Friday, December 31, 2010

The War on Christmas Continues Redux

Continuing my War on Christmas.

"You are twisting my point completely into one that suits you."

OK, let's dissect your point to see what it was.

"I've just about had enough of the minimization of Christmas."

Christmas is not being minimized any more than any holiday. Please note all the Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and Christmas candy (not to mention nativities) available at this time of year. There is no special law preventing Christians from displaying any of these things on their own property.

"Political correctness, coupled with bitter, angry atheists, have all but destroyed any remnants of the reason for celebrating this holiday, and I am at an unprofessional boiling point." "If you want to be an atheist go right ahead, though I've not known many that aren't angry and unhappy 80% of the time, but it is certainly your right." "Try to enjoy life next year and be a little less bitter and hateful."

I am an atheist. I am not bitter or hateful. I am angry. Anger is a good thing when your rights are being threatened. You yourself seem just as angry as I am. It's not preventing us from having a discussion. If you've only met unhappy/angry atheists, maybe you should meet more of them.

"Does anyone really believe our nation is better off without the true meaning of Christmas allowed in public places?"

This is a rhetorical question. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are saying that you believe it is obvious that the nation would be better off with the Jesus allowed in public places. But there are 2 different kinds of public places. If you own a shop, that business is a public place. You can decorate it as you see fit. You may choose to decorate it with a 24' tall glow-in-the-dark crucifix. Uncle Sam won't say a word. People of other religions may not frequent your store as much, especially if you only stock Christmas merchandise when they are looking for Kwanzaa candles. But it is your choice. The other kind of public place is a government institution. Thanks to our founding fathers (especially Jefferson and the Baptists), our government is not allowed to show favoritism for any religion. So, either the walls of public institutions should be covered with whatever anyone calls a religious belief all year round (remember there are other holidays that aren't in December), or they should not. Personally, I'm in favor of a clean look, but if you'd prefer a mish-mashed hodge-podge of thousands of kinds of religious kitsch, that's a valid point of view. I'll be ready with my "Don't Worry, There's No God" sign.

"It is already an over-commercialized financially crippling mess."

It doesn't have to be. You are allowed to celebrate it in any way you wish. You could forego decorations and costly gifts, instead opting to have a quiet ceremony of religious significance. And everyone else is allowed to continue celebrating as they wish.

"We have created numerous fairy tales to detract from the true meaning."

Yes, the Christians have over the years adopted many non-Jesus related traditions. Pardon the rest of us if we find Santa more palatable than indoctrinating our children into your specific religion.

"As insane as this sounds, in today's politically correct United States it is more acceptable to talk about this made up farce of a holiday [Kwanzaa] in your public schools than it is to speak of Jesus' birth."

Kwanzaa is a non-religious celebration. Discussing it does not violate church-state separation. Young people are allowed to speak of Jesus birth. Teachers in positions of authority are not allowed to abuse that power to privilege their religious beliefs.

"Anything which could offend anyone (minus Christians, of course) is shunned as intolerant. No Christmas trees, manger scenes, wise men, Jesus, or anything of the sort. It's as though there really exists a PC Grinch, who has ridden down the mountain and stolen our Christian symbols of the holiday. Unfortunately, his heart does not appear to be growing three sizes any day soon."

This is vague enough, I'm not sure what you're asserting. If you're just dramatizing your earlier claims that Christians are being persecuted, see above.

"If you do not believe in this than simply don't celebrate the holiday, but don't attempt to create other distractions and fictional celebrations to overshadow and minimize CHRISTmas."

Atheists have not created distractions. The Christian 3/4 of the population loves Santa. They love buying overpriced gifts for their children. The commercialization is all you guys. Stop buying and the stores will stop selling. As for Kwanzaa, it isn't on Christmas. It is in December. Even if it was on December 25th, as you've said, other people have the right to celebrate as they see fit. Your assertion that Kwanzaa celebrations somehow distract you from Christmas is a non-sequitur.

"To all those who claim to be offended by someone saying "Merry Christmas" to them....lighten up!! ride that sled back down the mountain and we'll let you carve the roast beast!! Merry Christmas!!!"

I don't think anyone is claiming to be offended when someone says "Merry Christmas". I think our case is that government should not prioritize "Merry Christmas" over "Blessed Yom Kippur", "Happy Solstice", etc. As to coming down the mountain and carving the roast beast, what I'm hearing is "this whole thing would be fixed if you'd just convert". Sorry if that's not what you meant. Maybe you just need to work on effective communication (if so many people are misunderstanding you).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The War on Christmas Continues

Ronald Williams shared this post on his blog. I wasn't sure if he would approve my comment, so I figured I would leave a copy here (for posterity).


We're not offended by your nonexistent deity.

We're offended by you insisting that your religion should get special treatment. We're offended by boycotts from bigots like you aimed at stores that try to include everyone by saying "Happy Holidays". We're offended by sanctimonious jerks who threaten violence against others for a cheerful greeting. We're offended by you equating us with the Grinch because we'd rather not have our children forced to celebrate your holiday at school.

I don't get bent out of shape when the new Twilight move is released either. But Twilight fans aren't making up a phony War-On-Twilight, when I fail to mention Edward and Bella for 2 months out of the year.

Training Children

Should people have the right to raise their children however they see fit?

Scenaria 1:
Denise is a psychologist. Having heard about Wiesel's kitten experiments, she decides to try some of them on her child. She covers one of the child's eyes with an eyepatch, preventing that eye from "learning" to see. Her child grows up and is killed in a car accident (16) due to her poor depth perception.

Scenario 2:
Kathy is an anti-abortion activist. Having been inspired by Paul Hill, she decides to teach her child from an early age to emulate him. She explains that it is every good person's duty to shoot abortion doctors. Her child grows up (16), kills an abortion doctor, and is sentenced to death.

Scenario 3:
Paullette is a Jehovah's witness. She teaches her child that blood transfusions are an abomination unto the Lord. Her child grows up (16), is injured in a car accident, and dies after refusing a transfusion.

