Richard Dawkins helps fund atheist summer camp

Richard "God Delusion" Dawkins' foundation has helped fund an atheist/sceptic summer camp that teaches 8-17 year olds how to think critically about the world:
Alongside the more traditional activities of tug-of-war, swimming and canoeing, children at the five-day camp in Somerset will learn about rational scepticism, moral philosophy, ethics and evolution.

Camp-goers aged eight to 17 will also be taught how to disprove phenomena such as crop circles and telepathy. In the Invisible Unicorn Challenge, any child who can prove that unicorns do not exist will win a £10 note - which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory - signed by Dawkins, Britain's most prominent atheist.

Dawkins funds atheist summer camp (via Wonderland)


  1. #1, subheight640:

    how the heck do you disprove unicorns…

    The camp’s website explains that it’s not unicorns in general, but two specific invisible unicorns that may or may not inhabit the camp.

    Still, it sounds dreadful.

  2. @4 – you’ll probably be in hell soon for that post. Can you answer @3’s question?

  3. Sigh… These people really know how to take the fun out of secular life. My prediction: those kids will rebel later on and become rabid religious fanatics.

  4. Richard Dawkins is awesome, btw.

    And never mind atheist summer camps. There should be atheist Sunday schools.

  5. I’ll believe in any faith that can be recursively applied to itself. Not holding my breath.

  6. #1, subheight640:

    I think the point is to teach children that you can’t prove a negative. Part of critical thinking and all that.

  7. Richard Dawkins is a self confessed AGNOSTIC – albeit a skeptical one.

    That made him piss me off slightly less

  8. @13 does it let me marry people to inanimate objects?(granted I’m sure Discordianism doesn’t get people’s kid’s taken away from them.)

    Also, as an atheist this sounds like a really really bad idea. First they’re engaging in the same indoctrination techniques religions use, as well as forced social gatherings, essentially ignoring one of the cooler parts of atheism/agnosticism: no church, no sunday school, no bible camp,a free weekend/summer.Now some atheist parents are going to drive their kids to become Westboro Baptists.

  9. also – how shocking is it teaching an 8 year old not to believe in things like unicorns.. I’m sure in a reasonable household they’ll figure it out for themselves.

    It’s like they want to kill off the power of imagination (yes, that makes me sound like a 50’s disney film)

    What annoys me most about dawkins is that he doesn’t seem to realize that imagination has played an important role in the development of science – often it takes insight and creative thinking to lead you to investigate things – of course hard evidence and facts are the main driving force, but without our ability to make leaps of faith (not in the religious sense) we wouldn’t get very far.

    Whether it’s real or not or whether we like it or not, god/religion is fundamentally tied to our sense of imagination – we’d be poorly made robots without it – we can’t even shoot lasers from our eyes, it’s the only super power we have!!!

  10. “How confident am I that you can’t prove these invisible unicorns don’t exist? How about TEN POUNDS CONFIDENT?”

  11. Oh good. Evangelical atheists.

    How long until door to door Atheists start promising salvation from sin of illogical thinking: “Would you like to discus about the non existence God and afterlife. Please, we want to talk about it.”

  12. Thanks Beanolini! Seems like a fully open space where to breathe.

    There might lie the explanation of why kids, the best of them at least, always succeed to turn any themed camp into Chaotic Camp. :)

  13. I can understand if Dawkins thinks religious belief is terrible, and that it should be stopped (though I don’t agree).

    However, it seems that the purpose of this camp is to shut down any fantasy in the minds of children, and that to me, serves no good purpose.

    Fantasy, fiction, and, yes, irrational thinking have been of benefit to mankind.

    I was reading Michio Kaku’s book “Physics of the Impossible”, and it seems as though things that seem impossible or illogical pushes scientific progress (he talks about the possibility of creating telepathy)

  14. Bloodboiler, I think it would be pretty funny to do something like this but with satanism AND record people reaction.

  15. I’m all for young people embracing reason and learning to think critically, but there’s a certain strain of Atheism that seems to be almost opposed to fantasy. I’m thinking of one site, I can’t recall the name, that sought to remove supernatural elements from fairy tales. It seems a bit much really.

    I suppose I’m biased, since I’m a youth librarian and I’ve seen flights of imagination offer comfort and escape to kids. The notion that stories that aren’t “real” are a threat to reason is unsettling to me.

  16. I don’t think these guys want to kill off imagination, just point it in a different direction. You can use your imagination to picture an invisible man in the sky, or you can use your imagination to come up with the theory of relativity. Which do you think takes more imagination?

  17. Good grief, people. Check the source on this. Dawkins didn’t start the camp and doesn’t have anything to do with it. It has existed in the USA since the late 90’s and is now spreading to the UK. The Dawkins foundation did give some money to it, but that money didn’t make the place.

    The camp is for anyone who wants to teach their kids to think critically. If you don’t think you can think critically and have an imagination, then I guess you don’t get the idea of SCIENCE. You come up with an idea and test it. Without imagination you can’t come up with ideas. Without critical thinking skills you can’t test them.

  18. You know, given that it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist (especially an invisible something), you’d think they’d at least offer a more impressive prize.

    @kiddr01 – Your claim, in essence, is that athiests can’t write fantasy fiction?

  19. #16 Kiddroi-Calloo Callay-today is Canada Day and the brightest bulbs are lit. Aint Dawkins da boy?-Science IS imagination-illusion-vision-delusion all are Ions-positive or negative,but as promised they all add up to free will.As His Nibs proffered
    you can choose or you can bruise.So ‘D’ is for Devil,Dawkins,Delusion,add them together you get-toxic fusion.
    #18 Bloodboiler-EVANGELICAL ATHEISTS-Love it! go to the head of the class.So they come to your door at 10am on a hung-over Sunday morning and give you a copy,no charge,of The Botchtower or a
    Gimme-a-Break?no chance,that takes commitment that
    is not Satans Choice.
    #12 BIG ED DUNKER-watch where you dunk yer donut
    munchkin,Epping is my muvvers turf,tread softly.

  20. Bloodboiler, I think it would be pretty funny to do something like this but with satanism AND record people reaction.

    That would be the Bohemian Grove. The reaction is Alex Jones.

  21. To quote Feynman:
    “Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.”

  22. From the invisible unicorn challenge FAQ:

    “Since offering this challenge in August of 1996, the prize remains unclaimed.”

    The grumpy folks in this thread are missing the point so hard it makes my brain hurt. Imagination != Belief.

    Maybe we should all sign-up and get this whole thing sorted out over some roasted marshmallows? Or heretics, if you prefer. Mmmm… Roasted heretics…

  23. Sending young kids to camps somewhere so they are being indoctrinated by a group of grown-ups to think in a certain way is an act of fanatic desperation, and a testimony of your disrespect and distrust in the ability of your kid to make up his own mind about reality.

    Any way of thinking which claims absolute truth can be called religion.

    Accepting difference, that’s the tricky part.

  24. kiddr01 i would state you can’t have one with the other

    also the title is slightly incorrect Camp Quest is a camp for kids of Atheist parents not an atheist camp

    also dawkins made a one time donation that’s it

    scepticism means we have less people believing in crap like homeopathy or vaccine denialists and i think that this is something that needs to be encouraged

  25. Come on, people. You don’t seriously believe that the object of the task is to teach someone that fairytale creatures are bad and doesn’t exist? The object is obviously to teach kids how to think rationally and how to argue a point. IMHO this looks more like a debate-camp (if something like that exists), than a evangelical atheist camp.

  26. _The God Delusion_ is a dreadful book. Thomas Nagel’s and Alvin Plantinga’s reviews of it aren’t to be missed.

    (Google around and find the Dennett vs. Plantinga audio from the APA last Christmas.)

    Re: Proving a unicorn doesn’t exist. It may be (as Saul Kripke seems to think) that unicorns are essentially fictional. So there could be no unicorns (skirting around issues in the ontology of fiction here). Thus, there are no unicorns.

    Re: Proving something or other doesn’t exist: If you’re after a reason that is inconsistent with the falsity of the nonexistence of the entity in question, if that’s what proof is, you’re right. But our standards of proof seldom are so strong. If I can prove that my computer has an Intel chip, then I can prove there is no full-sized elephant that exists in my room.

  27. @DAEMON

    Don’t be daft man, of course that’s not what I’m saying – but i see your point.

    I’m really just getting at the fact that with our human capacity for imagination certain things come along with it. Imagination is important and stretching it is important as well – whether it’s for science or not. As long as we have our imagination, we’ll have people believing in god.

    I’m an agnostic – i know we can’t prove god exists, but i like to imagine it’s there. Maybe one day we will prove the existence of an afterlife/god/whatever. I’ve never understood why many people want science and spirituality to be mutually exclusive.


