Monday, November 20, 2006

The posts are fantastic! I am really into reading them. I am wondering why this is even on my blog, I am the least interesting one writing! I feel Sheldon and Norma and Mcglk have done so much in terms of answering Michael. I don’t know what more I can do. I really loved Bookeraptor’s comments about how, even framing the arguments about science as anti-God makes the discussion give more weight to the super-naturalists. I laughed really hard at the anti-Keebler elf paradigm. If you did not read this post, go back to the last one and find Bookeraptor. That is so right! It’s like the word, “atheist.” Just that word sets up the faith argument in a way that puts non-believers at a disadvantage. As I think Sheldon pointed out, Christians are also atheists about, for example, Zeus. What does atheist really mean, anyway? Mcglk, I really liked your posts in response to Michael regarding Denton.

And Norma made me laugh when she wondered whom the descendants of the New England tribes say “thanks” to, and… why? As far as my own thanks on Thanksgiving, I usually try to take a moment and think about all the effort that has gone into the meal. All the labor that has gone into the meal – not just from the preparation, but even all the ancient farmers who helped evolve the wild grasses into something that could be planted intentionally. And the animals that were bred over eons into something that could be kept and bred in captivity.

I wanted to respond to Anonymous, who wrote, “I'm angry, I'm scared, I'm overwhelmed at the realization that I can make my own decisions and run my own life without waiting for Divine Intervention, Guidance or Permission...things that I'd sometimes LIKE to have!! Julia, when things get screwed up in your life these days, where do you find comfort? Can you still feel like it'll all turn out alright in the end, or do you just hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope for the best after doing everything that's in your power to do?”

So may answer is: Yes. It is really scary. I think I don’t emphasize that enough, because I feel pressured (from myself) to make people think that being an atheist is so wonderful! And I DO feel it’s wonderful, insofar as letting go of god made me capable of such a deeper – and fuller - wonder. But it IS a cold, heartless abyss out there. And even though – if you think about it deeply – the idea of a loving, caring God is absurd (given the reality of how people’s lives are played out) and even cruel (when you think of people blaming themselves for bad luck, for example) – it is also true that accepting a cold, indifferent universe is no small pill to swallow. It’s practically unbearable. Which is why I think so few people can really do it.

I am reading “The Denial Of Death” right now by Ernest Becker. It is tough. (A poster on my blog actually recommended this book and I can’t remember who… but, thanks!) It talks about human ego, and the anxiety about death being the basis for all our heroic struggles, our wars, our tribalism, everything. For the last several years, I have been saying to myself, “Everyone is the tragic hero of their own life story.” And this book is saying much the same thing. But it’s really tough to take. It’s dark.

So, I guess what I am saying to the Anonymous that wrote to me, I guess I find comfort in a variety of things. Like, just relying on statistics is even helpful. For example, I will think (if, say, I am worrying about the outcome of safety of someone) the chances are they will be safe. Or chances are that it’s going to work out amenably to everyone. Or, chances are, even if this one thing blows up badly, in the end, people will find their way. Or, more specifically, I will find my way.

Another thing I do is that I recognize that the God I was praying to, before, was just me. I have a lot of good advice inside of me, for me. I can ask myself, my smarter – better – more rational self – what would that ME do? And I get a lot of good answers that way. Also, I acknowledge that when I prayed before, all I was really doing was “hoping.” And “hoping” is okay! I can hope! I can have a lot of hope! And that is comforting to me too.

Bookeraptor wrote something that I thought was amazing:

“Schopenhauer said something like "The world shapes itself chiefly by the way in which it is seen." Seen through the anthropocentric eyes of western theology, the world was created solely for the benefit of man, and is merely a stage on which our ultimate fate is played out. But nature as revealed to us through science is an impartial, elegant and intricate system within which man stands and falls equally with all other life, unique only in the quality of awareness and the responsibility of intelligence. Of this magnificent universe it is quite as possible to be reverent as it is to be reverent of the various intellectual constructs we have invented for man's reassurance and glorification (read, gods). If some people find their egos deflated viewing the universe in this way, others are exhilarated and find new grounds for wonder.”

I am squarely on the exhilarated side of the no-god equation. Seeing the world without relying on God has made me filled with such deeper wonder than ever before. I wouldn’t trade the comfort I used to get for that wonder.

Sometimes I think that if I were going to sue the Catholic Church, it would be for denying me the natural “wonder” that I might have had for the world for almost forty years. That’s the worst thing that religion does, it quells the natural curiosity of human beings towards their surroundings. It’s a drug that makes you feel good in the short run, but makes you pay highest price, it takes your curiosity and awe away.

Film update: after much thought this weekend, I have decided (at least for now) to shoot Letting Go of God on a stage just like I did God Said Ha! I have really, REALLY appreciated your comments. I wrote more notes in my script and it seems to work (in the version where I would do it in my own house) until I get to the second act. And then, because it’s so heavily science-driven, it seems to slow down in my mind. Whereas, when I am onstage, I think that the second act is really more dramatic and moves faster than the first act. So I want to protect that feeling. This is mostly on my gut feeling about this piece. But I think the most conservative and most reliable way to film it is like I did God Said Ha! And plus, I know how to do that. So that’s where I stand on that topic as of today, November 20, 2006.

60 comments:

James said...

The difference between a monotheist and an atheist is that a monotheist disbelieves in ten million gods, while an atheist disbelieves in ten million and one.

Anonymous said...

"We are ALL Atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in.... Some of us just go one god further." -Richard Dawkins

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Miss Sweeney and fellow thinkers,

I must say I am honored by your kind words of support and encouragements, particularly from yourself and Ms. Blum. As you have both eloquently put, no there is no mechanism in either atheism or science to deal with the fundemental existential issues of life, such as dealing with death, a personal moral code, or arriving a an individual purpose of for our lives. To quote Ms. Blum, "...one can't blame a cat for not being able to read Chaucer...". These are issues that humans have wrestled with for as long as we have been sentient enough to conceive of our own mortality. And we have came together in social groups to discuss these things and find our answers. Some of these social groups came up with ideas that were soothing, then over time became codified, then dogmatic and today we have religions to deal with this. But now as newfound atheists we are not discovering a "new" post-religion truth, we are simply comming to a realization that the answers we arrived at are incorrect, so we are having to return to the drawing board of our social communities, but unfortunately we exist in fewer numbers than our religious breathern, and are scattered so much, as to make forming these comtemplative communities almost impossible. But that is what I feel makes this cyber location different than the others, while we may partake of extended civil debate about the truth or lack thereof of religion, most importantly we are forming a community. And as such our long term goals will eventually be the rediscussion and re-evaluation of these basic questions that we wish to deal with as humans. Atheism doen't answer this for us, it just lets us know we need to start looking again. Thank you all for your paitence with my verbosity. Have a wonderful day.

