Monday, November 27, 2006

The 17 Books I Read Along The Way

Over about three years, as I searched my heart and soul for God, I read the following 17 books. I actually read many more books, (or parts of several more books) and I actually think I may be leaving some very significant book out. Eventually I would love to write extensively about each of these books and how they affected me and led me to the next one on the list.

But since so many people have asked for this – I thought for today I would just post this.

Remember too, my path was specific. I went from a liberally minded Catholic to an openly out atheist. So my books are particular to where I was starting from.

1. Papal Sin, Garry Wills

This book was the first time I considered the hypocrisy inherent in the priesthood – that the whole idea is that priests were supposed to be people who upheld truth as an ideal and yet just becoming a priest was a lesson in learning to lie – to their parishioners, to themselves, etc. Garry is still a Catholic, in fact his next book was called, “Why I am a Catholic.” But for me, this really made stark the inherent corrupt nature of the Catholic Church – and how deep it all went. I couldn’t really experience Catholicism again – whatever that means – after I read this book. Even though I read it while I was attending Mass regularly and rededicating myself to the Church.

2. The History Of God, by Karen Armstrong

Even though I had majored in history in college and had an educated appreciation for religious history, I had never had it served up to me – in connection with the history of worship and God – exactly like this. Karen is still a believer – she calls herself a freelance monotheist – but this book made clear the social and political and human need for God and all the ways that this has been manifested in recorded history. Reading this book eventually led me to read all of her books. I really like the ones about her personal journey, Karen was a nun for seven years and she wrote about her experience in “Through The Narrow Gate” and it’s really riveting.

3. Ken’s Guide To The Bible, Ken Smith

This slim volume is hilarious and right to the point. I used a couple of the examples of Bible ridiculousness from his book in my show. It’s really a must-have for any skeptic. At this point, I was still a believer in God, I just thought the Bible and organized religion got it all wrong.

4. The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, Ruth Hermece Green

Wow. I really wish I could have met this amazing woman before she died. The book is a little all over the place – much of the information is repeated because the book is a compilation of lots of different essays and writing about the Bible. But still, she has an uncanny ability to see through the crap and write about the Bible. And she is hysterically funny too.

5. The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman

This book was actually recommended to me by my trainer (how Hollywood!) when I told him one day how I was coming to see Bible as a terrible human distortion of history. And he responded, “More than a distortion! The whole story of the Exodus isn't even true!” Which just floored me. Really, the whole exodus story, not true? And that’s when I began to read about it and this book is the best one. And it turns out, yeah – the whole Exodus story: not true. Or rather, there is a telling lack of evidence at the archeological sites which points to the Old Testament stories’ mythological roots. This may seem obvious to many, but for me – at this time, this was revolutionary in my thinking.

6. Origin Of Species, Charles Darwin

I read this while traveling in the Galapagos and just when I had decided that God – for me – was nature. Darwin doesn’t even mention God in this book, but I did start to look at nature in a whole new way that was significant. And this book is easy and interesting to read. Plus, such a big important part of history!

7. Rock Of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Steven Jay Gould

Okay, at this point I was basically in a panic. I wanted to be able to believe in God and learn more about science at the same time. And this book seemed to offer me a way of looking at both without rejecting one or the other. Gould has this idea of science and religion being different magisterias – science explains “how” and religion explains “why.” Eventually, however, I came to understand that if the "how" obliterates the need for a "why" -- then what is the point of trying to get "why" out of religion to begin with? Why can't "why" come from myself, my community, the why's that I give my own life...? But I did like that Gould was addressing what is a big problem for most people; trying to reconcile religion and science.

8. Losing Faith In Faith, Dan Barker

This was the first personal journey story about letting go of God. I was engrossed and thrilled – I felt there was a person out there who may, possibly, be able to understand what I was going through. I still wasn’t sure I could give up on God myself, but I respected Dan Barker for standing up for what he believed in – or rather DIDN’T believe in.

9. How The Mind Works, Steven Pinker

Okay, I would call this my first real science book of my life. And it was super hard for me to read. I had begun to wonder about the mind – this amazingly complex and mysterious part of myself that made me who I was, in the deepest sense. I didn’t know how this could be explained by science and I wanted to know. I remember I was visiting London while I read this book and I spent a whole day in the hotel room reading it, slowly – slowly, underlining this and that, rereading it. I can’t say I really understood everything, but this book gave me a way to look at consciousness and brain function from a materialistic point of view.

10. Dying To Live, Near-Death Experiences, Susan Blackmore

But wait a minute! What about all those people who see God when they die and the light at the end of the tunnel and all that???????? I was kind of panicky again at this point. Susan Blackmore led the way for me to understand that those experiences that people have, all have scientific explanations. This was also the first time I really considered the idea that the “self” is a mental construct. Her theory is that the near-death experiences are a result of the breakdown of the sense of self, and how our brains are constantly trying to construct a model of reality that is acceptable to our self. Reading this book also led me to another of her books (also amazing), “In Search of the Light, Adventures of a Parapsychologist.”

11. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett

Okay, this book was really it. I wanted so badly to mention this book in my show, because in many ways it was the most significant. (This book was super-hard for me to read too. Like Pinker, this was the first real scientific look at the world from a scientist's point of view, written by a scientist. I was so glad Dennett wrote little paragraphs at the end of each chapter summarizing it! I would often reread it and then go over the chapter again, just so I got it.) Anyway, I got to somewhere in the middle, and that’s when I put the book down – walked through my backyard – and thought, “Just admit it. You can’t believe in God anymore.” Amazingly, it was the first time I really seriously considered the idea that there may not be a God out there. I put on the no-god glasses and it was frightening, exhilarating, and mind-blowing. Not to mention life-changing.

12. Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins

This is when I thought, “Wait a minute. I want to see the world like an artist. I want the beauty and poetry that looking at the world through the lens of an artist allows. But science is all technical and Dr. Spock-y. And Dawkins tackles the idea that looking at the world scientifically makes it less beautiful. He argues that it makes the world much, much more beautiful. And I think he is right. It was a beautiful book and led me to many more of his books.

13. How We Believe, Michael Shermer

This was another big book for me. Michael explains why people want to believe in God, and how they justify it to themselves. It is written clearly and plainly, but not ineloquently. I'm not sure this book should be listed earlier -- I was reading it and rereading it all along the way. I probably bought twenty or twenty five copies of this book and gave it out to people anytime anyone started to talk about God. I thought his book would be alarming and persuasive, but also easy to understand and accessible. But so far, no one's come back and t0ld me they'd been changed by the experience of reading it Also, learning about Michael Shermer led me to learn about the Skeptic’s Society in Pasadena. I started going to the lectures at Cal Tech and became friends with Michael Shermer. This gave me a whole new group of people to hang out with, a group much more in line with my own thinking about the world.

14. Tales Of The Rational, Skeptical Essays about Nature and Science, Massimo Pigliucci

I had dated a guy who was a believer in Intelligent Design (he didn't call it that, but that's what he meant) about a third of the way through my journey letting go of God. He made arguments for the existence of God based on things like the complexity of the human eye. I had no real answers for him, but this book provided them. Pigliucci is a wonderful writer and really funny too.

