Thursday, November 09, 2006

What joy. What a great day yesterday was. I was filled with glee and optimism. What a stunning reversal. It’s the happiest Election Day I have had in recent memory.

My television, which has been out for longer than three months, and then got fixed last week, only to go out again when I tried to turn it on, on Tuesday night, frustrated my desire to watch Jon Stewart and Fox news (so I could gloat.) So I was reduced to using my computer, which I was constantly updating, on the New York Times site. And calling my friend Smartypants so he could tell me what he was watching.

It all seems too good to be true! And yet, it is. I mean, things will inevitably get screwed up – but not as screwed up as they might have been. In any case, I am feeling unrestricted joy.

I shot this Yahoo thing all day yesterday (me doing little one minute bits about parenting and other thoughts about life) and I am wiped out and I am not very articulate right now. Later today Mulan and I are going to Disneyland with three of her friends and staying overnight. We will be at the Disney parade tonight and at the doors at the park opens tomorrow. I am sort of excited about going. And also looking forward to it being over at the same time.

Oh, I will say that I got into a semi-debate yesterday with a person I met recently and who happened to be at this Yahoo shoot. I like her a lot. But we disagree on the subject of God.

Her arguments were in a typical range – that atheism was a “faith” like belief in God was a “faith.” And that my “faith” was stronger - or maybe she meant required a bigger leap -than her “faith” in God. I never quite get that argument. It’s like the person is denigrating their own faith as “Faith” – for being so flimsy as “faith” at the same they’re accusing you of having something you don’t think you have.

I was reminded of the James Randi quote that goes something like, “Atheism is a faith like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Oh that line gives me such joy. I don’t get to use it often. Even though, what I actually think he said was, “Atheism is a belief like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Then she moved onto the second law of thermodynamics. And that this law shows that matter should move towards chaos, not towards cohesion. I am paraphrasing her own definition of it. Although that part is correct, about matter and cohesion over time, I don’t think she understood really thoroughly what the second law of thermodynamics was, frankly. (I don’t fully understand it either – but I know it’s not relevant to where a God existing is likely or unlikely.)

But when that argument is used by believers it goes something like, “Science shows us that matter should not stick together and that over time it moves away from complexity towards simplicity. But look at the world around us; it is filled with complex beings and things. This is not explainable. God must have done it.”

I need to get better and making my case in regards to this argument. I tried to explain how that law was uniform on a macro level, not a micro level. Or that entropy will increase, but only over time and in the meantime, we can – well, exist. Things can have mass. And then I scrambled to figure out the best way to articulate how that scientific law affects us, and does not contradict our existence. But already even with this (and I was not doing a good job) I felt I’d lost her.

I always end up sounding like the eager science professor when I get into these discussions. And I can see that the person I’m talking to has already lost interest in what I’m saying. And usually they move to something emotional immediately – something that is, for them, outside the arena of science. They say something like, “The world cannot be explained just by using science, I like to feel things, I am a feeling person.” I guess implying that I am not a feeling person. And that only someone in touch with their feelings could understand that God exists.

Now I am feeling badly writing this because this woman is truly likeable and she was not trying to argue with me, and in fact, the producer of my Yahoo shoot really wanted us to get together and watch us have a conversation and we were really not trying to have an argument, and yet, I found so much to be desired from her way of thinking that I couldn’t stop – probably long after I should have – trying to explain myself.

The other way the “feeling” argument can go – this is what my mother resorts to, and in fact what this woman in particular resorted to – and that is, “I just cannot live without feeling that this connection to God is real and I just can’t even contemplate letting it go, because I need to believe.”

Then, I really don’t know what I can say to that. I WANT to say something like, “Well, I might feel I need to believe that I am a Super Hero that can stop a meteorite from slamming into the earth. But… the truth is… I am not.” But I don’t because that would sound condescending. And plus, to me – all bets are off at that point. To me, that’s like saying, “I don’t care about reality.” What kind of conversation can you have with a person who has that opinion?

