Thomas McDonald pretending to be clever.

I have a general policy.  If I think someone’s a terrible human being, I try to go through all the reasons for why I think that before declaring them to be an asshole.  But in this case I just can’t wait: Thomas L. McDonald, Catholic blogger here at Patheos, is an irretrievable asshole.  If ever we needed an argument for god being unjust, look no further than the fact that he thinks Thomas L. McDonald deserves even a taste of paradise instead of a decade long paper cut.

McDonald has some opinions about atheists, and has declared April Fools day to be “Hug an Atheist Day”.  Because we’re fools, get it?  Let’s just look at what he has to say:

Go ahead and hug an atheist today. They need it. They live lives of sad desperation caught in a meaningless universe and protest that they’re happy because they see things “as they really are” and are free to enjoy life as it is, and then disappear into the dust and relieve an already overcrowded world of yet another sentient meatbag.

McDonald seems to think happiness means nothing if it doesn’t last forever.  The irony is that he then accuses people like me of living a life of despair.

Any time somebody performs an action, they give meaning to their life.  Here, look at me and the woman I love enjoying our lives and giving meaning to them by making a cake shaped like an owl!  The fact that this is only temporary does not undermine its significance.  And besides, this is a happiness that is absolutely real, that I’ve already received.  Am I to believe that more meaning can be had holding out for the promise of paradise that I’ve never received, and will only be presented to me after I die?  Bullshit, says I.

And what’s wrong with seeing things as they really are?  I don’t think it’s terribly off base to assert that learning how the Jeans Instability works to produce stars is far more fulfilling and allows me a greater connection to the universe in which I live than “god did it”.

Evangelical atheists are funny little people, ain’t they? They claim to be the sole heirs to true “reason,” while promoting a mechanistic model of the the universe that is more faith-based than that of theists.

Oh, we don’t declare ourselves to be the sole heirs of reason, but I have no problem saying I care more about it than religious people.  Nobody who gives reason supreme authority over all other authorities could believe that somebody rose from the dead or walked on water.

And our model of the universe is faith-based?  I beg to differ.  Science makes only one assumption: the universe operates on a set of rules.  If this assumption is true we should be able to test it, and we have every time we’ve been able to throw things to the edge of our solar system with uncanny accuracy, by inventing light bulbs, by designing airplanes that fly, etc..  It works.  And it has worked so consistently that it is no longer fair to call it a mere assumption.

You already accept the universe is consistent. If you put your finger on a hot stove and burn yourself, then you pass the same stove a week later, you’re probably not going to put your finger on it again. Such inductive rules could not be formed without consistency.  Compare this to the theist who thinks the consistency of the universe was suspended so their beliefs about someone rising from the dead and walking on water can be true.  If you think it takes even equal amounts of faith to believe someone didn’t rise from the dead, you wouldn’t recognize reason if it was making you pregnant.

I believe the origin of the universe in the big bang (a theory originated by Fr. Georges Lemaître) has a theistic cause, and I have the proof of my own senses and reason, as well as the perfectly sound logical point that all causes must trace themselves back to a First Cause.

All causes trace themselves back to a first cause…except god, of course.  It must be nice to have a different set of rules for your opposition than for others.

You already believe something can exist without a cause, because you think god did.  So as long as that’s our operating assumption, why not assume that the things that exist without a cause are matter and the laws of physics?  We know they exist and we know they create order all by themselves.

They also believe that the universe has an origin point, and that their faith-based view of science will find the solely natural cause for that origin annnnny day now. Just give it time. Top Men are working on it right now. Top! Men!

It takes a lot of brass to assert you know more about cosmology than the collective battery of every scientific mind past and present while still thinking your beliefs (in which the author of every star in every galaxy takes a specific interest in you) represent a religion of humility.

We don’t know from whence came the universe, and we have no problem saying so.  It’s you, Thomas McDonald, and every other believer who is claiming they do know (when even cosmologists don’t).  All we’re saying is that you’re full of shit, because you are.

But even if we had to guess, how would we do so?  There was once a time when nothing was explained and ever since that time quite literally everything we have explained has been found to have a natural explanation.  Every single time.  You can even test this:

1.  Try to think of a question for which we once had a religious answer, but for which we now have a scientific answer.

This should be hella easy.  Religions are rife with making assertions of knowledge, not based upon any evidence, but upon “revelation”.  Then, when evidence turns up later, that “revelation” winds up being indistinguishable from somebody making shit up.

2.  Now try to think of a question for which we once had a scientific answer, but for which we now have a religious answer.


Every discovery we’ve ever made has revealed a natural universe.  Try to imagine the historical trend in discovered knowledge as two boxers who have fought millions of fights, with one of those boxers winning every single one.  They’re about to fight again.  On which fighter do you bet your life savings?  Does anybody with half a brain listen to the guy saying they know the perpetually losing boxer is going to finally pull one out because they have faith?

Of course, once that cause is found, it still doesn’t rule out a theistic answer to the origin and nature of the universe any more than understanding why a rose is red and smells nice renders Shakespeare meaningless.

Of course.  It doesn’t matter how many natural explanations are discovered or how many times those explanations have run in opposition to the Catholic faith, at no point will McDonald relent until we’ve turned over every rock in the universe and found no gods.  I wonder if he treats leprechauns the same way.  Sure, we have no evidence of them!  But I believe they’re hiding in the middle of the sun!  And even if we can ever peer into the sun’s center and find no leprechauns, that doesn’t change anything!  Maybe they’re in another star or just really tiny!

In one case, the person is clearly an idiot.  In the other, we just call them a Catholic.

