What is an atheist?
An exploration of atheism by several authors over a period of several years, with the aim of exploring the naturalistic understanding of human spirituality, religion, and God(s) in detail with a minimum of proselytization. No attribution is made by, or to, the individual authors quoted within, unless deceased, who shall otherwise remain anonymous.
We are uninterested in responding to commentary, rebuttals, or challenges to the merits of anything contained within; and instead urge readers to explore the issues themselves, by independent enquiry and analysis. However corrections of factual errors which can be independently confirmed are solicited and welcome, via the comments page.
- What is an atheist ?
- Aren’t atheists afraid of Judgment Day?
- Why don’t atheists believe the word of God ?
- What exactly is their problem with the Bible ?
- What do atheists think will happen to their soul when they die ?
- Why do atheists hate Christians ?
- Isn’t it just the problem of science versus religion?
- What about Religion without God, or God without Religion?
- How can a person be spiritual yet deny God’s divinity?
The quick answer is: “a person who denies the existence of God”. Note the standard definition includes the concept of disbelief in any God, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other faith; and does not have any restraints on time, place, circumstances, or participants. Atheists simply assert there is not now, nor has there ever been a personalized, omnipotent, omniscient, super-natural entity that is responsible for the creation of life and humanity as we know it.
Atheists assert that the cosmos, our planet, and everything that has ever been here, or will be, can either be explained by scientific enquiry, or if not, then should remain an unsubstantiated theory which may be open to further examination.
Carl Sagan provided one perspective on this when he wrote:
” I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” – [Carl Sagan, 1996 in his article In the ‘Valley of the Shadow’, Parade Magazine, also Billion and Billions p.215]
Humans have the unique capacity to imagine a life and a world beyond death. It’s hard to imagine that any other creature, no matter its cognitive capacity, would be able to make the same leap. It’s also, I believe, the reason humans came up with religion – it’s hard to dissociate one from the other. Humans are more than capable of imagining fictional worlds. But imagining a life after death is to project oneself into an eternal continuity, a form of immortality.
Someone once pointed out that death is the ultimate letting go of the ego, and I believe this is a major reason we find it so difficult to confront. The Buddhists talk about the ‘no-self’ and ‘no attachments’, and I believe this is what they’re referring to. We all form attachments during life, be it material or ideological or aspirational or through personal relationships, and I think that this is natural, even psychologically necessary for the most part. But death requires us to give all these up. In some cases people make sacrifices, where an ideal or another’s life takes precedent over one’s own ego. In effect, we may substitute someone else’s ego for our own.
I have no problem with people believing in an afterlife – as I say, it’s part of the human condition – but I have a problem when people place more emphasis on it than the current life they’re actually living. Personally, I think it’s more healthy to have no expectation when one dies. It’s no different to going to sleep or any other form of losing consciousness, only one never regains it. No one knows when they fall asleep or when they lose consciousness, and the same applies when one dies. It leaves no memory, so we don’t know when it happens. There is an oft asked question: why is there something rather than nothing? Well, consciousness plays a big role in that question, because, without consciousness, there might as well be nothing. ‘Something’ only exists for ‘you’ while you are alive.
Consciousness exists in a continuous present, and, in fact, without consciousness, the concepts of past present and future would have no meaning. But more than that, without memory, you would not even know you have consciousness. In fact, it is possible to be conscious or act conscious, whilst believing, in retrospect, that you were unconscious. It can happen when you come out of anaesthetic or when you’re extremely intoxicated with alcohol or when you’ve been knocked unconscious by a blow. In these admittedly rare and unusual circumstances, one can be conscious and behave consciously, yet create no memories, so effectively be unconscious. In other words, without memory (short term memory) we would all be subjectively unconscious.
So, even if there is the possibility that one’s consciousness can leave behind the body that created it, after corporeal death, it would also leave behind all the memories that give us our sense of self. It’s only our memories that give us our sense of continuity, and hence our sense of self.
Then there is the issue of afterlife and infinity. Only mathematicians and cosmologists truly appreciate what infinity means. The point is that if you have an infinite amount of time and space than anything that can happen once can happen an infinite number of times. This means that, with infinity, in this world or any other, there would be an infinite number of you and me. But, not only am I not interested in an infinite number of me, I don’t believe anyone would want to live for infinity if they really thought about it.
At the start, I mentioned that I believe religion arose from a belief in the afterlife. Having said that, I think religion comes from a natural tendency to look for meaning beyond the life we live. I’ve made the point before, that if there is a purpose beyond the here and now, it’s not ours to know. And, if there is a purpose, we find it in the lives we live and not in an imagined reward beyond the grave.