It's my view that these parents are responsible for the deaths of their children. It's one thing to say that everyone has to be responsible for their own actions. But when the person you were supposed to be able to trust most gives you false information (or impairs your ability to perceive the world around you), and you take actions based on this information, it's hard to see how you could have done things better. When you have been raised in a situation of extreme psychotic religious abuse, is there any way to break free?

So, my focus here is on prevention. The three children might not have died had they been protected from their parents. And the only plausible protection that can be given to these kids is from the government.

Now, I know what you're thinking (maybe). The government... aren't they the bad guys? Shouldn't the government stay out of families? What's to keep this from being like Big Brother in 1984?

Well, that's kind of a backward view. A human stranded on a desert island doesn't need government. But a group of any size really does. Government is our human way of keeping our lives running smoothly, of smoothing out interaction with other people. The government is us (yes, I know there are dictatorships where the government is one guy) making and enforcing the rules of the game of human interaction. When the police lock up a serial killer, that's us (the government) keeping ourselves safe. When child labor, slavery, segregation, and unpaid overtime are outlawed, that's us deciding what we won't tolerate in our society. When women and minorities were guaranteed the vote, that was us deciding that they are included in us.

Government is already involved in families. When CPS takes an abused girl away from her harmful environment, the government did it. When an unwanted child goes to foster care and is adopted by caring parents, the government did it. The government says you can't mistreat your child or force them to work in coal mines. The government also says you can't abuse your spouse, or have more than one.

I don't have any specific laws that I'm promoting here. All I'm saying is that brainwashing children is harmful to them, and that the only tool we have to prevent it is government.


I am a Philosophical Naturalist. Given what I have seen of the world:

There is no reason to assume the existence of anything supernatural. While there may continue to be unexplained phenomena for as long as the human race exists, every phenomena we ever have found an evidence-based explanation for has turned out to be natural. If it turns out that psychic powers exist (still waiting for that evidence), they will turn out to be a natural phenomena. In fact, the universe is defined* to be everything that exists. If there are fairies or leprechauns, they have to exist in the universe. They will turn out to be just as natural as the celestial realm of the stars.

This is a slightly different position than many scientists take. For scientists, the position is Methodological Naturalism. It's more like this:

All we can detect is the natural world. If something is supernatural, we cannot know anything about it. It is not measurable, and therefore cannot be used as an explanation for things that are.

It's a great start. It's what let great thinkers like Newton become scientists. You can be religious and still be a scientist. You just have to check your supernatural explanations at the door. Supernatural explanations can't explain real phenomena. Which is why Newton came up with a natural explanation for the falling apple, rather than saying "Angels make the apple move".

But Methodological Naturalism falls short. If only the natural world is detectable, why believe in the supernatural at all? Something that exists, but doesn't in any way affect the natural world is indistinguishable from nonexistant.

*Universe: "the aggregate of all existing matter, energy, and space" - if we find something that isn't matter, energy, or space, we'll have to update the definition to include it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I am a Philosophical Realist. If there is one thing that I take on faith it is this:

There exists a world external to my mind. My senses perceive it, and they are my only link to this real, external world. The various things in this world do not depend on my mind for any of their attributes. If I did not exist, the world would remain. So, to any properly phrased question, there is one right answer. There may be many wrong answers.

* Is Aaron Deemer a male homo sapiens currently located on the third planet in the solar system?
* Does an atom of Cadmium have 48 protons?
* Are there any planets orbiting Sirius?

Notice, I am not saying that I (or any other human) know the answer to every question, just that an answer exists. Cadmium still had 48 protons 1 bya (billion years ago).

I guess, in a way, this is my practical definition of truth. A statement is true when it describes reality, false when it does not. Those that disagree, I don't see that we have much to argue about. You can argue Solipsism (the idea that only you are real) all you want, but it's not practical to live by it. No one ever gets out of the Matrix by disbelieving in it. When it comes to practical matters like not stepping in front of traffic, you agree with me (unless a ghost is reading this).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Political Game Time!

I've been meaning to try a new version of Monopoly. Here are the rules changes I propose. The goal is to give Monopoly some new options for the little guy, and fit a little more with reality. Of course, my ultimate goal is to make it more fun than the real game.

1. Players start with $100 (with one exception; see rule X).

2. When landing on an unowned property, a player may Go To Work. The player earns 10% of the property's value per turn while at work, but forgoes his die roll. After 3 turns, the player must either purchase the property or move on.

3. Player's may invest their money in the bank. A player may set money aside in an investment. Each turn they earn 5% of the investment's value. The invested money is still subject to tax, and may only be removed after taxes are calculated for the "year".

4. Voting
 Pick an unused piece of your choice (like the iron). It takes a turn like any other player, but has no money or interaction with the other elements of the game. It can roll again after doubles. It cannot go to jail. The game starts with a flat tax. When the iron passes Go, players pay their income tax, and may then vote on income tax.

5. Player's may vote to institute one of 4 tax systems:
 a. No Tax
 b. $100 Tax (a flat bill of $100 per player)
 c. Flat Tax (10% per player)
 d. Progressive Tax (10*log(current wealth)% per player)

6. Welfare Check.
When taxes are paid, the money is counted and 50% of it is redistributed amongst the players evenly, rounding down.

6. If the bank runs out of money, the economy collapses. Each player pays the purchase price of all their property, houses and hotels to bail out the bank.

7. Players may use money to influence the game.
 a. $100 - Ad Campaign. Player may buy an extra temporary vote. This can be done any number of times.
 b. $500 - Smear Tactics. Put the brothel marker on target property. Houses and hotels cannot be built there, until the owner pays $600 to debunk the claim (or evict the prostitutes).
 c. $1000 - Eminent Domain. Player may force another player to sell a property to them at its face value.

8. At the end of the game, the winning player writes down his total liquid assets. He passes those on to the player of his choice (himself included) the next time the game is played.