Not ruling out the existence of a god is a far cry from confirming one or of Thomas McDonald (or any other theist) having the slightest bit of good reason to believe one is there.  Even if I admit a god is possible in the same way as unicorns living inside my ass, that does nothing for making those beliefs plausible.

Here’s the glorious truth for them: time, space, and matter have an origin point outside of time, space, and matter, and this everyone understands to be God.

God made the universe when there was no space for him to do it and no time for him to do it in.  Sounds legit.

And no, not everyone understands it to be god, because we don’t know what catalyzed our universe.  McDonald is just taking what humanity doesn’t know and giving god the credit for it.  There are two reasons this is a silly thing to do.

1.  The less ignorant humanity becomes, the more we thrive.  Knowledge is power, after all.  It’s why our generation of airplanes, cell phones, abundant food, clean water, medicine, and such is a veritable Utopia compared to every previous generation.  We try our best, as a species, to eliminate ignorance because we realize this.  By naming your ignorance of things (like how the universe came to be) “god” you wind up worshiping this quality that all sane and self respecting people are trying to carve away with every passing day.  Worshiping ignorance is pretty self-deprecating.

2.  To equate god with human ignorance is to make god synonymous with a quality we don’t want.  Even if god exists, you’re not doing him any favors this way.

It’s really not that hard, and if the next question is, “Well, then where does God come from?” the answer is right there in that complex, brilliant, poetic, vexing, and infinitely wise thing we call scripture, formulated long before the idea of contingent being: “God is.”

It’s not hard, the answer is easy (and yet, vexing, don’t ask how that works): “my position is correct”.  Checkmate, atheists!  I wonder how Thomas McDonald would react if I just declared “Physics is.  God isn’t.”  That’s actually a lie, I don’t wonder at all.

What, you wanted something more than that? Maybe a calculation or a formula or a paper in Nature?

That would actually be lovely.  After all, god gave us that kind of evidence for the rate of descent and for the existence of, say, feces.  If god’s existence is a more important fact than the existence of feces, why did he give us more evidence for the latter?

An answer that reduces the infinite wonder of a totally non-contingent being responsible for all existence into something you can store in that bag of gray mush in your noggin?

Or, as people not eat up with trying to rationalize ridiculous beliefs call it: “knowledge”.

Tough crap. That’s all you’re getting: YHWH. It’s all you need. Embrace that one mystery, and all else makes sense.

You want knowledge from my religion?  Well you can fuck right off.  You can have mystery that we call knowledge, oh and also the origin of the universe is mysterious and yet we know how it works (I guess the mystery is how we know that, but I’ll be damned if treat that knowledge like a scientist would and make it available to everybody).

Anybody saying this stuff should be disqualified from any position of responsibility beyond making french fries.

I’m not sure what clinging to an irrational vision of reality gives to atheists.

“I don’t know how the universe came to be” is not irrational.  “It’s a mystery and I know!  It was someone who rose from the dead and walked on water” is the zenith of irrationality.

Belief in a transcendent order is a fundamental element of the human psyche, which would mean that it is, in itself, natural.

It’s also natural to die from infections.  Good thing we invented antibiotics.

It’s also natural to have declining eye sight.  Good thing we decided not to be slaves to our nature there.

Not everything that is a natural part of our lives is necessarily good for them, otherwise people would never have their wisdom teeth removed.  It’s also natural for us to overeat.  A wise person pays greater heed to their natural inclination for self preservation by not overeating.  Likewise, when presented with a cloying fantasy that appeals to our sense of wishful thinking, a wise person gives greater authority to their impulse to not be gullible.

These are the same people who argue that homosexuals are “born with” their sexuality and loudly berate the idea of gay people “going straight” or attempting conversion therapy.

To be fair, that’s not just atheists but also every major psychological organization.  But who cares what the experts think?  Thomas McDonald has the opinions of people who lived over a thousand years before the advent of psychology.

Why defer to experts when one can derive contrary opinions from a great mystery?

However, they seem to think it’s perfectly fine for a human animal born with an innate religious impulse to repress or deny that impulse in favor of … what? A Reason Rally?

If someone is also born with the impulse to rape children (see an astonishingly high percentage of Catholic priests), I think they should repress that too.

And yes, if you feel tempted to believe that somebody rose from the dead, or that the guy selling you a used car without an engine really has your best interests at heart, I do expect you to deny that in favor of reason.  I expect this because beliefs are the gatekeepers of actions, and our actions affect our neighbors.  This makes my beliefs your business, and your beliefs mine.

Interesting bunch of hypocrites, these evangelical atheists.

I know, right?  Expecting people to have reasons and evidence for the shit they believe.  Next we’ll even be demanding they not pretend to know shit they don’t.  I can totally see why a person would eschew us in favor of unflinching loyalty to an organization with a history of burning scholars at the stake.

But that’s okay, since they don’t really believe it anyway. As Andrew Ferguson writes in the best essay of the year, “Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived…. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.”

How does the lack of god prohibit one from having moral agency?  Does Thomas McDonald not jump on the child-raping and/or protecting child rapists bandwagon like his religious leaders, not because he has empathy for children, but because he really doesn’t want to go to hell?  I’d like to introduce Thomas to this new thing called “kindness”.  I really think it’s going to catch on.

I’m afraid it’s quite the opposite.  If you need an omnipotent being standing over, always with the threat of punishment to keep you from killing your neighbors, raping their pets, and stealing their pornography, it is you who is the psychopath.  For the rest of us who feel sympathy when others suffer, we’re what is best about humanity.

You can’t believe the universe is without purpose or meaning…

The universe has no purpose.  People do.

…wave your hands around a lot, and then arrive at a moral order for behavior based upon vagaries like social contracts.