I did end up making a argument about how human beings have these feelings and intuitions about how the world works that were useful when we lived in an ancestral environment, but now we live in a different world where we can gather information and test it. And that even though it’s probably instinctive to believe that the world is flat – I mean, the sun rises in the east – it sets in the west, the land seems relatively flat as we walk along it – that we know the world is in fact not flat. We know this because all kinds of evidence presented itself and made us look at the earth in a new way – one that is not one we could have gotten from feelings and from casual observations.

But by then I think everyone wanted me to just shut up, including me! Agh. I want to get better at this.

I ended the night with several people from Yahoo sharing a few bottles of wine around the outdoor dining table, and eating cheese and crackers. We all lamented about Hilary Clinton, our great hope – and how she has revealed herself to be a person of so much less integrity and so much more political ambition than we had realized. And how could she be going to those prayer meetings and how could she have supported this war? And how now she is just the person we’d like to begin rallying around for President, except that – too bad, reluctantly but truthfully, we all don’t really like her anymore.

However, we all agreed we would support her if the alternatives were worse.

Off to Disneyland.


Anonymous said...


Following up on an email I sent a few days ago... I'm pretty convinced that "pain" is the mechanism that causes us to change our actions or attitudes or beliefs and as long as the pain associated with the status quo is less than the perceived or real pain associated with change we don't change.

It's pretty simple when applied to physical pain. If I put my had on a very hot object it's pain that causes me to pull my hand away and teaches me change my behavior. If I get pleasure or comfort from my religious faith, logic is not likely to change me. Why, because the "pain" of self-deception is less that the perceived or real pain of facing reality. I think it's only when life throws us a "sucker-punch from god" (the seminal event I mentioned in the email) that the pain of continuing to embrace our faith exceeds the pain of abandoning our faith.

Just my $0.02

Petra said...

Where can we see these Yahoo bits you were talking about? They sound like fun!

Ah yes, it is a glorious week for our country. Democrats are in, Rumsfeld is out, the sun is shining (at least here it is) and for just a moment, everything is right with the world (or at least my little part of it).

: )

Laurence Boyce said...

Hi Julia. This thing about atheism being a "faith position like any other" seems to be gaining a good deal of currency, and yes, the wisdom of this move on the part of believers is questionable to say the least! It's merely a piece of lazy sophistry on a par with "evolution is just a theory you know." I don't know who thinks up these lines, but they're a very lame effort which simply demonstrate the extent to which religions are as happy to garner the unsophisticated as they ever were. Take Care.

Susan in Spokane said...

Just my guess, but the more you try to explain the more you are going to sound just like the very religious who won't see anything but their side of an argument.

How about "I have faith in the decision I made not to believe but my decision is not my faith."

dan said...

Back in the 1980's in a town called Maynooth ( where most Irish Catholic priests train ) , a priest tried to convince me of the validity of Lourdes miracles . The arguement went that if peolpe did not actually get out of their chairs , the miracle was they accepted their plight more readily than before ! . My frustration with the God Squad has always been the speed at which they will fog their arguements .

Here in the UK it is hard to fully grasp the nature of the election results , however I cannot remember a time when midterms got as much coverage . Finally
Donald must be confused to find a sign on his desk saying the buck stops with you"" , " no greater love has a man than he sacrifices his collegues for his career " et tu GW .

Atheism Quotes said...

The argument of atheism being a fath is a stepping stone to saying it's a religion. And once they can prove that atheism is a religion, the Christians will then say that you can't teach secular subjects in school. I've had this discussion with many Christians over the years.

The problem comes down to frames: what's outside a person's frame simply bounces off. For so many Christians, it's impossible to conceive that some people don't *need* to believe in a god, so they have to change it so something they can wrap their brains around. Unfortunately, that just results in erroneous conclusions.

And we will never win with the science argument, because ultimately, most people aren't capable of understanding the most advanced and relevant science. So they dumb it down, change some of the facts, and apply it in the wrong way. Again, no arguing there, because to straighten them out would require getting them more educated in science first, and that's not going to happen.

