We Have to Create a Better World

Richard Carrier - We Have to Create a Better WorldChristianity is simply false.

But what do we do then? What do we believe? … Since this world isn’t the way we’d want it to be, we have to make it the way we want it to be. This world isn’t protected by any supreme justice or caregiver, there is no infallible wise man to turn to, no divine hero to love us, and we aren’t going to live forever. So we have to create those things.

We have to create justice, and care for each other and the world we live in. We have to find and give and receive love from each other. We have to be the hero. We have to give our lives meaning. We have to protect life, and invent technologies of immortality — metaphorically (in the way people’s words and actions live on in their consequences and memorials), and literally (through medicine, and the science of life extension and resurrection). And until we invent any real immortality, we have to accept the way things are and make the best of the short lives we have. We have to love life rather than fear death. We have to respect life rather than treat it as disposable.

We have to do all of these things. Because that is the world we want to live in — and no one else is going to do any of this for us.

–Richard Carrier
Why I Am Not a Christian

Human Thought in a Dark Room

I’m sure that many of my readers will like this little meme. But to me, it shows such total contempt for the search of knowledge that it makes me really angry. And I don’t know that I have seen a more clear example of the way that much of the atheist community deifies science.

I am, as most of you know, trained as a scientist. I have a PhD in physics. And maybe the fact that I don’t work in the field shows that I have a fundamentally different orientation. But that isn’t my experience. Most scientists I know don’t make a fetish of it. Science is to them what it is to me: a really powerful tool for learning new things of a very specific nature. And that’s it.

A Million Dollars

The whole meme reminds me of my favorite line from Citizen Kane. Bernstein scoffs at Thatcher, Kane’s guardian. The reporter says, “He made an awful lot of money.” And Bernstein replies, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money — if all you want is to make a lot of money.”

The meme presents four ways of gaining knowledge. But the test is rigged. It’s defining knowledge as the kind of knowledge that science excels at. But I’ll come back to that. My point is that people who put these kind of memes together so want to limit the human experience. As Bernstein said in the script (cut from the film), “He [Thatcher] never knew there was anything in the world but money.”

Philosophy

According to the meme, “Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.” So it’s a way to learn things, but a really bad one.

There are a number of things wrong with this. For one, the search for knowledge isn’t as categorical as this makes out. Work by Kant and Schopenhauer laid intellectual groundwork for Darwin’s discovery. But most people have an extremely childish view of how science actually works.

Perhaps most annoying to me is that math is a branch of philosophy, not science. People get caught up in counting, and think that it is real and thus “Science!” But giving names to quantities is not math. It’s like claiming that knowing the names of different bacteria makes you a microbiologist. It’s so silly.

Metaphysics

The meme claims, “Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” Apparently, the writer doesn’t know what the word “metaphysics” means. From Merriam-Webster, metaphysics is “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.” That’s right: it really doesn’t have anything to do with Edwardian mysticism.

The cosmology part of this is amusing. Most people think of this as part of science. And it is! In a limited form. But every time I hear some subgenius go on about how cosmology is settled because of the big bang, I think they sound like fundamentalists. Science said it, I believe it, that settles it. Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, the big bang is as established as natural selection. But most people do not find it a satisfying cosmological answer for the same reason they don’t find “God” a satisfying answer. It just raises another question. And that’s fine! But ultimately, cosmology is a metaphysical issue because science isn’t designed to find ultimate answers.

Theology

The meme continues, “Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting, ‘I found it!'” This is probably the most offensive part of the whole thing.

The implication is that theology is the most rigid form of religious belief. It isn’t even religious belief, much less of the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” variety. There have been many theologians who were atheists and agnostics. It’s only quite recent in the US that theology departments are overrun by theists.

And this part of the meme begs the question. Of course, the point of such simple-minded memes is to preach to the choir. No Christian is going to read it and think, “I’ve been so wrong! I’m an atheist now!”

Science

And so we come to the end of the meme, “Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a fucking flashlight.” It’s only at this point in the meme that I wondered, “Why are we looking for a black cat in a dark room?”

I’m not an idiot; I get that it’s an analogy. But as I indicated above, this is a rigged analogy. It all falls apart if you change it to being in a dark room looking for a reason not to kill yourself. Science isn’t all that helpful in gaining that kind of knowledge.