9. At the beginning of the game, players may vote on the estate tax. This tax will be applied at the beginning of the next game to the winner's wealth. Players may vote for 1 of 4 estate tax plans. This vote may not be influenced by Ad Campaigns.
 a. No Tax
 b. $500 Tax (a flat bill of $500)
 c. Flat Tax (10%)
 d. Progressive Tax (10*log(current wealth)%)
50% of this taxed wealth is evenly redistributed amongst all players.

Immediately I can see some problems with these ideas. After the first game, the rich guy will have a consistent advantage. He will almost certainly be paying a Progressive Estate Tax of ~$4000, but will have in the neighborhood of $6-10k at the beginning of the game. With $5k invested, he will have an income of $250. He will be able to easily win elections by buying votes, setting the Income Tax to $100 (which hurts the other players a lot). He will be able to purchase every property he lands on, while the other players will need to make there way around to the high value red-blue properties and get to work. Depending on luck, they may make a few hundred, before they pass go, gaining another $200. They will then spend the next few turns purchasing crappy low-level properties. Any attempts to assemble a property group will be stymied by Eminent Domain. Once the rich guy has a property group, he will start picking off players (as in traditional Monopoly).

If the vote for Income Tax were immune to Ad Campaigns, we might have a better game. The rich guy would end up paying ~$4k per "year", and the other players would be getting a stipend of ~$500 per "year". This isn't enough to keep the game going forever, but it does give the other players some abilities to influence the game. Between all of them, they will be able to purchase enough properties to make it very difficult for the rich guy to eminent domain them all out of monopolies. He will either end up facing some enemies with property groups, or he will spend all his money on Eminent Domain.

I know this is a little off topic for this blog, but all this political research I've been doing lately has got me thinking of a lot of things from a progressive standpoint. Any thoughts? Suggestions?

Conservatives & Cutting Government Spending

This issue's been percolating for awhile. Bear with me.

I work for the government. I have for the last 5 years. I put in a 40 hour week, and I go home to my wife. I'm in IT, so I put up with a fair amount of crap, too.

A fellow IT professional, who is a conservative, thinks that we government workers are being painted poorly in public opinion. I can see what she means. Occassionally my mother brings up my overly cushy job, jibing me about my benefits. In 2010, Bakersfield passed measure D, reducing pension benefits for police and firefighters. When the Tea Party rails against government spending, one of the things they are railing about is my salary.

So, I see what my coworker means. People are out for blood. They need someone to blame in a time of economic crisis. Government workers have good jobs with good benefits. Let's take that away. The difference in my opinion is: I don't see this as a unique thing for government pensions. Let me explain.

My coworker is a conservative government IT pro. She is against wasteful school spending, corporate bailouts, and welfare checks, but doesn't see why we should take away her benefits.

My mother is a conservative corporate office manager. She is against government pensions, wasteful school spending, and welfare checks, but doesn't see why we should take away the money her company needs to stay afloat. (This is a random guess. As previous posts show, my mother will not discuss religion or politics with me)

My sister is a conservative elementary school teacher. She is against government pensions, corporate bailouts, and welfare checks, but doesn't see why we should take away funding for schools.

My mother-in-law is a conservative senior widow taking care of her disabled mother. She is against government pensions, wasteful school spending, and corporate bailouts, but she doesn't see why we should take away her stipend to care for her aged, dying mother.

See, everyone's against the government spending money on other people. When the government spends money on a project that doesn't help you directly, there is a tendency to see that as your money paying for someone else's welfare. But when it comes to your programs, it's a lot easier to see the benefits.

Oh and I forgot about the fifth person in our hypothetical. He's a billionaire CEO. He's against all 4 of these programs (even the bailout; if the company goes under, he still gets paid), because he doesn't want everyone else taking his tax dollars. He earned them fair and square by being born into a wealthy family, using his money and family connections to get into expensive schools, joining elite fraternities with other billionaires, and being offered the CEO job by a frat brother. If everyone else wants money so much, why don't they just work for it?

And the thing about conservative economic policies is that they don't just stop with the other guy. You can start by denying welfare to "lazy" widows, purging "extravagant" retirement plans, and placing restrictions on "greedy" labor unions, but eventually the slope leads to removing that "cushy" 40 hour work week, and cutting those "restrictive" child-labor laws. Eventually, your program will be on the chopping block. Unless you're the billionaire CEO, in which case... carry on, good sir.
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
    - Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Case for Christ

A friend and I are having an evidence-based discussion about Christianity. I've challenged him to provide evidence. I'll be updating this post for awhile to compile all the information in outline format. I'll create a followup linking to this post when we're done.

I. Claim: Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived.
 A. The New Testament (NT) says this is so
 A. Claim: The NT is a credible source.
  1. There are lots of copies of pieces of the NT from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th century AD.
  2. The gospels of the NT were written 35-65 years after the alleged events happened.
  3. The gospels were not contemporary, they are at best marginally corroborative, only one of them is possibly independent (Mark), and all of them are from biased writers.
 B. Evidence #2
 C. Evidence #3
II. Claim: Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Romans.
 A. The New Testament (NT) says this is so
 A. Claim: The NT is a credible source.
 B. Evidence #5
 C. Evidence #6
III. Claim: Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected after 3 days.
 A. The New Testament (NT) says this is so
 A. Claim: The NT is a credible source.
 B. Evidence #8
 C. Evidence #9

Don't Ask; Tell If You Want

So after 17 years, despite McCain's whining, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is finally being repealed.

A woman I work with has an interesting take on issues of gay rights. She thinks that gay people should have the right to be gay and even to be in long-term monogamous relationships. She just doesn't think that it's something that she should have to explain to her children. She would be uncomfortable if a gay pride parade went through Bakersfield because then she would have to tell her children what "gay" means. She doesn't think gay people should be able to marry, but that they should have domestic partnerships. The word "marriage" is only for straight couples. It belongs to the religious (she's catholic), and if gay people change what the word means, she'll have to explain it to her children. She doesn't have any problem with gay couples, as long as they keep it to themselves.

