You’ve heard this joke, right?

An atheist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, “Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.” The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, “What would you want to talk about?” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the atheist. “How about why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death?” as he smiled smugly. “Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?” The atheist, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.” To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell, or life after death, when you don’t know shit?” And then she went back to reading her book.

Of course, we’re wondering why little Ms. Smarty Pants would 1. be so rude and 2. know herself why sh*t looks the way it does. We also know that, for things like sh*t, which we can see, feel, smell and even taste if we want, we can scoop the poop and take it to our favorite biologist or vet and ask them. Just because we don’t believe in made-up stories like Snow White, Cinderella and God, doesn’t mean we have all the answers. Yet, apparently, there is a misconception that we do. The real problem seems to be not that we’re talking to little girls on planes (how creepy is that?) but that we’re making believers feel very insecure about the things they think they know.

But I really didn’t mean to write about all. In fact, this joke has, like the tramp that it is, made the rounds on FB and blogs months ago. When I read it the first time, I rolled my eyes. It’s not personal. But when I found out that someone I know sent this joke to my kids, it then became personal because that person was using this as way to undermine me, to suggest to my kids that they shouldn’t listen to me because I don’t know sh*t. And it occurred to me there might be other parents out there who encounter this: friends or family members or role models who might take jabs at you through your children as a way to tell you and your kids that you’re wrong and they’re right.

Kids are not dumb. I didn’t attack the sender, although trust me, I had a few fantasies about using a taser. I had to remind myself what my goal is as a parent and what kind of representative I want to be for those of us who don’t believe. So I only asked my kids their thoughts about the message. The older kid told me, before I even asked, the reasons why the joke was “so stupid.” With the younger kid, I had to throw some questions out, “Does this seem realistic? What would the little girl know that the man wouldn’t? Is she acting like she has all the answers? Who does have all the answers? How is animal excrement the same/different from made-up stuff like fairy tales?” I know, with that last question, you’re probably tempted to say that they can both be bull-sh*t, but I wanted my kids to understand that there are things that are verifiable (like poop) and things that are not verifiable (like myths). Asking questions and teaching my kids to think below the surface is the best way I can protect them against future attacks. Because, once again, I don’t want to think for them. I just want them to think for themselves.

So here’s one for you: what’s the difference between the adult on the plane who wants to talk with a kid about why there is no god and the adult sending emails who wants to prove to a kid that there is a god?

I don’t know, but both are pretty creepy.


101 responses to “Jokes

  1. Alter the joke a bit and send it right back to them. Guy on the plane is a Christian Evangelist and wants to talk about “Why our god is the best god, what you have to do to go to heaven and avoid hell, and how great life after death is”. Same punch line. Just as funny.

  2. If I were your kid and got this from someone I knew, I would simply reply and ask them what their point was, and why they felt so compelled to send this joke? Besides that it is completely unrealistic, if the person was christian who sent it, it seems very un-christian to send something so aggressive and inappropriate to a kid, if it was an adult who sent it.

    • @Adrienne I know how it was. It was an adult member of a Baptist church in town.

      • My name is Konsta and I am an atheist. I have reduced significantly my kicking of elderly women and also went down to just one BBQ baby a day. Maybe some day I am able to rise to the higher echelons of morality currently reserved to xians only.

        I honestly dislike a lot the fact that atheists are perceived as moralless and that is “common knowledge”. Love thy neighbour and above all thy God -folks are deffo the worst in that respect. That joke is a bad one and the fact that a pious decided to use it snidely tells a lot about them, unfortunately.

      • Wait, what? An *adult* sent that to your *kid*? I’d have words with the parent. Nice, but firm, telling them that even though it was a joke, it overstepped a boundary. It is not the job of any other adult to prove or disprove something so personal as choice of belief structure. This reminds me very much of the woman in my neighborhood who felt the need to lecture my Girl Scout troop about abortion. There are some things you just don’t discuss with other people’s kids.

  3. Rumor has it the original joke was a minister and the little girl. He was trying to tell her what to believe….which does seem a little more likely as many evangelicals feel the need to protelsyze to others.

    I was shocked when this came across my FB feed posted by a friend that trusts me enough to have his kids over on a regular basis. He might have forgotten that I’m an atheist, but he certainly knows I would NEVER speak to his kids about god(s), heaven, hell, etc. When they are here, they play with my kids, have a snack, go outside, maybe swim or play in the hose. I have no interest in talking religion with them….or really any child expect my own, when they ask questions. And like you, I want them to think for themselves. I don’t tell them what to think. Furthermore, when their thoughts differ from mine, I do not chastise them or send them to read some book that will “prove” my point, I like to engage them by asking how they came to the conclusion. We’ve had some great conversations!

    This joke is really just a way for believers to paint atheists as creepy rude people with no social boundaries that want to change everyone, including kids. Nice try but no cigar.

    (Off topic, but something else that has been bothering me: It seems as though I could live an inner life of personal unbelief every second of the day. I could attend some kind of church on major holidays and let people think that I belief. I could even lie and verbally express that I belief. For many people, that would be good enough. If I just lie and say I believe, I’m great with god in their mind. Unfortunately, I’m not a liar and the second I admitted to not believing, that was when I was doomed to hell. For them, it isn’t the actual belief or not belief, it is the admitting the unbelief, calling myself an atheist, that dooms me.)