15. Can We Be Good Without God? Robert Buckman

This is around the time that I began to consider “ethics” as an adult, as a non-believing-in-God adult. Robert Buckman’s book is a good overview of the flaws in the idea that people need God in order to behave justly or compassionately. I also gave this book out to a few people, like Shermer’s book, I thought I would really rock some people’s world. But it didn’t seem to happen. In any case, I thought about what Buckman wrote in depth. In fact, I always think of Buckman during my show when I talk about diverse religion's similarities, "We all sure seem to worship in the same way: we recite prayers, we make sacrifices, we wear special garments, we use special objects." I think that is practically a quote from Buckman. It's a good read and I recommend it to anyone who wants to find the way to "be" without God.

16. God’s Funeral, A.N. Wilson

This is when I began to wonder how the study of philosophy dealt with the evidence against God. What is philosophy without God? I thought this book would answer that. It really didn’t – BUT, I really liked how it told the story of God and philosophy, doubt and belief, in the nineteenth century and it’s repercussions today. This book made me realize that even what we are experiencing now in our country is a tale retold over and over again in recorded history – as the waves of realization hit us over who we are and what we know about ourselves and the world. In any case, this book doesn’t really discuss modern doubt, but after I read it I realized that I was staunchly on the side of the Doubters. (Now, for turning over ideas in ethics, I read Peter Singer – but that’s another story…)

17. The Demon Haunted World, Science as a Candle In The Dark, Carl Sagan (& Ann Druyan)

This is the book that galvanized me. Activated me. Made me realize that I couldn’t keep my lack of faith to myself anymore. I had watched the "Cosmos" television series during my quest (it was out on video and available to rent at my local video store. I didn’t see it when it was first on TV. Really, I should list “Cosmos” along with all the other books because as I was reading them I was watching that Sagan's brilliant series.) After reading "The Demon Haunted World," I could see how important it was not to let the believers get too much power over those who advocate reason and secularism. I became an activist after reading this book. I also realized how important a concept and tool science itself is! After reading the chapter “Real Patriots Ask Questions” I no longer pussy-footed around the question of God or the fall out from that belief that we live with in our culture.

So there you have it, 17 books. There are so many more, too! But for right now, I will just list these seventeen.

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving by the way -- boyfriend's mother and boyfriend's brother and boyfriend all were fabulous house guests. Lots of Scrabble, jumping on trampolines, reading and eating amazing food.

I just found out that the View (where I am appearing on Tuesday next week - December 5th) they are going to give the CD/book to the audience members. am so excited about that!


Anonymous said...

Wow, Julia, that's quite a list! It almost makes me feel cheated that I decided I didn't believe in a personal God by the time I was 10, completely on my own, despite an intensive Conservative Jewish eduction.

It isn't actually that hard to see that man created God in his image, not the other way around, though you can certainly learn all kinds of additional supporting and fascinating things about science and philosophy and so on from this wonderful selection of books.

Anonymous said...

Great list. What are you reading now, still reading these kinds of books? Pinker is great - The Blank Slate is even better than How the Mind Works, imo. This was the one that showed me that morality could be plausibly explained from a natural evolutionary model, and thus began my final break from Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Sweeney and fellow thinkers,

Thank you for the wonderful selection of reading you have mentioned. This is just the thing for those of us who lack the resource of a like minded group with which to discuss our ideas and thoughts. At you behest I am about to start with The Denial of Death by becker, and am currently finishing up Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan at this time. While we are on the topic of literature for the rationalist, can yourself or any of our fellow posters advise any works of philosophy that does not assume the imortal human soul as a forgone conclusion? Having rejected the religious basis of my previous moral and ethical code, such reading would be invaluable to it's reconstruction. Please, do not leave me with only Machiavelli's The Prince as my guide, I'd hate for my revelation to end in an inopertune thwarting by a British agent. Also, if I may ask, how exactly did you approach your admission of non-belief? Another something which our secular from birth compatriots missed out on, is having the evidence, the lack of belief, but a deep, terrible dread in actually admitting it. I liken it to standing on a precipice, slowly being pushed to the edge by evidence (played here by a crowd of soccer fans, easing forward for a closer look). You are going over, somewhere deep in the back where you can't lie to yourself, you know this. You've doubted many time, danced along the edge of the drop, but always retreated back, felt guilty for even being out there, but something always draws you back. And here you are again, but this time there is no going back, but you know once you jump there is no going back, so no matter how much you want to be down below, you can't jump, till too much evidence piles up and you have no choice, so finally full of terror so black you can taste it, you jump.....and wind up here. This is how it felt for me, would anyone else care to share how that final moment felt in the mind of the person leaving their faith? Thank you all for your paitence and especially thank you to Allison for her kind words.

-Veritas imprimis

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia

I have just dropped a copy of History of God off , as a Christmas present ( no irony there! )ps must find another name for midwinter present giving .

I liked the comments abot Ruth Hermece Green and how funny she was . This supports my own theory . If Tragedy multiplied by Time equals Comedy then Theology devided by An Enquiring mind equals Comic Reality ergo No God

PS any luck re CDs and transatlantic cousins .

Sheldon said...

Everybody be sure and visit my blog at to see Julia in this month's edition of Freethought Today, accepting the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (

Congrats, Julia!

Anonymous said...

Julia, how important is "nothingness" after death? If we do continue on, does that make a difference for you? I have the impression that it is one of your key assertions. If so, would you read and comment on "The Afterlife Experiments..." by Gary Schwartz? At least the appendix?

Anonymous said...

"Garry is still a Catholic.... I read it while I was attending Mass regularly and rededicating myself to the Church."

Two thoughts come to mind. First, I wonder what authors like Wills and Armstrong would think if they knew how their books have influenced you?

Second, isn't it odd how desperately we struggle to retain our faith, clinging to it even as we are taking steps away from it?

Moglandor said...

I was pleased to see many books that I have on my own bookshelf on your list. It got me thinking about what books were key points in my own journey to non-belief. For me it's hard to pinpoint because I don't really remember when exactly I started thinking of myself as an atheist. But, I would have to say the book that started it all for me (aside from the Bible, which certainly played a big part) was The Demon-Haunted World. I gave it to my mom to read several years ago. She's someone who really likes to believe - not just in God, but psychics, past lives (she was on the Titanic!) and all manner of stuff. She never read the book, and I never got it back. It just kind of disappeared.