Anonymous said...

Atheists are not well liked. A U of Minnesota study earlier this year by Penny Edgell indicated that nearly half of all Americans would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist and 40% say atheists don't share their vision for America. Edgell also maintains that atheists seem to be outside the limits of American morality, which has largely been defined by religion. See John Allen Paulos Distrusting Atheists at http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422&page=1
A new book out by Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, provides some bleak information that my believer friends have been bombarding me with:
"On the other hand, Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks argues in Who Really Cares (Basic Books, 2006) that when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, numerous quantitative measures debunk the myth of "bleeding heart liberals" and "heartless conservatives." Conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood and log more volunteer hours. In general, religious people are more than three times more generous than secularists to all charities, 14 percent more munificent to nonreligious charities and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. In terms of societal health, charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are "very happy" than nongivers and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is excellent or very good."
Of course, how atheists are regarded by the general public and whether or not they display an average level of charitableness is not evidence for the truth of religious belief. These are, however, issues we as atheists must deal with. Any comments?

MrPlayerHater said...

I'm an avid reader here, but not much of a post-er. Thought I'd chime in on where I find comfort during trying times.

I just remind myself that I'm not the first person to go through this. When my mom died, it was horrible, but I'm not the first person to have their mom die on them. I thought about how other people got through that and integrated it into my griving process. (Credit where credit is due....it is my incredible boyfriend who has shared this philosophy with me...he is great in a crisis!)

Rock on Julia!
~Corey

Sheldon said...

Dear Corey:

As a professor of psychology, I have plenty of comments on Arthur's book. The most important comment is something I teach to my Psych 101 students (and repeat ad naseum): "Correlation does not imply causation."

As an example of how the data you listed can easily be misinterpreted, take this section: "...charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are 'very happy' than nongivers..."

Many will read that statement as meaning that being charitable makes you happier. It could just as easily mean that being happy (for whatever reason) makes people more charitable (this is actually supported by the well known Feel-Good-Do-Good Phenomenon discovered by Social Psychologists some years ago). On the other hand, there could be some third variable that creates both happiness and a charitable nature. The problem is, from these data, we can't know which it is.

Ditto the statement, "[charitable givers are] 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is excellent or very good."

Worded that way, the data seem to imply an increase in health due to being charitable; the reverse might also be the case, however (being in good health making people more likely than those with poor health to give to charities).

If Brooks had allowed his audience to make these mistakes on his own, he'd simply be viewed as irresponsible. Unfortunately, for whatever reason (fame? fortune?) he went one step further and actually drew the conclusions for them, thus fitting him neatly into the category of unethical.

Incidentally, Brooks also points out (rather covertly, I might add) that many of the charitable donations from the Right might have other-than-charitable motivations. He notes in an earlier article he wrote for the Chronicle of Philanthropy in which he showed that of the 2,500 donors of $1 million or more in the previous year, most gave to universities, medical institutions and museums. These are hardly the sorts of charitable donations we think of when we hear the wor "charity," since they often lead to namesake buildings, wings, wards, etc., and do much to get their kids into the right colleges.

Anonymous said...

Re: Charitable giving--

Who is more genuinely charitable--the atheist who contributes $100 to a cause just because he feels that it is important for human beings to be decent to each other, or the Christian who contributes $1000 because he wants to please God and get a ticket into heaven?

I think it was Asimov who once asked who is making the greater sacrifice--the Christian who steps out in front of an oncoming truck to save a child, knowing that he himself will die and go to heaven, or the atheist who steps out in front of the truck to save a child knowing that he himself will just plain die?

I would live my life toward others the same way regardless of whether there were a God or not. But I choose to be decent to others because I believe that all living things should have decent lives, and therefore, we need to do our best to be decent to one another. I don't expect any God to reward me. I just expect the world, and life, to be as decent as I can help make it to be.

michael said...

I'll respond to mcglk here.

You stated: "One of the problems, it seems to me, is that creationists suffer from a failure of comprehension. They want the Universe to fit neatly into the same box they've created for God. The Universe, I'm happy to say, has other ideas."

It was not a creationist who came up with the analogy showing the staggering odds against life forming by chance but an atheist. It's interesting how in an effort to refute the argument, you (like other atheists) always try to denigrate the argument by resorting to the same mantra of "you poor creationists just don't understand." Your argument against the mathmatical correctness of the concept is with Sir Fred Hoyle.

Secondly, your point about life essentially being expected to form given the huge number of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms, as well as certain proteins is simplistic in the extreme and does nothing to address how these particles could come together to form a working cell. Are you asserting that a fully working cell suddenly sprang into being by pure random chance? If so, you're talking about something no less than a miracle. What scientific support do you have to support that position.

On the other hand, if you are arguing that the components needed for a cell could have gradually over eons of time come together to form a fully functioning cell, then you have other problems to deal with. It is the nature of proteins that they are extremely accurately made and possess exact highly specific configurations. A "pre-cell" trying to randomly form would be extremely prone to traslation errors when synthesizing proteins. Carl Woese, the famous microbiologist, admitted the difficulty in imagining how such problems could have been overcome. His solution to this problem was simply to assume that these types of primitive cells simply must have existed. Yet, he has no explanation for how this could have occured.

Francis Crick, who no one would deny his credentials, stated: "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." It's a big problem. So, who of the two of us suffers from a failure (or refusal) of comprehension?

Regarding the Hawkings quote, the quote was in context, sorry. Hawking was discussing the hot big bang theory and the conditions that would have been necessary for it to occur. If the hot big bang theory is the correct one, then Hawking's observation about the precision of its beginning stands. That's what I referred to. I believe the hot big bang theory is still the most popular for how the universe began. Nowhere do I see Hawking expressing a doubt about how the universe began, rather, he goes on to discuss other theories that were being proposed.

One cannot honestly read a brief history of time and come away without the feeling that Hawking is amazed by the perfect design in the universe and the implications that has for a creator. You might want to read the book again. Yet he remains, as I said everytime, an atheist.

Again, your resort to perjoratives is really unnecessary. Sadly, however, this is how most [atheists] "debate" the issue, so I suppose it's not really your fault.

