan: It’s like the opposite of us. But look at England and look at Europe. It’s true that most of those countries on paper have an established religion, although some of them are disestablishing. Sweden disestablished the Lutheran church and other countries have it as kind of an historical anomaly like in Denmark, in Copenhagen. They realize there is an established church but it’s meaningless – kind of like the monarchy is meaningless in England. It’s there for ceremonial reasons. But look at the price they had to pay to get there. There was a time in the history of Europe when the established church truly did mean something horrible. It was discriminatory, they tortured, they did inquisitions, they fought holy wars, they expelled people, they persecuted people. When there was a state religion there was not freedom. There was not freedom of conscience. Europe finally had to go through those hundreds of years/centuries before they finally got tired of it and they’ve grown past it. I don’t think the United States of America should put itself through those centuries in order for us to get to that point. Why don’t we learn the lesson? In fact the founders of our country were wise enough to say “Let’s start off this way.” Why set up a theocracy or an official religion or an established religion? Whenever the government takes sides there will be insiders and outsiders. There will be division. If the government prefers a religion then – in the United States especially, where the religious right is so active – they jump on that like territorial animals, and they say “This is our country.” It will limit the freedoms, for example women’s rights or gay rights or freedom to run for public office if you don’t have the right views. History shows us that when church and state are united they both get dirty. And a lot of Protestants and many Catholics in the United States agree with that and in fact many of them join us in our lawsuits. They don’t want the government involved in their religion. They want total freedom. So we have a country which is kinda nice, the first country in history to ever do this. The United States is the first country to ever separate state and church, and it’s a country where the government has to be neutral. We’re free to disagree; we’re not free to ask our country to settle the argument. So total equality and the first amendment is what does it. The first amendment to the United States constitution is—some people call it the freedom of conscience as an umbrella. There’s these five freedoms in there. The first one is religion, then speech, then press, then assembly, then the right to petition, but notice that before those first five freedoms of conscience are spelled-out in the first amendment… before that is a non-freedom. Before we even get to those five freedoms the very first words of the first amendment say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Then it continues “Or…” then it goes into the five freedoms, right? So before we even have our freedoms of conscience we have to cap the government. We have to put a limit on the government. The congress—and by the fourteenth amendment, by the way, extended that not just to congress but to the states and governments at all levels so it’s not just congress, it’s our government at all levels—congress has to shut its mouth. The government has to be neutral. And there’s a difference between religious speech and governmental speech. Excuse me, there’s a difference between private speech and governmental speech. Private speech we’re free to say what we want, but governmental speech is not. The government is limited. That is called the establishment clause, and that’s our bread and butter. Our organization has its successes due to that establishment clause, those first few words of the first amendment which tell the government to butt-off. You gotta fold your arms and be neutral. We’re free to agree or disagree, we’re free to fight among ourselves, we’re free to think whatever we want, our government just has to back off and respect our freedoms to go to church or not. To be an atheist or an agnostic or a Hindu or whatever we want to do.

Seth: I went to high school in Texas several years ago, and back when I was in high school I remember several of my teachers had posters in the classrooms with “God is awesome” or they would have bible quotes or religious symbols like Jesus fish or crosses… And then I remember one time in English class we had a pretty outspoken religious teacher…of English, and we were all assigned to read, uh, what was it? Umm, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God…

Dan: Yeah, uh, Edwards. Edwards’s sermon.

Seth: Yeah. I remember our teacher was saying like “I’m not allowed to tell you this is true, but this is absolutely true.” And then I remember in that same school I had a biology teacher who said “This is the point in the class where I’m supposed to come to evolution, but I’m not going to teach you evolution because I believe the good Lord created us and that evolution is all baloney.” Were any of those things unconstitutional?