The Dover ID trial was a perfect example. Once real science was being presented, and the supporters of ID HAD to answer the questions, all they could come up with was that it doesn't fit into "conventional" science and that scientists are just a bunch of bullies keeping new ideas out. I'm not saying science doesn't have a problem with different theories, but at least they want someone to follow the basic principles of the scientific method.

To make the earth 6000 years old, Christians have claimed that carbon's half-life changed over time, that man and dinosaurs coexisted, and many other blatantly anti-reality things.

Of course, with the Internet, these people will pull out all kinds of "proof" on many different sites. Of course, every one of those sites is wrong, but that doesn't matter.

So, with that kind of mentality, trying to teach them real science is just like stopping a hurricane with a fan.

People like to say "that many people can't be wrong." Of COURSE they can... there are more Chinese Buddhists than Christians, and the Christians are saying THEY'RE wrong.

So we just have to keep trying.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say thank you for that Randi quote! Reading that made me stop and stare into space for about two minutes; that is what I need to tell people when they give me that "faith" argument.

I absolutely love your blog; thanks for standing up for us non-believers.

NfNitVoid said...

re: 'To me, that’s like saying, “I don’t care about reality.”'

You must be part of the "reality-based community", you.. you... reality elitist!

Sarcasm aside, I've been in similar arguments with people. That's about the point I stop bothering. I'm glad some have the stamina to keep at it, though. :)

Atheism Quotes said...

From Don Hirshberg:

"Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color."

Douglas Byrne said...

I really love reading your blog...

You speak your truth and often times say many things that I would like to say but can never find the words to articulate. So... thank you for that!

I hope you have/had fun at Disney... next time, remember to invite me! ;)

The Labour Humanist said...

I really enjoy this blog, it's a great read.

I think this "atheism" is a faith" is a tactic, because that what it is, an attempt at some political positioning.

It's anti-realist/cultural relativism. They're trying to say there's "my truth" and then there's "your truth". The endgame is to say each "truth" is equally valid. It gets believers out of the hole of having huge chunks of their holy books proven wrong by science....imho...of course.


Sheldon said...

I just gotta join the chorus on this one.

How many times have I peered into your little blog, onto to find that you're having the same experience I have? It's like all of us (atheists) are living on parallel planes of existence or something. Okay, that's a little too surreal, but you get the picture.

I had a conversation (eventually, an argument) with a friend's boyfriend the night before you spoke at the FFRF conference, and he offered up almost the exact argument your "opponent" did.

You really do reach a point when you realize that you're two people divide by a common language (to mangle a metaphor). I kept thinking, "Why am I even talking about this? It's clear he doesn't understand me, or doesn't want to understand me, so what's the point?"

But, every comment he made created an itch I just had to scratch, and I'd let loose a come-back that would spark yet another round. Oy!

And if I hear one more christian pull that tired old Second Law of Thermodynamics argument outta his ass, I'm gonna scream! If things can't become more complex and can only break down, then can somebody please explain human prenatal development!

GWC said...

I've been reading through the blogs/comments for a few weeks and I am very fascinated by all of your perspectives. I am a Christian but I deeply desire to learn from all individuals (not just inbred Christian theology/apologetics). I have some questions I'd like to ask but I first want to ask permission to join into the conversation. I don't want to be that annoying guy that hinders the flow of BLOG/message boards. It seems like you guys have a healthy online community here and I have no desire to disrupt your conversations or even the "mood" of the blog. Though I'd agree with sheldon that we may not speak the same language, I'm optimistic enough to give it a shot. Thanks.

wilhelm said...

Second law of thermodynamics: "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state"

And that is what is happening, the potential energy at the big bang was, well, really big and now the universe is accelerating apart until, millions of years from now, the only galaxies we'll be able to see are ours and a few others in our immediate vicinity and then even those will be gone and the stars will burn out and all the potential energy will be gone. but don't worry, that'll be a while, and until then we get to do pretty much whatever we want, so that's okay.