To philosophical atheists the notion of a “Judgment Day” is simply a social control mechanism. Early humans dating to the Paleolithic periods from around 100,000 – 30,000 bce began engaged in ritualized burial processes with artifacts apparently intended to accompany the deceased into the hereafter. The earliest undisputed human burial dates back 100,000 years to when human skeletal remains stained with red ochre were discovered in the Skhul cave at Qafreh. Israel. Proceeding backward in time, for at least two million years, the deceased were simply left for scavengers, burned or buried as secular matters of sanitation.
Early Jewish texts did not dwell on an afterlife in their teachings. The ancient Hebrews emphasized the importance of the present life over the afterlife. As with both the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians, the afterlife, if it was considered at all, was conceived of as a pale shadow of earthly life, much like the Greek Hades. Also similar to the Greek Hades, in the Hebrew afterlife no distinction was made between the treatment of the just and the unjust after death.
The first-century Jewish historian Flavious Josephus stated that the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that founded rabbinic Judaism to which Paul once belonged, believed in reincarnation. He writes that the Pharisees believed the souls of evil men are punished after death. The souls of good men are “removed into other bodies” and they will “have power to revive and live again.
Atheists simply reject any notion of an afterlife, of a judgment day, of a heaven or hell that awaits the dead. Most take special umbrage with the Christian principle that only believers will enter the “Kingdom of Heaven” while everyone else is condemned to Hell.
Leaving aside the question of which God, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, Native American, et al, one is referring to, and how an atheist is supposed to acquire the “word of God” aside from the Christian Bible, the typical question generally means “why don’t atheists believe in God as expressed in the Bible”. Which quickly gets to the crux of the matter.
Atheists generally have very little interest in belief per se. They are much more involved in experienced, rational, testable, and physical truths which can be verified by experience, experiment, or by exercising the scientific method, which includes peer-reviewed proofs. A supposition about anything should be amenable to proof, or lacking proof, simply be left open to question, and perhaps considered as a theory for further exploration.
To an atheist, it is as meaningless to ask about their belief in God’s word as it is to ask a zoologist what color the horn is on a unicorn. If a person thinks neither Gods nor unicorns exist, nothing for sure can be known about one, unless one happens to appear sometime in the future for examination. Simply asserting the Bible contains, or literally is, the word of God, or that a horn found in the forest unequivocally belongs to a unicorn is insufficient proof.
At the base of the notion is: atheists do not think there is, or ever was a God, or any god. Atheists assert man created God, not the other way around. Which is not to say they do not know, appreciate, and perhaps cherish the power of belief in God. Belief in a particular understanding, and actions in accord with God’s word as provided, has been both a blessing, and a curse to humanity for millennia.
Atheist assert a strong preference for independent thought, rigorous analysis, finely tuned intellectual power and a practical love of truth, all of which are impossible when the questioner is shown the standard conclusions, and informed beforehand that he is expected to arrive at them, and only them.
To argue in support of a naturalistic deism detached from religion, or to assert the cosmological condition with specific and universal laws based on physics and understood science as both pointing toward the inevitable presence of a supernatural God is a supposition which has not been shown to be valid. Naturalistic deism and Universal Laws of Science do not require the existence of “God”.
Scientific examinations can explain the underlying basis for this supposition, but not that it is accurate. As Carl Sagan wrote:
“If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?….For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”>[Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]
All Religions Appear Man-made
There isn’t one single religion that has ever impressed most atheists with a belief system and sacred text that resembled anything even remotely divinely inspired. They all appear to be the man-made products of the people living in their times. Religious texts are frequently internally inconsistent, they often fail to be corroborated by history and archaeology, and they all contain the flawed cosmology and superstitions endemic of their day.
The Bible isn’t even consistent on why suffering exists, it’s also extremely vague on the details of heaven and it contains several books in the New Testament that aren’t even considered authentic (e.g. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, etc.). For novice researchers into the authenticity of the Bible, many assume most of its stories were at least historical to some extent, and then discover they weren’t.
Most of the Old Testament stories are entirely mythical and are backed up by no evidence at all, and what evidence we do have concerning the history of the Ancient Near East, falsifies the narrative.
The New Testament wasn’t written by any eyewitnesses who could have known Jesus and bears numerous signs of interpolation, alteration, geographic errors, parallels with Near Eastern mythology, and appear to be in the genre of historical fiction. The Qur’an, for example, is filled with numerous contradictions and is inconsistent not only with science but with itself. And since it claims to be the literal word of god and not just inspired by god, it therefore must be false.
Every attempt to try to twist the wording on certain verses to make it seem as if they contain scientific knowledge unknown at the time all fail. All so-called holy books contain obvious scientific inaccuracies that are often conveniently demoted to mere allegory or parable once their falsehood becomes apparent. If there was indeed an all-knowing creator who revealed himself, why would he do it in such a way that contained all the ignorance extant of that time? Why not include a few detailed verses about something like evolution, DNA, the germ theory of disease, powered flight, or any number of elements which no one else knew about at that time?