Dan: Yes. They were all against the law. Those teachers are renegades. They’re breaking the constitution. They are violating the letter and the spirit of our country by injecting their personal religious view into their governmental function. Teachers at a public high school represent the government, and the government has to be neutral. Those teachers, in that sense, are inept. They’re not good teachers. They don’t understand the educational system or the promise they made when they took a public office such as a high school teacher or a mayor or a county executive or whatever or sheriff. So they did break the law, and if we would have heard about that we would complain, we would send a letter, and often the principals write back to us and say “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. They have stopped the abuse.” And it’s an abuse is what it is. The teachers have perfect freedom off the clock to say what they want: to go to church, to talk, to have freedom of speech. But when they walk in that door during the school hours and they are representing the government they do not have the freedom. That’s what that–the beginning of the first amendment stops their mouths when they’re speaking as government. There’s a difference between private speech and governmental speech, and those teachers acting as teachers at a public high school are exercising governmental speech and so they are breaking the law and that is wrong. How would—and some people say “What’s the injury? If you don’t like it don’t pay any attention.” What if an atheist teacher were to get up and say “By the way, we’re at the point in the class where I have to tell you that Jonathan Edwards’s sermon is all bunk and it’s totally wrong. There is no hell and you should not believe in God.” Wouldn’t there be some parents complain? You know there’d be parents saying “Wait a minute! You’re overstepping your authority as a teacher to try and inject your personal views on this issue. You should let us families decide for ourselves.” And that’s how children in atheist, nonreligious, and agnostic families feel when they send their kid to public school. What business does the government have interfering with our freedoms of conscience?  So yes, they are breaking the law.

Seth: I listen to your Freethought Radio podcast—your podcast with you and your wife—on a regular basis. It used to be on Air America, but Air America went off the air, I think, earlier this year. So, like, how has that affected, um, maybe the production of the podcast or maybe has listenership declined? Or do you know?

Dan: Well it’s plus and minus right now. It was a loss. We were on a whole bunch of markets all over the country. Now we are on about five. We do broadcast. We broadcast in Madison, Wisconsin so truck drivers can hear it as they are driving down the road. It’s an actual radio broadcast. Same thing in Alaska and Atlanta and a few other cities. We are negotiating a contract for syndication now to come back up in another, I think, 35 cities to start…through a different way so we might be expanding that.  But we have thousands of podcast listeners who don’t care about the broadcast. They would rather listen at their own time like you. It probably doesn’t matter to you as a podcast listener when and where it’s actually broadcast. In fact, it’s quicker ‘cuz all the commercials are gone. You can hear the show in… I think it’s 42 minutes now. The plus of us going—of Air America folding is that we actually have a longer show now. We used to have 37 minutes on their clock and now we have 42 minutes and I think if we go to the syndication we’ll go back to 40. So it seems like it’s an hour show, but you gotta squeeze it all into forty minutes it’s pretty tough to do. We passed the two million listener mark on podcasts which is pretty impressive, I think, about six months ago. I think we’re close to two-and-a-half million now as far as downloads of the actual show, and there’s maybe ten thousand or so that listen to each episode regularly. It’s a different world. When I was in Australia people say “I listen to your show all the time.” I’d never even thought about that. I’m thinking of it as a Madison, Wisconsin broadcast, but then people all over the world can pick it up and that’s kinda neat.

Seth: Yeah it is. I–I listen—That’s basically all I do right now. Like I go to work, and I work in a greenhouse, and I just listen to podcasts like all day.

Dan: And they let you do that, huh?

Seth: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty fantastic…for me. Uh…. Sometime last winter you gave a series of talks all over the country and one of your stops was at the University of North Texas in Denton. I used to attend that university and my sister attended that university and she was a member of the Freethought Alliance.

Dan: I remember them. Yeah.

Seth: So she saw your talk and I remember being really jealous that she got to see you and I hadn’t seen you. I called her up and I was asking her to tell me all about your talk and she said that you spoke about Richard Dawkins writing the forward to your book Godless. What’s the story there?

Dan: I mentioned it during tonight’s talk. We met in Iceland a few years ago. We were at a conference of humanists. He gave a great talk, and then he sat down and listened to my talk telling my story. Afterwards he came up with the last manuscript copy of the pre-published edition of his book The God Delusion, and he said “Would you like a copy of this?” And I said “Would I!”—to read it before it was published, you know. He signed it to me and Annie Laurie. He said “I think there’s enough time I can mention your story in my book.” And he did. He found a place where he could add to the publisher without affecting the paging, y’know like for indexing? So if you read The God Delusion toward the end there’s a little bit about my story in there. So when I was writing Godless I emailed him—it was like a Hail Mary, y’know an atheist Hail Mary pass—maybe he could write a forward for it. He emailed back and said he was too busy, he was working on his newest book The Greatest Show on Earth, that maybe he could look at it but he couldn’t really, he was just way too busy. But then a couple days later he sent a forward to my book anyway! Which I thought was so gracious, and it was almost perfect. He had to change a couple of little things here and there just for accuracy, but y’know… Think of the work habits of somebody like Richard Dawkins, that he can be working and cranking out these books—wonderful books—and still have time to write a wonderful blurb or a forward for someone else. I mean that was very, very generous, and I said “Can I pay you for this?” And he said “No, don’t pay me, just support the Richard Dawkins Foundation.” So you’ll see in the forward of my book RichardDawkins.net which is supporting his work through his nonprofit organization as well.

