Me This, Riddle Me That, Who’s Afraid of a Complete
antifundamentalist rebuttal is dedicated to the
memory of Christopher Hitchens...
Hitch, if I ever compose a single paragraph as
good as one of yours, it will be enough for me.--
See you when I get there, man.
And by "there," I mean noplace.
time to do what I do best: eviscerate an idiot.
Recently, while spending another afternoon
using the internet to
discover what humble and forgiving Christians really think about
(Pro-tip: type “Should atheists” into Google and have a look at the
search completions), I came across the following jewel, from the
is 11. He is
being taught the principles of the american [sic]
constitution and its amendments by his atheistic parents. Recent lessons given him
has [sic] focused on the first
other day, Johnny’s school teacher [sic]
gave him some math problems for homework.
When his teacher checked his homework the next
day, she was astonished that Johnny gave everyone [sic]
of the problems incorrect answers.
teacher therefore called him to his desk and asked him
had he forgotten how to solve such problems.
But Johnny said to his teacher “none of my
answers are incorrect.” His
teacher asked him why did he say such [sic],
and he said, “Because the answers
are the ones I believe them to be, and I have a constitutional right to
opinion. You have
the opinion that the
answers should be such and such, but I say differently.
You cannot say my answers are wrong. I have the right to my
opinion and you have
the right to yours. If
you are dogmatic
that my answers should be the same as yours, that makes you
a biggot [sic].
If you say my answers are wrong, you are
judging me. Judge
not lest you be
judged. I deserve
an ‘A’ like everyone
riddle is this:
Who is right, Johnny or his teacher?
Is there an atheist who can solve this riddle?"
so glad you asked.
I can, and so could most atheists.
I would even go so far as to say that so could
most Christians, though
perhaps not in the United States.
extent that this riddle cannot be “solved,” it is only because it
nonsense, akin to the Mad Hatter’s “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Lewis Carroll, of course,
composing fanciful prose poetry there, whereas you appear genuinely to
that you’ve got an airtight stumper on your hands.
But you don’t, and for more than a few
reasons, which I’ve been good enough to point out below. Sadly, I suspect that this
will be an
exercise in futility where you’re concerned, rather like trying to
Japanese text to the satisfaction of someone who does not believe that
such a language as Japanese. It
however, be an exercise in amusement to everyone who is not you. My solution to your riddle
will not be a
one-liner, however. In
fact, it will of
necessity be considerably longer than the riddle itself. I apologize for this, but
someone who does
not like such answers should not compose deeply flawed riddles.
You begin by mentioning that Johnny is being
taught about the American Constitution by “his atheistic parents.” Why is this relevant? The text of the
Constitution is not a matter
of debate between Christians and Atheists, or between anyone and anyone
(the interpretation in many places,
not the text). A
is a codification of its laws, not a philosophical work concerning the
of truth—i.e., it lays out what the government may or may not do. For example, the fourth
amendment says that
the police cannot search my home without a warrant.
And indeed they cannot.
This is true regardless of whether the person
who informed me was an atheist, a Christian, or a believer in Zeus. It has nothing to do with
religion or the
lack thereof; it is an American rule about what American police are or
permitted to do. Someone
may think that
police should be permitted to do either more or less than this, and
opinion might somehow be based on this individual’s religious beliefs,
fact remains that currently the law says what it says—just like the
of marijuana is illegal” is a true statement, whereas whether one
it should be is a separate matter. Are you saying that only
there is such a thing as the
I will admit that your use of the Constitution
confused me, if only because it was an outside-the-box move for your
demographic. I am
accustomed to seeing
American fundamentalist Christians unite the principles of Christianity
American Exceptionalism in a sort of murky pious/patriotic soup, so
fundamentalist attack the Constitution threw me for a loop. But I may be wrong that
this is what you’re
doing, because your point is more than a little unclear. Are you saying that the
is anti-Christian? Or
only that atheists
incorrectly interpret it in an anti-Christian way?
If the former, then this conflicts somewhat
with the fundamentalist canard about the founding fathers all being
Christian. If the
latter, then what
would be the correct/Christian way of interpreting it?
I am honestly not sure what you mean here,
but I’ll remind you that being unclear does not count as stumping me.
Luckily, your being unclear is immaterial,
because unless the police subsequently burst into the classroom and
little Johnny for getting the math problems wrong, then the
wholly irrelevant. This
is because, as I
pointed out above, a nation’s Constitution is a work of law and not
the first amendment does not declare from a philosophical perspective
speech is equally true; it
establishes from a judicial perspective that all speech is equally legal.
In other words, it states that the government
may not put you in jail
for what you say. And
indeed it may
not. This does not,
however, mean that
other citizens are not allowed to disagree with you, and certainly not
teacher may not mark your answers wrong in school.