The excuses I’ve heard for this vary and are all laughable. Some theists say for example, that god wouldn’t want to give us too much evidence, because then we couldn’t reject him. What?!? So god purposely makes his revelations ridiculous and unbelievable to test our faith? This is one of the stupidest excuses imaginable. It’s just an apologetic attempt to make the religion unfalsifiable by arguing that the less evidence we have and the less plausible it sounds, the more it’s got to be true. It’s not worth any intelligent person’s consideration.
Other religions like Hinduism, Mormonism and Scientology are self-evidently false to anyone with a decent education in science, philosophy and history. Buddhism and many other Eastern religions are less like religions and more like philosophies with a religious aspect, without a deity. Still, some versions of Buddhism for example contain absurd metaphysics like reincarnation that are obviously false. There are hundreds if not thousands of other world religions that share the same self-evident falsehood that Hinduism and Mormonism contain, and many of them serve more as a cultural glue that bonds members of an ethnicity together, but nonetheless, all contain false beliefs left over from our superstitious nature. The only plausible faith-based worldview that contains a god is deism, but with deism you have a god without religion and so deism is not religious.
The Traditional Omni-God is Incompatible With Evolution
The haphazard cruelty of evolution makes it impossible to accept the belief in a traditional omni-god who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. This can even formulated this into an argument. When you look at the full picture of evolution and you consider the 4.5 billion years during which this unfolding drama played out, when there were millions and millions of species that evolved only to be snuffed out and pushed into evolutionary dead ends, and during which time there was at least 5 mass extinctions in which some 70-95 percent of all the living species on earth at that time went extinct, a person is being asked by theists to believe that this was all part of a divine creator’s plan who was sitting back and taking pleasure in watching millions of species (whose evolution he allegedly guided) get wiped out one after the other, and then starting all over again, and then wiped them out again and repeated this process over and over, until finally getting around to evolving human beings – which we are told was the whole purpose of this cruel and clumsy process.
Is one to believe for example, that the meteor that ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago which allowed mammals to evolve to become the dominant species was all part of god’s ingenious plan that he hatched even before creating the earth? Are we also to believe that god did something like this at least four other times, each time with a different planetary-wide cataclysm that resulted in millions of species suffering and dying? And to believe that an all-knowing and all-loving deity also made it so that as this evolutionary process played out, consciousness would arise so that these miserable animals would become aware of their pain and suffering that god was causing?
Just think about our hominid ancestors, who for about 6 million years consciously suffered and died from diseases, floods, droughts, famines, predators, and themselves, for absolutely no logically necessary reason before human beings even evolved. You would predict such a grim scenario under naturalism, but you certainly wouldn’t under the “all-loving” watchful eye of a theistic god. This is perhaps one reason why so many theists today still reject evolution.
So we’ve got a problem here: An all-loving deity is logically incompatible with gratuitous conscious suffering. Given our evolutionary past and the suffering it required, god would have to be either incompetent, indifferent or intentionally cruel. Grant a creator and you must grant that. There’s no logical way out of it. So honestly ask yourself, given the haphazard cruelty of our evolutionary past, what worldview does it make better sense under, theism or naturalism?
The answer is obviously naturalism. Thus, the traditional omni-god fails. And as per the logic of the ontological argument, the omni-god must be compatible with every possible world. If a world existed that is not compatible with such a being, that being cannot exist. That world is our world. So here the evidence clearly favors naturalism over theism by a long shot.
Recent scholarship asserts the Christian Bible consists of sixty six books, written by at least thirty-nine different authors over a span of 1,500 years. This accounts for the different, and sometimes contradictory passages in the Bible which refer to the same event. There are many events in the Bible that are simply not possible given our current understanding of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, and a host of other disciplines.
Many of the books, such as Leviticus, Kings, and Romans contain writings which are wholly incompatible with human life in the 21st Century. Many of the books portray God as being vindictive, cruel, highly punitive toward those who do not believe in him, and both omnipotent yet limited, all knowing yet surprised by human actions, able to speak to individuals yet is never seen and physically evidenced by crowds in recorded history.
The Old Testament appears as a testament and history of Jewish tribes beginning around 3,000 bce, whereas the New Testament appears as a result of Peter and Paul’s Church-building efforts around 30 ad. Each placed special reverence in the people of that era in the eyes of God, at least according to the texts.
It is relatively easy to create a yes/no list of what is and is not permitted in the Gospels; where in one verse something is affirmed, and the same element is denied elsewhere. Of the several score historical occurrences listed, many details of time, place, participants, sayings, and actions are fundamentally contradictory.