Seth: My sister, Emily, is I think—actually I think she’s an agnostic, but… She says that she would give anything to go back to believing again—because we were raised as Methodists. So do you think that’s the case for a lot of people? And would you do that?

Dan: There are a few atheists who say things like that—that they envy people of faith because there is some comfort. It’s, um, the kinda comfort where you can close your eyes and not be afraid of the world, that kinda thing, but their rationality, their intellect, won’t allow them to. So your sister is probably like that. But it’s kind of like saying I envy my toddler because they have a relationship with the tooth fairy. Wouldn’t it be fun to go back and believe in the tooth fairy again? Wasn’t that really cool? Of course some of us might think “That was cool, that was fun. I miss those years.” But they’re gone, they’re past. They’re behind us and we remember them, but I—Are you gonna go back to the tooth fairy, as much fun as it was? Am I gonna go back to the tooth fairy? In fact with our daughter, Sabrina, raised in a nonreligious family, we pretended that there was a tooth fairy and we told her “There’s no tooth fairy, but we’re gonna pretend.” And the same thing with Santa Claus, so she was not denied any of that fun.  She always knew it was Mom and Dad. I asked her later “Didn’t you always know?” and she says “Yeah I knew it was you but it was fun to pretend.” Kids have imaginations. In a sense you’re lying to kids by telling them Santa is real and the tooth fairy is real. If you think belief in God gives you comfort why lie about it? Why not attribute all that to imagination and to the creative human mind?

Seth: You were a preacher or a minister and a Christian songwriter and very active in the church and made a living from the church and had many friends in the church. So when you came out as an atheist did you experience any kind of isolation or excommunication, uh, from your religious friends or community?

Dan: Yes. Some, not all. To be fair and honest, a lot of those Christians we’re still friends today. They think I am wrong, but we still admire and love and respect each other as human beings. We can’t paint them all with the same brush. But you’re right, some of them did kind of banish me or write me off or we’re not friends anymore. Some of them had some ugly language about it, and I learned that I guess we’re not in the same community anymore. I didn’t feel like I lost something because if you realize that this fiend of yours really wasn’t a friend all along then what have you lost? You lost the illusion of friendship. You haven’t lost a real friend. So it’s painful, it’s painful to realize “Oh, I guess our friendship was contingent. It wasn’t like a real friendship after all, was it? It was so fragile that it couldn’t withstand a difference of opinion.” But there’s so many more people in the world: all the new friends, all the new acquaintances, all the… Y’know it’s not like my life was suddenly bereft of friendship because I don’t have those Christian friends anymore. So I want to be careful to say yes, that happened, but not with all of them. There are some really good Christian people in the world who think mature and broad and maybe liberal enough to tolerate different points of view.

Seth: Atheist torchbearers like Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Phillip Pullman claim to be big fans of the historical Jesus, if in fact there was an actual historical Jesus. You don’t seem to be as big a fan of Jesus as they are. Why is that?

