Brian Dalton – Our monthly meeting for February 23, 2016

Brian Dalton has been a person of interest from the beginning of our group. First as Mr.Deity and then as the Ray Comfort spoof The Way of the Mister. Now he has created a third “channel” called The God Distraction.This is a series of talks about his serious dissatisfaction with the notion of g*d. The general theme is “I don’t care if God exists and neither should you.”. I don’t know how many presentations he will create on this topic, but there are now 3 episodes. We skipped the first, introduction segment which is short and moved on to the second one called Arguments. In this episode he critiques the whole idea of debating g*d’s existence using nothing but arguments (aplogetics). What he considers essential at the start is some evidence. If there is no evidence, who cares what the arguments are or how strong they are. If you can’t establish the existence of this entity via evidence, you are wasting your time with arguments unless you just like arguing for arguing’s sake.

For the sake of being complete, I’ve embedded both the introductory talk and the first “chapter” regarding arguments.

This stuff is a bit more serious than Dalton’s earlier stuff although if you watch carefully, you will catch phrases and images that reflect his quick wit. Post your thoughts and comments below.

Matt Dillahunty – Our monthly meeting for October 27, 2015

Matt Dillahunty continues as one of the regular hosts of The Atheist Experience TV show from Austin, Texas. However, he has also launched a new carrier as a “professional” within the secular community. He engages regularly in debates, makes presentations at many conferences and is producing a series of videos called Atheist Debates. In these videos he takes on one of the many arguments made by theists in defense of their faith. His goal is to systematically identify the weak spots in the arguments and show how they all fail. His comments are drawn from his long experience debunking faith on the TV show and the growing number of live debates in which he participates. Matt has become an increasingly effective and popular speaker.

The video we saw at this month’s meeting was recorded at the Gateway to Reason conference held in St. Louis, Missouri this past summer. It is based on one of his talks for the Atheist Debates series, but the video for that talk had audio problems so he decided to use this presentation instead. The issue he addresses in this one is the frequent use of personal experience as a defense of faith by believers. Briefly, claiming evidence for god and belief based upon some personal experience, known directly only to you, but similar to experiences others describe who share your beliefs. The fact that your private experience doesn’t constitute evidence that can be verified, tested, repeated, etc. makes it relatively useless as a defense of faith. But that doesn’t reduce its popularity. Here is Matt’s thoughtful and detailed discussion of reliance on personal experience as evidence for belief.

Another Mencken?

Jerry Coyne has been posting comments and links regarding a fellow named Jeffery Taylor for a bit now. Mostly it is because Taylor is publishing critiques of religion or religious “apologetics” in places they are not usually seen, but also because of the style of writing. Recently he had noted that the quality and style of writing were clearly improving and, to both Coyne’s and my eye, reviving a style not seen much since H.L. Mencken. Clear, unapologetic, full of sarcasm and clever choice of words…in other words, fun to read.

Taylor’s recent post was a response to David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times about how secularists needed to improve their well…secularism. Those of you interested in Brooks have probably already read his article. There have been a large number of critiques, but none like Taylor’s. If you want to see what may be a new rising star in the secular/atheist realm of writing and commentary, you may want to read his article.

He starts by referring to Brooks as a “religious clown” and the NY Times “laziest” columnist. But name calling is not the focus of the article. Rather, it is a pointed critique of Brooks’ ideas and lack of any persuasive evidence or argument to support those ideas. Maybe not as literate as Hitchens, but certainly as snarky as Mencken. It’s got to be painful to see your ideas revealed as garbage in such a way. I doubt that Brooks will respond since he could likely end up just whining about being smacked. He doesn’t have any argument left at this point.

Taylor will be worth watching it seems. Now if only he could end up in debates and panels where Hitchens provided so much fun. I’ll have to check YouTube. He may already be out there.

Faith – Our monthly meeting on February 24, 2015

Matt Dillahunty is an increasingly well known atheist from Austin, Texas and the principal host of the weekly TV show, “The Atheist Experience”. He has recently announced that he is going to be working full-time on making presentations on atheism and engaging in debates as requested. In short, Matt is going “pro”.

Matt has been doing presentations and debates for a long time, but in the past it was mostly on a volunteer basis and he wasn’t asking for compensation or honoraria, etc. Now he has found that groups are willing to help fund his participation and he can make a living at it. His skill and popularity from the TV show has made him a bit of a celebrity.

In addition to his public appearances as an individual, Matt is also 1/3 of the “Unholy Trinity Tour” with AronRa and Seth Andrews who have also become “pros”. Matt has also begun producing short videos in which he articulates his ideas on various aspects of apologetics and other issues that are frequent sources of discussion and argument on the TV show. At this meeting we watched his presentation on the topic of “faith”. He does an excellent job of explaining how the concept of faith as a source of knowledge, understanding or confidence is without merit on every level. In the long run, the use of the word has become meaningless and ultimately an admission of ignorance or incoherence. So, not a great idea. Watch below for Matt at his best.