But it’s worse than that, because the example just begs to be criticized on quantum mechanical terms. Once you turn on the flashlight, it isn’t a dark room so you literally can’t find the black cat in a dark room. Consider it on more practical grounds. What if turning on the flashlight caused the black cat to run out of the room before your eyes adjusted?

I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the kind of people who write these things have a really limited understanding of science — and pretty much everything else. But geez!

Tribalism in Meme Form

This is all about tribalism. You can love and respect science without dismissing other ways of knowing. And it really disturbs me that this is the default position of the New Atheism. It never really bothered me that theists were tribal and awful. But I thought that humans could — if they opened their minds — be more accepting of others. But no. It’s just another “I know the One True Way” of experiencing the world. This is why we will always fight wars.

The Great Snake Oil Sermon

Snake Oil SermonYesterday, we had a service for my brother Eric “Randy” Shultz, who died on 21 December 2016 at the age of 59. We did it at his conservative Baptist church. And I thought it was perfect — for Eric. It actually annoyed me a great deal. But before I get to the Snake Oil aspect of the whole thing, let me tell you something a bit more personal about the Good Christians™ who spoke at the service.

They all made a point of telling this story about how Eric had told them on first meeting them, “My friends call me Randy, you can call me Eric.” And then after they got to know him, they could call him Randy. But here’s the thing: that wasn’t really true. Everyone really crying at the service called him Eric. Whether you called him Eric or Randy depended on when you met him.

Eric vs Randy

When the first person brought up this “his true friends and family called him Randy” nonsense, it caused a slight stir in the church because his caregiver (and really, effectively his mother the last decade of his life), my younger sister, and I had already spoken with great emotion while referring to him as Eric. I got the impression that the man who first said it realized that he had blown it. But then two other people told the same story. Not one of these pretenders showed a hint of any emotion.

I am very often struck at just how callous Christians are. They’ve found their entry into heaven so they don’t really have to give much of a damn about other people. Oh, they’re nice enough. When I talk to them, they treat me the same way I would a terrorist at the birthday party of their child. There’s really only one way that they “care” about others and that is to get them to buy into the bankrupt spirituality of easy redemption. And need I remind everyone that this would been seen as sacrilegious by the early Christians who didn’t actually believe in the “one weird trick” to get into heaven.

The Sermon

And that leads us to the sermon that the pastor gave. By the standards of these things, it wasn’t that bad. For one thing, it was only about 20 minutes long. And there was a fair amount about Eric in it. But all the Bible quotes were from the Book of Revelation. I’m not fond of that book. You will note when I wrote about my brother, I culled from Matthew — about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the things that sum up Eric. So why Revelation?

Well, part of it is the whole “salvation on the cheap” that I so hate about most modern Christianity: Eric is with God, just as Hitler is now if he let Christ into his soul in that bunker. But mostly, it was all a big sales pitch. Pastors know that most people who go to funeral and wedding[1] ceremonies are not Christians, so it’s a great opportunity to make the sales pitch. “Today I’m offering you such a deal: just “believe” and Tinker Bell will give you everlasting life!”

I don’t need to be sold on the concept that Eric is a better place. His life was painful. Death is the absence of pain except in the minds of evil theists who think that not “believing” means you will be tortured for eternity. And I don’t like the fact that Christians use these mournful occasions as sales opportunities. I especially don’t like it when I know that I’m expected to make a pretty sizable donation.

As the sermon went on, I kept adjusting the amount of money I was going to give. But in the end, I gave the amount I had decided to give at the beginning. That’s because it was a sermon and service that Eric would have liked. And ultimately, it wasn’t about me. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I should have been medicated.

Afterword: Ignorant People

At one point during the sermon, the pastor said, “Most people think that AD stands for ‘After Death,’ but it actually stands for…” And my younger sister and I said, in unison, “Anno Domini.” That is Latin for “year of our lord.” And after the service I heard some people talking about how interesting that was. It boggles my mind. Even at 8 years old (when I independently came up with the “After Death” idea), I understood that it would leave about 30 years that are in this no man’s that no one ever talked about. No one ever said, “Oh, that happened in 12 DL.”

Am I a sinner? Sure. But I’d rather be an arrogant bastard than a simpering idiot.


[1] As Rick says, “Weddings are funerals with cake.”

The Dying Dragon

Reverend James GertmenianIn my closing minutes, I want to address a few, more focused words to those in our congregation who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered — and to your family members and friends.