    Not entirely sure if you’re having a go at me, or you’re agreeing with me, but i like your post. you’re clearly high.

  28. Rather a lot of grumbling unhappy people here today, isn’t there?

    There is an important difference between two forms of fantastical claims. There are those that claim to be relevant to the real world (religion, healing, other forms of woo – but also science), and there are those that are self-contained, such as adventure stories.

    What Dawkins &co are trying to teach is how to separate the verifiable and nonverifiable claims in the first group. This is not very relevant to the latter group; you can be a fanatical skeptic and still enjoy reading fantasy books. (Magical claims about reality are in the danger zone, granted – but how many 8 year olds truly believe in the tooth fairy, easter bunny, etc? I certainly didn’t.)

    Of course, there are more enjoyable things to find in this than merely “you’ll still appreciate stories”. As a kid, being able to say “aha, I see how that works”, or the related “hah, you can’t fool me with that” is … empowering: You get to feel smart. Of course, that can tip into arrogance, but it can also lead to a love for knowledge – if this camp inspires an interest for science in a few children, that’s something they’ll enjoy and benefit from for the rest of their lives.

  29. #28 TACTICUS

    can you elaborate on your statement ‘you can’t have one with the other’… I’m interested


  30. Science requires imagination, so thinking scientifically is bad for the imagination and therefore science? What?

    Anyway, whether or not this camp on the whole is a good idea, I think trying to find a way to prove a unicorn doesn’t exist would definitely be stimulating to the imagination. Solving problems is stimulating. Forcing the fantastical to confront the mundane is certainly stimulating. Science is indeed about going outside of common experience. It is also about making those outside experiences intuitive and graspable. In contrast, being told a fantastical story and being told to accept it as truth and not to ask how it could be true? Not as good.

  31. I learned a lot about smoking, swearing, and girls at camp. Bible camp that is. And I grew up an absolute atheist. I’m just saying…

  32. #21-MGFARRELLY-Bless you,next to a confectioner your vocation is the most important in a youths life-er-[except for the tutoring of certain very
    wizzerly wizards]Have faith.My English Lit.tutor;
    Tripos at Cambs in “The Classics”:insisted,that
    during our summer holidays we should read a book ‘outside’the curriculum and be prepared to give a ten minute dissertation.This would represent 25% of our terms evaluation.I was 13 when I approached my home town librarian with a copy of “Gargantua and Pantagruel”.She stared long and hard at me.”Do you have any idea about what you are proposing to read?”,she asked.”Yes,
    last term we read Chaucer’s “Millers Tale” in the original Old English-and then went on to explain to her my motivation.She smiled,gave me her approval on the understanding that I would,on returning the book,give her a brief review of the
    Rabelaisian brand of satire.I did,she loved it.I got 30% from my Teach,25% content,5% for cheek!Trust,your charges,tweak their temperaments,they are quite capable of “seeing through,not with,the
    eye”Yeah, I read Blake that same summer.

  33. kiddr01: Whether it’s real or not or whether we like it or not, god/religion is fundamentally tied to our sense of imagination

    my point is you can’t have on without the other.

    You can’t have imagination without having god and religion?

    Wow. This is begging to be flagged with a huge “citation needed” banner.

  34. MarchHare wrote

    So there could be no unicorns (skirting around issues in the ontology of fiction here)


    Gosh, I love BB sometimes. That put a smile on my face, MarchHare.

  35. kiddr01

    Religion and Science are not compatible.
    You cannot be a believer in fairy tales and a scientist without the intent to delude\compartmentalise yourself on certain matters

  36. I respect the motive of this camp in setting out to teach kids to critically think about the world. I just worry that their custodians could be little better than the evangelicals.

    It sounds as if Dawkins’ summer camp is using the same scary tactics as “Jesus Camp” to oppose Jesus Camps– get them in while they’re young, and brainwash them with a strident, uncompromising doctrine.

    #16 said this would kill imagination. Whether it did or not (and it could very well do), it’s more frightening to think what this would do to self-awareness in these children.

    Most of the angry agnostics I’ve ever met have been so traumatized by organized religion that even the faintest whiff of “self help” or “spiritual development” sends them running for the hills. It’s no coincidence that this is also the single biggest demographic with depression and mental illness, not the Jesus freaks. (Sorry Dawkins fans.)

    These kids at the camp could very easily end up emotionally crippled for life if they follow Dawkin’s dogma to the letter.

  37. I agree with many of the posters on here in thinking that this is appalling. After all, you’d never catch Christians running summer camps in an attempt to indoctrinate inappropriately young children in their view of… oh.

  38. #31.No,not High,Alive!On my doctors orders I have to do the “Three T Test”before I start my day.Stand up, touch,Teeth,Tits and Testicals if I feel them I’M good for another day and at my time of life that is a high.Just as Truth is the daughter of Time,so is Imagination the oasis of Sanity.Charles Fort commented”one measures a circle beginning anywhere”So where, in our wild and whimsical,wonderful world does the circle of imagination conjoin with reason.When does surety come full circle and face speculation.I was a thrice blessed youth all my mentors encouraged me to-‘think outside the box” before that trite truism became a cliche.As a Celt, I have in my corpucles,wonder and whimsy lie side by side with
    sanity and sagacity.From the pool in that blest oasis came Excaliber.I know ‘cos Merlin told me so.Dawkins is a challenge not a danger.We need to be vigilant for indoctrination and stand ready to offer other choices.Did I make myself clear?

  39. So this is supposed to be like Jesus Camp except on the opposite end. Sweet!

    Hey at least you can get your 8 year old off your butt from playing video games and learn about rationality, moral philosophy, and evoltion!

    Does Westboro Baptist Church have summer camp too?

  40. I am puzzled at some of the posts here. Why are atheists so hated?
    It looks like that this camp just teaches critical thinking. Is that really such a threat?
    At post #43 maybe atheists are more depressed because they refuse to delude themselves with comfortable lies. Reality can be a bitter pill but no substitute is worthy.

  41. I apologize if this isn’t wholly topical, but I had the extreme good fortune of being sent to an astronomy camp as a kid. I learned to pick out lots of constellations (some of which I still recall), I awkwardly kissed a girl from another grade school, and I found out that wintergreen Certs really do spark if you bite them in the dark. It was great. I became an atheist as a matter of course.

  42. I dunno. I’m an atheist myself but this just rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it isn’t any worse than “Christian” camps, but the idea that adults ought to decide what beliefs their children should hold isn’t a good one. Can’t we just have camps that *don’t* deal with religion or politics and just do camp things like canoeing?

  43. @41 “Religion and Science are not compatible.”

    don’t be silly. every tool has limitations. science (heisenberg), even math (godel). what lies beyond will always pique the interest of a certain subset of practitioners.

  44. I don’t believe in any gods, but I also don’t think I know anything about their existence or non-existence… and I don’t see how anyone else can claim to either. I fail to see how atheism is “thinking critically.” Nope, that would be agnosticism. Atheism is just another dogma.

  45. The key point here seems to be that encouraging critical thinking isn’t indoctrination. Science isn’t a belief system, and critical thinking about science is science.

    Stories you have to believe in are no longer part of stuff that’s good for children, like creativity or play.

  46. kiddr01, I’ll give you “you can’t have religion without imagination” but to suggest the opposite is converse is true is nonsense.

  47. I agree with Kiddro1.

    The same kinds of imagination, and the same searches for explanation and understanding, underlie science, fantastic narratives, and religious narratives.

    Learning to think critically and skeptically is good.

    Learning to treat religious texts as a series of fact-claims is *facepalm* but it’s hard to blame Dawkins; the young-earth creationists are pushing this misinterpretation of the Bible.

  48. Atheism is to me the complete oposite of dogma. To me, it’s a religious label given to me and others that aren’t religious, by someone who is. All these different lables are there so you can identify yourself to the people who used to make up the rules for what was socially acceptable. The only reason there is a semantic difference is that we used to have to explain ourself when we said we didn’t believe.

    I don’t call myself an Atheist, I don’t call myself anything. And I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Dawkins or any of his colleagues didn’t have to defend their position all the time, often to brainless theists, they wouldn’t need to label themselves in any way either.

  49. Well, no, the key point here is that this is a summer camp with a dogmatic agenda, and that’s creepy no matter who’s in charge. As someone else pointed out above, there are loads of science-y, educational camps out there which encourage critical thinking and love of knowledge. This sounds exactly as dreadful as “creation camp,” and neither as cool nor as educational as building rockets and robots.

  50. You know, I don’t object to the idea of this camp – teaching kids critical reasoning is important, but it’s really hard to do well – so much as to the whole use of the word “rational” as part of the descriptions around it. Just as with the word “theory”, there are two entirely different and almost contradictory meanings of the word: the one that is used in scientific work and the one that is used by everybody in normal everyday life.

