Some things Matt Dillahunty should know about Sye ten Bruggencate

Matt Dillahunty, co-host of the Atheist Experience cable access television programme based in Austin, Texas, and all ’round upstanding member of the skeptical / humanist / atheist community, has been in Sye ten Bruggencate’s crosshairs now for some time.

Sye, being special, doesn’t think he should have to phone in to the programme when Matt is taking questions from callers. Sye wants to be a guest on the show so he can do what he always does when pretending to listen to what his opponents are saying, i.e., play stupid word-games, and deliberately misrepresent everything anyone says to him.

I don’t know how much Matt has already heard about Sye’s tactics, beyond what he’s figured out for himself since posting the video reply below, but I thought it might be useful to flesh out the basics so he can brace himself for the most frustrating “debate” of his life, should it ever happen.

Sye will begin by asking Matt if it’s possible he could be wrong about everything he thinks he knows. He will then proceed to use interchangeable definitions of what the words ‘possible’, ‘wrong’, ‘everything’ and ‘know’ actually mean, depending on the route he chooses to take through his cascading script of pre-written responses. He might throw in some other words he wants to redefine as well, such as “evidence”, “logic” and “reason” — but regardless of how he approaches it, Sye will lie about what Matt has actually said within at least the first two or three minutes of the debate.

He will then claim he wants to be absolutely sure about what Matt has said, and ask him to repeat his response — banking on the fact that because Matt isn’t a robot he will phrase his reply slightly differently the second time around. Then Sye will say that Matt has contradicted himself, by misquoting what Matt said in his first reply. When Matt then corrects him on this, Sye has the only “in” he needs for the rest of his trick to work. He might even repeat the misquote a second time. This is called anchoring, and it works by creating a moment in the conversation which the audience can be called back to at a later time, minus certain pertinent details.

Sye will then make it seem as if the conversation has moved on, or that he is interested in clarifying a statement Matt has made at another time, perhaps during a different debate, or on his podcast — but this too is mere misdirection by Sye, who is only biding his time for a chance to spring what stand-up comedians refer to as a call-back — where the anchor made earlier in the conversation can be used to make it seem as if rather than it being Sye who deliberately misquoted what Matt said, it was actually Matt who admitted to making a mistake. Sye knows that Matt will spot this, but it doesn’t matter. Sye isn’t debating with Matt, he is preaching to his own audience, and fishing for quotes which he can selectively cut and paste when he wishes to later brag to his enablers about “defeating” Matt Dillahunty in debate.

As for the the old parlour trick itself, it can be adapted for all kinds of situations, and it’s possible Sye himself learned it from the same books read by everyone from magicians, who use it to misdirect the audience while a switch is performed, to police interrogators who require the subject to become agitated and bamboozled by having their words twisted. If you watch Sye in action you will actually see his expression change when the window of opportunity to use this slight of hand is opened up to him. It usually happens around the part of his act where he starts interrupting his opponent while they’re explaining something he would prefer not to talk about.

He’s also rather fond of appearing to contradict himself on something he himself has earlier said, so that when his opponent points this out he can accuse them of being incapable of knowing what is right and what is wrong because they’ve already “admitted” they could be wrong about everything they think they know — even though this in and of itself is the very thing which he lied about in the misquote anchored earlier on.

And that’s it. That is the sum-total of Sye ten Bruggencate’s “argument”. End of. There is no more. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Where black is the colour and none is the number, there you will find Sye’s “ideas”. He is not interested in listening to anyone who disagrees with him, he is interested in lying about what people have actually said, so he can shill DVD’s for Eric Hovind, and Crown Rights Media. That is all. There is no “proof that God exists” involved. Just lies, tricks, bullying tactics, and his own giant ego.

One final point, speaking now directly to Matt Dillahunty: Matt, please know that no matter what Sye says to you about how a video or audio recording of the debate be used, should it ever happen, with regard to publishing, editing, repacking, distribution and commercial exploitation, he is lying to your face. No matter what. He is going to edit what you have actually said, quote you out of context, and rewrite what you actually said when he posts to his various comments disabled blogs in promotion of whatever product he uses you to produce. He is attempting to heighten his own profile by using you and the Atheist Experience as means of doing so. They’re running out of cash, and they’re running out of people to pull their tricks on. He wants to be the next Ray Comfort / Hovind / Ham / insert name of liar for Jesus tax dodging cretin here, and he is going to use your name to do it.