I strongly disagree with this view. She has the right to be a bigot (just to be clear, she's a very nice woman, just bigotted on this issue). She even (in our society) has the right to shelter her children from all outsiders and train them to be bigots. She can homeschool her children, only taking them out to go to church, where they will continue to hear nothing of gayness, except maybe to denounce it as a sin. What she does not have the right to do, is have her beliefs enshrined into law and inflicted on everyone else. She doesn't have the right to create a double standard where gay people have to keep it to themselves, but nobody else does. When a gay couple kisses in public, they have not shoved-it-in-your-face anymore than a straight couple doing the same. When a gay man mentions that he has to hurry home, because he has a romantic evening planned with his husband, he has not done anything wrong. If you are offended by this behavior, you are the one that needs to change.

43 years ago, anti-miscegenation laws were making biracial marriages illegal in some states. Imagine replacing "gay" with "biracial" in the above paragraphs. How well do you think those views would go over? "I don't have any problem with biracial couples as long as they keep it to themselves." "Marriage is for racially pure couples."

When I was at my mother's the other day, someone (either my wife or I) mentioned that our minor daughter is growing to be so beautiful, she sometimes gets mistaken for 20. My sister commented on what a shame that was.

Now, I know what she meant. My family is very conservative. If a young girl is beautiful, they do not think she should be proud and show off her body. Above all, they do not think that young people should have anything to do with sexuality. They believe that here should be a concrete wall between youth and anything sexual.

I also know that my wife has dealt with serious emotional issues from being told similar things when she was a child. So I figured I should call this out and see if she could rationally explain why it is that being young and beautiful and looking adult were such horrible things for my daughter. I asked what she meant. And she said she didn't mean anything and tried to drop it. My mother tried to rescue her by saying that "there are a lot of predators out there" and that they were only concerned for her welfare.

I've been trying to puzzle out the connection between the gay rights thing and this incident with my family. I think I've finally got it. They both rest on unspoken assumptions.

"When they kiss in public, or want to serve the military openly, gay people are doing something wrong and straight people are not." You can't get there without one more piece, an unspoken assumption. The unspoken assumption: gay people are different, and what they are doing is wrong in the first place.

"When a young girl is beautiful and adult-looking, it is unfortunate." The unspoken assumption: she's going to get raped, or she will have lots of evil consensual sex as a direct result of being beautiful; if she didn't hide her beauty, it will be her fault when these things happen.

The biggest problem is that these views aren't challenged. When religious conservatives say these sorts of things amongst each other, they are reinforced. They can pass these things off as true. They don't need to state the assumption, because they all know it's true. When they say them in the public arena they need to hear the other side, and they need to be prepared to defend their views. And they need to state the unspoken assumption out loud. Because the unspoken assumption is the weak link. The unspoken assumption is the part that makes them sound like a bigot to the moderates. There's a reason it's unspoken.

Civil Rights and the Echo Chamber

This weekend, I was trying to engage my mother and sister in polite conversation about current events (politics). I brought up Rand Paul, the senator-elect from Kentucky. I figured they might not have heard about his stance on civil rights. I had listened to an interview with him recently. The discussion had been focusing on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended segregation in the south.

For those of you that haven't heard, Rand Paul's position is that no one should discriminate against anyone, that the government should not legally be allowed to discriminate against anyone, but that business owners should have that right. To be clear, Rand Paul thinks that WalMart should have the legal right to hang up a "No Blacks Served" sign. Listening to him, he's not going to say those words on camera. It would be political suicide. When he's asked a question like that, he repeats "I am against discrimination. And I believe that the government should not be involved in any institutional discrimination."

This seemed like such a far right (almost crazy) position that even my family would not support it. Sadly I never got to find out. My mother's been on this kick lately to limit discussions about issues on which we might disagree. Since I'm an atheist Democrat and she's a fundamentalist christian Republican, this covers quite a lot. She mentioned something about how I'm entitled to my opinions, though she thinks many of them are wrong. So I dropped the subject and we spent the meal discussing how tasty the food was (prime rib, mmm).

Flash forward to this morning. On the radio, NPR was discussing the Ugandan "Kill the Gays" Bill. A member of the Ugandan parliament, David Bahati, has authored a bill that will make it a capital crime to be gay. If it is passed into law, people who engage in homosexual touching will be sentenced to life in prison, while repeat offenders will be executed. There are additional provisions in the bill for prison time for those that talk about homosexuality or who know a gay person and don't turn them in.

The connection for me is what I've heard Bahati say in interviews. Here's an excerpt:

"We know that homosexuality is a human right here (in the US) in Uganda, but also we need to appreciate it is not a human right across the world, and certainly in Uganda, we don't take it as a human right. And as we debate this issue, it is important that we do tolerate one another, listen to one another, understand the background of one another, and respect one another. And the background that I come from is that 95% of population does not support homosexuality. We believe that man was created to marry a woman, and that's the purpose for which God created us, the purpose of procreation, and that's the higher purpose that we believe in."

What I hear from Bahati and my mother*: You're entitled to your opinion that homosexuals should have human rights, but I think you're wrong. You won't convince me that this is not the case. I've been instructed by my religious indoctrination to ignore anything you say that might call this into question. You just need to leave me alone. I have a right to be sheltered from public opinion or the pain I am causing those harmed by my political views. Let's tolerate one another, at least those of us who are straight or white or male. You must tolerate (not speak out against) my intolerance (harmful, divisive legislative action).

My mother wants to live in an echo chamber. She doesn't want to have disagreements with people. She doesn't want to hear conflicting points of view. I hate to Godwin, but if you were a Nazi, and all you listened to was Nazi propaganda, how would you find out if you were wrong?