A number of you have written or spoken to me in the last few days to say how dismayed you were to see amendments against gay marriage and, in some cases, even gay civil rights, being passed by large margins in eleven states. Some of you spoke of feeling frightened, imagining, as well you might, that a new wave of hatred and fear is about to wash over you. You feel betrayed by a country that promised to value every human being equally… and perhaps even more damaging, you feel betrayed by representatives of a religion that claims love as its foundational value.

I understand your fear. Many of us here at Plymouth do.

But I want to remind you that this spasm of hatred is the lashing out of a dying dragon. This dragon, homophobia, is angry because it is dying. And it is frightened because it is dying. And in its anger and its fear it may even seem stronger than it really is. But it is dying. What is being born is the love of God which will show forth in a time in which your God-given value will be recognized by all.

In the meantime, though, I want you to know this: whatever happens anywhere else, in this place, and in this family, you need not be afraid. Even if every state in the union were to pass an amendment, these walls stand to protect you. This is a sanctuary where your lives will be celebrated, and your loves blessed, and your relationships honored. And from this place we will go out and fight together for human rights for all. That is a solemn covenant which we here make with one another. And woe to this church if it should ever break that covenant, for in so doing it will have broken its own heart.

–Reverend James Gertmenian
Quoted in Words Escape Me

Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

Amanda GlazeResearch shows that people in the South are 84 percent less likely than their counterparts in other parts of the country to learn about evolution, or to learn about it in a way that is accurate. Similarly, studies such as my quant study in preservice teachers and Laura Rissler’s study of undergrads in Alabama show that religiosity is a strong negative factor that impacts acceptance of evolution.

When looking at other studies in the United States, mostly done in places in the Northeast (Indiana, New York), the levels of acceptance are quite low overall. However, the South boasts a population that is more closely aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis (including creationism and Young Earth Creationism) that many cite as their reason for rejecting evolution. It also tends to show a higher impact of religious beliefs as a predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolution compared to other locations…

What bothers me is the lack of understanding about what science actually does.

Science doesn’t consider God as a possible answer to any question whatsoever because God is a metaphysical construct and thus not part of the physical world. And science by definition cannot consider anything metaphysical or supernatural as an explanation.

Science is not out there trying to disprove the existence of God — we can’t even consider that.

I really don’t care what people believe as long as they understand the science.

—Amanda Glaze
Teaching Evolution in the South: an Educator on the “War for Science Literacy”

Why Conservative Christians Support Trump

Jesus Weeping - Conservative ChristiansI was really struck by a line in David Cay Johnston’s excellent The Making of Donald Trump, “Trump says he does not see any reason to seek divine forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong in his entire life, an oft-made observation so at odds with the most basic teachings of Jesus that I am at a loss to explain any religious leader embracing him.”

I understand: one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is Original Sin. So Trump calling himself a Christian should be offensive to any Christian who takes their religion seriously. But add to that a man like Trump who so clearly has sinned again God, and it makes you want to bang you head against a wall. Still, I think I can explain: religion is politics.

Earlier today, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast for the 2016 presidential election. Trump has a 99.3 percent chance of winning Utah. I understand: Utah is a red state and you may think it is no big deal. But back in March, there was a whole lot of reporting like Kira Lerner’s Mormons Detest Donald Trump. It wasn’t alone in reporting this idea:

Mormons also have a deep memory of religious persecution, and Trump’s Islamophobia, bigotry, and rejection of Muslims is “certainly something Mormons find distasteful,” [Matt] Bowman told ThinkProgress.

Professor Bowman also said, “Trump, both in his private life and his public persona — his crassness, his affairs — all of that kind of thing offends Mormon sensibilities.”

Mormon’s Love Trump!

Real Clear Politics, however, has Trump leading Clinton by 14.7 percentage points.

I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Let’s contrast Trump to Clinton for a moment. She may be something of a hawk, but she certainly isn’t a demagogue who will persecute religious minorities. She certainly seems to have lived a socially conservative life. And despite what most people seem to think, Clinton is actually quite religious — a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church.

But the Mormons of Utah aren’t swayed by this, just as conservative Christians elsewhere aren’t. And I think they are right not to be so. Because their religion isn’t about Kolob or magic underpants or any of the other silly things that Mormons are rightfully known for. As much as I may look up into the night sky a marvel at existence, that just isn’t what religion is for the vast majority of people. For them, religion is social. And that means that it is political.