In short, do not believe a word he says. He is by far and away the nastiest little spoiled child you will ever have the displeasure of meeting, and as more and more people in the community work out exactly how his scam works, the more he has to look for another audience — which he believes you’re going to give him. He’s probably, for once, right. So, please — if you do debate him, make sure he can’t sit down for a week. I can’t think of anyone out there in the anti-everything brigade who deserves it rammed down their throat more than Sye ten Bruggencate.

Why are you no longer an atheist?

A thread over at got me thinking about people who describe themselves as being a former atheist, and I wanted to delve a little deeper into what exactly is meant by this. So I posted another question to the Religion sub-reddit, which you can read here.

Following feedback from a number of users, I now want to ask the same question here, but ask for a little more information. To do that, I think it would be helpful to be as specific as possible; since quite a few of the responses over at Reddit are from folks who seem to have somewhat misunderstood the thrust of the original question, or the reason why I asked it. This is probably my fault for not being clearer in the way I phrased it, and so if you’re reading this because I redirected you here from Reddit, please give me a moment to explain why I asked the question again, with a little more detail. Similarly, if you’re reading this before reading the original two threads at Reddit, please go take a look at them before posting in the comments section below.

In the Reddit post, entitled ‘I’m looking for people who were atheists and became religious‘, I defined the word atheist as being ‘someone who rejects the idea that the theological texts of any religion are a true account of events which could only have been instigated by the specific God of the particular religion to which those text are thought sacred’. I went on to explain that I was not looking for ‘someone who previous to becoming religious simply did not attend church, did not pray, or was unfamiliar with the teachings of the religion to which they now belong.’

I wanted this to be clear, because the exact definition of the word ‘atheist’ itself, seems to be a constant source of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and I was keen to only get feedback from people who once understood that believing something is not proof of that belief being true, but who now believe that, in fact, it is. I wanted, in other words, to get to the meat of what happened in that transitional period between accepting that faith-based truth-claims are the exact opposite of those which are objectively true, and what thought processes ‘former atheists’ went through in order to falsify this statement of fact.

For example: Angela believes that she has £1million in the bank. She had a personal experience of what it was like to be a millionaire which was so real to her, that she began to think and act exactly as if it were true. Angela goes to a Mercedes dealership, and tells the salesman she’d like to drive away in a brand new sports car. She hands over her credit card, and jumps into her new set of wheels, and readies to drive off. But as the salesman attempts to transfer the funds from her bank, the computer refuses the transaction due to ‘insufficient funds’. No matter how much Angela insists that he tries again and again to take her payment, there is simply no evidence of her having the money needed to pay for the car — despite how hard she insists the salesman must believe the money exists for the same reasons she believes it does, and hand her the keys.

So the definition of the word atheist, which I used in the request for comments over at Reddit, was of someone who not only understands why Angela has no money, but also understands what Angela would have to do in order to prove that in fact she does. The people I am interested in talking to, then, are those who also claim to have once understood this, but who now — by virtue of the fact they claim to believe in a particular God from a specific religion — must by definition no longer hold themselves to the same standard of proof which as an atheist they once did. If this is you, please explain how you moved from the first position to the other.

What, specifically, do I mean by ‘the other’?
Some of the replies (as of 7am GMT Wednesday 10th April 2013) to the Reddit thread, were from people who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. It is only fair to point out that most of these people were apologetic for the use of this unwieldy turn of phrase — and I’ve written before about the understandable awkwardness of words like ‘spiritual’, when what we really want to say is ‘that which feels right’, but don’t know how to acknowledge the way in which this appears to shift the meaning of the word spiritual towards the emotional side of the brain and away from the intellectual; where it can be tempting to dismiss it as being merely the medium through which metaphysical truth-claims are abracadabra’d into having a greater importance than they would otherwise merit.

