Posted by: Ticktock | September 22, 2008

Sacred Cows Beyond Belief!

After yesterday’s secular parenting seminar, I had the pleasure of meeting Edwin and Helen Kagin, two elder statesmen of atheism with whom I was previously unfamiliar.  They were total spitfires, and meeting them was a highlight, if only because they gave the lunch so much character and cantankerous charm.

The Kagins are well known in the area for starting Camp Quest, the summer camp for children of secular humanists.  They told the tale of their legal battle struggle that started after their former renters, a Baptist camp, decided to petition for a change in the discrimination laws so that the Baptists could refuse rental based on religious differences. The law was passed, vetoed by the governor, and the veto was overturned by the legislature.  Edwin is also known for his rally for reason against the despicable Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.

Camp Quest is a normal camp that has the same amounts of fun and bonding that occur at other camps, but you’ll be sure to find a few things that are different.  For instance, there is a long standing tradition that two invisible unicorns are wandering the property, and any child who proves that these unicorns do not exist receives a $100 bill.  As the claim is unfalsifiable, the reward has yet to be claimed.

I told the Kagins that my mother kind of rolled her eyes and groaned when I brought up a humanist summer camp, and that I reminded her that I was sent to a methodist summer camp.  How is it any better to send your kid off to a camp to make crucifix arts and crafts?

The lunch was rolling along fine with a friendly socialism vs. libertarianism debate until the conversation came to an abrupt halt on the topic of… acupuncture.  Of course, I’m well versed on the subject because of my baby’s mama, so I started going off on the weakness of the treatment – the unfalisifiable claims of chi flowing through assigned meridians.  Suddenly, Helen Kagin cut me off to correct me that there was, in fact, such a thing as chi.  I was completely befuddled and agog.  What did she just say?  For a minute I thought she was joking until she turned and whispered to her atheist husband with amusement in her voice that I don’t believe in chi, and he actually said matter-of-factly “But I can feel the energy inside me.”

Two dedicated atheist activists were telling me that they believed in an ancient magical energy of unknown origin that can neither be detected, seen, nor measured, and that they believed this because they could “feel” it.  At this point, I was wondering if they could “feel” the invisible unicorns at Camp Quest.  A lot of believers insist that they can “feel” the presence of God, and yet a typical atheist would just as casually dismiss those feelings as an illusion.  Yes, there is some science that confirms some of the claims of acupuncture, and that has given Traditional Chinese Medicine a boost lately, but there are many more studies that disprove the claims of TCM.  And yet, acupuncturists don’t have to change their claims because they are not bound by the universal laws of science.

Who came up with meridians?  How did they find them?  How does anybody know they are there?  Why can’t we detect them?  Surely these channels of energy are physical because the treatment is a needle.  How does an undetectable invisible energy react to a needle?  Why are the needles put at certain spots?  None of these questions can be answered by anybody but an apologetic acupuncturist trying to justify what can’t be proven.

Acupuncture meridians are the bible of TCM passed down by generations and originating from some unknown persons.  Chi is the god of TCM, a mysterious power that can neither be detected nor falsified.  And the patient of TCM is the true believing worshipper, who relies on nothing but faith and anecdotes for belief in the magical.

I’m not saying that I’m better than the Kagins because I’m so smart about acupuncture.  I have been very accepting of TCM, have had treatments from my wife, and have defended the cultural tradition on other forums.  But, when you let the claims of TCM settle to the bottom, you see that there is truly nothing there but normal responses such as placebo and endorphins.  Needling does not manipulate chi because there is no such thing as chi.

There are no meridians, and if you think you can prove that there are any magical energy channels, I’ve got a $100 reward and a couple of invisible unicorns for you.  Any takers?



  1. Nice piece on the Kagins and beyond belief. I’ve known them for years and I’m a little surprised that they “believe” in chi, and can “feel” it.

    My response to them would have been to recite the theme of our 2006 Camp Quest, which was “How Do You Know?” How exactly do they “know” what they’re feeling is “chi” and not something else, like indigestion?

    A scientific approach, as Edwin and Helen USUALLY promote, would try to find a naturalistic cause for this “feeling” and exhaust all possibilities before shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I don’t know.”