*I don't know what my mother's position is on this particular issue.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I love my wife, but if I wasn't already married, I'd totally be proposing to Rachel Maddow right now.
Just kidding, sweetie pie.

Damn, I googled it and apparently she's a lesbian. Foiled again!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Protestant Misogyny

This article which I found on a friend's facebook page is a puree of mysoginy and desparate longing for the good old days when men were men, women were pregnant and children followed their father's orders.

The long and short of it is that in a Swiss study they found that children are more likely to follow their father's religion than mother's. The author then proceeds to wax lyrical about how this validates biblical values (men as head of everything) and undermines feminism (and female ministers).

My favorite bit?

"The absentee father, whoever’s “fault” the divorce was and however faithful he might be to his church, is unlikely to spend the brief permitted weekend “quality” time with his child in church. A young lad in my congregation had to choose between his loyalty to the faith and spending Sunday with Dad, now 40 miles away, fishing or playing soccer. Some choice for a lad of eleven: earthly father versus heavenly Father, with all the crossed ties of love and loyalties that choice involves. With that agonizing maturity forced on children by our “failures,” he reasoned that his heavenly Father would understand his absence better than his dad."

Obviously, the boy would have been better with invisible Daddy than with real Daddy.

The Devil Did It!

Fundamentalist Protestantism has this great safety mechanism for shutting down lines of questioning that might lead people to realize how inconsistent and impossible it is. If a good reason to disbelieve is found, or if solid "evidence" for God is shown to be not-so-solid, you can always pull out that old scapegoat, the Devil.

Why does God hurt good people? The Devil did it!
Why are there so many religions that are similar in so many ways to Christianity (I'm looking at you, Mithras)? The Devil did it!
Why is it that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to not believe in God? The Devil did it!
How have scientists found so much evidence for evolution, the origins of life, and big bang cosmology? The Devil did it!

See, the bible is full of admonitions to beware false prophets, antichrists and the deceiver (Satan). Problem is, how do you know which ones are true and which are false? Some Protestants go so far as to say that Satan is running the world. That mainstream media and secular government are both under his thrall. In that case, everything in the world is a carefully orchestrated conspiracy with one super powerful spirit being running the show (a being that can possess people's minds and show them things that aren't there). So, how can you trust anything?

They usually stop at outsiders, though. When someone from another religion says something they dislike, or when a new law is passed that disagrees with a tenet of their religion, that's when the Devil is responsible. But take it to the logical conclusion. If this conspiracy exists, your friends at church could be demons in disguise. Your pastor could be gleefully leading you down the road to hell. Your spouse could be a succubus, sent to tempt you. The bible (and all books) could have been written by the Devil himself.

But the Devil is just a psychological trick. He's designed to be just powerful enough that he can be blamed for anything that isn't part of the status quo. Whoever you are, your teacher is the right one. Any that disagree are all minions of the devil.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comparing the Resurrection Accounts

I don't think it's been established that the gospel accounts are eyewitness testimony. Most of the historical research I've read seems to indicate that they were written decades after the fact by anonymous sources.

But even if you did accept the idea that they were written by contemporaries, all you end up with then is the idea that these four authors have no idea what really happened. They don't know who was there, who they met, where the stone was, or if there was a bloody great earthquake.

I'm working on exacting a confession from a friend of mine that these four accounts contradict each other in very clear ways. You cannot say that any two of them are true, unless you use a new-agey version of "true" that he has been loath to admit.

So are they all "true" in some artistic/poetic sense? Or are they clearly contradictory and therefore at least three of them are fabrications? Which is it?

Matthew 28
1 Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it.
3 His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4 and for fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men.
5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified.
6 He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples, He is risen from the dead; and lo, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word.
9 And behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.
10 Then saith Jesus unto them, Fear not: go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

Who: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
Earthquake?: Yes
Stone: Rolled away before their eyes
Angel(s): 1 (sitting on the stone outside)

Mark 16
1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen.
3 And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?
4 and looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great.
5 And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him!
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.

Who: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
Earthquake?: No
Stone: Rolled away before they arrive
Angel(s): 1 (disguised as a young man sitting inside the tomb)

Luke 24
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came unto the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared.
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 And it came to pass, while they were perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel:
5 and as they were affrighted and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
7 saying that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
8 And they remembered his words,
9 and returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest.
10 Now they were Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James: and the other women with them told these things unto the apostles.

Who: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James
Earthquake?: No
Stone: Rolled away before they arrive
Angel(s): 2 (disguised as a two men standing)

John 20
1 Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb.
2 She runneth therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.
3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.
4 And they ran both together: and the other disciple outran Peter, and came first to the tomb;
5 and stooping and looking in, he seeth the linen cloths lying; yet entered he not in.
6 Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beholdeth the linen cloths lying,
7 and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.
9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
10 So the disciples went away again unto their own home.
11 But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;
12 and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher.
17 Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and that he had said these things unto her.

Who: Mary Magdalene (plus Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved)
Earthquake?: No
Stone: Rolled away before they arrive
Angel(s): 2 (sitting inside the tomb; plus Jesus in disguise outside)

The Personal God

The omnipotent God that literalist Protestants believe in has another problem. You can't have a personal relationship with him.

Our range of emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, regret) comes from changes in our circumstances. We feel anger when someone opposes us, regret when we see that our actions had unintended consequences, sadness when things don't go our way, and happiness when they do. But an omnipotent God could not undergo any of these changes. He'd be static.

As humans, we take for granted that things are always changing. For an omnipotent entity, change would be a contradiction, not a given.

In an old issue of God-Man, God-Man is speeding to rescue Mary May, when he hears her exclaim "God-Man is an outdated Western myth!" So he decides not to rescue her. But if he was really omnipotent, he would have known that she didn't believe in him and wouldn't have been on his way to rescue her. He wouldn't have been upset or surprised that she didn't believe in him because he would already know that.

What Omnipotence Really Means

I've noticed a funny thing amongst the literalist Protestants I know. They don't really know what omnipotence means.

