Response to Daily article

On Tuesday, February 23, I received an email from Mike Demory tearing into the Atheist & Agnostic Society and calling us cowards for not accepting his invitation to debate the existence of God. This prompted me to look back at past emails to see what he was referring to. I found that on December 17, 2009, (during finals week) he had sent the email with his proposed idea to debate. On the same day, Anastasia sent an email that did not accept or deny his invitation, but rather informed him that it was a busy time for college students.

I quickly emailed Mr. Demory back to ask him for more information and to inform him that our group went through a Presidency change over break as well. On Wednesday, February 24, Mr. Demory’s article entitled “ISU club fails to address blasphemy questions” appeared in the ISU Daily and leveled similar criticisms to that of his email the day before.

As you may have assumed, the Atheist & Agnostic Society gets many emails from theists, some of which deserve to be taken seriously and others that do not. Mr. Demory’s original email fell into the latter category, so it was forgotten about over winter break. Why was his email overlooked? Between criticisms launched by him in the email and his Daily article, he has made the following errors:

He didn’t know the name of our group and mistakenly thought that a national website for student groups was our own.

Mr. Demory claimed that we participated in “Blasphemy Days” last September. This is also false. I wrote an opinion piece for the Daily and our website that discussed the value of free speech and the Blasphemy Day activities of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers.

Mike made the comment that we were unsuccessful in challenging evangelist Tom Short. In fact, we held a (mostly) silent protest when Tom was here last year, and the Daily covered it. You can read about it online.

He has said several times that we challenged people to a debate, apparently meaning in a formal setting, and have since backed out because we can’t support our beliefs. I am not opposed to the idea of a debate, but in the three years I have been a member we have never issued a challenge to engage in a formal debate. I have continually supported criticizing religion as a way of generating an open dialogue, but he ultimately accepted a challenge that was never proposed. If we were truly afraid and incapable of publicly defending our beliefs, then why would we have a weekly Ask an Atheist booth set up on campus when its purpose is to help initiate that dialogue?

Mr. Demory clearly has issues fact-checking, even when the information he needs is all available online. Maybe next time he should also wait longer than two hours for a reply before writing a factually incorrect letter to the editor. If he can’t take the time to fact-check anything about our group, then why should we waste time taking him seriously?

Brian Gress


9 comments on “Response to Daily article

  1. I really don’t understand even the need to have or entertain a debate. Debates are neither opportunities to prove nor disprove a resolution, but more an opportunity to engage in rhetoric score points. The existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved, let alone in a two-hour debate.

    Is it a form of proselytizing when the Christian debates the atheist or agnostic?

    I don’t think that debates are in themselves a bad thing, but the dismissal of a debate is not proof that your group is afraid of them, it is a matter of priorities. Atheism/agnosticism are not positions that can counter the emotional reasons that theists have to be religious. They are seeking justification for their faith, and apparently are so keen on them because they need to intellectually prop up their emotional faith.

    The reason that I think that debates are an opportunity for theists to proselytize is that it seems that most of the time requests for debate on the resolution of the existence of God comes from challenges by them.

    I applaud your “Ask an atheist” booth at Iowa State as a way to counter misimpressions of athieists, keep it up!

  2. Eupraxsophy says:

    I have to agree with both bgress and Mike Haubrich about having a sense-less debate.

    The meaning in having a debate is that both parties have a certain amount of mutual respect for one another and that there is a goal to be reached in finding a resolution or at least some true understanding of the issue(s) at hand.

    And it is not being respectful when someone is being biased, exploiting/exaggerating the truth, or simply being ignorant of the truth. And also it is not being respectful if one does not give the other any consideration that they might be just as right as well.

    This is how misconceptions are brought about. When someone’s only concern is to prove THEMSELVES as being right as opposed to trying to prove WHAT is right.

    And I myself find it useless in debating about things that are in essence nothing more than superstitious dogma.

  3. Mike Demory says:

    I have apologized to Anastasia for my over zealousness in trying to get a response, which apparently Atheists are incapable of accepting, since I have not heard one word from anyone in your group to the contrary.
    I am however a little confused. Your rational for not debating is because it only gives “Theists” an opportunity to proselytize – yet you are not proselytizing with your “Ask an Atheist” booth, or “silent” protests, etc.?

