Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election

[Video Link] Here's a great video from Big Think by Penn Jillette called "An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election."

I have tried with friends to say the most blasphemous sentence I can possibly say and it does not come close to the blasphemy of Michelle Bachman saying that earthquakes and hurricanes were the way God was trying to get the attention of politicians.

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election


    1. Believers gonna believe?
      Your reductionism is admirable, but I think it needs a scale of intensity. Religious people being religious privately is something other than religious people using a presidency to influence society and lawmaking based upon religious precepts. I think this is the important distinction and what’s troubling about the republican field of candidates.
      The way you’ve put it also suggests atheists look first at a persons religiosity when considering something this important. I don’t think that’s so, and it would be especially sad, since this in reverese seems to be the main reason why nobody considers an atheist candidate even remotely likely to win the presidency.

      1. Most atheists see a political candidate’s religiosity right up in their faces FIRST.  It’s like the guy with elephantiasis taking your money at the grocery store counter: you see his misshapen face FIRST because you cannot see anything else.  It doesn’t mean you (necessarily) act like a bastard to him, but the perception of his misshapenness is more than apparent – it glares.  

        It is the same for atheists regarding other people’s religiosity.

        The reason some atheists make an issue of religiosity, especially about authority figures, is that we are on the lookout for magical thinking.  We regard even the subtlest magical thinking as no better than the Jim Joneses, David Koreshes and Moseses leading people to their doom.  It is all around us and we hate it.

        Freedom FROM religion.

        1. I am an atheist.
          And I think that your categorical thinking is rather crude and unbecoming someone who apparently thinks himself on the side of reason, not to mention taking it upon yourself to speak for all atheists in the grandiose “we” form..
          As for “the subtlest magical thinking” being tantamount to being responsible for having a group people killed.. I just hope you haven’t bought any lottery tickets in your life.

        2. I’m not an atheist.  But in a perfect world, I wouldn’t know anybody’s religion unless I asked them about it.  It just doesn’t belong anywhere near government.

          1. True.  
            Also, I have nothing against religious people who don’t exhibit magical, fairy-tale thinking.  Belief in a higher being, higher power, higher *anthropomorphicized* power, even, are ok by me.  As long as they don’t absolve themselves of living responsibly and generally treating others with respect.

            I still keep in touch with my minister from childhood – because he’s a 100% stand-up guy.  I’d step in front of a bus for him any day.

  1. I’m a frisbyterian. We believe that when you die, your soul goes onto the roof and you can never get it down.

    1. how does that jive with my thought that Objectivity and following jesus are mutually exclusive? 

      tl;dr Ayn rand was a psycho bitch who based her philosophy on a serial killer.

      1. Also by most accounts, Rand had a sweet tooth for amphetamine pill-popping, a nasty little habit that distorts perception and makes people say (or write) the darnedest things.

        EDIT FOR CLARITY: “Distorts Perception” – delusions of grandeur, as well as persecution.

    2. It is strange how people just make things up to suit their prejudices. All Objectivists are atheists. Just like all members of the Communist Party in the former USSR were also atheists.  I don’t see how anyone can seriously claim otherwise. The question is it’s significance.

      1. At the point where one believes anything Rand said — in spite of evidence to the contrary — one cannot claim to have an evidence-based belief system.

        1. The definition of atheism is not “evidence-based belief system” it is “denial of the existence of a god or gods”.  Atheists claim that god does not exist. Objectivists claim that god does not exist. So Objectivists must belong to the set of atheists.

          1. If you definite atheism relatively narrowly as you have, it can mean only a disbelief in gods.

            But there’s a reason the Wikipedia article on atheism spans several pages — there isn’t just one definition of the word.  I think where you and I differ is that I’m using the word to refer to a disbelief in all supernatural concepts, not just gods.

          2. @ MrEricSir, — I go by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition but even if I accepted yours, which I assume is “atheism is a lack of belief” then all Objectivists are still members of the set of atheists. I do not see how it could be otherwise.And it still amazes me how people can just define out of existence anything they don’t like and cannot bring themselves to face uncomfortable facts.

          3. noen, Objectivism is not based in “facts.”  It’s the ravings of a crazy old woman.  Objectivists have to believe in her rigid ideas, regardless as to whether they’re aligned with reality, which means they’re not atheists by definition.

          4. MrEricSir – “Objectivism is not based in “facts.””

            I am genuinely perplexed. I’m not arguing for Objectivism. The fact I am talking about is that all objectivists belong to the set of atheists. Just as all members of the Communist Party did.

            The fact that you and I don’t like either of them doesn’t change that. It is very strange this…… blind spot of yours (and many others share it). It’s almost like… believing in magic underwear. ;)

            People are like that. People are split. There is a wound that goes right through you and me. All the way. That’s why we all need each other. That’s why when Penn Jillette talks his libertarian BS I wonder:

            Why the fuck is he saying batshit crazy stuff to me?

          5. “The fact I am talking about is that all objectivists belong to the set of atheists.”

            Just because they call themselves atheists doesn’t make them atheists, any more than becoming a Scientologist makes one a scientist.

          6. @MrEricSir:disqus Believing in wrong things is not the same as believing in supernatural things.  I mean, an atheist could believe the earth is flat, or that we only use 10% of our brains, or that taxes are the highest they’ve ever been.  Without a supernatural component…  they are just atheist who happen to be wrong.  By your definition, it would be surprising if there were any legitimate atheists, because how many of us have continued to believe something mistakenly when shown evidence to the contrary?  It happens quite a bit.  I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim I am free of it.  To define people you disagree with as “not atheist” has that whole “No True Scotsman” vibe to it.

          7. @MrEricSir:disqus “Just because they call themselves atheists doesn’t make them atheists”

            Huh??? How does that make ANY sense? If you don’t believe in god or gods that *makes* you an atheist. Objectivists do not believe in god. THEREFORE they are atheists. Disbelief simply *constitutes* atheism just as belief *constitutes* theism.

            “any more than becoming a Scientologist makes one a scientist.”

            Being a scientist is a social title one earns like policeman or president. One cannot declare oneself president of the US but whether or not one is a theist or atheist is BY DEFINITION a matter of belief and the only person who can say whether or not I believe something is me. So if I say I believe in god just by uttering that statement I have put myself into the class of theists (or atheists as the case may be).

            How could anyone possibly be confused about this? It is the simplest logical case imaginable.

          8. Doesn’t atheist derive from ‘theos’ – Greek for God? The meaning seems self-evident to me. There is always the good old English word ‘godlessness’ or ‘the godless’.

          9. You can draw them the venn diagram noen, they’re not going to get it. Objectivists seemingly have a dysfunctiuon in that THEY need to be the one who draws that diagram, before it can be the case.

    3. I’m having trouble understanding this statement.  Everyone is an athiest since it’s impossible to believe every form of belief or religion.  For example, Christians are atheists in regards to Islam or Hinduism.  Some people are simply more ‘atheist’ than others.

      So, people believing in objectivism are atheists in regards to non-objectivism. Therefore you cannot say Objectivism and atheism are mutually exclusive.

      Please excuse my douche bag logic.

      Is your statement a reference to something else?

        1. “If you think “everyone is an atheist” then the word is meaningless to you… ”

          How did you reach that conclusion?

          Please help me (and Deidzoeb) understand your “Objectivism and atheism are mutually exclusive” statement by providing an explanation (which is what I was hoping you would do in the first place).  I’m genuinely confused about your assertion.

      1. Christians are atheists in regards to Islam…

        The basic Muslim PR is that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all believe in the same God but that they got it right.
        The fundamentalist Christian PR is that Muslims believe in a random moon-god cynically chosen from a mythical pantheon by somebody who had something to sell.
        The basic Jewish PR is that they got there first and what the Hell are you new guys doing on our turf?
        I’m not sure how any of this stuff makes any religion “atheist” in contrast to another religion.  In fact, I didn’t think that denominational relativism was a valid way to define atheism.  (Although, come to think of it, I can recall a few Protestants who are happy to explain why Catholics aren’t Christians.  Does that mean that Catholics are atheists in regard to hardshell Baptists?)
        Lord, have mercy on me; I’m sooo confused.

      2. I believe that all gods exist. I just don’t worship most of them. So I guess that makes me not an atheist at all.

        1. I am similar: I believe that all possible gods exist, with zero statistical or effective significance. They cancel each other out, like quantum mechanical outliers, leaving only the simple metaphysical frameworks to have any relevance.

