Dr. Eleonore Stump: A shining example of how speakers shouldn’t behave

“You’re just confused.”

“I recommend my book.”

“Counselors make a living” because people don’t know what’s good for them.

Meet Dr. Eleonore Stump.

Photo from slu.edu

A few weeks ago, this charming professor of philosophy presented her explanation of why a loving God could allow suffering. Her talk was actually titled “The Problem of Evil,” but she never satisfactorily equated evil with suffering, so I’ll call it like I see it.

Her lecture was a lesson for me in two ways: I learned the futility of trying to force an apologetic to answer a question they don’t want to answer, and I observed a fantastic example of what a speaker should not do. The former was useful as an overall life experience, but the latter gave me a lot to think about in terms of organizing a convention.

The basic concept Dr. Stump attempted to get across was that the best thing that can happen for a person is to become closer to God, and suffering is a means to that end. We’ll ignore her unfounded premise that closeness to God is, like, OMG, the best thing EVERRRR and focus on some other problems instead.

Is all suffering because of evil? If I go through a rough breakup, is my ex evil? There’s a lot of suffering out there that has nothing to do with malicious actions of other people. I think this talk should be called “The Problem of Suffering” or “Dr. Stump Needs a Dictionary.” A few members repeatedly asked her to explain where this definition came from, or at least admit that her talk was about suffering, but she brushed off those questions.

This God doesn’t seem all that powerful. Seriously, if hurting His children (or allowing them to be hurt) is the best way he has to persuade them to come into his bear hug, he’s rather weak. Zeus could get closer to his followers by becoming a cloud! And if any real parent did that- “Officer, I only starved little Jimmy so he would shower affection on me as a desperate last resource for happiness”- it would not be called love. It would be called abuse. Dr. Stump kindly reminded us that we can’t possibly understand God’s thought process (but she can).

“Yeah, sorry about your house. But I can make it all better again, just love meeeeeeee!” – God

He doesn’t seem smart either. How many people turn away from religion because they simply can’t fathom that a Father who loves them would allow them to be date-raped or mugged or lose a child? This strategy isn’t very effective, sky-bro. Dr. Stump cleverly explained this by pointing out that we can’t possibly know what happens in a dying person’s mind in their last milliseconds of life, so obviously they all have a chance to turn to God. Obviously.

Dr. Stump also tried to use science to prove her point, and that just made me ragegiggle. She talked about adversarial growth, the psychological phenomenon of becoming tougher after a trauma. Commonly known as “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” According to her, this is a God-given gift, so that sufferers can go on this roundabout hellish journey to heaven. What she fails to mention (or perhaps even understand) is that this is easily an evolutionary adaptation. Our ancestors who moped around probably didn’t get laid as much as the ones who bounced right back and kept hunting or building or whatever they did to get some booty.

Maybe this guy’s mom just died. But he still has to keep up with the migrating group.

She also suggested that people feeling closer to God means they actually are closer to God. Just like every time I feel like I’m going to win the lottery means I’m definitely ending up richer tomorrow. Irrefutable proof, right there. Go look at my imaginary million dollars right next to my debt and sadness.

Okay, she makes faulty arguments and won’t answer direct questions… so she’s a bad speaker. But Katie, what did you learn for your shamelessly plugged conference coming up in March?

Dear reader, I learned how a speaker shouldn’t treat their audience. More importantly, I discovered that what I thought are basic concepts of respect and academic discourse seem to baffle some professionals. I aim to do my best to prevent anything like this happening at SASHAcon.

“You’re just confused.”  She literally said this to one of SASHA’s members instead of answering his question. He was pointing out, like many of us did, that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God really ought to be able to come up with a better way to lead his flock than to let them die of cholera. Dr. Stump jumped on her circular logic train again, after insulting and belittling an audience member. This is not okay. Statements like this cannot be tolerated in a professional forum. “I think you may be confusing x and y and here’s why” would be fine, or even admitting “I don’t think I can explain this in a different way, so let’s move on” would be an acceptable alternative. Someone who has chosen to give your presentation the time of day should not be personally attacked in any way.

Your audience should not be looking at you like this. You’ve done something wrong.

“I recommend my book.” Oh, do you now? How coincidentally profitable for you to refuse to fully answer a question and send people to purchase your book to get the whole flawed explanation. Very ethical. Although, if you truly cared that we understand your side, and if you really wanted to give us a chance to see the light and go to God, you’d offer your priceless guide for free, right? Didn’t think so.