    • Patti OSullivan

      Holly, I hear your off topic comments all the time from students. They go through the motions to please parents, grandparents, and anyone else who is likely to give them crap about not believing. It makes me wonder, how many non-believers are in the pews every week?

      • Exactly!! I went through the motions for years before being honest. I think many people even knew I was on autopilot but until I admitted it, they were ok with it.

    • “Rumor has it the original joke was a minister and the little girl. He was trying to tell her what to believe….which does seem a little more likely as many evangelicals feel the need to protelsyze to others.”

      I agree that this makes far more sense. As I was reading the original blog post, I was thinking how unrealistic the story is, not only the smart-a** little girl but the man’s role in the story. How many times have you heard someone start a conversation about why god doesn’t exist (unless you are in a forum such as this one!)? It would be no surprise for someone to approach a child and start talking about believing in god.

  4. Patti OSullivan

    When we still went to church, the priest had this standard homily for the first Sunday the university was in session. He would welcome the students and their parents and then go on to say that the church was their spiritual home away from home. As a joke, he’d warn them about religion teachers who tried to turn them into atheists. Every year after that homily I would point out to him that I was a religion teacher – the only one in our parish who taught at the university. “Oh, I didn’t mean you,” he’d say each year. That homily always got to me because it suggested that what is taught at university is a threat to what was preached at church and that students and their parents should beware of higher education. University was portrayed as a kind of lions’ den in which the faithful had to remain strong in order not to be consumed by the flames of liberal professors. There is a similar joke that goes around our university each year that the students are told by their pastors and parents to nod and smile and tell professors what they want to hear, but to not believe a word they say because the home of truth is church, not a lecture hall. Rejecting evidence in favor of myth is not a joke. It is a tragedy. We should be encouraging college students to think for themselves, not to secretly despise higher learning because it is perceived as a threat to faith.

    • @ Patti That’s really interesting that the priests/pastors would, tongue-in-cheek, warn parents and students. It was actually a college professor who got the proverbial ball rolling for me, too.

      @Holly F I bet there are a lot of people pretending–spouses, children, pastors, who have serious doubts or who have changed their minds but don’t won’t to hurt those they love…

  5. I apologize in advance if I seem to be reading into this joke. I’ve taken several college courses where we were required to disect stories, poems, plays, and other kinds of writing to find things that were implied by the writing. These “implications” don’t necessarily reveal “hidden meanings.” Sometimes writers don’t include hidden meanings. (I.E. In “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden uses the following phrase “blueblack cold” to imply the severity of the cold.)

    After reading through the joke a second time, the first thing I notice is the alliteration “smiled smugly.” When you correlate this alliteration with what is written right before it, you’ll find this athiest doesn’t have the purest intention. It reveals something malicious. This athiest wants to destroy this girls belief in God or, using some kind of reasoning, belittle her intelligence for her belief in God.

    This clearly demonstrates three things. First, believers assume athiests have a lack in morality, malcious intent if you will, in that they would challenge the intelligence and belief of a child, who isn’t supposed to be able to defend herself (the girl’s ability to defend her belief is also supposed to correlate with the scripture ‘out of the mouth of babes” …). Second, that athiests are only concerned with discussing their lack of belief in God. Third, this is supposed to inspire the reader to side with the girl who is “being attacked” by this mean, mean athiest.

    The use of the word “shit” automatically disqualifies the writing as Christian. The Bible states “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” which applies to writing or any other form of communication. Second, the Bible states that people speak about the things that are in their mind. It further argues that a believer will think on things that are pure, of a good report, honest.

    This joke is none of those things in that it’s inappropriate on every level. First, it teaches believers to be suspicious of everything. The Bible talks about having a sound mind, which is a mind free of suspicion. A mind that exists in peace, not chaos. Second, it teaches believers to always assume the worse about other people when the Bible teaches not to judge. Third, it causes the believer to laugh at the demise of the athiest in this story, which is not permissible by any standard.

    Honestly, I find this joke to be more revolting than the anti-Christian floating around out there.

    • @dqfan2012 I think if more believers were like you, we’d all get along exceptionally well….

    • Patti OSullivan

      See, dqfan2012? This is what college learning does – makes you think critically and analyse and make connections to other bodies of knowledge. And your conclusion is that the joke is bad. If you were a good, higher education-hating Christian, you would have liked the joke for confirming that atheists are bad and stupid and you would not thought any more of it.

    • @dqfan2012 what an interesting analysis. Plus, the joke holds no merit because the Atheist adult and Christian child could easily be swapped in telling the joke and it would still make sense, so… it certainly doesn’t confirm anything.

      @Patti completely agree with you it’s absurd to think education and belief are not compatible. There are both believers and non-believers that are highly educated… one doesn’t exclude the other.

      • Patti OSullivan

        @Molly, yes. What’s worse is that the first universities were religious institutions. Priests and monks were scientists, abbots and abbesses wrote music and discovered ways to heal the sick, missionaries were anthropologists and linguists. Imams were doctors and inventors and rabbis were philosophers and masters of debate. Somewhere along the line, however, religious leaders began to fear science and higher learning.

        • @Patti and it doesn’t say very much about your belief system if you fear that education will corrupt / change / disarm / undermine it. In my experiences, higher education has only complimented and confirmed my faith.