Please note, I am not saying that the only way for a spiritual experience to deserve being taken seriously, is if it can be proven to have originated with, or been instigated by, the particular God in which someone believes. I am simply asking how someone could ask for such a possibility to be taken into consideration, as part of their conversion story, if they also claim to have once understood why such a claim does not constitute proof of those same beliefs which they now claim to hold.

Moreover, I understand that it is not always the case that someone, who previously considered themselves to be an atheist, necessarily defined their a-theism according to the sort of definition I have given here. Many believe, for example, that an atheist is merely someone who does not pray, or go to church. But this describes many people who do, nevertheless, feel as if they are part of ‘something’ which however hard they might try to describe, ‘it’ moves further and further outside of their ability to do so, the harder they pursue that very description; least of all a description which would be of any meaning to someone other than the person who experienced ‘it’ at firsthand.

What I am arguing, then, is that however tempting it may be to place this inability to describe ‘it’ into the same part of our intuition in which we assume religious people place their faith in the particular God of their specific religion, it is nevertheless a category mistake of the kind we can do without if we’re genuinely serious about addressing ‘why questions’ with answers which do not merely seem to ‘work’ because they reenforce our existing beliefs, but because they legitimately give us a better perspective on ‘it’.

Your turn to speak
When you were an atheist, you understood that religious beliefs are not based upon evidence of God’s basic existence, but a belief among adherents to the particular religion which you now belong have about the validity of the sacred texts in which God is already presumed to exist. The question is, when did you cease to understand the obvious problems with this, and choose instead to adopt it?

Please note, I don’t expect anyone to post dissertation level replies. I’m simply keen to see if there really is any such thing as a ‘former atheist’ in the strictest sense of the word, or if it is more accurate to say that of those who do describe themselves as such, most have bounced from one set of religious arguments to another, without ever considering that atheism is not the mechanism by which we reject one set of arguments so as to replace them with another, but a standard of reasoning against which all religious truth-claims can be equally judged.

– – – – – – –

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful replies. As ever, threats of eternal torment and / or physical violence and / or cut and paste received opinions you don't actually understand will be marked as spam. Dan, this means you.

It’s the beginning of the end for Eric Hovind’s Creation Ministries, as the poster child for anti-science Christian apologetics posts a video begging his supporters for cash

Finances are running low at Eric Hovind’s creationist ministry. The writing has been on the wall for Hovind’s particular brand of anti-science for some time; his methods having been branded as ‘extremist’ even by other creationists, such as Ken Ham.

But the cracks really began to show in his tired routine, when Eric’s sidekick Sye ten Bruggencate was angrily ejected recently from The Place video podcast for using, once again, his trademark bullying tactics, while pointblank refusing to answer basic questions; leaving Eric to essentially admit their argument is based upon a string of easily identifiable logical fallacies.

Now, in a desperate attempt at damage control, since the video of his on-air confession went viral, Eric, who inherited the Dr. Dino ministry in 2009, after its founder and Eric’s father Kent was convicted on multiple counts of defrauding the US tax system, has posted a video to Facebook literally begging the few hundred supporters he has left to donate $10 a month for 1 year, to keep the business going.

Download the video here, if you don’t have a Facebook account, or watch it on Eric’s page here:

Whilst it may well be the case that the current economic climate is, as Eric says, the main cause of his woes, it’s also true to say that Eric has alienated himself in as many Christian debating forums as he has those which focus on debunking his and other brands of Christian extremism. Last year, users of the Premier Christian Radio forum, in the UK, were appalled to discover that a debate hosted by Christian radio host Justin Brierly, between Eric Hovind and atheist activist Paul Baird, which was made available for free on the PCR website, had been transferred to DVD without the permission of those involved, and made available for sale on Eric’s Creation Today website at $24.99 per-copy. This was before Eric attempted to pull a similar stunt with the hosts of the Fundamentally Flawed podcast; only later reversing his decision to publish material he edited without permission.

It would now appear that staff at Creation Today and other Hovind ministries have been asked to take a 10% pay cut, after Hovind received multiple DMCA take-down notices for similar schemes, which see him dupe people into taking part in a one sided conversation about the certainty of knowledge, which is based upon the widely discredited ideas of Immanuel Kant, and a type of presuppositional apologetics known as the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, or TAG.