Michael

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Michael,

I fear my argument is from memory, and I do not posses the citation to allow for follow up, but I remember reading something along these lines: If a computer was programed to select 100,000 individual numbers between o and 100,000 a certain chin of numbers would obviously result. These numbers would exist, completely at random, with no concious decision involved in their selection. However in hindsight, the actual odds of those precise 100,000 numbers being selected by chance is so astronomical that the odds of them occuring withing the 13 some odd billion year old history of the universe approaches the infintesimal. And yet we cannot argue that those number are there. my point is that while incredible odds when viewed in hindsight can lead the pattern seeking human mind to infer that a design must be in place for this to occur, in actuallity mearly re-enforces the truly random nature and countless variables that you are studying. As to cells assembling by chance, the actual primitive protein chains that are thought to have evolved into life have been recreated in the labratory by the introduction of some form of energy (either electrical of electromatic radiation) into what is supposed to be the pre-life ooze. The valid argument has been made that, yes, these proteins have formed, but no cells, and we have seen no evidence of new life forming since it's inception, indicating a point of creation. However, we must remember that even our most sterile labratories still contain microbes, that see such primitive protein chains as food, and would no doubt consume them long before random chance could lead to self replication. The time before life's inception is by definition, prefect sterility, and only in those conditions could we expect the protein chains to be left to their own devices over a long enough period to develop life.

-Veritas imprimis

Kevin said...

As one new to Julia's work (just "God said 'Ha'" and "LGofG" so far), I have found it to be entertaining and very thought provoking (jolting too - I'm a believer and a catholic).

As a reaction, I picked up a book on my shelf that was un-read until now: "The Afterlife Experiments: breakthrough scientific evidence of life after death" by Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona. Quick googling seemed to indicate he's legit. (I smiled when I saw that it was Deepak who did the forward). One can go right to the appendix for a scientific rendering of the work.

Also, on "religion". Just about everybody has it IMO, if you take the basic definition: that which ties together, the prime paradigm. In this regard, "philosophical naturalism" can be "religious" if deeply held and functions to orchestrate perceptions holistically.

sned2 said...

I'm glad you are going to film it on a stage. Sounds better to me.

I'm amazed at how much time you take to write in your blog, and how much time people take to respond!

Tom said...

Michael,

Might I suggest some reading? How about the following links regarding the origin of life on Earth:

Free Online Reading at National Acadamies Press

Life's Origins Site

Wikipedia

Yes the odds seem "long" to our tiny minds, but once you consider the vast time scales over which life evolved, and the amazing rate at which biochemical events occur, it doesn't seem so unrealistic. Certainly not nearly as unrealistic and improbable as a creator.

Tom said...

I just saw this story in the NY Times. I'm 100% sure it will be of interest to all readers of this blog...

NY TIMES

Andrea said...

Message for Julia...

I think you should make the "This American Life" version of your monolog available on your website for free download or streaming. There are a lot of people (specifically theists) who won't be interested in getting a 2 hour CD or DVD, but who might listen through 30 minutes of audio. The piece is absolutely incredible, as evidenced by the many "driveway moments" described by your blog readers (I had one, too!). It's strongest point is that it doesn't come accross as heavy-handed, and is entertaining and humorous. It also is gripping right from the start, so once you start listening, you basically are captivated until the end (congratulations, that's real skill on your part). So I think a short, to the point, version of the monolog will probably have a bigger reach into the general public. If you could fit it into a 3 MB size or so, people could email it to others who would never ever stumble across your site on their own.

Just a thought, but I think it could have a lot of impact.

Don Thomason said...

Julia, I am so thankful to have come across this blog after hearing your recent interview on Fresh Air and doing a websearch which led me here -- particularly since the first post I read was the post-election one which included your discussion with the person who invoked the Second Law of Thermodynamics to prove a higher power. The richness of discussion here has been an oasis for me, an aspiring songwriter living in my small red-state hometown during the last six years of a faith-based presidency. Like you in that particular post, I struggle with how to deal with others' entreaties to religious belief (I'm agnostic and now a lot closer to atheism than at any point in my life). The thoughtfulness of you and those who have commented have gone a long way toward restoring a measure of peace of mind and taking the defensive edge off that I've had about what I believe.

Thanks, and I'll go back to lurking now.

bookboy said...

Actually “The Denial of Death” is the second book of a trilogy project by Ernest Becker. The first being “The Birth and Death of Meaning” and the last which he never got to finish but edited by his widow and publish by the title “Escape from Evil”. Julia is right they are dark, if you mean by dark the stepping out of the bright light of our own innocence into a more somber lit room of human proportions. After the eyes adjust, as they will by the end of the third book, and the scales fall away one will see for the first time what Julia said was, a truly Heroic Tragic Human figure. And an incredible feeling of sympathy for all life and its struggle to survive. Life will eat itself to survive. A Beautiful Madness.

Sheldon said...

Michael,

Your arugments appear to be of two types:

First, you seem to be making the God-In-The-Gaps argument when you accuse us of not being able to explain things like the formation of a cell body. Just because I can't explain it, doesn't mean other scientists cannot. And if they cannot, that doesn't prove that a "god" did it. Be careful of resting your religious beliefs on the mantle of deficient knowledge; someone may come along and fill the gap (e.g., gravity, the heliocentric universe, the sunrise, the immune system, etc.), and then where will you be?

Second, you seem to be laboring under the assumption that things are true if famous scientists say they are. One of the first things I teach my psychology students is to check the credentials of the people they cite. Shortly thereafter, I remind them to carefully weigh what these "experts" say against the larger body of knowledge.

Just because Stephen Hawking made some statement using the word "miracle," and doesn't call himself an atheist doesn't prove that there's a god up there. Hawking is a man just like you and me, and as such, even with his vast knowledge, he is subject to the same errors in logic as we are. Likewise the other people you are fond of quoting here and there.

If you want to make a case for the existence of a god (or gods?), then do it. Show us some EVIDENCE. But first, learn what real evidence is. Until then, I can't bear to read anymore of your posts. They're too frustratingly off the mark, and I have a lot of papers to grade from first-year psych students who have a better grasp of science.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,
I emailed my favorite radio show to see if they could get you on.
It's with Penn Jillette (from Penn and Teller) and his sidekick Michael Goudeau. They broadcast from Penn's home in Las Vegas Nevada for cbs FreeFm. www.pennradio.com I listen to the podcast or live on the internet since they don't broadcast here in Colorado. It's a great show.
I hope they contact you and you accept!
-Theresa

Anonymous said...