    BTW–It’s a GODLESS $100 bill. Printed before McCarthyites put religious graffiti on the money, conflating god and mammon. No wonder we’re in so much trouble.

    Be well,


  2. Oh man, you know I just have to jump in about the Kagins. Why do they feel the need to FORCE someone, in this case the Baptists, to rent a space to them?

    Bottom line, if I own something I can tell you to get the hell off because I don’t like your haircut. Do I agree with Baptists? No. But does that mean I can or should force them to do something for me that goes against their beliefs? Absolutely not. Furthermore, why in the hell do I want them to? Is it just to make a point? Make myself famous? Make my beliefs seem that more radical and educated?

    There is true irony in their belief in Chi. I’ve always thought they should rent me a room over at their house, but always been refused. My own disbelief in Chi forces should be enough to force the government to throw away property laws and and have them force the Kagins to rent me a room.

  3. I’m not sure exactly how all that with the Baptist camp went down, but I’m pretty positive that the Baptists asked for the law to be changed after Camp Quest had decided to relocate elsewhere. It’s true that the Kagins were involved in the legal dispute, but it wasn’t them that started the situation. Or, at least, that’s how I understand it.

    Discrimination laws are in place to protect everybody, so that one group, religion, race, or culture won’t be at a social disadvantage. It’s not as if the Kagins were bullying the baptists. Laws aren’t supposed to be rewritten in favor of marginalizing and demonizing one specific group.

  4. Agree with you about discrimination laws, but they only ring true for matters of employment and publicly owned property. For private property, which a church or religious institution would fit in with, they have the right to exclude anyone they want. It’s bad business to do that, which is why you don’t often see restaurants saying they won’t let short people eat there, but still within the property owner’s rights.

    As far as rewriting laws in favor of marginalizing and demonizing one group I’d have to say the Kagins are just as guilty. They would clearly argue in separation of church and state/public property, yet want state’s laws to dictate what a church can or cannot do as far as accommodating the public on their private property. Do they feel the same way about, say, a Bob Evan’s restaurant, or honestly, are they just trying to be a pain in the ass to the christian church?

  5. you gotta watch out for those Baptists.

    they are a crazy bunch.

    and that’s coming from an irish/italian catholic who is married to a jew!

    don’t get me started on jonMcP…

  6. In reply to Jon McP and others: In most civilized states, if a party opens its facilities to the public for lease or rent, then they obligate themselves under the law as “a place of public accommodation.” In other words, if you change your purpose from a private function to a public commercial function, then you cannot pick and choose who may knock on your door. However, the Baptists want it both ways. They wanted special treatment, and they got it.

    The Kagins did not in any way ask the Baptists to do anything against their beliefs. The folks who ran the camp knew very well who they were renting to -because it said so on the contract, and had no problem with CQ. The check cleared, the campers were better behaved than their usual clientele, and they left the camp cleaner than they found it. Same for the second year. Neither the Kagins or anybody else tried to de-convert the faithful. On the other hand, the congregation was not subtle at all in proselytizing to their renters.

    The Baptists didn’t kick CQ out either. The Kagins didn’t care for the treatment they received and found a different location. It was only after CQ left the Bullitsburg camp that the congregation lobbied their legislators for a change in the law. They didn’t want to be bound to the law that said they could not discriminate. They got their way. It’s all in the book.

    Sorry to learn yall support discrimination.

  7. I don’t know if “yall” was the right pronoun there. I don’t support discrimination in any form, and I’m sure Jon McP’s opinions stem from his libertarian political views and not from his personal ethical code.

  8. To JonMcP: No, Jon. Bob Evans does not have the right to discriminate against short people — or anybody else for that matter. Public places may not discriminate. I think we got past that idiotic argument with passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    For the record, the Kagins have never tried to get a law passed to use private property. They were fighting against legalized bigotry because next time, it may be legal to discriminate against people of color, or Catholics, or Jews, or Italians, or Irish. Or you.

    Apparently atheists are more moral than Baptists.

  9. Ticktock, that “ya’all was intended only for a certain party and those who share his mind-set.

    Thank you for pointing out the need for clarification.

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