Brian Sapient (born in 1977) is most well known for creating the Rational Response Squad. The Rational Response Squad originally started as a podcast and a message board to unite Atheist Activists.
Brian was baptized, went to Sunday School, received Communion, and forced to go to Catholic Church every Sunday from infancy until 13 when becoming a born again Christian. Brian recalls being about 9 years old and questioning a nun on the story of Noahs Ark, he didn’t think the story was possible, He was scolded, and yes… she mildly slapped his hand with a ruler. His mother left the Catholic Church for a born again Christian church on the grounds that the people at the Church were more passionate about their faith.
The years that led to his activism
“Growing up like that, it was almost like an act of terrorism. I know we don’t as a society view it like that, but seriously I was scared to death of hell. I remember going to my fathers house and begging him to say this prayer to be saved. Fear of hell is by far and away the biggest factor in me holding religious belief into my late teens.” – Brian Sapient
At 13 years old he had serious doubts about religion. He asked his new born again pastor some questions about Jesus and the dinosaurs. He was already a big science freak, and he was not able to reconcile dinosaurs with the young Earth creation story of the born-again christian church that his mother chose. He slowly moved away from Christianity and moved towards an agnostic deist view for about 7 years.
“I kept explaining my god away with something I learned scientifically. As I understood the dinosaurs and evolution as a kid I’d say well Jesus and God are still real but we evolved and God just put life here. Of course you can’t do this. Either the Bible is true or it’s not. I was just making up my own version of God, just like all the theists I talk to. We’re all the same, we all want to believe, some of us for different reasons. But for the most part if you are forced to go to Church as a child, the effects fear place in you will be felt for years after you walk out the doors for the last time. I clung to that Evolution/Dinosaur God for several years, I had to be late teens. Until I bumped into Erick, and he helped me realize that I was simply using a god to explain that which I don’t know. Science can only lead us so far. As a fan of science I know it’s safe to have a reasonable expectation that science will continue to answer more questions about where we come from. I also have a reasonable expectation that a god wont be needed to explain any of it.” – Brian Sapient
Brian Sapient is not his real name. He changed his name after recieving death threats from Christians. source The first death threat that he can recall came in 1999. He was posting on a now defunct internet message board, making arguments against God and arguing about the lack of evidence for God. When he first came online to explore religion he had used his real name as he had nothing to fear by using it as an agnostic deist (his position in the late 90′s). A Christian called Sapient on the phone and said, “Now that you’ve proven there is no god, I have no reason not to kill you.” [source: interview conducted by Malarick with Sapient]
The Blasphemy Challenge
Brian Sapient has spoken out extensively against religion on his podcast and on his blog. He is reponsible for creating projects such as the Blasphemy Challenge. The Blasphemy Challenge, started in December 2006, an Internet-based project which aimed to get atheists to come out and declare themselves as atheists. The challenge asks atheists to submit videos to the website YouTube, in which they record themselves blaspheming or denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. The Blasphemy Challenge videos have had a total of over 1 million views and has been covered by many national news outlets.
Sapient cited Mark 3:28-29 and Matthew 12:30-32 in which the Bible says that blasphemy of the holy spirit is an unforgivable sin. Thus, users who took the challenge saw themselves as crossing a point of no return to prove that they truly did not believe in the biblical God and would "accept the consequences." They wanted to show just how sure they were that God didn't exist. The first 1,001 users who took the challenge received a DVD of Flemming's documentary film The God Who Wasn't There. Magician Penn Jillette, author Christopher Hitchens, philosopher Daniel Dennett, and Raëlism founder Raël participated in the project. It was also the first video of comedian and Internet personality Pat Condell.
The Way of the Master Debate
Brian Sapient and Kelly O'Connor, members of the RRS, participated in a debate with representatives from The Way of the Master, actor and evangelical Christian Kirk Cameron, and his colleague Ray Comfort, at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan on May 5, 2007. Nightline aired the debate online and included a short two-segment summary on its May 9 broadcast. At issue was the existence of God. Nightline correspondent Martin Bashir served as moderator at the event.
Cameron and Comfort challenged the Rational Response Squad to the debate. They claimed that they could prove the existence of God scientifically without using the Bible, though Comfort does refer to the Bible when he participates in such discussions, and did so during the May 5 debate. In a May 8, 2007 clarification, Comfort stated that he would cease using the qualifier "without mentioning faith or the Bible" from his claims to avoid misunderstandings.
During the debate, both sides employed and responded to arguments for God's existence, including the cosmological argument and Pascal's Wager. The debate also entered topics outside of science, including history, and the question of connections between religion and morality.