Imagine the Protestant God. He's created all the angels, and then one of them rebels against him (his favorite one, too). The angel changes his name from Lucifer to Satan and goes on a rampage, making a nuisance of himself throughout all of time and space. When something bad happens: a disease or a typhoon, Satan's to blame.

Except that he's not. See omnipotence means power without limits. If you want something to happen, it does. If you don't, it doesn't. So nothing would be capable of doing anything against an omnipotent God's will. Anything that happens, God wanted to happen. God caused it all. Gives a whole new meaning to "thy will be done."

God caused Lucifer to fall. God caused Adam and Eve to sin. God caused disease, famine and hurricane. There is no one else to blame if there is an omnipotent God in the mix.

For those that are following along, this means you have no free will. Protestants will often take the stance that evil exists in the world because of free will; that God is letting humans make choices for themselves. That's a cute idea, but it is logically contradictory with an omnipotent God. If his will can't be gainsaid, then your will means nothing. If you rob a bank, it's because it matches his will. If he chose otherwise, you couldn't do it.

For bonus points, imagine two omnipotent entities duking it out. Who wins? The rules of logic do! And the rules of logic say that they can't both exist. It's like that old paradox "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" The answer is that if an unstoppable force exists, there are no immovable objects, and vice versa.

Omnipotence even opposes itself, unfortunately. Try this out: can God become non-omnipotent?

At time T1, God is omnipotent. He knows all and nothing can oppose his will.
At time T2, God will soon lay down his omnipotence. He will cease to know all and things will be able to oppose his will.
At time T3, God is no longer omnipotent. He has ceased to know all and things are able to oppose his will.

Except, T1-God knows things that will happen at T3, and can affect them. Nothing can oppose T1-God's will, not even things at T3. So, even if T3-God were a nonomnipotent entity, T1-God is still in charge. T1-God has not lost anything.

Oh, and please note, we humans are used to opposing ourselves. When we are on a diet, we avoid buying fatty foods to prevent our future self from pigging out on them. As students, if we need to study or do homework, we might go to the library to prevent our future self from being too distracted to get the job done.

But as an omnipotent being, God can't oppose himself. If T1-God and T2-God wanted different things, we'd have the unstoppable-immovable paradox. So God can't change his mind at T2 to decide to lay down his omnipotence. T1-God already planned to become T2-God and T3-God.

So there are two logical problems, with just a single omnipotent being. God can't become non-omnipotent, and God can't change his mind.

Those Poor Midianites

A friend sent me this article on why killing the Midianites was OK.

"As for the boys they would have died anyway because there would be no one to look after them. Given the option of a slow death from hunger and thirst, clearly God chose the merciful option of a quick death. All the cattle had been taken as booty. Had he allowed them to live among the Israelites they would take revenge later when they became men. If you're going to do the job do it right. The Moabites would probably have used the boys for child sacrifice (by fire) as was their practice."

Either this apologist does not understand the concept of omnipotence, or he doesn't think God has that quality. I can think of several solutions that an omnipotent deity would have the power to effect.
  • Teleport the Midianites to an earth-like planet in another galaxy, sending angels to care for them till they are older.
  • Soften the Midianite boys' hearts (like he did to Pharoah, but backwards) so they wouldn't take revenge.
  • Send his son thousands of years earlier, bringing the message of salvation to the Midianites before they became a problem.
Also, I'm not sure if it was his intent, but the author seems to be under the impression that the Midianites sacrifice all of their male children (by fire). Where do baby Midianites come from?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gay Marriage Outrage: Women Aren't Continuously Pregnant!

All the news on the gay marriage hearings has got me pretty ticked off.

The people making the case for a secular reason to forbid gay marriage seem to be putting a lot of their eggs in the basket of "protecting child-bearing within procreative marriage". They claim that the only reason to have the institution of marriage is to foster male-female unions that will take care of biological children. So gay marriages are not legal because they produce no children or adopted children that are not supported by a procreative marriage.

Here is the list of other things that this group should logically be against:
  • Marriages of convenience between people that aren't sleeping together (no children)
  • Marriages where one of the participants is infertile (no children)
  • Marriages between people that don't want to have children (no children)
  • Marriages that aren't annulled after menopause and children's majority (no children)
  • Celebrity-length marriages lasting a matter of weeks or months (children not properly supported by a procreative marriage)
  • Divorce (children not properly supported by a procreative marriage)
  • Single parents (children not properly supported by a procreative marriage)
  • Adopted parents (children not properly supported by a procreative marriage)
I'm looking forward to seeing how their campaign against the rest of these societal norms will go. Oh wait, there won't be a campaign for any of these others, because homosexuality is the only one of these things that their Bible specifically says is bad.

The other side of their argument seems to be historical. Historically, marriage has always been between one man and one woman. Why change things?

Of course, historically, marriage has been between one man and one woman of the same ethnic background, professing the same religious beliefs. Well, wait... that's not quite right. Historically, marriage has been an exchange of property (one woman) between one man (father) and one man (husband). I sure am glad the religious are protecting us all from the depravity of two people making a lifelong commitment to one another (sometimes with the intent of providing a stable and nurturing family environment for children). Maybe next they can take us back to the days of miscegenation laws.

How do you know that?

Imagine for a moment a combination lock with 100, 1-digit numbers. There are 10^100 different possible combinations. You enter a combination at random. Is it right or wrong?

It's probably wrong. In fact, the chance that it is the correct one are vanishingly small. There are so many more ways to be wrong than to be right.

Now let's try it again. Same combination lock, only this time, you have the instruction manual which says the default combination is all zeros. You know this lock is brand new and has not been changed. You enter the all zero combination. Is it right or wrong?

It's probably right.

What changed? You had some evidence that showed that one of the 10^100 combinations was much more likely than all the others. It's still not certain (factories do make mistakes).

Now imagine that in both cases you entered a combination, proudly announcing it to an observer before opening the lock. The observer asks, "How do you know that?"

