Thursday, October 13, 2011

Send an Atheist to Seminary

I am often told that the only reason that I am an Atheist is because I shield myself from the religious side and follow science with blind faith. Obviously, these claims are baseless as none of these people (to my knowledge) have installed cameras or computer logging software to track my actions, but it occurred to me recently that this might actually be a testable claim (a rare event indeed amongst the religious crowd). Therefore, I have created this 'Send an Atheist to Seminary' campaign in order to carry this claim through a real-world test: I am ready and willing to attend a full Seminary 'education' in order to expose myself to 'the other side'. If I come out of it a Christian, then I will preach the Word of God until my dying day. I will renounce Atheism and anti-theism and will publicly debate any Atheist who is willing to do so.

There is a bit of a catch, however - I have a family, so not only do I need the funds to attend the Seminary (and all of the other costs associated with it), but my current income would necessarily need to be covered as well. Don't worry, it really isn't much.

It is my understanding that there might be one or two congregations in this country that have a little bit of excess disposable income, so I ask that all of you theists plead with your council, or elders or whatever, to donate funds towards this endeavor.

And remember, if I go through Seminary and come out an Atheist, then you've lost nothing, right? The money is going right back to a religious organization, and the rest is feeding a needy family (mine). If I come out a Christian, then you've successfully converted an Atheist and proven your claim about 'exposure to the right things'. It might even make the news (probably Fox News, but that's all right with me), which would be absolutely HUGE for you guys!

You don't have to worry about me taking the money and running. I see no reason why the money couldn't be paid directly to the Seminary school. Also, the income for my family can be withheld until it is confirmed that I have begun my seminary training. There are plenty of reasonable safeguards that can (and should) be implemented in order to make sure that I fulfill my end of the bargain.

In my opinion, the best way of determining which Seminary I will attend would be to actually bring this idea to as many of them as possible, and find out if any would be interested in entertaining the proposition. It would be completely reasonable for any religious organization to disallow me from entry, so it makes sense to me to actually start out with a list of schools which are willing to participate. Along the same lines, if any Seminary organization would like to sponsor this challenge, they might get some good publicity out of it.

So here is my question: Will anyone take me up on my offer?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Upcoming Project: "Evidence That Demands A Verdict" review

As a result of an online debate with a wonderful fellow (whom I happen to have once had as a pastor, in fact), I will be reading Josh McDowell's best-selling book "Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith".  I will be taking liberal notes, and upon completion I will create and upload a YouTube video review of the book.  Also, just in case anyone cares, I will be purchasing this book rather than borrowing it from one of my many Christian family members (who very likely would be more than happy to provide one), mainly because I'm probably going to take notes in the sidebar.  To maintain my own personal philosophy, I will be purchasing the book at a 'Half-Price Books' or other used book store to ensure little or no royalties will go toward encouraging this sort of behavior (heh).

For his part, my counterpart will be reading "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan, and making a similar review afterward (which I will be more than happy to link to).  We have set an estimated 60-day deadline.

If I come across anything interesting enough, I may post random updates here or on YouTube (or both).

If anyone else would like to join me in reading this book, or if you have read it and have some interesting points to make, please feel free to leave comments here :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Podcast Shout-Out!

So I know we're behind on Podcast #3, but we're going to try to have to recorded in the next week or so.

In other news, I wanted to give some shout-outs to some podcasts that I have subscribed to and that I think are awesome - you should too.

The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast - http://hppodcraft.com/
Each episode, these guys go over one of Lovecraft's stories with selections being read by professional actors.  The podcast is very well-made, the audio quality is superb, and the content is really entertaining.  I was only vaguely familiar with Lovecraft's work before finding this podcast, and I find that it actually appeals to me greatly.  Also, the music and sound effects that they use really add to the ambiance of the story.  Check out their podcast!