Religion Is Politics

So when a Catholic takes Communion, they don’t actually believe that the little wafer literally turns into the the body of Jesus — even if they tell you that they do. They are just making a public statement, “This is who I am in the society of which I am part.” And this is why American protestants went from not caring about abortion in 1970 to caring about little else in 1980.

This is a fact that we liberals — especially of my generation — miss when it comes to religion. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and have a very hippy conception of the man. But that’s just one Jesus. It’s one I like: guy who didn’t care about hygiene, hung out with the dregs of society, and stood for the poor. But for conservative Christians, Jesus is more like Rambo, coming back to kick some ass.

Conservative Christians Should Love Trump

So we can’t claim that our own Jesus (Especially people like me who aren’t believers anyway!) is right and that others’ are wrong. None of it matters. I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.

Donald Trump will cut taxes on the rich. Donald Trump will make it harder to get an abortion. Donald Trump will deregulate. These are the reasons that Mormons and other conservative Christians will vote for him. Religion is politics. And it always was. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” I believe modern conservative Christians are working the opposite side, “Blessed are the powerful, for they shall inherit the earth.” I think they are wrong. In fact, I think they are evil. But I think they are quite right to support Donald Trump.

Silly and Stupid Atheist Challenge

PZ Myers - Atheist ChallengeChristopher Hitchens offered up an atheist challenge to religious believers: name one moral act that is excluded from the atheist population. Well, that’s a silly challenge. Even brain damaged Biblical literalists understand that atheists can be good people. What is the purpose of this challenge but to get into the gutter with the most vile of apologetics of the cultural Christians? Nothing obviously. And this is a big part of my problem with the modern atheist community. Are we really going to be just like them? Are we really going to show that our understanding of their culture is as vapid as theirs is of ours?

But I was listening to a lecture that PZ Myers gave back in 2010, Science vs Religion: How Faith Makes Us Wrong. And he ended it with his own atheist challenge: name one example where religion has provided us with a novel insight about the natural world. I actually like PZ Myers, but his atheist challenge is beyond silly. It’s just stupid.

How about a theist challenge: name one example where science has provided us with a novel insight about theology. Religion is not in the business of coming up with insights about the natural world. It serves a sociological purpose. Asking it for insights about nature is like asking Dancing with the Stars for insights about nature. It’s absurd.

Who Cares About the Atheist Challenge?

I say all this as someone who doesn’t think that religion adds much to society. Human experience is so varied that what we once got from religion we can now get in countless other ways. The one thing that religion could provide us is some kind of social cohesion. But given that most people still follow ancient religions, we don’t get that. In fact, we get rather the opposite. But there are trends toward a shared spiritual sense. And I do think that humans are likely reach some kind of shared insight. But it will be no thanks to the atheist community that acts every bit as tribal and intolerant as the the theistic fundamentalists.

Myers brought up a tired old atheist complaint: why didn’t God tell the people to wash their hands?! Oh my God! Jesus said it wasn’t necessary to wash your hands! He must not be God! Well, as I would have said when I was ten: duh! What do people like PZ Myers think the Bible is, anyway? It’s just a bunch of folk tales and the results of sectional fighting about how the Jewish and (later) Christian communities should be. It was, in that way, no different than the Iliad was for the Greeks.

The problem with so many atheist complaints — and totally on display in the atheist challenge — is that they are committing the straw man fallacy. Most people think of this only in terms of the individual. There are theists who make stupid arguments and 99% of the time spent by professional atheists is used to refute these arguments. So we get the atheist challenge to show that atheists can be moral. And we get the atheist challenge that religion should provide scientific insights. These do not address the best arguments theists make. It’s unbelievable that atheists act this way.

Saving Atheism From Itself

And before my atheist friends get all upset that I am yet again complaining about the atheist community, consider this: it’s embarrassing. We atheists are supposed to be the smart ones. We’re supposed to be the open-minded ones. But instead, we’re just like them. We’re more interested in winning people to our side than in looking for the truth. The fact that I still complain shows my commitment. But I have to admit, it is failing me. More and more, I see the atheist community as bankrupt and irredeemable.

Question for Conservative Christians: Jesus or Trump?