Actually, we can.  All we have to do is realize that we want to live in a world where people don’t steal from one another – where people live in harmony.  Once we make that one, tiny admission, we’ve given ourselves all the reason we need to construct moral rules.

There is something in us that allows us to read passages like Exodus 35:2 (kill anybody who works on a Saturday) and determine that they are not moral and never were.  It is pure compassion, and it is a compassion present in other species that do not have the capacity to believe in god.  If we’re the ones making the moral calls, even about our religions, what need do we have of those religions for constructing our morals?

That’s not even good nonsense.

You’re right, humans would never figure out that agreeing to not harm one another might be a good way to live.  We must’ve had a guy rise from the dead and get brutally killed for imaginary crimes he didn’t commit in order for there to be justice.  Forgive me if I’m unmoved by Thomas McDonald’s appraisal of what constitutes nonsense.

And so today, April 1st, American Catholic is urging us to celebrate National Atheist Day. Go ahead, reach out to an atheist. Be prepared to offer a reason for your belief.

Yes, please offer a reason for your belief.  I’d like that.  Give me your best one, since in this post you inexplicably decided to lead with all your shitty arguments.

Oh, these were your best?  Shit’s a mystery and that’s why your religion is right?  Oh…

I followed the link to “a reason for your belief.”  Do you know what the reason was?  It was “Because Catholicism is true.”  I’m not joking, click the link.  It’s an exact quote.  Way to bring out the big guns there, guys.

It gets hard to separate the loud Ministers for the Church of Unbelief from the merely hurting, normal people.

I like how he calls us a church as an insult.

But no, we’re not a church.  We don’t have any prescribed beliefs or rituals.  We just all think religious people believe outlandish things.  Some of us, like me, even take it a step further and say that religious people should be better than that.  It’s not quite saying “believe as we do or burn for eternity” but I think it’s actually a lot more cordial.

Usually we only hear from the likes of American Atheists, “Friendly” Atheists, Dawkins, Meyers, etc: the Sturmabteilung of modern militant atheism.

Yup, you mainly hear from the vocal ones.  Will wonders never cease?

Forget about those jerks: they’re the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jack Chicks of modern disbelief: really loud and really dumb.

Thomas McDonald whining about people being really loud and really dumb is akin to Paris Hilton complaining that Mother Theresa was too risque.

The average person who doubts or denies the existence of God often does so for solid reasons, and they want answers, not polemics. I imagine many don’t really want to be atheists. Even many “atheists” don’t really believe in atheism.

To quote Sam Harris:

According to a recent Pew survey, 21 percent of atheists in the United States believe in “God or a universal spirit,” and 8 percent are “absolutely certain” that such a Being exists. One wonders if they were also “absolutely certain” they understood the meaning of the term “atheist.” Claiming to be an atheist who believes in God is like claiming to be a happily married bachelor. Rarely does one discover nonsense in such a pristine state. Still this hasn’t stopped many people from concluding that there is a schism in the atheist community.


The Pew survey produced a few more anomalies: 3 percent of “atheists” are “absolutely certain” that a personal God exists and believe that the Bible is His “literal” Word

This speaks more to religious people who didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about when they ticked that they were an atheist.

And even for those atheists who were similarly confused, let’s not confuse not knowing what the word ‘atheist’ means with wishing a god existed.  Most atheists are perfectly happy to get to sleep in on Sunday and have extra-marital sex, just like most Catholics, but without the guilt.

Lastly from Harris:

Pew’s sample of 35,556 Americans included 515 respondents who identified themselves as “atheists” (1.6 percent). The margin of error for this subgroup appears to be around 5 percent – which clearly makes a hash of many of the above findings. Among 35,556 people, Pew seems to have found 40 especially confused God-fearing men and women who think they are “atheists.” Their mutterings do not offer any special insight into the nature of belief.

Anyway, moving on with McDonald’s screed:

Some people fall into disbelief because they’ve seen an ugly side of religion and religious people.

Sure.  When a religion is claiming to be a moral bastion and then its leaders rape children and protect the rapists, that can send people packing.

They’ve suffered. They’ve lost. They’ve grieved.

Sure.  It makes no sense that a compassionate god would conceive of ways for us to suffer.  What do compassionate people do?  Try to eliminate suffering.  God clearly didn’t, so a compassionate god is irrational.

They’ve been lied to.

Another good reason to ditch religion.

They’re just plain ole sinners in a fallen world that exalts the self.

“Sinners”, a euphemism for “human” and more often “a human that doesn’t kowtow to my religion”.  I’m happy to be a sinner, and I don’t recognize it at all as the derisive term McDonald intends it to be.

And you’re damn straight I exalt myself.  I also exalt humanity.  We are the source of every solution to every problem we’ve ever solved.  When prayer didn’t fill our stomachs, we invented better hunting/farming techniques.  When prayer didn’t heal the sick, we invented medicine.  When travel through the world god supposedly created for us was dangerous and long, we invented automobiles and airplanes.  If prayer and reliance on god worked, we never would’ve invented anything.  Every human innovation is a testament to the uselessness of prayer and to our ability to bend the universe to serve us if we just use our wonderful mortal minds.

You’re god damned right I exalt humanity.  I think it deserves far better than religion.

What they need isn’t atheism. What they need is what atheism can never offer. Charity. Faith. Hope.

Charity:  Atheists are charitable.  What’s more, we donate because of sympathy, not because we’re bartering for an eternal reward.  In fact, the moment a church pays to send a bible to a third world country rather than food, they have had the efficacy of their charity reduced by their beliefs.  Atheists are charitable out of pure compassion.

