Eric D. Snider

Religulous (documentary)

Movie Review

Religulous (documentary)

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: October 3, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

If anyone is more arrogant, condescending and smug than Bill Maher, I don't want to meet that person. Funny and insightful, yes. Someone I'd want to hang out with, no. This comes into play with "Religulous," Maher's smarmy documentary that basically forces us to hang out with him as he travels the world interviewing the dumbest, least eloquent, most extreme religious adherents he can find. His goal? To convince the audience that God is imaginary, that the people who believe in him are delusional, and that organized religion is a blight that must be wiped out if humanity is to progress.

You could disagree, as I do, with Maher's basic premise while still enjoying (or at least finding interesting) a movie that pursues it. But probably not this movie, which is as intellectually dishonest toward religion as "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" was in the other direction. For that matter, it's not even really anti-religion -- it's anti-Christianity. Judaism and Islam each get a scant few minutes of screen time, and no other faiths are even mentioned. The film can't make up its mind whether it's a sincere investigation or just an abrasive satire, and it suffers because of it.

Maher starts by saying he just wants to find out WHY people believe in God. "My big thing is, I DON'T KNOW," he says. Then he spends the next 100 minutes showing that he was lying when he said that. He's not looking for answers. He already has the answers -- God isn't real, people of faith are crazy. He keeps saying that people should take an "I don't know" stance on God, rather than insisting they "know" he's real -- yet Maher is just as insistent on his own "knowledge" that God doesn't exist.

"Religulous" was directed by Larry Charles, whose work on the "Borat" film was good practice for what Maher had in mind here: conversations between Maher and earnest religious types who, for the most part, don't realize they're being made fun of. To support his thesis that 4 billion of the world's inhabitants are wrong about God, Maher chooses a few dozen of the goofiest ones: redneck Christians, television evangelists, pedophile priests, "ex-gays," a man who claims to be the Second Coming of Christ, a Holocaust-denying Jew, Scientologists -- come on, Bill, Scientologists? Talk about your fish in a barrel. Even religious people think Scientology is nutty. He doesn't even bother talking to any Mormons, choosing to meet with a couple of ax-grinding ex-Mormons instead.

Some of what happens is funny, even hilarious. Maher is quick-witted and intelligent. Like all good comedians, he has a gift for recognizing and capitalizing on absurdity. The problem here is that he has organized the absurdity himself: He chose his interview subjects specifically because he knew they would provide him with fodder for the jokes he'd already planned to make. Someone who earnestly wanted to learn why religious people believe in God would have talked to some normal religious people, not the fringe-dwellers and nutcases who comprise the bulk of Maher's interviews.

He insists that Jesus didn't exist, not even as a regular, non-divine person. He also points out that modern-day Christianity bears little resemblance to what Jesus taught in the Bible. In other words: Jesus never lived, and the things that he didn't teach (because he didn't live) aren't being followed by his adherents. You Christians aren't very good at following the fictional character you worship!

It should be obvious by now that Maher is preaching to the choir. No one who believes in God is going to see this film and think, "Hey, he's right. I'm going to become an atheist!" By focusing on religion's hypocrites and ignoring the overwhelming majority of devout people whose belief in God leads them to be better parents, friends, and citizens, Maher ensures that no one will hear his message beyond those who already agree with it.

All of which would be fine if Maher's intention was simply to make a comedy. Believe me, I'm very much in favor of making fun of people who disagree with you, and Maher is good at it. But his impassioned diatribe at the end indicates that he wants to make a serious point, which means he'd need to do a better job presenting his case than he has done here.

Grade: C

Rated R, some profanity, and some nudity and sexual material

1 hr., 41 min.

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This item has 79 comments

  1. Hev says:

    Not one human being on Earth has ever had one ounce of objective proof in regards to God. It is time for an honest "I don't know" in regards to God. That truly is the only way that "humanity is to progress" towards peace, unity, and prosperity.

  2. Normal person says:

    I don't think Eric is purporting to offer any proof of God nor do I think such proof necessary to believe in God. However, it is interesting that the person claiming that people should be more skeptical is resorting to absolutes by saying " That truly is the only way that 'humanity is to progress' towards peace, unity, and prosperity", which implicitly invokes the metaphysical. I mean if we are not to believe in God, then how does Hev or anyone else know what is True or even if there is such a thing?

  3. Jese says:

    Dear Eric,

    I found this very interesting... you say you get it and then your whole text proves that you are completely missing the point. (How do you do that?) The point is "we don't know" and there's no proof; people have to consciously choose to believe in a bunch of baloney to make it worthwhile. This point is maintained as a matter of FAITH - you either can or can not believe (in baloney).

    Also, if you can establish that someone is very smart, quick-witted and intelligent (an absolutely glaring fact in Bill's case), don't you proceed to ask yourself if maybe you should actually accept some of this person's rationale?

    Or not … as you have faith, right? No need to rationalize matters of faith, that would be a contradiction in terms, right?

  4. chuck says:

    It is absurd to believe if organized religion is non-existant, then we all will get along and holding hands and sing kum-bi-ya. In China, after communist take over in1949, most chuches and temples were destroyed, all religions were banned. China did not make much progress as a society of athiest. Why? Not because of lack of faith. But because of power struggle within the communist party. "Man" would use race, religion, wealth, anything to stirr up trouble (we vs them) to gain power. That is human nature. Take away religion doesn't change human nature.

  5. Trent says:

    That's the main problem I have with atheists, is the claim that religion is the root of all evil. That is more naive than those who believe that their religion is absolutely right and all others are absolutely wrong. It automatically makes me lose respect for those that claim to be "rational." How can one be rational when they make such an irrational claim?

    The problem in this world is intolerance. Religion is but one of many methods of intolerance. Race, ethnicity, language, political beliefs...they all contribute to one absolute truth: human beings have a tendency to hate that which they don't agree with.

    I have no problem with someone who chooses not to believe in God. That is their personal choice. But if you really want to build a world of tolerance, than don't tell me what I should and shouldn't believe. Don't belittle my beliefs because you don't agree with them. Just because some believers show intolerance to those who don't believe doesn't excuse blanket statements such as, "all believers are naive." It only proves my point, that humans tend to hate that which they don't agree with. It applies to atheists just as much as anyone else.

  6. Frank says:

    I love how the atheists call religion 'baloney' (inferring that people who follow it are stupid) and religious people 'nuts'. Then, in the same breath they talk about how great society would be without religion. Um, if they, as atheists, are setting the example for everyone else, wouldn't being derogatory towards people they disagree with suggest they have not reached the pinnacle of humanity? Or maybe being insulting is better than being kind?

    Either way, thank you Eric for pointing out how ridiculous this movie is. People should be free to question or believe what they want, but telling someone your better (or you know better) because you don't believe the same thing as they do is just as absurd as one religious group telling another the same thing.

    Final thought: Most atheists I've met tend to also be very cynical people. Though they may prefer this, I don't see how that can lead to any sense of happiness. As a religious person, I am generally happy. Is there something wrong with that? And if I die happy, and don't try to force you to believe the same as me, have I hurt you or wasted my life? I fail to see how I could be any happier by not believing in God than by believing in Him.

  7. Ruth says:

    Just to sort of stick up for the atheists here, I've been one since I was 9 years old and although I am quite a cynic, I like to think that I live a very happy, fulfilling life. Relying on rationale over faith makes me happy. However, I completely understand that this is a personal choice and feeling, and I am in complete support of my religious friends. It's easy to witness the good that belief in God and adherence to religion has on those who let it have beneficial effects on their lives. As Frank stated, if a believer dies happy and didn't hurt anyone with their belief as an excuse, I see that as a wonderful thing. The same has to be held true for atheists though-- they can cause just as much harm by forcing their lack of belief as religious people can.

  8. matt says:

    Well that's unfair, you guys. By picking one atheist and using him as an example, you're dismissing the whole group. Isn't that kind of what you're complaining about?

