Being a teen is hard. Sometimes just being is hard.

Question from Anonymous:
Hi, I’m a six on the Dawkins scale, I’m lesbian, I’m 15 and I have religious fundamentalist parents. I am forced to go to church, my parents always force me to do things I don’t want to do. My mom tells me that when I grow up and get married to a woman, she will object to it, and I will be disowned. Currently I’m going to be a junior in high school, and this past year I took the SAT for fun (something a nerd would do, I know, I know). I turned out to score 2300 on the SAT. When I showed my mom the results she quickly dismissed it, and said the following:
“Are you sure you scored that much? Are you sure that a lesbian who is also a heathen can be that smart? You know what, you begged Satan for that score didn’t you?”
She also says I pray to Satan for my weight loss (in the past year and a half I lost 90 lbs after being diagnosed with PCOS). My mother is still waddling around at a hundred lbs overweight. I just got five pounds to lose. She says “God told me to diet using (starchy) soups and (overly drenched in ranch) salads!” She turns around at me and says, “You little devil worshipper! That’s why you have that damn PCOS!”

Recently, she got diagnosed with type two diabetes.

My question is, is why does my mom do this? Why does she deny my SAT score, deny my realistic weightloss, and yet she is nowhere in life? Why? I never went into arguments with my mom about the existence of an upper phenomena. I just say “Well, we have a difference of opinions, Mom. I respect yours though I don’t agree with it. And let’s just agree to disagree.”

In her reply: “Its not an opinion, it’s fact, it’s proven in the Bible!”

Now, most of my friends are Christians, and we just never eat into the debate of religion or spirituality.

So why does my mom?

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, that’s all pretty awful, and I feel for you. It’s not fun when you’re fundamentally and irreconcilably at odds with your parents while still officially in their care. I regularly hear from people in such circumstances, and it’s never a happy description. I’m reassured by your academic aptitude and your taking the initiative to test yourself; your circumstances aren’t seriously interfering with your ability to learn and to focus, and that will get you far along whatever path you choose to take in life. (On a side note, my wife has PCOS and I know that’s not much fun either, but there are treatments.)

Think of your mother’s worldview (which is probably even more simplified internally than the doctrine which was initially preached to her). In that view, God is the source of all goodness, all strength and all ability, and not only are all things possible with Him but nothing good is possible without Him. Prayer is a prerequisite for literally everything, because humans are worthless and hopeless without their Lord. There may be some sexism in there too, adding the idea that a woman needs both God and a man to function.

And then there’s you. Smart, capable, independent and getting steadily healthier and more confident despite a chronic condition, while consciously denying God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and having sworn off men for good. If she were to accept that at face value she would have to admit that there is a flaw somewhere in her worldview since it does not reflect reality, and examine the principles upon which she bases her whole life. Some of those principles are held as sacred by her congregation, so she feels a threat to her place in the community as well as her own identity. (How the congregation would actually react to some doubt on her part depends on the type of church, so you’d know better than me.)

So what does she do? She clings to the idea that you’re managing without God with help from the one entity with any power to challenge God. People have attributed abilities they did not understand to Satan for centuries, which for instance has led to many people being burned as witches. The devil is like a bucket into which Christians can throw anything they don’t comprehend rather than leave their comfort zone…and some will throw in a lit match too. It’s a simple coping mechanism that not every Christian uses but is nevertheless available to every Christian. Your mother seems quite fond of using it, sadly.

Some of your friends might possibly indulge in this behind your back, depending on how devout they are and how old-fashioned their theology, but they have the luxury of not thinking about you when you’re not around them for long periods of time. You’re a big part of your mother’s life on the other hand, so you’re there as a constant challenge to her worldview that she feels she needs to combat for her own peace of mind. That’s why she’s the one who accuses you openly.

Based on what I’ve written so far, I’m inclined to think that your mother will be less hard on you after you move out some years from now. It will give her long breaks from having to internally justify her dependence on God in the face of your independence, so there won’t be that constant struggle that reignites when she sees you, and she’ll be able to just see her daughter again. This is purely a guess on my part, but I think one of my better-made guesses. And to address one thing specifically, it’s one thing to be revolted by the very idea of a same-sex partner, and another entirely to get to know the actual person. The mother of my best friend referred to my friend’s girlfriend as “it” from afar for a long time before finally building a relationship with her.

