A resurrection from 2009, prompted by this great piece by Nick Cohen.

Discussion (42)¬

  1. Dennis says:

    To believe requires nothing; to doubt one must understand belief in all its permutations, to the finest grain.

    This inversion of reason is the kind of signal you can expect when dealing with a scam.

  2. Jörg says:

    PZ Myers had a nice blog entry with cartoons on militant atheists two years ago:

  3. LastResort says:

    Author, “great piece”?
    Mr. Cohen’s fluff is meaningless drivel. I have seen far greater depth and intellectual worth in one of our Nasser‘s works or in the advertising copy on a bottle of brown sauce.
    He picked a vague strawman, attacked it for not being Kal-El and Iron Man rolled into one machine hero and called its members cowards. Wow! Such passion, such clarity of thought, such utterly unwarranted crud.
    Mr. Cohen obviously wrote that “great piece” after not being able to influence the course of conversation in a dinner party he went to. He was so disappointed with not being the hero of the event and not having his petty little diatribe applauded as being magnificent oratory that he pouted and spewed his childish whining into the column. In truth, he is a bully who, once beaten, re-enacts the “battle” in his mind but changes the outcome so he wins. “I shooda kicked him *there* then smashed him as he went down then put the boot in …”
    Childish and petulant and not worth bothering with.
    Compared to the commenters here, he is an intellectual lightweight. He is obviously aware of his comparative lack of mental prowess with respect to his dining companions as jealousy for theirs oozes out of every pore of the little man.
    And that is by far more time and effort than he deserves.

    WalterWalcarpit, I answere .. responded to your question in last week’s comic’s comments. The response may help.

  4. forteatwo says:

    I hope Mo is not facing East as he conducts his business. We all know what happens to the common thief in certain parts of the world… same punishment, different body part for this offense.

  5. Nassar+Ben+Houdja says:

    The questions atheists pose
    For some to consider is too much prose
    If belief including atheism cannot be defended
    And discussion is ended
    In a circle the lack of discussion goes.

  6. WalterWalcarpit says:

    A scam. Never thought of it like that.
    I suppose the way some are set up they are arguably seminal pyramid marketing schemes too

  7. LastResort, I don’t know what column by Nick Cohen you read, but inspired by your nasty rant against his writings I rushed off to read him. What the fook are you on about? I see nothing to criticize in Mr. Cohen’s piece, and much to agree with. The term “militant atheist” is a very silly over reaction by the apologists, and pointing this out just seems reasonable to me. Not petty or childish at all.

    You say he picked a vague straw man. Not so. The term “militant atheist” has become part of the Christian right’s lexicon of disparaging terms, as if we are all marching in lock step, goose stepping after professor Dawkins, as if we are all building bombs in our basements and stockpiling assault rifles. To use the term as the opposite of “militant fundamentalist” is absurd. And I for one am sick to death of being told that atheism is a religion, that I need faith to dismiss a belief in supernatural beings, that science is just as unreasonable as Christianity.

    So where did you read the petulance and implied violence of “I shoulda kicked him “there” then and smashed him as he wend down then put the boots in…”? Did I miss a page or two of Mr. Cohen’s writing? Or are you fantasizing mental processes for which there is no evidence at all?

  8. Sinnataggen says:

    But Mo does have a point. This atheist is happy to admit he doesn’t understand their beliefs at all. That is the whole point! Religious terminology (gods’ names, heaven, hell, and all the rest) consists of mere words that signify nothing to me whatsoever, except (sometimes) in terms of other, equally meaningless words and highly unlikely claims. I don’t think atheists should criticise religion as such. You can’t say you doubt or deny the existence of God if you don’t have the slightest inkling of what it is you would be doubting or denying. But cheer up. Admitting you don’t understand what religious people are on about is a perfectly respectable position. Gloofers and plexotians, on the othe hand, are a different matter! Know what I mean?

  9. stevegallacci says:

    to Sinnataggen- Most atheists of my experiance actually come out of religious backgrounds, in fact many are better versed in the nuances of the faith than those in the community they have left, so they have a particularly clear perspective in their critique.

  10. W. Corvi says:

    I think I understand the beliefs of the Catholic Church, for example, pretty well – bread and wine to flesh and blood, etc. But what I’ve noticed is, the fundies don’t really understand geology or biology much at all. So this is ironic to say the least.