Well, I've been thinking about how I should conduct myself as a non-believer around my parents a lot lately. You see, a few months ago my dad was diagnosed with a very serious cancer, glioblastoma. The average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with it is about a year, with treatment. Over Thanksgiving my mom told me she was reading a Deepak Chopra book about the afterlife. I immediately thought of your treatment of Mr. Chopra in Letting Go of God. Under different circumstances I probably would have said something along the same lines, but I just nodded and smiled. It was clear she really, really wanted to believe - felt she had to in fact. Later the same evening she went on and on about a book she'd recently read about angels and this person who had cancer who didn't believe in angels and then did, and the angelic miracles that convinced him, etc. Again I just kind of nodded and didn't say anything. Several years ago I jokingly told her that when she gave all of her money to a psychic to contact dad, she shouldn't come crying to me. (At the time my dad was perfectly healthy, so it was maybe a bit dark, but still funny.) I'm starting to wonder if it might really happen. There probably isn't a perfect way to approach the subject of God or the supernatural right now with my parents, so I'll probably go on nodding and smiling. But I'll continue to wonder if its better to be sensitive not to disrupt my parent's beliefs at what seems like an inopportune time, or if I'm doing them a disservice or being dishonest with them, and that maybe now is the time for forthright-ness.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I've enjoyed reading your blog and hearing what you've had to say.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting your booklist that led to your journey of becoming an atheist. I was wondering if during this same time, you also read books that pointed to God and/or Christianity? For example, did you read any of C.S. Lewis and did you explore apologetics resources in your questions regarding the Bible? If so, I would be interested in seeing those listed as well. If not, is there any reason why?

Anonymous said...

Just got my CD of Letting Go of God. I have to order more for friends and family.

I was in sixth grade (Catholic School) when I read "Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects"
by Bertrand Russell. I already had my doubts about all the religion crap. I let go of religion but hung on to being an altar boy for another year. I got to serve the funerals - got paid and got out of school. I finally quit that too.

Anonymous said...

Response to mcglk (anonymous):

Your refusal to acknowledge there are serious problems with the concept of life being created by chance, and the mathematical odds against it happening, is proof of the fact that you are as closed minded as an atheist as you accuse creationists of being. You jealously guard your belief in anti-theism and refuse to consider any facts to the contrary as much as fundamentalist do in their belief in God.

You say that you discount Hoyle's mathematical probability findings regarding abiogenesis. Do you likewise discount Francis Crick, who died believing in panspermia because of his conclusion that life spontaneously generating on Earth was essentially impossible? Yes, the quote I gave was from his 1981 book. You say that we know alot more now. However, even with all this increased knowledge, Crick did not revise his position regarding panspermia nor did he revoke the quote I supplied, to wit: ""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."

You do nothing to refute the merits of Crick's position, instead, you supply another quote from him in which he criticizes young Earth Christian fundamentalists. So what? The discussion is about the scientific likelihood of life spontaneously generating. My quote addressed that point. Yours is off subject. If anything, it supports my use of Crick as a valid source for my point.

Although we may know alot more now than we did 25 years ago, what we know now reinforces even more the staggering improbability of abiogenesis. And with all this new knowledge we have gained, what do you cite as scientific support for your position? The Miller-Urey experiment.

You state: "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.)" You are extremely misinformed about creationists which leads me to believe that you have never studied any of their writings or visited any creationist websites. For you see, creationists love to discuss the Miller Urey experiment because it has gone so far to DISPROVE spontaneous creation. Your reliance on that experiment as support for your argument demonstrates just how weak your argument really is.

You are aware, are you not, that the experiment used methane, ammonia and hydrogen and that was used because they speculated that such components were NECESSARY to form life - not, mind you, that such components were actually present at the time life would have been formed. Are you also aware that the "new knowledge" that we have gained is leading to the conclusion that the atmosphere was actually very different from that assumed by Miller at the time of his experiment? Two biology textbooks have now inserted disclaimers that the experiment was based on suppositions about Earth's atmosphere that are no longer accepted - Glencoe and Holt.

The other problems with the experiment is that Miller purposely created an environment that would be helpful to creation of the building blocks of life, but which were not really realistic. For example, he used a select wavelength to produce amino acids and screened out other wavelengths because they destroy amino acids. Yet both chemical-building and chemical-destroying light exists in sunlight. He also had to remove many contaminants and impurities to obtain pure compounds that are not normally found in life. Otherwise, his apparatus would have produced many destructive cross-reactions. There is also the serious problem that the presence of oxygen would cause to the results. Even with all the artificial conditions he set up, the experiment produced only trace amounts of several of the simplest biologically useful amino acids. The experiment failed to support the hypothesis.

Moreover, the experiment did not even begin to show that the actual necessary components of a cell could be formed spontaneouly for there is still the problem of how information can be translated. Since you like my quotes so well, I'll provide another: "What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But … the machinery by which the cell (at least the non-primitive cell, which is the only one we know) translates the code consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA. Thus the code can not be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code.
‘Thus we may be faced with the possibility that the origin of life (like the origin of physics) becomes an impenetrable barrier to science, and a residue to all attempts to reduce biology to chemistry and physics." Karl Popper, Studies in the Philosophy of Biology, 1974. This quote may again be way out dated for you but since you relied on an experiment that was conducted in 1953, I think it is appropriate.

In over 50 years since the Miller Urey experiment was conducted, the brightest minds in the world have not been able to improve on the results" they achieved. Yet, you apparently believe that "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." And those conditions MUST HAVE existed because we are here, correct? Your faith in that inevitability is interesting since the scientific evidence for it is sorely lacking. In all of your post supporting your position, the only scientific authority you offer is the flawed Miller Urey experiment.

So Fred Hoyle underestimated the odds rather badly, and I guess you would say that Francis Crick underestimated them rather badly also.

Then, in response to my Woese quote, you say: "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." That's not science, my friend, that's faith. Had I used those same words to justify quandaries regarding God that I cannot explain, you would most certainly have protested regarding the ridiculousness of such a position. However, place those words in the context of science and they become perfectly reasonable. No double standard there is there?

Finally, your Cheerios analogy, while amusing, is really so far off the path as to be silly. Cell structure ain't Cheerios floating in a bowl of milk. Last time I checked, Cheerios do not translate information to each other. The structure of a cell is enormously complex. Your analogy is similar to comparing an abacus to the world's supercomputers, only worse. Perhaps others will accept such simplistic arguments, but anyone who spends just a little time reading about microbiology will know that you are digging yourself into a hole rather than concede a point that brillant minds already have.

Sheldon said...


If you spent HALF the time studying real science that you seem to have spent laboring under the wrongheaded opinions of the religious and quasi-spiritual writers/teachers, you'd have several PhDs by now.

As you tend to write so very much, I won't spend much time trying to refute your assertions (and there are just so many from which to choose!), but I will take a moment to point out that, had you done a bit of research outside of Creationism writers' work, you'd have discovered that your hero, Francis Crick, was an outspoken Atheist and most certainly did NOT advocate Panspermia.

Here's a quote attributed to him which shows how wrong you are about his support of Creationism:

"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." -The Astonishing Hypothesis

And another:
"Creation-science' simply has no place in the public-school science classroom." - Statement from a 1987 case before the Supreme Court that Crick signed along with other Nobel laureates.

Dr Crick was also a longtime financial supporter of the Skeptics Society (, and someone who brought respectability back to the study of Consciousness (after a long hiatus during which it was dominated by woo-woo practitioners and other pseudoscientists). For a wonderful eulogy for Dr Crick by Michael Shermer, go to:

Julia Sweeney said...