As an avid reader of this terrific blog and its comments, and a fan of civil discourse, may I request that people refrain from personal attacks, name-calling, and general nastiness? Let's make a genuine attempt to be respectful of each other's divergent points of view, and try to engage in this fascinating debate without dragging everyone else into mud-slinging that is best left to private email exchanges (if at all). Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Sheldon, thanks for your response to the Brooks' book but it doesn't really answer the basic question. There is an online summary of Brooks' research at
http://www.policyreview.org/oct03/brooks.html
where he addresses the points you brought up in some detail. My concern is that many of my religious friends argue that religious people are substantially more charitable and community oriented via volunteering for various purposes including blood bank etc than secularists. Brooks' research on these points is quite detailed and he does look carefully into matters of correlation with other variables etc and does I think a good job of isolating the relevant variables. Your point on causation is well taken but falls a bit short. While it is true that many large donors give for tax reasons and to provide for themselves a zone of influence using their foundations, this does not apply to the average people that Brooks was studying. I am concerned about this matter especially in light of the Penny Engell research and the bad light secularists find themselves in. I am still hoping for some ideas on this from anyone interested. Thanks.

ben turk said...

On personal attacks, mudslinging, and the NY Times article. Most people here and at the meeting the article was about are scientists. For scientists this is an academic debate, it can get heated, but it doesn't make sense for it to get personal or nasty.

I don't think my degree in political science qualifies me as a scientist. most of the people on the other side aren't scientists either. They might pretend to be, but...

For me, this is a matter of human rights, social justice and the preservation of Earth as a planet capable of sustaining human life. I'm angry. We all should be. I think more of us should be willing to hurt other people's feelings. Those feelings exist to either justify violence, oppression and hatred, or preserve complacency.

Anonymous said...

I admit that I have my head figuratively in my hands as I read Michael's post. The problem is that there isn't any attempt on his part to understand what I'm saying, or any apparent interest in doing so, so I'm uncertain what the point in having the debate is. So this will be my last post in this discussion unless something original or interesting pops up, or unless y'all find it vastly amusing.

Michael takes me to task for my suggestion that creationists suffer from a lack of comprehension by pointing out that "it was not a creationist who came up with the analogy showing the staggering odds against life forming by chance but an atheist." No references, of course, and no indication of what he means by "atheist" in this case, or even which analogy he's talking about. Denton's? Hoyle's?

I don't know much about Denton's actual scientific work, but I know quite a bit about Fred Hoyle, who was one of the most brilliant astronomical thinkers of this past century, and one of the most creative ones as well.

He was right sometimes. He was also terribly, terribly wrong sometimes. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that he tended to cling to his ideas even when they were entirely unsupported or contradicted---his steady-state theory, for example, or his insistence that life on earth must have come from viruses delivered by comet.

Even the smart guys can be wrong sometimes. That's why the scientific method exists. Hoyle made a lot of hypotheses, many of which could be tested---and in the case of the steady-state theory, among others, his hypotheses turned out to be wrong.

New observations constantly challenge us to revise our theories. I mean, c'mon, we've only known that there were actually other galaxies for eighty years! (Up until the '20s, we'd thought they were nebula inside our own galaxy.) We could have just dismissed the very idea, except for astronomers like Hubble who kept poking and prodding at the accepted theory with new observations and tests. Hoyle did the same thing---except that he had a much more difficult time accepting counterevidence, or coming up with actual observations to support his hypotheses. It's a common human failing, even for scientists at times---but the discipline of science has always been successful in countering those failings eventually.

Then Michael says, "it's interesting how in an effort to refute the argument, you (like other atheists) always try to denigrate the argument by resorting to the same mantra of 'you poor creationists just don't understand.'"

There are two problems with this statement. First, it's not exactly "resorting to the same mantra" when it almost always turns out to be true.

Second, he inadvertently proves my point by going on to say, "your argument against the mathmatical [sic] correctness of the concept is with Sir Fred Hoyle," which shows that he didn't understand what I said. In fact, I was trying to show that Sir Fred had underestimated the odds rather badly, because he didn't take a number of things into account.

He continues: "your point about life essentially being expected to form given the huge number of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms, as well as certain proteins is simplistic in the extreme and does nothing to address how these particles could come together to form a working cell. Are you asserting that a fully working cell suddenly sprang into being by pure random chance?"

This is disingenuous, and typical of the sorts of arguments that creationists make. "Your argument is simplistic. Are you saying that something complex just appeared all of a sudden?" No, I didn't say that, nor did I imply it, but Michael finds it useful to make it sound as though I did say it---which I didn't. Either he is deliberately misinterpreting my point to make me look ridiculous, or he does not understand what I am saying. He has already taken me to task for claiming that creationists suffer from a lack of comprehension, so I can only assume that he's being knowingly disingenous. I guess---I'm having trouble following the convolutions.

In any case, no, I didn't say that. To be explicitly clear, I do not believe that you can take a gram of carbon, a gram of nitrogen and a gram of hydrogen, stick them into the same test tube, shake, and out pops a complete cell. Michael would like me to say that, I'm sure, and it's vaguely insulting that he suggested that as a plausible possibility, but in fact, it's just not the case.

On the other hand, I would be fairly sure that some of those atoms bound together during the shake. Carbon is remarkably likely to join up with other atoms---it has four electrons available for bonding. Nitrogen has three. Hydrogen has one. It wouldn't surprise me to find a very few molecules of methane (one carbon, four hydrogen) that had managed to form, for example. Atoms naturally want to bind together in certain ways; they're often drawn together into new chemicals that have different properties than the base elements. (Good thing, too---a flammable metal and a poisonous gas would not complement my popcorn well.)

The process from atom to molecule to amino acid to protein to DNA is fairly slow, I admit---well outside our comprehension of a lifetime. By no means is it "sudden." But it is inevitable, given the right conditions. Time, catalysts, proximity, and it does happen. From atom to molecule to amino acid takes a few weeks under the right conditions---and those conditions aren't exotic, as shown by the Miller-Urey experiments: a few gases, some water, a few liters of volume and some energy (UV, electricity, whatever) is enough to create amino acids over a few weeks' time. (And boy, let me tell you, the creationists hate that experiment.)

Now, increase the volume by, oh, say roughly four billion. (This is a rough guess based on the size of the ocean, taking the top 10cm of the surface area. Not all of that is going to be a suitable environment, but this doesn't take into account suitable areas on land, and on the ocean floor, much less the other 200cm of depth which sunlight penetrates, but it will do for our purposes---in fact, it probably understates the case by a factor of ten or so.) Oh, and increase the time factor by, say, four billion (four weeks into 300,000,000 years). So we've expanded the scope of the experiment by 16,000,000,000,000,000,000. That's kind of a lot.