ShellyD said...

Hi Julia,

Have you read Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins? I haven't read Dawkins yet but Sam Harris has good ideas on conversations with believers. Hope you had fun at Disneyland. And I'll drink to the Democrats (okay, I'll drink to pretty much anything but especially them).

Jeff Dee said...

Hi Julia. I'm a new visitor to your blog, and I have some advice on how to handle the "atheism requires faith" claim.

Atheism is not a belief; it's just the lack of a particular belief. The *believer* is responsible for providing proof of whatever it is they believe. Because obviously, if they believe it then they ought have a good reason. All that counts as *good* reason is *evidence*. It turns out that religious believers don't have any evidence, and therefor they have no good reason. But that's not the unbeliever's fault.

Whenever there are multiple possible answers to a question (for example, "which god is real?), and none of those answers are backed up by evidence, it always makes more sense to refrain from believing any of them than it does to pick one at random and believe it. I go into this in more detail on my own blog:

So when believers can't meet their burden of proof, it doesn't take "faith" to refrain from agreeing with them - it just takes common sense.

I really enjoy your work, and I hope you find this helpful.

-Jeff Dee
The Atheist Community of Austin
The Non-Prophets Podcast

Tom Moran said...


I have to wonder whether the problem isn't with the people that you're arguing with.

The fact is, I'm an atheist but I don't feel the need to prove to anyone else that their belief system is wrong. Could the problem be (and I don't mean this in a critical way, just making an observation that I think might be correct) that in arguing with people who hold beliefs that you used to hold as firmly as they do now you're just trying to reaffirm that your current position is the correct one?

Could you be an atheist example of a covert who is "more Catholic than the pope"? Perhaps if you were a "cradle atheist" you wouldn't feel the need to keep proving to believers that your position is the right one.

Again, not meant as a criticism, just an observation.


Atheism Quotes said...

My wife and I usually end up having to defend our atheism when someone starts to throw all the inaccurate and unscientific "proof" of god at us. I have no problem with someone believing what they want, but if someone is out and out *wrong*, I feel the need to set them straight.

If someone says "the sky is green, and I intend to teach your children that the sky is green and not let you teach them the sky is blue," I don't have to accept that. It's not a matter of belief. The sky IS blue, the earth IS billions of years old, and I don't have to respect ignorance.

Faith requires belief. Facts don't. Contradict the facts, and I will point out your error.

To quote Bucky Kat from "Get Fuzzy":
"I'm not closed-minded. You're just wrong."

I don't have to accept something that contradicts facts and reality. It isn't showing disrespect to educate the ignorant. If they don't want to listen, that's they're problem, not mine :-)

David said...

Julia, I sometimes respond that the world can, IN PRINCIPLE, be fully explained by science. The scientific method provides a mechanism to discover all aspects of the physical universe. Imperfect and incomplete to be sure, but it is implicitly self-correcting, and is continually being revised and is moving, asymptotically no doubt, toward a complete understanding of Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Religion cannot, IN PRINCIPLE, explain anything.

It drives me nuts when people say science is a faith just like religion, it's so obvious to me it's not, but acting all passionate about it just makes you sound as muddled as them. I try to point out how science actually functions in a way they can understand.

That science is driven by a community of smarty pants who have a great deal of drive, curiousity, and maybe most importantly, big egos. They like showing all the other smarty pants how smart they are, and they especially love showing the other smarty pants that they're not so smart after all because they've just proven their theory wrong.

There's great fame, and possibly great fortune, to be had in disproving established theory. Einstein is remembered as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived because he revealed Newtonian physics to be merely a crude approximation that only holds for speed and gravity at a human level.

Imagine the laurels which would be bestowed upon the lucky scientist who showed that Darwin was wrong. It wouldn't take much - just, for example, a fossilized skeleton of a rabbit or mouse in the fossil record, at the same level as a dinosaur or trilobite. That would pretty much spell the end of Darwinian evolution - back to the drawing board in trying to explain the origins of life on earth.