Dan: No, no. And atheists don’t agree on this. They don’t agree on the moral teachings of Jesus or on the historicity of Jesus. I will say on the historicity side of things, the mythicist position is growing. There are more and more nonbelievers who are leaning toward the mythicist position, meaning that he never existed at all. As compared with the legend people, the skeptics who think Jesus did exist, but most of what is written about him is legendary, it was exaggerated, it was—In fact both positions can exist. I happen to believe–I happen to think there’s good reason not to believe that he existed historically, although he might have, but I also believe and accept the legend. So you can have both of them. It coulda started with a claim that was either true or false, and the same legend could have grown from that. Either way. So they are two separate questions. On the moral character of Jesus, he did say some good things and Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams later in life saying that he went through the entire bible to find the good teachings of Jesus. He actually took a pair of scissors to the bible, and he cut it into pieces and parts of it dropped to the floor. You can buy that today. It’s called the Jefferson Bible. You can actually buy the bible that Thomas Jefferson—he condensed it down. He cut out all the crap, and calling it “crap” is not really a bad thing because Thomas Jefferson’s words were these: “Looking for the good teachings of Jesus in the New Testament was like looking for a diamond in a dunghill.” He thought most of the New Testament was a dunghill. Today we would say crap or some other word. But he did find some diamonds, he found some good teachings. I agree there are some good or not-so-bad teachings in the New Testament. It would be surprising if there weren’t any good teachings. All religions come up with peace and love. I mean surprise, surprise, right?  Love your enemy or do something—that’s why they are religions. They come up with these, you know, claims. But in my mind acknowledging there are some good teachings in the New Testament–“Test all things, prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” right? The Golden Rule is not a bad idea, although it existed long before Jesus, and had been said better. Confucius even said it better than Jesus, but it’s not a bad idea. On balance, if you put the plus side and compare it to the negative side, on balance the teachings of Jesus were not good, and the things that were good that he taught were nothing that we couldn’t have thought up on our own anyway. Like Thomas Jefferson if you cut out all the dunghill, cut out all the crap what you’re left with is not that impressive. Although there are some people who only consider those few good teachings of Jesus to be true Christianity—and there’s even a lot of Christians like that. They throw out hell, they’ll throw out cutting off body parts, and they’ll throw out the part where Jesus said some men should castrate themselves to be in the Kingdom of Heaven—they’ll throw out all that crap just like Thomas Jefferson did—and they’ll say “What it means to be a Christian is this smaller group of teachings that we all think are good.” Well then fine, we’re happy with that. So I can see how some atheists would play that same game. Let’s just look at those few little, good, warm, fuzzy teachings of Jesus and then say “Wasn’t that nice.” But I happen to think if you look at the whole New Testament, on balance he was not a good moral example.

Seth: I have friends who say to me “There’s no way you can know for certain whether there is a god or not so why do you call yourself an atheist?” Do you believe that agnosticism and atheism are mutually exclusive?

Dan: No, because—and there are different kinds of atheists, obviously—but the basic definition of atheism, the broad set of atheists, are people who do not have a belief in a god or gods. The basic definition of atheism is the absence of a belief in a god. So atheists aren’t proving there’s no god. Atheists are people who might become theists someday! Atheists are people who say “I don’t hold such a belief. Maybe you do, and you can try to convince me but I’m lacking that belief.” That’s what atheism means. But within that set of people there’s a subset of atheists that you might call hard atheists or some people like Michael Martin calls them positive atheists, as opposed to negative. Or I think George Smith calls it hard versus soft. In any event there’s a subset of atheists within that larger group who do think atheism is a belief. It’s not a lack of a belief, but actually is a—either is a plausible belief or even a smaller subset who think that they know there is no god. I think the general public thinks that’s all atheism means, those hard atheists who say “I know there’s no god, and I’m going to my death with that knowledge.” When in fact general atheism is just an absence of belief.  All that’s irrelevant to agnosticism, because atheism and theism address belief which is a totally different question from what agnosticism or gnosticism address which is knowledge. Agnostics are people who say either “We don’t know if there’s a god.” Or a hard agnostic would say “We can’t know if there’s a god.” That’s different. You can be both an agnostic and an atheist. Most agnostics are atheists on the question of god. Most agnostics will say “I don’t know,” but if you ask them “Do you have a belief in God?” they will say “No.” So by definition—by lacking a belief in God—they are atheistic, at least the soft, negative form of atheist. But there are a few agnostics who are theists. A few agnostics like Blaise Pascal, the mathematician/philosopher, who said “We don’t know if there’s a god, and we can’t know if there’s a god. There’s no way to know, but you’re safer off believing.” He made his famous wager. So he was honest. He said “I don’t know if there’s a god, but I’m going to believe anyway.” So he was an agnostic who had theistic beliefs. They’re two separate things. There’s what you claim to know and what you claim to believe. George Smith points out in his book The Case Against God that agnosticism is not like a halfway house. It’s not like this in-between place where you can play it safe, because no matter how safe you think you’re going to play it you still have to ask the question of yourself “Do I or don’t I have a belief in a god?” For whatever reason—it might be intellectual, it could be emotional, it could be social, it could be political—whatever reason—it could be just plain ignorance or it could be apathy, even—for whatever reason if you can’t answer that question with a “Yes” then you are an atheist. You are atheistic, by description at least, if not by title. You may not want to call yourself an atheist and wear this capital A that I wear like it’s a label, but I can call you an atheist if you lack a belief in a god, whether you want to call yourself that or not. It’s not like it’s a church. It’s not like it’s something that identifies who you are. You may not want to call yourself a male with a capital M, as opposed to a female with a capital F. You may not want to use that as a title or a label, but I can describe you as a male and I can call you one regardless of what you call yourself. I think most agnostics… I would call them atheists by definition.