Yes, it's me, responding to my own blog post! How odd. Anyway, Michael's question about whether I had included any Christian texts in my reading made me want to stop my whole life just to answer him. Yes, yes, I did. And you are so right, I should have included them. I did read C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity and all the rest. I can't spend the time to refute his work here, but I will include a recently written article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik about Lewis and his "Christianity" which is really lovely. I read a lot of quasi new-agey stuff: Zen & the Brain, The Tao of Physics, that kind of thing. I will try to write more about this. I was really including only the books that "took" so to speak. I will add another post with the Gopnik quote.

Julia Sweeney said...

The Adam Gopnik piece about C.S. Lewis in The New Yorker: and this is merely a section, go find it on the New Yorker site for the full article, which is really fantastic.

Gopnik writes: (he is writing about Lewis' insistance that the Jesus myth is real, even though other myths - while beautiful, are NOT real)

"For poetry and fantasy aren’t stimulants to a deeper spiritual appetite; they are what we have to fill the appetite. The experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual, is . . . an experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual. To hope that the conveyance will turn out to bring another message, beyond itself, is the futile hope of the mystic. Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none of their light because someone lit the candle. It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes."

It's so true. That's where we all meet. We need fantasy and myths and stories. it's just that some of us insist they are true and other people recognize them for their deeper worth -- that they are expressions of our own deep needs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update Julia. I'm glad to see that you did read Lewis, although you reached a different conclusion than he. When you get a chance in the future, I would be interested in seeing those other books you read.

Anonymous said...

Boy that guy Michael seems a bit angry.

I'm so glad to have found this blog, and glad to have the reading list! I must buy a few and start reading. After "state of denial" of course.

Like a previous responder, I think I let go of God early in my teens, and so never really gave it the educated and rational examination it deserved. That's why I like Julia's work and this blog.

Anonymous said...


I'm curious. What is it about my posts that cause you to remark that I seem angry and how does it compare with the responses to me from others, such as, for example, Sheldon? Do you find them to be angry as well?

Anonymous said...


I do not have several PhDs, but I can read. I also understand logical constructions of arguments. You seem to think that since I've referred to Crick, I must think he is a creationist. That is really humorous. You obviously have not been reading what I've written very carefully because you've missed the point entirely. I referred to Crick because of his stature in his field, the fact that he is an antheist, AND the fact that he could not find spontaneous creation a plausible theory. Why that is hard to understand is beyond comprehension.

You also said: "Francis Crick, was an outspoken Atheist and most certainly did NOT advocate Panspermia." I don't know if you're playing semantics (directed panspermia vs. panspermia) or just misinformed. Here's a blurb from "A second prominent proponent of panspermia is Nobel prize winner Professor Francis Crick, OM FRS, who along with Leslie Orgel proposed the theory of directed panspermia in 1973. This suggests that the seeds of life may have been purposely spread by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization". You might also read his book, Life Itself.

Anonymous said...

Going back to a topic and book listed above, Susan Blackmore's theories on near-death experiences no longer have much respect among serious researchers in the field of near-death studies.

During the past 30 years, near-death experiences have been the focus of many scientific studies at universities and medical centers throughout the U.S. and around the world. You can read about them on the website of the International Association for Near-Death Studies at In particular, you might want to check under the Research tab for a published papers outlining new findings from the most current research. Many medical professionals who have seriously studied the research – and it is extensive – no longer dismiss this phenomenon as hallucinations or pharmacologically induced.

I recently attended a 4 day conference on NDEs at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that reviewed in detail 30 years of research on NDEs. Audio files and DVDs of the presentations should be available soon on the website above, and conference papers will be available next year.

Fargofan1 said...

I was happy to see The Demon-Haunted World on your list, as it was such an eye-opening book for me. I borrowed it from a Unitarian Universalist church library, when I lived alone and felt kind of adrift.

The only downsides of my new interest in science are that (1) now I feel even more alienated from my religious family, and (2) I hate to say this, as it plays into the stereotype Carl attacks in DHW, but...I feel...nerdy. Well, nerdier. :) No offense, all.

Sheldon said...


It's impossible to read what you write carefully because you write novels, not comments. You also tend to ramble, so you're probably correct in your assertion that I've misunderstood you. And since you seem to want to argue with people on here rather than actually debate or learn anything, I don't have a lot of motivation.

Do you really think that Julia's fans and followers are going to be persuaded or otherwise affected by what you post on here? All you seem to do is post point after point after point, providing reference after bizarre reference, and then you blame people for not understanding you.

The people who frequent this blog are mostly like-minded people who want to share their thoughts on the subject of God (or, more specifically, the nonexistence of God). They don't come here to suffer your proselytizing.

Mcglk said...

Before I had my Moment (the instant in time when I finally realized that atheism meant enlightenment), I wound up reading a tremendous number of books, on either side of the issue. Of course, I'd had the Bible and various other religious works crammed down my throat from a very early age, but I was also fascinated with science from a very early age. You can imagine what sort of internal conflicts that generated.

I had been becoming more and more open to the possibility that my faith was quite possibly misplaced. But what encapsulated the objectivist argument for me? Carl Sagan’s book Contact. Sagan and Druyan, in the character of Ellie Arroway, write eloquently about the nature of science and faith, and about other ways to see the universe untethered by myth and presupposition.

The impact on me was profound. To this day, I still don't know why Sagan's other works (all of which I'd read to date) didn't have the same impact—I suspect it was because I'd gotten really good at separating science from religion in my own mind, living in a sort of bifurcated prison of my own manufacture (but all the parts were bought at the Home Depot of American Fundamentalism). But Contact galvanized me—and led directly to a crisis of faith that hit me some weeks after I read it the first time.

Sagan had several failings, by all accounts. But his eloquence and thoughtfulness wound up meaning a lot to me, and helped free me from the irrationality and irresponsibility of religion.

Thank God. ;)

Mcglk said...


So far, you've (a) ignored most of my points, (b) dismissed most of my analogies because you seem to have trouble with the concept of analogy, (c) questioned my motivations, (d) dismissed facts by claiming that they're opinion, (e) been very selective about what quotes you consider valid from any given source, and (f) show every sign of picking and choosing your way through the debate. All of which leads me to believe that you're here to proselytize, not actually discuss, or run the risk of learning anything new, or challenging your weakly founded beliefs.

Alas, the crux of the creationist argument boils down to "nuh-uh, did not, not listening, LALALALA," and spending time trying to get past that is simply wasted time.

Michael, not that you're interested in fact (I know it's much more fun to make unfounded assertions), but I was raised with some of the finest creationism ever produced. I knew it cold, inside and out, and spent years trying to force it to make sense. In the end, the bottom line was that science was at least trying to find out the truth—and the creationist viewpoint was all about doing everything it could to discount the truth, to the point of lying about the facts.

When all was said and done, I simply couldn't take the willingness to distort and deceive anymore. The picking-and-choosing, the hypocrisy inherent in the arguments, the sniffling superiority of faith, of the favored status of being God's children—it was all based on flawed argument and polite zealotry, and it was ultimately destructive, not just to myself, but to those around me, and to the truth. Even if it was God's universe, it would have done Him a grave disservice by working to distort and minimize His creation. Even as a believer, I grew to feel that following the creationist point of view (using many of the same arguments you have) was a dishonorable path, and it was one of the things that started propelling me towards questioning the existence of God.