      1. To have an unwavering belief in the writings of some crazy old lady is most definitely not an example of atheism.  Atheism is about evidence-based belief, not blind faith.

        1. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods plain and simple, and one can be atheist for totally irrational reasons, although admittedly most atheists have pretty solid reasons for disbelieving in gods. That said one can be an atheist for evidence-based reasons and still have really wacky political beliefs. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

          1. No, I don’t think so at all.  The key words there are “wacky beliefs.”  If one’s political beliefs adhere to a rigid doctrine then one’s religion is merely political in nature.

            Just because there’s no conventional religious symbolism doesn’t mean it’s not a religious belief.

        2. I’m afraid noen was right. To be atheist is not necessarily to take a position on whether belief should be evidence-based, although we might hope people come to atheism because they’re rational, naturalist, materialist and humanist. There are atheists who believe in non-godly supernatural events. I don’t know what percentage, but the way you’re talking about atheists shows that you are ignoring or misunderstanding the basic idea.

          “To have an unwavering belief in the writings of some crazy old lady” — Okay, so we’re not talking about the substance of objectivism or atheism at all, we’re just smearing people with broad generalizations. I thought you had found some interesting flaw or paradox within objectivism. Never mind.

          1. Okay, so we’re not talking about the substance of objectivism or atheism at all, we’re just smearing people with broad generalizations. I thought you had found some interesting flaw or paradox within objectivism. Never mind.”

            I’m not willing to discuss the specifics of Objectivism any more than any other dogmatic belief system. 

            I’m talking about the act of believing in it in and of itself, which is certainly an act of religious faith.

          2. If that is your point you should have written more than:

              “Sorry, but Objectivism and atheism are mutually exclusive.”

            The amount of time it took you to reach your point is evidence this whole comment thread is a troll and a waste of time.

          3. So you’ve been reduced to accusing me of being a “troll”?  Pathetic.

            If you don’t have an argument, next time please don’t waste my time arguing.

          4. That’s fine.

            I don’t have an argument.  You do.  I was only trying to understand what you were trying to say and asked you to explain.

            Your original short comment had a different objective than what it said.  You were not concerned with mutual exclusivity (objectivism vs. atheism) but instead wanted to discuss Ayn Rand and stir the pot.  Hence the troll comment.  If that hurt your feelings, I apologize.

            If you said “Anyone that unquestionably believes Ayn Rand cannot be atheist” this thread would be much shorter.  I know I wouldn’t have commented on it because I don’ t care about the Ayn Rand topic.  I was more interested in the philosophical discussion.

          5. We have a video of an Objectivist claiming he understand atheism, who seems oblivious to this contradiction. 

            Do you really consider questioning the credentials of a speaker to be “stirring the pot?”

          6. I’m able to reply to some comments on this thread, but others don’t show the option. Is this a general policy of BB or Disqus that comments should not reply more than a few times, or has someone decided our conversation stopped being productive? I don’t generally mind moderated comments or discussion forums, but I loathe when they are closed or locked to further comment. Oh well.

          7. Thread depth is set at four replies. Otherwise, the comments get thinner and thinner until a comment would be just one character wide.

        3. You will find that the notion of “evidence based belief” as somehow epistemologically more valid than simple “belief” to be wildly problematic and logically unprovable. Starting with the fact that even the notion of what constitutes evidence is dependent on unproved, and wholly necessary, theoretical assumptions.

          Your arguments are an excellent demonstration that by and large the ranks of atheists are filled by either the fervidly anti-religious who confuse their hatred of religious doctrines and social systems with a sound basis for philosophical systems, or the more thoughtful but just as problematic, material scientists who are terrible at philosophy.

          1. Starting with the fact that even the notion of what constitutes evidence is dependent on unproved, and wholly necessary, theoretical assumptions.

            By the standards you’re setting, proof is impossible to attain and therefore a meaningless concept.

          2. “By the standards you’re setting, proof is impossible to attain and therefore a meaningless concept.”

            Not impossible at all, just only possible to the extent to which the theoretical paradigms of participants in the discussion are compatible. But yes, logical certainty is a far, far harder thing to come by when it comes to fundamental questions than a simplistic phrase like “evidence based belief” lets on.

  2. I think that Rick Perry’s new stance on abortion is even greater blasphemy: that God wants to deny an abortion even when the pregnancy is likely to kill both the woman and the baby. And Perry made this change in his policy to get a few measly votes in a campaign that he can’t possibly win. Now that’s evil!

    1. Those comments are only meant to draw the wackos into the GOP fold rather than some other party. Perry is just saying it so *someone* says it under the GOP guise, or more simply, that the GOP is who the wackos agree with on the issue (among major parties, natch). That’s why a loser like Perry is the one saying it, so it’s not a consequence for the eventual nominee and only benefits the party.

      1. That’s an interesting idea. It implies that the GOP candidates operate as a unit well enough for one of them to be selected to “take one for the team”, and that Rick Perry allowed himself to be the sacrifice. I don’t think I can believe any of that, but then American party politics are frequently unbelievable.

        1. i don’t think he “took one for the team” per se, although that’s what it effectively comes to. perry was flagging, so the party just played him to his “strength” (both real and how the media had built him up). there was a chance that überchristianity would carry the day, and perry probably knew that was his best shot… see: the game is to offer all participants a very low chance of a huge payoff and kind of churn through them (which should sound similar to how they want to run the economy).

        2. I think it might be more that American party politics attracts people who can be relied upon to shoot their own feet out of desperation when the going gets tough, with the party benefitting as a side-effect.

  3. He has a good point. Why do religious people believe one thing but act in a way contrary to that belief? My conclusion has always been that people say they believe something, they may even think they believe something, but the reality is that they do not. In the same way an optical illusion takes advantage of a feature in the brain to fool us into seeing something that isn’t there, religious belief takes advantage of a feature in the brain to fool us into thinking we believe something when we don’t. Religion — and maybe even other belief systems such as atheistic moral codes — is a high-level intellectual illusion. A viral meme, even.

    Update: Damn, I just realized I sound like a nihilist :(

    1. Nothing wrong with a little bit of nihilism.  Moral codes are synthetic creations born out of civilization.

      1. Yes and no. What I was getting at is that the moral code I say I follow isn’t the moral code that I actually follow, because there is no way for me to access the moral code that I actually follow without a deep understanding of how I might fool myself. That’s not the same as saying that I do not follow a moral code.

      2. “Moral codes are synthetic creations born out of civilization.” Just like money, universities and cocktail parties are. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

      3. They are a gestalt.  An idea which is real because we chose to make it real.  

        Because they were invented and not bestowed by god, it is OK to update our tool set now and then.

    2. Anyone with an understanding of physics knows that we’re not actually making decisions of our own free will, and are slaves to the phsyics-constrained biological processes and external stimuli which ultimately lead to way we act. That’s why we have to come up with mind-hacks, such as the belief in free will, to prevent ourselves from going insane.

      Or more accurately, our brains have to come up with them.

      1. The alternative to free will being “you’re destined to pick Cherry Coke in this situation” is free will being “the universe is going to flip a coin now, the options are Cherry Coke or bleach from the laundry room, good luck!”

        The belief that everything being predetermined is depressing is absurd, it’s literally complaining “But I don’t want to do what I want to do”.

        1. I’m sure there are a lot of people with anger problems, sex addictions, kleptomania, and various other psychological maladies who don’t want to do what they want to do, and with good reason. Sadly, they often end up slaves to the unfortunate structure of their neurons, or whatever bit of brain chemistry causes their problem.

          Take it from me, the sensation of not being in control of your own brain — especially when that has horrible consequences — is not a particularly uplifting thing. I’d imagine that most people wouldn’t be able to cope with constantly feeling like that (which would be a result not of their own intuition but of their immutable brain chemistry leading to that, which they’d realize, thus making it worse and causing a feedback loop of hopelessness and despair, and then the hyperventilation starts, and it’s really kind of a horrifying experience that I’d never wish on anyone).
          But now this conversation is getting too dark. So. Bunny rabbits! :D

  4. Wake up call to the Paultards: he’s a religious nutcase just like the others, but he wants to ban ALL abortion in every case and make it a federal murder crime to have an abortion!

    Still support him?

    1. Whoa, there – citation needed!

      Last I heard, Paul believed the feds have no right to make any such legislation, but would have no problem with any individual state doing so.