Faith:  Yup, no use for faith.  Faith, the way religion people wield it, is gullibility pursued.  It is a license to believe any belief, regardless of the evidence.  In fact, here’s my challenge to Thomas McDonald: think of a belief so flagrantly at odds with reality that faith could not be used to defend it.

Hope:  Hope that does not affect the world is empty.  If someone found solace and hope in the idea that a leprechaun would fill their refrigerator with food, that hope is actually delusion that could keep that person from going out and getting a job.  Likewise, if prayer worked, human beings would have no need for innovation.  But in the absence of gods, our hope is derived from our ability to solve problems and our tendency to work as a team and to care for one another.  Hope springs from our ability to understand how the world works so we can more comfortably live within it.  This requires work and perspicacity.  So yes, human beings need hope – real hope, the kind that comes from the only salvation we’ve ever been able to rely upon: ourselves.  The hope of religion is empty – it’s the practice of thinking everything is already alright, or that someone else will make it alright if we just believe the proper absurd stories.  It is beneath humanity.

Atheists offer people an attractive lie: the world all there is, so you might as well just enjoy it. In other words, they look at a broken world, say it can be no product of a loving and omnipotent God, and therefore urge people to just embrace it as is.

It’s atheists offering the attractive lie?  Wait, who is it telling people they can live forever if they just believe a guy walked on water 2,000 years ago?

What atheists are saying is that your reasons for believing the above claim are lame to the power of lame, which is not a lie.  Fortunately, the truth that the universe is wonderful, beautiful, and complex owes nothing to any religion.  That really is the way the world is, and I have no problem pointing that out.  Hell, I’m happy to do so.

By contrast, we look at a world broken by our sins, and see the creation of a loving father of who set his children free to fall, and then urged them to lift themselves up again. As a father does. As I did when my children fell. And in learning to stand, we learn to live, and in time, to yearn for the world beyond the world. We long for a return to the home we lost, and which was reclaimed for us on barren hilltop 2000 years ago. We travel a road of faith, hope, and love back to the kingdom we left.

Oh, you were a father just like god?  What if god commanded you to kill your child, as he did with Abraham and Jephthah?  Would you be the admirable Christian (as Christians are taught to view those men) and obey?  If so, you lose all right to call anybody else a psychopath.

Do you punish your children to correct their behavior and nothing more, or do you toss them into an oven for the rest of their lives (which, itself, would be more merciful than hell) the first time they defy you as a parent?  If not, congrats!  You’re a better father than god.

It’s much more than merely an appealing alternative to the grim determinism of atheism, and it has one benefit above all others.

It happens to be true.

It would be awesome for Catholicism if arguments could be won by declaring that your beliefs are true.  However, in the world of people who don’t want to accept false beliefs, we need just a little more than that.

Oh, and if you’re wanting to go defend atheists on McDonald’s blog, don’t bother.  He’s closed comments.  But it’s only because he thinks atheists are jerks (which is ironic after you read his post).  He did leave this though:

Honestly not interested in the usual atheist combox trolling during spring break, so combox is off. Post your complaints here:

UPDATE: Good grief, now the Raisin Warriors are drifting into other comboxes to bleat. Here’s my experience with atheists in the comboxes, which might give you a clue as to why the anti-theist opinions of fundamentalist atheists are of zero interest to me now and forever. I trawled through their intellectual backwaters before I returned to the Church, and I have never encountered a bigger batch of bias and shoddy thinking this side of Westboro Baptist Church. As I said on the other combox reply, fundamentalist atheists are 1) repetitive, 2) boring, 3) rude, and 4) far, far FAR less clever than they think they are.

They also have plenty of forums to get their hate on.

If you want to accuse me of avoiding a debate, you are 100% correct. Atheism is as intellectually credible as Holocaust denial and racial theory. I don’t debate those either.

There is a particular delicious irony in reading Thomas McDonald accusing other people of not being clever.  He doesn’t listen to the opinions of atheists, but somehow he knows what they think and that believing somebody didn’t rise from the dead makes as much sense as committing genocide against a whole race.  I just wonder how much blunt force trauma to a person’s skull it would take before that actually sounded like a coherent thought.  Rebutting this lengthy pile of nonsense feels very much like racing a box turtle.

And, frankly, given his worship of a god who committed genocide against all of humanity (save for eight people) for the crime of not believing in him, it’s strange to hear McDonald turn around and condemn genocide elsewhere.  Any person who can approve of a genocidal maniac in any capacity is a person who probably should get summarily ignored when he starts telling you how you need to think like him in order to have moral rules.

What a self-important, oblivious, gullible, unintelligent, unethical, and all around vile person.  And yet, for all of that, he is still more moral than the last two popes, both of which displayed coldness in the face of the victims of child rape at the hands of the church.  That should tell you just about everything you need to know about the Catholic Church and the people who still follow it.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    McDonald seems to think happiness means nothing if it doesn’t last forever.

    I’ve always found that odd: usually we place greater value on things based on its limited quantity yet life (human life, everything else can go suck it) only has value if it never ends.

    • Loqi

      I’ve often wondered this as well. I’m amused when theists trot this out, especially if they’re capitalists.

  • Glodson

    I believe the origin of the universe in the big bang (a theory originated by Fr. Georges Lemaître) has a theistic cause, and I have the proof of my own senses and reason, as well as the perfectly sound logical point that all causes must trace themselves back to a First Cause.


    • IslandBrewer

      *hugs Glodson*

    • Andrew Kohler

      You cut off one head of the hydra and up pops another. This merits *hugs to everyone*

    • M

      *hug an atheist*

      Not cuz idiotface up top said to. Because Glodson needs a hug.