As someone who is still recovering from religion, after nearly twenty years, it is disheartening to encounter the same tired old arguments again, particularly from someone who wants nothing to do with fact. But that's the challenge that atheism faces: creationism is easy because it requires no real thought or effort—in fact, thought or effort is more or less actively discouraged.

And why waste time with someone so determined to avoid all that effort?

Be content in your faith. But don't expect your "arguments" to garner much respect around these parts. You obviously missed the "SLIPPERY ROAD—BRAINS REQUIRED" sign back there.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to Moglandor who wrote:

Several years ago I jokingly told her that when she gave all of her money to a psychic to contact dad, she shouldn't come crying to me. (At the time my dad was perfectly healthy, so it was maybe a bit dark, but still funny.) I'm starting to wonder if it might really happen.

I wish your father all the best in his current challenge, and my heart goes out to your mother and your entire family. When the inevitable happens, I will gladly offer my services to your mother pro-bono so you don't have to worry about her spending all her money or being swindled by charlatans.

Believe it or not, there are intelligent, well-educated, and science-loving people out there who are testing the possibility of consciousness survival. Additionally, there are Mediums like myself who are participating in this research.

I also would like to remind the atheist on this blog that although you have made up your mind about the subject of life after death, science has not. Science is a constant investigation of ideas, not just in this country, but around the world. So please, be cautious when implying that science is on your side. It just isn't so.

Anonymous said...

Julia, you are too kind. I read C.S. Lewis in hopes of finding a thoughtful defense of Christianity.
Instead I found his writings so illogical and stupid that I was honestly amazed that they were even published!

Another point of logic. Why are some people so hung up on speculation about how the Universe began? No matter how reasonable you think your theory is, you don't know! Leave it to science which looks for actual evidence, and admit what you and science don't know instead of filling the unknown with speculation.

If you are looking for God, you shouldn't have to look to the start of the Universe. Aren't you looking for a God who is alive and exists now? Then there should be a route to this God in the here and now. This is the approach you would apply to looking for anything else that exists in the here and now.

You notice nobody discovers Jesus or the Biblical God without having been exposed to the religion first. Doesn't this tell you something? Like that these Gods are a projection of what they have been told and have no independent and therefore real existence?

I am open to the possibility that there is more to reality than we ordinarily perceive, maybe even something sacred. Science may not be applicable in every situation, but that isn't a license to descend into speculation, ancient myths and superstition as a route to truth.

I might get beat up for saying this, but I, along with Sam Harris, think that the best of Buddhist and some similar philosophies, give an approach to spirituality which is not superstitious or fear-based, or speculative or dogmatic, or based on alleged history, and it does not contradict with science.

Ex-Crusader said...

Ever since my departure from the evangelical faith I have wondered how it is that intelligent seeming people manage to remain. There were so many holes and questions when I was a believer. I was quite good at the mental gymnastics necessary to find explanations or excuses for god.

It intrigues me that anyone can be well-educated and assert that they have some kind of proof that god exists. I still have friends in the faith that have college educations and seem like intelligent people. Yet, when it comes to god they seem to refuse to see the very legitimate problems with christianity.

Michael seems to be one of these people. He doesn't want to discuss the foundations of his faith here since the discussion mainly adresses science/evolution. I would guess Michael wouldn't want to seriously discuss the foundations of his faith in an honest manner at all as it's easier to argue vague concepts about creation than the legitimacy of the bible.

Anonymous said...

Julia writes "It's so true. That's where we all meet. We need fantasy and myths and stories. it's just that some of us insist they are true and other people recognize them for their deeper worth -- that they are expressions of our own deep needs."

I love this so, so much. And, I may be an idealist (scratch that, I'm definitely one) but I don't think the divide between believers and non-believers has to be as cavernous as all that. (I guess maybe that's where the agnostics live.)

Frankly you, an atheist, have summed up my beliefs beautifully. This is how I'm teaching my children-- there are facts, scientific things that are verifiable, such as evolution and gravity (although the details may change over time). Then there are myths and stories, which I think we cheapen by trying to make them into facts. Their truth is on another (not higher) level.

It's true that I don't *know* if Jesus really existed or Buddha achieved nirvana or any of that. I find deeper value in the stories, and I think if they are presented that way (like Jesus's parables-- who cares if those people really existed?) then they are stripped of their power to wield guilt and feelings of inadequacy.

Ian Parker said...

I don't really want to argue for or against God here. I do however warn you that I believe Stephen Pinker contains a lot of dangers for society.

Pinker seems to equate ethics with concepts of kinship (the selfish gene. This could be construed to give a green light to racism and to some extent also to nationalism.

Empirically we can say that all the atheist states so far (Revolutionary France, The Soviet Union and Maoist China) have been intensely nationalist and frequently racist. Quite clearly in a global village this is totally unacceptable.

Of course, as Dawkins rightly points out, social and political requirements do not make religion true. It should however give us pause for thought.

Dawkins says that without religion the twin towers would still be standing. I wonder. In fact extreme Islam is an expression of Arab racism which would just as easily find extression in atheism.

No D, the world in which the twin towers would still be standing is a coffee coloured world where there was little or no racial consciousness.

Gus said...

Thanks for the list Julia! I have read the blog for years and have tried to read some of the books you've mentioned along the way. Right now I'm reading "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Good stuff.

Ex-Crusader said...

"Have you read any of Bart D. Ehrman's books? My favorite (which is the most accessible, IMHO) is "Misquoting Jesus."

I've read a few Ehrman books as well. My "journey" has been quite similar to his though I'm no biblical scholar.

Anonymous said...

Julia thanks for the endcap idea. I'm ording in your choices and putting them on a display called "Sweeney's Way" still trying to order your "Letting go of God" CD into our B&N store. Hey where is Rebecca?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great reading list! I too have read Karen Armstrong's books. I have also read a LOT of your blog, and have really enjoyed it. You might find it interesting that your views about "god" are not too far off from those of a Reconstructionist Jew. You might also want to check today's NY Times web site for an editorial that seems to dance around but at bottom is anti-atheist. It also reaffirms my belief that no atheist could ever hold high political office in this country. I'd love to hear your comments on it.

Anonymous said...