    As a member of a church in a community that is comprised by many members of the same church, I'm amazed at how often it is that when I'm on the side of the road with a flat tire or an overheated engine (it happens more than I'd like to admit), it's someone with no apparent belief system who picks me up as everyone else rushes past.

    I have very close, very atheist friends who are also very upbeat, happy people. In some ways, since they believe this life is all they have, they even seem to appreciate it more than us folks waiting for a better life after this one. I don't think it's fair to call them cynical or naive any more than it is for them to call us that.

    We're all just doing our best here, you know?

  9. not a sitting duck says:

    As a closet atheist, I have to say that I completely agree with Eric and I think his review is quite awesome. Bill Maher is the left's equivalent of Sean Hannity. Both are so full of arrogance and smoke-and-mirrors intelligence, that usually whatever point they are trying to make backfires because only a few weirdos want to be seen agreeing with them. And religion? Yes, it has made some big mistakes, but for the most part it is harmless and a positive aspect of humanity. Plus they always have great potlucks. Does any organization you belong to, Bill Maher, have great potlucks? See. I didn't think so.

  10. Jesse Harris says:

    I'm not surprised to hear that this is what Maher is up to these days. He's a bitter ex-Catholic that seems to only find joy in spreading his bitterness as far as he can. I agree that he's not the kind of guy I'd want to spend my free time with.

    I should point out, however, that he doesn't consider himself an atheist because he doesn't like the idea of saying definitively that God doesn't exist. Or at least that's what he said on The Daily Show a few days ago.

  11. Respect4Knowledge says:

    I agree that Bill can sometimes (often) be obnoxious in his manner... but does that change the message? His point and that of many other non-religious folk is that anyone should consider and be aware of why they would be willing to accept certain statements as true (and alter your behavior accordingly) without any evidence lending to their credibility... or even their probability.

    If you're willing to believe that Pat Robertson is able to heal whatever your illness is with prayer (and a cash contribution), are you also willing to believe him if he says that a war is God's will? Sadly, many people do. People should not yield their minds (or their votes) to anyone other than themselves.

    I understand that religious organizations can provide an opportunity to be part of a larger community, but at the cost of reason? Think about this... Isn't it possible to be spiritual and part of a group without accepting wild claims with no evidence?

  12. Eric D. Snider says:

    I should point out, however, that he doesn't consider himself an atheist because he doesn't like the idea of saying definitively that God doesn't exist. Or at least that's what he said on The Daily Show a few days ago.

    Yeah, I heard about that. It made me laugh. In the movie, he mentions a couple times that he "doesn't know" -- and then he spends the rest of the time passionately declaring that God IS imaginary, and that all believers are delusional. He comes across as every bit as certain God doesn't exist as believers are certain He does. If he'd really had an attitude of "I don't know," it would have been an entirely different movie.

  13. Paul Johnson says:

    Well, let's look at how religious people treat atheists. Atheists are the most hated group in America, for no rational reason. In fact, more Americans said they would vote for an openly homosexual candidate than an atheist -- and we know how discriminatory this country is against gay people!

    Let's look at the facts -- everything that makes our lives better and longer today owes its credit to logical reason through medicine and science, technology and computers through engineering, and a rational world view through physics to name a few.

    Religion has offered up nothing besides creating out-groups, killing people who disagree with them, or trying to undermine science (evolution) with 2000-year-old scriptures before anyone even knew bacteria existed, for example.

    This is Bill Maher's point of this movie and why he is fed up like the rest of the educated world with this blind ignornace to "faith" in light of the overwhelming evidence against it. (I highly recommend reading Victor Stenger's "Has Science Found God?"). Society will only continue to improve when we use rational arguments and sound judgment that does not reference an immutable "holy" book.

  14. Mark says:

    I can never understand how people say that no one has ever seen God or known that he was real. Have you never heard of the Bible, Torah, or Koran? All of these are records written by people who claimed to have had direct manifestations of the divine. You can disbelieve them, but you cannot definitively say that Not one human being on Earth has ever had one ounce of objective proof in regards to God. All you can say for certain is that YOU personally have not had objective proof in regards to God. Is it not the height of arrogance to suggest that if God does not speak to you, then he has never spoken to anyone?

  15. Rare Human says:

    Bill Maher is kind of a ****, but I'm going to see the movie anyways. At least I'll be showing some atheist love at the box office.

    My girlfriend wants to see it too, which totally surprised me.

  16. Tom says:

    everything that makes our lives better and longer today owes its credit to logical reason through medicine and science, technology and computers through engineering, and a rational world view through physics to name a few

    I find it interesting how science is often held up as the banner against religion. In actuality, science and religion are not opposites but are parts of one unified picture.

  17. Amp says:

    "His point and that of many other non-religious folk is that anyone should consider and be aware of why they would be willing to accept certain statements as true (and alter your behavior accordingly) without any evidence lending to their credibility... or even their probability."

    Do you have any evidence that God doesn't exist? Short answer: No, you just believe he doesn't. Atheists have no more evidence than religious folks as to the existence of God. (Well, assuming you discount spiritual knowledge, as I assume atheists would.) Personally, I find it intellectually dishonest to assume that all religious people (a) have never considered whether they are acting reasonable; or (b) once gaining faith, become automatons. It is just not so. We can disagree about whether God exists, but I am not a fool simply because I believe.

  18. Carl says:

    I can definitively say that not one human being on Earth has ever had one ounce of objective proof in regards to god.

    Books don't count, anyone can write anything in a book, and said books read like fairy tales and magic. Also, you were redundant when you mentioned the Torah and the Bible. The Torah is the first 5 books of the old testament.

    It's not arrogant at all to suggest something that sounds impossible didn't actually happen.

  19. Steve says:

    everything that makes our lives better and longer today owes its credit to logical reason through medicine and science, technology and computers through engineering, and a rational world view through physics

    In the following examples, I am not claiming that a person has to believe in God to believe in the principle. Nor am I claiming that every religious person excels at exemplifying the principle. I do claim that it was the believers who originated the ideas, thus invalidating the claim that everything that makes our lives better has originated outside the realm of religion.

    1) The founding principle of the United States, namely that all men are created equal, was a religious statement. The sentiment was that no other man can take my rights away because those rights come from something greater than man. Living in a country founded on such a principle makes my life better, and frankly enables advances in science. Starving or oppressed people don't invent. They survive.

    2) I know of no document or belief system predating the New Testament which teaches that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Accepting and living this principle makes everyone's lives better.

    3) The concept of voluntarily making personal sacrifices for the benefit of others is not logical. Such behavior defies evolutionary principles, and flies in the face of human nature. Humanists can claim that they believe in a need for individuals to help the community, which then helps them in return, but they cannot claim that sacrificial service was their idea.

    4) Sociologists have discovered that forgiving those who have wronged you is a necessary step in healing from whatever was done to you. You cannot achieve emotional health without forgiveness, and this has been validated by reason, logic, and science. But it was not a sociologist who first admonished people to forgive others.

    Those are just the examples that came to mind off the top of my head. There are many others. And just to be clear, here are some things that I am NOT saying: I am not saying that science has done no good. I am not saying that people should not make rational decisions. I am simply refuting the claim that religion never did anyone any good, ever.

  20. Mark says:

    No, Carl. You cannot say that.

    You do not know whether Moses, Peter, Paul, Mohammad or any of those others really saw God or spoke to God. They are human beings, and they say they do have objective, personal proof, because they talked to God personally. And you cannot prove that they did not. You assume that since it didn't happen to you that these men are either lying or deluded.

    Books don't count? Eyewitness accounts don't count once they are written down? Are you saying that there is no evidence beyond what you personally see with your own eyes? By that logic, the history of the Earth began with the birth of the oldest person currently alive. So, there was no Roman empire, no American Revolution, and no Napoleonic wars. The Vikings, Huns, and Babylonians are a complete myth and the Mayan, Inca, and Aztec civilizations are imaginary.