Jesus Weeping - Conservative ChristiansIt’s fascinating to see the huge numbers of conservative Christians who are supporting Donald Trump. But as I’ve noted before, there isn’t much left of American Christianity other other than being anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights, and having a “special feeling” that God is their personal friend. This last one really bugs me because it is a heretical view that would have got then burned at the stake in centuries past. They’ve turned Jesus into little more than a child’s imaginary friend.

But not all conservative Christians are supporting Donald Trump. It’s just the vast majority of them. Last Friday, the National Religious Broadcasters held a debate between pro- and anti-Trump conservative Christians. Peter Montgomery reported on it for Right Wing Watch, Conservative Evangelicals Debate Whether Christians Should Support Trump. It’s a fascinating read.

Erick Erickson Makes Sense

Most interesting was seeing Erick Erickson making some sense on the issue of Trump and sounding like what conservative Christians always claim to be. He said that Trump didn’t share conservative Christian values. He noted that Trump “bragged in his books about multiple affairs, including with married women, has cheated widows and single moms and the elderly out of money through Trump University, has stiffed the low-income worker on his buildings, telling them if they want to collect everything they’re owed they need to sue.”

In response, Janet Parshall quoted polling data. In other words: conservative Christians should support Donald Trump because conservative Christians support Donald Trump. I think this all comes down to the Christian persecution complex. They know that in an ever diversifying nation, democracy isn’t going to get them the One True Religion™ designation that they so want. So they turn to an authoritarian. And it doesn’t really matter what he believes as long as he will give them that seal of approval.

God’s Not Dead?

Yesterday, I read a review of the film God’s Not Dead 2. It was written by a Christian, Mary Pezzulo. She noted that the film is an advertisement, which is fine. But it isn’t an advertisement for Jesus or Christianity. It is an advertisement for America. And not just any America, but the America on display when football fans refuse to watch the 49ers because Colin Kaepernick places American ideals above American symbols.

God’s Not Dead 2 seems to be very much in line with the conservative Christians who support Trump. They aren’t interested in what one normally thinks of as Christianity. Their interest is in pushing a particular idea of America. So it isn’t surprising that these people would support Trump. It’s really just about the politics. And that’s fine in a general sense, because Jesus was interested in politics. But he didn’t seem to be interested in the politics that would make one support Donald Trump.

My Question for Conservative Christians

So here’s my question for Donald Trump Christians: how do they know they follow Jesus and not Satan? Because they “feel” Jesus’ love? Couldn’t that be Satan making them feel that way? Trump preaches exactly the opposite of the Sermon on the Mount. Here is how Matthew 5 starts:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…

Or as Donald Trump would put it, “Blessed are the losers.”

I want to know if conservative Christians see Matthew 5-7 as nothing more than some beautiful poetry to be shoved aside when an authoritarian comes to town and claims he’ll make good on all your prejudices?

I’m not a Christian, so I don’t believe in Jesus or Satan or any of that. But in the context of Christianity, it seems to me that these Trump supporting Christians have picked the wrong side. As Jesus said later in the Sermon, “You will know them by their fruits.”

Why We Think Nothing Is More Natural Than Something

Nothing: Jackson Pollock, White Light, 1954I am going to follow up on my last post about ontology, Atheists Need to Understand Theology. In that article, I argued that most atheists didn’t understand the concept of God well enough to claim to be against it. They are more areligious, because their real interest is in looking at silly religious beliefs and mocking them. Along with this is a total disregard for ontology: the nature of existence and why this is something rather than nothing. Well, maybe it is time that I discuss what I think about such matters.

I’ve long been fascinated by the question of why anything exists at all. This question has a long and distinguished pedigree. But it annoys me that people think it is a question that can be answered by science. This is because it is the ultimate question. It’s very nature is an infinite regression. The most simple form of it can be found in this short dialog:

Child: why does the universe exist?
Adult: because God created it.
Child: what created God?
Adult: uh…

On a more substantial level, we have Lawrence Krauss playing “Adult” in that dialog in his book, A Universe From Nothing. In that book, he claims the reason that there is something rather than nothing is because, “Nothing is unstable.” What makes that a particularly silly explanation for existence is that he really seems to think he’s got it all figured out. When theologians point out that it’s a mighty special kind of nothing that has all these properties, he really doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about. (This is not my opinion; he says this explicitly in the book.)

People normally make the mistake of thinking that science is designed to answer questions. It is not. It is designed to create questions.