An excellent list that looks very familiar to me. The only aspect that is not listed on your list here that I explored was Cosmology, I recommend The Universe in a Nutshell by Hawking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Sweeney,

I for one appreciate your response to your own post. I fear I have been in a bit of a fit of zealotry myself the last few days, and the last thing I would consider was giving value to ill founded myth. But as usual your eventemperedness had me pull in my reins and think for a second. How moved was I as a child with the stories of Arthur and his Knights, one of the first quotes I every memorized was his epitaph in latin, latin because it sounded magical *goofy grin*. Also sitting in 8th grade study hall, finishing the last of the Prydain Chronicales by lloyd Alexander, fighting back tears so as not to embarrass myself. Maybe where religion is concerned, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. Many of the stories can still move one without having to accept them as fact. I don't know if that is really possible for me as a post-believer, but it is definately worth a thought or two. As to the current debate with Michael, I must say we are all getting a little touchy. Lots of ad hominum flack is being thrown both ways, just take a breath before you post in passion so to speak. It can be VERY frustrating to debate with an intractable adversary, but we change no ones mind who is in full defense mode form personal attacks. I admit myslef to getting a bit flustered looking up some of the things Michael posts and thinking of refutations, but as much as his final opinion differs from mine, I do believe he is here in good faith with what he feels are valid points to debate with us. If only all believers were so willing to talk as civily.

Timwarp - Thank you so much for bringing up Misquoting Jesus. That is a phenonomial book! (spelling isn't my strong point if no one's noticed :P ) From my reading the author is still a believer, but insights on the history of the biblical texts leve little if any room for one to believe in it's literal infalibility. I would highly recommend it to anyone questioning their faith or not.

Lastly I have yet to read anything by the estemed Dr. Dawkins. Might anyone suggest a good opening text? And is his writing as abrasive as he seems in interviews? Angin I thank you all for your indulgences.

- Veritas Imprimis

Sheldon said...

Hi all!

I'd like to take a moment to recommend "The God Part of the Brain," by Matthew Alper. His is basically an argument that we EVOLVED our belief in a god (or gods) as a result of an awareness of our own mortality. In other words, once we evolved into a creature with self-awareness and enough intelligence to realize that we'd die someday, we had two choices: 1) complete mental meltdown; or 2) unconciously invent a protector and an after life. It sounds predictable and simplistic when I describe it, but check out the book and you'll be amazed!

Oh, and I tried reading some of Bart D. Ehrman's books, and I found them far too painfully complex. It wasn't necessarily the subject matter, it was the jungle of verbosity I had to hack my way through just to get to the end of the paragraph. I was further impeded by a certain bias against him once I'd seen "The God Who Wasn't There" and learned that he still believes in God. I couldn't help thinking, "Here's this man with all this stuff to say about the errors in the christian bible, and he STILL believes in this crap? How smart can he be?" I know that's an overstatement, but it's how I felt, and after suffering through two chapters of his book, it just seemed like he was trying to show off that he knew a lot of big words.

Someone also asked about Richard Dawkins, and I have to admit finding HIS books almost as difficult. I absoloutely ADORE Dawkins in his video series "The Root of All Evil" (now available on DVD in the states), and have referred many of my friends and colleagues to it, but his writing is really much more complicated than I expected...and I read psychology journals on a weekly basis in my job!

I will say, however, that what I have read of Dawkins was pretty mind blowing. I'll never think of genes the same way again (they're really the ones who are in control of us, you know!), and I haven't read his latest tome "The God Delusion," so I'll reserve judgment on that.

Anonymous said...


The over-all point that you are missing, is that these HUGE odds you keep talking about support OUR position, not yours. The huger the odds the longer the time and bigger the space we're talking about, the more likely it is that something like what mlgk is describing happened.

The second point you miss is that this statement: "...he doesn't understand yet, and he's having trouble coming up with a good guess." Is ABSOLUTELY science, not faith. The important word there is "yet" the scientist's approach is: "I don't understand this, lets do some more experiments, lets think about it some more, we'll figger it out. If we don't, we might lay down the groundwork for someone else to figger it out someday." The faith approach is: "I don't get it, it MUST BE god!"

Now look at history... Do you beleive the world is flat? Do you beleive we are at the center of the universe? Do you beleive that man arrived on the planet earth 7 days after the big bang, that god created dinosaur fossils? No, of course not... but those are the assertions your approach has made throughout history (and some crazy motherfuckers still make today)

How many of these conflicts does science have to win before you realize that our approach is the right one?

Anonymous said...


One more thing: don't pay any mind the polite people who politely tell you that you're bothering us. that's bullshit. I'll be rude and make fun of you, but i will always welcome you back, for more abuse if nothing else.

a bunch of atheists talking to each other about atheism is not only wrong headed, close-minded, and all-to-similar to church, it's also incredibly dull.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Turk,

Firstly, while you have made it quite clear that politeness is something you have no desire to be accused of, please keep in mind that people of all ages read this post, not the least of which would be Ms. Sweeney's own child, so do attempt to be less coarse in your choice of language.

Secondly, I would think that by and large most if not all of the posters on this blog welcome Michael's discussion even if we do not agree with him. I find that he at least frames his points on relevant discussable material, with no appeals to "....because the bible says so." That should rate our respect if nothing else.

And finally, while the preventing of voicing differing views is indeed closed minded, seeking out others of similar views with the goal of discussing the deeper points of your personal philosophy without having to re-lay the groundwork everytime is far from wrong headed, it is quite productive and indicitive of a community, which is what atheists as a whole lack and some such as myself appreciate. And if civil discource is too terribly dull for your tastes, there is no end of open verbal warfare on the net. Google and enjoy.

-Veritas Imprimis

Anonymous said...

in response to Ian Parker-

I haven't read Pinker, but I caution you against jumping to the conclusion that if someone says altruism is rooted in selfish genes that caused us to evolve a sense of kinship, that person is giving a green light to racism.

Some sociobiologists do go too far, like I said, I don't know if Pinker does. The possibility that racism (or rape, as other goofballs have asserted) might have created some kind of competitive advantage at sometime in our prehistory does NOT provide any kind of green light for it today. We aren't living in the kind of prehistory that they theorize, if it's in our biology to rape and kill each other, then our biology has some catching up to do. In the meantime we have free will and self control, and so we have responsibility to overcome our biology.

Also, the correlation between the atheist states you mention and their nationalism/racism is not causal. The root problem with those states was that they were totalitarian. They don't allow any other organizations to have any power, that means no church and no minority ethnic identities allowed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Julia. I realize this took awhile, but we're glad to have this list.

Sheldon said...

Ian Parker:

Finally, something I'm an expert on!

Like Ben, I haven't read Pinker. But, there is good evidence that every culture that's ever existed has had racism (or some form of it). It's also evident prima facie that we are genetically programmed to prefer those who look like us (or at least those who look like the people we imprinted upon as family as we grew up).

Evidence of this lies in numerous findings in Psychology. Among them are the Mere Exposure Effect. This is the tendency to prefer things (even random shapes) that we've been exposed to for extended periods. One researcher published a blind study in which he drew random symbols on a classroom chalkboard and exposed his students to them throughout the semester (some for only a week, some for several weeks, and some for the entire semester). He then repeated the procedure in another class, randomizing the shapes again. In the end, the research found that students tended to prefer those to which they'd been exposed the most, regardless of which shapes they were.

In other studies, it's been found that Black children adopted by White families tend to feel the same sort of "non-affiliation" with Blacks that Whites report. This is especailly true of those raised in all White neighborhoods, away from exposure to other Blacks. Moreover, research shows that people tend to unconsciously choose mates who have similar facial features (but not too similar) to those of our family. Interesting, people who were adopted choose mates with features like their ADOPTED family (those whom their imprinted brains tell them are family). The results suggest that we prefer those who "look like family," and suggest a genetic predisposition to judge others based on the physical traits we deem "safe."