    • @dqfan2012, I had exactly the same train of thought… the “smiled smugly” is a statement of intent. It presupposes a level of assumed dominance, which is the setup for the “little girl” to come out on top. The fact that he’s talking to a “little girl”, creepy as it may sound, it equally malicious in its intent. When you think of “little girl” you are meant to think “helpless”, “defenseless”, “timid”. In other words, “easy prey.” It makes the Atheist out to be a monster, who goes around attacking the weak and defenseless.

      I also agree that this “joke” assumes that Atheists want to go around spouting their disbelief in God. In practice, I find this to be quite the opposite. What Atheists want more than anything is for the God concept to become a non-issue… a private matter for believers to express in their homes and churches, and to quit bringing it up in public. However, the “Christians” who would applaud this joke and the types of people who seem to want to bring God into every sentence. Personally, I think it stems from a lack of faith. If they keep talking about it, maybe they’ll start to believe what they are supposed to believe.

  6. Maybe I just haven’t met enough atheists yet, but the joke falls apart for me from the get go because I can’t imagine an atheist starting a conversation like that with a kid. I can, however, imagine a Xian doing it because I’ve seen it countless times. Hell, I’ve been the kid. “Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” Talk about an awkward moment for a nine-year-old.

    • Oh man…. Check-out lady asked my then-5-year-old son… “Do you know where you’ll go when you die? Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” I replied with something like, “Thanks for scaring the crap out of my kid,” and I left the store.

      • @Shanan, you handled that much more politely than I would have. And am I the only one that thinks of Voldemort when I hear that kind of stuff?

  7. @Debbie I definitely think your adult “friend” crossed a line here. That just points out how many boundaries have been removed in 2013 due to social media. When I was a kid I didn’t “talk” to my parents’ adult friends and I wasn’t “friends” with them, you know? That really creeps me out. Where are the boundaries? But I digress.

    Re the topic at hand, I’m sure you’re right that some believers (and non-believers) feel threatened by the beliefs of the opposite group. I personally don’t feel threatened by atheists, nor do I think that they know more – or less – than I do. Neither group has all the answers; the difference is that believers accept things on faith without proof – whereas non-believers do not. The difference isn’t necessarily knowledge – or lack thereof – the difference is in what one is willing to accept. I’m willing to accept there is no “proof” of God and still believe… you are not. Neither of us will know for certain if we were “right” until we kick the bucket.

    • @Molly I thought about qualifying that with “some” but I think you guys already know that I don’t think all believers or nonbelievers are alike.

      About not knowing until we kick the bucket….it’s possible that we may not even know then. I haven’t ruled out the (remote) possibility that there was or is some sort of god-force that created everything, but that heaven is just man’s creation, although I think both are unlikely.

      • I love not knowing. It’s one of my favorite things about life. We have this awesome thing here where we’re walking and talking and breathing and creating. I don’t need to know what comes next, because I’m not there yet. I don’t have to fear it, because it’s a natural part of the life. I don’t have to wrap a bunch of egocentric rules around it because, well, for me that just doesn’t make any logical sense. The rules of religion are steeped in human ideals. If “something” out there created “everything”, I doubt it gives a crap what each of us does with our day-to-day. It’s busy creating more stuff… because by definition, if it is creating “everything infinitely possible”, it can’t possibly be done yet. I’m starting to sound like Douglas Adams here, so I’ll stop. LOL 😉

      • You know what frustrates me? The fact that the believers won’t know after they’re dead that they’re wrong, because they’ll be dead!

        • @Kathy but the same goes for unbelievers, right? Actually according to @deo they’ll NEVER know if they were right, even after death.

    • Hi Molly, sorry, but there is another assumption here! Tee hee!

      This atheist here, along with many others, but I won’t speak for all of us, believe that when we die, our consciousness dies as well. There is no knowing anything for certain after death, because there is no consciousness after death. No consciousness before birth or after death.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist… 🙂

  8. One thing that strikes me about this “joke” is that in reality, if some stranger started talking to a little girl about atheism, people would automatically assume he was plotting something very evil. Yet, if some stranger started talking to a little girl about God, then it would probably be somewhat acceptable, wouldn’t it? People would just assume he has good intentions.

  9. I used to get jokes like this from my father, only it was about the smart, calm, rational conservative Republican trying to talk sense into some screeching harpy that was supposed to be someone’s lazy interpretation of a liberal Democrat. I generally ignored them, but couldn’t help notice that it colored my impression of him … since as you said, jokes like these say far more about the person sending them than anything about the people they’re trying to insult. In your case, whoever did this was being pretty childish and petty, trying to attack you through your kids and making some feeble attempt to “zing” them with a barely-grade-school level insult. Hell, even if they had written “OMG UR MOM IS DUMB LOL” at least it would have saved some bandwidth and spared you some time reading.

    Sadly we’re at a point in our growth as a demographic where we just have to let stupid shit like this go with a smile and a wave. You did the best thing possible by talking about it with your kids, and refraining from telling them what to think in the process. It’s easy for me to think I would have done the same in your position, but I probably would have done a little war dance and made some choice comments about the sender’s direct ancestry before adopting a more practical course of action.