    • Glodson

      Thanks everyone. I almost want to reprint my response to the First Cause Nonsense.

      And he played the “God is outside spacetime card.” Which is beyond stupid as that means that god won’t experience any notion of time. Which would beg the question as to why a just and good god would let so much time pass before he sends his son to deal with sin. Worse, that would mean that his power would come from outside, so we should have easy empirical data on prayer as it should do something entirely impossible by our normal laws of physics by adding energy into a closed system. Something we can measure. And it begs the question how anyone could know the existence of an entity that exists outside time given our limited understanding of this universe to begin with.

  • SpaceGhoti

    Heh. I love that he trots out the old canard about “you can’t prove God isn’t real.” Lately I’ve taken to turning that around: “you can’t prove I’m not God testing you.” None have yet responded.

    • Glodson

      Shut up, God.

      • Bob Jase

        Don’t talk to Cthulhu like that!

        Its not blasphemous enough.

        • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

          You have to really rile him up to get him to eat you first.

        • John Evans

          But I’m I’a-kin’ about Shaft!

  • Steve

    I have no idea what all the Catholic bloggers on Patheos are so batshit crazy. Because most ordinary Catholics aren’t like that. Sure, there is a radical fringe and they somehow seem to have found there way here. You couldn’t even distinguish them from Protestant fundamentalists if they didn’t reference Catholicism now and then. Why doesn’t Patheos attempt to balance them with some halfway sane people?

    • Randomfactor

      The halfway-sane Catholics feel a bit silly defending the Church teachings that they themselves don’t believe?

      • Glodson

        Pretty much this. My mother-in-law is Catholic. And a pro-choice, pro-gay rights woman who hated the last pope and worries a great deal about the problems in the church.

        Most catholics I know are like this. They are thoughtful people who were handed a crappy religion at birth, and so invested in it that it is hard to dislodge the loyalty.

        • Silent Service

          I’m always amazed at how many of these reasonable “Catholics” I know. They grew up Catholic. Their family is Catholic. The idea of not being Catholic just seems to offend their sense of self; and yet they are completely reasonable about almost everything except the idea that we don’t actually need the Church or the deity that it supposedly represents.

          • Daniel Schealler

            It’s just something about catholicism.

            I have a catholic background that I’ve left behind a long time ago. But they really get their tentacles into your brain somehow. It’s the permanent vague sense that you’ve done something wrong and are living on borrowed time until you’re going to get into trouble about it.

            Other religions may have the same effect on their adherents of course – I can only speak from my own experience. But Catholicism is really sticky. Even these days when I argue against Christians, I have to restrain myself from the expressing a deeply held assumption that non-Catholics (or anyone who rejects the Nicene Creed) aren’t ‘real Christians’.

          • iknklast

            Unfortunately, I rarely meet any of those. Strange. I hear about these reasonable Catholics, but 85% of the Catholics in my classes are young earth creationists, hate mongers, anti-contraception, and spend a lot of their time making anti-abortion posters. I guess it’s because of the part of the country I live in. Most of the Protestants around here are like that, too. I thought I moved out of the Bible Belt when I left Oklahoma, but it followed me.

        • Art Vandelay

          That sounds like my mother as well. In spite of her ideological differences with the church hierarchy, she still gives them 10% of her income though. She knows a portion of that $ is being used to oppress gays, subjugate women, and ohhhh…let’s just say cover-up the systematic rape and torture of children all over the world. This bugs the living shit out of me.

    • Brandon

      The thing is, all the delightful Catholic folks I know (and there’s a lot of ‘em) are nominal Catholics that don’t buy into Church mythology at all. They like traditions, not arcane rules.

      • Glodson

        It is almost like they were brought up in a religion normalized at a very early age so much so that they believe it is an important part of their identity despite not agreeing with it and even actively dismissing some of the claims.

  • Randomfactor

    Science makes only one assumption: the universe operates on a set of rules.

    Religion argues that those rules can be set aside at any time, and in fact that it happens ALL the time in response to prayer. When challenged for an example of that happening, every single one seems to be recorded in some long-ago era when scientific standards were all about what the goat entrails said. Or to a cousin’s friend’s chiropractor. Or to someone personally known to the god-botherer, and he’ll get you the details next week. If not the week after that.

  • Silent Service


    Why the heck are you spinning yourself up this way. You were actually becoming a bit incoherent there. Relax. McDonnald is an idiot. Don’t give yourself a stroke over it.

    • Nate Frein

      He never seemed to be incoherent…some typos but I can attribute that to the fact that
      A) It’s a fairly long post
      B) He’s been travelling a lot lately and is probably still recovering a big
      C) His content has been light lately and he is dependent on readers, so he’s probably feeling a little pushed to get content on the site.

  • http://www.SecularCensus.US/ Mary Ellen Sikes

    The Pew statistics on “atheist” theists were a major impetus behind my creating the American Secular Census. We needed clearer data and questions framed in ways that atheists could answer unambiguously. On McDonald’s ridiculous claim that “sad desperation” is an atheist’s lot, not so much. I just did a quickie query of our life satisfaction data and 80.2% say they are happy or very happy — only 4.7% click unhappy or very unhappy. (The rest are noncommittal.) Full openness about sample sizes will start happening once the registry reaches 10K. I will offer that this sample just now had 4 digits. (That’s of people giving life satisfaction data, which is not everyone signed up. Survey within a survey kind of thing.) All registrants affirm that they are skeptical of supernatural claims including those normally associated with religion, and most use the self-identity “atheist.”