    Carl, that's ludicrous. You can take issue with these records, disbelieve them, whatever, but you cannot prove they didn't happen. You weren't there. Isn't it reasonable to withold judgment on a topic on which you have no personal knowledge? It is exactly this kind of shortsighted arrogance that most believers find so distasteful about the views that Bill Maher espouses.

  21. Dave says:

    Books don't count? Eyewitness accounts don't count once they are written down? Are you saying that there is no evidence beyond what you personally see with your own eyes? By that logic, the history of the Earth began with the birth of the oldest person currently alive. So, there was no Roman empire, no American Revolution, and no Napoleonic wars. The Vikings, Huns, and Babylonians are a complete myth and the Mayan, Inca, and Aztec civilizations are imaginary.

    Go to your local museum and you will easily find evidence that the Incas, Mayans, Vikings, etc. existed. Not to mention the ancient civilizations that some of these groups left behind. But where is the definitive proof of Jesus' resurrection? Or Noah's Ark? The Last Supper? The Garden of Eden? Sodom and Gomorrah?

    I think what Carl meant when he said "books don't count" is that second-hand testimonies are largely useless. I could tell you that I'm the King of Siam, or that I'm a Siamese twin, or that I keep a purple unicorn in my basement. But juist because I wrote it doesn't make it true. (Especially not if it's in a book that was written thousands of years ago, re-transcribed and re-translated countless times, and cannot be verified by anyone alive today.)

  22. MattP says:

    I don't want to defend the movie, but I do want to address this one sentiment:

    Yeah, I heard about that. It made me laugh. In the movie, he mentions a couple times that he "doesn't know" -- and then he spends the rest of the time passionately declaring that God IS imaginary, and that all believers are delusional.

    This is something I see a lot from agnostic atheists - an apparent dichotomy between "I don't know" and "you're wrong." It seems to be a contradiction, and the people that express these ideas are at least partly to blame for the confusion.

    It's not that the atheist is disagreeing with himself when he says your god is imaginary, it's that he's saying that *your* specific belief is imaginary. It's an assertion about the amount of evidence that he believes he knows to exist for your proposition.

    Suppose two people walk into a room containing a box on a table. Neither has ever been in this room or seen this box before. The first person says the box contains something. The second person says "I don't know if there's anything in the box." Which person has a more reasonable position on the content of the box?

    Now, upon asked to describe the specific contents of the box. The first person says "I still don't know if there is something in the box, but if there is I have no way of determining it's nature." The second says "The box contains a levitating, jewel-encrusted, tomato with wheels." Is the first person justified in thinking that the second person is out of their mind, and in being confident in the position that the box most certainly contains no such thing without contradicting their original opinion that they do not know what the box may contain or if it contains anything at all?

    This is the position of the agnostic atheist - that some supernatural agent *may* exist, but based on the available evidence, no popular conception of that agent is likely at all to actually exist.

  23. Linda says:

    Can't wait to see this movie .. I love that I live in a time that we can actually talk openly about our religious or non-religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic and finally concluded I was an athiest a few years ago (I'm 50 now!). I always had questions as a child that were never rationally answered .. who made God mom? why were there dinosaurs on earth before man? why would God let man be so cruel to his fellow man (and children .. hello priests!) .. it was always the "free will" answer ... if God is so magical why doesn't he just come out of they sky and show himself again .. it seemed to work 2000 years ago .. it would put us non-believers in our place quickly!. Anyhow I'm a parent of two children .. my husband and daughter believe in God and my son and I don't .. I want my kids to be free thinkers and question everything and come to their own conclusions. My transition came when I saw how I could make them believe in Santa Claus .. after they knew the truth (and saw their disappointment) .. I knew from that day on I had to be honest with them.

  24. MattP says:

    Wow, that was some crappy writing. Sorry about that.

  25. Laura says:

    I'm an atheist -- but based on what I've seen of human nature in my 50 years, I am actually glad that religion exists. I think it is the only thing preventing humans from doing more evil than they already do. As industrialized humans, we have become a twisted breed. We rationalize our evil doing regardless of our religious superstitions.

    On the other hand, most of us seem to need an authoritarian structure in order to do good. Very, very few people act with charity and compassion without some self-serving motive. Most Christians I know perform good acts because they think they are totting up points in heaven. Poor deluded sots -- but thank goodness they are deluded, because without their faith, they would be truly evil little f****s.

  26. Jacob says:

    MattP,

    The problem with your analogy is that the agnostic atheist assumes that all people have had the exact same experience as he has. He knows for certain that the other person has never been in the room with the box before. But how does it change the analogy if the other person has been in the room and has experienced what is under the box? And that is the problem with this whole discussion. Religion and faith are based on personal experiences that, while they cannot be proved to another person, are nonetheless real. And simply because the agnostic atheist has not experienced the same thing he "knows" that the believer is wrong. No matter how many times the other person tells him that he knows what is under the box, the atheist will not believe him because the atheist has not experienced it.

    I say all this as someone who has looked into the box. I know what is underneath it. And no matter how many times the agnostic atheist tells me that he doesn't know and that, be extension, I can't know either, I do know. And I will not be shaken.

  27. Holly says:

    Paul Johnson said:
    "Let's look at the facts -- everything that makes our lives better and longer today owes its credit to logical reason through medicine and science, technology and computers through engineering, and a rational world view through physics to name a few.

    Religion has offered up nothing besides creating out-groups, killing people who disagree with them, or trying to undermine science (evolution) with 2000-year-old scriptures before anyone even knew bacteria existed, for example.

    And science and scientists have never come up with anything bad or destructive?
    What about the atom bomb or chemical weapons, for starters?

    It's incredibly arrogant to say that religion has brought nothing good to the world. Religious charities alone do a great deal of good in the world, not to mention individuals who are motivated by their beliefs to help others. (Note: I'm not saying ONLY religious people do good--of course that's not true).

    Count me among the religious folks who think science and religion can coexist and compliment each other.

  28. Holly says:

    Oops-there should be quotation marks after "for example."

    It's pretty important to my post to know where I left off quoting Paul Johnson and began my own opinion!

  29. Nick S. says:

    I agree with you Holly (#23). Religion and Science can coexist, and I think that the situation we have between atheism and religion is starting to be like the situation we have between Republicans and Democrats!

    Many who are on the edges of BOTH GROUPS believe that anything the other side says must be wrong by virtue of their opponent's supporting it. This is a foolish, closed-minded view for both those who believe in God, and those who don't.

    I don't personally have any problems with someone not believing in God, but I do find it annoying when they are just as militant about my belief in God as they think I am about their lack of belief. I know there are others out there who are not cynics, but in all fairness, I have rarely met an atheist who was happy with allowing me to believe in God.

    For those who are a bit more toward the middle on this issue, I say that science and religion are not enemies. They are complementary, and it would make sense that a being like God would only have the power he does because he had a greater understanding of scientific principles and the workings of the universe than we do.

    I do not ask atheists and agnostics to believe in God, but I do ask that they allow me the right to believe, as I allow them the right to not believe. We CAN coexist without fighting.

  30. Nick S. says:

    Oops! Holly is #27. Maybe I was thinking of that crappy Jim Carrey movie........

  31. Araniya says:

    Quantum physics. Spirituality and science coexist. Watch the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know".

  32. mommy says:

    Paul Johnson said:
    "Let's look at the facts -- everything that makes our lives better and longer today owes its credit to logical reason through medicine and science, technology and computers through engineering, and a rational world view through physics to name a few."

    Motherhood makes life better. Sure now science is proving that it does, but isn't it amazing that just holding a baby while you feed them builds connections in their brains? Thousands of years of women holding their babies, but I'm sure it's the science that measured it that has changed the world.

    Love makes life better and last longer. Very seldom is that logical.