  11. smee says:

    Mum was a Sunday School teacher. Thought it was all balls since I was 6 or 7
    Haven’t believed since then! Still love mum though!

  12. be reasonable says:

    Muslims don’t seem to notice that when they face Mecca to pray, thy also have their bums facing the same place, via a great circle, if you’ll excuse the pun.

  13. Sinnataggen says:

    But Mo does have a point. This atheist is happy to admit he doesn’t understand their beliefs at all. That is the whole point! Religious terminology (gods’ names, heaven, hell, and all the rest) consists of mere words that signify nothing to me whatsoever, except (sometimes) in terms of other, equally meaningless words and highly unlikely claims. I don’t think atheists should criticise religion as such. You can’t say you doubt or deny the existence of God if you don’t have the slightest inkling of what it is you would be doubting or denying. But cheer up. Admitting you don’t understand what religious people are on about is a perfectly respectable position. Gloofers and plexotians, on the othe hand, are a different matter! Know what I mean?

    The nice thing about the Cock & Bull is that people actually listen to what others say – well, sometimes. So, I appreciate your comments, Stevegallacci, Corvi, and Smee. However, at the risk of being a bore, I’d like to press my point. We may be familiar with some religious doctrines (I think I could recite the Nicene creed from my choirboy days, if put to it) and most of us are capable of pretending that one thing symbolises another (wine = blood etc), as in a game or a play. But the structures of theistic faiths revolve (by definition) around words like “god” and “soul” which themselves have no inherent meaning. The word “god” is used as the subject of verbs like “love” or “create”, and objects of words like “worship”. Claims are made that he/she/it can do everything (omnipotent) knows everything (omniscient) will never die (immortal) etc. etc. But the words themselves are semantically empty – bereft of meaning. Like the crowd in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, we may be responsive enough to peer pressure to applaud the naked emperor’s fancy clothes. But the God delusion goes beyond that. When other people use the G-word we assume that they must actually know what they are referring to, despite there being no reason to suppose that is the case, or to suppose that any two or more individuals have any way of knowing whether or to what extent whatever notions of deity they may have actually coincide.

  14. Sinnataggen says:

    Sorry I repeated my original point. That really was boring!

  15. Sinnataggen, perhaps the words have different meanings for different people, but there is a universal understanding of the word “God” that atheists are very well aware of, i.e. an existing being with certain qualities that vary from believer to believer. Almost always there is tacked on a belief that this being cares about humans, is somehow involved in our world as either a cause, an orchestrator, or a witness to events, and must be respected and given reverence, or at least appreciated with great awe. I’m perfectly okay with say that this being, whatever shape and qualities he/she/it possesses, does not exist.

    This goes for the most simplistic young earth creationist and the most sophistimicated intellectual apologist. Whatever words they use, and whatever meaning they give those words, I’ve never found one that did not boil down to bollocks and bafflegab. I don’t need to know the specifics. When somebody tells me they believe in God, I’m quite comfortable dismissing the belief, just as I would dismiss a belief in the existence of unicorns without worrying whether they are silver or golden or polka dot, invisible, omnipresent, omnipotent, carnivorous or vegan.

  16. Sinnataggen, put perhaps I’m missing your point somehow. Am I?

  17. LastResort says:

    Darwin Harmless, yes, your are right. I was wrong. I apologise to Mr. Cohen. A lot. Bad morning and even badder evening and I took it out on the nearest soft target. That is so very human and I do strive to be ever so much better than that.
    It was still a fluff piece and lacking in any worth.