None of this is racism per se, but it's good evidence that there's a genetic/evolutionary predisposition to the core behaviors associated with racism.

Keep in mind, though, that all disordered behaviors are simply normal behaviors increased in either frequency or intenisty. In the case of racism, we've simply bastardized a natural, evolutionary, positive tendency. Nothing in our genes tells us to pass over a job applicant based on her race, or to deny housing to someone because she "doesn't look like me," but that doesn't mean that we can't find correlates in evolution that can help us understand the behavior and, perhaps, fight against it.

Dawkins says over and over that, just because something is in our genes doesn't make it good. He says that he's 100% against Darwinian evolution in our society. But don't make the mistake of discounting the effects of evolution just because you don't like the outcome. I get that response from my students quite regularly, but most eventually come to understand that knowing about your tendencies is the only chance you have to overcome them.

I like how Ben Turk summed it up: In the meantime we have free will and self control, and so we have responsibility to overcome our biology.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that fascinating information, Sheldon.
I've noticed that Tom and Katie look alike, as do Arnold and Maria, and Brad and Angelina.

fun2bfree said...

so many posts- so much to comment upon-

Michael's argument amount to quotes which are arguments from authority which hold no logical weight and argument of personal incredulity---he can't imagine how it could be it is just impossible therefore it is God...he is in good company with such arguments--Newton said that he could not figure out how the planets were all aligned in a plane so it had to be God--others have made the same claim about other phenomena that were at their time not YET explained by natural each case EVENTUALLY the explanation was discovered by someone who (as Neal deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History put it) did not have GOD on the brain...saying God did it is to stop trying to figure it out. So far the God believers who thought this or that probem was UNSOLVEABLE have been proven wrong way too many times-and they are always so certain.
As Darwin noted "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science." (Descent of Man pg 2 2nd edition)
Abiogenesis is a riddle--Michael might read Cairns-Smiths "7 clues to the origin of life" for one novel approach to thinking about this problem...he may not be right but i am willing to bet he has thought about it in ways micheal and others like him have not.

The selfish gene= bad morality can only be made by those who never read the book where Dawknis covers this thoroughly. THe very faithful character in African Queen played by Kate Hepburn put it to Humphrey Bogart's character: "Nature. Mr Alnut, is what we are put on earth to rise above." Well- not likely quite right with regard to cause and effect, - our natural ability to adapt nature to OUR purposes is why we still are on this earth.

Also Robert Buckman--whose book Julia mentions--is a real renaissance man-- an oncologist and humorist --very very funny..not so well known in the USA as he may be in Canada- but a delightful man...I was so happy to learn he was an atheist....

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry I have been such a burden to you. I suppose it's tedious for someone who is likely used to making pronouncements about things and not having them seriously questioned to deal with dissent and debate. Speaking of debate, you made the odd comment: "And since you seem to want to argue with people on here rather than actually debate or learn anything.." Webster's defines debate as: "To argue opposing points." Pardon me for pointing out internal inconsistencies in your statements.

And thank you for acknowledging that I provide "reference after bizarre reference", as contrasted with you who provides no references to support your generalized statements. I would further note that you never seem to confront any points I have made head on, instead, you resort to condescension and arrogance as your retort.

No, I do not really expect that I am going to "persuade" anyone here as to their anti-belief. Perhaps that is not my purpose. Did you stop to consider that my purpose in being here is to raise legitimate points regarding basic issues, such as evolution, creation, and whatever else may come up, in order to see how atheists respond and what evidence they can muster for their lack of belief. It has been very educational for me thusfar. Along the way, I might actually get someone to consider something they haven't before. I realize, however, that for someone like yourself, who already knows everything in the world there is to know about everything and, therefore, is not open to nor can be taught anything new, my feeble attempts at doing so will fail miserably.

Anonymous said...


The problem of how life arose from non-life on this planet is not some "vague concepts about creation", as you put it. Rather, it's a concrete problem that many, many scientists have been struggling with for years. The fact that you seem not to want to address those issues directly, but to move the discussion to a different subject, indicates to me that you don't want to face any possible problems with your current construct.

Julia has stated that it was her discovery of science that had a profound impact on moving her from a belief in God to an atheist. This is her blog. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to discuss the scientific issues regarding creation, evolution, etc. to probe the solidity of the foundations of the belief in non-Creator existence. If you do not want to face those issues, but remain content in your cocoon of faith in what you may have heard about how we got here, that's fine. Just realize, you've traded one set of beliefs for another.

I would be happy to "seriously discuss the foundations of [my] faith in an honest manner". If you want such a discussion, why don't you start by presenting the "many holes and questions when I was a believer. I was quite good at the mental gymnastics necessary to find explanations or excuses for god." Give us some examples of your mental gymnastics.

Anonymous said...

Science does not "know" how the universe started nor how life came to be. Science may never know. But Science knows it doesn't know--that's what Science is. It's an ongoing journey, looking for answers. Personally, I don't really want the answers. Wondering how we all got here and why we're all alive is way too much fun. I can't imagine myself enjoying life if I did know for certain how it all came to be.
Empirical investigation gives us wonderful baby steps toward understanding, but still keeps us wondering.

By the way--has anyone stopped to consider whether a world full of atheists, and void of monotheists, would be a better place than the one we live in now? I wonder...

Ex-Crusader said...


Seems like everyone's got something to say to you. I can imagine you're annoyed. Perhaps this board isn't the place to discuss the legitimacy of the bible or the foundations particular to christianity. I realize the subject currently being discussed on this board is much more broad. But the subject that attracted me to the board was Julia's journey toward unbelief. I do believe that was first a journey that confronted all of the inconsistencies, problems and issues concerning the christian/catholic church.

I have no real current set of beliefs. I suspect that there may not be any kind of higher being. I don't know exactly how we got here. I know the evangelical christian church has nothing constructive to offer.

Maybe I read you wrong, but you do seem to be determined to win people over to your way of thinking on this board. From what you stated at the outset, your goal strongly resembles that of an evangelist. I don't understand why you would spend so much time and energy trying to get people to believe in creationism. It's not like them believing in some kind of creative force behind the universe is going to make them start worshipping Jesus.

Like I said in my previous post, it's a curious thing to me that intelligent people like yourself can continue to believe in mythology so easily debunked by rational thinking. It seems easier to argue abstract theories about creationism than to defend the idea that the bible is THE inerrent word of god. I won't go into the mental gymnastics particulars here since it has nothing to do with science and the origins of the universe. However, I'd be happy to debate the foundations of the christian faith in another forum if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

Julia, I have had a romance with books for as long as I can remember, and the books that others have read and found so important in their lives just as interesting as the ones I've read and profited from intellectually myself. Thanks for sharing.