I marvel at the lack of understanding of the scientific method in otherwise intelligent and educated individuals. Their ignorance actually limits their own arguments. I mean they're always going on about the eye and how it's "irreducibly complex". That example has been scientifically refuted ad nauseum. If they were slightly more clever, they'd ask questions about self consciousness, and free will, for example.

And why do they rarely question the validity of scientific theories beyond evolution. Evolution, to be sure, is counterintuitive, but any reasonably intelligent lay person can, with a diligent reading of a book or two, come to understand, intuitively even, its essential features and implications.

Constrast that with quantum physics, for example, about which someone famously said that if you think you have an intuitive understanding of quantum physics, then you do not have an understanding of quantum physics. It is bizarre and awesome, in the truest sense of those words. Or how about plate tectonics. It's alway about evolution, of course, because it personally upsets their sense of self.

And regarding entropy, the simple arguments using this in an attempt to denigrate evolution theory are easily refuted. But, how about this one. And this one actually got me - if this it's true, and I'm not sure how much scientific scrutiny it's received, then it's probably the closest I will come to belief in a supernatural power. And this is the brain boggling tidbit.

Brian Greene, in his book The Fabric of the Cosmos (page 176), suggests that the probablity that our Universe randomly and spontaneously popped into existence, as it is RIGHT NOW, out of nothingness, is far greater than the chance that it arose gradually out of the astoundingly unimaginable low-entropy starting point required by the big bang.

This made me think, so, at the point of the big bang it was pretty much zero entropy, absolute order and perfection. Absolute order and perfection == God? And we've been winding down ever since.

Anyway, theists don't generally read Brian Greene,

bookeraptor said...

The argument invoking the second law of thermodynamics is an old creationist tactic,somehow proving evolution impossible. Basically, it's about energy states in a closed system moving toward a state of entropy. Examples of closed systems are the sun, or a battery. The earth and its inhabitants are not closed systems, therefore the second law doesn't apply. The sun's energy is converted into food by plants and that energy runs up the food chain. In the words of E. O. Wilson, (and I may be paraphrasing), what one creature consumes, another provides. ANYTHING that receives energy from an outside source is exempt from the laws of thermodynamics. So the argument is totally specious, yet creationists still trot it out when arguing against evolution. Either because they really don't know what it means, or it makes them sound scientifically literate, or what is more likely,both.
I was going to use the "atheism is a belief like baldness is a hair color" analogy, but damned if someone didn't beat me to it!!! A high five to Don Hirshberg...

Tom said...


I'm not a pysicist, but my understanding is that the key to the 2nd Law is that the NET entropy always increases. Take the human body, for instance. We maintain a lot of order, but at what "cost"... by eating and metabolizing foods, we further the cause of entropy to a great degree. Life itself is one of the fastest ways to get to low entropy states because we break down the environment around us... ultimately into heat. So, instead of contradicting the 2nd law, we and other living things help increase the rate at which the Universe is falling into chaos.

Tom said...

.... or very good at spelling!!!!

Anonymous said...

One liners that can respond to atheistphobes are great. I really like the ""Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color" quote and the one about stamp collecting. How about this one regarding the 2nd law:

Life contradicts the 2nd law to the same extent that elevators contradict gravity.

Any others?

Tom Moran said...

Atheism Quotes said...

"If someone says "the sky is green, and I intend to teach your children that the sky is green and not let you teach them the sky is blue," I don't have to accept that. It's not a matter of belief. The sky IS blue, the earth IS billions of years old, and I don't have to respect ignorance."

And Pluto WAS a planet until a little while ago.

And people WERE taught that Pluto WAS a planet in science courses until a little while ago.

Is Pluto a planet now?

Flippy said...

And how do the "believers" explain away all of the inconsistencies in their faith? It drives me crazy, so I generally avoid discussing it. I just say that I don't believe, I'll never believe, I don't know why other people feel the need to believe, and then I leave it at that.