The following comments were written into the RationalWiki for "the debate". They are chronological comments about Brian Sapient in the debate with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron:
1. Right off the bat, Brian explains that he did not come to the debate to share why he does not think god exists, but rather why he thinks Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron have failed to provide scientific evidence for the existence of god without evoking the bible. He points out that the Ten Commandments, which is found in the bible and was used as a tool for biblical preaching, is not a valid evidence for the existence of god. He responds to Ray's argument that a building requires a builder, but Ray forgets we can call the builder, check city permit records, etc. but we cannot call god or his 'universe factory.' We can call the painter, we can call the paint maker, etc. but Ray cannot take us to god's universe factory to watch creation happen. Brian did not want to discuss the bible during this debate, but noted that Ray's point regarding god as merciful and just is incorrect, because the Blasphemy Challenge showed that some sins are unforgivable. However, if you are a rapist or pedophile in prison, you can be safe as long as you are a Christian and can go to Heaven. Brian returns to Ray's points regarding everything must have a creator. If all things require a creator, then who created god? Brian informed the audience that Ray advocates pseudoscience such as intelligent design and points out that we see all sorts of things in nature that cannot be the result of intelligent design. One example is the human eye (which Ray thinks is perfect), which has a blind spot and sends images to our brains backwards. Other examples exist of parts of the human body that refute the claim the human body is intelligently designed. Brian ends his speech explaining that atheists are good people.
2. Brian responds by pointing out that many people in the audience or people they may know has had an experience with ghosts. Experience alone does not make it true. Brian pointed out there could be an invisible gnome on his shoulder and he believes it is true, but it is not true to reality. He claimed that personal experience has no bearing on the debate; for example Brian and Kelly were both at one time Christians but they are not going to bother the audience with stories of their past. In response to Ray's argument about "Who created God?" Brian says not even Ray believes it. Ray's argument goes, "everything needs a creator except for this one magical thing at the beginning that does not need a creator." Brian, going back to using science, explains that there is a testable law of thermodynamics that says matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. Since matter and energy make up the universe, they have always existed and do not require a creator. What Ray is doing is using an argument from ignorance that he does not know what created the universe so he makes up a god to explain it all. Brian then introduces Occam's Razor that explains the most simple position is the most plausible, and the simplest answer is there is no god.
3. Brian explained that every living thing in the fossil record is transitional, and those who do not understand this show a huge ignorance of evolution. Brian mentions Australopithecus africanus and that life is constantly evolving. Brian offered to pay Ray and Kirk to go to a museum, to show that scientists have found thousands of transitional fossils that can be dated accurately. Brian explains to Kirk that he shows no understanding of evolution, especially when he opened his speech with "We start with nothing" and "life forms itself, that these fields of science, cosmology and abiogenesis, have nothing to do with evolution." Brian points out to Kirk regarding Archaeoraptor that science is a self correcting system and scientists learn from their mistakes. Kirk interrupts to say that "they were wrong, now you have to scrap the theory and come up with the next one." Brian remarked that one false fossil out of the thousands upon thousands of others does not refute the theory overall. Brian then explains Microevolution and Macroevolution by using the metaphor "how do you walk a mile without taking one step at a time? Microevolution is each step, Macroevolution is at the end of the mile." The moderator turned the attention to Kirk, who responded "As far as I understand from the research I have done, [pause] any fossil you find in your museum is a fully formed creature. There is no half-way between one animal and half-way between another animal that you can observe to be so." Kirk then says Brian is assuming that evolution is happening and presupposes that we are transitional forms constantly changing. Kirk goes on to say that we have never observed one "kind" of animal form into another, Brian responded "because that is not how evolution works." Ignoring Brian, Kirk says no one has ever seen Macroevolution happen. Kelly quickly points out the reason why Kirk is not seeing the missing link he wants to see is because "mutations must necessarily be small enough to allow for the survival and reproduction of that creature. You are not going to find a half-duck, half-crocodile because what would that mate with? That wouldn't make any evolutionary advantage, but even if there were no fossils, no transitional forms, evolution is still soundly supported by biology, genetic information, cosmological information, and all of the fields of science unanimously agree and support it." Before moving onto the next question, the moderator allowed Kirk to respond. Kirk ignores Kelly's point, uses the Watchmaker argument, and claims our DNA is filled with information that can only point to an intelligent designer and not be an "accident." He goes on to mention that Charles Darwin did not know how complex the cell was, and then adds "if you do the research, you will find any self-respecting biologist will tell you no one has a clue how the human body can possibly build itself by an accidental process."