“Counselors make a living” because people don’t know what’s good for them. Yes, let’s insult an entire profession by insinuating that their only worth is in telling people to stop being stupid. Dr. Stump’s point here was to demonstrate that humans suffer because we choose things we think we want, but turn out to be wrong, and then God is there to give a hug when we inevitably get hurt. Apparently, counselors are like a mini-God or something, steering people away from bad life choices. As someone whose career goals include counseling the severely mentally ill, I find the implication that my job will consist of nothing more helpful than telling people not to cheat on their significant other rude and enormously incorrect. (And shouldn’t it also mean that therapists are evil because they steer people away from the suffering they need to go through in order to find God…?)

Dr. Stump, is this my life?

These are behaviors that I want to make sure our speakers avoid. Dr. Stump can get away with it because she’s part of the religious majority in this country and therefore already has a lot of people on her side. We, on the other hand, can’t afford to alienate anybody who comes to our conference to learn and meet people who represent the atheist community.

Dr. Stump, I find you incompetent and I really dislike you, but I must thank you for demonstrating how not to act as a professional and an academic.

My Book, Your Book, Their Book, No Book: Exploring Secularism (panel discussion)

Hello all!

Last Wednesday, February 13th, several SASHA members, plus Dr. Dennis Kelley (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri) participated in a panel discussion at Mizzou called “My Book, Your Book, Their Book, No Book: Exploring Secularism.”

The panelists were (from left to right) me, Dr. Kelley, Katie Huddlestonsmith (undergrad and SASHA officer), Robbie Curran (undergrad and SASHA officer), Theo Tushaus (undergrad, SASHA member, and President of TriCo), Tony Lakey (undergrad and President of SASHA), and Jeremy Winn (doctoral student and SASHA member).

Video of the panel is now live on YouTube. Enjoy!

The panel was organized by the University of Missouri Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative with the help of the student ambassadors and Charlie Parker, Jr of the CDI office. We’re very grateful for their help with this!

If you like it, please feel free to share on Facebook/tweet to spread the word if you like it! You can also upvote it on Reddit.

Until next time,

Dave

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga on Free Will and the Science of the Brain

Hello all!

Dave Muscato here again. Tonight, a group of us attended a public lecture from guest speaker Michael Gazzaniga, the renowned psychobiologist famous for his research on “split brain” patients: people who have had the two hemispheres of their brains surgically separated from one another, in order to treat epilepsy.

He spoke tonight about free will: Do we have it? What does “free will” mean? What are some of the implications, specifically legal, if we do not?

In a sentence, he demonstrated that from a neuroscience (indeed, scientific) context, it is quite clear that we lack free will. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that the concept of “free will” is nonsensical and should be disposed of: Free from what? The laws of physics? No, each cell of our brain follows predictable patterns of behavior, i.e. is soul-less and automated, and our brains are “merely” highly parallel and complex conglomerations of cells. No where in this equation arises a homunculus, a “mind” within our brain that makes decisions separate from itself, no matter how much we might wish for this to be so, or how much it feels to us like this is the case.

Here’s where I think he lost us: Gazzaniga went on to argue that, while our brains do not have free will, persons (in a society) do. I don’t think he justified this leap. His argument, as best as I could understand it, was that individual responsibility arises on the level of a society, rather than on the level of the individual. He gave the analogy of a car, versus traffic. Regardless of one’s mechanical understanding of the operation or construction of a car, you cannot extrapolate or understand traffic patterns by observing a car in isolation. Similarly, humans in isolation lack responsibility—a single human just follows patterns of behavior and isn’t responsible “to” anyone—but in the context of living in a society, we can hold individuals responsible for their behavior.

This seems to me to call for the application of the is/ought problem. I think Gazzaniga was trying to say that, descriptively, societies hold individuals responsible for their behavior, and that this is permissible because individuals should be held accountable for their wrongdoings. What I don’t understand is, where did that “should” come in? Is he making an ethical argument here? Because up until that point, he’d been speaking descriptively. I understand why societies would do good to hold individuals accountable for wrongdoings, but that doesn’t mean “persons have free will” just because they live in societies. Persons may be responsible for their individual wrongdoings—it’s not like anyone ELSE is responsible for a person’s actions—but I don’t understand why he argues this means that they magically have free will.