I suspect that at some point our discussions with the CPC group will bring us up against the notion of faith as a basis for holding on to a religious belief. I know that it is an idea at the core for at least some of the religious people participating. I don’t think I will push to have the group confront the notion of faith and I hope other GRAF members will be cautious too. We didn’t enter into the conversation in order to disabuse them of their beliefs. The goal was to have them become more supportive of us by virtue of discovering or confirming that religion and faith are not prerequisites for living a good and moral life. I think we have gotten a good portion of that accomplished. What remains to be seen is where that can take us in broadening the size of the religious community who “tolerate” or even support our right to non-belief. We need to find out how far we can go in getting the community to become “friendly” to those who have set aside any religious faith. We need to have being openly atheist considered of little or no significance outside of conversations about their religion and our lack of it.

God and Fairies

Some of you (certainly Ken) may be aware that Jerry Coyne has had a polite online exchange with an Eastern Orthodox clergyman.  The clergyman has accused Coyne of not engaging seriously with religion and theology, and instead resorting to straw man arguments which at best only apply to fundamentalism.  Coyne has replied effectively, and has pointed out that the burden is on theologians who wish to make claims about God.  And, until they can demonstrate that he or it exists, there is no need to get all wrapped up in the unending twists and turns that are the labyrinth of theology.  Here is an excerpt from Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, in which he demolishes the purported challenge of what he terms (sarcastically) “Sophisticated Theologians:”

“You could make the Best Arguments for fairies as well as for God. I would tell Fr. Kimel that fairies live in my garden (why is it always garden fairies in these arguments?), and that they make the plants grow. He wouldn’t believe me, of course, because I can’t show him evidence. But then I’d pull out my hole card: that the fairies are simply ineffable plantspirits which one can’t see, but without them the plants can’t grow: they sustain the vegetation. They are the Ground of Garden. He still wouldn’t believe me: he’d say I was making it up. I’d then tell him that he was a Fairy Fundamentalist.”

Indeed.  It seems that such theologians want to hide behind the claim that god is “ineffable.”  But if this is the case, they sure do expend a lot of verbiage discussing him.

Step Aside WLC

UPDATE: After listening to a small part of a PodCast featuring this guy on a show exploring the failures of fundamentalism, it is clear he follows exactly the same formula in every conversation. He employs circular reasoning at every challenge and refuses to acknowledge this each time. I am beginning to suspect that this guy is mentally ill. He appears to have no real job, makes no mention of having any family and does nothing but engage in these pointless conversations. He has also been banned from a large number of blogs and discussion forums because of his disruptive behavior. This guy seems to be heading downhill. I may have spoken too quickly in giving him the nod for top apologist to loathe. WLC is probably not mentally ill, just dishonest. Maybe we can give him back the top spot.

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We have a relatively long tradition of trashing William Lane Craig as a really immoral and obnoxious apologist for Christianity. This is based on his demonstrated capacity to repeat the same arguments in every debate even though these have been demonstrated to be inadequate many times over. We have also found his justification for his g*d killing children on the basis of the command theory of morality (if g*d did it, it must be moral because…well, it’s g*d) to be morally reprehensible. Well, now he has a challenger in the form of Sye Ten Bruggencate. I had never heard of him, but today he was all over the basic blogs of the atheist camp because of his recent debate with Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience. If you think WLC is hard to take, you have to see this guy in action. The video of the debate is below, but it is not for the faint of heart, sensitive stomach or fundamental commitment to reason.

I can’t think of anyone else who could deal with this guy the way Matt does. I can’t imagine why Matt agreed to this debate and I suspect he will never do so again. There really is no debate, it is just Matt making sense and the other guy making NONESENSE! Apparently this guy has a strong association with Kent Hovind (he of tax fraud fame and currently still in prison I think). Hovind is an arch creationist and competitor with Kan Ham for chief loon on the creationist stage.

Bruggencate is an apologist using the TAG (Transcendental Argument for G*d), which asserts that g*d must exist because he is required for logic, morals and science. WLC is also a fan of the TAG, but more nuanced in his use of it. The TAG ‘presupposes’ g*d as a necessary entity for anything to make sense. For example, you can’t have morality unless you presuppose a g*d who defines objective moral standards for man. This argument is demonstrably false at the simple level that even if it were true, just whose g*d would that be? WLC never explains why the Christian g*d is the one that must be presupposed. Neither does this guy. There are other problems with the TAG, but I won’t mess with them here. The point is that Bruggencate skips all the fancy footwork of WLC and makes no case other than to assert that everyone must believe in his g*d because it is ‘obvious’ that he, it, whatever, is necessary. He is indifferent to any arguments that suggest his position is untenable. There is absolutely no arguing with him since he is unresponsive to all arguments. He engages in a rapid fire demonstration of sophistry (false arguments that appear initially to have some logical value).