Living After Faith - http://livingafterfaith.blogspot.com/
Rich Lyons is a former Pentacostal preacher who discusses his experiences in leaving religion and his life now as an out Atheist.  He also appears on Ask an Atheist regularly, and his voice is a genuine pleasure to listen to.  Moreover, he discusses topics that many people struggle with, but few people actually discuss openly.

Godless Bitches - http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/godless-bitches/id457955142
The ladies of the Atheist Community of Austin have started a separate podcast where they talk about feminism, LGBT issues, women skeptics, etc.  It's an awesome podcast that I highly recommend for anyone!

The Non-Prophets Internet Radio Show - http://www.nonprophetsradio.com/
I've been listening to the Non-Prophets ever since I discovered The Atheist Experience, and each show is entertaining and educational.  Topics generally covered are the same as on the show (religion, atheism, church/state separation, etc.) but they do not take live callers, and the format is much more relaxed and explicit.

Happy Jack's RPG Podcast - http://www.happyjacks.org/
If you play tabletop RPGs, or even if you don't but enjoy the 'gamer culture', this podcast is for you.  The folks at Happy Jack's are hilarious, well-spoken, and have some great ideas and tips on gaming, GMing, and beer.  Oh, and the Happy Jack's crew also has a band called the Poxy Boggards and they feature their music in the podcast regularly.  Good stuff!

Fear the Boot - http://www.feartheboot.com/
Fear the Boot is RPG/Gaming podcast that focuses heavily on helping GMs and players, as well as interesting stories and discussions.  They also happen to put on a gaming convention in St. Charles, Missouri every year called Fear the Con.  Great podcast!

Other notable podcasts worth listening to:

Kicked in the Dicebags! - http://kickedinthedicebags.libsyn.com/
Postcards from the Dungeon - http://pftdcast.com/

Anyway, if you come across an awesome podcast, drop a comment here and let us know!

- Chris

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mysterious Mysteries: Belief in the Unknown

"You can't solve a mystery with another mystery." - Matt Dillahunty, The Atheist Experience


I see it time and time again, when theists get backed into a corner, they often resort to a 'Mysterious Ways' argument, or they appeal to 'The Unknown' to account for their unreasonable beliefs.  It's weak, but they use it anyway.

This is, of course, not acceptable in the slightest.  If mankind has no actual knowledge about something, why choose to believe the most plausible-sounding lie?

For starters, many people are indoctrinated from a very young age to accept authority for authority's sake; but I think that the problem is much deeper than this.  It seems like we want to find answers, but for some reason many of us don't care whether or not those answers are correct.  When you watch or listen to a few debates/arguments between theists and atheists, you find very quickly that 'I don't know' is an unacceptable answer to most theists.  These same theists often claim that science 'thinks it knows everything', when the reality is that an 'I don't know' answer is the launching point of all of Science.  We don't know everything, but we wish to learn as much as we possibly can, and accepting an answer without justification is a hindrance to this process.

Furthermore, this kind of thinking tends to lead to a 'God of the Gaps' mindset where you essentially train yourself to stick your God (or whatever superstitious belief you may hold) wherever we have a 'gap' in our knowledge - for instance:  "We don't know what happened before The Big Bang, therefore God did it".  Of course, the obvious problem with this kind of nonsense is that you can just do this:  "We don't know what happened before The Big Bang, therefore Hercules did it."  Some people even take it further in order to attack science:  "Science can't explain love, therefore God did it", which suffers from the same problem as before (as well as a new one - science actually does a great job at explaining love, but that's another issue).  Oddly enough, these attacks on science are usually given in response to the question "What reason do you have to believe that God exists?" which makes the whole thing a complete non sequitur.

What do you think?  Why do we worship mystery so much?  What mechanism can we use to shift people's mindset to seeking truth instead?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Advocating Reality Podcast - Episode #2 with co-host Lonny!

Hey everyone, we've finally got Episode #2 finished up!  I think that it turned out well, and we definitely learned a great deal in the process.  Please comment and let us know what you like, what you don't like, etc.

Advocating Reality Podcast #2 - Evidence-Based Thinking

Thanks!