    Sinnataggen, I for one do understand religious concepts.
    Once, for some reason, I was asked to meet with a priest and be instructed in the duties and responsibilities of a Roman Catholic. The priest I met with was considerably impressed with my knowledge of his faith, its rituals and rules and his duties. He was also quite taken with my knowledge of non-Catholic religions, “the other lot”, even non-Christian “myths”.
    What he disliked about me was that I put his myths on a level with and in the same class as all of the others – including Satan Claws, the evil cat-daemon and Kal-El. Being an insider of one of the event horizons of faith he could not truly accept my position as being valid. Intellectually, he could see what I was saying but he could never understand me. He thought all I needed was more instruction and I would eventually see the light.
    There was no way he could see out of his bubble, past his event horizon of faith into what I perceived as reality.
    Yet I could see down in it.
    That does *NOT* necessarily make me brighter than that priest, it only means that I stood on a high point and he was in a hole. In this situation I offer no judgements as to who had the better morality or intellect, I was not in his company long enough to form such an opinion, but I do posit that I had the better view.
    And that while I could understand him he could not understand me.
    Of course my viewpoint is skewed.
    As I thought his was.
    In my world I will never know whether I am right. It is impossible for me to as there is nothing after life and during life all we have is imperfect senses filtering the cosmos into less than absolute minds.
    In his world he knew he was right at the time and he was supposed to believe he would learn the truth at some point in the distant future. Whether he really had faith or not is irrelevant to the point under discussion, he was supposed to have it and he was supposed to know that he was right.
    If I am right, neither of us will ever know it. Not for certain. If he is right I am in very deep trouble.
    Either way, I am arrogant enough to assume that I understand his position.
    Even there I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
    Religious stories aren’t very deep, they are merely made intricate and complex to paste over some of the cracks in the logics and to paper over obvious, glaring inconsistencies between the stories and perceived reality.
    I may never be able to recite al the laws of Islam and may not know which rule supersede which other under what circumstances but that is just detail and can be looked up. I do understand the principle, that there are hierarchies of laws, obligations, duties and such.
    I can see the fundamental forms of the religion, even if some of the names elude me.
    And I can see where the flaws are.
    I know enough real physics to live in the world and to have fun. And I know how to make girls laugh.
    What else does a non-militant non-deluded unbeliever need?

  18. LastResort says:

    Darwin Harmless, yes, your are right. ”
    Spot today’s deliberate typo.

  19. LastResort I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having a bad time. I hope the near future is an improvement for you.

  20. Jim Baerg says:

    Last Resort: I googled ‘Satan Claws’ & found some interestingly bizarre stuff, including a YouTube video about how Christmas is Satan worship.

  21. LastResort says:

    Darwin Harmless, “I hope the near future is an improvement for you.”

    That’s only likely if you know someone who’s expert on zombies. Creating, not removing. Removing, I can handle (I have a lovely claw-hammer, I call her “Hammer”) but making one seems, in the really, real world to be one of physics’ more prohibited areas.
    Sometimes, physics sucks. {Note 1}
    When this place was being built there should have been more back-doors. There are in all the fictional universes, surely anything that could build a real one could install a few?
    If they did, humans don’t seem to be smart enough to find them.
    Not yet.



    Really, in physics, there is no such thing as “suck”. It is an illusion caused by high pressure on one side of the tube being equilibrated. It is entropy, nothing more. Random bouncy molecules being more likely by far to bounce into the lower pressure region and increase the pressure there than to further increase the pressure in the high pressure region. It is simple arithmetic in action.
    There are other things that physically don’t exist, shadow, cold, darkness and even centrifugal force. Phantoms all. Though treating cold as a phantom is not easy when you are up to your teeth in the white hell of snow at fifty below and your fingers have frost-bitten to the elbow.
    Strangely, many genesis myths, even that of “Thor II: The Dark World” make the mistake of putting darkness before light. That is completely wrong. The cosmos began hot and saturated with light of every frequency. Light is the primal state of the universe.
    So much for Genesis and the Koran.
    It is true that the first light was invisible due to it being obscured by an absolutely opaque fog of mass and pseudo-mass but that doesn’t matter as there weren’t any opticians around to help us see with it. Darkness only happened three hundred millennia after the beginning of time when the first hydrogen atoms recombined from the plasma.

    “in the beginning there was a plasma full of light of many colours and after many generations of Methuselahns the atoms recombined then there was darkness and it was good for seeing in an ocean if universal light is not possible.”

    Every creation story gets it backwards. And they were written by infallible deities. Which leads to an inevitable conclusion.
    Deities are rather thick.
    Or, back in the real world, those who invent deities were ignorant of the way early physics operated.
    It’s a rather telling point.

  22. LastResort says:

    Note 1: not having an editing facility sucks. Though suck is a phantom.

  23. Chiefy says:

    LastResort, sorry, all I know about zombies I learned from cartoon shows. Can’t help you there. I have made note that the universe does not suck, it blows. It is good to strive for accuracy.

  24. Empiricist says:

    Okay, LastResort, you sufferable pedant. I did once wonder why a sucking motion was called a “blowjob” but I worked that one out a few decades back, based on your “suck is a phantom”.
    Kudos on the apology. Much karma reclaimed.
    Apart from the unfortunate genesis story, how did you enjoy the film?