  10. A 4 year old girl once swam up to my then 4 year old daughter and said (no lie, and no embellishment) “Do you know our Lord, Jesus Christ?” Not “hello”, not “what’s your name”, not “Hi, I’m ____, want to play?” But, “do you know our Lord, Jesus Christ?” We got out of the pool. (Mind you, the little evangelist could hardly swim, and her parents were not even in sight).

    Do you know how many times my children have approached people they don’t know and said, “Hey, did you all know that god is just a imaginary construct invented by humans to explain things that we haven’t developed enough knowledge of to understand ourselves yet?”

    Yeah, never.

    • @Judi I know…Frustrating. I’m not surprised that a 4yo is made to parrot the adults around her.

      • @Deb – Sometimes even secular interactions can be problematic. When my friend’s godchild was about 6 or so, we were at a park on a Sunday morning. A black couple and their 8 year old daughter were strolling in their Sunday best with the child walking alone about six paces behind them (I’m guessing Jehovah’s Witness but only because I know the look). The godchild (Valerie) said she thought the girl had a very pretty dress on. I said why don’t you go up to the girl and tell her. The girl looked a little startled when Valerie approached her and commented, but smiled sweetly and thanked her. For a moment, the parents looked a little concerned that their child might be ‘contaminated’ by the encounter with the outsider, but in the end responded warmly and wished us a good day.

        I thought it was nice of Valerie to want to compliment the child and praised her for her thoughtfulness, but also remember feeling a little sad for the child who would be raised in a somewhat restrictive, sheltered environment based on whatever understanding the parents had about the ultimate nature of the universe. That was about ten years ago. I wonder what that child’s life is like now? I know what Valerie is up to. She had a child out of wedlock as a teen to the complete consternation of her godmother (it was the *one* stipulation she tried to instill in Valerie).

        Goes to show you never know.

        • @LT That’s nice when kids spread kindness like that–I think that it’s very natural for them, and it’s good to see adults encouraging that. As for the pregnancy out-of-wedlock, unfortunately, no matter what you say or do, kids will do their own thing….That’s why I would not take credit for the things my kids achieve…

          • @Debbie right! So you don’t have to take the blame for the bad things! I have one very easy, good baby, and one very difficult, naughty baby (don’t worry, I love them both the same). I always say “I won’t take credit for her good behavior, but I’m also not going to take the blame for his bad behavior”. Once the kids can understand what I’m saying, I’ll quit saying this in front of them. 😉

            • @Molly What??! I still tell my kids that! LOL

              • @Molly and Deb – Wise observations both. It’s good to remember that whatever lessons/examples you provide for young-uns, they will undeniably grow up to be their own person. You just hope for the best. She’s still a sweet kid and loves her own child bunches, but you so want them to do more growing up before they tether themselves to that reality.

                For myself, I often remember being asked by my father or another adult, “what were you thinking?!?” and realized that was the problem…I wasn’t.

                • @LT Oh, gosh, I think I’ve heard and said that one enough! Although the, “What were you thinking” was a comment more for my brother. It seems one sibling learns from the other what not to do. Or, at least, how not to get caught. haha

                • @Lance in my brief parenting experience, it never ceases to amaze me how many times nature trumps nurture. Maybe that’s just what parents of bratty kids like me tell ourselves. 😉

                  @Debbie I suppose I meant avoiding the self-fulfilling prophecy of saying “here is my good kid” and “here is my difficult kid” right in front of them (yeah, I’ve done that…). 😉

    • @Judi

      It reminds me of how taken aback I was when attending an LDS service because of the neighbors.

      Primary-aged children get up each Fast and Testimony Meeting and recite the same memorized phrases: “I know this is the True Church; I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet; I know the Book of Mormon is true; I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet; and I love my family.”

      Seems like a complete misuse of the term “know.”

      • @Lance perhaps a better word would be “believe” instead of “know”, similar to the way Catholics professor their faith with the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed. I don’t see the harm in those sentences if the word “know” is replaced with “believe”.

  11. Late author Kurt Vonnegut when pressed by others to try to explain what life was all about would humbly reply, “Don’t ask me. I just got here myself.”

    Speaking of the scatological, here’s a pertinent Carlin quote —

    When it comes to BULLSHIT…BIG-TIME, MAJOR LEAGUE BULLSHIT… you have to stand IN AWE, IN AWE of the all time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion.

    [George Carlin, from “You Are All Diseased”.]

    More great Carlin stuff here —

    Atheists don’t have to have all the answers, but when someone offers their godview and what they think is the ultimate nature of the universe, it’s entirely fair to state that, “It sounds like bullshit to me.”

    I would love to engage the child in a conversation along these lines —

    “Do You Believe in God?” by Ernest Partridge

    Still, it’s nice to kick around the philosophical football with everyone else who “just got here themselves.”


  12. Course a brighter atheist OR minister (I, too, originally heard this as a minister to a child) would have simply explained the difference in excrement by the differences in digestive systems and adaptations for survival that included the need to conserve more moisture.

    As a snarky pagan unhappy with remnants of theism in my own spiritual closets, lol, I have to say what bugs me most about the dominant paradigm monotheists is that they cannot conceive of the idea of NOT controlling life by religious precepts allegedly from whichever higher power they advocate for at the given moment.

    When human rationality and action in the human sphere is deemed so insufficient that we await godly superhero rescue, we really are in trouble!

  13. For the record, I find most of what passes for logic in theological apologetics along these lines —

    Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.

    Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.

    Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?

    Peasant 1: Burn them.

    Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?

    Peasant 1: More witches.

    Peasant 2: Wood.

    Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?

    Peasant 3: …because they’re made of… wood?

    Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?

    Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.

    Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?

    Peasant 1: Oh yeah.

    Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?

    Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!… It floats! Throw her into the pond!

    Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?

    Peasant 1: Bread.

    Peasant 2: Apples.

    Peasant 3: Very small rocks.

    Peasant 1: Cider.

    Peasant 2: Gravy.

    Peasant 3: Cherries.

    Peasant 1: Mud.

    Peasant 2: Churches.

    Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!

    King Arthur: A Duck.

    Sir Bedevere: …Exactly. So, logically…

    Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck… she’s made of wood.

    Sir Bedevere: And therefore…

    Peasant 2: …A witch!

    During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
    Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…..There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
    Mark Twain ~ “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice,” Europe and Elsewhere

    One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.


  14. That version is a poor variation of a joke that makes fun of politicians, lawyers, etc. Actually, its quite pathetic.


    Sent from my iPhone

  15. Barring obvious cases of child abuse, I think people should keep to themselves their feelings about how other people raise their children. And certainly they should not interject themselves by addressing the child rather than the parent, and/or sending the child tasteless “jokes.” And when the subject is religion, polite people keep their mouths shut. Period.

  16. One of these days, I’m going to be the first to comment here instead of the 50th 🙂

    First, I want to say that just about every time I read one of your posts, I want to share it on my own Facebook page! You express so well so many things I think about.

    I know exactly what you’re talking about here. I think I mentioned that one of my oldest son’s close friends comes from an evangelical Christian family. The friend is 100% sold on all the god stuff – it really is amazing that he and my son are friends – although they’re not as close as they used to be. Anyhow, a few years back when I first allowed my son to have an email account, part of the deal was that I would have access to it and reserved the right to monitor his emails. I remember reading a few that came from this friend – stuff that he received from his mom and forwarded to my son – and it was Christian bullshit propaganda and just nonsense, like I remember one in particular that was some story about how NASA had confirmed the “missing day” that happened in the bible or some such crap. And it made me so hopping mad that this stuff was being forwarded to my kid, yes, from another kid, but ultimately from another adult. And yeah, I just felt like I was being undermined, and my kid was being proselytized to in some sneaky way. I made sure to forward my son a link to Snopes and had a conversation with him about being skeptical about everything and checking things out for himself.

    What is the difference, really, between the guy on the plane who wanted to talk to the little girl about the non-existence of god, and adults everywhere in real life who want to talk to kids about god? That story could so easily be turned around.

  17. I think this little story with the girl and the atheist is made by christians. I read it for the first time a few months ago and I thought it was a silly story, I didn’t laugh at all. I think a real atheist would not start to talk with a stranger and choose a theme like this. At least not with a little girl. I think christians have created this little story to let themselves be seen as, or feel themselves more intelligent than atheists. In the bible the christians are seen as the wise people, and non-believers as unwise and dumb people.

    It has struck me in every debate I have with christians how they always mix science in when discussing atheism. It appears that many of them equate atheism and science. They seems to have no idea of what atheism really is and think that atheism contains so much more than what it really does. Who tells them all these lies about atheism? Their preachers? I think so. And of course the bible. Every discussion I have with christians always goes “if god didn’t create the universe/earth/nature, then you must tell me who did!” If my answer is “I don’t know” or “nobody knows”, then they usually say “nothing can arise from nothing!” and so on and so on… I’m pretty sure you know how it continues.

  18. /sarcasm alert!
    “Gee little girl, do you think it wise to question God’s wisdom in such matters?”
    That’d be my response.

    So the take home of the little joke (as written) is that an in-depth understanding of excrement production by various ungulate herbivores is of more benefit than the opportunity where one might learn something via discussion of viewpoints regarding God’s existence.
    So sad.
    What is it with folks who need to do an end-run ‘round the parents regarding the topic of religion? Disrespectful. No other topics ever come to mind? Like economics (“Hey kid, saved up enough for college yet? Got an IRA? It’s never too early to get started on saving for retirement.”) or scholastic endeavors (“How are the grades-gonna make it into college?”).

  19. At least the exchange wasn’t along these lines —

    Captain Oveur: Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?


  20. Wow, sending it to your kids, that’s insane. I’ve seen that idiotic, bs story on FB too and it makes me cringe, especially when so many of my friends and family liked it. But then again, I haven’t officially come out as an atheist on FB. Maybe I should.

  21. 1. It’s highly unrealistic to think a ‘little’ girl is witty enough to come up with such a response. 2. It’s highly inappropriate for a grown adult to try and talk religion or lack thereof to a child and force their belief on unsuspecting minds. Both the adult in this joke and the adult in your personal life are wrong. End of story.

  22. Not only do I hate these jokes, I find it incredibly ridiculous that people believe that they somehow prove something. What, that the joke teller is rude and has a bad sense of humor and logic? Wow, I’m so impressed. I hadn’t seen this one before today, but I have seen the one about the college professor (oh, that elitist educator!) who asks his class to prove that God exists based on their senses of sight, touch, sound, etc. One of the smart-alecky students (recurring theme here, right?) asks the professor to prove, using his five senses, that he has a brain. I find this one especially stupid because it’s quite easy to prove you have a brain. If you autopsy every living person after death, you will find (ta-da!) a brain, or even better, just give them an MRI. Every time I see this joke posted on Facebook, all I can think is “Really?” Of course, it’s my use of science and logic that has led me to atheism, so it doesn’t totally surprise me that the most religious people find this little story amazing and credible.