In scenario 1, you don't have a good answer. There's no reason to suspect that you have the right answer. You might make up a reason. You might say that you have the manual when in fact you do not. But if they follow this up by asking to see the manual, you can't provide it. More importantly, even if it turns out that you have chosen the right combination and the lock opens, you still got there with wrong methods that will most likely not work next time.

In scenario 2, however, you have a fine answer. You can show the observer the manual and explain your chain of reasoning. If you are in the same situation later, you can follow a similar process. And even if it turns out that the lock does not open, you used correct methods that will most likely work next time.

When making decisions, always follow the evidence. Because, like this thought experiment, we live in a world where there are far more wrong answers than right. And no amount of lies or faith will turn a wrong answer right.

"Who Lives and Who Dies"

I hadn't yet seen such a concise layperson-friendly summary of the climate change issue. Thanks Darryl Cunningham.

On Pain and Death

A Protestant friend asked a couple of questions today. I thought they'd make great blog fodder.

"What do you think is the atheist or agnostic explanation for the existence of pain?" (cleaned up a little, the original had an ambiguous wording)

If you're asking how an atheist explains the existence of pain, we tend to prefer the scientific explanation. Pain is an evolved response that makes organisms avoid bodily harm. If you didn't feel pain, you would not take action to avoid bodily harm. Imagine a group of organisms. Some feel pain, others do not. The ones with pain will survive and reproduce more successfully. The no-pain organisms will accidentally injure themselves, sometimes fatally. Eventually the no-pain organisms will die out. Only the organisms with pain will be left.

"What happens when one dies?"

What happens to a candle flame when it is blown out? What happens to a wind-up toy that has wound down? Nothing.

There is an idea that some people hold called dualism. Dualism is the idea that humans consist of two (dual) things. One is physical matter (your body and brain) and energy (electromagnetic). The other is not (soul). The problem from a scientific perspective is that we have no way to detect the soul. There is no evidence that it exists. What we do have is an increasingly great understanding of the complexity of the human brain and how it works. We know that when this area over here lights up, you will feel happy. When that area over there lights up, you will feel angry. We even know that when a particular area of the brain is damaged, the thing it used to do, no longer gets done. When the decision-making area is injured, people can't make decisions, when the speech area is injured, people can't speak, etc.

Now it is still possible (though there's no evidence for it) that some sort of soul is out there, reaching out and touching particular areas of the brain to make them do their thing. But if so, isn't it interesting that it is restricted to only one type of matter (brain tissue; don't get me started on bogus claims of telekinesis). More importantly, it is restricted to one particular lump of brain tissue (my brain). If souls were a little less picky, my soul could control your brain (don't get me started on bogus claims of ESP and mesmerism). Wouldn't that be chaotic? Most importantly, it can't be detected. I'm sure that some dualists will jump in here and say that maybe someday we'll be able to detect the soul. They may be right. But in the mean time, we have no reason to expect that it exists. We have no more reason to believe the soul exists than that L. Ron Hubbard's Thetans do.

When I was younger I always wondered what would happen to my step-dad when he died. He started life as a normal healthy man. But he wasn't particularly religious. Then his brain was injured. Now he's kind of simple (like a big kid). He's become a devout Christian. When he dies, which one of those people is he? Does he go to heaven as he is, or does he get restored and possibly go to hell? Those are all inconvenient questions for a 14 year old to think about. They are the sort of questions that dualism brings up.

But now, I am not a dualist. I am a monist (just matter). Monism is supported by the evidence. I AM my body and my brain. If they are damaged, my self* is damaged. When they have stopped working, there will be no me, any more than a candle flame will continue to exist after the candle is blown out.

* Technically, I don't think my "self" is the particles that comprise the matter in my brain. My "self" is the pattern of the particles that comprise the matter in my brain. The pattern is what stores all my memories, thoughts, feelings, and personality. Yes, the pattern is always changing. Yes, this means I am always changing. Check the blog title. I believe in truth in advertising.

Growing up Protestant

I wasn't sure where I was going with this one. It ended up being a rambling post about memories from my Protestant childhood.

Here in Bakersfield, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a fundamentalist Christian. When the dust bowl drove through the Great Plains in the 1930s, dispossessed farmers fled the bible belt along Route 66 to California. A great number of them settled in the San Joaquin Valley and now it's like we have our very own mini-bible belt.

It was for this reason that, born and raised in the nearby small town of Shafter, I never encountered anyone that didn't believe in the god of the Bible. Christian was just what you were. More revealingly, we didn't differentiate between Protestant and Catholic. We were Christian, and they were Catholic. Later in life, I met some Catholics. When I mentioned to my mother and sister that they were Protestant, I would get these polite uncomprehending looks and questions along the lines of "what's that?"

During my teenage years, one of my mother's priorities was that I make sure to only date Christians. And even that wasn't good enough. They needed to be True Christians (TM). Anyone can pretend to be a Christian on Easter. But a True Christian (TM) would proudly proclaim the miracle of Jesus to the checkout girl at the grocery store.

After my parents divorce, when my father decided to start seeing women again, I remember my sister's furious reaction when he brought someone home. I remember waking up to hear my 13-year-old little sister pounding on my father's bedroom door, shouting "there are children in this house!" I'm sure we all find it upsetting to imagine our parents being with each other, let alone some stranger. But this was more than run of the mill ick-factor. She was upset because her delicate child ears had heard two people engaging in premarital relations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Estate Tax - Punishing the Rich for their Success

My mother-in-law said something this weekend that really made me sit up and take notice. We were discussing the tax deal that President Obama and the Republicans had brokered. I think it's awful that Obama has to give the Republicans the tax cuts for the rich that they're after, but it's a political compromise. If everyone were happy with it, it wouldn't be a compromise.