What are the odds under those circumstances for self-replicating molecules to have formed? Lots of catalyst, lots of water, UV light to spare, lots and lots of time, over a very large area.

Michael's suggestion of "sudden" is, obviously, inapplicable. So is his suggestion of "fully formed." The chemical synthesis I'm talking about here is just the start of the process, and it is proving to be a fascinating one to study. Some proteins (fairly simple ones at that) automatically self-organize into structures, for example---we're talking about chemical compounds of several hundred atoms at this point, but they're attracted to each other in particular ways that create filaments or sheets. We don't yet understand all of how this works (heck, we're still trying to understand the process of how protein molecules fold up into such useful structures), but we're starting to chart the process of how a cell can come about.

But is that "no less than a miracle," as Michael states? Well, sure, if you're not prepared or interested in studying the process. Then anything qualifies as a miracle. Science, however, encourages one to study things in such a way that they can be understood---in which case, they sort of automatically lose their "miracle" status.

Michael then tries to characterize my argument thusly: "On the other hand, if you are arguing that the components needed for a cell could have gradually over eons of time come together to form a fully functioning cell, then you have other problems to deal with. It is the nature of proteins that they are extremely accurately made and possess exact highly specific configurations."

This gives away a fundamental lack of understanding of (or willingness to understand) chemistry and physics, and yet an enthusiastic willingness to make silly pronouncements.

Yes, proteins possess exact configurations. Big whoop. So does water---the hydrogen atoms are attached at a 104.45-degree angle to the oxygen molecule, and each lies 94.84 picometers away from the oxygen molecule. It's an exact configuration. It's accurate. It's also not an indicator of a deliberate design. It's just how it fits together.

The thing is, you can argue the anthropic principle all day and not get anywhere. Let's take another example of the "miracle" of water vapor.

You look up one day, and see a perfect three-quarter profile of Tammy Faye Bakker in a particular cumulus cloud. There are even breaks in the cloud where her blue eyeshadow would be.

It's an awesome display. (Granted, weird and disturbing, but awesome.) What were the odds? What were the odds that you were in the exact place to see that cloud at the exact time it formed that shape? What were the odds that the boundaries of the cloud would line up just so, into that exact configuration? That the weather today would be so right for it? That the air temperature and moisture levels would be just right?

Now look slightly to your left, to that other cloud that looks a little like a scrotum with the pox.

What were the odds of that happening? That you would be in that exact place, at the exact time, in this weather and orientation and conditions to see that cloud---er, such as it is.

Yes, the odds are exceedingly low that you'd see Tammy Faye up there (or, for that matter, the other one), but the odds were extremely high that given time, you'd experience a day of weather like this, and that you'd see some coincidental arrangement of clouds.

Michael then brings in another argument: "A 'pre-cell' trying to randomly form would be extremely prone to traslation [sic] errors when synthesizing proteins. Carl Woese, the famous microbiologist, admitted the difficulty in imagining how such problems could have been overcome. His solution to this problem was simply to assume that these types of primitive cells simply must have existed. Yet, he has no explanation for how this could have occured."

I've read this sentence thirty times now, and my brain just balks. Is Michael really this dim? Or is he being deliberately obtuse? Or has he been so misinformed that he believes this?

Now, Woese is an amazing guy who has pioneered entirely new techniques for classifying life, and I have the utmost respect for him. (Who else can claim to have found an entirely new kingdom of life? Wow.) Michael doesn't give a reference for his assertion, but fortunately, he doesn't really need to.

This is a little like me observing one morning that my Cheerios form a hexagonal crystal-like structure in my cereal bowl when I have just a few left. They automatically just clump together like that. Would that be less true if I didn't have a clear understanding of surface tension, tessellation, hydrodynamics? I mean, look at the bowl!

But Michael would claim that the odds are vanishingly small. When he throws Cheerios into the air, they never form hexagonal patterns. When I complain that one needs liquid for the effect to be seen, Michael takes twenty Cheerios, distributes them equidistantly across Lake Superior, and notes that they don't form hexagonal patterns. When I complain that proximity is a factor, he takes a bowl of lakewater, drops in a bunch of Cheerios, and notes that they didn't show any sign of moving together within the first billionth of a second. When I complain that it takes longer than that for the effect to be seen, he begins suggesting that the effect is impossible because I can't prove oats exist.

Not a precise analogy, but it's how I'm starting to feel.

Yes, Michael, there are some things that are not currently with explanation. The placebo effect, for example---we have no idea why it exists. We don't know yet what dark matter is. Why did Viking detect methane in its experiments on Mars back in the '70s? We can't yet explain any of those---but we can make hypotheses and test them, use that information to form theories and test those and so on.

That Woese has stated that he has trouble imagining how something could be, but that obviously something logically had to have been the case cannot and should not be weirdly and unjustly taken as an admission of impossibility. It's simply saying that he doesn't understand yet, and he's having trouble coming up with a good guess.

So why is Michael so insistent that this should be seen as a capitulation for creationism?

Then he quotes Francis Crick (the codiscoverer of the structure of DNA), without reference, like so: "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going."

This is an actual quote, from Crick's Life Itself (1981). In short, he was saying that at that time, with what we knew then, that the origin of life appears to be almost a miracle.

Note: Not "a miracle." Note: Twenty-five years ago.

We know a lot more now. It's a little odd that Michael would pick a single quote and inflate it into another "admission" by a man who advocated celebrating "Darwin Day" as a British national holiday. It's disingenuous, but typical of the pick-and-choose mentality of creationists.

Michael is therefore unlikely to quote something else Crick wrote in his work The Astonishing Hypothesis, published thirteen years after Life Itself: "The age of the earth is now established beyond any reasonable doubt as very great, yet in the United States millions of Fundamentalists still stoutly defend the naive view that it is relatively short, an opinion deduced from reading the Christian Bible too literally. They also usually deny that animals and plants have evolved and changed radically over such long periods, although this is equally well established. This gives one little confidence that what they have to say about the process of natural selection is likely to be unbiased, since their views are predetermined by a slavish adherence to religious dogmas."

Michael again: "It's a big problem. So, who of the two of us suffers from a failure (or refusal) of comprehension?"

Uh, you, Michael.

He then insists that his quote of Hawking was in context (it wasn't), that the hot big bang theory is still the most popular (currently, the inflationary theory seems to be the best one at the moment, though it can't explain everything either yet), and restates that one cannot read Hawking's A Brief History of Time without feeling that Hawking is amazed by "the perfect design in the universe and the implications that has for a creator" (in fact, Hawking has publicly rejected such notions, and the book itself never refers to a "perfect design"---I checked).