      Keep in mind his views have changed over the years, and unlike most politicians he doesn’t try to hide that.

      1. Most noticeably, however, the once commonplace refrain of “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by the vague, ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” But what holiday? Is Christmas some kind of secret, a word that cannot be uttered in public? Why have we allowed the secularists to intimidate us into downplaying our most cherished and meaningful Christian celebration?

        Rick Perry Ooops, Ron Paul

        He’s just as creepy as the rest of them.

        1. Yes, that sounds bad, but still doesn’t address the point that Ito brings up. Paul’s personal beliefs may be that he is a creationist, or that he is anti-abortion, but that doesn’t matter. Running on a platform of decreasing federal power and increasing the state’s power obviates his personal beliefs, since he won’t be acting on them in any meaningful way.

          Perry, as a creationist, will try and have that nonsense taught in schools. Paul, as a creationist, will abolish the board of education and leave education up to the states. So it isn’t dodging the issue, SSDeez, it’s the foundation of his campaign.

          1. Running on a platform of decreasing federal power and increasing the state’s power obviates his personal beliefs, since he won’t be acting on them in any meaningful way.

            Except for making it possible for states to make abortion illegal. And gay relationships illegal.

  5. I’ve heard, somewhere, (I can’t remember where) that Rick Perry wears magic underpants.

    No, really.

    Seriously, I’m with Penn here.  And with Sam Harris.  You can’t cut moderate religious people any slack for their slightly loopy beliefs, ‘cuz then you also have to cut slack for the most extreme bat-shit crazy beliefs.   Where do YOU draw the line?

    1. What, a “slippery slope” argument? 

      I have plenty of friends who are smart, liberal religious people. Why would I consign them to the same category as Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell? 

      I also know atheists who hold to crazy non-religious beliefs. Being an atheist isn’t a get-out-of-crazy-free card. 

    2. Not Rick Perry, but Mitt Romney does.

      And while I appreciate the flippant humor of calling them “magic underpants” they are Mormon holy undergarments.

      Supposedly that means there’s a difference. Or something.

      1. Orthordox Jewish men wear a “magic shirt” and a “magic hat” (the pope wears one too!), and you never hear anybody make jokes about them. Why is that? Because they are worn above the waist? I mean, really, the term “magic underpants” never fails to make me giggle.

        1. Uh. Jewish kippahs & prayer shawls are not considered protection against evil spirits, but rather a commandment from god to help remember his presence. If kippahs were to grant special powers, then you can say they are magic.

      2. Sorry about that slipup, Peripatet, from where I sit, they all kinda melt into an amorphous chimera…  I can’t distinguish all those courtiers that make up the Ancien Régime that is the American political system these days.

        Yes, it is possible to make the right decision despite your loopy beliefs.  You can even make the right decision by throwing a dart at a board.  And no, atheism doesn’t make you god-like nor omniscient.

        My contention is that you should pay attention to people’s [religious] beliefs no matter how trivial these beliefs are.  You should especially pay attention when those people are making life and death decisions and want to be President of the USA.  And ultra-especially when those people believe they are Rapture Ready ™.

        If my physician recommended a dream weaver as treatment for adult night terrors, instead of investigating diet or whether I was suffering from hypoglycemia, I’d start looking for another doctor.  (Even if it was suggested just as a placebo.) I expect my personal physician to be frank and honest with me and to have a scientific Weltanschauung.

        They only exception to this rule is that I don’t mind if my airplane pilot is Roman Catholic who has an unconfessed Mortal Sin….

    3. I agree.

      “THEIR belief in a magical sky man is crazy because they publicly say mean things about other people, but MY belief in a magical sky man makes total sense because he tells me to be nice.”


  6. The story really isn’t that there are bat-shit crazy politicians (i.e. Bachmann / Perry).  The real story and atrocity is that these people have support from a reasonably vast group of voters…

    1. The story really isn’t that there are bat-shit crazy politicians (i.e. Bachmann / Perry). The real story and atrocity is that these people have support from a reasonably vast group of voters…

      It’s more appalling that the politicians who aren’t bat-shit crazy about religion have to pretend that they are in order to get those votes.

  7. Y’know, this makes me give Penn a few demerits. Not for the analysis per se, but for the fact that he believes Obama being or not being a believer makes a rat’s ass worth of difference. Treating atheism as a litmus test is _als0_ religious bigotry.

    I don’t care what religion a politician does or doesn’t believe in. I care about how he governs, how he’s willing to respect and protect those who believe differently, and how willing he is to accept that when science and religion disagree, science — the _actual_ Word of God as written directly upon reality, if you want to put it in those terms — must win. That’s what the constitution, and the office, demands.

    Many of the Republican leaders and their followers are still bat-shit crazy when measured against this standard, and the rest are tarred by their unwillingness to disassociate themselves from (and ideally speak out against) the crazies.  But at least this is a valid standard to hold them to.

    1. “Treating atheism as a litmus test is _als0_ religious bigotry.”

      I disagree.  It’s more like a test of the ability to think clearly and logically.

      1. We agree that we disagree.

        Religious belief need not be in conflict with scientific belief.  Some people compartmentalize, and others take religion seriously but not literally — which actually is the longer-standing tradition; American literalism is an aberration in the history of religion.

        The true logical position in this area is not atheism but agnosticism — there is no way to test the basic proposition either way, which puts it entirely outside the scope of science and logic.

        In any case, I stand by my statement: What someone’s religious beliefs, disbeliefs, or non-beliefs are may be interesting as an influence on what they will do, but its significance ends there. I’ve known enough people from all over the spectrum that I really do not see any connection between dis/un/belief in a higher power and ability to carry out the duties of political office. What IS required is a willingness to accept that others are entitled to their dis/un/beliefs as well, and that when there isn’t a societal consensus the law shouldn’t try to create one.

        If you feel your candidate must share your beliefs about something which — by your own beliefs — is irrelevant, you’re being inconsistent verging on snobbish at best. If you want them to respect your position, you owe them the same respect. Proselytizing, even for disbelief, is inherently rude.

        1. One’s beliefs make up what in fact one is.  When someone claims they believe that an invisible being that no one has ever seen guides his life it makes me a bit nervous.  So, in fact I am stating that I think belief in a god makes a candidate less fit for office, especially for ones that have the ability to start wars.

          And for the record, by my standards this is NOT irrelevant.  I am not the one who is proselytizing here.  I’m just tired of this freak show that we call god and religion.

          1. You’re welcome to be tired of it. I happen to agree with you. But insisting that anyone else must be an idiot to believe — without taking time to look at exactly what they believe, how they define that belief, and how they respond to that belief — does start to cross the line into intolerance and/or proselytizing.

            I’m afraid this is a case where your nervousness says more about you than them. If you were really comfortable with your beliefs, you wouldn’t feel threatened simply because people believe differently. There are _specific_ beliefs which I find threatening and intolerable in a leader of this country — “American Taliban” militant fundimentalism being a prime example — but that’s a much narrower and more selective brush.

        2. “The true logical position in this area is not atheism but agnosticism”
          I liked what you said, but consider this; your statement could be used as support for accepting the truly absurd (such as the ‘Orbiting Teapot’ ; or perhaps examples even more farfetched could be concocted.

          To explain, when fearing fictions (lets for the sake of argument consider that they -could- be), what can make one fiction more trustworthy than another? Or more ridiculous?

          Just because you can’t prove I don’t have a green dragon in my garage ( I won’t let you check ), does that mean you should consider the possibility that I do?


          ….. SERIOUSLY?
          By all means, don’t ‘make your mind up’, but when we’re at the mercy of those who pay homage to a fiction and they have power over our armies, health or government, it becomes a VERY charged issue…

          1. If you genuinely don’t know what agnosticism is, you’re probably better off looking it up, rather than just assuming it means something retarded and indefensible.

    2. I liked what Penn had to say, but you’ve made a good point here…  I don’t care what supernatural beliefs a politician has in his/her private life; I only care if they drag them into policy.  Being an atheist wont automatically make them a superior politician.  There are lots of bad/dumb reasons to be an Atheist and lots of Bad/dumb atheists.

      But like what headcode said (and what Penn means), I’d rather have a politician who can take a look at their own beliefs and ask themselves if they’re reasonable or not.  I want somebody who prizes logic and reason above all other concerns and wont pay cynical lip service to religious nonsense.