    On zombies, aren’t they unlawful? Why would you want one? Do you need help cleaning the kitchen or something? Aren’t there cleaning companies where you live? Or do you just miss your favourite dog? If that last, try “Pet Semetary” by Dean Koontz and be careful what you wish for.

    On the subject of the comic, yes, Barmaid, some of us do understand their religions and still dislike them a lot. Indeed, it is because we understand them that we dislike them. You, however, I like a lot and would seriously consider … but you must get offers every night.
    I did work out, a number of issues ago, why J&Mo’ keep returning to the “C&B” even though they are “disrespected” a lot. Free beer and tight tops. For free beers and tight tops, I would definitely accept a few quiet discussions with even a Witness.
    It’s amazing what males will accept for free beers.

  25. Empiricist says:

    Erratum: Stephen King, not Dean Koontz.
    It bothered me so I wickied it.

  26. hotrats says:


    Pedantic Erratum: Wiki’ed, not wickied.

  27. LastResort says:

    hotrats, is that really now a word? And, “picky, picky!”

    Jim Baerg, “Satan Claws” is an obvious pun. I’m surprised it took until the late 20th Century for Hollyweird to use it. There should have been 4th Century Children’s books with him as the main anti-hero.

    be reasonable the Islamists not only don’t seem to notice that they are pointing their bums at their holiest site they haven’t noticed that they are waving them at it while hiding their heads under their bums. That surely is highly disrespectful.
    Nice thinking, kid.

  28. LastResort says:

    And, on the subject of nutcase illogic, we have this gem.
    What really disturbs me is the phrase : “… a spokesman for Police …”. The Police are sadly deluded enough to report magical transformations as real. That is depressing.
    Not that I trust a newspaper’s reporting or anything.

  29. Empiricist says:

    On the subject of souls, perhaps a 2-D image of something is its soul? Of course this idea mandates the cosmos being bounded and having a real boundary onto which data can be written. Neither of which looks likely.

    Meanwhile, I’m glad, LR that you recognise the possibility that the newspaper report is nonsense.

  30. Empiricist says:

    Unngh, where’s the link?

    … Oh, here it is, it was under the sink all the time.

  31. Stonyground says:

    In his book, Atheism the Case Against God, one of the arguments that George H. Smith uses is to point out that if you do a little digging you find that the word “god” is meaningless. He builds quite a solid case for the idea that, when pressed for a working definition of their god, theists are unable to come up with any coherent answer.

  32. JohnM says:

    Another parsimonious explanation (see Empiricist’s comment) for the police action detailed in that “Daily Mash”-worthy newspaper column could be from fear of the complainants. Wouldn’t want to get their goat, as it were.

  33. Empiricist says:

    Stonyground , your George H. Smith sounds like one of those philosophers who spend a creer writing a fifty volume, eighty-thousand page work on whether the naked human teat is an obscene sight.
    Of course any theist can come up with a working definition of “god”: it’s the Big Daddy that created and rules the cosmos and wants us to always wash our bums with one hand and that hand with the other. It’s the sky fairy that makes five sicles equal one obol and decides that the fat of a eunuch lamb isn’t as tasty as that of a lamb with intact bits. It’s the beasty that created teats but hates anyone seeing them. The dumb lump that created a forbdden tree then placed it within easy walking distance of the only two people likely to eat from it and that was too dimwitted to think of adding a fence.
    Anyone can offer a fairly good definition. Only someone stuck in Academia for fifty years would think otherwise.
    Sometimes, it is tempting to agree with Mr. Cohen’s assessment of intellectuals. They are so busy contemplating the fine hairs of the argument that they fail to see the elephant’s foot coming down on them.

    JohnM Perhaps the police spokesman was being capricious and trying not to cause pan-ic. Or maybe after the interview he felt a little sheepish? It might even be that he was excited at being interviewed, like a kid.
    Shall I stop, now? Angorra lot more where those came from. Most of them worse. But all good puns goat to end.

  34. JohnM says:

    @ Empiricist “Shall I stop, now?</i

    No mohair bovine puns, Ibex you. Isard to take.

  35. JohnM says:

    HTML fail. Sorry.

    Author, can you bring back that edit function – pretty please.