  23. Wow…Where do y’all live? I have never read so much hate examples coming from Christians than on this site. And I am serious. The sender sounds like a perfect example of Psalm 81 or Matthew 6…just not a good approach at all.

    Call the dude out and see what he meant by it.

    • @ James 1:27 Um, your post has me a bit confused. What do you mean by this sentence, “I have never read so much hate examples coming from Christians than on this site.”

      Do you mean that you find a lot of christians on this site expressing hate or a lot of hate expressed towards christians?

      And, to answer your question, we live all over the world.

    • Or this? My wife seems to think that you mean that you’ve never seen so many cited examples of christians expressing hate as you see on this site.

      So which do you mean? Thanks!

      • Reply to my own comment, but I wanted to add the following…

        I would have told the little girl this:
        “If god willing to prevent evil but not able, then god is impotent. If god able but not willing, then god is malevolent. If he both able and willing, whence then is evil?”
        Now let’s see who doesn’t know sh*t!

  24. Sorry for being late to the party…

    The difference is that one is a joke and did not happen in real life, and the other was an assault on your rights as a parent. I would excoriate any person who did that to me or my children.

    This person is no friend to you if they seek to undermine what you are tyring to teach your children.

  25. FYI – heard about this on NPR last night.

    When The St. Paul Saints Let An Atheist Group Sponsor Their Game, They Become The “Mr. Paul Aints”

  26. I also like this.


  27. I had not seen this joke before so when I first read this post; it seemed to me to cut both ways. Proselyting atheist adult meets crass, street smart child (presumed believer). There are barbs in there for both sides.

    This fall my daughter will go back to school here in the northeast. At her school, I can be sure that over the year, a well-intentioned adult in a position of authority will belittle the faith she has been raised with. In doing so, that adult will undermine me as a parent and will send the message to my child that I am ignorant. Being a teenager, she probably already thinks I am ignorant anyway so this is not really such a big change. I do think that being exposed to alternative viewpoints as a child is a valuable part of growing up and to the development of critical thinking skills. However, the ground rules for healthy discussion is constantly shifting with topics and even specific words drifting in and out of favor.

    How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial? Who can talk to whom? Where can these conversations take place? I think that this would be a good topic for further discussion at some point.

    • If your daughter’s faith is belittled in the public school setting by being told she’s stupid or foolish for being Christian, then the two of you have grounds to press for disciplinary action against the teacher for discrimination. The same would hold if she were a non-believer and subject to the same treatment. If, on the other hand, you feel she’s being belittled for being told that a belief in biblical creation directly contradicts everything we’ve come to discover about the natural world since the Enlightenment, then you’re taking offense for her being exposed to the stark contrast between reality and belief.

      Being exposed to alternate viewpoints is important … as long as they are legitimate and not inserted into the curriculum of a public school just because people of a certain faith or political leaning think they’re true without evidence. This is especially important with regard to science, which is not a matter of public opinion, but of objectivity, repeatability, and thorough independent review. For example, the popular religious conservative talking point is that schools need to teach “alternate theories” regarding evolution. The problem being, of course, that there are none. The phenomenon of evolution is a fact, and the theory explaining it is the only game in town. Nothing else has any supporting data, nor has anything ever gone through the peer review process with a panel of experts in the field.

      • Jason, we are not far apart on some of the points you make. I strongly agree that exposure to a diversity of viewpoints is important. That is primarily why I participate here – I want to understand how others think about topics that are important to me. Classroom presentation of data and the theories that have been developed to fit that data is perfectly OK with me. One challenge we face is that not all ideas worth discussing can be formulated in a test tube.

        Regarding science, refereed scientific journal articles often contain dissenting opinion and alternative viewpoints. The data is the data but it is subject to measurement error and interpretation. Theories that emerge from the study of the data are theories – not fact. Science is able to observe and to propose hypotheses that best fit the observations. The merits of any given scientific theory lie in its ability to predict the observed data. Scientific conclusions are not immutable – they shift and adapt as new observations and data are presented. Witness the rewriting of science textbooks every few years to reflect updated thinking. History is full of examples where one scientist stood alone among a chorus of dissenting opinion only to later be celebrated for those same discoveries.

        It is a longer debate but how one determines which viewpoints are legitimate is tricky business.

        • JP, I’m more than happy to have science classes discuss the latest and greatest scientific theories – or even testable hypothesis, if applicable – regarding any and all observed natural phenomena … as long as they fit the proper criteria (i.e. data driven, peer reviewed, independently verified, etc.). Again using the example of evolution, which is an observable fact, there is currently only one theory – modern evolutionary synthesis – that sufficiently explains its mechanisms. Nothing else does the job. Until another theory comes along that has the support of the entire body of empirical data we’ve collected to date, there’s nothing else to teach.

          Other ideas, like the unification of the four fundamental forces and how they interacted at the first instant of the Big Bang … well … that’s another story.