    • Silent Service

      I’m sure that Mr. McDonald will simply say that the atheists don’t know what real happiness is, or are lying because we don’t want everybody to know how misserable we really are. Such reason based evidence has no meaning to a theocrat.

  • MountainTiger

    I love the huffy “I don’t debate” bit he appended. The Catholic channel should just make that their motto.

    • Korou

      Yeah. Remember Dwight Longenecker, of Catholic Patheos?
      - “I don’t argue with people.”
      - (argues, loses).
      - “I told you, I don’t argue with people.”

      • Rain

        What else do they have but repeating mumbo jumbo they uncritically absorbed into their vocabulary? They know bald assertions ain’t going to cut the mustard. Look how Sam Harris walked all over poor Andrew Sullivan, and Sullivan is the smartest Catholic ever. Way smarter than any of the patheos comedy Catholic squad. Sullivan doesn’t even allow comments. That’s how smart he is. Really freaking smart Catholic.

      • IslandBrewer

        Ah, I think it’s common among all Catholic bloggers here, like Mark Shea – “Oooh, an argument! Where’s the ‘delete’ button?”

  • http://www.SecularCensus.US/ Mary Ellen Sikes

    I think it’s OK to ban debate if atheists can also ban proselytizers, but in this case he’s making some pretty unsubstantiated and prejudicial claims about another group, not just engaging in Catholic apologetics.

  • smrnda

    If you believe that things are bad because of people’s ‘sins’ all you’re doing is telling powerless people that somehow the reason things are bad is because they’re not good enough and haven’t groveled before some god for forgiveness. It’s a complete distraction that things are shitty at times because people with power and money and resources and connections screw a whole lot of people. They’re always happy to keep the peasant convinced that the peasants don’t need a new social order, they need more god and more wallowing in guilt and shame.

    The other reason things can be shitty is people wanting some god to solve problems rather than putting actual work into it. Let’s do an experiment – I’ll cook dinner, and some theist can pray for a dinner, and we’ll see who gets full. We won’t solve any problems without research, knowledge, work, and the economic and political will to do so.

  • Kaoru Negisa

    “As a father does. As I did when my children fell.”

    I think you missed a point here, JT. When you responded to this, you neglected to point out that if he was a father just like god, that means he not only let his children fall, he actively tripped them for no reason other than to convince them to heed his authority. A father like god is the kind that gives his kids a book with all of the advice he thinks they need, then never speaks to them directly again, relying on other people to let his kids know what he wants (in the case of Catholics, the biggest brothers) . A father like god only helps his children in ways that can easily be confused with no intervention at all and may only bother to intervene if your siblings and you ask really nice.

    I hope McDonald was a better father than that!

    • kagekiri

      The Bible fairly effectively argues that God is much shittier than any human father. You know that verse about “no earthly father gives his children snakes when they ask for bread”? It’s trying to say “of course God will take care of you even better”, but the Bible itself…argues otherwise.

      What exactly did God give his “children” in the Garden of Eden story? A snake that tempted them and doomed humanity to be hell-bound/mortal as default. Hmmm, that’s not bread, and I’m pretty sure Adam and Eve didn’t like being cursed with death/Hell and wouldn’t have asked for it. Jesus wasn’t very good at the whole “logical consistency” bit, because God is a father who just loves giving snakes to his children while claiming they just need to really BELIEVE it’s bread while they’re getting bitten, strangled, and killed by the snake.

      Who doesn’t answer most prayers of need with actual provision, with claims that their faith isn’t sincere enough? God (and Jesus too, even in the stories). Any human parent who claimed their kids just weren’t sincere or grateful enough to deserve being helped with their real sicknesses or needs? They would be a monster.

      Who throws their best follower’s family to Satan to toy with in the story of Job? God. What do you call a parent who invites gangsters to murder their grandchildren to prove that their child is just so perfect and loving that they would forgive even that, all to boast to a criminal that the parent hates? They’d be an inhuman psychopath, and as immoral as you could probably be.

      God’s “love” in the Bible for most of his “children” is barely distinguishable from hatred.

  • Andrew Kohler

    This post is exhausting. Timothy McDonald has written a condensed amalgamation of all of the classic canards against atheism, so massive that it threatens to collapse under its own weight.

    You know, I do not like it when people who know absolutely nothing about me try to ascertain whether or not I have any meaning in my life, and do so with maximum condescension and minimal compassion. Especially when they are incredibly wrong in their conclusions.

    “Of course, once that cause is found, it still doesn’t rule out a theistic answer to the origin and nature of the universe any more than understanding why a rose is red and smells nice renders Shakespeare meaningless.”

    Ironically, I more or less agree with this statement. It is true that no scientific discovery could disprove the existence of God in that God simply could be redefined accordingly. But that isn’t why this statement resonates with me. Replace “rule out a theistic answer to” with “a sense of awe and wonder surrounding” and, in fact, it would be a beautiful remark. But, of course, later on McDonald rather biliously says the exact opposite when he derides with the following: “An answer that reduces the infinite wonder of a totally non-contingent being responsible for all existence into something you can store in that bag of gray mush in your noggin?”

    This reminds me of how I never have been able to understand why some people say that analyzing music strips it of its emotional impact. I analyze this stuff as my profession and still swoon from Puccini and can barely sit still at a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. I find quite the reverse to be true, if anything, but I also find that I can be viscerally moved by a piece of Beethoven that I have analyed in great detail: at that moment, I am not likely thinking about the use of Neapolitans or modal mixture, or if I do it’s along the lines of “Ahhh, here comes my favorite 4-3 suspension!” I don’t want to suggest that my experience is the only valid one, since that would be akin to, oh I dunno, claiming that only theists can have meaning in life (ahem), but I do find it unfortunate that intellectual understanding is often viewed as fundamentally incompatible with emotional fulfillment (or what many call “spiritual experience”). And this has the potential to become highly problematic when people assert that in some cases rationality just has to be suspended.