A bad grade is not a legal penalty, and the teacher is
You may remember the difference by observing
that if teachers were Congress, they would be imbued with the ability
themselves pay raises and accordingly make a good deal more money.
In addition to failing to distinguish between
philosophy and law, you also fail to distinguish between belief and
speech. This is an
here because speech is an act whereas belief is not, and by definition
only practically govern acts. You
Johnny say that he has “a constitutional right to [his] opinion,” but
this is a
bit off. Technically,
even someone in
the world’s most stringent dictatorship necessarily has the right to
opinion, because thus far governments cannot read minds. Converting one’s opinion
into speech, however,
constitutes an act and is thus the province of laws.
In the United States, all acts of speech
(barring exceptions, such as assault or incitement to riot, which are
and slander or libel, which are civil offenses) are legal, and in
countries this is not the case, with varying degrees of penal severity. I’ll here remind readers
that this was all curiously
framed as “A Riddle for Atheists,” and I still fail to see what any of
to do with religion. I
think—I think—I see what you were
going for: the idea
that religion (rather, specifically your
religion of Christianity, and not
anyone else’s, since your site attacks “heathens” as frequently as it
nonbelievers) is consubstantial with belief in objective truth itself,
an abandonment of religion necessarily constitutes an abandonment of
distinction between true and false.
it doesn’t, and to believe so is childish.
Please understand, by the way, that I use the
word childish in the cruelest and
most literal sense: I
am not merely calling you “silly,” but
out-and-out proposing that you have a “low mental age,” a musty phrase
time when belief in scalar intelligence reigned and one was permitted
such allegations. Your
worldview is strikingly
similar to a very small child’s assumption that he becomes invisible
closing his eyes, and an adult who still reasons this way is—to
sidestep the bush it has become so commonplace to beat around—stupid.
Ironically, the side in this debate that has
been weakened by political correctness is mine, not yours. Teachers can and do still
mark test responses
as incorrect with no reproach, but I might meet with some for pointing
that, if only it were fifty years ago and the original Binet scale
favor, you could officially be labeled an “imbecile” by a
professional. O tempora, etc.
And by the
way, if you had to look up the word consubstantial,
then you do not know nearly as much about Christianity as you think you
In brief, the position you assign to your
straw-man atheist is self-negating, as demonstrated by the fact that he
the third sentence of his response to the teacher with “You cannot say,” which would be nonsense if
he really believed the first amendment means what you purport him to
On the subject of straw men, your ascription
atheists of a position we do not actually hold constitutes bearing
witness against us, and thus you are breaking one of the Ten
yourself by composing this riddle.
addition to breaking the ninth commandment as just stated, you are also
violating the third, by proclaiming that God is on your side when your
Johnny, however, as
problematic as his reading of the Constitution might be, is dutifully
the fifth commandment by interpreting it as his mother and father have
apparently raised him to do. Perhaps
should change the name of your site?
Let us turn aside from theory and examine
imaginary atheist—who is
atheist because of the constitution, or something—notwithstanding,
look at real life and ask ourselves who actually challenges teachers
curricula more often, atheists or Christians?
I daresay it is unnecessary for me to
elaborate beyond pausing to let
the question sink in, but for the sake of thoroughness I shall: it is
and by no small margin. It
is you who
challenge the indisputable truth of human origin by evolution, it is
challenge the idea of a genetic basis for homosexuality, and it is
statistical correlation, if not explicit dogma—who dismiss the problem
warming. There are
also some holdouts
among your ranks who continue to insist that the sun orbits the earth
than vice versa. To
examples solely to mathematics, the subject at play in your riddle,
even some Christians who insist—hilariously—that the value of pi is
three, despite the fact that this was never a belief mandated by any
church but in actuality originally something that atheists pretended
believed in order to make fun of you.
belabor that point for just another moment, purely for its stupefaction
when a Christian invented a prima facie
absurd belief and ascribed it to atheists, as you have done in your
pointed out that we do not actually believe it; when atheists invented
a prima facie absurd belief, based
tenuous implication in one line of I Kings,
and ascribed it to Christians, many Christians actually started
believing it. To be
fair, there are some situations where students
who are statistically likely to be atheist or at least agnostic do
scientific truths—a feminist disputing biological explanations of
difference, for example—but these cases are A)
dwarfed in frequency by cases of religious believers disputing
scientific truths, and B) usually
to the student’s lack of religious faith.
A feminist who disputes biological
explanations of gender may coincidentally
be a passive atheist, but
she does not make her rebuttal in the name of atheism; rather, she
the basis of another series of irrational dogmas adopted in place of
practice, virtually no active atheists
oppose scientific truths, and certainly not mathematical ones. Oh, and speaking of
feminism, the Bible says
that women cannot be teachers of male students (I
Timothy 2:12), so your riddle also violates it on that point.