    3. “… science — the _actual_ Word of God as written directly upon reality, if you want to put it in those terms…”

      No, thank you, I do not want to put it in those terms. 

      1. Feel free not to. It’s a formulation which I like and which I consider a good terse argument for not taking religion literally, but de gustibus.

        (Song cue:  Cat Faber’s _The_Word_Of_God_, which is where I swiped that phrase.  “Humans wrote the bible; God wrote the world.”)

    4. BTW, just in case anyone cares and hasn’t seen me say it in the past,  I classify myself as a Strong Agnostic Theist. I don’t know, I don’t think you know, I can’t imagine anything which would convince me otherwise up to and including miracles (well, brain damage might)… but if there is something that can be called a deity, I can’t believe it could possibly be _small_ enough for its existence or absence to matter.

      Which puts me closer to the traditions of the country’s founding fathers than all the folks who try to claim this was ever “a Christian nation”.

      1. I am *really* liking your posts here. Maybe I’m biased in that I agree with everything you’ve said, but they’re well written, clear, amusing, well read, quick to understand where people have not understood you, and gentle to explain what you really meant.

        +1, would read again :P

      2. Ug. Why do agnostics always quantify their ideas with “I don’t know – and you don’t know eitther!”

        I do know. I have a simple test grounded in basic science. If you have something similar you can no longer chose to ignore it.

        1. That test being?

          You can refute specific statements. It is, I am afraid, impossible to disprove the existence of a deity which is not attached to those specific statements. Just as it is impossible to prove the existence of a deity. There simply is no test.

          I’m sure many people, yourself included, believe they know. You and they are certainly welcome to that belief.  All I’m saying is that *I* don’t think you know, by my definition of what would constitute knowledge rather than faith. Which brings us back to the next statement: I can’t imagine any evidence that I would find convincing.

    5. “Treating atheism as a litmus test is _als0_ religious bigotry”?  No.  It is a prejudice, based on the idea that anyone who hasn’t come to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist is somehow failing an intelligence test, or showing that they haven’t truly grown up yet.  Which I disagree with. 

      1. I plead guilty to overstating slightly for effect. But I’ve gotten a bit tired of atheists who are as intolerant and defensive as any believer.

        Disagree, by all means. But don’t assume that the other person is an idiot for having reached different conclusions. Remember that in many (most?) cases they’ve given this as much thought as you have. Different starting points processed through valid logic can legitimately yield different conclusions. That’s my response to folks who ask why I don’t believe, and I have to extend them the same respect.

        If there is something SPECIFIC that you disagree with them on, that affects people other than themselves, then you’ve got a legitimate point to argue about and discriminate upon. How they got there isn’t relevant except, possibly, in understanding how to productively discuss it with them and predicting what their probable (not certain) future positions might be.

  8. “So why the fuck are they saying batshit crazy stuff to me?”

    Because it is the normal functioning of belief that one’s god is invisible. Penn Jillette says things that I think are batshit crazy. Why does he say them? Because his god is invisible to him. That’s how it works. If “that which you hold in highest regard” were visible to you, you would no longer hold it to the level of the sublime.

    1. lol what a copout. so i just believe in things if they are invisble? lol as george carlin said…i believe in joe pesci (no i m kidding) i mean his other skit about the sun. lots of civilizations based their beliefs on the very visible presence of the sun. of course some of them had batshit crazy rituals to keep the sun happy and went mad if there was a less sunny season ie lunar eclipse but thats another topic.

  9. What the fuck is so crazy about batshit anyway?  It’s not like the whole edifice of creation makes perfect, pristine sense until all of a sudden some hapless bat takes a dump, and then the whole thing turns into some kind of jibbering Lovecraftian blasphemy of cosmic irrationalism, causing the world’s scientists to dismantle the Large Hadron Collider in despair.

  10. I’ve always been of the belief that the people who think abortion is murder don’t REALLY believe it. Or they at least believe it is a lesser form of murder. My proof? If people were routinely killing toddlers, everyone would go take physical action. They would shoot the murderers or arrest them. They would sentence them to life in prison. Yet the most 99% of the anti-abortion folks do is vote Republican or protest. They don’t get physical. They don’t lock up the mothers for life. Can you imagine that if the issue were killing toddlers? So this is Penn’s point I think. People say they believe something but their actions prove otherwise.

  11. I get the feeling that one of Penn’s premises is incorrect, namely that the internet will do in organized religion. There are two main logical reasons for this, and one personal one:

    1. Contrary to what he implies, it’s not necessarily being cloistered that keeps religion going. It’s adherence to a belief system. It’s believing.
    If you’re truly secure in your beliefs, experiencing the world shouldn’t shake them.

    2. The Internet is also an exceptional concentrator for what you already believe in. Religious? There’s plenty of websites out there for most any religion you care to name. Nontheistic? There’s sites for that too. Have you tried reading a blog that is opposite to your political beliefs lately? Do you seek out such blogs? No! You try to read blogs in accordance with what you believe.
    There’s a lot of preaching, both religious and not, out on the Net; and quite a lot of it is preaching to the choir (so to speak).

    And finally,
    3. I’m kinda sore at Penn for the attitude that religion is a thing that NEEDS to be done away with. I’m not particularly religious, but I can get along fine with you, no matter what your beliefs (though I will walk away if you try to convert me).
    If religion is declining because of how the world is right now, so be it… but for goodness’s sake, Penn, please don’t make a Crusade out of it!

    1. In regards to #3, I’d be happy to do away with the religions of the people that kill in the name of it.  You can’t walk away from that.

      There is a point where religion is the same as inciting violence and inciting ignorance on society.  Threats should be treated as such.

      It should be noted the best remedy for these threats is education… which is what religions of the world try to undercut in an attempt to gain power of society.

      Doesn’t it sound better to Make a Crusade out of education?  Religion will simply be a casualty.

      1. “In regards to #3, I’d be happy to do away with the religions of the people that kill in the name of it.  You can’t walk away from that.”

        Walk away from it? No. However, you can dissociate the killing bit from the religion bit. When we start getting into crimes like murder, it’s the job of the legal system to step in and handle things. Murder is murder, and it’s a matter for the law.

      2. We COULD just work to do away with killing in the name of ANY ideology, no? Maybe even killing for any reason. Probably easier than trying to convince people their ideology is wrong and THAT’S why they shouldn’t be all killy. I mean, most of the institutional killing done last century was decidedly not on behalf of religion (yes, I just godwinned the thread, sorry- but if it helps, I’m thinking of Hitler AND the Soviet Union), which suggests that people use whatever ideology they have to justify killing as needed.

        Of course, wanting a society that is against killing-in-the-name-of-stuff, is sort of an ideology in and of itself, and certainly not one that has a lot of historical precedence. And to think that education would do away with irrationality and violence is just so… cute.

  12. I think that Penn J. is one of the most compelling religious thinkers around. I am a Christian (not a literalist Christian, however) and I can agree with all of the points he makes in this video, mainly because his primary beef in this case is with literalist Christians, particularly those who have authority.

    I often get the feeling that he is not so much against the idea of god as he is against the idea of a god that thinks he’s dumb enough to believe in a talking snake. In other words, any god he would believe in has to have a much better act than multi-hand passed down stories about talking snakes, parted seas and righteous smiting, to the point where he sees the fact that a lot of intelligent people believe in the God of the Bible must mean that “there is some code he does not have the key to”.

    But he is not just tweaking the nose of modern day organized religion with his brand of atheism. He is aware of the notion of different types of Chrisitanity and how they differ, and he says here he even reads the Bible. He and a lot of others might be surprised that many modern Bible scholars, people who have gotten down to the brass tacks of the Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek of it,  have more shocking disagreements in fact with popular interpretations of the Bible than the ones Penn raises.

    His stance is that, above all, he believes in telling the truth: although his claim to fame is deception through illusion and sleight of hand (which he does reveal, as well) to me  his very valuable point is that if you can’t be truthful about what you believe, then you haven’t thought enough about it enough. If you haven’t gotten it to really have it “fit” you to the point where you’re true to yourself, then you’re lying to youself.

    Christ left us with a “Spirit of Truth” and it seems to me that Mr. Jillette (maybe much to his mortification) fully embraces the concept, if not the divine origin, of the Spirit of Truth. 

    1. “I think that Penn J. is one of the most compelling religious thinkers around.”

