The Atheist Experience
|The Atheist Experience|
|Genre||Live call-in talk show|
|Theme music composer||Shelley Segal|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||1000 (as of June 24th, 2018)|
|Production location(s)||Austin, Texas|
|Running time||90 minutes|
|Distributor||Atheist Community of Austin|
|Original release||October 19, 1997 –|
The Atheist Experience is an American live, weekly televised webcast based in Austin, Texas. Listeners—theists and atheists alike—are encouraged to call in to discuss the existence of God and related topics. Theists are often asked to explain what they believe, and why. Following the webcast, each episode is available in an audio-only podcast format.
The Atheist Experience is a production of the Atheist Community of Austin (ACA), an educational non-profit organization based in Austin, Texas, which has as a central goal the promotion of positive atheism and the separation of church and state.
In April 1996, a woman named Keller Von Hausen took the initiative of forming a group for atheists in the Austin area by e-mailing local atheists. After several informal monthly gatherings, the Atheist Community of Austin was formally founded on December 15, 1996, by which time it had attracted around 60 members. By June 1997, the ACA had its own website, a relatively new medium at the time, to reach out to fellow atheists on the internet. The first episode of The Atheist Experience, a pre-recorded pilot, aired on October 19, 1997.
From the second show onward, the episodes were broadcast live on cable access television on every other Sunday, giving the opportunity to viewers to call the show live. Initially the show's length was one-half hour. Ray Blevins was the show's first host, while Joe Zamecki served as the first co-host.
The show length was extended to an hour in September 1998. From December 1999 on, The Atheist Experience began streaming over the internet, enabling anyone around the world with internet access to watch. Since November 2005, The Atheist Experience (as well as The Non-Prophets Radio) has also been distributed as a podcast to a global audience.
A YouTube channel, which became the official channel in August 2012, has over 250,000 subscribers and over 63 million video views as of February 2019. On June 24, 2018 the show aired its 1000th episode.
The first episode (pilot) was recorded at Furr's Cafeteria in October 1997. Subsequent episodes were recorded at the public-access television studio at Austin Public (1143 Northwestern Ave). After 18 years, long-standing logistical and technical issues at the public access studio prompted the crew to move to the ACA's Freethought Library (1507 West Koenig Lane) in October 2015.
The Atheist Experience's success has spawned several spin-off shows also produced by the ACA; as of July 2018, these were The Non-Prophets Radio podcast, the Talk Heathen talk show, the Godless Bitches podcast and The Preaching Humanist television show.(2:51) In December 2018, the new Secular Sexuality live show was launched.
The primary purpose of The Atheist Experience is to have a discussion or debate on the existence of gods or related topics between theist callers and the atheist hosts and co-hosts. The Atheist Experience is therefore primarily geared towards a non-atheist audience, and tends to foster confrontational debates. Moreover, the conversations are intended for theists to hear from atheists themselves, rather than from other theists, what atheists actually believe. Another goal is to familiarize the show's audience with relevant arguments and effective debating tactics.
The opening theme used for The Atheist Experience has changed over the years; in some cases due to copyright issues. From August 2009 to August 2015, the theme song was Bryan Steeksma's "Listen to Reason". Following that, Shelley Segal's "Saved" has been used.
Although debates about all theism- and atheism-related views are welcome, because of the large number of Christians in the United States and their influence in American politics and society, the emphasis is mostly on Christianity. Frequent topics include religious dogma, morality, ethics and application of the scientific method.
The host (on the right) and co-host (on the left) are filmed sitting behind a table. There may also be off-camera spectators in the studio. After the opening sequence featuring the theme song, the co-host often opens with a theme (for example, Don Baker's segment "The Failures of Christianity") or current event discussion, and then the host takes live calls. Callers are put in a waiting queue and screened by the crew before they are put into direct contact with the host and co-host. Although atheists are also allowed to call in, the crew attempts to have at least 50% theists callers.(4:00) The host has a control panel, which allows them to put a caller temporarily "on hold" in order to clarify a point or address a technical issue, or disconnect a caller who in the host's judgment has been overly rude or has frustrated the discussion.