Seth: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it like that before. Is there an atheist role model that you most admire?

Dan: No. There’s not one that I most admire. I can pick out a bunch of examples in history. My new book has 306 very brief profiles of people—mostly historical, some contemporary people—who have made amazing contributions to the world. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, working for half a century for women’s right to vote. That’s pretty amazing. Margaret Sanger, the atheist, on her newsletter she had the phrase “No gods, no maters.” She fought for birth control, for women’s rights, for women’s health for years and years. Who could not admire that? Even these modern day Christians who try to demonize or vilify Margaret Sanger, they practice birth control. They’re taking the fruits of her work and they’re using it because they know it’s smart, they know it’s right. People who make—not necessarily the atheists who make the great speeches, I mean of course we admire that, but the atheists who are out doing things. Beatrice Webb in London who was a nonbeliever who worked for education, for healthcare, for workers’ rights, and who basically kick-started the whole British healthcare system. I admire people like that who are out putting their lives on the line, working hard to solve some kind of problem in the world. They’re all over the place: in medicine, in science, in the arts. Atheists like Verdi or Johannes Brahms who was an agnostic or Berlioz or Yip Harburg, the lyricist who wrote “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” who had a social consciousness, you know. Richard Rodgers who wrote all those great musicals. So yeah there’s a lot of these people I admire, but I don’t know if I would call any of them more of a saint than any of the others. What’s good to do, though, with these facts is to show the believers that their claim of “You can’t have a full, meaningful, purposeful, happy life without God” is not true. Empirically it’s not true. Atheists and agnostics have had wonderful, full, meaningful, productive lives.

Seth: According to your bio on the Freedom from Religion you belong to a number of high-IQ societies, including the Prometheus Society with an entrance requirement of 99.997th percentile, and, um… I’m not even sure how to formulate a question that you could answer, but I guess what I want to know is do you think that having a crazy awesome IQ isolates you from most people at all?

Dan: No it doesn’t, because it doesn’t mean that much. What it means is the members of that society were really good at taking tests, but—and I’ve interacted with these people in that society for a long time, since, uh, I guess since about 1980? 1983? Most of them—they’re really smart. No doubt about it. I mean they’re just geniuses in their field, but they all admit that they’re really stupid in other fields, things that they haven’t studied. They have strengths: good with numbers, good with analogies, good with language, good with, you know this kind of thing. All you have to do is pass—get a high enough score on one of the tests, IQ tests, and you can get in. It’s like Mensa is the same thing. What’s Mensa, the top 1%? Top 2%? And I happen to know people who would fail those tests but who are immensely intelligent in ways that I can’t even imagine! There are things you just can’t really put on a test like that. The only thing it shows—we’re a membership of a group of people who are good at passing that kind of a test, right? I will say, though, that most human beings are smart to some degree or another. It’s innate, and it’s how hard you work at it that makes a difference. Like I’m working real hard in learning another language right now, which I think is good for the brain. I feel really stupid because I don’t know that language very well. I’m trying to learn Portuguese. I know Spanish, but I don’t have some magical way of learning Portuguese. I have to work at it. But I think what sets a lot of us apart is our motivation to work hard, to train ourselves to do something like learning a music instrument or learning another language. If you do that–into older age, even–it keeps the brain younger. Maybe—and this is a little uncomfortable to answer—maybe knowing that you’re smart gives you a confidence to trust your reason. If you don’t think you’re smart, if you think you’re dumb, then you’re not gonna trust your own thoughts to try to form conclusions. You’re not gonna be skeptical, you’re gonna want someone else to think for you. Maybe some of us do innately fall under the bell curve genetically where it’s easier for us to take certain kinds of tests, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t be smart if we work hard enough at it. The trick there is motivation and then a trust of your own brain. Being smart I have a trust in my brain, and I know enough to know that we all make mistakes and I make mistake and I’ve made some real howler mistakes sometimes, you know? But then you learn from them. The respect for reason, the respect for your mental faculties is a big part of the confidence you have in thinking for yourself, and that’s what free thought is! Freethinkers are people who think for themselves and nobody tells them what the conclusions are. They’re gonna check it out for themselves.