In the meantime, the onus is not on you to hide who you are and how you live for your mother’s sake. She needs to come to terms with the woman her daughter has become. That’s hard for many parents, but the focal point of religion will figure heavily in her process and you both may suffer for it. Be patient with her, answer any honest questions she has, engage whenever you feel it’s right to. Don’t feel you’re alone, like-minded company can be found locally and globally if you know where to look. These are your particular challenges in growing up – everyone gets some – and I think you’re as well-equipped as any to handle them.

Islam and Science Again

Question from :
The Quran has verses about the Big Bang, the formation of the embryo, the speed of light and other scientific facts. How do I explain to a Muslim that these Quranic verses are incorrect or that Quran is incorrect? When I discuss such matters with Muslims, the discussion becomes dead as both the sides have their explanations but are not convincing enough. Any help would be really appreciated. I watch your show online from time to time, some callers give very stupid arguments but all in all great work guys. Keep it up 🙂

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, we’re not affiliated with any show. Ask The Atheist with Tom Leykis isn’t us. You might instead be talking about The Atheist Experience, which I love but is not us either.

Anyway, the claims of divine scientific foreknowledge always rely on specific interpretations of passages in the Quran, so the question is whether these interpretations are justified, and the problem with discussing it with Muslims is that the answer to this question is extremely subjective. What’s not so subjective is whether it is convincing to non-believers; no matter how obvious the argument seems to Muslims, they can’t claim that it’s persuading people who don’t already believe. The propaganda is all one-way from devout Muslims, not testimonials from new converts. Therefore if they care about more than just feeling smug and reassuring their fellow Muslims (and they may not), they need to address what you find weak about this type of argument.

For excellent analysis of particular claims, check out TheIslamMiracle on YouTube. There’s a video for each one.

Package Deal: NDE (claim) + Miracle Cure (claim)

Question from Halil:
Do you think this proves miracles?
http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/miracle_russia.aspx

Answer by SmartLX:
If you’re going to give me nothing but a link, Halil, I will respond in kind with a nice in-depth thread on the Skeptics Society forum dedicated to this particular claim. Many, many problems with it. Respond to the criticisms from the other page if you want to advocate this as a miracle.

If this is the best apologetics Islam has to offer…

Question from Abu (“Muslim until death”, as he wrote in the name field):
I always feel pity for the stubbornness (to believe in Allah/God/Elohim/Ubangiji) of/by Atheists.

Thus I have a lot of questions to harden your brain (and if Allah wills for you goodness; you may take heed).

1) First of all: Why do you deny the existence of Allah [the Almighty God] ?

2) Second of all: Do you go with your life (here I purposely mean) for breathing, able to motionize, able to so likes of ?

3) Third of all: Do you think that everything goes freely by its power of nature ?

4) Fourth of all: If you think that Allah doesn’t exist, how all things came to existence ?

5) Fifth of last: I do argue to prepare for yourselves the last destination, there is a world to come after this, don’t let yourself be loser in Hereafter.

Bye !

Answer by SmartLX:
Interesting idea for you while I’m answering these: if none of the preaching has any effect on me, does that mean Allah wills me to reject him? The Bible talks about God hardening people’s hearts so that they’ll reject him; maybe some people just aren’t meant to be saved.

1) I deny that Allah exists (or at least I say that it seems very unlikely) because I do not believe that Allah exists, and I have decided to be honest about it. Even a genuine lack of belief is difficult for some believers to accept. Sorry folks, but there are people who truly disagree with you.

2) This one was honestly difficult to interpret, so tell me if I’m on the wrong track. I don’t think I need help to breathe, move and so on because there are mechanisms in my body which make these things happen for me. Even if Allah is real he doesn’t necessarily have to run everything manually.

3) I think everything obeys natural laws, only some of which we understand well enough to predict behaviour. An interventionist god like Allah would influence our lives by violating these laws, and I don’t think there’s good evidence that this is happening.