Edit:  I've created an MP3 version of the podcast, I don't want to use the Blogger video module any more.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Self-Education in the Age of the Internet

My friend Wayne made a post on his Facebook Wall earlier today:

Everyone should dedicate one hour to education per day. Yea, go do something useful.

Now, I actually do this already.  I am always looking for documentaries, lectures, debates and whatnot in order to further my understanding of science and of the world in general.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is something that everyone should do.  I realize that many people have little free time in their lives, but I say do it anyway.  Learning is the absolute best use of your time, in my opinion, and it has innumerable benefits.

For one thing, learning will challenge your preconceptions.  I can't count how many times I have watched Lawrence Krauss' lecture 'A Universe From Nothing', because it completely changed my perspective on how the Universe actually works.  This has happened to me on a number of occasions, on such topics as cosmology, biology, chemistry, and physics.

Another measurable benefit from daily learning is inspiration.  When you learn more about the world, you expand your imagination to include the new information.  Richard Dawkins once talked about wanting to write a novel based on the idea that a species of human previously thought extinct is found living in seclusion somewhere, and to talk about the differences between the cultures and whatnot.  This (brilliant, I might add) idea could really only have come from a basic understanding of biology and genetics.

Keep in mind that learning does not have to involve a scientific lecture or a documentary.  I also happen to enjoy watching tutorials, how-to's, reviews and the like, particularly with regards to my various hobbies.  For instance, I'm a loud-and-proud Vaper, meaning that I am attempting to quit smoking with the use of a Personal Vaporizer, also known as an Electronic Cigarette.  To help keep me educated on the various devices, accessories, and e-liquids available, I watch a great deal of reviews and how-to videos, as well as the occasional episode of VapeTV.

I'm also interested in miniature wargaming, so I tend to watch unboxing videos, reviews, painting tutorials, battle reports, and industry news for that particular hobby.  Any time I watch a painting tutorial, for instance, I learn something new or I get an idea for one of my projects.

Below I've included a list of some of the sources that I use or have found for self-education.  Where do you go for your daily learning needs?  I would love to hear your opinions :)


Science / Religion:
http://talkorigins.org/ - Evolution and Religion
Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism - AronRa's YouTube Series
'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence Krauss - Cosmology and Big Bang Theory
'Growing Up in the Universe' by Richard Dawkins - Series of lectures accessible to children and adults alike
'Cosmos' by Carl Sagan - Television series on lots of difference sciences

Monday, March 21, 2011

One-on-One with Brian Dalton, a.k.a. Mr. Deity

Brian Dalton is the producer/director/main character of the popular web show 'Mr. Deity', a series of web shorts (usually 5 minutes or so) consisting of thought-provoking and hilarious glimpses into the satirical day-to-day life of Elohim, the God of the Bible. Common themes include the origins of good and evil and explanations of why things are 'the way things are'. Visit http://mrdeity.com/ for episodes, swag, and more! If you enjoy the series, the cast and crew would be eternally grateful for donations/subscriptions, which can be done through the above site.

This is my interview with Brian Dalton in its entirety.  I hope that you enjoy it, and please feel free to comment below!

Chris:  Mr. Deity is a unique show as far as I can tell, there isn't anything else quite like it. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea to make a comedy/satire show about 'God’?


Brian:  The initial idea was simply a script I’d written for myself — a musing after the Asian tsunami which wiped out some 250,000 people. As a former theist, I couldn’t any longer imagine a justification for the kind of suffering caused by this “Act of God.” Clearly, there was already enough gratuitous suffering in the world without earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc… This is problematic for the believer in an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful being. So, I wrote what is now known as “Mr. Deity and the Evil (though it wasn’t called that at the time) and passed it around to a few close friends who loved it and thought I should do something with it. After nearly two years of trying to get someone else to play the title role, I finally was convinced by Jimbo (Larry, on the show) to do it myself.