Then he paraphrases me with breathtaking originality:
"Again, your resort to perjoratives is really unnecessary. Sadly, however, this is how most [atheists] 'debate' the issue, so I suppose it's not really your fault."

Isn't that precious?

I will always express disapproval and contempt for any argument which relies on distortion, misrepresentation and willful ignorance.

Would that Michael would do the same.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little reluctant to comment more after my last long post (anyone getting sick of me yet?), but this is about the word "atheism." (Yay! No chemical stuff!)

"Atheist" is such an emotionally charged word for many Christians, so much so that I still have trouble adopting it for myself, though technically I qualify as one.

"Atheist" simply means "not a theist."

That's all.

But I was raised with the idea that "atheist" meant "someone who believes that there is no God," which would actually be "antitheist."

So initially, after my own crisis of faith (and if anyone's interested, I'll describe it at some point if you like), I identified myself as "agnostic," which I took to be someone who doesn't know one way or the other---which is the connotation I was raised with, one which was much closer to my philosophy.

Then I was sharply corrected once in a discussion when I said, in effect, "I'm an agnostic, not an atheist," so I went off to research the words, and then found, to my discomfort, that the original idea of agnosticism (from Huxley) was the stance that not only was nothing known about God, but that nothing could be known about God.

That seemed like a stretch for me as well. I didn't know enough to assert that there was no God, but I also didn't know that, if there were a God, we couldn't ever find out. (I mean, geez, what if some archaeologist found his phone number on the back of a rock someday?)

Someone suggested the term "hard atheism" (for antitheism) and "soft atheism" (for atheism), but I rejected that as well---"soft" had an unfortunate connotation, given my convictions on the matter.

Eventually, I heard the phrase "empirical agnostic," and that fitted my sensibilities perfectly. I view the term as indicating that I believe that nobody really knows anything about God, but that I'm open to evidence---and that's exactly right.

"Objective atheist" might be a better term, but I still find some reluctance within myself to adopt the word "atheism" as my proclaimed stance. It's a purely emotional hesitation, though.

Anonymous said...

(Gawd, it's that Mcglk guy again?)

Look, this was an interesting post, with several elements to it, and I felt like responding. This time, it's about the film.

I'm feeling some unwarranted emotional attachment to the idea of you filming it in your house, Julia, and I have a minor and modest suggestion for your consideration.

What if you dressed up a small portion of the house as a schoolroom? You could walk towards it when you're introducing the second act, putting your hair up (or somesuch---I think you have short hair at the moment), putting on a pair of glasses, and approaching a whiteboard (with all the school things around it---the strip of cursive letters over the whiteboard, for example). Then you have the option of emphasizing some point or another with diagrams, numbers, big circles, whatever, and build the actions into your enthusiasm. Could add that sense of drama, while still keeping your costs down.

Of course, never having managed to get involved in film the way I would have liked to, I have no idea if this would work in a cinematographic sense. (In fact, I don't know yet if "cinematographic" is even a word---I should go look it up before I post this.) But it was an idea, and I kind of liked it, so it's yours if you want it. :)

(Yay! It's a word!)

Anonymous said...

Where did everything come from?

Either the universe, and later life, just appeared out of nothing---or else God did (and then went on to create the rest).

I don't have proof of either.

But to explain that "God always was and always will be" does nothing to answer the question of where and how it all started. At least science is still trying to answer the ultimate question.

Sheldon said...

Mcglk:

You're gonna give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome, dude! Go sit in a hot bath, light a candle, play some Enya, and think good thoughts.

You've done enough work for one day. : )

And David:

My remarks NEVER fall a bit short, so you take that back!

ShellyD said...

Julia, have you ever seen the movie The Magdalene Sisters? The Vatican denounced it, and it's easy to see why. What really struck me is that one character who (spoiler) ends up in an asylum is much more sane, or at least more honest, than the rest. The fact that these institutions really existed is just horrifying.

I forgot my point, but anyway it's a powerful (if depressing) movie about one dark chapter in Church history.

Anonymous said...

mcglk,
Wow! Great read! Just curious, are you on vacation this week? How do you find time write so much or do you just type really really fast? Maybe I'm just jealous... Again, great read!

Anonymous said...

No, I'm at work. I just started that post at 10am. It took three and a half hours to type that in, which I did mostly when I was in the middle of phone calls, file transfers, lunch, and waiting on other people.

The weird thing is that I still got a lot done today. In fact, I was more productive today than most days.

That's just wrong. :)

Anonymous said...

I would have thought by now that somebody (a thiest), somewhere, would have posted a "response" to "Letting go of God" on the web. I've just spent about 15 minutes searching for one, and can't find it.

So, are the religious folks not aware of LGoG? Or do they just not care? Or can't they find something in it that's wrong (some interpretation ot the bible, for instance)? Or maybe they are all in such awe after listening that they can't respond.

I'm just surprised, that's all.

Rebecca said...

Julia--Your blog has become THE forum. Reminds me of parties I had when I was a phil major in college, where at 1 a.m. my living room was full of arguing people and I just wanted to go to bed! You’ve been very gracious, and the comments have indeed been worth reading, but I do want to remind anyone who wants to debate every detail of Christianity v. atheism that there are good forums online (such as the Secular Web (http://www.infidels.org/), or Web of Reason (http://www.webofreason.org/christianity_bible.html) for those kinds of long discussions.

I just want to say this about your latest post: If setting forth your ideas and insights and setting a good example are proselytizing, then atheism needs more proselytizers! We’re probably the most misunderstood people in America, since Christians are taught that atheists are “angry at God” (you must be really angry at the Easter Bunny too, since you deny his existence also) and ready to rape, murder and steal when the police aren't looking. So I think it's very important that we speak out on these points. I’ve spent most of my adult life listening to people sing praises of their faith and I’ve felt it would be rude to even mention my differences. Now there seems to be a surge of atheists/freethinkers coming forward and being forthright and confident and challenging--but not, in my opinion, disrespectful--and I am so delighted!

Intellectual honesty--or freethought-- isn’t a faith (I agree with Randi’s analogy)--but it IS a source of joy, wonder, comfort, moral guidance, connectedness. I think it is a far better source of these things than any religion. Sure, the world we see is sometimes a frightening mystery but it feels good to know we're facing that fear instead of trying to sweep it under the rug.

