Podcast #258 – Live at DragonCon 2016

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Podcast #257 – Is Intelligent Design Dead (or Just Regrouping)?

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Podcast #256 – Matthew O’Neil (After Life)

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Desert Resurrection

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Podcast #255 – Is Kaine Able?

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Podcast #254 – Pence and Insensibility

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Podcast #253 – Baby Fingers, Baby Christian

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Podcast #252 – Frank Lambert (Separation of Church and State)

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Thoughts on the Orlando Massacre

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  1. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said (among many other things) that this incident was “ chewable viagra soft tabs something that we never imagined and is unimaginable.”

Really? Unimaginable? Perhaps Mayor Dyer is simply in shock; perhaps he was speaking with little preparation; perhaps he didn’t think too closely about the exact meaning of the word “unimaginable.” But, in 2016 America the MOST IMAGINABLE THING POSSIBLE is that mass shootings can and do occur in any place at any time. Mass shootings (let’s define as at least three dead per incident) have been commonplace in America for decades. They occur in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, universities, nightclubs, churches and private homes. There is one gun for every man, woman and child in America. But there is virtually no social or political will to reduce the number of available guns, to regulate the types and capacities of guns, or to increase the legally required training or restrictions for those who wish to own them. Given this constellation of facts, how can anyone say that gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular are surprising, shocking, unpredictable or unimaginable? (If there is any silver lining in this dark cloud, it’s that overall gun violence in America is actually down, although mass shootings are way up. In any case, there’s no excuse not to increase our efforts to reduce the numbers of deaths from this most preventable of causes. )

Also, it’s a safe bet to assume, even before the facts are in, that Omar Mateen obtained all his weapons and ammunition through legal means, rendering meaningless and absurd any declarations by the National Rifle Association about laws and regulations serving only to disarm the “good guys” and empower the “bad guys.” [Update: Turns out Mateen was a professional security guard, licensed to carry, who did purchase his weapons through legal means.]

2. Omar Mateen’s father issued a statement expressing sympathy for his son’s victims, denying that the family had any knowledge of his plans, and declaring that the shooting “ http://www.gish.com/plus.php?med=best-buy-for-viagra best buy for viagra had nothing to do with religion.” But he noted that his son “got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.”

I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that this attack had EVERYTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION. In America, 99% of objection to gay rights (not to speak of objection to gay existence) is fueled by religion, mostly Christianity but also by Islam. Sure, it’s possible Omar Mateen was grossed out by the sight of two men kissing one another, but is it possible that he engineered the worst mass shooting in US history simply because he got the heebie jeebies? No, it’s another safe bet to assume that will we discover that Mateen had somehow been radicalized and plotted his attack in solidarity with ISIS or some other Muslim extremist group. (ISIS has reportedly called on the pious to commit terrorist acts during the “holy” month of Ramadan.) I will be surprised and shocked (if I may use those terms) if we discover his motivation was garden variety mental illness, mere revulsion or even jealousy. [Update: Mateen called 911 during his attack and stated his allegiance to ISIS. Further information reveals that he had a history of making disturbing statements relating to Islam, and was twice investigated by authorities, who for some reason decided he posed no threat. It also appears Mateen had–at the very least–anger management issues, so mental illness cannot be ruled out as a major contributing factor to his crime.] The only thing that suprises me more about this whole situation, frankly, is that a similar atrocity hasn’t already been perpetrated by some overzealous Christian.

To sum up, nothing about this incident should come as a surprise to any of us. We should also not be surprised when (especially during this contentious election year) nothing is done to try to prevent, or even attenuate, such things from happening in the future. Americans will continue to embrace guns for the forseeable future, and as a result will have to continue to deal with the consequences.

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Answering Dennis Prager’s “Two Questions for Atheists”

Someone pointed me toward conservative commentator and radio host Dennis Prager’s recent essay “Two Questions for Atheists.” I thought it might be interested to actually answer them. I’ll wait for you to go read his article.

Back so soon?

Mr. Prager has posed a couple of interesting questions, albeit ones that are overly broad and clearly designed to give the interrogator all kinds of maneuvering room regardless of the response. It’s a silly debate tactic rather than a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. Frankly, it offers more of a window into Mr. Prager’s mindset than any real challenge to atheist belief.

Nonetheless, let’s take a stab at his questions.

***

  1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?

Well, I hope I misread those last Powerball numbers, so maybe I should take another look. Also, I’m hoping I’m right to shift my support to Hillary now that Bernie’s chances at the nomination are essentially zero, but… Oh. That’s not what you meant? Perhaps you should be a bit clearer. Right or wrong about God? (If so, which God?) About my atheism? About what, exactly?

If you’re asking do I hope I’m right or wrong about disbelieving in the God of the Old Testament, the New Testament and/or the Quran, well, I hope I’m right. Such a vengeful, petty, cruel, capricious and nonsensical God would have tragic consequences indeed: the vast majority of humanity condemned to eternal torture while a tiny minority of fanatics live in bliss for eternity. And for what purpose? An omnipotent God could easily grant all his creatures Paradise–and without the need to die, while He’s at it. Maybe you should wish for a better God.

It would also be a shame if such manifestly self-contradictory holy books as the Bible and the Quran actually described reality. It would make a mockery of the knowledge and progress humanity has made over the last 6,000 two million years. Anyway, as far as the God of the Abrahamic religions is concerned, I think I’m on pretty solid ground in saying that His existence can be easily dismissed on lack of evidence for and on preponderance of evidence against.

As for any of the other infinitely possible gods that have not yet been described, I can’t say if I hope I’m right or wrong, since I don’t know whether they are cruel or kind gods, logical or illogical gods, gods who offer a pleasant afterlife, or gods who make the nightmares of Lovecraft look like the Teletubbies. I hope I’m wrong about any potential bad gods and right about any potential good gods, but either way I withhold judgment until I have had an opportunity to weigh all the evidence. Right now the simplest explanation for the available facts is that there is no God (of any sort), there is no afterlife, and you make your own meaning for your life where you can. As far as the implication that a universe without your God is not worth living… the consequences of the truth offer no support for the truth. If it turns out that a godless universe is just a nihilistic hellscape, then that’s the way it is. (I don’t agree, but let’s just say.) It doesn’t make the God of the Bible real, and it doesn’t make it right to believe in Him.

2. Do you ever doubt your atheism? 

Again, if you mean my atheism toward any described version of the Abrahamic God, no. Not in a very long time. (And I don’t count as “doubt” the occasional emotional twinge in wishing I could live forever, or longing to see a deceased loved one, etc. Emotional states do not dictate reality.)

As far as a “universal atheism”–that is, a disbelief in any potential god or gods for whom evidence might be found in the future–show me the evidence. Then we’ll talk about doubt.

***

Okay, maybe those questions aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped they’d be. I’m sure Mr. Prager has gotten plenty of feedback on this, and if he reads the responses maybe he’ll learn that life is worth living, and living well, even without the promise of eternal bliss or the threat of eternal damnation. He’ll also learn that being an atheist is just one tiny aspect of a rational, science-minded, humanistic existence.

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