The Daily Show Makes Dan Barker Look Dumb

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 9, 2010 in Funny,Video

I actually do think Mother Teresa was a pretty harmful person, but Dan Barker didn’t have time to explain it well. Here is Dan Barker’s behind-the-scenes account of the interview.

But really, shall we fight about stamps?

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jake de Backer March 9, 2010 at 9:53 am

Mother Teresa was categorically a waste of human parts but that clip was hilarious and Dan Barker, in deed, did appear to play the conspiracy nut-job role quite well. I wonder how people don’t see that shit coming in those interviews. Barker is a smart guy (and a mediocre debating opponent,) how does he not perceive the sarcasm in Jones questions and responses because he was, to quote David Spade, “laying it on pri-tty thick.”



poster March 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

Goddammit. Be it on TV or in debates, why does Dan Barker have to humiliate himself all the time? I’m sure that this was due to some editing on the Daily Show’s part (as usual), but this stuff happens all the time even without editing.

People like Ellen Johnson, Arlene Marie, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (RIP) rarely sound like they aren’t conspiracy theorists on par with “9-11 Truthers”, either.


lukeprog March 9, 2010 at 11:31 am

Yeah, it’s a bummer.


Dan March 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

It’s interesting how they take things out of context in the interview. Makes me second guess ALL the interviews in which they made the person look bad.

For instance, when the interview kept pointing to her picture and asking “This is who you’re picking your battles with?” Clearly this is putting into your head the idea of Barker going one-on-one with her, as if it were a personal issue between the two.

But of course he wasn’t there to say how bad Mother Teresa may or may not have been, it was simply that what she symbolized – religion – was being placed on something that should have religion separate from it.

They point at her face like it’s her specifically. But it’s what she represents.


Hermes March 9, 2010 at 3:08 pm

He did a good job up till “it was a cover up” and then dug a few other holes for himself.

A Daily Show ‘investigative’ interview is a rough thing to do unless they’ve already found the stooge. This time, it’s Dan.


drj March 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

poster: Goddammit. Be it on TV or in debates, why does Dan Barker have to humiliate himself all the time? I’m sure that this was due to some editing on the Daily Show’s part (as usual), but this stuff happens all the time even without editing.

I have cringed all the way through every live appearance or debate involving Dan Barker that I have seen… so much so, I can’t even finish some segments. A lot of atheists seem to hold him in high regard though, so I dunno… is his book really good or something?


lukeprog March 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm


Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith was a revelation to me back when I was a Christian.


johemeth March 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

That is pretty disappointing… I don’t understand how people can even agree to Daily Show interviews like these in the first place. I’m sure they pose as some sort of generic news agency, but shouldn’t people be wary of them by now?

Anyway, it may help to watch one of Barker’s former debate opponents get similarly embarrassed on Comedy Central.

For the record, I think Barker has usually fared pretty well in debates.


Hermes March 9, 2010 at 5:06 pm

The Freethought Radio (FFRF) that Dan and Annie Laurie Gaylor host is good.

As a style point, it tends to be low key in comparison to some of the others that are out there, though they deliver the goods for topics and guests.

Guests and topics from just March and February of this year;

* Ayaan Hirsi Ali
* Professor James Coors (new FFRF officer)
* Topic: African-American Freethinkers
* Christopher Hitchens
* Richard Dawkins

Main page:

Podcast/RSS feed:


Broadcast and streaming: Saturday 11am to noon, Central time in Madison Wisconsin, 92.1 FM or over the net at .


Scott March 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I do like how Hitchens’s book on Mother Theresa is called “The Missionary Position.” Supposedly he originally wanted to call it “The Sacred Cow” but thought that was too much.


Wes March 9, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I agree that Mother Teresa (or any other religious figure) shouldn’t be on the stamps, but I think Barker brought this embarrassment on himself. He clearly wasn’t prepared for the type of interview he was going to face, and he made some rather ludicrous conspiratorial claims. It’s his fault for not preparing.


poster March 9, 2010 at 6:30 pm

drj and luke,

Lending out my copy of Losing Faith in Faith to people I know or have met has created about a dozen apostates. It is well written, easily read, and very informative. “Back in the day”, it was one of the few books–along with George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God–that people secretly exchanged among family members and friends. It is frustrating to see such a disparity between Barker’s written and spoken word.

Here’s what Dr. Gene Witmer–an excellent candidate for a future Conversations From The Pale Blue Dot episode (hint, hint, Luke)–said in a paper/presentation critiquing presuppositionalism:

Paul Manata (a Christian apparently of this group) and Dan Barker (an atheist) held a live debate this last summer on the question: “Which is more rational, Christianity or atheism?” Manata started off by saying not only that Christian belief is more rational, but that it is the only rational view — that it is not possible to be rational and an atheist. To my disappointment, Barker did a terrible job defending atheism; indeed, I couldn’t bear to listen to the entire thing, quitting perhaps ¾ of the way through. The debate made it clear that presuppositionalists can be effective in throwing advocates of atheism off balance, leaving them disoriented and at apparently a terrible disadvantage in responding. Perhaps Barker’s generally not too good at debate; I don’t know.”

(from: )

It was much harder (and scarier, really) to be a “freethinker”, “humanist”, “atheist”, or “skeptic” back in the 80′s and 90′s; battling creationists and “fundies” on BBSs, ICQ chatrooms, the usenet, the secular web, and reading what little and cheaply-published literature we could get our hands on. A running joke among us was to bet how quickly an amateur apologist would suggest to us the “brilliant” writings of Kent Hovind, Duane Gish, or to read Josh McDowell’s ubiquitous Evidence That Demands a Verdict.


lukeprog March 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm

‘The Sacred Cow’, lol.