Brian did a great job of countering Kirk's claim, and would have done more if the moderator had not given Kirk the spotlight for too long. When Kirk said "As far as I understand from the research I have done..." is actually none at all. All Kirk has done is ignore the evidence in favor of superstitious beliefs. Fossils are not full-formed animals, Kelly is right when she points out Kirk does not want to see the real evidence. When Kirk demands to see a half-this half-that, it only shows a deeper lack of understanding of evolution. Example, asking to see a half-man half-ape is like asking for a half-duck half-bird, or where is the half-way point between Los Angeles and California? As for Kirks last attempt, of course you will not find a biologist who will say that it all happened by accident, because evolution is not random or an accident. DNA does not point to an intelligent designer. Any arrangement implies information; the information is how the arrangement is described. If a new arrangement occurs, whether spontaneously or from the outside, new information is assembled in the process. Even if the arrangement consists of shattering a glass into tiny pieces, that means assembling new information.
4. "Brian, you stated 'you dont have to be religious or have a religion to be good, but looking at the test tube of history, if we want to look at atheistic nations, we have some experiments of communism and we find from communist nations that they killed off approximately one million of their own people. Is this a good example of atheists being good?" Brian answers that these actions are not being done in the name of atheism. He then adds that about 90% of the people in Sweden do not believe in a god and are very peaceful, then Kelly added that the United States is among the most religious country in the world, and yet has the highest records of violence. Kelly then responds that there has never been an example when a nation has been completely independent from religion; communism is not the appropriate analogy because it is a form of state worship. There might not be a religious god, but the god of communism is the state.
Brian and Kelly are correct in their statements, but there is more that should need explaining. Communism does have a history of death attached to it (in fairness, so do other systems), but death in communism happens both in the secular and religious sense. For instance, Ray Comfort believes the Bible to be the whole inherit word of the Almighty infallible omniscient God, but the Bible does contain communism within its pages. For instance, communism is found practiced in the book of Acts (Acts 2 and Acts 4) which lead to the death of a couple who refused to hand over their property. Also, Jesus emphasized doing all that you can to help the poor — even to the point of him recommending that a rich man sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor if he really wishes to get into heaven. It is no wonder, then, that any number of Christian groups have adopted ways of living which, while explicitly based upon biblical stories, are also expressions of communist ideals. Such groups include the Shakers, Mormons, Hutterites and more.
The point is, communism - both secular and religious - can lead to the death of some to many. However, if Christians wish to use the deaths committed in Soviet Russia as evidence against atheism, they must admit that their own Bible condones communism (in which leads to the killing of people too). Since many Christians, like Ray Comfort, like to brag that science and many things came from or where inspired by the Bible, they must also admit that the idea of communism arose from their holy text long before Karl Marx's time.
Brian made closing arguments: he started affirming what WOTM said that religion is a force for good, if you take out the murder, mass genocide committed by God as recorded in the Bible, religious wars, burning of witches at the stake, Ted Haggard, shooting of abortion doctors, the Bible's promotion of slavery, pedophile priests, Christian serial killers going wild, the church's systematic oppression of women and minorities, diversion of protection against STDs and the spread of AIDS in third-world countries, creative and inconsistent interpretations of 'Thou Shall Not Kill'... take it all out (and much more left unmentioned) and religion can be a force for good.
Brian remarks on Ray saying God gave us all a conscience by asking if God forgot to give a conscience to Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, the Popes who have the blood of millions on their hands, and Osama Bin Laden? And speaking of Bin Laden, Brian asked the audience if they knew what the definition of a terrorist is? Some definitions say terrorists use violence, but it can also be the threat of violence for the purpose of creating fear in order to achieve a religious goal. This is exactly what Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, and WOTM do when they push the fear of God and hell onto nonbelievers. What can be more terroristic than "believe this or burn for eternity"? The answer is nothing. Brian says he does not fault Ray and Kirk and understands their motives are driven by the fear of hell.
Brian ends his speech by saying enough is enough and calling out for all rational people to unite and help others abandon the fear that has been brainwashed into them from birth. Brian claimed that we as a society have failed our children by teaching them to be illogical, and promised all those who have fallen victim to religious teachings that they can lead a much better life if they abandon their religion and faith.
In his closing arguments Brian Sapient made this argument: "You know, Way of the Master is right… Religion IS a force for good... when you take out the murder, mass genocide committed by god as documented in the bible, religious wars, burning witches at the stake, Ted Haggard, shooting abortion doctors, the bible's promotion of slavery, pedophile priests, serial killing Christians gone wild, the church's systematic oppression of women and minorities, aversion to protection against STDs and the spread of AIDS in third-world countries, creative and inconsistent interpretation of "thou shalt not kill.” Take it all out and yeah... religion is a force for good."
Is Brian Sapient the most dangerous man on the internet?