    And the problem is that (as with similar misuse of the word “theory”), the people using it know perfectly well that they mean the first whilst confidently expecting people to assume they mean the second. So that if challenged, they can claim “no, we aren’t suggesting that everyone who disagrees with us are irrational” whilst knowing that that’s exactly what they intended.

    So, for instance, I am quite happy to say that I grew out of believing that the Bible was a literal account of things that happened when I started to learn how to apply critical analysis to things. That has absolutely no bearing on my faith however (which may even have become somewhat stronger as a result of being able to apply all that critical thinking to it.)

  51. @52 “I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

    @54 so what is the point of a religious text?
    a pretty fiction to entertain yourself? an idea wrapped in a story that perhaps we should follow? (couldn’t we do the same by teaching the idea without all the extraneous bullshit?)

    @51 the limits of science are usually proclaimed by old people. the polite thing is to nod and smile then ignore them and get back to work

  52. Whats always bugged me about Richard Dawkins (I can’t say Atheists in general, because I know people who recognize and accept this problem) Is that a properly logical mind can’t be a pure atheist. It’s difficult to prove the non-existence of simple, physical things (bigfoot, nessie, etc), and impossible to disprove something so big and incorporeal as God. So the only really rational view is agnosticism, where you can admit that you don’t know absolutely, but for lack of strong evidence in favor of God, you act without concern for religion (or else take religion on it’s social and communal qualities).

    Atheism requires the same leap of faith as any religion (I will/wont believe despite a lack of proof). I know people who recognized and still made that leap of faith, even though they knew it wasn’t a logical decision.

    PS: Why can’t there just be summer camps, without the mind-numbing indoctrination? Or better yet that fosters curiosity and investigation or some such, so people will seek out and make these decisions on their own?

  53. Observation 1: The camp is still in possession of the signed note.

    Assumption 1: The camp has been in operation for several years.

    Assumption 2: The challenge to disprove unicorns has been available each year.

    I propose, based on and contingent to the above, that the two invisible unicorns do exist as several groups of children, each having received training in critical thinking and rational skepticism have failed to disprove their existence.

  54. Right, this is such an awful idea, teaching rational approach and logical thought to teenagers.

    That’s soo much worse than making them commit magical prayers to memory, Or tell them that when they eat magical stale bread, it’s really the body of a 2,000 Nazerene holy man.

    Hey kids, while your at it, don’t use condoms or any contraceptive either, stay virgins till you’re married… but that’s not enough to keep you from popping out a kid either, because remember, spontaneous human parthenogenesis IS possible!!!

  55. I do like the idea of young campers in the middle of a dark woods talking about how ghosts don’t exist and the likelihood of axe murderers in the region is remote according to actuarial tables, but scaring themselves with global warming stories.

  56. @52

    yet another failure to distinguish between implicit and explicit atheism. congratulations.

  57. Dawkins is possibly the greatest living mind on the topic of evolutionary theory. I truly wish he would stick to that subject. Because every time he talks about faith he makes himself look like a douche and alienates people from his important work. He is a religious zealot and that limits his thinking.

  58. My problem with Dawkins is he is at least as much of a dogmatist as any Bible thumpin’ tongue talkin’ christian I’ve ever met or read. He does not want a debate on the issue of God/god, to him the debate is over and he has defined himself as the winner. Many of his publications, beyond his quite interesting but speculative evolution research, show that bent quite quickly.

    Even to posit that somehow there may be something outside of realm of scientific inquiry is, to him, a heresy. Worse, he has rote answers that are logically indefensible, using tautology and ad hominem as the basic approach. He seems unwilling to comprehend anything past the physical, which makes me sad for his voluntarily limited comprehension.

    In re: the Camp. I mistakenly sent my oldest to a ‘Christian’ weekend camp when she was ten. It turned out that it was a nut house of radical (and in some cases, anti-biblical) thinking. It took her about six month’s to process what she learned versus her personal experience. She, like me, is now a very spiritual person, but not a very religious one.

    I’m willing to believe that many of the kids going to Atheist Camp will have a similar experience in the opposite direction. They will start questioning atheism – which may drive many towards agnosticism – which is the beginning of the real journey towards spirituality. For those children, this would be a good experience, but I personally would (and did) teach my children to question and explore the meta-world at home. (BTW, I feel many/most ‘Christians’ also take a pass on the questioning of their faith. They miss out on almost as much richness of life as the Atheists.)

  59. #59

    I can see exactly where you’re comming from, that believing that there is no god is impossible to prove, so no logical human being would dismiss the idea outright.

    I speak for myself, but have a feeling that others may agree. I’d consider myself atheist, and am a fan of Dawkins/Hitchens mainly because of their opposition to RELIGION more so than GOD. They show the absurdity of the extents that people go in believing in god, but never really fault anyone for wondering about the origins of the universe.

    The fact is, that nearly every culture has developed its own religion, and drug/alchohol. My guess is that the later invented the former, but I digress… It is not possible for all the world’s religions to be right, but it is entirely likely that they are all wrong, and that’s where I think the most logical people would find themselves, that it’s likelyhood that there is a higher power is so minute, that it would be a stretch to even consider it.

  60. @Kitworks:

    Actually, you can’t prove the nonexistence of the Loch Ness Monster. Or, more relevantly, invisible unicorns, which I assume is the point of the exercise. Of all the atheists I’ve talked to, not one made a “leap of faith” in the same way that one makes a religious leap of faith. They just don’t believe, in the same way they don’t believe in invisible unicorns. You could call that “agnostic” in the sense of acknowledging being unable to prove the negative, but that implies a “could go either way” attitude that, practically speaking, doesn’t represent their true feelings. I don’t believe that invisible unicorns are real in the same sense that physical horses are. I’m basically certain of this, but no, I don’t have religious faith in their nonexistence.

    Of course, all of this assumes “God” is as singular and coherent a concept as “invisible unicorn,” which it definitely isn’t, but that’s a whole other can of worms. For example, though most religious people seem to consider my views atheistic, I believe (with less than religious faith) in things that SOME people would call “god,” such as “some sort of consistency in the workings of the universe.” But I don’t call that “god,” and I don’t call myself anything.

  61. #48 HUGEMONKEY said:

    I am puzzled at some of the posts here. Why are atheists so hated?

    Probably for the same reasons vegans are hated. It’s only the insufferable smug ones that draw attention to themselves. To the point where less extreme people of a similar persuasion don’t want to associate with them.

  62. No one as rabidly defensive as religionists. Poke ’em and they rip your balls off. Ovaries, whatever.

  63. I assume Dawkins’ money will help a whole new generation to think critically by following a party line and attacking strawmen with unbearable smugness. Ten pounds to the first person who proves that Dawkins is simply a figment of imagination inspired by indigestion.

  64. Wow — I guess lots of peeples don’t likes Meester Dawkins. Surprising? Not especially. But jumping all over this camp for “indoctrinating kids in atheist fundamentalism” seems like a bit of a stretch. Especially since nobody here has (apparently) ever attended said camp. Or found it to be particularly doctrinaire. Or really even knows anything about it.

    But it must be wrong. Dawkins supports it, ergo bad bad bad.

    The God Delusion is a great book. Devastating, thorough, and so utterly devoid of sentiment toward all religions, you’d think that he was talking about something that had caused war and genocide and endless suffering. Oh, wait.

    Dawkins’ point, or one of them, is that while throughout history we have privileged religious belief as separate from all other thought systems, despite its clear errors, just becasue it is religion. And we can’t talk critically about religion because … well, because IT IS JUST NOT DONE. So sayeth the religionists.

    Dawkins calls bullshit on that. Really, that is what gets everybody all up in a tizzy. Oh, and he provides reasoned. logical arguments for why this is bullshit. yeah, that was probably what got him in trouble.

    Sure, Dawkins can be smug and insufferable. But he’s British, fer pete’s sake. That how they build them over there. He’s also right. Ouch.

    As far as the camp goes, I for one would have loved to go to a summer camp where at least part of the time we talked about something other than who likes whom, or what sort of contraband we smuggled in or whether your hands could really grow hair. It doesn’t sound like indoctrination if you are providing the campers with critical thinking skills. That seems like a pretty good cure for indoctrination.

  65. If atheism is the opposite of dogma, why does it have to be taught at a summer camp?
    In fact, why does it have to be taught at all?
    Isn’t the opposite of dogma a state of being free of any forced upon viewpoints of any kind?

    And hey, I agree, summer camp could be fun.

    So let’s make the kids the leaders on summer camp, and the parents the participants.
    Maybe they’ll actually learn something.