Josh March 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

They should have gotten Hitchens to weigh in. That’s the kind of stuff he’s good at (obviously).


Mark March 10, 2010 at 12:33 am

Dan Barker does seem to be a relic of a bygone era in American organized secularism. Not that his efforts don’t deserve applause, but (in part thanks to those very efforts) many of us have succeeding in moving on and growing a bit more sophisticated, to a point where Barker no longer feels like an appropriate spokesperson. This a good thing, BTW. The progression from O’Hair to Barker to Dawkins/Harris/Dennett exhibits clear growth. And while I’m not extremely satisfied with Dawkins/Harris/Dennett, I can feel confident that the next batch will improve further.


tom March 10, 2010 at 3:38 am

“… Sacred Cow…”
Yeah, he discusses that in interviews; he preferred “Sacred Cow” but decided that the more tasteful “Missionary Position” was acceptable because it contained a triple-entendre. The publisher wanted to call it “Hell’s Angel”, which he objected to on the grounds that it was “a single entendre at best”.


John W. Loftus March 10, 2010 at 8:41 am

The old adage is correct: “Pick your battles wisely.” This is probably not a wise battle. I say “probably” because skeptics have said the same kinds of things about the “Blasphemy Challenge” and the “Smut for Smut” campaign. And yet these things get people’s attention. Dan may know something about PR that most of us don’t realize. But Hollywood actors know it. Even bad press is still press. Remember that.

And keep in mind all the good Dan has done for so many of us. I don’t think we should jump down his throat when he messes up. He’s still a voice of reason and science.

Still, conspiracy theories are to be avoided unless there is evidence for them.


lukeprog March 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

Blasphemy Challenge and Smut for Smut are great, I think.


Josh March 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

I think Dan came off badly when talking about the “Catholic conspiracy” but I think his point still stands—my fiancee put it pretty well, saying there’s an “open conspiracy” by many large religious groups to control the world, e.g. members of congress highly motivated by religious beliefs etc.


lukeprog March 10, 2010 at 9:58 am


I think the corporate ‘open conspiracy’ to control the world is a MUCH, MUCH greater threat. Though the Islamic quest for world dominance is kinda scary. Luckily, they have no technology because they hate science. :)


Jeff H March 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

When watching the video, I got the impression that Barker was saying those things to play along with the running joke and lead into the Da Vinci Code type thing. It didn’t seem to me like he was being serious at all (other than keeping a straight face, of course). You guys seem to think he actually believes in some sort of Catholic conspiracy…

Then again, I don’t watch much of the Daily Show (I’m more of a Colbert fan). Do they usually get some crazies to interview? Or is it just generally a tongue-in-cheek thing anyway?


Hermes March 10, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Jeff H: Do they usually get some crazies to interview? Or is it just generally a tongue-in-cheek thing anyway?

Yes. Both. Mostly stone faced crazies. Rarely it’s obvious the person is going along with the humor, but usually the ones they show are the serious ones. The ones that get the humor are typically not the target of the satire.

Typical Daily Show script;

* Sane person is in-fun ridiculed for doing something entirely normal.

* Insane person is propped up as having Something Really Interesting To Say (hmmmm…) while the overt but unspoken message is to show how bat $hit crazy they are.

* Repeat a mix of the above two people (or groups), with occasional sane officials brought in to shoot the crazy person down while the interviewer shows mock surprise that the sane official would say such things! teh horrorz!!!?!?!!!

The only thing that was missing in Dan’s interview was the other person to be the crazy one. As such, he was the obvious one to pin the crazy title on.

If he was playing for the camera, and the act gets him an on-set interview on either the Daily Show with Steward or with Colbert on the Colbert Report, then it’s completely worth being made to look foolish. While on-set, he can flesh out the meaning of what he said in the ‘investigative report’ and get much better consideration from the audience for either show, or bring up other issues that he deems have greater merit.

I don’t know if Dan has another book in the works, but if he does it is a natural lead-in for speaking for the FFRF and plugging his book. It seems like nearly everyone that Stewart and Colbert allow on stage have just released a book or are just about to.


Hermes March 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Goofed: Steward ==> Stewart.


oliver March 11, 2010 at 3:30 am


Poster, thank you very much for posting this link. I found it extremely useful. I am currently engaged in a series of online debates with a very annoying presuppositionist and I found the information in that document very useful.



Neil C. Reinhardt March 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Dan Barker could be asleep and still be smarter than ANY OF YOU!


lukeprog March 12, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Lol, Neil, that is classic.

I asked you many times to not be so abusive. I’m now banning your new I.P.


Hermes March 18, 2010 at 2:13 am
John March 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Whatever one thinks of Dan Barker’s performance in debates or on television, I appreciate that Barker stands up for what he believes in. The Daily Show segment shows past stamps with religious themes, which is merely an appeal to precedent to defend a breach of separation of church and state. The little battles ARE worth fighting, otherwise the wall of separation will continue to be dismantled brick by brick.


Jason April 15, 2010 at 10:17 am

That was hilarious! Dan did speak in depth about Mother Theresa; however, those statements were factual and did make people laugh. It is comedy and not a boring lecture. As the writers said, the writers can make Dan said anything such as “I…love…Pat Robertson…as…much…as…Jesus”. You just have to clip certain statements and splice them together.


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