By the way, did anyone see the "South Park" atheist two-parter? It seems that some atheists were mad, but I thought it was hilarious.,_God._Go!_Part_II

The Labour Humanist said...

Hello Julia, Hello All!

Just to let you know AC Grayling has written a fantastic article in today's Guardian on exactly this issue.

He gives the "atheism is a faith" claim a magnificent kicking!

This is the link:

The Labour Humanist said...

I've given the article a tinyurl so it fits into the window!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,

I really don't see a connection between faith and atheism. I have no reason to see it other than as an incredibly weak analogy. At the same time, I don't see religion or the belief in God as a need. It certainly isn't a need that I have. I think that believers and unbelievers have misconceptions about each other. Only dialogue will clear them up. My story is long, but there are times when I'd like to abandon the belief in God. (yes, it is entirely possible for a christian to feel that way). I've explored the views of former christians turned atheists. In fact, I listen to Dan Barker's podcasts regularly. I guess you could say that I was desperately looking for an Aha! God doesn't exist. Instead, I don't get what I expected. Now, I am simply entertained the same way I am entertained by "waking up with Whoopie and Cubby (KTU in NY). BTW, that was not meant as an insult.

That's making my long story very short. ;-)

My point is, just as some christians are shocked that others are happy without God, atheists should understand something: the belief in God is not about a need or even pleasure (not for all of us). Also, I've experienced former christians turned atheists who are shocked that some will start out questioning God and the Bible, but still are not convinced to abandon the faith (as they did). It is futile for those on both sides to try and convince the other.

That's my .25 cents.

BTW, I really enjoyed your time on SNL. Will your show "Letting Go of God" run in NYC again?

Sheldon said...

Tom Moran: You went off the deep end with your question about Pluto. It's not the same issue at all because, in your case, you're talking about classification. We're discussing EXISTENCE, not classification. We're not trying to say whether god belongs in one category or another; we're simply saying that there's no evidence for his existence. No one in astrophysics is arguing that Pluto doesn't exist; they're simply debating over what to call it.

See the difference?

Science isn't as confusing if you learn what it means. It's very confusing if you only get bits and pieces, especially if they're filtered through those who also don't understand it.

Andy Social said...

I stole this from a site on the 2nd Law:

An ambitious treatment of entropy as it pertains to biology is the book Evolution as Entropy, by Daniel R. Brooks and E. O. Wiley. They acknowledge that the distinction between the different kinds of entropy is important:

It is important to realize that the phase space, microstates, and macrostates described in our theory are not classical thermodynamic constructs.... The entropies are array entropies, more like the entropies of sorting encountered in considering an ideal gas than like the thermal entropies associated with steam engines....

In fact the authors acknowledge many kinds of entropy; they describe physical entropy, Shannon-Weaver entropy, cohesion entropy, and statistical entropy, for example. They rarely use or mention Boltzmann's constant. One of their main arguments is that although the progress of evolution seems to represent a reduction in entropy, this reduction is only apparent. In reality, evolution increases entropy, as the second law requires. But evolution does not increase entropy as fast as the maximum possible rate. So, by comparison to the maximum possible rate, entropy appears to be decreasing. Our eyes have deceived us!

communicatrix said...

Agh. I want to get better at this.

I think you're probably doing a better job than you think. Unlike some atheists I've seen in action, I doubt very much you ever get belligerent and go on the attack.

I think that with time and practice, you'll feel more at ease, which as some on this thread have alluded to, is a huge part of this equation. You've been religion-free far less time than the other, so you can't expect yourself to be a zenmistress of fluid discourse and detachment in every single situation. Yet.

Plus your skill set, which includes Bag O' Atheist Arguments, will improve with time.

Think of it this way: you probably weren't as comfortable with performing or knew as much the first time you stepped onto the Groundlings stage as you do lo, these many years later.

I, for one, feel fortunate to have you on the side of Truth.