      HAHAHAHA! Penn is not even a mediocre intellectual. He’s a clown. He does a little magic show. Nothing more. But because socially maladjusted 16 year old boys like him he has an audience. He has even been able to translate his shtick into a book deal. Whoopie.

      Has he figured out that global warming is not a hoax yet?

  13. As an atheist, I think this guy is full of crap, and he really doesn’t speak for other atheists in any sense.  I don’t believe in God, and he doesn’t either. But he wants to rate politicians based on how atheistic they are?  He thinks that the sincerity of Obama’s religious beliefs are in any way relevant?  I’m considering abstaining from the presidential vote because I don’t think I can stomach voting for someone who has done as much damage to the rule of law as Obama has, though his Republican opponents are of course worse.  What he says or thinks about God is simply not relevant.

  14. are your ideas tested against the reality that you live in? if not, then they are ideas without practice. only reality makes ideas valid and useful. everyone has ideas but if there’s no way to test if they work then have fun with the ideas in your head 

    1. “””The burden of proof falls to the person making a claim. Until it is proven that gods exist, there are no gods.”””

      Prove it.  Can you prove it?  No?  Well then, atheism is a belief.  You believe there are no gods, but you have no evidence to back that up.

      I believe it’s impossible to prove the existence or non-existence of God either way, but I too cannot prove it.

      1. Well, yes, if you take Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to it’s Unintended Consequence, you can’t prove the statement you posited.

        However, it is a much more logical approach to assume non-existence of something, unless there is some proveable/well-reasoned, er, proof/likelyhood of its existence.

        I believe that what Gordon is saying is: ‘It’s not up to the atheists to prove the non-existence of god(s) [a very, very, very difficult thing to do, most of the time] , rather the burden of the proof rests on the theists and deists to prove god(s) existence. I agree with him on this point.

        So far, the proofs have been lacking. Nay, there ‘not there at all’.   Heck, even just defining/describing what the god(s) are has been lacking.

        1. It is most logical to assume that, when the proposition is completely untestable *either* way, belief or disbelief is simply irrelevant.

          1. I agree with the proposition, but not that belief/unbelief is irrelevant.  See examples I provide below.

            No, below that one.

        2. Close but not quite.  I say it *is* up to the atheists to prove the non-existence of God (which I agree would be a ridiculously difficult thing to do).  Either prove God does not exist, or accept that you have just as untestable and ridiculous a belief as the theists and deists.

          TL;DR – if you are an atheist you are a religious crazy like all the others, but I would be the first to admit I can’t prove it.

          You can prove the non-existence of things; the Michelson-Morley experiment proved that the “Lumeniferous Ether” does not exist.  If you are an atheist and you can’t disprove the existence of God, you’re not trying hard enough.

          1. PaulR – I can’t reply to your comment for some reason, but just to make it clear, as I said earlier I don’t believe it’s possible to prove or disprove the existence of any god.  Logically it’s not worth worrying about theism or atheism, since both are ridiculous untestable beliefs.

    2. If you start with that, you have to also accept that what can be dismissed without evidence can be asserted without evidence.  My position is that without evidence you can neither assert nor dismiss, which at least has the advantage of being self-consistent… and my belief is that the question has no meaning in the first place.

      Occam’s razor cuts both ways, and is in any case only a tool and a human preference rather than a law of nature — it says the simplest explanation is _most_likely_ to be correct, not that it will always be correct. And “simplest” is defined differently depending on the context one approaches the problem from.

  15. What one as an Non-Believer should take from this interesting talk are not the philosophical  arguments. They’ve been said oftentimes, but that you shouldn’t address  Christians as such. Call them always by their real names, like Baptist, Catholic or better even Mormon. Make them remember that they hate each other more than anything. Christianity isn’t a monolith. Christianity   is cacophony of a thousand mutually exclusive voices.
    For example call them all Catholics because, as they say it’s “The one true church”. And I take their word for it.( But Mormons are also OK. They represent the Christian dogma very accurately. At least they say so and I believe it.

    1. If you feel a need to gratuitiously throw stones,  you’re saying that your own dis/un/beliefs aren’t strong enough to stand on their own.

  16. Religion is like living in a dictatorship.
    Your spiritual community are the thought police.
    Better not step out of line!

    1. That, my friend, depends upon the specific religion, sect, and community.  If it was so for the one you were brought up in, I’m sorry.

        1. Trolling much?

          (Since I can’t seem to reply to Antinous below: No, I didn’t. If so, thanks for the enlightening correction.)

  17. “Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is a word. Atheism is nothing. An atheist does not not believe in gods. That would imply there is something to not believe. There is nothing to not believe in.”
    That makes no sense.  If somebody thinks they might have something to worry about, and I tell them “I believe you have nothing to worry about”, does that mean I am not expressing a belief, because it would require the person have something to worry about in order for me to not believe they have something to worry about?  Is it not a classic case of circular reasoning to say “I believe there are no gods” hence “There are no Gods to Not Not Believe In” hence “I am absolved of expressing belief”? Similarly, couldn’t I say “There is no multiverse”, and argue that that statement is not a belief, using Mr Hitchens dictum, ie “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”, and hence shut down all research or discussion into the idea of the multiverse, even though it might be an as yet unproven reality?  Is it a belief to say “There is no multiverse” and “nothing” (whatever that means in this context) to say “There are no gods”?  What is the distinction?

    1. The multiverse is a bad example.  There is much math to support it.

      I don’t understand any of it and my gut feeling is that the multiverse doesn’t exist.  But I’m quite open to the idea that it’s ‘The Truth’ and I’m not brilliant enough to understand it.

  18. What book does he reference? A history of free thought? There are a couple of unrelated books on amazon (mostly reprints), but I can’t find the one hes talking about specifically.

    1. Ok, I think I found it – 
      Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby? Is that it?

  19. Has anyone any disagreements with what Penn Jillette said? Not what you think he is as a person, but what he said?

    His description about the changes in the political term ‘Christian’ seems accurate. President Kennedy had to reassure Americans that the Pope would not rule America even though he was a Catholic.

    His other argument about the supremacy of God in national institutions also seems valid. Many of the founding fathers may have been atheists or at least agnostics. The one nation has only been ‘under God’ for the last fifty years. If you require your leaders, and your judges, and all major members of society to espouse a religion, but few of them actually believe it, then you end up with the sort of paradoxes in the constitution and the courts that he describes. Heck, I live in a country where the hereditary monarch is the head of the state religion, but I feel I have a lot more freedom in what I believe and what I say then Penn Jillette is getting.

    You may disagree with the last bit, but he is very clear that he describes how he is feeling as a person. If I go to a church, wonder whether everyone else sitting, then standing, then kneeling, is feeling a dummy like I am doing; whether everyone since the place was built felt the same at some point; or what it might feel like to believe in things you don’t see. This is how it feels…

    Yes, some of us feel like that little purple guy. If I had been stuck in a small religious community, I would have gone along with the others, rather than be treated as a monstrous aberration and lusus naturae for my whole life. Or maybe, I would have stuck it for a while, and gone AAAAARRRGGGHHH! the way Penn Jillette did.

    Man, if I go AAAARRRGGGHHH! one day, if I do with with half the gentlemanly reason and courtesy of Mister Jillette, I would be well pleased.

    1. “Has anyone any disagreements with what Penn Jillette said?” — Yes, I don’t think it is at all fair to compare Obama’s church to Sarah Palin’s.

      “His description about the changes in the political term ‘Christian’ seems accurate.” — It is a typical atheist strawman to lump evangelicals and fundamentalists together and pretend they are the only true Christians. It remains a strawman even if the fundamentalists/evangelicals agree.

      “I feel I have a lot more freedom in what I believe and what I say then Penn Jillette is getting.” – No one is suppressing Penn Jillette’s speach. No one has tried to prevent him publishing his book or to give his talks.

      1. Freedom of speech includes the right to publicly disagree. I’m glad Penn feels free to speak out. I just think he’s going too far over the top and risks doing more harm than good by creating divisions rather than coalitions.

        1. “Freedom of speech includes the right to publicly disagree.” — And no one has denied him his right to disagree. While I disagree with Jillette on many things I don’t think he is over the top.  Sam Harris advocating torture, *that’s* over the top. Penn Jillette is pretty calm in comparison.

          1. “Better than awful” is not exactly a strong basis for endorsement. That’s approaching straw man again.