  66. There is a hilarious article (by an atheist) about the camp in the Telegraph:


    Imagine trying to celebrate the little beast’s birthday: “Many happy returns, Darling. Now blow out the candles and make a wish.”

    “Certainly not, Father. This is a futile custom. There is no evidence to support the notion that blowing out the candles on a Marks & Spencer Victoria sponge increases the likelihood of one’s desires becoming reality.”

    “Right. I see. Sorry. Well, luckily, we’ve bought some nice gifts for you.”

    “On the contrary, Father, luck did not influence your purchases. Indeed, there is no such thing. To believe otherwise is flabby thinking.”

    “Oh, God.”

    “Please don’t say that, Father. You know perfectly well that the deity whose name you invoke does not exist.”

    “That Camp Quest thing really had an effect on you, hasn’t it. I suppose you’ll be wanting to go on the course they’re organising for Easter…”

    “Most assuredly not. Easter is a spurious festival based on the fallacy that a man came back from the dead, which double-blind experiments have proved impossible. In consequence, I refuse to recognise Easter and shall spend the holiday period at school, whether or not my teachers are in attendance.”

    Still, at least I wouldn’t have to waste money buying Christmas presents for the little squirt.

  67. @16: You could not possibly be more wrong.

    Learning the beauty of using one’s mind is what fosters creativity and imagination.

    Being forced to believe religious dogma without question is what kills critical thinking skills, imagination and creativity.

    Exhibit A: Sarah Palin

  68. If I were a kid again, I would bully anyone that went to an “Atheist Camp”. I’d put them next to the kids from Fat Camp and Jesus Camp and just wet-willie the hell out of them.

  69. To the dismay of my parents, my older brother told me there was no Santa Claus when I was 3 years old, and though skeptical at first, I soon came to believe him because he made a better case. Was that tragic? Are we both insufferable killjoys? Not for me to judge, but I loved Christmas anyway, I was grateful for my gifts to the people who were actually responsible, and we both played in rich, incredibly detailed imagined worlds throughout childhood (roleplaying, without knowing what that was). I just didn’t think those worlds were real.

  70. Way to miss the point BB.

    It’s not an atheist summer camp. It’s a secular summer camp about critical thinking. It just so happens that rigorously applied critical thinking leads to atheism.

    It’s funny when people call atheism a dogma or an ideology or a belief in a derogatory way. Atheism is simple the lack of a belief in an theistic deity. It requires no “faith” of any kind. It is to be put it bluntly, the default state.

    Agnosticism is nonfunctional. It accords one of many theories about what exists beyond human understanding too much weight, when proof is not substantially weighted in it’s direction.

    I think most people’s problem with atheists is a misunderstanding of what we are, that is, “people who exist in this world”, as opposed to “people that exist in this world who also happen to believe in the unlikely existence of a supernatural deity”.

    @Roach: Pfeh. It’s rational thinking camp not cyborg camp.

  71. “Religion and Science are not compatible.”

    I disagree. I’ve found absolutely no discrepancy between my spiritual belief system and its mechanics and the world i observe around me. It’s just that the observable world is only a subset of a larger universe – a 3 dimensional island in a sea of many dimensions. It stands to reason that one cannot observe or perceive physical dimensions that are more numerous than the space one occupies – indeed the 2 dimensional being cannot look ‘up’, and so concludes based on his inability to measure or experience or observe ‘up’ that is does not exist. We as 3 dimensional beings are aware of ‘up’, and yet we seem to suffer from the same logical fallacy that because we cannot observe it, it does not exist.

    This is a fine way of thinking if all one is concerned with are things that we CAN observe and interact with in predictable and repeatable ways – for all intents and purposes, that which we cannot interact with effectively does not exist. But the same line of thinking applied to say, all the stars which have not yet shed light on Earth, and therefor have not interacted with us, would lead one to say that they effectively do not exist. If our models of the universe are even close to being correct, then we know by inference that those stars do in fact exist, though for us, they effectively don’t.

    And that’s the point I am attempting to make – that which is not observable, that which effectively does not exist does not necessarily actually not exist – existence isn’t something that humans decide something has or does not have, it’s something that simply is or isn’t, like the proverbial tree in the woods.

    I took a bit of liberty with the statement with which I take issue – Religion != Faith/Spirituality, and it’s obvious that I’m not talking about (organized) religion, which often claims to know everything, but rather faith, which acknowledges that one cannot possibly have all the answers, and that having all the answers isn’t all that important, but also has absolute confidence that such answers exist.

  72. Whether one can be both religious and a good scientist depends on the nature of the religious beliefs, the area of science, and sometimes how good the individual is at compartmentalization. The blanket statement that one cannot be both is demonstrably false.

  73. @#80 JoshuaTerrel

    “Atheism is simple the lack of a belief in an theistic deity. It requires no “faith” of any kind. It is to be put it bluntly, the default state.”

    I thought that was called nihilism. Atheism in fact does require faith in the processes one employs in rigorously applying critical thinking. It requires complete and utter faith in the hard data and the methods used to derive that data. It requires that you believe, without any conclusive evidence, that science is sound and without significant fault, and that its current state of progress has revealed all that it ever will – else how could one reach such a profound conclusion? Is it not somewhat illogical to base a conclusion on data that one is certain must be incomplete?

    not raggin on you, friend, just explorin’ : )

  74. We need more of this. I support Dawkins 100%.

    I live in a country where even presidential candidates can go on TV and state that they reject all known science and instead believe that humans were “poofed” into existence by magic. Its pathetic and truly an insult to Truth and knowledge.

  75. @#80 JoshuaTerrel

    i think the confusion comes from the types of atheists out there.

    One flavor believes that there is no god. (them)

    Another flavor doesn’t believe that there is a god. (you)

    They sound the same, but not believing that something exists is not the same as believing that something doesn’t exist.

  76. I think kids should run and play and make crafty things and have crushes and sing songs and dance and eat too many sweets and drink bug juice and swim and laugh and roll down hills and spin til they throw up and play capture the flag and learn how to make fart noises and do coin tricks and fall in love at least once a week with a different boy/girl/either and write home complaining that they are misable on Monday and beg to stay when camp ends two weeks later.

    If the songs are about Jesus or Washington or Watson and Crick I just want kids to be kids as long and loud as they can.

  77. With regard to religion, science, atheism and the use of the imagination, it is useful to situate various underlying belief systems, and to remind scientists that nobody really has privileged access to knowledge outside our collective human experience.

    From a scientific perspective, imagination should not be confused with the elimination of metaphysics, which was a stated goal of logical positivism. What many physical scientists (engineers, really) lack is a sense of anything beyond the physical reality, and feel they can dispense with it.

    The “scientist as atheist” argument is really one of anti-essentialism, which is that God is not required to explain various phenomena in terms of universal natural laws.

    The problem of eliminating God from explanations, is that you can employ bad logic and conclude that if He is not neccessary then He also does not exist.

    What is interesting is that you can believe in God and still be an anti-essentialist, but you can’t, under any circumstances, eliminate metaphysics from any epistemic system, including the natural sciences. It is an asymmetrical relation rooted in human fallibility.

  78. as a follow up to my previous comment, it’s just as silly to declare definitively that God does exist as it is to declare definitively that God does not exist – neither can be proven or conclusively known.

  79. can someone with a greater mental capacity than me please go over nutbastards last statement.

    clarify you head-pickler!

  80. @#87

    you said it much more eloquently than i ever could have. if i had a hat, it’d be off on account of you.

  81. #57, I agree with you that the overuse of “rationality” is irksome, but I think I may come at that from a different direction.

    See, the one thing I remember from my undergrad psych and econ classes is that individual humans are not rational-in-the-scientific-meaning, at all. I’m all for critical thinking, but a critical view of human behavior pretty quickly leads to the conclusion that the human mind is not a rational beast- at best, it engages in behaviors that, left unscrutinized, look a lot like rational behavior. Evolution, it ends up, is a messy process where “good enough” suffices, and human irrationality is one of the best examples of this.

    Further, while he may have set his sights on religion, his disdainful rhetoric for the irrational and artifactual processes of human cognition end up catching a pretty wide swathe of human cultural acchievement in the crossfire. It’s not a problem particularly unique to him- a fair number of Objectivists do this pretty overtly, and there’s been more than a few other cases of this being carried out in practice, through history.

    Honestly, a few of his statements, like trying to authoritatively assert that religion is nothing more than an artifact of tribalism, and that neither have any selective value in modern society, seem to undermine his credentials as an expert on evolution- generally, trying to read a crystal ball about which behaviors are directly selected for and against and which behaviors are artifacts of other behaviors, and which behaviors were at one point selectively favored, but aren’t any more, is generally an exercise in mostly-untestable hypothesizing, and given Dawkin’s advocacy of human rationality, one would think he’d try to steer clear of engaging in confirmation bias in this sort of way.