    ” It’s really not that hard, and if the next question is, “Well, then where does God come from?” the answer is right there in that complex, brilliant, poetic, vexing, and infinitely wise thing we call scripture, formulated long before the idea of contingent being: “God is.” ”


    1) Am I missing something here? Are there passages in scripture that explain whence comes God? In the Book of Job, God says “I owe you no explanation (because I just did this for a bet and am going to wax on about creation so as to distract you rather than admit to such disgrace).” In Genesis, we just get “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” God is just taken for granted, as in the First Cause/Kalam Cosmological/Bane of Glodson’s Existence Arguments.

    2a) Here we see one of the underlying fallacies associated with the First Cause etc. Arguments. Even if one were to concede that these points have merit (which one does not, if “one” refers to the authors of this blog and the commentariat), we would still know pretty much nothing about the nature of the First Cause, aside from the fact that it is exempt from the laws of the universe. Yet people like Thomas McDonald and William Lane Craig jump thence to the self-evident truths of the Christian scriptures. Did their math teachers not deduct points for not showing your work!?

    2b) I will grant that scripture is complex and most certainly vexing. Some parts are indeed poetic, while others are insufferably dull. Brilliant and infinitely wise, though? An infinitely wise text would say, “Do not under any circumstances own slaves, treat one gender as subhuman, elevate your own tribe while committing genocide against others, stone people to death for picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week, cut off parts of babies’ genitals, get your father drunk and have him impregnate you, abandon your families to follow messianic preachers,” and myriad other things on which scripture also takes the reverse position.

    3) “…formulated long before the idea of contingent being: “God is.” ” This makes absolutely no sense to me: not only is the wording obfuscatory (I just checked and that is in fact a real word!), but the underlying idea is likewise confusing. Scripture predates the idea that God exists, or of God itself?

    “Tough crap. That’s all you’re getting: YHWH. It’s all you need. Embrace that one mystery, and all else makes sense.”

    Does anyone else think this sounds like a threat? Or at the very least bullying? One must never acquiesce to bullying, so I shan’t be embracing that one mystery. And how does everything become comprehensible by accepting that the ultimate questions are beyond comprehension?

    “In other words, they look at a broken world, say it can be no product of a loving and omnipotent God, and therefore urge people to just embrace it as is.”

    This is one of the most reprehensible pieces of casuistry in the whole piece. How does saying the world “can be no product of a loving and omnipotent God” in any way lead to the conclusion that we should “just embrace it as is” !? If anything, the realization that there is no loving and omnipotent God to come to our aid makes us all the more motivated to take matters into our own hands and try to change the world for the better. While I see atheists doing this all over the place, I do not see how McDonald’s worldview provides any motivation to work toward that goal.

    “These are the same people who argue that homosexuals are “born with” their sexuality and loudly berate the idea of gay people “going straight” or attempting conversion therapy.”

    Wow. We are hypocritical for decrying conversion quackery (“therapy” is hardly the correct word). Can it get any worse than this?

    “Atheism is as intellectually credible as Holocaust denial and racial theory. ”

    Indeed it can! Remember the lesson of King Lear: it can always get worse.

    JT: “There is a particular delicious irony in reading Thomas McDonald accusing other people of not being clever. ”

    Also in him accusing other people of being rude and boring, in the sense that his piece is bigoted, vitriolic, and rehashes all of the worst arguments ever made against atheism. Nothing quoted in JT’s post contains any originality of thought or evidence of critical thinking, with the exception of a few remarks that are so appalling and rebarbative that most people would have the sense not to say them aloud (see the last two lines of his that I have quoted here).

    How thoroughly unpleasant. Thanks for taking him to task, JT! (And also for letting me ramble.)

    • M

      Seriously! I get more wonder and awe out of contemplating plants’ existence scientifically (they eat sunlight. Ish. In incredibly oversimplified terms. That is WTF amazing) than if I just thought “God made plants”.

      I mean, think about it. Apparently the very first organisms were purple. That is, they used mid-visible-spectrum light to fuel themselves, reflecting both blues and reds. The predecessors of modern plants had to make do with the light that got to them, which was those blues and reds. They don’t absorb greens, thus why they look green. However, chlorophyll is more efficient at energy conversion than whatever those purple organisms used, so green life won out over purple life. But just think, if chlorophyll hasn’t evolved we might have purple plants!* Tell me that isn’t more fascinating and awe-inspiring than “and God created plants on the fourth day”.

      *Courtesy of Minute Earth. I might have some of it wrong, as it’s been awhile since I watched this.

  • Randomfactor

    “and God created plants on the fourth day”.

    Third day. And the Sun on the fourth, since the plants were apparently dying…whoops, no death yet, that was in the second week.

    • M

      Oh right. Thanks for the correction. I knew I didn’t remember the order, so I picked a day semi-randomly and hoped I got the right one. The creation story never played a huge role in my religious education (Jews don’t obsess about it the way Christians do) and it’s been awhile …

  • Baal

    I’m aware that “April Fool’s” was a early bit of religious propaganda and have been doing reclamation (proudly being an ‘April Fool’) for the term.

  • Jasper

    And our model of the universe is faith-based? I beg to differ. Science makes only one assumption: the universe operates on a set of rules. If this assumption is true we should be able to test it, and we have every time we’ve been able to throw things to the edge of our solar system with uncanny accuracy, by inventing light bulbs, by designing airplanes that fly, etc.. It works.