            Of course where “over the top” is depends on how much emotion you’re willing to allow beyond the points actually being discussed. For me, Jillette has overshot far enough that he crashes. Your milage will vary, and that’s fine.

    2. “Has anyone any disagreements with what Penn Jillette said?” — Yes. He says it well and entertainingly, but on several points I think he’s narrowminded, shortsighted, and wrong.

  20. To make it simple; if your god tells you to be a dick, then do your best to convert people via comments. The more dick the better.

    I have friendly conversations with Jehovahs witnesses daily. They’re civil.

    1. My ex-wife always used to send me to the door when the Jehovah’s Witnesses called.
      They were responsible for the death of a young man in the area (they stopped him receiving a life-saving blood transfusion, he was 17)
      I asked one who was stood there with their little girl – “If God told you to tie your daughter to the railways tracks in front of an oncoming train – would you?”
      No hesitation – “Yes”.
      I no longer talk to these animals, no matter how civil they appear.

    1. The talking snake thing is a typical atheist strawman. It is only a tiny group in the very deep South that handle snakes. Secondly, asking why Christians don’t follow Leviticus, like the prohibition to mixing fabrics, displays a profound ignorance of Christianity.

      If one aspires to be thought of as an intellectual one’s first duty is to fairly represent the opposing argument. Penn Jillette is an entertainer.

      1. Penn isn’t talking about Pentacostal Baptist snake handlers.  That’s a mischaracterization.  You should know that.

        He’s talking about the dozens and dozens of people who showed “little or no remorse” and claimed a free pass after killing someone, when they were following their churches’ dogma.

        more here:

        And, Penn is also asking the rhetorical question ‘What’s different between (to use Stefan’s example) tying your daughter to the train tracks, and not untying someone from the train tracks even when it’s safe to do so (er, before the train comes)?’

          1. Hmm, we’ve reached the ‘reply’ limit…

            This is why I’ve (mostly) stopped discussing the finer details of the Bible.  There is a problem discussing fine points in a book that ‘documents’ events which very likely never happened.

            So, I like to cook.  I use black mustard seeds and sesame seeds all the time.  (Interesting factoid: Canada produces 90% of the world’s mustard seeds.)

            I’ve got a black mustard seed and a sesame seed here in front of me as I type this. 

            The black mustard seed is a spherical ball, 2mm in diameter.  Volume: roughly 2.36 mm^3.

            The sesame seed is 3mm long, 1.5mm wide, and .75 thick.  Assuming the seed is a uniform box (which it isn’t), that works out to 3.3 mm^3. 

            Without actually counting how many seeds would fit in a cubic centimeter, I concede the point.

            However, when I’m arguing with Born-again Christians, I usually use poppy seeds as the counter-example for the biblical passage.  

            Last night, I was trying to find out information about how well known poppy seeds were during the period and in that place. 

            I couldn’t find it, so I didn’t mention them.  (I must have been tired, my google-fu is usually quite sharp.)  My mistake.  I should have googled ‘poppy seed’ instead of ‘poppy’.

            Behold, the definitely and very obviously smaller papaver somniferum:

            I’m going to make little bags with black mustard  and poppy seeds in them, and hand them out to Christians fundamentalists to come to my door.

            But really, I don’t believe most (if not all) of what I read in the Bible, any more than what I read in the Odyssey or in Chariot of the Gods.

        1. “Penn isn’t talking about Pentacostal Baptist snake handlers.” — Well I thought he was. I don’t know any other sect that even *might* think snakes can talk. There are no denominations that believe animals can talk and strict Biblical literalists are in fact a minority even among fundamentalists. They believe the Bible is inerrant, not literally true. It is still a strawman to claim them as representative of Christian theology.

          “He’s talking about the dozens and dozens of people….” Sweeping generalization fallacy. That dozens of people believe X says nothing about theism in general. You can no more cherry pick examples of “things some theists do I find reprehensible” as saying anything substantial about theism than I can cherry pick Joseph Stalin as representative of atheism. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

          1. um, it’s a reference to the Genesis story of Satan appearing to Adam and Eve in the guise of a snake, which talks them into disobeying God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

          2. @ Elisabeth Broe – Yes and only atheists and fundamentalists think that describes a literal event. Most people have advanced beyond a third grade Sunday school picture of religion. Even the Greeks didn’t believe in the literal existence of their gods.

          3. Well, hang on.

            I’m not saying all theists and deists are evil.  Neither is Penn, from what I can tell. (Why a snake?  ‘Cuz the snake is the devil in biblical myth, no?  When Penn complained about people saying ‘the snake made me do it’, my first thought was of David Berkowitz and his neighbour’s dog.)

            I’m saying all theists and deists who justify/explain their bad behaviour by invoking religious beliefs/dogma/etc are evil.  Please note: I’m not saying all people who call themselves Christians and justify/explain their bad behaviour by invoking religious beliefs/dogma/etc.  I’m tarring ALL theists and deists with this brush.

            As far as your statement that ”strict Biblical literalists are in fact a minority even among fundamentalists. They believe the Bible is inerrant, not literally true. It is still a strawman to claim them as representative of Christian theology”, I beg to mostly differ. It’s not a straw man in the context we’re discussing.

            There’s no need for Dr. Livingston, I presume-style expeditions into the Deep American South to find them. Literalist fundamental Christians who believe in the inerrant, literal Bible are a dime a dozen and can easily be found, even here in the ‘Roman Catholic’ parts of Canada.

            Even the moderate-ish Evangelical Baptists believe in the literal Bible.  I’ve attended enough Evangelical services to know this as a fact.

            If you’re never done so, you should attend a Pentecostal service.  It’s really an eye-opener. 

            Despite attending Evangelical services once a week for about two years (at the invitations of a friend; I was an atheist at the time who called himself agnostic), I wasn’t prepared for the bat-shit craziness that is a Pentecostal Sunday service.  I can’t imagine what their church services are like when they feel they are the majority, as they might in the Southern USA.

            Remember, Penn lives in Las Vegas. I’d bet that Pentecostal services there would be like a William S. Hunter acid trip.

            No, I don’t believe biblical literalists are representative of Christiandom.  I was raised a Roman Catholic.  Roman Catholics, on the whole, are not literalists.  I’ve had plenty of theological/biblical discussions and arguments with Catholic priests.  Sometimes they closed the arguments with: “Listen, Paul, you can’t believe everything you read in the Bible.”

            In any case, let me repeat myself: Baptists, both Evangelical and Pentecostal, believe, as official church dogma, that the bible is inerrant and literally true.  If a pastor preaches otherwise, he or she will be quickly replaced and/or ‘corrected’ by ‘head office’.

            I’ve attended Baptist services where the subject of the sermon was specifically that every word of the Bible was true/inerrant/literal.  Further, if any error was found, the pastor stated, then ALL of the rest of text was untrue.

            If you want to see a Baptist squirm, quote Matthew 13:31-32, where Jesus said that the mustard seed was “smaller than all other seeds.”  If you point out that, “jeepers, sesame seeds are smaller than mustard seeds and that sesame seeds were very well known in the Middle East of that time”, you will get all sorts of backpedalling, but you’ll never hear “you can’t believe everything you read in the Bible” nor “well, maybe there’s a mistake in the text.”

            (Jeepers, I miss the PWGTs…)

          4. @boingboing-78288c7898fdad99aee06e3b42213c7b:disqus  “I’m saying all theists and deists who justify/explain their bad behaviour by invoking religious beliefs/dogma/etc are evil.”

            But you also justify your own behavior by appealing to beliefs that are no more supported by facts than religious beliefs are. All moral codes are subjective beliefs about how one *ought* to behave. Morality is not a scientific fact.

            I think what you object to is that some have a bad theology that absolves them of personal responsibility in their actions. There are no theologians, not even fundamentalists, who would justify murder because a snake or dog spoke to you.

            “Literalist fundamental Christians who believe in the inerrant, literal Bible are a dime a dozen”

            Your personal anecdote is not evidence. Which is why people do, you know…. science. According to the General Social Survey (GSS) [Davis JA, Smith TW, Marsden PV. 2000. General Social Surveys, 1972–2000:] Respondents could evaluate the statement, “Human beings developed from earlier species of animals,” as Definitely true (14%), Probably true (29%), Probably not true (15%), Definitely not true (33%), Don’t know (9%).