  82. @Nutbastard: Faith? Everyone thinks logically to some extent. Our minds notice patterns, and we assume that those patterns are somewhat consistent so that we can stay alive. I think there is a difference between blind unthinking faith and an educated assumption like the one I make.

    And I agree with you, there are too many dogma based athiests who say that somehow they have absolute proof that God does NOT in fact exist. I would call the pseudo-athiests, since their blind faith in a not-god is just as bad as the theists.

    @MGFARRELY: So some of those camps happen to be led by atheists? No big deal.

    @CATSKILL: The majority also believes in the poof theory. You are what you eat.

  83. 38 – We had those when I was a kid, ‘cept we called them sleeping in on sundays.

  84. Nutbastard, every sentence in your comment #83 is incorrect. Nihilism means different things in different contexts, but generally it means that nothing is preferable to anything else, or nothing is truer than anything else. Atheism is lack of belief in anything called “god.”

    And LACK of belief in something doesn’t require belief that you already know everything. That is ridiculous. There are literally an infinite variety of things you and I don’t believe in. Neither one of us thinks we know everything there is to know (I assume). You see?


    this bit:

    One flavor believes that there is no god.

    Another flavor doesn’t believe that there is a god.

    I’m not understanding the difference

  86. @#93 Josh

    “Our minds notice patterns, and we assume that those patterns are somewhat consistent so that we can stay alive. I think there is a difference between blind unthinking faith and an educated assumption like the one I make.”

    I’m assuming you feel there’s a distinction between your educated guess and my faith, but I contend that the distinction is blurry at best. Your non belief is based on a lack of reproducible evidence for the existence of God. My faith is based on a wealth of non-reproducible evidence that God does exist.

    BOTH are logical fallacies – ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ (thus your commendable, hands-off, no-dog-in-this-fight stance) and while you refrain from declaring your non-belief to be incontrovertible truth, your non-belief is based on an absence of evidence. My faith is logically fallacious in that the evidence it is based on is highly subjective and completely non-repeatable. Which might seem a bit unfair in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t kind of way, but it leads back to what YROGERG was saying, “the human mind is not a rational beast- at best, it engages in behaviors that, left unscrutinized, look a lot like rational behavior.”

  87. Ok, so remove any instance of the schema “prove x doesn’t exist” and replace it with instances of “give strong evidence that x doesn’t exist.”

    Atheists think that you can give strong evidence that God doesn’t exist. They appeal to things like the problem of evil. Some will argue that the fact that we don’t have strong evidence that God exists itself is strong evidence that God doesn’t exist.

    Some of the very best philosophers around today are Christians. Philosophers (not scientists) are the people best able to evaluate evidence for and existence the existence of God. The problem is, right now, at least, a philosophical problem. So the fact that people like Peter van Inwagen and Alvin Plantinga are Christians shows the utter falsity of the Maher/Hitchens line that believers are intellectually suspect at best. (I’m not a believer.)

    Re: Science and religion. Christianity claims that there are physical events without physical causes. So if we established the causal closure of the physical at the level of the biological, miracles would be ruled out, and that’d be bad for Christianity.

  88. @#94 KIDDR01

    it’s the difference between having a belief (asserting, at least to ones self, that ‘this is the way it is’) and not having a belief (asserting nothing to oneself).

    Imagine a horse race. one man believes Rusty Trumpet will win, and another believes Rusty Trumpet will not win. A third man doesn’t believe either – though he knows it must turn out to be one or the other, he’s unwilling or uninterested in weighing in on the issue, and he’s even less interested in convincing others of either view. Simply put, he doesn’t have a horse in the race.

  89. Isn’t it amusing how so many people go ahead and complain about this, but not religious christian camps or religion in school?

    Then again hypocrisy is an a priori of faith.

  90. @#99 Moriarty

    “Nutbastard, every sentence in your comment #83 is incorrect.” – pssst, #83 is your comment, sir, but i know what you’re referring to.

    “And LACK of belief in something doesn’t require belief that you already know everything.”

    Thus the distinction between the two kinds of atheist – those who LACK belief in God have no reason to attempt to justify their non belief, whereas the atheists who HAVE belief that there is no God are on shaky ground – they must at least believe that they know ENOUGH to make the conclusion they are making – it’s nothing to do with knowing “everything”.

    Its the same with those who declare that there is a God – they believe they know enough to make that statement, as opposed to the more humble person who recognizes that they can’t possibly know enough to make that statement and enjoy any kind of intellectual integrity.

  91. to clarify for moriarty:

    those with an absence of belief cannot be compelled to provide evidence one way or another. they aren’t making any statements, and thus have none to defend.

    those with a belief of absence should be compelled to provide evidence to support their belief. they are making statements, and statements must be backed up by something if they are to be considered valid.

    the latter kind was whom i was referring to more than to josh himself, who is of the former type. however his non belief isn’t one of ignorance (i don’t believe in many things i’ve never heard of or thought about – how could i?) his non belief, if i understood him correctly, is based on a lack of evidence. This means that he has enough faith in our ability to gather evidence to say to himself, ‘if it existed we ought to have evidence of it, therefor, i don’t buy it, even though i don’t deny it’. note that he’s only saying this to himself, and not declaring his stance to be fact – that would require that he believed that there is no God, which is not his position.

  92. @myself

    wtf is going on with the comment numbering system? a minute ago #83 was moriartys, and presumably mine before that…??

  93. So many things…

    Not believing in unicorns is not an “extreme”. The extreme position would be feeding the unicorns. Telling your kids to believe in the unicorns. Whuppin’ them if they snicker. Telling them they will burn forever with Dawkins if they don’t believe in unicorns.


    Smugness, in this context, is the belief that you and you alone are right, that all others are wrong. That would be religionists, you see. To not believe is not a belief. It can’t be proselytized. It is the opposite of belief. Or better said, it isn’t on the same spectrum; they have no other relationship than that one claims unassailable, protected truth and the other is anyone else who doesn’t believe in that “truth”.

    Religion is truth by authority, while science is truth by investgation. Research in religion is reading what previous prophets said; science, well, isn’t. Science can upend itself at any time if someone can prove it’s wrong. Religon is forever and unassailable as social contract and force can make it.

    Dawkins is teaching critical thinking, nothing else. And religion cannot survive that. It needs safe harbor from criticism; religion is afforded a unique protection from questions. And most importantly, the children of religionists are cocooned from such criticism by rules stronger than mere laws. Otherwise, they could notice that they are worshiping a zombie Jewish fisherman who was a kosher as they came. Or that karma is a mechanism for explaining and excusing social injustice. Or that Joe Smith was a bloody fraud, or Hubbard a bad SF author with a fondness for teenaged serving girls.

  94. I wanna thank Nut Bastard for explaning that, from our little 3-D terrarium, there may be a lot things/dimensions that we just can’t see, or detect, with our senses, or the equipment at hand.

    There was an article here a couple days ago about a bat they recently discovered, the size of a thumbnail. Believers in Tiny Bat would would say “I knew it!”, agnostics would say “probably no such thing”, where atheists would have called it impossible; BS cooked up by the believers to force ignorant people to believe in impossible nonsense.

    I have always said that today’s impossibilities are tomorrow’s technology.

    Oh, and Mr. Wizard? I love ya, you crazy old kook. Come by some time and we’ll ride around on my invisible unicorn.

  95. False dilemmas.

    The choices are not God and Atheism. That presupposes that God-belief is the only religion, and tips the match to the Yahwehists before we even have a kickoff.

    Thousands of religions have lived and died over the hundreds of thousands of years of human history. “God” is nothing special.

  96. Absence of religious belief is not a belief. This is fundamental. Defining non-belief as a belief system is recursive and makes my head hurt.

    All Godists are non-believers in other gods, yet do not feel the need to define themselves by that. They don’t even feel the need to think about it.

  97. …and this is different than religious camps? So it’s cool to proselytize atheism but not theism? Dawkins is such a hypocrite.

  98. @#123 catbeller

    “Religion is truth by authority, while science is truth by investigation.”

    …and spirituality is truth by subjective experience – which, like religion, doesn’t give much regard to how true ones truth is – it’s not important to be correct in ones belief, it’s important that ones belief is correct for oneself, ie, yields some positive result. which is where i stand. i don’t care if my belief is correct or true, it makes dealing with the world and its hardships much easier for me, as i imagine atheism does for atheists. i was once an atheist, and that was fine for a while, until it wasn’t, then i had some profound experiences that cemented my faith in a higher power.

    many people are atheist because they can’t conceive of an all-loving God who would allow the kind of atrocities that occur on this planet every day to occur. They can’t reconcile the two, and so conclude that either “God is a dick if he exists and i’ll have no part in his sick game” or “The God described to me by others doesn’t appear to be the God we are experiencing”

    the trick is to recognize that if there is a God who created this universe, then this experience we are having has value to him, including and perhaps especially the horrible parts of it, just like the experience of losing a loved one or being betrayed has value to an individual. One can assume that God means to accomplish something with this world, else he would not have created it. and that, my friends, that’s enough for me.