    See, that’s what I’d call “hypothesis testing.” The things that we hold true, we do so because the hypothesis passed. I’d love it if the likes of McDonald could demonstrate to us that his religious “hypotheses” have passed.

    Faith isn’t “having initially assumed something was true in order to test it”. Faith is accepting something as true without any kind of confirming evidence at all.

    Further, while we’re imperfect and may make assumptions at times, the goal is to minimize assumptions. The fact we occasionally make them isn’t a blank check for people to make all the gross assumptions they want… especially when it isn’t necessary.

    We have a requirement to initially assume things about reality before we can do anything.

    Religious notions has no such requirement.

    • Glodson

      I’d love it if the likes of McDonald could demonstrate to us that his religious “hypotheses” have passed.

      When it fails, he’ll just parrot a Bible verse to rationalize god’s absence.

      • Daniel Schealler

        He’s done that already.

        He demonstrated that they have passed when he asserted that they passed.

        Weren’t you paying attention?


    • sqlrob

      Faith isn’t “having initially assumed something was true in order to test it”. Faith is accepting something as true without any kind of confirming evidence at all.

      Or having contradicting evidence, never mind no confirming evidence. See: Bible Literalists, Creationists.

  • Rain

    Wow, this guy has some pretty dumb proof for the existence of God. Good thing he didn’t bother proving his specific sectarian Jesus-God. “Blah blah blah, ergo Jesus”. That would have been a real hoot. He should have his own TV show called “Ergo Jesus”. He would spout a bunch of assertions and then say “Ergo Jesus”, and the audience would laugh. It would be a comedy of course.

  • CrudOMatic

    What the hell is a Raisin Warrior? Whatever it is, it’s worlds better than being a Cracker Coward, drunk on the wine of hundreds of crushed civilizations.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      It’s one of those rather desperate attempts to smear liberals. You know, it used to be “arugula-eating”. Now it’s “raisin warrior”, presumably because liberals eat muesli, instead of Real True American God-Given Breakfast of True Americans In America: Fried beef, fried pork, fried lard, a US flag made out of bacon, and it’s all washed down with a tall, refreshing glass of the blood of patriots.

    • Stogoe

      It’s a corruption of Reason Warrior. Like Raisin Date is a corruption of raison d’etre. He thinks we’re warriors for reason, and that being so is silly. Whereas he’s a warrior for child rape and global HIV pandemic, which is super cool and not at all horrific.

  • eric

    Woah. Long post, gonna need some time to dig into. Same with the comments.

    My initial response when someone brings up the “atheists have no meaning or enjoyment in life,” aside from the bit of bile crawling up my throat because of my revulsion at such a bad argument, is a simple question.

    When you hug a loved one, look at a sun set, finish a course for school or move up in your career, make an owl cake, or beat the game Contra with a friend, do you look around and think, “I’m only enjoying this because Jesus?”

    Probably not, you enjoy things on their own. But theists can’t have us being happy without their magic. So they make things up to make themselves feel better about it. Which is basically what religion is all about.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I find it interesting that 9 days after an April Fools’ joke was posted, all the supposedly smart atheists are still falling for it.

    • Glodson

      Oh, so he doesn’t believe the arguments he put forth? He made a joke of his own religious position?

    • Nate Frein

      I find it interesting that 9 days after an April Fools’ joke was posted, all the supposedly smart atheists are still falling for it.

      Translation: He wrote something stupid, so I’ll try to pass it off as a joke.

      • Glodson

        I find it interesting that the reaction to bad apolegetics and sloppy thinking is to dismiss it as a joke.

        • Andrew Kohler

          Perhaps one should be worried when one’s April Fool’s Day post is intended to be a joke and yet cannot be distinguished from one’s other posts. One also should also review what “Poe” means in the context of the internet. (Not that I believe that the post was a joke, of course.)

          • TicklishMeerkat

            Either it was a joke, in which case it was an especially dimwitted and insensitive joke coming from a guy representing the Roman Catholic Church of Child Buggery, or else it was serious, which alas is far more likely. Either way, this Catholic blogger isn’t someone I’d trust for spiritually-discerning posts. “Joking” that aggressive and insulting isn’t really fun or funny, and the “joker’s” targets are not required to paint on pained little smiles and put up with his joking lest they be accused of GASP not having senses of humor. But again, I don’t think this was a joke. It doesn’t read like one at all.

            But you know, it’d be useful for religious people to bear in mind that it’s impossible for non-Christians to tell when one of them is being completely out-of-bounds wackadoodle or not. Their religion just lends itself so well to outrageously cruel and fallacious BS that there’s just no sport in it.

          • Rain

            I’m with TicklishMeerkat. Comedians do not have the right to not be offended if their jokes fail. There is no law that says it is blasphemy to not laugh at Catholics’ bad jokes, nor should there be. Most of your top comedians, like Jerry Seinfeld, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, etc., actually made a meta-joke out of having made a very poor joke. Some of them gave funny looks, or some of them said “Attention K-Mart shoppers”. Some of then even said you could “take my wife please” if they had an especially bad joke fail. Thomas McDonald should learn from them how to be a bad joke loser still come out on top.

          • Rain

            I just couldn’t get through that without making a grammatical error!! It must be nappy time!

  • Erülóra

    “a loving father of who set his children free to fall”

    He didn’t set us free to fall, he set us UP to fall. There’s a difference. According to the mythology, he is all-knowing and all-powerful. He knew the suffering that would take place at the hands of his creations, and chose not to do things in a way to avoid that suffering. He chose the path that led this way. They can harp on all they want about “free will”, but in a universe created and governed by an omnipotent and omniscient being, there really can be no such thing.

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