Is Brian Sapient the most dangerous man on the internet? Judging from his appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio talk show, he must be. First thing's first: who is Brian Sapient and if he's so dangerous why haven't you heard of him? Sapient is the leader of the Rational Response Squad (RRS), an online-based, free-thinking Atheist network, and the reason his name hasn't crossed your path is, well, because he's the leader of a free-thinking Atheist network. Sapient employs rather radical methods in order to convey his position. One such tactic is The Blasphemy Challenge. Here he encourages people to record themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit (immediately branding them a heretic in the eyes of God and exiling them from Heaven for eternity) in exchange for a free "The God Who Wasn't There" DVD. Ingraham, sighting a potential opportunity to embarrass someone with a differing epistemological viewpoint, invited Sapient on her show. Her nasty, trifling interview is good theater but prosaic commentary. Sapient revealed the show's most remarkable defense mechanism on the RRS message boards, and it speaks volumes about the way verbose pundits hobble their guests and can control dialogue. As Ingraham attempted to roil Sapient with a few below-the-belt jabs ("Why don't you get a real job?") the producer, according to Sapient, was in his other ear forbiding him to defend himself. When Brian defied the producer's command Sapient's mic was clipped and Laura stated her conclusions unchallenged.
While Sapient broadcasts for over an hour each week on RRS, giving equal platform to Reverends, youth pastors and garden-variety believers, one must ask why does Laura Ingraham hate free speech? I am a firm believer in John Stuart Mill's philosophy of total inclusion when it comes to what we admit into popular discussion and the more points of view on such an important topic the better. With this approach the meritless ideas will, over time, shrivel and fade, and truth will reveal itself against the dull backcloth of falsehoods. The idea being reality is quite persuasive (when was the last time you underwent a blood-letting?). So, I ask, what is so dangerous about Sapient's message?
The highlight from the show: Laura presents Sapient with Pascal's Wager, asking if there is a God isn't it better just to believe because if Sapient is wrong he's going to suffer forever, but if he's right nothing is gained. Sapient counters, Socrates-like, by asking her in which God should one believe: Yaweh or Allah? Laura, without skipping a beat, delivers a pot shot and asks Sapient "So, what does your girlfriend do?" Is Brian Sapient the most dangerous man on the internet?
RRS Member breaks down Brian Sapient vs Laura Ingraham
Sapient Recieves Honorary PhD
In November of 2010, Brian Sapient was awarded an honorary PhD as a Doctor of Disbelief from Logidea University (a now online defunct site designed to honor outspoken atheists). Richard McCargar says about Brian...
Mr. Sapient is perhaps responsible for more motivated activist atheists than almost any other single individual in America.
Who among us can forget watching Brian and Kelly O'Connor prove that Ray "the Way of the Master" Comfort was just another ill-informed religious banana-peeling huckster on national broadcast TV? That was a first, and remains a classic. The religious sat up and took notice. Times had changed. Atheists were now well prepared, well spoken and well received by a previously hidden segment of society.
This single action gave voice and hope to countless atheists that the time for change had arrived. We could be public, proud and assert our rights.During 2005, Brian helped launch a mock War on Christmas responding to Fox News "War on Christmas" propaganda. Brilliant use of the tools they made available. Wondeful example of turning lemons into lemonade.
Brian has been to the mountain, or in this case, the mountain came to Brian! October of 2006 Brian hosted Richard Dawkins in his home for a roundtable discussion. Brian teamed with Brian Flemming, director of "The God who wasn't there" to produce the infamous and influential Blasphemy Challenge on YouTube. The video recently surpassed the 1 Million view mark. Considering the limited demographic, that is spectacular!Few realized the coming transformation of a generation. It didn't happen by accident.The Rational Response Squad came to the defense of over 20 atheists who had videos removed from youtube due to false copyright infringement claims submitted by Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism Ministries. The RRS account was suspended as a result and reinstated within one week by YouTube.
Brian Sapient's website
Brian Sapient's blog on Rational Responders
Rational Responder forums
Twitter Rational Squad
Positive perspectives about Brian Sapient
Richard Dawkins at Brian Sapient's house
Views of Brian Sapient
Brian Sapient on ABC News
Brian Sapient on MN1.com
Brian Sapient interviewed by LDS Radio in Utah
Brian Sapient interviewed by Torontos largest talk radio station
Friendly Atheist interviews Brian Sapient
Brian Sapient vs Uri Geller
CNET on Geller and Sapient
Brian Sapient and Uri Geller settle
Timeline for Brian Sapient losing religion
Decreating a creationist site
Greydon Square attacks Brian Sapient
Sapient interviewed about creating a site for teens
The difference between atheist and agnostic
Background behind formation of Rational Response Squad