4) I don’t know how everything came to exist. To say that this lack of knowledge supports an assertion that a being with an equally mysterious origin must exist is an argument from ignorance. (It’s no accident that this is the most common hyperlink on this site besides the one for my Twitter.)

5) This is not a question.

Rooting For The Ultimate Underdog

Question from Kyle:
I was wondering if you agree with me that even if we knew Christianity were true, any moral person would be morally compelled to follow Lucifer not God.

– God kills at least millions, Lucifer killed less than a handful of people.
– 1/3 of all angels rebel with Lucifer to fight a war against an omnipotent being they know they can’t win.
– Lucifer is cast out of Heaven for refusing to worship God.
– Lucifer sees human slaves so he gives them knowledge.
– God decides to torture his most beloved creation, the devil, for all eternity.

List could go on forever.

Answer by SmartLX:
When you don’t believe in either of these two characters a discussion like this is moot, of course, but think how many discussions are had over who is the true hero of Star Wars or Game of Thrones. In that spirit, there is certainly a discussion to be had over which of them is more moral – when you don’t define God as the source and model of morality and therefore incapable by definition of doing anything immoral.

The question in my mind is whether one would actually be morally compelled to follow the more moral of the two. If God controls who goes to Heaven and Hell, you would want to know that following Lucifer was actually of any use to Lucifer before potentially consigning yourself to Hell for no good reason. In most of the relevant theologies there’s no reason to think that Hell stops being an eternal torment if Lucifer acknowledges your allegiance (remember, it’s a punishment even for him), though maybe there’s a Satanist text that says otherwise. And is Lucifer expected to try another insurgency anytime soon for which he’ll need anti-Christian soldiers, by anyone other than the fear-mongering kind of Christian?

A Catholic PSA

Question from John:
1. Do you know that the shroud of Turin was never confirmed as a “miracle” or “real” by Catholic Church?
2. Do you know that Catholics are supposed to believe that they ARE mortal?
3. Do you know that Catholics acknowledge many of their rituals as “tradition” only?
4. Do you know that the strongest teachings in the Catholic religion are about “Free Will” of each human?

Answer by SmartLX (who also added the numbers above):
1. The Church never makes a definite judgement on the shroud, but the last three popes have made the trip to “venerate” it. They could be called out if they said anything definite, so they make the most of it by inviting people to consider it and wonder. Certainty is hardly necessary when the goal is to reassure the faithful.

2. Of course people are mortal according to the Church. Immortality through God and Jesus is the supposed reward for devotion to the church, so they need to emphasise that people don’t have it yet.

3. Many of the rituals are merely traditional because they’re not even claimed to do anything magical, but there are some claims they can’t back down from, like hundreds of thousands of transubstantiation events every week in all the wafers and wine. See article 1376 in the Catechism.

4. Belief in free will is required to even try to justify rewarding or punishing people for obeying or disobeying God with an eternity in Heaven or Hell. It’s still not justified very well.

Eben Alexander’s Adventures In Bed

Question from Halil:
Hello guys,

Recently I read about the Eben Alexander case, a neurosurgeon, who went to Harvard. He claims that he was in a coma, that his brain was 100 percent shut off due to meningitis. I’m sure many have heard of this. There was an article published by Luke Dittrich in 2013 which many atheists took at face value, as they believed that Dittrich proved many flaws in the Alexander story. However, now Alexander himself has come up with a rebuttal, and many of the people Dittrich interviewed said that they were misled by him, and that he changed actual quotes by Alexander.

If this is true, do you believe that Alexander went to heaven? He is a neurosurgeon, and says it could not have occurred as his brain was coming back online. He says that he has had hundreds of patients who have terrible, painful hallucinations when they come back online. Then he says when he was coming back, he hallucinated that his doctor and his wife were trying to kill him. What do you guys think, is Alexander proof of afterlife, or is it possible that even a neurosurgeon is incorrect?

Answer by SmartLX:
Of course it’s possible that a neurosurgeon is incorrect, because neurosurgeons disagree about things all the time (the most common example is how best to treat a given patient) and they can’t all be right.