    I would rather have had him say he was anti religion, or anti-God, then pretend he was just interested and the assuming we wouldn't notice if he spent the whole moving mocking people of faith, instead of trying to learn from them.

    it's absolutely true that people have done horrific things in the name of religion and there are MANY wonderful people who don't believe in God.

  33. MattP says:

    The problem with your analogy is that the agnostic atheist assumes that all people have had the exact same experience as he has.That's not a problem with the analogy. It's potentially a problem with the position of the atheist, but the analogy is only meant to illustrate that the two positions held by the hypothetical atheist are not necessarily contradictory. He may be *wrong*, but I wasn't arguing for his rightness, just for his consistency.

  34. Paul Johnson says:

    An important point, to answer "Mark" #14, is that it is not simply a dichotomy of 'God vs. no God'. That is, because one cannot completely disprove god does not mean that "He" exists. A negative proof of one thing is not an automatic affirmation of something else.

    For example, if I can prove with a great deal of certainty that a "thing" is black, but not 100% (though very close), it does not automatically imply it is white or could be white. Likewise, a rejection of science is not an automatic proof of truth for religion.

    Science has done a great deal of work in the last century, and especially in the last two decades in molecular biology and physics proving that the world can exist without any supernatural cause (again, I highly recommend "Has Science Found God?" by Victor Stenger b/c he explains a lot of this to non-scientists). The fact that so many people are religious is an unfortunate result of a lack of scientific and rational understanding.

    The Bible or Torah or Koran as "Mark" points out as somehow objective evidence of that god exists is interesting. First, this real disagreement among people suggests that there is no real God. Secondly, the Bible, for example, is known to have been scribed some 100 years after Jesus' death. How accurate can facts be when they are written down this late after the event, and moreover, how much can one believe in books written by people who already believed in Christ, Mohammed, or any other follower? I believe this is referred to as a huge conflict of interest. And why not ascribe the same "truth" to Homer's gods in his Greek mythologies Odyssey and Illiad? Should we believe in the God of the Sky or the God of Sea?

  35. Red says:

    Even hearing the premise of this film, I thought that it would be as transparent as it apparently is. It frightens me that some people will take this seriously without even considering the person it features and his track record for mocking religion and people who believe in God. So much for rational thought on either side of the issue.

  36. Amp says:

    The fact that so many people are religious is an unfortunate result of a lack of scientific and rational understanding.

    Do you realize how insulting that statement is? Do you really mean to say that all religious people lack scientific and rational understanding? There are (highly competent, if not brilliant) religious philosophers and scientists, you know.

    And speaking of logic, I can say truthfully that my highest level of happiness correlates with when I am following the principles of my religion most closely. How is it logical to abandon that level of happiness for what I know, from my own experience, will lead me to a life that is less happy? Further, my religion teaches that following the precepts it teaches, I will gain eternal felicity. Is it logical to abandon that quest because it may not be true? For what? With all apologies to Pascal, isn't it worth the wager?

    It may be true that God's existence can't be objectively proven--that's the point of faith, after all--but it is not true that those who ascribe to a belief system do so because they are unintelligent, uneducated, or "lack scientific and rational understanding".

    And I say this a woman with a degree in Philosophy.

  37. Blank Frank says:

    re, #19 Steve:

    "2) I know of no document or belief system predating the New Testament which teaches that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Accepting and living this principle makes everyone's lives better."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule

    I know wikipedia's not the most reliable source, so if need be, I could peruse the Instanets for the actual quotes and translations.


    I consider myself agnostic, and the question of a god/God to be irrelevant to me. My choice is mine and other people's feelings on that question their own, and I know that it's a delicate (and incendiary) topic that you can't just proselytize on (for either side) and assume that beating someone over the head with your ideals will solve anything. So I don't pick fights based on religion, and I tend not to talk about it unless it's brought up.

    Not that poking fun at it and pointing out some flaws in a satirical manner is impossible--I enjoyed George Carlin's riff on dead relatives "smiling down" (and "screaming up") at you--but this movie sounds like it's just a mean-spirited cherry-picking of stupid people looking stupid because Maher doesn't actually want a fair discussion on the topic.

  38. Paul Johnson says:

    To answer Amp (#36 ), the woman with the philosophy degree, and as a person working on his doctoral degree in science, allow me clear up some confusion as to my statement.

    You claim that it is “insulting” of me to suggest 'that so many people are religious is an unfortunate result of a lack of scientific and rational understanding.’

    I can only speak regarding American statistics (and judging by the times of my posts, I believe this site is somewhere across the Atlantic, perhaps England, so maybe I’m addressing some Brits). It is a known fact that 50% of Americans in 2008 believe that evolution is NOT true. This points to a horrific science curriculum in the US. I’m not saying everyone needs to get a doctorate, but high school graduates should not even be questioning evolution’s veracity. Evolution has been verified by so many independent sources such as molecular biology, anthropology, taxonomy/phylogeny, marine biology, plant biology, etc., etc. Not believing in the theory of evolution is as silly as disbelieving the theory of gravity.

    Philosophers debate abstract ideas, as far as I can tell, and some with real importance (I do find philosophy intriguing and helpful in life), but science operates in a different way. Independent people working on similar problems through direct experimentation all over the world come to the same conclusion that A leads to B, for example. Isn’t this the philosophy that David Hume tried to encourage hundreds of years ago as the true route to knowledge? The rigorous, independent experimental testing leading to the same conclusion is what gives science credibility, rationalism, and truth vs. religious doctrines that purport to have the answer figured out millennia ago.

    Let’s recall that Biblical writers believed the Earth to be the center of the universe, since of course we humans are so important in this vast universe. Not until Copernicus did this notion get overthrown, and the church still held on to its biblical mandate for many years after the discovery that the Earth goes around the sun. If religions could prove a single thing, then I would convert. If God is always around us, and it’s so obvious, then why hasn’t a single piece of data EVER been uncovered to date to verify this? (Physicists have demonstrated that the universe can exist without a supernatural cause, by the way, and in fact, a supernatural cause actually violates the well-known laws of thermodynamics.) This is the irrationalism about religion and lack of scientific knowledge I originally intended to convey.

  39. JRG says:

    Mr. Johnson, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this site is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  40. John Doe says:

    "Let’s recall that Biblical writers believed the Earth to be the center of the universe, "

    Sorry, epic fail. I've never seen anywhere in the Bible that says the Earth is the center of the universe. Now, it's true that the Catholic church believed this. However, the people who persecuted Copernicus and declared the Earth the center of the universe did not write the Bible. Sorry you are sadly uneducated.

  41. Jen says:

    To quote Eric:
    No one who believes in God is going to see this film and think, "Hey, he's right. I'm going to become an atheist!"

    That statement is an example of the point of the entire film: ignorance.

    This film is Bill Maher taking a stance against RELIGION, not GOD. There is quite a difference between god and religion. Religion is just a structure that you choose to follow when you decided that you believed in God, or were informed that you believed in God. To use Christianity as an example since it is the religion I know the most about, the belief in God is brought about by the faith that the Holy Spirit bestows in you, and nothing else is required at all to be capable of that faith in God. However many other things are required of you by the religion of Christianity, such as not being a homosexual, not eating shellfish, and of course - thou shall not murder (unless you are doing so in the name of God, such as the Crusades). If any Christians found that last comment insulting, then I apologize, but you should ask yourself what it is about that particular historical fact that bothered you in the first place. Something is wrong somewhere if a complete stranger stating a fact is insulting to you.

    It's not right to blame anyone, or for anyone to feel insulted, by anything that is being said on this topic whatsoever. Most of todays followers are of their faith because they were born to a family that believed in it, and were told these things were fact from the moment they were born. Most religions teach that to not have faith in their teachings mean you will suffer in one form or another, in some cases eternally. And most religions teach that to question faith in their god is wrong, and will cause suffering.