Seth: I just—I just have one last question. I, uh, I talked to my mother and I told her that I was going to be interviewing you and she stressed—she’s like “Make sure you ask him this question. I want to know the answer to this question.” She wants to know if you think religion and science are mutually exclusive. Or do you hold any beliefs that maybe are not yet proven or cannot be proven?

Dan: I would answer “Yes” to both of those questions, although be careful to say like Christopher Hitchens says “Religion should get the credit that it was our first attempt at things.” Hitchens says “Religion was our first attempt at cosmology. It was our first attempt at meaning. It was our first attempt at healthcare. It was our first attempt at dealing with mental illness. It was our first attempt at charity.” You know what I mean? It was all these–way back before we were learning and getting more sophisticated in culture, training our brains in ways we didn’t know we could do. We’ve grown past that now and we don’t need religion anymore. So yeah, centuries ago, millennia ago science and religion did overlap. In fact, religion was the science of the day. The cosmology came from religious teachings. Now we know that most of those claims were wrong. We know there’s no firmament over the earth with the holes in it that the lights shine through. We know that’s not true anymore, even thought the bible still talks about the firmament being this upside-down metal bowl over the sky. Today, now there is no compatibility. Religion can be an artistic, emotional, aesthetic thing for some people that does not compete with science. It would be like asking “Is science and music compatible?” Well yeah, in that sense it’s just something that we do. But when religions make factual claims, when a religious institution makes a scientific claim then it has to yield to science. We can’t yield to religion. We can’t say “This is true because of the authority of the church or the dogma.” We have to give way to the proven methods of repeatability, of evidence, of verifiability, of non sequiturs, of logic, of falsifiability, all these principles of science. The difference is science makes progress by limiting, cutting, chopping down what cannot be true. It’s an extremely limited progress that we make. Religion on the other hand makes claims by broadening. By faith anything can be true. So if faith is a valid tool of knowledge then anything can be true and why even test it. So there’s a big difference there between religious factual claims and scientific factual claims. There’s no compatibility there, in my mind, at all. That doesn’t mean a scientist can’t be religious anymore than a scientist can’t play rock guitar. It’s a different thing they’re doing for a different part of their brain for a different experience. But if a scientist wants to say “This C-minor-seventh chord is the cosmology of…” You know what I mean? If they’re trying to unite those two things to make a factual claim, well then science gets the last word and there’s no compatibility there. Religious claims have to rise or fall on their scientific merits.

Seth: And did you hold any beliefs that are not yet proven or cannot be proven?

Dan: Yeah, well, yeah. But the difference is–I think all scientists have them. They are called hypotheses, right? We make hypotheses. Dark matter right now is a hypothesis that many scientists are holding to. The existence of dark energy because of the expansion—the acceleration and expansion of the universe and so on. But no scientist will say “It is true. My belief is true.” Most scientists would say “I really like this idea. I prefer it. I’m gonna go with it for now, but I’d be happy to be overturned. I’d be happy to change my mind.” In fact a lot of scientists are glad to be proven wrong because science has advanced in that! That’s not the same kind of belief as religious belief where latch onto something that you claim is 100% true without any testing, without any evidence, and sometimes in the face of contrary evidence you continue to hold onto it. Like creationism, the six thousand year Earth, and all that kind of thing. So yeah, I think every scientist, every atheist would say “Yeah, we have some–” If we could put the word in quotes—“We have some ‘beliefs…’” In quotes. “…that we’re not holding to as absolute fact, that we’d be glad to get rid of. We’d be glad to change our opinion or hypothesis in the light of new evidence, new observations, or new data that comes through.” And I guess the danger there in the way the question is phrased, is there’s a danger of equivocation. If religious people are using the word “belief” in one way, but a scientist is using the word “belief” in a totally different, qualified way and you treat them as though they were the same word, well then there’s an ambiguity there. “Oh, so you scientists have faith, too! Why can’t we believers have faith?” Right? It’s a totally different usage of the word “belief,” so there’s a danger there, too, in language.