And yes, wasn't this a wonderful week?! I felt positively buoyant on Wednesday. It even scared me a little--I hadn't realized the low level of depression and hopelessness I was living with for so many years until it lifted.

Tom Moran said...

Sheldon said...

"Tom Moran: You went off the deep end with your question about Pluto. It's not the same issue at all because, in your case, you're talking about classification. We're discussing EXISTENCE, not classification."

No, we're discussing FACT.

A year ago, that Pluto was a planet was a scientific FACT.

Now it is not.

Anonymous said...

To Tom Moran:

Nothing in science is a "fact". You obvously don't understand science at all.

passionatebright said...

When believers bring up supposed science to support their arguments, I avoid getting into science details with them. I am not a scientist, and I think it is inappropriate to get into such complicated, nuanced stuff without being fully equipped.

I just say to them, "you really think that because you have read a couple of things, you understand science better than people who have Phd's and devote decades studying these highly technical and difficult subjects?"

Over 90% of scientists in the Academy of Science don't believe in a personal God. 99.9% of scientists worldwide in related fields, believe in the theory of evolution."

They look pretty upset when I say that and I think it really makes them think, at least for a moment.

Anonymous said...

This specious binary opposition (God or Not God, faith or science) neglects the very many people who can unproblematically get behind both. Not all "Christians" believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance. There are many shades of spirituality. I find it reductive and insulting to paint all people who believe or have faith in a force greater than our little, temporary, individual selves as stupid, weak, and unable or unwilling to let go of a crutch.

If you don't believe in god (and believe me, many Christians and other people of faith don't believe in a vengeful, bearded guy passing judgments and thunderbolts from a pink cloud either), it doesn't somehow make you smarter than and superior to those who do. I truly admire you, Julia, and yet I seem to pick up that this is really what you and your atheist friends think. This seems just as wrongheaded as the so-called religious right (which is just about as un-Christian a bunch of villains as you could hope to find) claiming that anyone not in lockstep with their worldview is going to hell.

You can't prove that god, or, let's say, an eternal force of love and creative intelligence of which we are all a part, perhaps, doesn't exist - any more than you can prove that it does. So if you're an atheist, you're just like every single other person on the planet: someone with a theory. No more, no less, no smarter and no dumber. Maybe we should all label ourselves agnostics. Because no one knows!

Mark D said...

Well done Julia. I just received Letting Go of God and I have to say it is genuinely funny and insightful. I'm still struggling with a lot of the same issues you speak about - - not because of my religious heritage, which actually is pretty minimal, but I guess I'm just trying to find my way like everyone else, to make sense of who I am and why I'm here. Where does the desire to seek connectivity with something greater than ourselves come from? Maybe it's fear. Our world is certainly a scary place, due mostly to what we are doing to ourselves and each other. Some people would probably lose their minds if they even considered the possibility that we are actually alone and vulnerable with no giant invisible man in the sky watching over us. I think that's why we have seen a tremendous increase in religious extremists, Christian and Muslim alike, who apparently believe that while God is all knowing and all powerful, He needs their sorry asses to do His bidding on Earth. Thanks, but no thanks. At any rate, I really enjoyed your latest work and I am grateful for your willingness to share it. Love the blog, too.

Petra said...

It's here! It's here! My CD/book is HERE!

: ) Petra <-- doing the happy dance!

Tom Moran said...

Anonymous said...

"To Tom Moran:

Nothing in science is a "fact". You obvously don't understand science at all."

The earth exists.

There is a sun.

There is a moon.

Gravity exists.

None of these are facts?

Anonymous said...

"The earth exists.

There is a sun.

There is a moon.

Gravity exists.

None of these are facts?"