Hovind won’t go down without a fight. The pressures of running a scam which borrows the language of Christianity, to take money from the vulnerable and poorly educated; which at one time bagged Hovind millions of dollars per-year, have hardened Eric’s resolve over the years. But where he once knew how to gently persuade his ready-made audience of home-schoolers and rightwing evangelicals into parting with their money, in a new less subtle development, Eric is now directly begging his followers for cold hard cash simply to stay afloat.

Why did the Pope really resign?

So long, and thanks for all the cash!

So long, and thanks for all the cash!

When Pope John Paul II died, the Vatican issued a press statement claiming that six hours before his death, his last words were “Let me go to the house of my father”. It would be later shown that Karol Józef Wojtyła had been in a coma for days, and unable to speak for months.

When Pope John Paul I died, just 33 days into his papacy, the Vatican issued a press statement saying that he had suffered a heart attack; later leaking through unattributed sources “close to the Holy See” that this was possibly brought on by his smoking and drinking. This so infuriated his personal physician and lifelong friend that he refused to sign the death certificate until a postmortem had been carried out. He was denied this request, while the body was embalmed in secret.

It would be later revealed that 24 hours before his death, Albino Luciani had issued a decree, that all Vatican officials wanted for questioning by American prosecutors were to be handed over with immediate effect. The crimes of which they were accused ranged from laundering Mafia drug money through the Vatican bank, to lurid connections between senior Vatican officials and international organised crime syndicates such as the outlawed masonic order Propaganda Due, or P2.

One Vatican official the American prosecutors were particularly keen to talk to, was an American Bishop called Paul Marcinkus. Top of the agenda was to establish whether or not Marcinkus’s personal fortune had come from the sale of fraudulent bank trading bonds, and why it was that under Pope John Paul I’s predecessor, Antonio Maria Montini, Marcinkus had authorised the sale of Vatican property and land, the profits from which ended up in Marcinkus’s personal bank account.

Under Pope John Paul II Bishop Paul Marcinkus was actively promoted, and went to the grave never having answered a single question about his involvement in financial irregularities which led the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, the death of journalist Mino Pecorelli, the death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, or the curious circumstances under which Albino Luciani’s body was disposed of — despite that he and one or two other senior Vatican officials would have directly benefited from his death; both in terms financial and in terms of protecting their considerable reputation.

Today Joseph Ratzinger announced his retirement; the first time in 600 years a papacy has ended through means other than the death of the Bishop of Rome. The Vatican issued a press statement saying that one of the most important theologians in the world was stepping aside as he could no longer carry out his workload.

While there may well be a great deal of truth to this, it is also the case that the Church is running out of legal loopholes to hide behind, in its refusal to issue an unconditional apology to the victims of child rape, and other forms of physical and sexual abuse around the world, carried out at the hands of Catholic priests.

People who were the victims of a secret system, which was issued and enforced by Ratzinger when he was a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II, and who were forbidden by this system from complaining of their abuse to law enforcement on pain of excommunication, have for years had to sit and watch their attackers being actively protected by the Church, who moved priests on from diocese to diocese, where they would repeatedly offend.

Since this first came to light, the legal claims against the Church in America alone are estimated to have cost the Church close to $6 billion — and this is before a full investigation into why the secret system was allowed to include clauses which specifically prevented sex abuse victims from going to the police, and who ordered the inclusion of such provisions has been fully carried out.

The net around the Vatican, and the still living Cardinals and Bishops who presided over the use of the secret system is tightening. What was once dismissed as a conspiracy theory, and treated with contempt by the mainstream media, is gradually revealing itself to be the web of corruption, criminal neglect, and a coordinated pedophile protection ring which victims of the secret system have always maintained the Vatican designed it to be.

Today, in the radio and television news media, supporters of the soon to step aside pontiff, have been lining up three abreast to paper over the cracks in Ratzinger’s public image. Tomorrow the newspapers and Catholic opinion formers will aid and abet the telling of the narrative the world’s richest religious institution wants Pope Benedict XVI to be remembered by.