I’m considering writing a talk of my own about free will, based loosely on Sam Harris’s “Free Will,” the Free Will chapter in The Big Questions by Nils Rauhut, and some guided discussion questions of my own design. What do you guys think? Would SASHA be interested in that for December?

Take care!

- Dave

Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com. Opinions posted here do not necessarily reflect the views of MU SASHA, the Secular Student Alliance, nor the Humanist Community at Harvard.

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

New SASHA Officers

Welcome to the official MU SASHA blog!

Please join our group on Facebook.

Congratulations to our 2012-2013 SASHA Officers. For those unaware our officers are:

Tony Lakey (Myself) – President
Max Jersak - Treasurer
Sameer Surampalli -  Secretary,
Robbie Macken - Director of Public Relations

Why is there no Vice President listed, you ask? Because that election is still ongoing! Follow this link to get to our ORGSYNC site and vote before before 11:45 tonight (4/30/12)! Aaron Underwood and Dave Muscato are both running for the position.

You will need an ORGSYNC account first, and to join our group on the site, but that is all free and can be done from this link. Be sure to do it early so that you can be approved to vote.

I am very excited about our new officers and look forward to working with them in the upcoming year. We have a lot of big things planned and I feel confident that we can accomplish them successfully with the great members we have in these positions.

NOW GET OUT THERE AND VOTE!

-Tony Lakey

Tony Lakey is the President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in philosophy & sociology.

SASHA now has a video camera!

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_________________________________________________________________________

Hey folks!

I’m really excited to announce that I got an actually decent video camera that we can now use for SASHA events. Expect lots more video coverage of our meetings/talks, tabling events, and other stuff in the future!

Here are two fun videos to get you started. The first is a talk by Alex Papulis, one of our members, about Sam Harris’s newest book, “Free Will,” from our last weekly meeting. The second video is some outdoor fun with street preachers on the Mizzou campus, Brother Jed among them. Enjoy!

For now we are using my own personal YouTube channel, but soon we will have a SASHA channel set up. You can subscribe to mine if you’d like, but FYI that is my personal channel, not the official SASHA channel, which is coming soon.

First video:

Second video:

Until next time!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Reason Rally: 10 hours to go!

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Hello all!

After an 18-hour drive and a busy evening settling into the hotel, catching up with friends, and preparing for tomorrow, I am beyond exhausted. I’m going to keep this very short: All I have to say is that this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m so grateful I get to be a part of it. I feel truly confident that things are going to be different after this — the way that atheists are treated by the American public, by the US government, and by our friends & family. I feel like we are making a difference. This is an epic tale, and we’re just getting in on the first pages!

If a picture’s worth 1,000 words, here are two that sum up my night!

Dave with Phil Mason (aka Thunderf00t)

Our group after dinner (Adams Morgan, DC)

(MUCH) more coming soon!

Follow me on Twitter @davemuscato for live updates of the Reason Rally, and throughout the American Atheists conference this weekend.

If you’re in DC and want to hang out, contact me via Twitter or text me at 573-424-0420. Looking forward to seeing you guys!

More to come!

Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Reasonfest! And, Michaelyn’s mohawk

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Hello all!

I’m very thrilled about the second-annual Reasonfest and want to remind our readers that it’s coming up, the weekend of February 11/12 in Lawrence, Kansas (home of University of Kansas). Last year’s Reasonfest attracted over 700 people, and this year’s conference is set to be even bigger. SASHA will be carpooling/convoying from Columbia and we would love for you to join us.

Additionally, Michaelyn Everhart, Vice President of SOMA (The Society of Open-Minded Atheists), the organizing group, has invited me to participate in one of the panel discussions. Chris Redford, aka YouTuber Evid3nc3, will be on the panel with me, in addition to several others. The topic will be, “Is religion a force for good in the world?” I’m still working on what I plan to say, so if you’d like to discuss it with me, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below or email me or call/text me (my contact info is below).

To help raise funds for the conference, Michaelyn challenged her fellow skeptics to raise $1,000 by Tuesday, January 24th, and in exchange, she will get a mohawk live on stage!

Michaelyn, "Before"

and

Michaelyn, "After"

I’m excited to say that at 3 AM today, Michaelyn announced that SOMA has hit the challenge goal of $1,000 two days early, and The Mohawk Challenge is officially complete!