My mother-in-law mentioned the estate tax and how she feels that it's wrong for them to tax the dying more like that. I mentioned that it was only going to affect the very rich, that the estates of most Americans wouldn't be affected. She responded that it's basically theft and that small businesses would be hurt by it. She claims that she's in support of the tea-party. That the government can't keep spending the way it does, but then she's in support of tax cuts for millionaires.

Is it just me or is there something wrong with ordinary people when they start worrying about the tax situations of multi-millionaires. Does it really count as a small business when you're worth $5 million?

Right now, the estate tax exempts the first $1 million and has a top rate of 55%. The currently proposed change would exempt the first $5 million and have a top rate of 35%. This will increase the deficit by hundreds of billions over the next 10 years.

When she says things like this, I hear parroting of conservative ideals. "Don't punish the rich for their success." "The poor need to work harder." "If I ever got rich, I wouldn't want to be taxed more." But the thing is, the rich already get the advantages of wealth. The rich own the businesses, the second homes, the yachts. The rich have the opportunity to invest in their retirement and hire the best doctors when their kids are sick. The rich live in the safest neighborhoods, and their kids go to the best schools. Asking that some of that wealth go back into the public coffers after they die doesn't seem like the worst punishment I can think of. It seems like a way to balance the system, so that all the wealth doesn't keep pooling in fewer and fewer individuals. And an estate tax seems like an especially good place to do that. That way we're not actually "punishing" the person that did the work. We're reclaiming the money from the rich guy's ex-wife's shiftless son from her second marriage.

Low and middle income Republicans make my head ache. It's like they think that the rich deserve wealth and happiness more than they do. They've had these notions of fairness and the free market drilled into their heads for so long that they forget the most important detail. The free market isn't fair. Give me a world in which everyone comes from identical cloning pods, receives the same educational, and monetary opportunities, and has the same physiology and psychology and then I'll endorse the idea that those who work hardest should get the most rewards. In the meanwhile, we have people being incubated in mothers that think that one more shot of heroine is more important than their embryo's development. We have children being educated in run down schools with out of date texts, until they have to drop out because their family needs them to go to work picking grapes. We have people who've been saddled with every health problem imaginable and on top of it a healthy dose of mental problems exacerbated by childhood emotional abuse. Tell me that some rich kid from Beverly Hills deserves more than one of them simply because of where, when and to whom they were born and you've lost my vote.

The funniest thing about this whole story is that my mother-in-law is a mooch on the state. She receives federal aid and medical coverage for herself, her aging mother and her grandkids. If she wants to cut government spending and get the government away from the purse strings of the rich, I'm sure that the Republicans will help her with that. Somehow, I don't think she'll really be happy with the results.

A Case for Strong Atheism

For those of you that don't know, atheism is the lack of belief in gods. I am an atheist. This position is sometimes clarified as "weak atheism" to differentiate it from "strong atheism". "Strong atheism" is the belief that there are no gods. Take a moment if you need it to see the difference between those two statements.

Now take a journey with me on a different (but converging) train of thought. I believe in the existence of tables (a flat surface, held off the floor often by means of four vertical legs). I really do. When I see a table, I include its existence in my set of relevant sensory data. When I need to set something down, I often choose to use a table, and they never let me down by not existing. You might say I am a "tableist".

Santa Claus, on the other hand, is something in which I do not believe. I even take it a step further. I actively disbelieve in Santa. Because not only do I have no evidence of his existence, his existence actually contradicts many things that I know about the world in which I live. In order for Santa to exist, many of the laws of physics need to be able to take temporary vacations on Christmas. Additionally, there needs to be a huge conspiracy. If you're a parent (like me), you know where the presents come from. So in order for Santa to be real, you have to be willing to believe that your memory has been altered every year, with false memories planted by Santa's elves. This is all ludicrous, and so I would describe myself as a "strong aSantaist"*. Note: That's aSantaist, not Satanist.

Here is where the trains converge. When it comes to Christianity, the god that it claims exists is similarly problematic. In order for it exist, many of the laws of physics are just guidelines. Additionally, there is a huge conspiracy in which prayers are being answered all the time, but always in such a way that they can never be detected using science and statistics. This god is either intensely camera-shy or nonexistent. When speaking of the god of Christianity, I am a "strong atheist".

Humorously enough, I am a "strong atheist" for most of the gods that people posit. There are too many logical problems with any sort of omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, yet-somehow-still-personal god that most people believe in.

This leaves only a couple of leftover possibilities. One is the deist's god. The deist's god is usually described in such a way as to be virtually indetectible. He exists outside the universe and doesn't interfere in it. He also is not a person in any way that we would recognize. I can't be a "strong atheist" on this one, because it doesn't contradict any observations about the world in which I live. I am willing to posit that something like that might exist. But since I don't have (and never could have) any evidence for it, my position is "weak atheism". If it turned out it did exist, so what? In what way would the universe where such a god does exist differ from one in which he does not.

The other possibility is the pantheist's god. The pantheist's god is the universe. Everything that exists somehow makes up a being that created itself. Like the deist's god, it is not a person. And once again, no evidence for this idea, so "weak atheism" is my response. And once again, so what if it were true? What would (or could) you do differently if you were one of the miniscule unknowing components of a universe-god-being? In fact, it seems like a silly way to change the name of the universe from "universe" to "god".

So I guess what I'm saying is that generally, I'd have to admit to being a "weak atheist". I've seen no evidence for any supernatural beings, but there are some that wouldn't leave any evidence, so I just don't believe in those. As for those that contradict the evidence, I'm a "strong atheist" all the way.

* Please keep in mind that "strong aSantaist" does not mean dogmatic aSantaist. I'd be perfectly willing to start believing in Santa once I get that evidence. Only sadly, since Santa contradicts what we know of physics as well as our own personal observations, it's going to take a load of evidence to be convincing. Seeing Santa in a dream, not good enough. Speaking to Santa in person, I've probably gone crazy. Having Santa appear to everyone in the world at once (displaying his awesome powers), now we're talking. At that point, I for one would be welcoming our new elvish overlords.