Some callers hold negative stereotypes about atheists, or misconceptions about atheism and science, and occasionally verbally abuse the hosts, or atheists in general. At times, the hosts reply in kind, or even initiate verbal abuse or mockery of the religious beliefs which a caller may hold. However, friendly and respectful conversations also frequently take place, and are preferred. Author Yuriy Nikshych wrote that The Atheist Experience is "worth watching to get a sense of how to talk to theists", and said it was an "invaluable resource" for people (including himself) in the process of losing their religious beliefs to become atheists.
The hosts and co-hosts form separate rotation pools and usually don't mix. The current pools are as follows:
Don Baker is a PhD computer scientist working in the field of computer-supported cooperative work. He has taught at the University of Texas (Austin) as an adjunct for two years. Baker has served as the secretary of the Atheist Community of Austin. He has a strong interest in the nascent field of memetics and has spent several years exploring the implications of Christianity as a meme complex, expressed in his writings at Christianity Meme.
Matt Dillahunty (Kansas City, Missouri, 1969) was raised a fundamentalist Baptist and was a Christian for more than 20 years. Beginning in 1987, he served in the Navy for 8 years, and then moved to Austin to spend several years in the hi-tech game industry. After this, he set out to re-affirm his faith with the intent of attending seminary and pursuing a life in the ministry in 2001, but through a process of studying the Bible, religion and philosophy, Dillahunty came to reject his previous theistic beliefs. He co-founded Iron Chariots, a counter-apologetics wiki, co-presented The Atheist Experience for the first time in March 2005 and served as the president of the Atheist Community of Austin from 2006 to 2013.
Tracie Harris (Orlando, Florida) is a former Christian fundamentalist, who received her BA in Liberal Studies from the University of Central Florida. She has been active as a graphic artist, cartoonist, and publishing professional and has drawn the Atheist Eve strip hosted on the Atheist Community of Austin website. Harris and Dillahunty were featured on the Religion section of The Huffington Post, which reported on an exchange between them and an 'aggressive Christian caller' who held a 'shocking view of children who have been the victims of rape.' Aside from hosting The Atheist Experience, Harris has also co-hosted GB 2.0 podcast since February 2018, and has served on the ACA board as secretary and vice president.
John Iacoletti became a co-host on March 24, 2013 (episode 806) after operating the cameras and providing technical assistance for years. He brings a Unitarian perspective to the show. Iacoletti has served as a board member of the ACA several years, as of 2018–19 as treasurer.
Jen Peeples is an aerospace engineer. She served in the U.S. Army for 26 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, was a military test pilot and left the military as an aviation officer. Peeples is a self-described "foxhole atheist". She is openly gay. Aside from co-hosting The Atheist Experience, Peeples has also co-hosted GB 2.0 podcast, the reboot of Godless Bitches, since February 2018, and has served on the ACA board as president from 2013 to 2016.
Phil Session (Dallas, Texas) became a co-host on June 26, 2016 (in season 20), having previously worked as part of the television crew and on the board of the ACA. He took Martin Wagner's place. In college, he tried to reconcile his Christian faith with his homosexuality; failing, he left Christianity and first identified as 'spiritual but not religious', then a 'nonbeliever' after accepting the argument from inconsistent revelations, and finally as an atheist when he heard that word on a YouTube podcast. As of 2018–19, Session serves as the vice president of the ACA.
Jeff Dee (May 15, 1961) is an artist and game designer. He is a recognized figure in the role-playing game community and game industry. His illustrative work shows comic book art form and influence. He is the co-creator of Villains and Vigilantes, illustrator of the Dungeons & Dragons manual Deities & Demigods, artist for Master of Orion, art director for Ultima VII, and lead designer for The Sims: Castaway Stories. He is a former host of The Atheist Experience (making occasional reappearances as co-host), and co-created The Non Prophets, an Internet radio show by the Atheist Community of Austin.