    A previous commenter stated she had seen the disappointment her children went through when they found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. Faith in Santa Claus exists based off the same type of proof that religions use to convince their followers that their version of God is the real deal. Someone who you look up to (parents, priests..) told you it was so, and there are books that tell the story of his great deeds that seem impossible (miracles?), and most of the people you know believe in him too.

    Now we're all adults and who among you can say that you enjoy finding out that you were wrong about something? Well I know I don't, it makes me angry to find out that I've been waving the flag about X and someone pokes a hole in it. But religion is something that its followers are emotionally attached to and they structure their entire lives around it. And they told their children to believe these things too! And their friends! And how disappointed would their family be if they told them that they didn't believe in God anymore, or even if they did still believe in God but decided that following the teachings of Buddha was the one true faith? I mean, who in their right mind would want to go through that? So of course they don't want to question it. Of course they get insulted if somebody makes a comment that they can identify with, but don't agree with. That's perfectly normal.

    This comment is much longer than I intended, so I will stop here. I do believe that the things I have mentioned are the actual point that this movie was trying to get across, it was just done in a more 'entertaining' way. As they say, "sex sells".

  42. MattP says:

    John Doe,

    It seems reasonable that the people who wrote the bible would have believed the earth to be the center of the universe. Everything in the skies above clearly appear to be rotating around it. I'm sure that were I alive then that I too would have believed that. Do you have any reason to believe that the people of biblical times believed the earth circled the sun?

  43. Foxxie says:

    I believe the Catholic church should be tried for crimes against humanity..Has everyone forgotten the thousands of women burned at the stake as witches, the Spanish inquistion with the saintly Dominicans, the crusades where thousands upon thousands died pushed on by the pope...Does everyone forget the intolerance against Jews fostered and encouraged by the church or the horrible laws they were made to live under. Does everyone forget the sexual malpractice by priests done over and over again...holy men, I think not, Does everyone forget the bad popes, who committed murder, incest,marriage, children, does everyone forget all the innocent people put to death for just questioning the faith, or men of learning?? Does everyone forget the stealing of land from owers gone on the crusades. Jesus would not answer you if you called him that, his name was Yeshua, there was no J in the greek or arabic alphabet till about 500 years ago. Also Nazareth, despite several excavations no proof of a town or village can be found for the time of Yeshua.The Catholic church ruled by fear and fear alone. There was none of the love,compassion etc, its aim was power over everyone, at one time it owed 1/3 of all the land in England, for what purpose...The church got richer selling indulgences (forgiveness of sins for a price) The chuches got bigger, more costly, while common people lived in appalling conditions...The treatment of women as chattel continues to this day...In closing I'll leave you with this..Yeshua's birthday celebrated on Dec. 25, was a move by the early christian church to seperate itself from its Jewish origins, that date was the largest annual celebration of a pagan religion called Mithras and that holiday was called Saturnalia, Moreover to get the people to turn from their old ways the church often took places that were sacred such as Chartes in France, built on the site of a sacred grove of oaks and one of the Druids most holy places....

  44. whea-wix says:

    RE: post #38: Isn't this site based out of Utah, with Eric himself in Portland, Hippie Captial of America?

  45. Andrea says:

    to Paul #38: I don't know everything about science but I do know that it is the law of gravity and not the "theory of gravity." And as far as I know evolution has not been proven to be a law yet. (yes, I do believe in evolution, just pointing out the flaw in your argument.)

  46. MattP says:

    Andrea,
    That's not how it works. "Law" is essentially a scientific coloquialism. There's no rigid process by which a theory graduates to a law, nor is there any criteria by which something commonly referred to as a law is known to be correct with any greater certainty than something referred to as a theory.

    A theory is a descriptive framework which accurately accounts for available evidence and makes predictions about evidence not yet discovered. Gravitational theory does this for the phenomenon of gravity. Evolutionary theory does this for the phenomenon of evolution.

  47. John Doe says:

    MattP said:
    "It seems reasonable that the people who wrote the bible would have believed the earth to be the center of the universe. "

    I'm not psychic. You and Paul Johnson may claim such super-powers, but I'm not about to. That an atheist/agnostic to claim X when you have no evidence to prove such a thing is kinda funny, considering that's your whole argument against God in general, but you don't hesitate to use it when it benefits your cause. Strange indeed.

    Also, Paul wasn't just stating that the Bible writers merely believed the earth was the center of the universe, but they actively preached and taught such a thing as truth. He called it a "Biblical mandate" which believers actively preached as eternal truth (as eternal and true as the existence of God and the accuracy of the Bible). As such, he seeks to discredit the Bible and religion because they taught something that was wrong, just as they are wrong about the existence of God.

  48. MattP says:

    John Doe,
    "I'm not psychic. You and Paul Johnson may claim such super-powers, but I'm not about to."

    I think you misunderstand. Geocentrism was the dominant theory about celestial mechanics dating back as far as 600 BC.

    And the "mandate" portion of his argument clearly addressed the post Copernican church, which *was* the Catholic church which definitely held that view. Your argument is only in the continuity of that biblical mandate back to the time of the authorship of the bible. Fair enough. And?

  49. Randy says:

    As a non-believer, I am always interested to hear from the believers out there. In response to those believers who find many atheists smug, arrogant, and/or condescending, you may understand if one day you awoke to have most of the world actually believe that Santa Clause is real. If you were speaking in jest about how Santa has done so much for you, I'd gladly nod and think you were a little off. If you want to include Santa in an honest academic discussion, I'm sorry but i'm going to roll my eyes. If this comes across as arrogant and/or condescending, it is not intended, but you'd probably do the same thing with someone promoting the benefit of belief in santa (which results in about the same amount of evidence as your weak god). Belief in santa can be harmless and also potentially dangerous, but should we really promote such absurdities to adults? Maybe this is what Mr. Mahr is asking?

  50. Lohengrin says:

    #43- Dear Foxxie,

    I'm no legalist, but I'm fairly sure that the statute of limitations on the Crusades ran out around 700 years ago. The witches thing happened around 300 years ago, and not only women were burned. The Catholic Church during the Middle Ages was certainly not perfect, but it was, and is, not some monstorous tyranical leach upon the people.

    I'm a grad student in history and have come to the conclusion that if everyone was punished for what their ancestors did, there would be no one left outside of prison.

    Every group can point to the crimes committed against it.

    While I am not Catholic, I feel that the church does an incredible amount of good throughout the world, by teaching principles that help increase charity and peace. Do not blame the church, or Christianity, or religion in general, if its avowed practitioners do not live up to the standards espoused. We know we are not perfect, and many of us Christians are trying to work on that.

    Come to think of it, Foxxie, are you living up to your (I'm going to take a wild guess) liberal ideas of diversity and tollerance? Or is tollerance only desirable if it is non-traditional and anti-religion? I could quote a scripture or two at you, but I doubt you'll look it up.

  51. John Doe says:

    "I think you misunderstand. Geocentrism was the dominant theory about celestial mechanics dating back as far as 600 BC."

    Let me put it this way: What if I said FDR and all the liberals who created the New Deal were racists who treated black people less than human. Would you be cool with that? Because that was the dominant opinion of the time. So it's ok to say anyone and everyone who lived at that time totally supported it. Blanket statements without supporting evidence about a group is hardly the rational and logical atheist norm you purport to believe.

    "And the "mandate" portion of his argument clearly addressed the post Copernican church, which *was* the Catholic church which definitely held that view. "

    The argument is that the Church was following the Bible, as any good Christian should do. The truth is the Bible states no such thing about where the earth is in the galaxy/universe. It would be like me saying atheists are evil because of the death and destruction created by Communist Russia and China (godless regimes). Just because some atheists did something doesn't mean it's a tenant of what all atheists believe or support. Paul Johnson makes no such distinction. The argument obviously is "the Bible says the earth is the center of the Universe" and look at those loony Christians and how they treated the logical and rational Copernicus for telling the truth, which contradicted the Bible. Therefore, the Bible lies, the writers thereof were ignorant, and those who follow it today are equally ignorant. Defending his logic hardly becomes you. Are you man enough to point out the flaws in his argument? Or do you support his logic? I'm curious where you stand on what he said.