Just in case there is anyone as brilliant as Krauss reading, let me explain. If something has a property, it isn’t nothing. It doesn’t have to be matter. An idea is something. A physical law is something. So if “nothing” has the property of being unstable and occasionally spitting out universes, then it is “something.” This may seem like a semantic game, but it isn’t. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine a “nothing” that does not spit out universes. Thus, why do we happen to have this particular kind of “nothing” that does.

Does “Nothing” Even Make Sense?

More and more, I find myself with Henri-Louis Bergson and other philosophers who find the question of existence absurd. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do you think that nothing is more natural than something? And I believe the reason that it feels like there should be nothing is because of the nature of our existence. At one time, we didn’t exist; now we do. So it seems as though the natural state of things is to not exist because that was our own natural state.

But how could there be nothing? It seems to me that ideas exist without having to be thought. That is to say that we discover ideas rather than invent them. But I’m hardly certain of that. However, it is clear that the problem is internal and not external. That is: it isn’t the fault of “something” that it isn’t nothing. I’m the one at fault because I can’t get past thinking about my existence and existence itself as the same thing.

Brute Facts and Better Questions

This all makes me land in the company of Bertrand Russell, “I should say that the universe is just there, and that is all.” But I don’t like being in this company because it feels too dismissive. To claim that existence is a brute fact is unsatisfying. And the truth is that I don’t share this way of looking at ontology. Because existence is still mystical.

People normally make the mistake of thinking that science is designed to answer questions. It is not. It is designed to create questions. The scientific revolution has greatly expanded the number of questions we have not answered. This is because every answer creates a multitude of new questions. But that doesn’t mean that science is bad. Hardly! Science allows us to ask better and better questions.

The Journey Continues

Existence is not a puzzle where we are moving to the point where the last piece is fitted and all is known. It is more like a Jackson Pollock painting that just gets more complex and lovely with each splash of paint. But unlike a painting, this goes on and on. Knowledge is a work in progress and it will be for humans right up to the point that we go extinct.

And so I will continue to think about the nature of existence until I go extinct. Of course, I’m not entirely sure I will go extinct, because I have some curious thoughts about time too. But we will have to leave that for another day.

Atheists Respond to Unwelcome Science Just Like Theists

Why Does the World Exist? Jim HoltThose at the other ideological extreme [atheists] gnashed their teeth — Marxists in particular. Quite aside from its religious aura, the new theory contradicted their belief in the infinity and eternity of matter, which was one of the axioms of Lenin’s dialectical materialism. Accordingly, the theory was dismissed as “idealistic.” The Marxisant physicist David Bohm rebuked the developers of the theory as “scientists who effectively turn traitor to science, and discard scientific facts to reach conclusions that are convenient to the Catholic Church.” Atheists of a non-Marxist stripe were also recalcitrant. “Some younger scientists were so upset by these theological trends that they resolved simply to block their cosmological sources,” commented the German astronomer Otto Heckmann, a prominent investigator of cosmic expansion. The dean of the profession, Sir Arthur Eddington, wrote that “the notion of a beginning is repugnant to me… I simply do not believe that the present order of things started off with a bang… the expanding universe is preposterous… incredible… it leaves me cold.”

—Jim Holt
Why Does the World Exist?

What Is Worship? Herman Melville Has an Idea

Herman Melville - I Would Prefer Not ToI was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth — pagans and all included — can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? — to do the will of God — that is worship. And what is the will of God? — to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me — that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world.

—Herman Melville
Moby Dick

PZ Myers on the Great Nothing of New Atheism

PZ MyersReason is not enough. Reason can show you the best way to achieve a goal, but if your goal is mass murder, or denigration of women, or the perpetuation of an oppressive hierarchy, it’ll help you do that, too. We need purpose and value and meaning as well, and if a prominent Leader of atheism is saying that atheism doesn’t do that, that’s a declaration that atheism is bankrupt, and has failed totally. It has become a Great Nothing.

That’s not my atheism, though. I argue that the absence of gods gives greater prominence to the interdependence of the human community, and adds greater weight and urgency to the importance of empathy and equality and all those human values — but if atheism is now a label that allows us to nonchalantly disavow responsibility for the actions of those within our own group, perhaps it’s time to disband the whole idea of an atheist community.

But then it’s also clear that my vision of what atheism ought to be is a minority view. The majority are doing their damnedest to confirm the poor opinion the believers have of us.

—PZ Myers
Is Atheism Bankrupt?