Practitioner’s adherence to the inerrancy of the Bible range from completely infallible, to only divinely inspired or guided. So too is the requirement to accept all teachings, commandments, and requirements en toto, or to a permissibility of adapting only selected biblical writings to the modern age.
The Arguments for God Fail
Many atheists arrive at their evaluations largely from working backwards – essentially, looking at the visible universe, finding it incompatible with a theistic god, and then concluding that theism is false. Theists on the other hand, often start at the beginning and say god is needed to get a universe first, and then once they’ve concluded that a god exists, they try and find ways to fit that god into our picture of the universe. It is there that many think they fail the worst, but this still leaves us with the origin of the universe itself.
How did it get here, if not for a god to make it? We naturally think, especially in Western philosophy, that things must be made. If you want a cup of coffee, you’ve got to make one; if you want a car, you got to make one; if you want a computer, you’ve got to make one. Things don’t just appear ready made for you out of thin air. Therefore, it seems to most people that the universe too would have to be made just like the coffee, the car and the computer are. This is what intuition tells us. But intuition fails us over and over again when dealing with how we explain the world. There is no known natural process that generates cups of coffee, cars or computers (although the laws of physics say such a random configuration of matter into them is technically possible, but extremely unlikely).
There are however, known natural processes that can result in universes, stars, planets, life, and different species of life being “created” without any need to invoke the supernatural. Although the science is not definitely set on the origin of the universe and the origin of life, there are no shortage of natural explanations given recent discoveries. But the theists says, “That’s nice, but how does the atheist explain nature itself? Nature cannot cause itself to exist.” Presumably this is because nature would have to exist before it exists in order to create itself.
But, if causes must necessarily precede their effects, as this objection holds, then god cannot have created time, because in order to cause time to exist, time would have to exist before time began to exist. It’s the same paradox. So how can it be resolved? We don’t know if the origin of our universe is the absolute origin of time. In fact, if our universe belongs to a much greater multiverse, it probably isn’t. The problems with causality and the notion of time beginning have lead many to believe that it is likely the case that the origin of time did not have a cause. The origin of time is simply like the end point on a number line when it hits the number “0?. This means we must understand the nature of time. Special relativity strongly indicates that time is a fourth dimension like space and that we live in a 4D Minkowski spacetime block universe.
There have been many philosophers and theologians (as well as scientists) who disagree with this interpretation, but the vast majority of physicists agree with the 4D model. Recently, new experimental evidence suggests that the universe is indeed static and that time “emerges” from quantum entanglement. This could be the first verifiable evidence that the B-theory of time, for which we get the 4D block universe, is the correct interpretation of Special Relativity. The block universe comes from the relativity of simultaneity and length contraction described within Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Some say this is only due to our inability to measure “absolute time” due to limitations on our instruments but there are several paradoxes that cannot be resolved in Special Relativity without appealing to an actual relativity of simultaneity, such as the ladder paradox and its many variations.
In all, the evidence comes down much stronger in the case for a 4D block universe as opposed to Newtonian time that many A-theorists hold to. If so, that means the block universe simply has an end in which time appears to “begin” but really is just a low point in entropy as described by the second law of thermodynamics. The mere existence of such paradoxes, and of relativity itself is not what you would expect to find in a theistic universe.
The Newtonian notions of absolute space and absolute time would be expected if theism were true, not a universe where space and time are relative. The Kalam Cosmological Argument relies entirely on 4D space-time being false and so it must presuppose the A-theory of time to be true. This is one of the main reasons why it fails: it is intuitively based on a notion of time that science has ruled to be false. Furthermore, the first premise of the KCA, that everything that begins to exist requires a cause, actually negates free will.
If a person’s actions and intentions are require causes, then they’re causally determined. To say that a person’s soul causes them only pushes the cause back one step. What caused the soul to cause a person’s thoughts? You’d get a regress of causes going back at least to the big bang, which is essentially what determinism provides.
So either the KCA is false, or there is no free will. It’s a dichotomy for the theist. The only hope left for the theist is to posit the Cosmological Argument from Contingency, which says the universe is contingent and therefore requires an explanation, and that that explanation is god. This argument presupposes the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which cannot be justified without assuming it first. Atheists don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking as many questions as we can, but we are prepared to accept that the eternal block universe we live in may be a brute fact. We would add to this that overall, given the evidence we have, the naturalistic hypothesis offers greater explanatory power than the theistic hypothesis, and so we would argue that brute facts of existence over the sufficient reasons required by theism is better justified.