Keryn Glasser comes from a Jewish atheist background, is a gerontological social worker by training and has worked in a hospice. She is 'interested in exploring death and dying from a non-religious perspective', and identifies as a 'pacifistic, animal loving, tree hugging, vegan.' She has presented The Atheist Experience from 2002 to 2006.
Russell Glasser is a software engineer in Austin, Texas. He is Keryn Glasser's brother. He received an MSc in computer engineering at the University of Texas in 2007. Glasser has been involved in The Atheist Experience since around 2000, and is the producer of the internet radio show The Non Prophets. He has served on the ACA board as a director, and was elected ACA president in 2016. Glasser took a break from hosting TAE in 2018.
Ashley Perrien (1975) was a co-host on the show from spring 2002 and a host from March 2004 to May 2005.
Martin Wagner (April 27, 1966, Henderson, Nevada) is an artist, cartoonist, and filmmaker. Wagner was a prominent figure in the short-lived comics self-publishing movement, along with Dave Sim (Cerebus), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil). He self-published the comic book Hepcats. Wagner quit as co-host in 2016, being replaced by Phil Session.
Notable guest appearances
Occasionally, a notable scientist, scholar or activist is invited to take the role of co-host on the show; after an interview with the host, the guest participates in answering calls. These have included:
- Seth Andrews, host of The Thinking Atheist podcast and video producer, former Christian radio show host (episode #22.25), guest appearance
- Ray Comfort, Evangelical Christian apologist (episode #702), live call-in
- Kathleen Johnson, vice-president of American Atheists and founder of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (episode #647, 2010-03-07), guest appearance
- Mark Loewe, theoretical physicist (episode #393, 2005-04-24), guest appearance
- Jonathan McLatchie, doctoral student in cell biology, Apologetics Academy (episode #22.31, 2018-08-05), live call-in.
- Kyle Miller, pastor (episode #639, 2010-01-10), guest appearance
- Greg Paul, paleontologist (episode #708, 2011-05-08), guest appearance
- Aron Ra, vlogger and Texas state director of the American Atheists (episodes #648, #668, #703, #875), live guest appearances
- Darrel Ray, organizational psychologist (episode #645, 2010-02-21; #686, 2010-12-05), guest appearances
- David Silverman, president of American Atheists (episode #701, 2011-03-20), live call-in
- Matt Slick, Evangelical Christian apologist (episode #593 broadcast February 22, 2009), live call-in
- David Smalley of podcast Dogma Debate and the American Atheists (episode #753, 2012-03-18), guest appearance
- Victor J. Stenger, particle physicist (episode #499, 2007-05-06), guest appearance
- Mandisa Thomas, the founder and president of Black Nonbelievers Inc (episode #22.38, September 23, 2018), guest appearance
Since its launch on July 29, 2014, The Atheist Experience has been affiliated with AtheistTV, the world's first atheism-dedicated television channel. Distributed through the Roku streaming television network, and available through online streaming through the American Atheists webpage, Atheist TV's playlists and programming include recent episodes of The Atheist Experience.
- About.com Readers' Choice Awards 2012, Favorite Agnostic / Atheist Podcast of 2011
- The Austin Chronicle, Best of Austin 2012: Best Public Access TV Show
- The Austin Chronicle, Best of Austin 2011: Best Public Access TV Show
- About.com Readers' Choice Awards 2011, Best Atheist Podcast, 2010
- The Austin Chronicle, Best of Austin 2010: Best Public-Access TV Show
Mission Control Texas, a German documentary film about The Atheist Experience, directed by Ralf Bücheler, premiered at the Max Ophüls Film Festival in Saarbrücken in January 2015, and showed at DOK.fest in Munich in May 2015.
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