Seth: Alright, Mr. Barker I’d like to thank you for talking with me today.

Dan: Well thank you, Seth. That was a lot of fun.

Jeric: So Seth, that was a pretty good interview!

Seth: Thanks. I do what I can.

Jeric: Well, you do it well.

Seth: I was actually—that was my first interview I’ve ever done, and I was kinda nervous, too, because it was obviously Dan Barker.

Jeric: Yeah, you picked… You picked somebody way up there, huh?

Seth: He’s kind of a big guy, I guess, in the atheist/freethinker community.

Jeric: Yeah, they do a lot of stuff for separation of church and state. They’re the ones putting out the billboard. They’re the ones fighting the legal battles in court. They’ve been doing it for a while. There’s—people have known him for—Him and his wife for years and years and Annie Laurie’s mother, too. So it’s—they’ve been around for a while. But yeah you did a good job, man. It went very well, especially for your first interview, man. You couldn’t tell that you were really nervous at all.

Seth: I’m sure. Thank you. There’s also a recording of the talk he gave at CSU if anyone wanted to watch it. You can go to YouTube and just type in “Dan Barker at Colorado State” into the handy search bar, and last I checked that video was the first result.

Jeric: Join us next time on our episode when our guest will be Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism. So until then I’m Jeric…

Seth: …and I’m Seth and we are Leaders in Free Thought.

*The host was Dave Briggs and this is the media clip http://youtu.be/rXVZsAMupos


Get the Hinduism mp3

I was a few days late getting this podcast out, though not for a lack of production activity on my part. Our Android app came out not too long ago, and I wanted to go back and retroactively add a bunch of extra content to each episode. This way if you feel like shelling out $1.99 for the app then you would at least get something for your money. And please believe me when I say I had absolutely no control over the price, other than to make it more expensive. If you are unhappy with the price go bitch to Libsyn, not me. So anyways I was back-logging the app with a ton of extra content, but this had the negative effect of filling up my monthly allotment of mp3 storage space on their server, so I had to wait until Libsyn freed up some extra space for this episode. Edit (2/15/2012): I have moved all the audio to archive.org and cancelled the Libsyn hosting for this show so any Libsyn links will henceforth no longer work. However, (assuming archive.org does not go belly-up) the mp3s should be available indefinitely.

Jeff and I sat down this week with a couple of Hindu friends I recently made, Sridhar and Gaurav. Sridhar is a PhD student studying nutritional biochemistry. Gaurav recently received his Master’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition (specializing in functional foods) and is about to move to New Jersey and begin developing new food products at Kraft. I worked with both of them for about six months in a lab at CSU where I was planning on attending grad school, but UW was too strong of a pull.

Early on we would talk about religion and geopolitics when our equipment would break down, and that’s how I found out that they were both Hindus. So before I moved to Seattle I practically begged them to come on the podcast and talk about their religion, of which I knew almost nothing. They agreed and this show is the result.

Sridhar is one badass motherfucker.


Shambhala Buddhism

Get the Shambhala Buddism mp3

"The Great Stupa"

Hi everybody! I know I’ve been delinquent in my posting duties. This Shambhala post is coming more than two weeks after the episode was actually released. I was hoping Jeff could get around to doing it at some point, since he’s a more engaging writer than me, but alas he has found a job and now has limited time to devote to blogs. Strangely enough I have now been unemployed for nearly a month and I am still too busy to post on time. Job hunting and despair are sucking up quite a bit of my free time.

So let’s get down to business… Some months ago Jeff had the idea of heading up to Shambhala Mountain Buddhist Center – a kind of Buddhist retreat in the gorgeous and moderately remote area of Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It’s about an hour northwest of Fort Collins.

It actually took quite a while to get permission to do any kind of recording up there, because whoever was in charge of media relations was quite reluctant to agree to anything, fearing we would do some sort of ambush interview and edit the show in such a way as to make the center in particular or Buddhism in general look bad. Seriously. I was accidentally CC’d an internal email to this effect. But once we convinced the gatekeeper that we had no agenda and that this episode is essentially for our own edification on Shambhala Buddhism (and an excuse just to go into that beautiful area) then everyone involved was beyond accommodating and generous with their time.