          While I appreciate the effort, you don’t need to go into the science lesson. My previous point was not to suggest that the scientific community is some immutable entity, only that some of the ideas currently considered “controversial” by the public are simply not so, and are only called out as such by those whose religious sensibilities are unsettled by their implications.

          • Jason – evolution is a lightning rod of sorts but since you bring it up, I’ll step out onto the porch. Let me first say that I do not propose that creationism be taught in the public classroom. The topic is interesting but highly problematic in my viewpoint. Regardless of how one views the biblical texts, I do not believe that they provide a sufficient level of detail to construct a rigorous view of the creation event and processes.

            As a theory, evolution does fit some data very well and it is useful for scientific study and understanding. Adaptation of existing species to environmental factors is directly observable and evolutionary study helps us to understand and predict these effects. There are also weak areas of evolutionary theory – especially pertaining to the theory of origins (how life began). If the current scientific thinking around the Big Bang is strange, the proposed processes that led to the first life forms are much stranger. To date, the scientific community has not been able to observe the spontaneous generation of a life form as is required by evolutionary theory. This does not mean that the prevailing theories are wrong; however, we do not have the data to verify if the theory is correct either.

            So, using your guidance, what should we teach our kids about the origins of life?

            Once upon a time, the church latched onto the idea that the world was flat and was at the center of the universe. They did not have solid data to draw that conclusion either. We all know how that worked out.

            As a potentially equitable solution, why can’t we tell kids that the theory of origins is an area of active research and encourage them to participate in the act of discovery? Who knows, maybe one of those bright young minds, unencumbered by unsubstantiated evolutionary and creationist dogma, won’t solve the mystery and be able to explain it to the rest of us.

            • The guidance I would give regarding the teaching of abiogenesis would be different from what I would give regarding the teaching of evolution because they are two different things.

              Abiogenesis refers to the origins of life; there are numerous hypotheses that have been proposed to explain how it happened, but none are yet comprehensive enough to be considered a scientific theory (at least to my knowledge). So, for this topic, I would recommend giving an overview of all of them with the emphasis that this is clearly a work in progress and we’re not there yet.

              Evolution refers to the process through which all living things have achieved their diversity over billions of years. It’s an observable phenomenon that only kicks in after life begins. The mechanisms behind evolution are explained very well by modern evolutionary synthesis. I would highly recommend teaching this – and this alone – to explain our observations. There’s no other game in town.

              The approach is different for both, but the underlying principle is the same: give students the most comprehensive, honest account of where the scientific community stands on both issues. In the case of the origins of life, we have less to go on so we tell them about the models with the best chances of getting us somewhere. With evolution, we tell them about the only well-supported and widely accepted theory we have.

              This, by the way, is what happens when science classrooms and curricula are left to their own devices. Hope that clears things up.

            • @ jp Evolution does seem to be a lightning rod, but for reasons that absolutely bewilder me. In no other country in the world does evolution spark the response that it does in the USA.

              You do an admirable job here of trying to be fair to both sides, but there is a fatal flaw in the argument you present: Darwin never sought to explain the origins of life.

              His famous book (one among dozens) is entitled, On the Origins of SPECIES, etc.

              Darwin meticulously demonstrates how one species becomes two (three, four…) through natural selection, and he was right, though even he did not have the whole picture. Darwin didn’t know about genes, but as it turns out, genetic variation only adds further support to evolution. Only recently have we come across further explanations for variation such as phenotypic plasticity, which, once again, does not contradict Darwinism, but contributes to the whole picture of biological evolution.

              Casting Darwinism into doubt because it does not explain the origins of life is like doubting organic chemistry because we can’t explain the origins of carbon, though scientists are working on it.

    • @jp I agree with Jason that it is inappropriate for a teacher to belittle the faith of another, whether that faith is Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Judaism, etc.

      However, I guess I’d have to know what you mean by belittling your faith. If it’s because the teacher tells the student that humans and dinosaurs did not live together, then I don’t see that as a conflict.

      IMO, “spiritual” matters should be kept in a church unless there is a religious class in school that teaches all religions and world views.

      Yes, this would make a good discussion and perhaps I will post this next.

  28. Jason and @deosulivan3, thank you both for your thoughtful responses. I realize that the following argument will be frustrating but at least hear it.

    Agreed, origins and evolution are two different topics – many lump them together. Life origins are very poorly understood from present scientific observations thus (hold on to your chair) leaving open the possibility that an intelligent outside force was the initiating cause. The existence of an outside force that either planted or directly created the first living organism(s) is not less fanciful (to my eye) than the prevailing hypotheses. Perhaps this will change in time but right now, present theories of origins are far-fetched at best.

    As I said earlier, the present theory of evolution does predict certain phenomenon as well as some archaeological evidence. However, there are many acknowledged weaknesses in evolutionary theory where confirming data is sparse or non-existent. So there are several possibilities – continued research will fill in the gaps of the present theory as is, the present theory will evolve or a different paradigm will emerge. I really would not mind if evolution as it is presently taught ended up being an accurate understanding of how life developed on the planet. Evolution is a beautiful theory, I understand it; however, I find it highly improbable that evolutionary mechanisms are wholly responsible for the all of life’s complexity given the sequence of events that had to consistently go right from the beginning to now.

    • Why would an all powerful god create living organisms that required evolution? I suppose you could throw any “theory” out there you wanted to – maybe aliens planted the first rudimentary organisms on earth! And if it was a “god” – how do you know it’s the god of the bible? Maybe it was Zeus!