The theist after all cannot logically prove that there aren’t any brute facts, and an eternal, static, block universe is about what we’d expect a brute fact of existence to look like. The Fine-Tuning Argument we don’t think gets off the ground because of the incompatibility of an omni-god with the unnecessary conscious suffering of evolution. It also makes it appear as if god himself must conform to the laws of physics and can only create a life-bearing universe just one way. If god can do anything, he should be able to create such a universe an infinite number of ways, and even create ones that contained life but weren’t fine tuned for it.
Our universe is most likely part of an unbelievably vast multiverse, which most likely explains why the physical constants are said to be “fine tuned” the way they are. Even so, we have no idea what ranges they can take and presume their values can be infinite. We contend there is enough evidence from within the universe from the evidence mentioned above that rules out any fine tuner, and we can confidently say that it is we who are fine tuned for the universe, not the other way around.
Although we think it’s probably the best arguments for god, the Fine-Tuning Argument gets it ass-backwards, as always, and since any such creator to our universe would have to be either incompetent, indifferent or cruel, it seems implausible how such a being would be capable of such exquisite fine tuning in the first place.
The Moral Argument is just another failed attempt to make god into a required being. How can we have objective morality, it is asked, if there is no god? Thus it is argued that if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist, but they do, so god exists. Enter the Euthyphro Dilemma: Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it’s good? The first part makes morality arbitrary, and the latter makes god irrelevant to what’s good. The standard response is that god is the good – god is the ontological foundation of goodness because he is intrinsically loving, compassionate and fair, etc. But then we can ask, is god good because he has these properties or are these properties good because god has them?
In order to avoid compromising god’s sovereignty and admitting that these properties are good independently of god, the theist who wants to hold to the moral argument must say that these traits are good because god has them. But how is love, compassion, fairness or any other positive attribute good only because god has them? They would be good irrespective of god’s existence, as would be evident by their effects. The theist would bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that they wouldn’t be good without god, which we haven’t yet seen anyone successfully achieve.
Thus we say objective moral values exist independently of god. Duties on the other hand are more tricky. We simply don’t believe in objective duties in the sense that they’re issued from some kind of cosmic police officer. Duties arise primarily from social obligations, or obligations to principle. Under secular ethical systems, we need to appeal to reason to understand our obligations to one another, not commandments. Besides, the other major hurdle that divine command theory suffers from is the epistemic problem. That is, even if people believe in god, no one is going to fully agree on what god or what version of god is the correct one, or what commands are authentic and how to properly interpret them.
You’re going to be faced ultimately with moral relativism in practice, as is evident from the wide range of beliefs and practices of all religions. Thus the moral argument fails in theory and in practice. The last major argument for god is the Ontological Argument. There are too many version of it to mention, but they all involve either claiming that if a maximally great being is possible, then it therefore must exist, or if a maximally great being is conceivable, it would be better for it to exist than not exist, and so it therefore exists. The OA fails for a number of reasons.
First, given the logic backing up the OA, if god is by definition the greatest conceivable being, then I can easily conceive of a being greater than Yahweh, or Allah, or any other conceived deity, and so therefore none of these gods can exist. The OA therefore actually disproves the god of Abraham. Secondly, it presumes an objective standard by which maximal greatness can be determined and god can be measured up against, and therefore it undermined the moral argument. Thus the ontological and the moral arguments are actually incompatible with each other.
And finally, we would add by saying that an omni-god is not logically compatible with the actual world, as we’ve argued above, and since a maximally great being must be compatible with every possible world, if it isn’t compatible with one world it cannot exist. We don’t have the space here to critique all of the most prominent arguments for god, but we address most of them here, including the Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, Craig’s argument that math proves god’s existence, presuppositionalism and many others.
The bottom line with popular evidentialist arguments for god is this: The Kalam Cosmological Argument undermines the Moral Argument by undermining free will; the Ontological Argument undermines the Moral Argument by assuming that there’s an objective standard of maximal greatness that exists independently of god, and the Moral Argument undermines the Ontological Argument by making it circular, in that god would turn out to be the standard by which god is being determined by.
Many theists still wonder where their sense of “God” comes from. Why do almost all humans have a capacity to sense the awe and wonder commonly attributed to the divine? Evidence suggests that this is a neural-chemical process of the brain that has evolutionary underpinnings. Evolution has embedded the predilection to notice patterns and to invoke agents when there aren’t any, in a phenomena known as patternicity and agenticity, respectively. Our hominid ancestors lived in a world of danger, and they weren’t yet at the top of the food chain. If a noise was heard in the grass it was better to assume it might be a dangerous predator than just the wind. If they were wrong, they made a false positive, that is they incorrectly thought something was there that actually wasn’t, and no harm was done.