  52. Nick says:

    I thought this was a movie review, not a theological discussion? And Eric is totally right on this. This series reminds me of the Penn & Teller show - you give a skeptical response to something unproven and find the weirdest guy to argue their side while you interview professors and doctors for your side - in other words the group that is supposed to be "just searching for truth" instead presents you with an incredibly skewed version. The last part of this review rings true - as anti-religion as it is, it's presented in a way that will provoke a "right on!" from those who agree and rolled eyes from those who don't. In other words, the film is useless. I have seen a few documentaries on the subject and the only ones that stick with me are the ones that are an unbiased look on it. Meaning Ben Stein's movie doesn't count either.

  53. MattP says:

    John Doe,

    The point is that those who claimed to know God, when making testible claims, have been shown to be wrong many times over. The lack of an objective test for their claims remains the same problem now that id did before. It has nothing to do with guilt by association, it's a basic epistomological problem that has plagued every religious authority. I don't blame modern Christians for the evils of the Catholic church, but I do them for using similar methods to come to unjustified conclusions about the nature of the universe.

  54. John Doe says:

    MattP

    I'm not sure we're arguing the same thing. You are speaking broadly, while I'm taking up a specific argument made by Paul Johnson. Namely, that the Bible says the earth is the center of the universe and this examples proves that Christians are loonies who can not think objectively, rationally, or even logically.

    First, this is false. The Bible says nothing about the position of the earth in relation to the sun and orbits. Please tell me if you agree or disagree.

    Second, he is trying to make Christians guilty by association. Whether the individual writers of the Bible believed the earth was the center of the universe is irrelevant. Even if they all personally believed such a thing, as you imply without any evidence, they never claimed that it was revelation or Truth. Agree or disagree?

    "The point is that those who claimed to know God, when making testible claims,"
    It seems by this you agree with Paul Johnson, which is rather sad. The truth is the Catholic Church decided, independent of the Bible, that the earth was the center of the universe. To hold this subset of people as representative of all religion and religious logic is disingenuous indeed. It would be equivalent to me saying scientists must be fools because of the conclusions scientists like Aristotle claimed hundreds of years ago. Just because someone or even a large group did something hundreds of years ago that was dumb doesn't mean they are the standard you should use to judge everyone with similarities to that group. Odd as it may sound, most religious people are not Catholic. Is this a shocking revelation?

    It was a poor example and even poorer argument on Paul Johnson's part. The fact that you aren't even willing to admit out how flawed it is shows your own lack of objectivity.

  55. MattP says:

    "First, this is false. The Bible says nothing about the position of the earth in relation to the sun and orbits. Please tell me if you agree or disagree."

    As with most questions, this may be a matter of interpretation. The Bible has enough metaphor and ambiguous language that one can argue that the Bible make authoritative statements on virtually any subject. The Catholic church believed it's beliefs about geocentrism to be based on the Bible. Here's one verse that has been taken to support that belief:

    "Joshua 10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."

    Clearly if the sun stood still, then it must be the sun that moves about the earth and not the other way around. What this verse appears to be describing is a cessation of the rotation of the earth, which itself is implausible, but it's not saying that explicitly. I couldn't blame someone for believing that this verse implied a stationary earth around which the sun orbits if they did not already understand how the solar system actually works. That verse is known to be imprecise only because of scientific investigation, not through further religious study.

    "To hold this subset of people as representative of all religion and religious logic is disingenuous indeed."

    Fine. Prove me wrong. Show me one instance where a religious position regarding the nature of the universe conflicted with a scientific one where the scientific view proved to be incorrect. It doesn't count to find a scientist who happens to be religious - I want a position on a matter of physical science based unambiguously on doctrine which was proved to be superior.

    "It would be equivalent to me saying scientists must be fools because of the conclusions scientists like Aristotle claimed hundreds of years ago."

    Not at all. The methods of science frequently correct the errors of past scientists. Can you describe the mechanism by which one can objectively discover the errors of past theologians? What process can be applied to a statement made by a modern prophet to determine whether he is correct or not? Can that process be performed by those who are indifferent or even antagonistic to the authority of that prophet?

  56. MattP says:

    "You are speaking broadly, while I'm taking up a specific argument made by Paul Johnson."

    Though I was drawn in by your snide, sarcastic response to the Paul's comment, the broader point is all I'm really concerned about. The hypothesis that somehow the biblical authors may have held more correct views about celestial mechanics than the population at large isn't all that interesting to me.

  57. Joe says:

    "...whose belief in God leads them to be better parents, friends, and citizens"

    ...This is a point he could have stood to bring to light. I promise you that your belief in God does none of those things. If you are a good parent, friend or citizen, it is very likely that it is your nature to be that way. I put my children first, always and am quite a loyal friend, and an honest, ready to lend a hand type of citizen and I don't believe in any sort of God. I do it because I care about people, as do you. I would be quite let down if people were only good because they were seeking praise from God or for fear of him.

    There are millions just like me that have no God belief, yet are very good and just people. There are also millions that do have a god belief that are good too. There are also many that have a god belief that causes them to be scoundrels...judging others, etc.

    As for the fact that Mr. Maher was seeking out the kookiest to interview. Well that was kind of the point. Some of the craziest religious people are in high places. The craziest one's believe that the end times are near, that science is stupid (Palin thinks the earth is 6000 years old and that religion should be taught in science class!), that seeing the end of the world wouldn't be such a bad thing. The moderately religious sit by quietly allowing the crazies to yell the loudest while rarely speaking out against the extremists that can cause harm to society as a whole.

    Religion has been used many times in the past to promote peoples screwed up world views. It was used to support slavery (since the bible explicitly says that slaves should obey their masters). It is being used now to terrorize gays....tell me christians, why are you so interested in what rights the government gives gays? I mean, you don't seem to have as much of a problem with divorce and Jesus himself actually spoke out against that heavily on the sermon on the mount. The gay bashing in the bible seems to be tucked away in the old testament next to the bits about stoning non believers and the proper way to sprinkle blood around the alter to atone.

    As far as the part about attacking scientology being like shooting fish in a barrel, I'm sorry to tell you, but christianity doesn't seem less crazy to those of us who don't have an emotional connection to it. That was the point in him talking about it, to try to illustrate that the stuff that many Christians believe to be fact, seems completely at odds with reality to everyone else.

  58. Queen of Everything says:

    Well, this certainly is a very interesting discussion about a movie that I suppose could have been originally intended to counter-balance Ben Stein's film. I don't know. Makes sense to me.

    This is mostly in reply to Joe's comment, (#57). He says that "to try to illustrate the stuff that many Christians believe to be fact, seems completely at odds with reality to everyone else." Well, yes. That's why you study it out, come to terms with it yourself, and then decide to reject it or accept it.

    I don't want to bash, I don't think anyone is uplifted by rolling around in the mud over this issue (as I remember my own arguments before on this subject, which is where I came to this conclusion and yes, I'm blushing). However, on both sides, it seems to me that the Christians are all die-hard because they have studied it out themselves and come to terms with it and have accepted it, making it a strong attachment point and an emotional one in their lives, and as soon as emotions are involved, oftentimes it's down in the mud with you if you contemptuously disagree. And then on the other side, the atheists are saying stuff like:

    "'...whose belief in God leads them to be better parents, friends, and citizens'
    ...This is a point he could have stood to bring to light. I promise you that your belief in God does none of those things."(#57)

    "but you'd probably do the same thing with someone promoting the benefit of belief in santa (which results in about the same amount of evidence as your weak god)."
    (#49)

    "It's not right to blame anyone, or for anyone to feel insulted, by anything that is being said on this topic whatsoever." (Which is more of an absurd comment and I was surprised no one had addressed it sooner) (#41)

    "Religion has offered up nothing besides creating out-groups, killing people who disagree with them, or trying to undermine science (evolution) with 2000-year-old scriptures before anyone even knew bacteria existed, for example." (#13)

    These comments were surrounded by what were also calm, rational statements and mostly clear arguments, but when low-blows like these are given, is that elevating them out of the mud? Nope, you just got dirty too.