I’m also thrilled to announce that Adam Brown’s beautiful portrait of Christopher Hitchens (which went on eBay to help raise funds) also sold last night after 59 bids, for $2,750.10, with all the proceeds going to Reasonfest! Amazing job, Adam, and congratulations to the winning bidder!

Reasonfest definitely still needs your help: You can donate here or at the conference itself.

If you’re not already a member of SOMA’s Facebook page, here is a link, and here is the Facebook event for Reasonfest.

Looking forward to seeing you all there, and at the Reason Rally on March 24 in Washington, DC (speakers/performers include Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage of Mythbusters, Tim Minchin, PZ Myers, Dave Silverman of American Atheists, Bad Religion, Jessica Ahlquist, and more!).

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Speaking tonight at KU in Lawrence, KS

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
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Hello all!

Dave here. I’ll be speaking tonight at the University of Kansas in Lawrence for SOMA about the topic, “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there. If you’re in Columbia and would like to carpool with me, please feel free to call or text me – my cell number is below. I’m leaving around 3:30 PM.

Have a great day everyone, and I’ll see you at the weekly SASHA meeting tomorrow at 5:30 PM in the Agriculture Building, room 2-16!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too! :)

A Christian has 3 Questions for Atheists

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Hello all! Dave here.

Let me start by saying the conference was AMAZING, and I will be writing more about it soon. I am waiting for some photos and video before I write up the whole thing for you guys. For now, I want to share with you 3 questions that were posed by a Christian, to atheists, on Reddit’s r/atheism page. Here they are, with my responses:

1.) What about Christianity (or religion in general) is not appealing to you?

2.) Based on what you see from Christians you know, how does our religion tell us to act?

  • What I see from Christians, or what I see from your bible? From Christians I know personally, your religion tells you to care to a bizarre and unsubstantiated degree about with whom other people you don’t even know have sex, and whom other people are allowed to marry. I also see, from Christians I know personally, your religion telling you to consider blind faith as virtuous and ignore evidence, logic, and reason when it’s obvious that you’re wrong about something. I understand that this is not exactly what your bible actually teaches (I’ve read it many times), but that’s wasn’t your question.

3.) What, if anything, could make you reconsider religion?

  • Evidence that is more abundant and higher quality than the evidence that all religions are manmade. I study anthropology and there are mountains of evidence that all religions are mythology. In order for me to consider any one of them actually true, I’d have to have better evidence than those mountains of evidence against it. To be honest, one miracle alone would not convince me, even if it happened right in front of me – I have heard too many miracle stories from all sorts of various religions, and I would make the naturalistic assumption that either it was a hoax or I was hallucinating.
How would you answer these questions? Please leave your responses in the comments below!
- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too! :)

2011 SASHA Fall Conference, Day 1: Success!

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First time here? Read this.

2011 SASHA Fall Conference this weekend! 7 Speakers – 2 Days – Free Admission: Visit SASHAconference.com for details & see the Facebook event here.

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Local to Columbia? Join the Facebook Group, too!

Hello all!

The first day of the conference was fantastic! Nate Phelps spoke to the school of Social Work in the morning, and also to the LGBTQ Resource Center & Women’s Center in the afternoon, before our conference started this evening at 6 PM. Around 100 people attended the second session, and we are expecting a good crowd at the conference tomorrow. We are expecting coverage from the KOMU-8 news (NBC) and the Missourian, so make sure to pick up a copy!

Today’s talks included “Jebediah’s Wager” by philosophy PhD student Seth Kurtenbach, which was a wonderfully detailed and pointed explanation of Pascal’s Wager, along with a new twist on a devastating rebuttal. Video & audio are coming soon! 2010-2011 SASHA President and evolutionary biologist James Pflug presented a talk called “Science of Gods: Evolution for Adults,” a very funny but informative session about phylogenies and “tree-thinking” in evolution.

James Pflug explaining clades & nodes on a phylogeny of cats (representing mammalia), birds (aves), and pancakes.

The last talk of the day was Dr. Darrel Ray’s “Sex & Secularism,” which was very enlightening and hilarious. I really can’t wait for you to see the video! Check this page soon for updates.

It’s quite late and we have a VERY busy day tomorrow (4 more talks!), so I’m going to get off the computer – see you tomorrow, 10 AM in Allen Auditorium!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too! :)