Chris:  You have had some tremendous guest-stars come on the show including Michael Shermer and P. Z. Myers. When you began creating Mr. Deity, did you ever think you would have the opportunity to work with these guys, or that you would be invited to speak at the AAI conference?


Brian:  No. I thought we would be much bigger. I’m kidding (slightly). We’re thrilled to have these people on the show. They always have something interesting to add, and they’re genuinely fun and interesting people to work with. Michael is a personal hero of mine who got me into the Skeptic movement when I left religion. We’ve become friends of sorts over the years and I’m thrilled about my association with him and the Skeptic Society/Skeptic Magazine. P.Z. was great because everyone thinks of him as this rather caustic fellow, always on the attack, but he’s just the biggest, sweetest teddy bear. I’m really grateful that they decided to come on.


Chris:  The character of Timmy (played by Jarrett Kaufman) is the only recurring guest-star so far. Are there plans to bring back some of the other guests on future episodes?


Brian:  We have no plans at this point, but I’d love to have everyone back again.


Chris:  You have mentioned in several of the bonus segments that Mr. Deity is your full-time job. Can you talk a little bit about your film background and some of the work that goes into creating an episode?


Brian:  I made my first (and so far, only) feature-length motion picture back in 2002, and it did really well. The success of that movie (Killing The Dream, a comedy) gave me to confidence to continue. Since then, I’ve worked quite a bit in video production — much of it with Jimbo.
As for the work that goes into Mr. Deity, it’s quite consuming. Most of my time goes into writing the show, which is quite a task. What I’ve discovered is that most writers are always writing in one way or another. Writing is really just thinking, and I almost never stop, which can make sleep a problem.
Then, I have to set-up and light the Mr. Deity set. I know it doesn’t seem like there would be a lot to do, but there’s so much more than you’d imagine — C-Stands, light stands, lights, bulbs, flags, scrims, monitors, cameras, cables, mics, mixers, and just the simple act of moving all the furniture around in our living room (yep, that’s where we shoot it). It’s quite a chore. Then, we’ll generally rehearse the episode for hours before we actually start the cameras rolling. It takes us a solid day of shooting to get it right.
Once the shooting starts we have to deal with media management and ingesting the footage (which I try to do while everyone is still on set, so I can know that I’ve got the shots I need). Then, I spend two to three days editing the show, which also includes color-correcting, audio mixing, titling, etc… Next, I write and perform the begging segment and edit it into the show, after which I have to break down the set and put all the equipment away (my least favorite part). Then I compress the show and upload it to YouTube and our server for Jimbo to post on iTunes.
Finally, I like to stay connected with my audience. So, I follow the YouTube comments, putting in my two cents every now and then, and write to everyone who writes to me directly. All this, along with sending out the DVDs of season three, keeps me pretty busy.


Chris:  The question that so many of my friends have asked: Any plans for mainstream television?


Brian:  We’d love to do that, but I don’t think mainstream television is ready for an openly Atheist show — especially one featuring God Himself.


Chris:  You have talked before about some of the changes/additions that occur during filming of the show, such as cutting the last line of "Mr. Deity and the Promised Land". How much of the show is pre-written and how much is 'ad-libbed' by you or your co-stars?


Brian:  About 95% of the show is written. If one of us comes up with a great line while we’re shooting, it’s integrated. But you really can’t ad-lib this kind of show. Jimbo and Sean don’t have the religious background that I do. So, often, I’m explaining the background of the episode to them and telling them about the relevant scriptural passages. Perhaps if the show were just about our lives or things that happen here in this world we could "wing it." But Mr. Deity is particularly focused on a very specific objective which is all about my view of religion which draws almost exclusively from my religious background.


Chris:  I've noticed that you like to plug books by Atheists/Skeptics/Scientists and whatnot in some of the episodes - are these just personal favorites or is this more of a 'consciousness-raising' effort?