If Michael is still with us, I would suggest he sit down with any of these excellent books: Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith; Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith; Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian. A book more Zen than outright atheist that I found immensely helpful when I first realized I was an atheist was The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. Julia, I read The Denial of Death but was put off by what seemed like misogyny, all that stuff about women and blood and earth...but that was decades ago....

I could go on but I should take my own advice and keep this less long. Julia, thanks for your unique and oh so valuable contribution to the cause of intellectual honesty. And congrats to you all on the quality of your discussion.

Anonymous said...

For the person who asked that Julia post a free download of the shorter version of LGOG:

At Apple iTunes, you can purchase for 95 cents the single episode of This American Life in which Julia read a shorter version of Letting Go of God. The free iTunes software can be downloaded for Windows computers.

To find it, put only 2 words into the iTunes Store search window -- Godless America -- the name of that episode.

When you put just her name into iTunes search, the "Godless America" episode of This American Life doesn't appear in the list of results. However, you do get 29 other iTunes listings for Julia Sweeney.

This American Life episodes are also available for purchase from Audible.com ... and recently each TAL episode has become available as a FREE downloadable mp3 file for one week following its broadcast at their website thislife.org.

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to mention that Julia's reading is approximately the last half of that episode of This American Life. I recall Julia's part being about a half-hour long.

coby said...

To the anonymous who wondered why theists haven't commented on "Letting go of God":

Do you mean argued against it or commented upon it? I commented upon it a few BLOGs ago so I am no expert. I've only seen a 15 minute excerpt. While I obviously wouldn't agree with the conclusion I think it is a beautiful piece of art. Julia makes points that all theist (specifically Christians) need to think through if they are going to claim to believe in an infinite God. The main thing I realized was that Christianity and church sure does look silly from the outside looking in. I actually have quoted from the bit about Julia's encounter with the Mormon's to help other Christians see that we aren't as normal as we think we are.

I'm glad to have stumbled upon the 15 minute excerpt because it challenged me to take an honest look at my faith. For that I am grateful. Not sure if that was what you were looking for in a comment...but there you go!

coby said...

not that it really matters, but the "so I'm not an expert" was supposed to be placed after the sentence "I've only seen a 15 minute excerpt". Just thought I'd clarify.
peace out

Anonymous said...

Coby,

I meant that I haven't seen any point by point responses to the LGoG monolog by Christians. Julia quotes (or I should say, paraphrases) from the Bible a lot, and I'm wondering how accurately she is portraying the biblical stories. I guess I'm used to groups like Media Matters fact checking news articles, and I was just hoping somebody had posted a fact check on LGoG. Perhaps all of the other bloggers here have read the bible through and through, but I've only read bits an pieces, and most of that many years ago, so I'm not sure how accurate her portrayals are. She makes some very powerful arguments, so I hope that they hold up to scrutiny.

Perhaps Julia could tell us if she's had anybody fact check her work, or if any other groups have posted criticisms of it.

From your post, I take it you are a Mormon. How do you respond to the first part of Julia's work? It certainly makes Mormonism seem one of the less believeable traditions (ie, more emperical evidence against it's dogma... the migration of people to the new world from Isreal, etc.).

ben turk said...

looking at the sites people suggested to Michael and reading mcglk's post, and then looking at the long history of science filling the gaps that religion tries to hide god in gives me so much confidence in the scientific method and in humanity.

Really, it's a great story. it's like Whack-a-mole, except with god.

coby said...

Anonymous (not sure which one):
You ask some great questions. I'm actually not Mormon, I was simply trying to be fair. I am a Christian pastor in training (working on a Masters degree in Divinity at George Fox Seminary) with several good friends who are agnostic or atheist. Some individuals would consider me conservative while others would consider me liberal. I haven't yet heard enough of Letting go of God to feel like I could justly comment on the Biblical interpretations.

Even if I had listened to it all, I would hesitate to comment because
a) I would want Julia's permission. Too many Christians speak out of line and criticize without really listening and grappling with the other person's perspective. I greatly respect Julia and wouldn't want to unintentionally "attack" her. Especially if my critique was not requested.
b) Even if I were to point out some areas where I think she may have misinterpreted the Bible, I do not doubt that she was taught these things. I fear this would simply just strengthen the argument that "Christians cannot make up their mind on the Bible thus how can they really claim they follow the truth?" I'm just not sure we'd get anywhere.

I will comment upon why the Mormon bit challenged me. At the end she says something like "I felt so lofty in my more established religious faith. But then I realized that my story was sounds just as odd (virgin birth, Jesus walks on water, etc)...I'm just used to my story." She's right on here. If I am going to claim to be a Christian, I better think through these inconsistencies and these oddities. That is why I'm grateful for her work.

Anonymous said...

Coby,

There's a really good edition of This American Life "podcast" avialable free this week at

http://www.thislife.org/

It's about an evangelical preacher who had an intellectual confrontation with his faith, and the fallout that followed.

allison said...

I'm grasping what I can of this conversation. It is hard to understand but I just want ot say that carl r. sams is my favorite poster, just on likability! thank you carl.

Sheldon said...

Coby's comment remind me of a line that the very religious character, Ned Flanders, makes on an episode of "The Simpsons."

After Ned's wife is killed in a tragic accident, he starts a sort of "why-hast-thou-forsaken-me" rant at God, saying at one point:

"I'm not a bad man. I don't drink or dance or swear. I've done everything the Bible says, EVEN THE STUFF THAT CONTRADICTS THE OTHER STUFF!"

Coby said...

Thanks Anonymous, I'll check it out. And Sheldon, you DID NOT just mention my name in the same sentence as Ned Flanders?! That's awesome...and embarrassing. Though I'm more of a King of the Hill fan these days. "Bobby, if you weren't my son I'd hug you."

Anonymous said...

Truth is an axiom; it needs no proof.

Whatsoever must be propped with argument and proof is soon or late knocked down with argument and proof.

To prove a thing is to disprove its opposite. To prove its opposite is to disprove it.

God has no opposites. How shall you prove or disprove Him?

-- Mirdad

bookboy said...

Julia, I read The Denial of Death but was put off by what seemed like misogyny, all that stuff about women and blood and earth...but that was decades ago.... Rebecca, it’s obvious you didn’t read “Denial of Death” or you are mistaking it for some other book, by making such an uninformed statement above. Sorry Rebecca I just could not let that statement pass. “…for the time being I gave up writing—there is already too much truth in the world—an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!” Otto Rank.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,

I was wondering if you could express your thoughts on the holiday season. How do you pass the time now as an atheist as opposed to when you were a theist.