In reality, somewhere within the belly of the beast, decisions have been taken not on spiritual advice from the heavens, but from legal advise right here on planet Earth, that are designed to protect the Church from the landslide of legal claims which could potentially bankrupt it in its previously most profitable markets; the US, Ireland, and South America to name but a few of the territories where child rapists have been protected for years, at the behest of the man who today we’re told is “one of the world’s leading religious thinkers”.

Ratzinger’s replacement will inherit a ledger containing the names of rapists around the world; many of whom continue to say Holy Mass every Sunday, before a congregation completely oblivious as to their unpunished crimes. The new Pope’s choice is therefore simple. He can finally once and for all reveal the secret documentation, which Pope Benedict XVI has held for the last twenty or more years, and mark a turning point in the history of the Church which future generations will remember as the beginning of the end for the Catholic Church. Or he can choose to keep the documentation secret, as did his predecessor, and continue to ignore as a “media exaggeration” the thousands of people around the world, who were raped in the confessional, beaten in the vestry, and brainwashed in the classroom.

The early signs, however, for a more positive outcome are good. The Vatican is fond of coded meanings and hidden messages in the language they use, particularly to the mainstream media. We’re told, for example, that the Pope is “fully aware” of the ramifications involved in the resigning of his post. This could be interpreted as a message from the Pope to the sinister forces within the Church itself who believe themselves above the law.

It could also be argued, that a former Pope is in a much better position to ensure that his message of “if I’m going down, you’re going with me” actually means something concrete, if he is still alive to ensure the correct course of action is finally taken under his successor, in a way in which it could not under his leadership. We live in hope; but one thing is for certain — if today’s announcement isn’t about an awful lot more than what we’re being told it is, this itself would be a Vatican first.

Majority of atheists are ex-Christians with a University education

The atheist alliance have launched a campaign to get some numbers on the sorts of people worldwide who describe themselves as atheist. So far the sample group size is 69,798 and counting, with 64% describing themselves as atheist, with the second largest group preferring the term ‘Humanist’.

A whopping 34% are former Catholics, with a further 36% from other Christian denominations. The numbers also reveal that almost 60% have a University or College level education.

The recently published 2011 Office of National Statistics census, here in the UK, shows that the number of people describing themselves as Christian has fallen dramatically since the census of 2001, while the number of atheists has risen sharply from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The pedophile priests scandal in the Catholic church, and the positive dialogue about atheism which was spurred on by the likes of the late Christopher Hitchens and neuroscientists Sam Harris in the wake of 9/11, undoubtedly played a role in spiking these numbers.

But perhaps the most surprising data from the on-going atheist alliance census, when broken down by region, is that of the 28,798 North Americans who responded as of 18th December 2012, the vast majority are former Christians over the age of 34 — suggesting that far from being a phenomena more to do with fashion trends and social pressures among the young and internet savvy, as detractors of the so-called new atheist movement are prone to suggest, the actual reason for the rise in people describing themselves as atheist could in-fact be more to do with the time it takes for doubting Christians to carefully unpick what they have been told all their life to believe, before eventually becoming comfortable with the realisation none of it is true in their more contemplative years.

This is an extremely positive sign. Once upon a time churches could be virtually guaranteed that after teenagers and twenty somethings “got it out of their system”, by the time they came to marry, have children and settle down, they would become somewhat tempered by real life experiences, and a sense of mortality which often alludes the young, and begin regularly attending and donating to churches again, later in life.

What the ONS census and the atheist alliance data suggests, is that these back-sliders are a group on the wane, which churches can no longer rely upon to boost their numbers; strongly suggesting that — despite the protestations of apologists, theists and religionists to the contrary — cultural Christians know the game is up for religion in general, and no longer see a reason to self-indentify as such for merely cultural and traditional reasons.

When you also factor in the stone-age attitude towards the role of women in the Church, coupled with an unrepentant homophobic agenda, and the clearly negative effect on the health of political dialogue which theocrats have had in countries like Iran, Egypt and The United States, there’s little wonder so many people are now ready to embrace the Dawkins challenge, and come out of the atheist closet.

Sign the census:

Comments from ranting lunatics will be marked as spam.

That which is true

Some people don’t want to learn. Just let that fact detonate in your brain for a second, and perhaps what I’m about to say next will make more sense. I’m done debating Jesus freaks.