  99. besides, if I’M wrong and it all goes black when i die, i wont know the difference, and if i’m right, then i get to blow cosmic raspberries and say “nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah” as i go towards the light.

    really, half my faith is a hedge bet on bragging rights : P

  100. Au contrare, thou beller of cats. I believe in Zeus, Ra, Isis, Diana, Mars, Chipulchucaka (whatever), Budha. They were very real myths, often represented in statuary and bass relief carvings, and passed off as having been real. So much BS has been passed off as truth that it’s easy (and lazy) to just say it’s all BS. Most of it is.
    If you were to explain the things in your life (electrical appliances, A/C, microwave oven, your car, internet and such) to someone 500 years ago, they would call you the things that you call me. One day we shall see, and know.

  101. @ #130

    I think the opposite is more logical. There is no spirit, no afterlife, and reincarnation only through the carbon cycle. When it all goes black for me, I’m right, and if I somehow appear in heaven, nirvana, valhalla, hell, or whatever, then I’ll know I’m wrong.

    You, can think you’re going to heaven your whole life, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll never know that you’re right.

    It’s not like you can realize that you’re dead and there’s no bright light.

    What an awful way to get through the day.

  102. Religion is truth by authority, while science is truth by investgation.

    Isn’t that dichotomy only really true if you, personally, have investigated every matter that you hold as incontrovertable fact? Because otherwise, it’s simply a question of which authority figures you find most convincing.

    Honestly, in an age where we are so inundated with vast amounts of connectivity and information, it’s important to have a process by which to assess an authority figure’s credability, but it’s also pure fantasy to suggest that our minds are doing any more than accepting other peoples’ proofs as fact, by dint of their authority status, 99% of the time.

  103. @#132

    but it’s IMPOSSIBLE to find out that I’m wrong! I’m either right or i’ll never know. it’s win-win.

  104. no no nutbastard, if you’re wrong you will have simply been an insufferable prig for no good reason, and we will all go nyah nyah nyah when you pass.

    I’m hedging my bets that fundie x-tians attitude towards life is so entirely wrong that their attitude about death can’t possibly hold water.

  105. In my unasked-for opinion, a good deal of the friction in this thread comes from the disparate theological stances that society has lumped under the laughably-inadequate label of “atheism.”

    Type I: those who vehemently deny that there are any gods, that there could be or gods. I always picture these people as the German nihilists from The Big Lebowski – “VE BELEEF IN NUZZING!” Like nihilists, these people are mostly angsty teenagers who’ll grow out of it. Hell, even Dawkins calls himself an agnostic. He’s just obnoxious about it.

    Type II: those who conclude there are no gods, based on the lack of positive evidence. These comprise the vast majority of atheists, including the invisible pink unicorn folk. This position is, essentially, the usually-implied conclusion of the argument: the unicorns clearly don’t exist, therefore neither do gods.

    Type III: people who do not believe in any god, and don’t give a rat’s ass about the issue beyond that. If YHVH wants their worship, he can jolly well slum it for a day and ask them in person. Until then, they’re sleeping in on Sunday. This is the other big atheist sect, though they’re equally likely to call themselves agnostic.

    Finally we reach the true agnostics, those who have some idea of a god but don’t know who to dedicate the chicken entrails to. Maybe they’re just inwardly spiritual, or feel a mysterious guiding force, or were miraculously saved or any one of a hundred religious experiences. I feel for these people – they pulled into these debate shitstorms solely because they don’t fit into the “believer/pagan/atheist” mental trichotomy people generally have.

    So. Four distinct categories of belief, two possible categories to lump them into (atheist, agnostic), and not a damn person who actually bothers to specify which they’re addressing. Most of the strife comes from non-atheists assuming all atheists are the rabid type I variety (which is, as I said earlier, mostly just stereotype), answered with scorn from Type II and III.

    Most of the criticism for the Atheist Camp imply that it’s solidly Type I: little more than indoctrination into rabid fundamental belief. While that may be what the majority of Christian camps are designed around, the curriculum suggests (to me) that it’s more Type II or III. they’re teaching the kids to think for themselves, to pick apart an argument to find its underlying assumptions and address those directly. That’s a skill I think kids these days could stand to have a little more of.

    The kids, of course, fill find a way to have fun regardless.

    Incidentally, to repeat some other posters Dawkins is NOT involved with this camp. He just donated some money and is much more headline-worthy than the camp itself. So I humbly suggest that any post calling it “Dawkins Camp” be struck from the debate.

    Also, comment numbers often change. Anonymous posts are added after mod approval, retroactively inserted in chronological order and all the ones below it are renumbered. So a comment number like #83 could refer to the current comment 83, but it may be something below it as well.

  106. Fruit trees developed fruit so some mammal would come along, eat the fruit, and poop out the seeds in a pile of fertile manure miles away, so it’s children can be spread far and wide. Some plants give their seeds parachutes so the wind can carry them far afield.
    Now if we can set aside theism and anti-theism for just a moment, can we all agree that these were samples of some very intelligent design?

  107. @nutbastard – Um, OK, if the basis of your faith is “just in case” — what’s the point? Seriously. Would you really want to “spend eternity” knowing that another group of people missed the boat and were condemned to “eternal fire” for mistaking the universe we experience for something which makes no sense, namely, the world as she is constructed by religious zealots? Where God intervenes in each person’s life, and tallies individual sins, and prepares an everlasting fire of hell to torture those poor slobs who *facepalm* didn’t say the magic words and actually believe all this, and makes sure that angels and demons and saints all get up on time and polish their halos and pitchforks and so forth for the big judgment day.

    Is then “insurance” – seriously – your reason for believing in this elaborate fable of god/devil/heaven/hell/salvation/damnation and all?

    Because if that is what you believe and why you believe, really, how can you take offense if I and others describe that as absurd? I’m trying to be kind here, help me out.

  108. Sending young kids to camps somewhere so they are being indoctrinated

    Parents send young kids to camps somewhere so the parents can have a summer vacation. Some parents just feel guilty or inadequate if not every single moment of their kids’ lives is “educational.” It’s the projecting their own frustrated ambitions onto the next generation thing

  109. Great Flying Lasagna! I’m so sick of militant religion/atheism/anything.

    They’re both different sides of the same coin using the same annoying tactics. And neither realizes it! How long before I have raving atheists along side the raving bible beaters on the street corner?

    Enough already!


    But you’re spending your life worshiping and praying, hoping that you’re right.

    The alleged existence of heaven takes the virtue out of being kind in this life, because you’re not doing it out of the goodness of your heart, you’re doing it to secure your afterlife.

    Which man is more noble, the one who returns a wallet for a reward, or the man who does it without need for a reward? Heaven is a hypocrisy.

    The unfortunate thing is, you’re going through life HOPING that you’re right, and that all the faith was worth something, and HOPING some other plane of existence will validate religion, but it won’t.

    I don’t mean to be rude, because it’s the faith and religion that is hypocritical, and it does bad things to good people.

  111. #137: on the other hand, though, you have our dysfunctional system of reproduction: our giant heads are too big for the pelvises they sqeeze through, so we effectively give birth to our young premature. Not so intelligent. Even if our big giant heads packed so full of nerves that some of us sneeze when exposed to sunlight (another bug, BTW) manage to be worth it, relatively.

  112. @#138

    You clearly missed the part where i was being facetious.

    “Would you really want to “spend eternity” knowing that another group of people missed the boat and were condemned to “eternal fire” for mistaking the universe we experience for something which makes no sense, namely, the world as she is constructed by religious zealots?”

    I would not, and i don’t worry about that, as ‘eternal hellfire’ has no place in my faith – that’s christian religious doctrine and i don’t subscribe to it.

    “Um, OK, if the basis of your faith is “just in case” — what’s the point? ”

    I said that’s half of it, tongue in cheek, here’s a grain of salt; take it.

    “Because if that is what you believe and why you believe, really, how can you take offense if I and others describe that as absurd?”

    i think i’ve clearly explained that that isn’t what i really believe, nor is it important to my faith to be able to go “nyah nyah” when i die.

    i would never take offense if you described my beliefs as absurd – i myself have described them as such, and i make no claim that my beliefs are indeed truth. if someone asks me to explain my faith i gladly will, but i would never suggest that anyone else should believe the same as me, or that there are consequences for believing differently.

    my faith makes my life more enjoyable/bearable/beautiful. im pretty sure that’s the most one can expect faith can do for them. maybe im deluding myself – who cares? it works for me and so i love it.