Carl, I admire your magnanimous attitude toward Michael. But while his presence here is not unwelcome as far as I'm concerned, his arguements are pretty much standard creationist/intelligent design fare. Nothing in the way of evidence offering a legitimate alternative to the science he scorns and embraces by turns, depending on what point he is trying to make.

Michael, I'm not sure what else I can say that hasn't already been said so well by Julia, Sheldon and Mcglk. I think most of the atheists posting comments here have one advantage over you: they have, I suspect, been believers at one time in their lives and are not now, for whatever reasons. So your point of view is not unfamiliar to them and it's unlikely anything you say will be something they either haven't heard before or considered themselves when they were believers. And you can wangle whatever facts you're uncomfortable with for your own reasons, but doing it in a public way around people who know better is not going to enhance your credibility.

In my own case, art and the pursuit of a creative livelihood has both fulfilled my need for personal meaning in my life and given me a perspective from which an appreciation of the beauty and utter marvelousness of existence is a daily experience. It IS possible for an atheist to have spiritual values without resorting to any of the supernatural machinery connected with sky-god belief. (Actually, I like Mcglk's description of himself as an "empirical agnostic". It doesn't sound quite as harsh and defiant as "atheist", although I am perfectly content with a universe in which no god is felt or needed.

But I hope He doesn't hold that against me later on :::grin:::)

Anonymous said...

anonymous said:
"By the way--has anyone stopped to consider whether a world full of atheists, and void of monotheists, would be a better place than the one we live in now? I wonder..."

Yes I have, and the answer is a resounding YES!

I'm not going to be so simple minded as to blame religion for current and past wars- wars happen for geopolitical reasons, but it's undeniable that religion has been a very useful tool in the hand of corrupt politicians to carry out terrible and otherwise unjustifiable wars for shortsighted geopolitical ends.

Religion's primary purpose historically has been to control people and turn them against their own interests. Either by making them hate their neighbors or making them complacently accept a system that is screwing them.

A world of rational, selfish individuals would not engage in mass killings (at least not at this point in our historical development). What good, what economic benefit is a mass killing? It produces stinky corpses that have to be cleaned up, yuck. You need something like religion to make someone think that another human being is worth more dead than alive.

helensotiriadis said...

your 'letting so' certainly seems like an adventure. i've always been an atheist -- i have specific memories from kindergarten, even. have i missed out on something?

would you rather have not gone through all this? to have not believed from the start?

Realityzealot said...

Most of the books were unsurprising, and I am glad to say that I have read many of them, but I was EXTREMELY happy to see Sagan's Demon-Haunted World on this list(it gave me chills).

I completely agree with you on the motivational power of the book; it has led me to become more "activitic" as well.

Judi said...

I just was led to Julia's blog today and am delighted to see her list of books promoting reason over fairytales.

I may have missed it in someone else's response, but I didn't see mention of Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation." In a mere 91 pages, Harris exposes the emperor as the naked charlatan he is. I'm guessing Julia will be scooping up dozens of copies to give to her believer friends. How anyone can still buy the fairytale after reading Harris' book is more than I can comprehend. (But they will. Fear of death without an afterlife is too great for most people to face.)

Disneybear said...

Julia! Get yourself a free ad account with and you can make links of the book titles and get credit if people buy them. You deserve the cash if people are interested in the books because of your blog!

Anonymous said...

Julia - I saw you on The View and was simply THRILLED to have "my" spiritual journey explained so eloquently and with humor injected. I haven't experienced Cancer but I do have a condition (Retinitis Pimentosa) that causes a continual loss of eyesight. When the guest host suggested that you had given up on God because he failed to cure your brother's Cancer, I LOVED that you responded so quickly that you are not "mad" at God. I'm not mad at God either. I have simply come to the conclusion through years and years of searching and studying that like you, it's a nice story but it simply does not bare out the facts ... THANK YOU for your courage to say aloud that which many are thinking and feeling. It was a little funny, I live in NC and some of your comments were not audible (not beeped, just silent); I kept thinking "dang, this Bible Belt is censoring her!"). That's okay because you still have a lot of us out here talking!

You Go Girl! Beverly

Judi said...

I think religion--all of it--has sprung from people's fear of death. They find it untenable to accept the idea that when they die and the lights go out, that's it. You will rot in the earth or be cast to the winds as dust, but all that will be left of you will be the memories others have of you and perhaps some artifacts you may have created during your life.

I have no idea what people mean when they use the word "soul." Personality? A wispy essence? I am clueless.

But I am damned sure I am not going to be reunited with my parents anywhere, anytime. When the fat lady sings, that's it.

I do not call myself an atheist because saying I KNOW there is no God is as difficult as others saying they know there IS a God. No one can know. We can suspect, think, surmise, hope one way or the other, but no one can know.

I have no trouble whatsoever saying I DON'T KNOW. What is so hard about that? Why do I have to have an answer for everything, especially for something that is truly unknowable. People may hope, but there is no way they can know. They are afraid to die and be nothing but a memory.

I'm fine with that.

Joey C. said...

>>>>A world of rational, selfish individuals would not engage in mass killings

oh...of course not. greed and power are only for those who believe in god. keep telling yourself that.

Al Stewart said...


what is interesting here is that every book you read, with NO exceptions & because you had no prior experience doing any in depth research which made you openly vulnerable, not 1 book from from any type of Apolegist of the Judeo-Christian Faith! No wonder you came to your conclusion, so what I or anyone else. Now, here are few books to balance what you have read, after all Proverbs 11:1 states "false balances are an abomination to God"! Read these below & see how you feel & think afterwards, We Christians have NEVER subscribed to Myths or blind faith!! Look at the facts Julia, not what you are being spoon fed please:

Mere Christianity..........C.S. Lewis

Evidence that demands a verdict.....John McDowell

Why I Believe....D. James Kennedy

The Case for Christ.....Lee Strobel

The Divine Conspiracy...Dallas Willard

just to name a few. Julia, have you ever looked at the spade of the Archeologist? Did you know there is over whelming support for the Bible there? Atheits back in the 1800's denied there was ever even an Assryian Kingdom, which btw the Old Testament clearly mentions & so they stated that the Bible cannot be true! Hence, Brit Sir Walter Raliegh, Oxford educated & a devout Athiest, set off to disprove the Bible & guess what he ended up doing? Yep, his crew dug up not onloy the Assyrian Kingdom, but also the Biblical city of Niniveh where Jonah preached & Sir Walter was converted! I could go on & on & on... The sad truth is that Christians don't talk enough about this evidence! I feel like this mass loss of faith, which I acknowledge is really our fault to a large degree. What about the Moon Julia? Why is it right exactly where it is? How is it that the Bible states that it "regulates & shows the seasons", which we now know to be true today!! Who told King David about that? How is it that it's the only sattelite that shows the same face toward it' planet we know of? We now know why as the Bible states that it's light is needed & is reliable, whereas if it rotated, this would not be the case, other than the vegatation that we know now needs this "reliable" light. How is it that the Pslams tell us that the Moon "cleans the sea & holds it at bay", who told King David that? All this points to I.D. my friend. for it is true "we are fearfully & wonderfully made"!


Posie said...

Thanks for this article, very effective information.

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