Michael Gayner, director of Guest Services of the center, and Joshua Mulder, stupa architect, gave us a bit of a private tour from “basecamp” to the center’s stupa, a few hundred feet higher up in elevation. As we walked they explained to us about Shambhala Buddhism and their experiences with it.

By the way, this is going to be a picture-heavy post. Deal with it.

Michael and Jeff walking up to the Stupa.

The fountain of junk we mention toward the end of show.

The plastic card in the foreground might be the Blockbuster card that Jeff was taken with.

Apparently I have reached my limit regarding pics I am allowed to upload to WordPress without paying a fee, so instead I will link to them from now on. Hopefully it turns out okay.

These are from my Picasa album

Jeff and Michael recording in from of the “junk” structure

A view from the stupa looking toward the rockies

Views of the beautiful and intricate design from the outside

Views from the inside

Upon arriving at the stupa I went inside and sat crossed-legged on those cushions they have on the floor and closed my eyes and for a few moments. It was pure bliss. It may have been that I was tired of walking and out of breath, but whatever, it was nice.

I would like to give a special thanks to Joshua and Michael for being so generous with their time and expertise to a couple of strange atheists from the city.


Joshua and Michael

Here’s a link to the whole Picasa album if you would like to browse

Science Communication

Get the Science Communication mp3

Today’s podcast is all about how to bring science to the masses. Jeff and I attended a mixer following a two-day long workshop at CSU.  We basically grabbed some random people there and started chatting them up, starting with two working scientists fresh out of the workshop telling us what they learned. Then we were fortunate enough to talk to Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach at COMPASS and author of Escaping the Ivory Tower, and she told us why it is important for scientists to get their research into the public sphere. Finally we speak to Susan Moran about her experiences as a science journalist in both print media and as the host of a local radio show.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

Steve Wells Episode mp3

LIFT Podcast on Itunes (remember, a subscription costs nothing, but it helps us get that shallow, impersonal sense of external validation that is all anyone really wants out of life)

We start out the podcast with an interview with Steve Wells.  Steve Wells is easily the most important skeptic you’ve never heard of, and though you may not know the man, you definitely know his work.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve found yourself in this situation.  About four beers into a six pack you decide to bounce around a few web news sites; after all, you’re in your refractory period, and you’re starting to worry that if you scamper any further down the YouPorn rabbit hole, your internet service provider is going to put you on some special list.  Anyways, as you click from story to story, you see it, out of the corner of your eye . . . a comment with the word “Truth” in it, that’s right . . . capital T Truth.  

As you start to read the comment, your child like innocence is shattered;  sure, you thought you were just watching a video of Asimo the dancing robot, but “Souljah4christ84” says that according to Revalation 13:11-18, the beast will come in the form of a super computer, and the technicians at Honda are just helping to bring about the biblical Apocalypse; not only is he right, but he has the bible passages to prove it?!?

But, here’s where the panic sets in, what to do, what to do?  Someone is saying something bat-shit insane on the internet, for this you will not stand, but you’ve had a glass of OJ now, and you’ve just realized the girl in the Asimo video is insanely hot, (seriously, go take a look, I’ll wait) you have ten minutes, at best, to throw a couple of passages back in souljah boy’s face, but that bible the Gideons tossed at you outside of Brewfest is nowhere to be found.  That is when you let Steve Wells author of the Skeptics Annotated Bible save the day.

In a project spanning over a decade, Steve has worked his way through the Bible, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, marking flaws, contradictions, and flat out absurdities to create one of the most powerful online tools available to skeptics, atheists, and the religious alike.  During our interview, Seth and I got a chance to ask Steve about some of his experiences working with the SAB project, his book “Drunk With Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible”, his plans for a possible print version of the SAB, as well as a few of his “favorite” bible passages.   It’s an interview you won’t want to miss.

Later on, inspired by our talk with Steve, Seth and I round out the podcast by tossing mics in front of a handful of drunken skeptics for an erudite and rational dissections of a few of their “favorite” bible verses.

Finally, we wrap things up by reminding you to give us a 2 and 2, tell two friends, and take two minutes to leave us a review on the interwebs.

Thanks for listening.