  113. I am puzzled at some of the posts here. Why are atheists so hated?

    People hate atheists because atheists remind them that they’re going to get old, and sick, and they’re going to die, and nobody’s going to reward them for all their virtues, and their enemies will never be punished.

    “Agnostics” who denounce some kind of straw-man atheism because it’s “impossible to disprove something so big and incorporeal as God” are clearly clinging the sky daddy they grew up with.

    It’s equally impossible to disprove something as big and incorporeal as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but they don’t have any trouble letting go of that one whenever the conversation moves onto something else.

    Yes, it’s impossible to disprove something as big and incorporeal as God. Maybe there’s a big, incorporeal God. On the other hand, maybe there’s a big, incorporeal world-tree Yggdrasil that connects our world to Niflheim and Svartalfheim instead. Who fucking knows.

  114. @138, I’ve never been terribly comfortable with the idea of an afterlife (it’s actually the specific reason I identify as agnostic 50% of the time), but IIRC, the standard apologetic regarding hell is that God, while being omnibenevolent, respects humans’ right to self-determination, and if you decide not to be a part of His being, then He’ll simply respect your choice, and all the references to hell are essentially a metaphor for what an eternity separated from the greatest thing ever would end up feeling like.

    Now, I personally don’t buy it terribly, but I have issues with the idea of conciousness continuing past death in any way, shape or form, so whatever.

    As far as the heaven thing goes, #140,(again keeping my own issues with the idea out of it) there’s also the small matter of Grace, which is pretty important to christain theology. The point is, nobody actually deserves heaven. Nothing you, personally, by yourself, can do will mean that you’re good enough to get there. In the end, God decides whether or not you get heaven, and it’s always more than you deserve. Obviously, this makes “oh, I’m just going to follow a religion to hedge my bets” a pretty problematic proposition anyways, but belief in heaven is by no means inherently hypocritical.

  115. @#140 cognitive dissonance

    “But you’re spending your life worshiping and praying, hoping that you’re right.”

    no I’m not – i do not attend church, nor do i spend more than half an hour a year praying.

    “The alleged existence of heaven takes the virtue out of being kind in this life”

    i’ve never alleged the existence of heaven. you seem to be missing the fact that i’m not part of a religion. furthermore, I’ve always been an extremely moral person, even while i was an atheist and there was no cosmic carrot-on-a-stick. if you proved to me that there is no God and that it all goes black when i die, i would not be any less moral.

    at a party once, some guys were playing with a phone that they had found. so i walked up, and grabbed it right out of the guys hands and walked off with it. i called some of the numbers the next day and drove 50 miles to return it to the person. that’s just how i roll.

    “The unfortunate thing is, you’re going through life HOPING that you’re right, and that all the faith was worth something”

    I dont hope that it’s worth something – it already is. im reaping the benefits of it now. i think it would be nice if after i die there’s more, and its at least similar to what i expect, but if not, meh. im not in it for the cosmic reward – that would be petty, and trite.

  116. @#143

    “God, while being omnibenevolent, respects humans’ right to self-determination, and if you decide not to be a part of His being, then He’ll simply respect your choice”

    Ah yes, God – the ultimate Libertarian. My kinda guy.

  117. The counterargument to Pascal’s Wager is pretty simple. There are an infinite number of possible gods and possible afterlives. Any of which might reward belief, or not care, or even punish belief. So, without evidence to distinguish between them, any particular god is infinitely unlikely, and belief in it is just as likely to screw you over as save you. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is too little information to even speculate about probability. Hence, there’s no point in hedging one’s bets, and the only reasonable way to live one’s life is to just not worry about it.

    If it sounds silly, that’s because it is, as is pretty much everything related to similar “wagers.”

  118. Y Roger G: “…our dysfunctional system of reproduction”.

    Um, if it was disfunctional, wouldn’t we have gone extinct? It seems to function in my family. In fact, my wife came up with a means of feeding our large-headed sons with nutrition before they could even walk or chew! Brilliant!

    @cognitive dissonance
    @NUTBASTARD…But you’re spending your life worshiping and praying, hoping that you’re right.

    Cog, my friend, you’re missing a very important factor: living by Christian values is a wonderful life, full of love and joy, a clean conscience and friends you can trust and count on. I lived a pretty wild life before I met the Lord, and every day I choose, once again, to live the good life. I would not have believed how wonderful life can be, and I don’t expect you to believe me. But even if I’m wrong, my life is a lot more fun, I’m full of love and at peace with my fellow man, my planet, and myself. I can cope with my problems and the issues in life without getting f’d up, and hopefully I’m not offending anyone.
    I wish the same for you.

  119. “Now if we can set aside theism and anti-theism for just a moment, can we all agree that these were samples of some very intelligent design?”

    No, we really can’t. The universe I see is much more marvelous than that, and has no use for some conscious tinkerer.

  120. It’s probably been noted, that Dikie Dawkins is a fundamentalist & an elitist.
    “Now, come children, I have much to teach you in my secluded camp..”


  121. @troofseeker

    ditto, except because i kind of had my faith custom made, i still get to drink and smoke and curse and fuck out of wedlock.

    to each their own!

  122. @troofseeker, I was being a little facetious, but seriously: “childbirth” has only quite recently (on the scale of human history) stopped being a leading cause of death amongst women. It worked “good enough”, but human beings alone have all sorts of anatomical defects that point to evolution being somewhat of a blind, dumb process occuring over many generations, and rife with compromises and cases of “enh, good enough”, of which we are but a snapshot. When you or I get old, our hips and back are likely to give out, because we have by no means adapted perfectly to standing upright and carrying most of our weight above us. I’m overweight because we haven’t perfectly adapted behaviorally to our capacity for producing abundant food supplies. And so forth. It works well enough, and in some cases, like our giant heads, the advantages ultimately outweigh the costs, but if I were an omnipotent genetic engineer/god/extraterrestrial, it’s certainly not how I would have done things. :-P

  123. The camp sounds great. We need a lot more critical thinkers in the world.

    I know many, many atheists – children and adult – who enjoy all kinds of fantasy, magic, and other imaginative things. Look at Penn & Teller. I’m not crazy about their politics, but they are rational, skeptical and, guess what? They are magicians, too.

    You can enjoy this stuff fully without, um, actually thinking it’s real when the show ends or the book closes.

  124. #143 YROGERG – I’ve grown to overlook the grace aspect altogether. I was raised catholic, where you deserve nothing, are ashamed of everything, and are afraid of god (but only because he loves you!).

    And I said that religion is hypocritical, which it is. Belief in heaven is not, thought it is naive, as is the belif that only the most deserving get in, so be nice for your whole life to get into eternal paradise. The type of person who does something nice TO get into heaven is selfish, and undeserving in the first place.

    #144 NUTBASTARD – It was a poor interperetation to assume that you attended mass and prayed, etc… My postulation was that it’s naive to jump through hoops just incase there is an afterlife, which is certainly uncertain.

    But I don’t think it’s possible that you can “reap the benifits of faith” already. As I understand it, like me, you get a good feeling when you do something nice. I do nice things, because I know they have real, positive consequences for real people on this planet, because when I croak, I’m banta fodder. The “faith” you have is that it’s going to mean something more once you buy that pine condo.

  125. @cog

    “The “faith” you have is that it’s going to mean something more once you buy that pine condo.”

    not at all. the faith i have is that it means something more right now.

  126. @CD, I’m actually surprised to hear catholicism described that way- it’s a more typical perception that mainline protestants are taught to believe that they are all, always, in a fallen state, and to hold a higher stock in grace, whereas the Catholic sacraments are supposed to absolve sin, starting with baptism washing away original sin. Obviously, it’s a bit more complex than that, but the stereotype is very much that the perpetual guilt thing is a protestant thing. I mean, the hardcore Calvinist view is that God’s already decided whether or not you’re worth his time, and there’s nothing you can do about it (again, a simplification).

  127. @Foetusnail:


    I don’t know why you’re bringing it up, but that movie got the basic facts wrong about pretty much everything it represented as science. Everyone who knows about that movie should also know that it’s almost entirely B.S.

  128. Roger, I’m not disputing evolutionary change. I have only to look at my father and sons to see change. Sure, we ain’t perfect. But our weight issues, our bad knees and livers, are largely self-imposed; not genetic. Our human bodies certainly aren’t as good as they could be. It’s clear that they aren’t meant to be. This world is not perfect, yet.