            However of that 33% only 18% were Biblical literalists responding positively to “The Bible is the actual word of God to be take literally”. I doubt it has changed that much since 2000.

            With regard to Pentecostalism. Despite the fact that their services frighten you Pentecostals make up 4.4% of the adult population according to the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 2007. I think I’ll refrain from freaking out just yet.

            With regard to Baptists they make up 12%.

            “sesame seeds are smaller than mustard seeds and that sesame seeds were very well known in the Middle East of that time”

            Jesus was not referring to yellow mustard, he was talking about black mustard seeds or what we call black cumin (Nigella sativa). Which are indeed smaller than sesame seeds.

    2. US law doesn’t allow a plea of _ANY_ deity having told you to do it. You are responsible for your own actions, no matter what they are inspired by, unless you are clinically insane — and even then the community is within its rights to ensure that you are unable to repeat those actions.

      Beware of easy targets. They usually mean you’re aiming at the wrong thing.

  21. Penn spends a lot of time setting up a straw man.  And at the end of the video he all but admits it.  When he shouts “What do you mean when you say you believe the bible literally?”

    I suspect that most bible literalism proclaimers mean:  “I believe the themes found in the bible as I interpret them.  And I believe them all the way up to 11.  And I don’t really know what literal means.”

    Politicians are another story altogether.  In the USA, many, if not all, politicians will do or say whatever they think will get them elected.  Since we all believe that no politician who does not kowtow to religiousity can be elected, all politicians kowtow to religiousity.

  22. I’m going to state up front that this is an ad hominem attack; I find Jillette’s latest selling of himself as an “intellectual” to be hard to be interested in. 

    I tried watching a couple episodes of his Bullshit show but found it was full of the same smoke and mirrors style used in their magic shows now applied to his logic as well. Now he’s jumping on the Atheism circuit trying to market himself the way Hitchens did.  The more the merrier as far as this subject goes, but whenever I hear him argue something (even a topic I agree with him on in principal like this one) I generally feel uncomfortable with his arguments because I know how much he spins his information to make his points. I wouldn’t use him as a direct source for my understanding of any topic because of this. He’s a showman to his core, not an educator.

    Oh, and to further launch myself into the fray like a troll-rocket, to those who admire Rand, Jillette, and Paul — Libertarianism is essentially the right’s version of being an Anarchist (not AntiChrist… read carefully folks). Instead of being multicultural, wearing bandanas over their faces and fighting for social justice, Libertarianism is for white guys who like to wear suits and fight for the right to do whatever the hell they feel like doing at the time. BlAMMMMO!

  23. As a scientist of faith, I can not discern the difference between a religious person professing things he believes to be true, without proof, and an atheist expressing his own religious beliefs about things he believes to be true, without proof.

    Speaking scientifically, an atheist who can not prove that God does not exist, is no different than a religious person who can not prove that God does exist.

    Both are a waste of valuable research time.

    1. “Speaking scientifically, an atheist who can not prove that God does not exist, is no different than a religious person who can not prove that God does exist.”

      If science had to take account of everything that cannot be proved not to be the case, it’d be a rather time-consuming exercise.

      My understanding of atheism is that it holds that all the available evidence indicates that all gods are fictional.

      Those who believe in gods sometimes say that it is their nature that they cannot be proven not to exist, no matter how much evidence is accumulated contradicting positive statements made about them. They just slip into whatever gap remains.

      It’s this type of argument. Santa Claus cannot be found at the North Pole because his house is invisible. He can defy the speed of light to deliver his presents because his sleigh is enchanted. He slips down the chimney through a magical transformation. These are the kinds of excuses one gives to a smart alec 4-year-old. You can’t prove he doesn’t exist. Does that mean it’s as reasonable to conclude that he does exist as that he doesn’t?

      The same holds for gods. There aren’t any positive statements made about gods that hold water in terms of scientifically reliable evidence. No peer reviewed papers to read. But that isn’t enough to prove they don’t exist, one is told. It’s a cop-out, and the believer and disbeliever are by no means on equal footing.

      1. Arguments to evidence require that participants are operating under the same theoretical paradigm in order to be valid. What constitutes evidence to the religious doesn’t necessarily to the atheist and vice-versa. Establishing the superior validity of one theoretical system over another turns out to be a logically unprovable proposition, even within the sphere of the material sciences.

        In order for the evidence that proves relativity as superior to Newtonian mechanics to be accepted, it is necessary first that the assumptions about the fundamental nature of existence that the theory makes to be accepted, otherwise what relativity proffers as evidence of truth simply isn’t. In order to find one to be more true than the other you in fact first have to believe in it.

        When confronted with the evidence for quantum mechanics, a theory wholly incommensurable with the theoretical system of the world presented by relativity, Einstein stated that god does not play dice with the universe. This wasn’t a resort to deism for his refutation but the essential problem in comparing competing beliefs or theories. In order to accept the truth of quantum mechanics it is necessary to accept a probabilistic and not deterministic universe. This is not how relativity works, in other words, the assumptions required for one theory are unacceptable to the other. So one, the other, or both are wrong. And not just in the “incorrect prediction” way of being wrong, but wrong as in “describes wholly different and incompatible universes.” The two theories can’t be directly compared for a logical proof of truth of one or the other, because they quite literally belong to different kinds of existence. To accept one or the other as a true picture of the universe you must first decide if you are willing or not to accept that god plays dice with the universe.

        In between the religious and the atheist, the arguments have the same problem. In order to accept evidence for the theory you first have to believe the fundamental assumptions. So, when you argue to evidence and by extension logical provability, as the basis for belief, you are in fact making a wholly circular argument, because evidence requires theoretical assumptions, or belief, in order to be established as evidence.

        1. Well said. (Both Gordon’s original post and kromelizard’s expansion upon it.)

          If you’re going to appeal to the scientific process, you have to apply it all the way, not selectively.

          (Though I’ve always considered the use of the word “belief” and “faith” rather than “knowledge” significant. If it was falsifiable knowledge, it would be science, not religion — possibly wrong, but still science.)

        2. There are a lot of academics working on quantum gravity who’d disagree with you. Great progress has been made in this field, and there’s no reason to think further progress is impossible.

          Of course agreement as to truth requires agreement as to definitions, but the definition that most people use for “god” can be shared by atheists with no problems. Insofar as the word is given a definition, evidence as to the truth of the definition can be sought. When the word is left undefined, it is meaningless.

          1. And accepting a quantum gravity theory as true will require a further, logically unprovable, alteration in fundamental assumptions. Not to say the decision is irrational, just that it is not one that can be made with any kind of resort to deductive certainty.

            It is not the definition of god that is the gap between the atheist and the theist, but what constitutes acceptable evidence. Different fundamental assumptions lead to a different idea of what constitutes evidence. To the materialist atheist, arguments about observable phenomenon are a sound basis for establishing truth because the materialist atheist implicitly believes that the world of physical things is real. To the subjective idealist, who maintains that only ideas are real and that the perception of a physical reality is nothing more than the idea of sensory experience in the mind, arguments that require acceptance of a physical reality for their truth are simply mistakes.

            Arguments between these two viewpoints about truth cannot resort to any kind of expression of logical certainty, and mostly devolve into arguments at cross purposes, or arguments about first principles or what constitutes evidence or proof of a theory because in a very real way, the participants are speaking different languages to describe different things.

            Arguments about the scientific unprovability of the existence of a supreme deity miss the point, because god is one of the many concepts not within the scope of what science can effectively talk about. Much like science can’t actually prove with logical certainty the existence of material reality or the validity of induction, despite the fact that both are absolutely necessary for the practice of science. If we are to take as necessary for belief in something its scientific provability, then science itself is sitting on some very shaky ground.

          2. “And accepting a quantum gravity theory as true will require a further, logically unprovable, alteration in fundamental assumptions.”

            I don’t know what you mean by “logically unprovable”. Proof as used in logic just means conclusions follow from premises given the rules of the formal system you’re using. Outside of logic, it means that enough evidence is given for people to agree as to truth. In the case of quantum gravity, what’s required is a form of mathematics that has certain characteristics (e.g. being background independent) and thereby can give a quantized description of gravity compatible with quantized descriptions of other forces. This will be logically coherent (“deductive certainty” in other words) like all mathematical proofs, and will agree with observable evidence. I don’t see the problem. There are several promising lines of inquiry.

            “Arguments about the scientific unprovability of the existence of a supreme deity miss the point, because god is one of the many concepts not within the scope of what science can effectively talk about.”