If, however, they assumed it was just the wind and it turned out it was a predator, they made a false negative, that is they incorrectly assumed there wasn’t something there when there was, and they likely lost their life as a result of it. So evolution has made it so that false positives are much better to have than false negatives. We experience this all the time. When we’re walking down a dark, menacing looking street at night and we hear a noise, we tend to assume it’s someone or something that might harm us – because we’ll be more prepared and more likely to survive if we do.
And nature gives us clear evidence that this is true. Just look at the behavior of animals who are at the bottom or middle of the food chain – they live in constant fear and paranoia and jump at the slightest noise or movement because of the evolutionary benefits of false positives.
What does all this mean? It means that seeing patterns and agents that aren’t there is hardwired into our brains by evolution, and this forms the basis for why we tend to attribute random, natural events as being the product of intentional agents. This manifests itself into the belief in spirits, demons, angels, ghosts and gods. “The problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old,” writes skeptic Michael Shermer in The Believing Brain, “whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old.”
In addition, the neural-chemical transmitter dopamine may be one of the most important chemical elements of belief. It has often been called the “reward” drug because neurons release it when a received reward is determined to have been more than expected, and this reinforces the organism to repeat the behavior that lead to the firing of the neurons that produced the dopamine release. This is why religious belief is ultimately emotional, not logical. Religions create rituals often in social contexts that are designed to bring about feel-good sensations which result from the release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine. This causes people to want to do that same behavior again and again.
Just think of all the monks who are trying to reach “nirvana” by repeating the same meditative ritual over and over again, or think of the way many theists will sometimes cry out emotionally as they ritualistically pray and chant in unison. These experiences are incredibly powerful on an emotional level and this feel-good response is what often draws people into religions and cults and into perceiving what they’d often attribute to as being the “divine” or some “higher power,” when really it’s all in their brain.
And the fact that this happens ubiquitously in various different religious as well as in secular contexts further demonstrates that it is the product of neural-chemical processes in the brain. The theist might simply want to brush off these findings or say that god used evolution to put a sort of divinitatis into human beings, but then we’re back to the problem I mentioned above concerning the cruelty that evolution requires and its incompatibility with an all-loving, morally perfect deity.
If god wanted to put a sense of the divine into us, he could have simply just put it into us using his supernatural power. There’s no logically necessary reason why god would’ve had to use one of the most violent means available like evolution. So as it turns out, under naturalism, we not only have an explanation why people tend to believe and sense the presence of things that aren’t there, we would actually expect it.
God is Not a Fully Coherent Concept
Agnostics argue that “God” doesn’t even appear to be a coherent concept. The idea of a “necessary” being who knows everything and can do everything logically possible, yet is timeless sounded impossible. A being who is infinitely good and loving, yet designed a world with a hell for a person to go to just in case they didn’t take that leap of faith to believe in him sounded infinitely evil. A god who also conveniently doesn’t give you proof that he exists and purposely made the world exactly as it would look if naturalism were true sounded deceptive. What a character!
Some god concepts however are more loving than others, but given the problems with evolution that I mentioned above, a truly loving god is less compatible with our world. An evil god would actually be better suited, but then you’d have to explain the idea of good. How does a timeless god who knows everything freely chose to create our particular world and not some other world?
God can’t make decisions, because if he did that would require time, and he can’t be indecisive because that would falsify his omniscience. So god must have the eternal desire and knowledge to create our world, say World X, and not some other world, say World Y, – meaning there was never a time god wanted to create World Y instead of World X; he always wanted to create World X. How then is the creation of World X freely decided by god if the creation of world Y or the forbearance to create any world never existed? And how does god create time, if prior to time existing literally nothing can happen?
William Lane Craig in a recent debate with Lawrence Krauss gives us an answer. “I would say that God exists timelessly with the intention that a physical world exist. And then there’s an exercise of this causal power, um, that brings the universe into existence.” But Craig’s answer misses something very important. God cannot merely exist with the intention to create a physical world, he has to exist with the intention to create our physical world because any deliberation to create World X over World Y or vice versa would require time and indecision, which god cannot have prior to creating the universe.
Craig goes on to say, “But we shouldn’t think of God as existing, twiddling his thumbs, from eternity and then ‘deciding’ to make a universe.” But if that’s true, if god’s decision to make a universe always existed, then how did he decide to “exercise his causal power”? To create something requires at least two decisions. First is the decision on what to create, and second is the decision to act that brings about the creation. I can intend to write a book and never get around to it out of laziness unless I decide to act and exercise my causal power.
If having the intention to create World X (our world) existing eternally absolves god from having to make the first decision (even though it opens up additional problems), then the second necessary decision to act on it still requires time and would logically require an antecedent state of indecision. But if however, you argue that god’s decision to act was also preordained and existed eternally, as it must have in order to avoid problems with god’s timelessness and omniscience, then god has no free will and our universe was determined since it would have been impossible that it didn’t exist. These are some of the things that convince me that “god” is not a fully coherent concept.