    I think it was Arkansas Shizzle who brought up “energy cannot be stopped or destroyed”. Doesn’t that make you wonder where all the energy that we knew as Billy Mays has gone?
    And Nut Bastard, I’m as free as anyone here to drink, smoke, and carouse (but gettin’ laid don’t come easy for a fugly old fart like me).
    However, my life is full of magic. The things I need seem to find me. It’s a charmed life, as if some large, invisible father was looking after me.

  129. Troof – I have only to look at my father and sons to see change.

    There is a difference between phenotypic expression across a couple generations and genotypic evolution across millennium.

    You cannot really see, first hand, human evolution within a human lifetime, though you can see something that looks similar, it’s not quite analogous.

  130. “You cannot really see, first hand, human evolution within a human lifetime…”
    Sure you can. Offspring, with few exceptions, are different from the parents. I’ll concede that evo probably isn’t following a pre-determined path; it’s responding to weather conditions, food sources and available shelter, and it seems to experiment with mutations. I accept evolution based on personal observation, and a little bit based on logic, but remember that what we consider logic has taken people to some really weird (and wrong) places, like ‘little dwarfs living in your innards are making you sick’ (it just occured to me how that wasn’t so far off!).

    At the risk of getting slammed again, I’ll repeat my belief that coincidence is a destructive force, and Life in the primordial pool could not have survived without help. Not in a billion years.

  131. #2: I don’t see this as dreadful at all. It sounds like fun and very useful for dealing with people’s irrationality.

    #43: How do you figure that camp isn’t teaching kids to think more clearly and defend their thoughts with consistently logical notions backed by evidence? Exactly where in the article do you see anything to justify fearing “strident, uncompromising doctrine”?

  132. @#162

    “coincidence is a destructive force, and Life in the primordial pool could not have survived without help. Not in a billion years.”

    I’ll agree with that, but um, what about when you have billions of galaxies with billions of planets AND billions of years? the odds go up by quite a few billion in that case, and that kind of IS the case. Even if coincidence is a destructive force 10^10e1000 out of 10^10e1000 -1 instances, that still leaves plenty of instances where it’s a constructive force.

  133. Nutty Buddy,

    Lightning strikes the primordial pool, and in the combination of energy and chemistry, some tiny little blob starts wiggling. Or throbbing. This little fellow, let’s call him Bob, has one brief lifetime in which to figure out how to sustain his own existance long enough to re-produce, or split into two seperate beings. How does he do that? Attendorough suggests that there were strands of DNA laying around, so Bob just picks one up, sticks it in his hole, and now he knows just what to ingest and how to replicate.
    And the people that believe this have trouble accepting ‘intelligent design’?
    Now, to contradict myself, I expect that we will find life on other planets some day. How do I explain that? Simple: I don’t know- wasn’t there. I’m guessing, like everybody else.

  134. @TroofSeeker – I don’t think you are being willfully ignorant, so I’d like to recommend a brilliant video explaining the current theories around abiogenesis, since I myself am not a bilologist and therefore can’t be bothered to remember all the details:
    This is very good but is really only one of many on the intertubes.

    Also, Intelligent Desing? As in the banana? ;)

    @others – Saying that atheists in general “put their faith” in science and therefore we are just substituting one authority figure with a different one is pretty inaccurate, and here’s why: I make no claim that I understand every part of, say, an atomic bomb. But I have some understanding of nuclear physics from my university days and general understanding of the underlying mathematics. And as for proof that they work, well, ask the japanese.. So I don’t have to be an expert in nuclear physics to accept that what I’m being told is the truth, as we understand it today, when I’m told by an actual expert, how a nuclear bomb work.

    Gah.. if it wasn’t so very,very early (apartment way too warm), I’d come up with a better analogy.

    @JoshuaTerrell My thoughts exactly. It’s a non-issue, until some religious nuts try to enforce their stone-age morals on me..

  135. I think a summer camp where children are told that the bad things said about them by priests are not true is a very good idea.

  136. I love how, for some of these commenters, Richard Dawkins’ stridency in “The God Delusion” completely negated all of his brilliant work from “The Selfish Gene” through “The Ancestor’s Tale.” Let’s not strive for a world based on facts and logic anymore, because this one guy can be slightly annoying.

  137. #169 POSTED BY BENHER, JULY 1, 2009 10:25 PM

    Why can’t they just call it “science camp?”

    FTW! :^D

  138. Atheists are constantly asked to prove there is no god, however, the onus is on those that have blind faith in the the extraordinary claim that there is a god, given no empirical evidence exists to begin with.

    Atheists have no responsibility in disproving the fiction of an all powerful, omnipresent vengeful god. If you make the assertion something exists where nothing can be detected then prove it and publish for analytical peer review.

    Once we existed without religion. Pre-religion. Imagine that. Oh, and we made it through those dark ages just fine. I submit we’ve suffered more war and needless death since.

    Don’t forget, religions evolve too!

    Obey you’re noodly master.

  139. One can only imagine the chip one must have on their shoulder in order to send their kids to this particular summer camp – as opposed to one that exists to teach kids forestry or hiking or swimming or something FUN.

    Hey, look everybody! The kids at the camp across the lake are racing canoes today – while we have to sit through yet another videotaped lecture of Richard Dawkins reiterating his skepticism of the existence of god. Fun!

    I hope that they at least serve the poor kids decent food.

  140. @Moriarty

    This is the new direction of religion, once again capitalizing on and perpetuating the metaphysical.

    They have wrapped their new-age religious crap in so much pseudo-science the average person swallows it whole.

    This is what we need to teach children; mainstream religions are going to be replaced by this shit and newer smarter forms of scientology if we aren’t careful.

  141. @#166 Blaatann, I hope you’re not lumping my comment in with “others” there, because I overtly made it a point not to use the word faith. I was talking Psych 101 material.

    Human beings have very strong cognitive schema built around listening to authority figures, which we do rely on to make it through the day. We do not independently investigate every bit of information we hold as incontrovertible fact, and in some cases (which is why it’s interesting to cognitive psychologists and to economists in the first place), reach the wrong conclusions because of it. Most of the time we don’t, though, which is why this behavior is, evolutionarily, good enough.

    We live in a culture that is bombarded with information from a variety of sources. This has always been true of human existence, ever since we first developed communication, but especially true in the last hundred years or so. If we actually did need to independently investigate every thing we accept as fact, we would be unable to function in the manner we do.

    You claim that you understand some of the underlying physics of a nuclear bomb. Do you have a similar background in history, evolutionary and cell biology, anatomy and physiology, cognitive and abnormal psychology, mechanical engineering, computer science, economics and any of the myriad other fields where you most likely accept the opinions of so-called “experts” on a daily basis? My guess would be no, as it would frankly take multiple undergraduate educations to accrue that knowledge.

    And even then, undergraduate education is all about discussing, and ultimately accepting, the assertions of so-called “experts”, as presented by authority figures. If you don’t accept the fundamental premises: that your professors know what they’re talking about, and that the seminal studies they cite were non-fraudulent, repeatable investigations (even though you, personally haven’t done them), then that education never happens.

    This isn’t to say that we don’t often use effective processes to determine whether or not a professed expert is a credible source of information or not, mind you. That’s actually what you were doing with your physics background, when you said,
    So I don’t have to be an expert in nuclear physics to accept that what I’m being told is the truth, as we understand it today, when I’m told by an actual expert, how a nuclear bomb work.

    See, you’re not independently investigating the mechanics of the atom bomb. What you are using your smattering of knowledge for is to determine whether or not the person of authority you’re speaking to is a credible one. Those two things are worlds apart from each other, and put the lie in the claim I was initially rebutting.

  142. There seems to be a common strawman attack (or a confusion?) that there exist people who claim that gods logically cannot exist.

    I’ve never met anyone who claimed this. I do not believe in them. Whether people call themselves Atheists or Agnostics, they prettymuch don’t believe in a god, but don’t feel they can disprove such things exist, either.

    Most feel that an omnicognizant, omnipotent, loving god is logically inconsistent with existence, disproving the typical idea of the Christian god: but that’s it.

    If there’s really someone out there who feels gods are a logical impossibility, please do stand forward, and if possible, answer the question: “how would the universe differ if a deity exists?”

    (which is the flipside of my favourite question for theists: “If your god took a few days, or even years of vacation, how would the world be different?”)

  143. #169 POSTED BY BENHER, JULY 1, 2009 10:25 PM
    Why can’t they just call it “science camp?”

    Or “school”

  144. Maybe its just me, but I would rather teach my child critical thinking in math and science, than trying to teach them to disprove metaphysics or folklore. Dawkin’s is a hypocrite. This is clearly intended to teach atheism, he just doesn’t have the guts to admit it, because he knows it would contradict his statements in the past, concerning his belief that young children are not capable of deciding these issues for themselves. Unless of course it atheism.

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