Anyway, Alexander’s response to Dittrich would constitute proof of an afterlife if Alexander’s response were perfect and Dittrich’s points were the only things keeping it from being a certainty, which isn’t the case. Dittrich’s isn’t even the only major response to Alexander’s claims, because Sam Harris, Michael Shermer and Oliver Sacks chimed in too.

To address your one specific point on the details, Alexander says his patients have told him about having horrible hallucinations while coming “back online” but that doesn’t mean all hallucinations in that state are unpleasant, especially when the few pleasant ones are likely to be characterised by believers as NDEs. That’s a convenient way to explain away any experience that doesn’t fit his claim, including his own experience. And none of this says anything about what dreams may come as the brain is going “offline” before the inactive period.

“Our Lady” Around The World

Question from Jonathan:
So what is your explanation for Our Lady of Akita whose tears were indeed human?

Answer by SmartLX:
Lucky you, I’ve recently addressed Akita. The short answer is that you sound more confident in that one than the Church is.

First Fátima, now Akita…what next, Our Lady of Lourdes? I know Mary really gets around.

Touring the Hospital the Hard Way

Question from Marcus:
Here is an interesting case from Laurin Belgg’s book, Near Death in the ICU. I do not know how any skeptic could potentially debunk this, as this experience pretty much proves that the soul exists in my eyes. What do you think?

It involves a man who suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. After he had recovered sufficiently to talk, he described an NDE that took place while he was unconscious:

“I felt myself rising up through the ceiling and it was like I was going through the structure of the building. I could feel the different densities of passing through insulation. I saw wiring, some pipes and then I was in this other room.

It looked like a hospital but it was different.… It was very quiet and it seemed like no one was there. There were individual rooms all around the edge and on some of the beds were these people, except they were not people, exactly. They looked like mannequins and they had IVs hooked up to them but they didn’t look real. In the center was an open area that looked like a collection of work stations with computers.

Dr Bellg, a critical care physician, says her jaw dropped when she heard this. She writes:

I stole a look at the nurse who looked equally surprised. What we knew that Howard didn’t, is that right above the ICU is a nurse-training center where new hires spend a few days rotating through different scenarios. There are simulated hospital rooms around the perimeter with medical mannequins on some of the beds. In the center there is indeed a collection of workspaces with computers.”

The patient also repeated statements made by Bellg during the resuscitation effort, when he was being defibrillated, and accurately reported who was present during the event.

How could a man under Cardiac arrest get this information?

Answer by SmartLX:
He could get it from anywhere beforehand, and we wouldn’t know.

The man’s name is changed to “Howard” in Bellg’s book from something else entirely, which gives you an idea of how much information about him is actually available. We don’t know who this person was outside of his alcoholism, how many times he’d been in the same hospital or one with a similar setup (documented chronic alcoholism and having just had some intestines removed suggests several), who he knew in the hospital or the local medical community, what he saw on the way in this time around, what leading questions he was given by the staff (and particularly Bellg, who was in retrospect collecting NDE stories at the time) and so on. Use your imagination.

As for what he supposedly heard during the resuscitation, it’s been established that the resuscitation itself can push enough blood through the brain to briefly restore consciousness. He didn’t necessarily need to go all Doctor Strange, he could have heard it with his own ears. Otherwise, verbal communication between medical staff is highly standardised to prevent ambiguity and confusion. If you’ve heard one “code blue” procedure, you’ve heard them all, complications notwithstanding.

Jumping to a conclusion based on an anecdote while knowing almost nothing about the surrounding circumstances is one’s own prerogative, but trying to convince others based on the same information you’ve got is right back to an argument from ignorance. We don’t know how or when he got the information, so the most likely explanation is that his soul left his body and picked it all up? Literally anything else seems more likely – unless you already believe in independent souls and want to hear that they exist. Then it’s marvelously reassuring, which is why these books sell well.

Fátima Recap

Question from Jonathan:
So how do you explain events life Fatima where over 70000 people simultaneously saw a miracle as it was foretold by a little girl, check it out if you don’t believe me it’s very well documented. If that’s not enough for you it also made accurate predictions.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve addressed both of these points quite recently: the mass miracle here and the predictions here. If I’ve missed some detail which you think is important, comment in the appropriate article.