Thanks.

Rebecca said...

Bookboy (aka "philosopher of the human condition"), I suggest you re-read page 39 and about five pages before/after.

slc said...

I have a lot of feelings and thoughts on the God thing. Not because I'm a Believer (I'm not) but because the issue seems to be incredibly complex and intertwined with multiple aspects of the human psyche. That makes argument particularly difficult because deists (in particular) can't stay on topic.

One topic I find interesting is how religion and religious *experience* intersect. For myself, I've had some some experiences that would definitely be called "religious" or "spiritual", yet I've never been tempted to confuse those experiences with a Supernatural Being controlling the universe. I'm sure not growing up with religious indoctrination helped.

A case in point: I find that Giving Thanks is a very powerful meditation, and is made more so if I use the words "Thank You, God". Now, a Deist might say "Ha! That means you DO believe in God." But I absolutely don't believe in any God or gods. Rather, I think saying the words address some part of myself or some alternate viewpoint within.

My difficulty writing this underscores the confusion of the topic. "God" is a very useful concept for me, but is not to be confused in any way whatsoever with "God". Make sense?

I believe that Religious Experience is a purely human thing, possibly even just the firing of certain brain cells (my theory is that it's an artifact of the brain's ability to make cognitive leaps - sort of a meta-leap), and there's no evidence to jump to the conclusion that a deity is handing one that experience.

Thoughts?

bookboy said...

I have Rebecca. I have read the book from cover to cover, twice.

Rebecca said...

Bookboy: Wow! Are we really reading the same book? (In any case, we’re not on the same page!) Am setting up a blog for anyone who wants to discuss this book and related issues. Will announce it here (Julia‘s blog). Hope to see you there, bookboy.

bookeraptor said...

Rebecca, you are about the only person I've ever heard mention Alan Watts' wondrous book The Wisdom of Insecurity. I read it a long time ago and it was something of a transforming experience. He also wrote a marvelous essay (which was my introduction to Watts) called "The World's Most Dangerous Book", a nice little primer on the history of the bible. Here's a link in case anyone wants to read it:

http://www.geocities.com/whatzitallmean/TWMDB.html

Ok, well, just paste it into your browser...

And Julia, thank you for the nice comments.

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to hear your decision to film the script read live. You absolutely change energy when having a real audience. Now it's my turn to thinkulate...I gotta get holiday gifts and even though I KNOW VERY WELL that my mother and my brother are atheists I stilll feel a bit nervous about sending them directly your CDs. May Vishnu see over use all...

SweetThursday said...

SweetThursday said...
Speaking of Not faith, not speaking of faith, speaking of faith and speaking of Speaking of Faith. What a wonderful world of diversity. That is what keeps us walking not alone on this planet.

But as to the latter bit of the first sentence. I woke up to NPR this morning and the show Speaking of Faith was on, I was quite sleepy and only a few bits registered, but they stirred me for better and some for worse.

This weeks show: November 23, 2006
"We want our children to be gracious and grateful, we want them to have courage in difficult times, we want them to have a sense of joy and purpose. That's what it means to nurture their spiritual life." For Thanksgiving, we bring back our conversation with Rabbi Sandy Sasso, who helps children and adults of many backgrounds discuss religion and ethics together.

http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/

Brent said...

Julia,
As I read your own simple way of "giving thanks" and struggling to redefine this in my own way each year on this holiday, it reminded me of a recent writing I came across by Daniel C. Dennert titled "Thank Goodness" written from the hospital as he recuperates from major heart surgery. Responding to the question as to whether he may have had an epiphany along the way to change his long held atheism, he wrote the following: "Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other's work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who's counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws." Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other's work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who's counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws."
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dennett06/dennett06_index.html

Discovering your CD and Blog has been a treat. Having been raised in a Mormon family but a long time athiest, your story of the Mormon missionaries made me really laugh.

Thanks, for your humor and thought!

SweetThursday said...

Brainstorming for the movie version of LGOG:

Cast Jesus --- go whole hog hunky! Who would your dream Jesus casting be?

Maybe throw in a cameo for comic effect. -----------------------

For instance Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw typing on her console "What if what matters to you most is your own loving behavior? Should you give up your ethics for God?"

ShellyD said...

I'm so let down, because after some figuring I realize I can't afford to go to TAM5. (TAM6 is a possibility.)

And I was so excited because you, Julia, are hella cool and I mean that in a decidedly healthy-boundaries, non-stalker way. Really. I love your blog and your work. (Okay, it's bedtime.)

Candice said...

Hello,
I caught you on the View. My God journey has been similar, the order of events that have provoke questions has been a bit different. I will say that I know God is not confined like some jennie within the pages of the bible or any other thing. I believe the bible should be read and then put away leaving the reader with a sense of goodness, like a song or poetry. Instead it's dissected to the letter and used like a weapon. Man this subject gets me going, scattering my many thoughts. I have three siblings that are in christian ministry. Over the holiday during a discussion about gay rights I said the bible was a joke. I suggested asking God directly. I don't need the bible to tell me it's wrong to hate... My thinking is a person should allow a direct connect with God whatever God is or isn't. Really let your heart/mind/spirit direct you. I believe intention informs outcome. There was I time when I would simply say I didn't believe in God. I no longer let the word GOD be a road block in my conversations with my family and friends who are christians. I now refer to God on my terms. I have a sister who died, she would ask me how did I know this or that, she wanted me to back up my thinking with doctrine, bible versus, ect. I didn't and don't feel the need to. I believe I was born knowing the truth the
mission is getting reacquainted after life happens, religious training and so on. When I'm lucky enough to be near the ocean I am sure God is the sea. When I see the yellow leaves of the maiden hair on the sidewalk I'm sure God is a tree. And when I feel the enchantment that these things give me I am sure God is me. Back to the bible, God is love, be love. Once I thought God is love be God, then I realized that that is one of the biggest dilemmas of humanity. Wanting to be the creator instead of being part of creation. Ok, I've gone on longer that I intended.

So I enjoyed your interview!
Thanks for being brave.
Candice

Lee S. said...

To Julia Sweeney,
I just saw your appearance on The View this morning and liked what you had to say. After much soul-searching and research, I left Catholicism many years ago and consider myself an Agnostic. My understanding of the difference between an Atheist and an Agnostic is that an Atheist believes with 100% surety that there is no god, whereas an Agnostic sees little, or no, evidence to enable them to believe. One thing is for sure - you don't have to be religious to be moral! Appreciate any comments.
Lee S.

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