    True Public debate (3-4 nights) allows both parties the opportunity to rationally and opening discuss their points of view between each other (respectfully I would hope), while spectators with various beliefs harmonize the information and form opinions based upon the facts presented. Will some attend who will never change their minds? Of course, truth matters not such individuals. But to the person who is searching for the correct view of things, whether religious or not, debates can be valuable in assisting them to find what they are looking for.

    I had hoped that Brian would be a little more honest in his communication with me, but it is apparent that I must seek answers on my own.

  4. bgress says:

    The idea behind the Ask an Atheist booth is that people who have questions about what an “Atheist” is can get answers. It’s so that people who think we worship the devil or are purely evil can see otherwise. It’s so people who are on the fence with their beliefs or who feel ashamed to not believe in a god can see that it’s OK. That’s it; we’re not forcing our beliefs on anyone.
    As for the debate, yes there are differing opinions in our group about whether a debate accomplishes anything at all. From my perspective, I feel as though I would spend all of my time beating back absurdities instead of getting real, interesting points across.
    Finally, I’m assuming you are not a college student because to take off 3-4 nights (not including preparation time) is, for me, an enormous task.

  5. Mike Demory says:


    I guess you are assuming that no one but yourself, or students are busy with anything else. Yes, it would be an enormous task for myself as well, but I’m willing to spend the time because I believe it would be benefical to all.

    As for beating back absurdities – It appears that you are the one who has all the answers and no one else. We have never had the opportunty to sit down and discuss our differences. So please don’t lump me in with all the denominations who have no leg to stand on. I know that I have facts backing up my beliefs as I’m sure you feel you have facts that back up yours.

    In the past debates were quite common place among differing view points. But in our day they are becoming less common because one side knows they can’t adequately defend their beliefs, and are afraid to reveal that to their followers, for they might just lose some. The fact of the matter is that truth has nothing to fear, for it will triumph over error everytime. It is logically impossible for both of us to be correct in our view of the world. Either it is the case that you are right and I am wrong, and therefore must revise my view if I am an honest person – or you are wrong and I am right, or we are both wrong and need to revise our beliefs.
    But of course that only works for people who believe in absolutes – which I most certainly do.

    • zntneo says:

      You said “It appears that you are the one who has all the answers and no one else” where did you get this from? This seems like a complete strawman to me.

  6. bgress says:

    First off, I don’t have followers. People in AAS can and do think for themselves. Your continual claim that we (I) know that we can’t adequately defend our beliefs is laughable. As if that is the only reason one can have for not jumping at the chance to have a debate with you. I recommend you come to an AAS meeting sometime. Better yet, I propose a Grab a Brew Share Your View type event. These are typically events that are open to the public but have one church group and one atheist group for contrast. A topic is presented and anyone and everyone is welcome to come up and give his or her opinions on the topic. 2 rules – respect the person though you may not respect the belief and try to keep your comments under 2 minutes a piece.

  7. Mike says:

    zntneo and Brian,

    There is no point casting rediculous quips back and forth. My time is far too vaulable for that. My only reason for contacting Anastasia in the first place was give someone in your group, or someone who you thought was able – to publicly discuss why and how God does exist.
    But it is apparent that there is no interest, as all you are able to do is proselytize through protests, and “ask an Atheist.” I am now convinced more than ever that truth has won the day. And no, discussions over a “brew” settles nothing. Even Athony Flew was willing defend his views publicly.

    • bgress says:

      OK this is it. I have no interest in discussing anything with you in the future. You are unable to compromise or take on anyone’s perspective but your own. The GABSYV is an excellent venue to “settle” issues, but you have just convinced me that you have no interest in hearing out other people. You don’t understand that the reason we don’t want a formal debate is not because we can’t defend our beliefs – you ignore that Ask an Atheist, Grab a Brew, soap box debates, inviting you to a meeting, etc. is the definition of defending our beliefs. Some of us just happen to believe that a formal debate is an AWFUL venue for creating discussion and getting to the “truth”. By all means, take your narrow perspective to someone else.

      By the way, the only reason you would ever turn down my offer for a GABSYV is because you KNOW that you can’t defend your beliefs and because you’re afraid.

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