  36. LastResort says:

    JohnM, lamby see if I follow ewe. Gnu don’t want me to pig out on puns. You want me to camel the way back to more bear-able stuff. Whale, I can do rat. Hinny thing fur a friend. I’d bee happy to kelp.
    We’re a long way from goats.

  37. Holms says:

    7, 10, 15, 7, 11 – the syllable count for each line of NBH’s latest… thing. Line three especially was a eye-opener.

  38. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    My only problem with the Cohen article is his assertation that the only thing atheists have in common is an inability to believe in God, which suggests that somehow it’s a failing on our part.
    I’d say that we have the ability to see religion for what it is, and an unwillingness to believe without evidence.

  39. LastResort says:

    I don’t know about that, Acolyte, I do find myself utterly unable to believe in something like a fairy, ghost, ghouls, vampire, deity or Zetan. That I am also unwilling is possibly a different aspect of my mind.
    I have sometimes wondered how so many others seem to manage belief so easily when it comes so hard to something like me. I have even considered that I might be broken in some fashion, that I am missing an essential piece.
    If that be so then I’m surely okay in the Pascal’s Wager department as it is not my fault that I am infidel. Or does organic damage not count as an excuse?
    Not that I really care, I’m just curious as to how it works in the canon. It is sort of like wanting to know what tartan Kryptonite does to Krypto, the superdog, and does the exact Clan patterning matter? Is damage that limits your ability to believe a get-out-of-jail-free clause and would it be repaired once you get to the nice dead-guy hotel?
    Is anyone interested enough to ask a priest?
    I might, someday, if I ever encounter one again and if I remember to, both of which are unlikely.


    I wonder what happened to poor Krypto? He’s never in any of the movies and I don’t remember seeing him in the bits of “Smallville” I was too tired to switch channel away from. …………….. several Wiki-hours later ………
    Oh. I had no idea comics had become so … complex.
    Krypto to “The New 52” to “The Killing Joke” and “Women in Refrigerators” (I tell no lie, there really is a website dealing with that trope and it is quite interesting as a study in the sociology of something or other.) and I’ve learned that Krypto may or may not be alive and relatively well. Though the things comic book characters experience should drive them all batshit crazy. Poor doggie needs a hug.

  40. LastResort says:

    If you have a chance, have a look at Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for today, Tuesday, 17/9/2014. Or, even better, Tuesday, *16*/9/2014. The latter date has a higher chance of existing in what passes for the real world outside of my slightly odd brain.
    We live in a truly beautiful part of the cosmos.
    Either that or our eye/brain complex has been evolved to consider our little corner of the universe as “beautiful”.
    Whatever, the previous day’s image of a falling lump of ice is also lovely. And incredible. Humans have a robot eye orbiting a *comet*. That is a stunning achievement.

    And I still want to cuddle poor Krypto. I’m getting maudlin. I must be tired.

  41. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    LastResort, re: Is anyone interested enough to ask a priest?
    Done it. Several times. There appears to be no general consensus either within or between the various sects, so whether or not our souls get to enter the Pearly Gates, roast in Hell, or sit in purgatory seems to depend largely on who you ask and how inventive (s)he is when it comes to answering questions of a theological nature that most emphatically are not covered in their instruction manuals (unless I missed the bit in the O.T. covering the door policy for those with cognitive impairments – my own view on the correlation between religious belief and cognitive impairment notwithstanding!).
    Hardly surprising really, since no two holy rollers can agree on the meaning of what is in their bibles.

  42. LastResort says:

    Interesting, Acolyte.
    Way back in the mists of the dawn of time I read a long book called “Riverworld” which came in several parts. It was fun. The story was that every human who ever lived had been copied and resurrected and placed on a world that was one huge, long river valley. The author had the characters reborn in bodies that were similar to their 25-year-old selves, apart from those who died before that age. Some youngsters were born in younger bodies but the extremely young, say five and under were either not revived or revived on several other worlds. The bodies were similar to the originals at 25 but they had several major differences, all wounds were healed, including mental wounds and things like addictions and all females were reborn as virgins.
    One would imagine that if Science Fiction writer has the sense to include that as part of his basic premise the creators of religions would not have, in all the millennia of committees and debates, missed the point.
    Or maybe SF writers are just better story-tellers? And all-around smarter?
    Yerp, I’d accept that one.


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