The simple fact is that all life-forms end in death and the elements of which they are composed return to the air, the oceans, and the earth to be taken up and perhaps recycled in some new organism.
This natural process is universal and is beyond dispute. What is challenged by atheists is the claim made by purveyors of religion that humans, alone of all living forms have a ‘soul’, or ‘spirit’ which survives death and carries the essential characteristics of the person to a supernatural existence in a super natural realm.
The method or pathway for making this crossing to a new life beyond the grave varies widely between religions and between the multitude of Christian denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is probably the most dogmatic in its proclaimed route to Paradise – infant christening, confirmation, frequent mass attendances and the final rites. Donations and prayers to the saints are desirable adjuncts guarding against a period in purgatory.
Atheists maintain that the concept of humankind having a unique supernatural ‘soul’ is simply a primitive notion which has no basis in fact and that religious organizations are guilty of perpetrating a colossal fraud on unsophisticated and gullible people, chiefly through the indoctrination of infants. They are aided and abetted by the media who fear adverse reaction affecting profits if religious dogma is challenged.
On what grounds can atheists make the claim that no-one has a supernatural ‘soul’?
There is no scientific or physical evidence of anything super-natural, nor is there any evidence that a “soul” has mass, energy, or any other physical property.
There is no credible evidence that humankind, or any life form, is a unique creation by a deity.
There is no credible definition of a ‘soul’, nor how, or when, it is to enter or leave the body
Aside from the claim for God and Jesus, every other Saint, Disciple, King, and Ruler in sacred texts died
These statements requires verification, first of all by showing that the basis of the religious concept is faulty and then by citing the scientific evidence which nullifies the ‘soul’ concept.
The ascension or rebirth element in Christianity and other religions is another important issue to be considered. Especially when it is proposed that mind and body can make changes to the “soul”; but not the obverse, while also claiming the “soul” enters a human body, and only the human body, sometime after conception, and thus requires, a mind and a body to exist.
When Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species the religious bodies realized that the theory completely undermined the belief that humans were a unique creation. They agreed that all organisms other than homo sapiens were devoid of ‘souls’. If humans were only the next step on the ladder then they were obliged to designate the precise stage at which a human was given a ‘soul’. They realized that such was impossible and fundamentalists realize this today and therefore reject the evolution of humankind.
The Church has always had trouble with the nature of conception and the specific function of the male and female. Aquinas determined that a male received a ‘soul’ 40 days, and females 90 days, after intercourse.
When the actual conception process was revealed by scientific research the Church declared that in a human being a ‘soul’ resulted when sperm fused with ova. This introduced a new problem when the subsequent division of the original cell led, not to one person, but to two or more identical fetuses. In this case are more God-given ‘souls’ provided or is the original ‘soul’ divided, resulting in a number of identical ‘souls’?
The problem has now become more complicated with the birth of Dolly the sheep which demonstrated that individual differentiated cells can be made to regress to a stage where they are capable of giving rise to a new individual. Geoffrey Robertson, on a recent TV Hypothetical, confronted a RC priest with this scenario. The cleric’s answer was that every cell is infused with ‘soul’. He probably did not realize that cells are constantly dying and being replaced.
Whether countries ban or allow such an experiment, the process which would lead to a human clone will take place sometime somewhere. This human clone would present an enormous dilemma to the believers in ‘souls’ and is probably why theologians and religious authorities are so outspoken against the idea.
A modern concept of ‘soul’ equates it with the conscious mind but this is equally flawed, for when the body dies the conscious mind, being dependant on the brain, also ceases to exist. This mind/soul concept has the problem of the mind development, for death can occur in every stage from initial fertilization to full physical and mental maturity; so ‘souls’ must be conceived as forever developing or forever remaining in an immature state.
Anyone weighing the evidence has no trouble in discarding the notion of the everlasting soul and accepting that death is the natural end to every human life.
By accepting that life is only for a finite period, short or long, the atheist is confronted by the matter of how best to spend the available time and therefore, if suitably informed, will most likely spend the time worthy of a human person.
It would be difficult to imagine a more useless waste of time than that spent in the worship of an imaginary god or preparing for a non-existent everlasting life in some mythical supernatural realm of eternal bliss while ignoring all that is before one in the now.
The second element in this issue is the notion of ascension, or rebirth, which is biologically impossible. Organic entities are created, they are brought to life, they live for a span, they die, and at death their biological components quickly disintegrate into constituent elements. Anyone who has ever looked carefully at life forms sees and understands this process. To claim this process only applies to select individuals, and especially only to those who have professed belief and allegiance to a particular supernatural entity while denying it to all others is beyond rationality, into what logicians call “special cases” – which face their own problem as stated by Carl Sagan: “Extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary proof” – for which, in this case, there are none.