There’s only so many hours in the day, days in the week, months in the year. So in the face of this fact, my time spent trying to reason with people who don’t value reason is over. I have Alex Botten to thank for this decisive move. Today he decided not to be involved in the Fundamentally Flawed podcast anymore, after years of putting more effort into talking with Christian extremists than any of us.

The podcast will continue. We’re going to shift the focus onto science news and current affairs. There will, occasionally, be a religion related story in the topic of conversation, and occasionally perhaps the odd religious guest. But the old format of the podcast is done and dusted — leaving behind what is, I believe, a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate between people who respect scientific evidence, and people who do not.

So what have we learned over the past year of podcasting? The main thing which sticks out for me, is that religious extremists are in no way shape or form related to the religion they claim to identify with. Creationists are about as welcome among the vast majority of Christians as suicide bombers are among the majority of Muslims.

Secondly, there’s only so many times you can state this fact, only to have someone come along who believes you are attacking them simply for saying it, before their methods and tactics in attempting to discredit you for stating the obvious, really starts to mess with your head. Allow me to elaborate:

The image opposite is the Hubble Space Telescope. It looks back in time. What it finds, when it looks, perfectly matches what it was predicted it would see. It was put into orbit around our planet by a manned, rocket powered shuttle-truck. It has instruments on-board which wouldn’t work if Albert Einstein hadn’t proved Isaac Newton was wrong. It is a monument to the power of mathematics, engineering, human creativity and the scientific method. It proves, along with many other measuring devices like it, beyond a shadow of any doubt whatsoever, that the universe is 14.6 billion years old.

The bible says that we were cursed by Yahweh to speak in different tongues to one-another, for being so bold as to construct a tower of stone into heaven. You’d have thought, then, He would also take a pretty dim view of trying to take high resolution photographs of it, to say nothing of sending Voyager 1 and 2 beyond the edges of the solar-system. So far, however, rather than dividing us down ethnic lines, Hubble has merely served to remind those of us curious enough to pay attention, that we live in a universe far more mysterious in origin than any religious artefact could pretend to know.

There are, in the 21st century, more and more people who, far from being uncomfortable with this fact, embrace it. Their gratitude is due in large part to the work of Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Adams, Steven Pinker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Steven Weinberg, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Roger Penrose, and countless other men and women who may not be household names, but whose work on the biggest and most difficult problems never stoops so low as to require our blind obedience.

Their work stands on the shoulders of giants such as Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, Richard Feynman, Alan Turing, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Ernest Rutherford, and those unsung heroes of Quantum Theory and Particle Physics, which make possible everything from the device you are using to read these very words, to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, which is unlocking the mysteries of how our universe came to be, while opening the door to more and more unanswered questions.

Then there is Charles Darwin. Building on his work, we now know in almost unfathomable detail just how intimately connected to all life on Earth that there has ever been, and ever will be, we apes truly are.

Living in a world where the staggering beauty of this means nothing to some people is an uncomfortable fact of life. But it is their loss, not ours. And in the course of writing this blog, conducting the podcast, and posting countless blog comments and forum threads, over the past 10 or so years, I’ve come to realise that their hatred for the truth of this reality, as it is revealed by our still fledgling methods of intellectual enquiry, says more about how low their days are numbered than anything any one of us could write if we spent every waking moment blogging, posting, replying, tweeting and conversing with them, over their simple unwillingness to admit they are wrong and we can prove it.

So, like the podcast this blog will continue. But in future any comments from Christian extremists will be removed — especially the ones bleating and crying about ‘typical atheists’. I will particularly enjoy adding these to the spam list — because that’s all it is; spam with banana surprise. What’s the surprise? God did it.

I have never censored comments to this blog before and only one user is currently on the ban list. You either know who he is, and why he is banned, or you need to read previous entries to find out. Either way, any future mention of him, his kind, his insidious breed, or his hate-fuelled anti-politics, will not be replied to by me. Other user’s are free to engage with one another on archived posts, but as of today I will only be replying to current and future posts — none of which will be on the topic of religious fundamentalism, or the tax-dodging, lying shit-kickers who use it to brainwashed their progeny.

Stay awake! Stay free! Stay tuned!