Your riddle is a mess on all fronts, for
nearly more reasons than can be explained.
But in general, the explanation is that
you refuse to—or perhaps,
lack the ability to—distinguish between the concepts of “morally
wrong,” and “illegal,” even though these are three very different
example, betraying the
confidence of a friend is morally wrong but not illegal, drinking a
days before your 21st birthday is illegal but
not morally wrong, and
believing that penguins can fly is factually wrong but neither morally
nor illegal. Your
apparent inability to
make such distinctions returns us to the impolitic question of your
along the lines of “I am
afraid of dentists and I am also afraid of werewolves, so therefore my
is a werewolf” makes sense to a very small child, but not to an adult,
the adult is literally retarded, in
the sense of a dispassionate psychological diagnosis rather than a
free-speech clause of the first
amendment concerns laws about what the government may or not do, not
truth or the morality of interactions between citizens.
Science and mathematics concern factual
truth, not morality or the prerogatives of government.
I would dearly like to be able to complete
this triad in a symmetrical fashion by stating that religion concerns
and not scientific truth or the role of government, but alas, the
religion in the United States has overstepped those bounds to such a
that it now appears to be considerably more concerned with the latter
any case, however,
this is immaterial, as religion has nothing to do with your riddle and
is asinine. The
question is whether the
first amendment means that students cannot be marked wrong in math
class, and the
answer is that it doesn’t. The
the student who claims it does is an atheist is utterly irrelevant, yet
appear to consider it a sine qua non. This is rather like
presenting a psychology
class with the Prisoner’s Dilemma and repeatedly insisting that the
wearing a green hat, as if that not only changed something, but were a
and indispensable detail. It
Your imaginary atheist closes his argument by
saying “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
I shudder to ask, but you know that is from
the Bible, right? Are
you trying to demonstrate that the Devil
himself can quote scripture to suit his purposes, or were you simply
by that late stage in the riddle?
case, it is bizarre to pen a screed attacking atheists for embracing
and have your atheist justify this with a quotation from Jesus
relativism. Or it
would be, if that were
what Jesus was really embracing there.
But it isn’t. In
the context of Matthew
7, Jesus is actually addressing hypocrisy—judging someone for doing a specific thing that you
also do yourself. Presumably,
the math teacher gets the answers
to math problems correct, and so the quotation is inapplicable. So I guess what this
amounts to is, you accidentally
tried to say that Jesus was wrong but then screwed it up. Whether that still counts
as blasphemy is the
business of your church, however.
U.S. Constitution and my math textbook are curiously silent on the
Taking apart your atrocious riddle has been
great fun, but I now suspect that the rest of what I said was beside
since what you really meant to
has nothing to do with the Constitution or math class.
If I am right—and I believe I am—your true
impetus is made clear near the end of Johnny’s speech, where he calls
teacher “self-righteous” and a “biggot [sic].” Your mission, it now
seems, was not to defend
scientific truth (had it been, you would be a rare fundamentalist
to defend Christian prejudice and intolerance by figuring them as
truth, as if the statement “homosexuality is a sin” were the same
assertion, and just as unimpeachable, as the statement “the square root
forty-nine is seven.” I
mean, let’s be
honest here: this is about
homosexuality, is it not? Bringing
charge of “bigotry” into the equation rather tips your hand, since
against gays is by far the most common Christian tenet that elicits
response—at least, it is nowadays, since you have recently learned to
about Jews being cursed, women deserving the pain of childbirth, and
being the descendants of Cain. As
you are concerned, your bigotry is a fact. You are so hateful that,
to you, someone
alleging that homosexuals do not deserve persecution is as upside-down
inside-out as someone alleging that math is not math (even though, once
the only people who ever actually asserted that math is not math were
Christians, regarding the value of pi, after we atheists accidentally
them into doing so, to our own great surprise).
blindness is such that you do not even see how little sense it makes to
describe his teacher’s corrections as “dogmatic.”
The term dogma
does not refer to any forcefully made assertion—only to forcefully made
assertions that lack empirical evidence to support them. Science and math are not
composed of “dogma,”
and religions are. To
blunt, we can say this about you, but you cannot say it about us (or at
you cannot factually say it about
though it is perfectly legal for
to do so). This
is pitiful and nauseous, but in one
respect it pleases me, since I
do feel the occasional pang of conscience about laying into someone
because he is stupid. It
me great relief to be able to say: you are not only stupid, but also an
I have solved your riddle,
TenCommandments.org, and now I
demand that you allow me to cross the bridge.
It is a bridge to the future, where you will not be.