    So, on both sides, there is a great deal of bashing and mud-wrestling and anger and inconsistent babbling, and I daresay a great deal of arrogant pride. If the atheists and Christians (and other religions too, if they did comment) who have argued here really claim to represent their groups at this particular mud hole, shame on all of us. I think we agree that people should be kind, generous, long-suffering and not prideful and loving to everyone, sparing of life and rights and allowing for dignity. These things are consistent teachings in most sects of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, social law or whatever personal rules agnostics follow, etc. but for maybe a few extremist groups, which rise out of virtually any interpretation of their scripture (someone said something to this effect somewhere, but I don't remember who or where to find it and I'm sorry I can't give you credit) or personal rules, and of course, it is agreed that these people are wrong, but the majority of holy writings and maybe not-so-holy people say these things, and can't we agree as human beings that these are ideals that we should strive for? Wouldn't emulating these qualities lead to a better world for everyone? Atheists here have argued that they don't need Godly incentive to live up to these values, but are you guys so sure that Christians really need the incentive either? Indeed, some, maybe most, do.

    Maybe I should speak for myself then. I am a devout Christian, but also a very interested scientist. (I don't have a degree or anything, but science classes of all types have been among my favorites since I started school, I have read a great deal about experiments and studies, so I hope that I'm not too ignorant here. I only call myself a scientist because I apply the scientific method to a great deal of life and its issues). I have taken philosophy classes, I have studied things out and read a lot of stuff, and I have concluded that one thing that makes Jesus Christ (and others) stand out so much wasn't only divinity, but a driving will to do good, despite incentives, in fact, with a complete disregard for incentives. To do good merely because it is good. I think this is the noblest thing any human can strive for, no matter their race, creed or background. Doctrinal particulars certainly vary, and those are the things we must study out, and then accept or reject.

    People's personal behavior after receiving a set of values and deciding on them is what should be judged more and first, before a judgment on the values themselves should be made.

  59. Jacob says:

    Why, Queen of Everything -- I didn't know you were a Snider Fan. I guess I should have. We've probably even talked about his supreme awesomeness back in the day. Anyway, nice to see you. Fine arguments.

    And now to comment in this great battle between good & evil, science & religion, stupidity & reason, et & cetera, the noted physicists Robert Feynman:
    "Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt. . . . Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation . . .Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. . . . I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong."

    Then I would also add (again quoting Feynman but applying it to this movie about this movie):
    "The ideas I wish [or Bill Maher wishes] to describe are old ideas. There is practically nothing that I am [he is] going to say tonight that could not easily have been said by philosophers of the eighteenth century. Why repeat all this? Because there are new generations born every day. Because there are great ideas developed in the history of man, and these ideas do not last unless they are passed purposely and clearly from generation to generation," and then I would tell you to read Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason" from 1794, Thomas Huxley's essays from the 1860s-80s, Clarence Darrow's arguments at Dayton in 1925, compare them to these of Maher or Dawkins, and realize just how little they've evolved . . .

    Have a Nice Day!

  60. Wendy says:

    I would be interested in someone showing me if science has actually proven that God doesn't exist. Just because no one has objectively shown that God does exist doesn't automatically mean that God doesn't. It is possible that science does not yet know how to measure/detect a supernatural power. Over the last 100 years science has grown and changed so much that over the next 100 years I suspect we will prove some things to be true (or not true) that we never before thought possible. Possibly a God.

  61. MattP says:

    "Just because no one has objectively shown that God does exist doesn't automatically mean that God doesn't."

    I agree. Just like I can't prove there are aren't any fairies, leprechaun or unicorns. There certainly seems to be a dearth of evidence for their existence, but I can't prove they don't exist. I treat God the same way. Sure, I can't *prove* he doesn't exist, but it seems to me to be pretty likely that he doesn't. Should I ever come across decent evidence for his existence, I would probably change my mind just as the discovery of a fairy in my garden would change my mind on that subject.

  62. Wendy says:

    So I have actually sat as some of my good friends have told me experiences of seeing and talking with angels. One of my girl friends has even seen fairies. (Had to mention it since MattP brought it up :)) They weren't on drugs or dreaming. I am not sure what to make of it, since I haven't had an experience like that.

    I have also seen people bend forks with an ease that seemed humanly impossible.

    I have watched people walk on firebeds and not get burned when the coals were measured at 2000 degrees. I have walked on fire and not been burned.

    It definitely makes me wonder.

  63. MattP says:

    "I am not sure what to make of it, since I haven't had an experience like that."

    I would not necessarily know what to make of it either. That's why I specified *decent* evidence, not just *any* evidence. The human mind is very maleable and suggestable. For every culture with a supernatural mythology, there are members of that culture which believe they are eye witnesses to proof of that mythology. For some reason not too many Hindus claim to have visions of Christ and not too many Christians feel the influence of Ganesh in their lives.

    "I have watched people walk on firebeds and not get burned when the coals were measured at 2000 degrees. I have walked on fire and not been burned."

    The science behind this is well understood. There's nothing magical about it at all, which is why it's sometimes done as a team building excercise - anyone can do it.

    "It definitely makes me wonder."

    Sure, when people describe unusual experiences I certainly wonder. I don't assume that any of them is correct interpreted by the person relating them, though, as so many of these experiences are contradictory.

  64. Wendy says:

    MattP, will you please direct me to the science that is well understood behind firewalking? From what I have studied there isn't a theory that is well understood. Most theories can be argued either way. But you are right, anyone can walk on fire and not get burned. I brought that up not as a supernatural event (one that exceeds the normal), but as one that science has a hard time explaining away. Up until now, no one has been able to give me a scientific theory that holds up.

    And I am curious if you have an idea of what "decent" evidence would be for you. Hearing someone else's account definitely isn't decent evidence for the hearer. But then if the hearer had an eye witness account would that be decent evidence? Or maybe that is not enough because the human mind is "maleable and suggestable". Any idea as to what could be considered decent evidence?

  65. Wendy says:

    What I meant to say was hearing someone else's account isn't decent enough evidence for ME. I guess it could be for someone else. So I am having hard time thinking of something that could be considered decent evidence, something that couldn't be justified away. Hence, my question.

  66. MattP says:

    "MattP, will you please direct me to the science that is well understood behind firewalking?"

    Wikipedia has a decent explanation that goes into some detail on thermal conductivity. It also has a list of the factors that prevent burning when walking on coals:

    Water has a very high specific heat capacity (4.18 kJ/K kg), whereas coals (and lava) have a very low one. Therefore the foot's temperature tends to change less than the coal's.

    Water also has a high thermal conductivity, and on top of that, the blood in the foot will carry away the heat and spread it. On the other hand, coal has a poor thermal conductivity, so the hotter body consists only of the parts of the coal which is close to the foot.

    Moisture on the feet (either from sweat or from walking on, say, damp grass before), instantaneously evaporates, causing a layer of steam between the foot and the coal. The layer of steam is a poor conductor of heat, which keeps the foot from burning (the Leidenfrost effect).

    When the coal cools down, its temperature sinks below the flash point, so it stops burning, and no new heat is generated.

    The coals are often covered with ash, which is a poor heat conductor.

    The coals are a very uneven surface, and the actual surface area of foot touching the coals is very small.

    Firewalkers do not spend very much time on the coals, and they keep moving.

    Calluses on the feet may offer an additional level of protection, even if only from pain, however most people do not have calluses that would make any significant difference.