      While present theories of origins may seem far-fetched, trying to explain it all with an invisible deity certainly seems far-fetched, doesn’t it?

      • Lisa, simple answer to your first question is – I have no idea. If I do meet God after this life as I am planning, I will have several questions. One of my first questions will be why.

    • Well, you’re right in one thing … hearing different versions of this same argument is pretty frustrating.

      I will assume for the sake of our conversation that you’re referring to divine intelligence and not simply extraterrestrial biological intelligence, since invoking the latter as an explanation for life on Earth just kicks the can down the road but inevitably leaves us pursuing naturalistic causes … albeit on a different world.

      You’re right: the scientific community’s current inability to explain how life originated from non-living organic molecules does, in fact, leave open the possibility for any number of causes, including divine intervention. However, there are a few problems with this line of thinking:

      1) Every natural phenomenon we have observed to date for which we have an explanation has a natural one. Storms, earthquakes, disease, celestial events, you name it. Not only that, but the explanation works, it’s been verified, and it contains the power to predict future events of the same kind (think plate tectonics and the prediction of earthquake activity, volcanism, etc.). It is theoretically possible that we may find God within our existing body of scientific ignorance … but history tells us this is unlikely.

      2) Invoking a divine intelligence makes testing (and thus falsifying) of any hypothesis impossible. It might be an interesting idea, but how can you possibly prove it? Studies have shown that activities such as prayer – while possibly useful to boost morale and aid in peace of mind for the faithful – fail to generate tangible, measurable results. When God’s intervention is indistinguishable from random chance, there’s very little hope for experimental control.

      3) As for the idea that existing models are “far fetched”, most of the approaches we have today are based on the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis, which – though based on some potential assumptions about the nature of the primordial atmosphere – is at least rooted in a system that allows us to test these ideas and explore their comparative feasibility. For the record, panspermia (i.e. the extraterrestrial origins of life) is one of the possibilities being considered. The suggestion that (presumably) divine interference could have played a role on the basis that existing hypotheses appear too strange or unrealistic to you is arguing from ignorance and personal incredulity.

      As for the remainder of your comment, evolutionary theory, like any theory, is a perpetual work in progress. There may be some questions about how some species evolved or their relationship with other species within their family, but given the explanatory and predictive power of modern evolutionary synthesis, it’s extremely unlikely that a new paradigm will emerge … only improvements on the existing theory.

      Evolution is a beautiful theory, I understand it; however, I find it highly improbable that evolutionary mechanisms are wholly responsible for the all of life’s complexity given the sequence of events that had to consistently go right from the beginning to now.

      I’m afraid that all I can say to this is that reality doesn’t care about personal belief. If you truly do understand evolutionary theory, then you already know that nothing had to go “consistently right” from the beginning to now. There is no set path for evolution, nor is there a goal. The fact that you can’t wrap your head around our being here within the span of 3.5 billion years doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, nor does it mean it cannot be explained by the members of the scientific community who have spent their lives studying it.

    • @jp Wow, seriously? ID and the gap argument? You really thought we’d hadn’t heard these before?

      Senator Jason did a fine job with explaining (yet again) why ID is a flawed argument, and he touches upon the gap argument, but let me elaborate a bit.

      (1) There are gaps in our knowledge about everything: chemistry, physics, cells, history, anthropology, etc. Why does evolution get singled out by christians as somehow invalid because we haven’t figured everything out yet? As I posted before, since Darwin’s death, we have discovered all kinds of evidence–genes, more fossils, phenotypic plasticity, et al ad nauseum–that only supports his theory. No credible scientific evidences has been presented against evolution as the mechanism by which species form.

      (2) The gap argument is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak. There are indeed gaps in our knowledge of, say, the descent of humans from lower mammalian forms. Well, when we discover an intermediary form that came somewhere in the middle of two forms, some ignorant person will only scream louder, “Well, now there are TWO gaps where there use to be ONE!” It’s like until we find fossils of every person’s mother, father, grandfather, great-grandmother, great-great-grandparents, etc., they refuse to accept that man had ancestors.

      Someone on this site keeps using the term “cognitive dissonance”–is it you Senator?–and jp, I’m afraid that you’re a typical example of it. You sound like a nice person, and sincere, But you’re engaged in wishful thinking, not critical thought, and look, we’re all guilty of wishful thinking sometimes. But here’s reality: being unable to explain the origins of the universe does not mean a god created it, and there are absolutely no plausible alternatives to evolution in modern biology. Those are the facts. You can believe or wish otherwise, but don’t confuse wishing with reality.

  29. Wow – thanks for the responses. I really appreciate the exchange of ideas. Jason – you make a good case for a naturalistic cause for the origin of life and subsequent happenings (exceptionally well written too). In my view, your first numbered point is the strongest. You are also quite right that incredulity is not a basis to challenge anything – busted, sorry about that. @deosullivan3, I do not offer the gap argument to attack the theory of evolution – only to explain why I have my doubts. My principle reservation with origins and evolution theory as it is taught is not rooted in theology but in the probability that events could have happened as projected. Being wrong on this point does not particularly worry me.

  30. Cheryl K. Oconnor

    But the good news is that there are things you can do to raise godly kids and even share your faith with them along the way.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s