Most of us would agree those are "facts" (of course, Gravity is "just" a theory!). But they are NOT in themselves science. Again, you don't understand what science "is". Science is not about "facts". The conclusions that science draws from observations of the natural world (as if there were some other kind) are simply predictions with variable levels of certainty (degree of probability). If you want facts, look to math (2 + 2 = 4, is a fact, by definition). Science doens't deal in "facts" per se.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you don't really understand organized religion. That is why you can't follow Tom Moran's arguments about Pluto any more than he can follow yours. You must remember that most religious entities are either invisible or visible only to certain people at certain times. All evidence regarding their existence is anecdotal and so the group never really argues about existence. Existence is taken on faith. Debate is instead about what these things are called. (Think of the Holy Trinity.) The naming of things, or the Word, takes on enormous importance. You see, a religious fact is actually the Word for it and not, as many posters have assumed, data proving its existence. To a very religious person, changing the name of something is changing the thing itself. Their universe is very subjective. I hope this post helps to improve communication between atheists and non-atheists.

Tom Moran said...

Anonymous said...

"Again, you don't understand what science "is"."

You do realize that stating the same thing over and over and over again is not exactly the same thing as proving it.

Although I guess it depends on what your idea of proof is. Or "is."

Sheldon said...

Tom Moran:

It's a FACT that we used to call Pluto a planet.

Now it's a FACT that we're not sure.

Science doesn't deal in FACTS in the same manner as religion. We claim that we have tentative explanations. Religious leaders claim they have unshakable, undeniable (under penalty of punishment) explanations.

Yours is a game of semantics that will lead nowhere. It doesn't matter what English word you play with. The answer to your question is unrelated to the question for which you seek and answer.

Jeff D said...


I really enjoy your blog and I bought 2 copies of your CD.

Good list of books! I have read books 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 17 on your list, but many were perhaps less of a revelation or thunderclap for me, because I have been an avid reader of books on science and history since I was 5 or 6 years old. Although I dutifully attended Protestant Sunday School and confirmation classes to please my parents, it was already too late -- my access to encyclopedias, the "National Geographic," and the Life Science and Nature Libraries had put me squarely on the path to agnostic nontheism (or athestic naturalism, if some prefer) by the time I was 8 or 9.

I agree that "The Blank Slate" is another terrific book, as is Dennett's latest, "Breaking the Spell." One terrific book that is difficult to find (I think I bought it through is Owen Flanagan's "The Problem of the Soul," which was recommmended by Michael Shermer. Flanagan is a philosopher at Duke Univ., and his book is a patient, naturalistic inquiry demonstrating that there is no immaterial, immortal soul and no sharp division between mind and body, but that there is a basis for ethics (he calls it "human ecology) in human nature. A good preview for Shermer's "The Science of Good and Evil" and Marc Hauser's "Moral Minds."

Although I have been a non-believer in things supernatural for most of my life, I have done at least as much scholarly reading about religion and religious history as I have about science in the last 25 years. One of the first books on religion that I read was "What the Bible Really Says" by Manfred Barthel. From there I read Paine's "The Age of Reason," Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth," and essays by Robert Green Ingersoll (There are now several collections of Ingersoll's essays back in print, including "Superstition").

For those who are interested in scholarly textual / historical analysis of the New Testament (and not Christian apologetics or tendentious propaganda), I can recommend the books of G. A. Wells and Robert M. Price on whether a historical Jesus existed or can be clearly discerned from the Gospels and other New Testament writings.

Finally, it's true that supernatural beings or phenomena express a need or yearning in human beings. When I was in my teens and still reading a lot of science fiction, I read the novels of Olaf Stapledon (who was a philosophy professor and wrote in the 1920s and '30s), because he had influenced Arthur C. Clarke. Stapledon's "Star Maker" is still -- for me -- the most profound and realistic literary imagining of an utterly remote, unapproachable, non-anthropomorphic supreme being. The almost certain non-existence of such a being didn't diminish the reading experience for me. In all the Sunday sermons and in-church rituals that I endured as a child and a teenager, I never felt the "spiritual" (no other word for it, unfortunately) feeling that I felt in reading parts of "Star Maker."

Jeff D

Anonymous said...

From The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik's article about C.S. Lewis that Julia mentioned:

How C. S. Lewis escaped.

Issue of 2005-11-21
Posted 2005-11-14

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