  67. Wendy says:

    Mmm, thanks. I have actually heard of all of those theories, and have also heard arguments that those theories aren't true. Here is a website that goes into some of those arguments. http://www.firewalking.com/theory.html

    I don't necessarily want to get into a long discussion over firewalking, but I did want to know to what you were referring.

  68. MattP says:

    "Any idea as to what could be considered decent evidence?"

    Basically anything reasonably repeatable and measurable with the caveat that more extraordinary claims should demand more extraordinary evidence.

    I'd also say that we have to be careful in adding unjustified interpretations. Say I saw a glowing human form appear in my room. To Christians that may be interpreted as proof that angels exist, but objectively you only know that there is a glowing human form. It would certainly be amazing, but you don't really have any idea who/what it is, how it got there, or what it's motivations are. Further investigation would be necessary.

  69. Wendy says:

    I think objectively you could never know if an angel were an angel, or if a glowing human form were an angel. There would always be some argument that it wasn't. If you smelled it, touched it, saw it, heard it, tasted it etc., you could always doubt yourself. I can't think of any way that it would be reasonably repeatable or measurable. (Tell me if I am wrong.)

    "Science is the culture of doubt."

    So back to what I see as a paradox. You can't prove that God doesn't exist. You can't prove that God does exist.

  70. MattP says:

    "You can't prove that God doesn't exist. You can't prove that God does exist."

    I agree, but that doesn't mean each option is equally likely. There are many things I can't prove to not exist, an infinite number of them in fact, but that doesn't mean they are as likely or not to actually exist. There isn't a 50/50 chance that there's actually a an easter bunny delivering goodies to children every spring. I can neither prove nor disprove his existence, but most adults will happily concede that he doesn't exist.

    That's where evidence comes in, to determine what is likely to be true, not necessarily what is absolutely positively true. Even as a culture of doubt, science allows tentative conclusions to be reached based on objective analysis of evidence.

  71. Wendy says:

    Most adults are the ones buying the goodies, then hiding them in eggs etc. to be delivered to children every spring. Of course they don't believe an Easter bunny is doing that for them. If the goodies showed up at their doorstep, more might believe in an Easter bunny. There is nothing happening that is unexplainable in adults buying candy and giving it to their kids. I don't think this analogy works. Most adults(I don't have any numbers on that, but atheists seem to be a minority. Am I wrong?) won't happily concede that God doesn't exist (I am using God very generally...Buddha, Ganesh, Jesus, Sun God etc. etc.).

    But I do agree that science allows tentative conclusions to be reached based on objective analysis of evidence. I don't think that the evidence that there isn't a God is very overwhelming. "Decent" evidence that God doesn't exist is also hard to come by.

    What is some decent evidence that God doesn't exist?

    Thanks for the exchange by the way.

  72. MattP says:

    "Most adults are the ones buying the goodies, then hiding them in eggs etc. to be delivered to children every spring?"

    Just what I'd expect from an abunniest. :) But what about all the kids that do believe in the Easter bunny? How do you know they are all wrong? You haven't disproved anything, you've merely demonstrated that some children have been fooled into believing in the Easter bunny by unscrupulous adults. Whether he actually exists or not is still debatable.

    Just as there is a rational and mundane explanation for the source of the Easter goodies there are rational and mundane explanations for virtually all purported evidence for the existence of God. Though, like the old saying goes, absense of evidence is not evidence of absense, the assertion of the existence of a thing should bear the burdon of providing sufficient evidence, not the assertion that it does not.

    The non-existence of something doesn't, itself, create evidence. It's only when you can describe a reliable way to verify the existence of a thing that you can then use that method to disprove it's existence. Otherwise, the non-existence can only be proved by process of elimination. In the case of God, one would have to show plausible non-God causes for every case where a person attributes some occurance in the natural world to the hand of God. That's a practically impossible job to do, but I do believe that there are satisfactory natural explanations for every major class of evidence that has been presented in support of God. The vast majority of individual cases would be addressed by them.

  73. Adam says:

    What #9 said. I'm also a closet atheist who doesn't feel represented by Maher.

    I look at some of the more secular governments and atheist populations in Europe and I like what I see. They've got some peace and prosperity going on over there. They blow us away on all the quality of life indexes. The Dutch, Danes, and Swedes are happier than Americans overall, and they are mostly atheist (or nonreligious, if you prefer).

    It could be that secular government is what matters, and the religious beliefs of the people are inconsequential. Or maybe it's the legalized narcotics. I've heard that stuff that works over there wouldn't work over here (like socialized medicine) and maybe that's true, and applies to secularism as well. But there's no way to know for sure unless we try it.

    As a secular humanist and a materialist, I'm impressed by empirical evidence. And the evidence I see is that the influence of religion is dwindling in Europe, and their people seem to be doing just fine.

  74. MattP says:

    "It could be that secular government is what matters, and the religious beliefs of the people are inconsequential."

    Except that America's government has been the most secular of the bunch. Some european countries still have official state religions. The people there seem to have shifted secular despite the religiosity of the government.

  75. Oscar C says:

    It's about time a dawn for truth comes about and that it is not "faith" in something, but true quest for knowing with all our mind, aour heart, our life.

    Nietzche was right, christianity sucks, and indedd has sucked our life, proposing an after-life event nobody has shown is true. Therefore with christianity we are doomed. Let's live life and be true to ourselves.

    Bill Maher deserves credit for the awakening of an insipid dormant crowd ( billions of them) that had things wrong: the "cause" was the "effect". We "created" god and not the other way around.

    With Bill I would like to share a laughter and enjoy the time spent with the movie. The rest is "phantasy"

  76. Dave the Slave says:

    Some things you can know, even without any scientific measurements. Exactly how many decibles do I love my wife? How many inches tall is my concern for my son?

    Nothing makes me sadder than seeing people choose ignorance when it comes to things spiritual. They have not lifted a finger to study for themselves anything spiritual, yet claim to know more than others who have spent their whole lives humbly searching for spiritual truth.

    Science has its place to benefit humanity. Its greatest strength is its ability to change when new knowledge is revealed. But to say nothing exists without empiracle evidence is insane. People who believed fully in the scientific theories and practices in centuries past would be laughed at today. (Seriously, bleeding out the bad spirits will cure the flu?) In a couple hundred years, when science and our understanding of the universe and reality has increased, how silly will those of us who discount anything outside of science feel?

  77. Samuel says:

    So is Bill basically saying:

    "It is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come, but behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.

    Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth"

    I dunno, doesn't sound like Bill's got any original ideas.

  78. Ben Barnett says:

    We've been discussing knowledge, Religulous and many other related atheist/agnostic/religious topics on my blog at www.createcognitivedissonance.wordpress.com. I liked the movie and I LOVE that it has basically gotten all the moderate religious folks in the country to DISOWN the extremists. It's wonderful to hear so many religious people saying that they're nothing like the extremists. Wonderful.

    Now, my experience as a convert to atheist leaning agnosticism, is that I've been more fulfilled, more curious, more creative, more driven and feel more ownership over my ethics/morality than I ever did as a very devout believer.

    Maybe your subjective experience is different. That's fine. But I don't see that as any reasont to be dogmatic about what others should feel, and about what good/sin should mean to them. I think the awareness of this is why so many religious folks consider themselves 'moderate'. They know that dogmatic, literalist BS has got to be off... and so they just pick and choose, as if the the doctrine are buffet lines. Hmm. Well, that's just an opinion. Check out the debates on www.createcognitivedissonance.wordpress.com!

    Ben

  79. pizzatheface says:

    I'm just glad I have the beliefs that I do. Of COURSE I'm going to believe they are true, and whether or not my beliefs are falsifiable doesn't change the fact that I can have a knowledge they have made me a better person for having believed them.

    Guess I'll just have to wait and see when I die. If I cease to exist, no harm in living a moral life: I won't be around to regret not being wild and having more "fun". If I do still exist, then there must be a purpose for my life, and I don't think aspiring to become a better, kinder person will harm me.

    Religion matters.

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