While WLC is hard to take because he never changes in response to new evidence, he does attempt to make an argument and does pretend to respond to the counter arguments of his opponents. This obnoxious jerk makes no effort to discuss the ideas at all. He tries to play word games, semantics games, plays with silly logic games and tries to provoke Matt with mocking displays of clips from the Atheist Experience that leave you wishing Matt would give him jab in the nose. The audience was mostly non-believers since it was sponsored by Recovering from Religion and American Atheists I think. Had tar and feathers been available, there might have been trouble. They mostly side with Matt and make their own vain attempts to get Bruggencate to engage in some kind of real discussion.

I don’t think this guy will get the number of debate requests that WLC still gets since he is completely uninterested and probably unable to respond to any arguments he doesn’t like. PZ Myers compares him to Jerry Bergman, a creationist, that he “debated” a few years ago. I’ve seen that debate and Bergman was incapable of responding in any meaningful way to the evidence that Myers presented. PZ swore off debating any creationist after that and I suspect that Matt will swear off debating anyone like Bruggencate in the future. This guy deserved no space on the stage at all. He wasn’t worthy of the attention. Watch a little bit of the debate since Bruggencate goes first and you can see his idiocy on full display from the start. Have a bucket available since you may feel the urge to use it. Keep anything that could be used to smash the computer screen hidden away since you might not be able to restrain yourself from smashing it when he is on.

WLC was my champion of the obnoxious apologists. Now he must step aside. This guy is the new champion. Unfortunately, he may not be very visible since he is so completely nuts. Why would anyone want to listen to him at all?

More Evidence That Early Christians (and Possibly Even Jesus) Believed That The End of the World Was Imminent

This is a follow up to my last post.  Matthew 32-34 states:

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its leaves get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.  I tell you the truth, THIS GENERATION WILL CERTAINLY NOT PASS UNTIL ALL THESE THINGS HAVE HAPPENED (emphasis added).

Evidence That Early Christians Believed The Return of Jesus Was Imminent

Those of you who were at Tuesday night’s Secular Cafe may recall that in response to Chris’s assertion that “end time prophecies” are taking place, a couple of us replied that early Christians believed the return of Jesus to be imminent.  This is indicated in certain gospel passages in words attributed to Jesus himself, but evidence can also be found in First Thessalonians chapter four.  I will begin at verse thirteen, and end with verse seventeen:

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep [died], or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s own word, WE WHO ARE LEFT TILL THE COMING OF THE LORD [emphasis added; note the use of “we” rather than “those], will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE AND ARE LEFT [again, emphasis added, for the same reason] will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

Of course, it is possible for an apologist to employ all the techniques of casuistry to make this passage say what it is not.  But it seems to me that it is pretty clear evidence that early Christians expected the “Second Coming” to happen within their lifetime.  Time to go to the VFW, but if I get around to it I will post the gospel passage in which Jesus (if we can really know what he said at all) made the same claim.

Another Refutation of Divine Command Theory

Divine Command Theory is not properly a theory; rather, it is the assertion that a deity is the source or ground of morality.  Divine Command Theory has been chopped to bits over the years, but as I have mentioned previously, I am working my way through Grayling’s new book, and he includes a quote from Gottfried Leibniz.  Leibniz — of “best of all possible worlds” infamy and as such a punching bag for Voltaire — is far from being my favorite philosopher, but this quote is worth at least a brief perusal:

“In saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but merely by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realising it, all the love of God and all his glory [Leibniz was, of course, a theist].  For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary?”

Speaking of Dragons…

Nice post Frost.  Since you mentioned dragons, it just so happens that I am reading AC Grayling’s new book.  Grayling includes Carl Sagan’s ‘The Dragon in My Garage’ story, which I believe is from Demon Haunted World.  Anyway, here it is, with one apparent minor edit from Grayling:

‘A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.’

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence.  What an opportunity!

‘Show me,’ you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

‘Where’s the dragaon?’ you ask.

‘Oh, she’s right here,’ I reply, waving vaguely. ‘I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.,

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

‘Good idea,’ I say, ‘but this dragon floats in the air.’

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

‘Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.’

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

‘Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.’

And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability fo invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to dispproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so…

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me.  Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive.  All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence.  None of us is a lunatic.  We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on.  I’d rather it not be true, I tell you.  But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported.  But they’re never made when a sceptic is looking.  An alternative explanation presents itself.  On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked.  Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath.  But again, other possibilities exist.  We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.  Such ‘evidence’ — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling.  Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.