            This is a fairly recent invention, with its origins in Scholasticism, which has evolved in tandem with science to protect the ideas of gods from the growing evidence contradicting their descriptions. Even today, the vast majority of believers still see gods as e.g. influencing the physical world, which is obviously within the purview of science. Defining gods outside the bounds of what normally constitutes evidence means that nothing meaningful can be said about them about which two observers could agree. This leaves them in the realm of mysticism, and conversation ends.

            “Much like science can’t actually prove with logical certainty the existence of material reality or the validity of induction, despite the fact that both are absolutely necessary for the practice of science. If we are to take as necessary for belief in something its scientific provability, then science itself is sitting on some very shaky ground.”

            There’s no “much like” here because we’re talking about two completely different things. The issue you describe is a paradox that results from the fact that language and other forms of logic are formal systems that are used by observers who form part of a broader closed system (the universe). Truth is an attribute that applies to statements made in some form of logic by such observers, who agree or disagree, and doesn’t apply to the logical system as a whole. It’s always probabilistic, relative and occurs in the context of certain purposes of entities that have evolved to manage entropy. That’s the nature of observation.

            But it’s a misunderstanding that science itself needs scientific justification to work. Luckily for us (or we wouldn’t exist), probability flows quite nicely for us, and it’s pretty reliable. Science is always used for something, and it doesn’t need to justify itself beyond giving reliable results.

            It’s also a mistake to think that you can define a concept “god” such that the proposition “god exists” can be true or false, regardless of observation or agreement, somehow due to or in analogy with this inevitable paradox of formal systems used by observers. As a statement within a formal system (English), this falls within the normal procedures for agreeing upon evidence. It’s not possible to get from “formal systems cannot justify themselves using themselves” to “there exist gods, regardless of any evidence”.

            I’d like to hear exactly what your definition of “god” is. We don’t even really know what we’re talking about here. In calling myself an atheist, I am really only interested in the dictionary definition of the term “god”. Your personal, inexpressible mystical experience really can’t be my concern.

      2. “If science had to take account of everything that cannot be proved not to be the case, it’d be a rather time-consuming exercise.”

        No doubt.  But we cannot on principle assert that something as yet unproven by science doesn’t exist – that would require either a pre- cognitive awareness of what science will or won’t prove in the future, or an assurance, that can only be based on faith, that human brains and human science have the capacity to take cognisance of everything that exists.  This issue, however, has no relevance whatsoever to Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, Unicorns, or any other of a myriad of things that science cannot prove not to be the case.  There are no adults, anywhere, who believe in the existence of Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, or Unicorns, and if there were, they would hardly be worth disabusing of their beliefs.  Where the concept of god differs from these other entities, which seem to constitute a good 90% of the contemporary atheists rhetorical toolbox, is in the fact that a large percentage of the world has historically, and continues to this day, to believe in some concept of a god, and this percentage of the world’s population cannot all be dismissed as deficient in understanding and intelligence, and furthermore the concept of god proves an explanatory mechanism, whose power is naturally open to dispute, for certain cosmological mysteries that science has by no means resolved to a degree that would make the idea of some kind of intentional creative entity entirely untenable.  So what I’m saying is, for the love of Blind Chance, could we please get an argument from atheists that doesn’t involve the hoary Godwin’s Law of Ontology, the tired reductio ad absurdum of Santa Clause/the Tooth Fairy/Unicorns?

        1. Atheists such as myself believe that all gods are fictional, so it is the perfect analogy.

          Specific attributes given to the various gods by believers mostly contradict each other. A Muslim might attempt to use the number of Muslims as evidence that Allah exists but Ganesh doesn’t; that would obviously be fallacious.

          Choosing to hold a definite belief in the absence of evidence is obviously a popular thing to do. It’s not for me, though. (My belief that all gods (as conventionally defined — I’m not talking about Michael Jordan even if he is a “god of basketball”) are fictional is based on evidence, like my belief that Santa Claus (as conventionally defined — I’m not talking about an eccentric who changed his name) is fictional.)

  24. “I have tried with friends to say the most blasphemous sentence I can possibly say and it does not come close to the blasphemy of Michelle Bachman saying that earthquakes and hurricanes were the way God was trying to get the attention of politicians.”

    That would make the Bible the world’s most blasphemous book.

  25. Smart? Not batshit crazy? I’ll grant those. But good? They are pandering to an electorate that has a large segment of people who really are batshit crazy. Or to a cluster of religious power structures that uses batshit crazy beliefs to keep the populace in line.

    The true liberation of atheism is that once you realize there is no judgment in the afterlife, you have to decide for yourself if you are going to live for good or evil. The danger to society is that with no afterlife, you only answer to your fellow members of society. And there are enough people in this world who don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone but themselves for this to be a big problem. The dumb ones end up in jail. The smart ones become corporate executives, politicians and other power brokers where they can indulge themselves legally, and rig the game so that it is harder to go after them when they step over the line. 

    So religion serves a political and social purpose: it reduces the number of competitors for power, just like in the middle ages. It also helps provide the illusion that the moral structure of the social contract still exists. And that’s why the politicians pretend to believe this stuff.

    1. You misjudge Mr. Jilette; Ron Paul never gets a mention. 

      And Mr. Paul’s not areligious either – he’s solidly for human rights and hands-off in every area except one: he lets his religion define his politics when it comes to women. In his eyes, the rights of women are sadly handicapped by the rights of the fetus – to him, the potential life of the fetus is somewhat more important than the rights of the fully grown human who’s been biologically conscripted into carrying it.  

      1. It’s a misnomer to call someone “hands off” and for human rights.  He’s “for” things in that he’d possibly like people to act a certain way, but unwilling to have government shape policy to make sure they are.

        Jilette has always leaned right wing, though, outside of his atheism.  He’s been on Glenn Beck’s show shilling for Paul.  Feh.

      2. he’s solidly for human rights and hands-off in every area except one: he lets his religion define his politics when it comes to women.

        He’s a roaring homophobe.

  26. I am shocked… SHOCKED… by all this bickering and fighting during this holiday season over religion.

    A system put together by Gawd hisself can’t possibly cause so much anger, sadness, confusion, hatred, jealousy, retardation and general stank amongst humanity… can it?

  27. Dear Penn, 
    As a former Evangelical turned Level 7 Atheist, I can tell you straight – 
    the “code” you are looking for is called “Cognitive Dissonance.” 

  28. The fact that this discussion has run almost two hundred posts without more than one or two posts touching the central premise that having candidates for president that would place their own religious beliefs into public policy is a *VERY BAD THING* and, instead, has focused on meaningless and inane dribbling about this-or-that version of atheism and/or religion pretty much shows how much damage has been done to society by both sides.

    I’m tired of all of you.

    EDIT – Having now gotten through most of the video, I partially apologize: this video isn’t much about the election at all. But this is still a headache inducing thread.

    1. Depends on what you mean by “their religious beliefs.” Nobody is uninfluenced by their upbringing and personal philosophy. The question is whether they understand that the duties of the office require that they recognize the difference between personal beliefs, societal consensus, and cases where non-consensus beliefs are equally valid and must be respected.

      Which, in fact, has been said earlier in this thread. By myself, among others.

      But, yes, the fact that the video being discussed isn’t much more than a rant has left us without much to discuss except whether the rant is at all reasonable.

    1. As opposed to those countries where they have been using bombs and guns to have the same conversation for years? Where is this Utopia you live in? The Catholics and Protestants in Ireland killing each other? Worse than “Bonkers”. Same with the Jews and the Arabs in various countries of the Middle east, the various sub religions and “ethnicities” in parts of Europe and Africa. I will certainly agree that we have some crazy arguments here in America, but at least the ratio of our arguments using comments on blogs vs. weapons is pretty high. We’re not perfect. So if you are going to make that assertion, please state what country YOU live in and how it’s so much better. Also, are there special circumstance that allow your country to have that moral high ground? I can’t accept your “Bonkers” argument if you live in a country that happens to be ultra-homogeneous when it comes to things like race, skin color, religion, and income level. Easy to all get along when you all believe the same thing, look the same, act the same. 

  29. 80 percent of young unmarried evangelicals are sexually active in the USA, compared to 88 percent of the young unmarried population in the USA as a whole. Yes, Penn, there is a code. There is a difference between the literal words and the real meaning.

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