Brian:  Both. I like to throw things in that are relevant. For instance, in “Mr. Deity and the Magic”, I had Lucy reading “The God Delusion.” I did that because the episode was largely inspired by a section in the book and I wanted to send out a little homage to Richard (I can call him that because we’re buddies). But that’s not always the case. I recently had Deity reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World’, not because the episode had anything to do with that, but because the chapter titled “Science and Hope” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of skeptical literature.


Chris:  Skepticism and Atheism seem to be growing ideas, and YouTube is one of the main vehicles for freethought these days. Do you see a growing trend through sites like YouTube and the internet in general, and do you think that this has had an effect on the success of Mr. Deity?


Brian:  The power of the internet cannot be understated. As I write this, I’m watching Egypt (hopefully peacefully) transition to democracy. And many people believe that sites like Twitter and Facebook are a large part of that. We have not seen an explosion of freedom and information like this since the invention of the printing press. It’s a revolution like no one has seen before. When I left Mormonism back in 1993, the information which compelled me to leave was very hard to come by. Now, whenever I go out to speak, I find other people who have left Mormonism because they were able to access that same information easily on the internet.
Likewise, Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists are finally being heard because they have equal access to a popular medium which is followed closely by young people who are interested in finding things out.
Mr. Deity would not have been possible without the internet. Where would we have been able to get seen and establish the following we have now? It just wouldn’t have been possible.


Chris:  Semi-joke: Which of the 'Four Horsemen' is your personal favorite?


Brian:  This is a really tough question. I love them all. I relate most to Sam Harris. We’re roughly the same age and we have very similar concerns — particularly the need to wrest questions of morality from religion (which has done such a profoundly poor job with right and wrong). Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” is an enormously enlightening work which does a tremendous job of explaining (sympathetically) the religious impulse. And Dawkins' courage is a huge draw for me. When I introduced him recently at CalTech I said that he is a man with the most valuable type of courage — the courage to inspire courage in others. That’s about the highest compliment I can imagine.
But, if push came to shove, I’d have to go with Hitchens — probably because of his ability and willingness to debate. It’s in debate that you see him in all his glory — his eloquence, the blinding speed of his wit, his vast knowledge and life experience, his ability to say things in a way that is so blunt and devastating that you can’t help but see his point — even if you disagree. I’m also blown away by his writing. To read Hitchens is to be absorbed by the ideas of a man whose love of language is extremely satisfying. His ability to craft a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, is unmatched — and that’s really saying something considering the company of the other three who are likewise gifted.



Chris:  Could you tell us a little about how you became involved with the other cast members Jimbo, Sean, and Amy?

Brian:  I’ve known Amy for nearly 23 years. She used to be married to my best friend. So we go back a long way. She’s been involved in every single thing I’ve done having to do with making movies or short films (Mr. Deity included, obviously).
Sean was the lead hunk in my first film, Killing The Dream. He was so good and such a stand-up guy that I couldn’t see doing anything without him. He’s a tremendous actor and now a good friend.
I met Jimbo at the film festival where Killing The Dream won the Grand Jury award. I instantly had street cred with him. He and I started working together shooting video for other people and in a very short time became best friends. Jimbo is one of my all-time favorite people and just seeing his face makes me happy.

Chris:  What has the overall response been, both from the religious and Atheist/Skeptic communities?  Have you gotten any particularly surprising emails or comments?

Brian:  A lot of people thought that I would get hate mail from the religious community. But having been extremely religious myself, I knew the vast majority of religious folks had a good sense of humor and would be able to laugh at this stuff so long as we didn’t cross the line and become offensive for no good reason. That belief has proved true. I’d say about 40% of our audience is religious — based on the emails I get.
I guess the most surprising thing to me is how much my skeptical audience dislikes the episodes that are just pure humor without any real commentary on biblical/religious matters. That doesn’t play well to the core audience, and that sometimes disappoints me.


Chris:  Thanks again for taking the time to answer some questions for Advocating Reality. Keep up the excellent work on the show, and I eagerly await the next episode so that I can get my 'fix' :)