In the words of William Shakespeare:
“Cowards die many times before they are dead. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders which I yet have heard it seems to me most strange that man should fear, seeing that death – a necessary end – will come when it will come.”
This conflation of a disbelief in Gods to a hatred of a specific religious class is really odd for atheists to fathom. How can someone hate something of which they do not believe exists? As odd as it may sound, some people really do argue for this perspective. This argument and its variations imply that atheists really believe in a god but hate this particular god and want to rebel. First, if this were true then they would not be atheists.
Atheists are not people who believe in a god but are angry at it – those are just angry theists. But ignoring that for now, this simply isn’t true. Most atheists have no belief in any gods. Whether they authenticate the validity of a specific religion, or its followers, is an entirely different matter. Some atheists actively disbelieve in all, a few, or some gods and deny that all, some or all exist. You can’t hate something in which you don’t believe or which you are certain cannot exist. Saying that an atheist hates god is like saying that someone hates unicorns. If you don’t believe in unicorns, the claim simply doesn’t make any sense.
Most atheists have come to their beliefs or lack thereof by reviewing the available evidence and either deciding that there is no evidence to support a positive belief, or that there is evidence to support disbelief. That is why they are atheists. Atheists don’t hate god(s). Now, there might be some confusion due to the fact that some atheists do have strong feelings about related subjects. Some atheists, for example, may hate the idea of god(s), religion in general, or some religions in particular. For example, some atheists have had bad experiences with religion either while growing up or when they started to question things. As the historical record demonstrates, some have been physically and verbally attacked for expressing their views on Evangelical Christianity. In Muslim theology, for example, it becomes the duty of an adherent to kill atheists for the religious crime of apostasy.
Another point of confusion occurs when atheists make claims about “God” being psychotic, immoral, or brutish. In such cases, it would be more accurate if the author were to add the qualifier “if He exists, and is as described in the Bible” but that is cumbersome and rarely happens. Thus it can be understandable (if not quite accurate) why some would see such statements and then conclude that the author “hates God “. Other reasons for anger will vary considerably, and one of the most common is that atheists feel these ideas or practices are ultimately harmful to people and society. However, the specific reasons for such beliefs aren’t relevant here.
Included in the mix is the social aspect, where numerous atheists have been figuratively and literally attacked for asserting their understanding of God(s). It is not by reason of modesty that the authors of these texts included herein, will remain anonymous, as there are some who would take violent offense to what is said here, and act on their beliefs, ie: in the necessity of confronting Christian apostasy, or as they describe it: “falling into the Devil’s hands”.
What is relevant is that, even if atheists have strong feelings about some of these concepts, they still can’t be said to hate god. You can’t hate something you don’t think exists..
The notion of “religion without God” can stand either for a adoption to, or rejection of naturalism: which can be defined as a claim that the world consists exclusively of matter governed by laws of nature that are in principle described by science, and that qualities such as beauty, virtue, or value are dependent on the presence of a mind, and are humanly constructed responses to the world; or by adoption of a naturalistic but dependent spirituality, that morality, truth, beauty, and ethical behavior are universal cosmic realities which are not dependent upon the presence of a mind, rather that a sentient being only need learn or acquire knowledge of these universals from the ether or civilization, and further that either of these avenues to ethical behavior do not require supernatural attachments for their validity.
Another way of posing this dichotomy for naturalism is to assert religious teaching on love, honor, truth, justice, respect, diligence, and fair play are available for incorporation into society and individuals without the need for a God to instigate or oversee the process. The differences between the two paths is whether the teachings point to universal absolutes, or whether these teachings are subject to time, place, and circumstance.
There can be a similar branching of orientation if one asserts a spiritual or mystic affinity and attachment to an ethical force greater than the individual which is commonly called ‘God’; but which is un-named, and has no defined dogma associated with it. The problem with this formulation is the propensity of humans to assign names to perceptions and constructs; and having done so, to soon thereafter generate or specify characteristics of the named entity.
A sizeable portion of the atheist population believes “there is something out there”; but thinks all extant organized religions are nothing more than ancient human constructs embellished over time, which attempted to define the ‘un-named’ into a transmittable theology. The truly brave, and solitary atheists that reject even this spiritual attachment have considerable difficulty when their personal capacities are insufficient to effectively deal with pain, sorrow, hurt, rejection, or severe illness. As Joseph Wood Krutch wrote in The Modern Temper:
“Like the belief in love and like most of the other mighty illusions by means of which human life has been given a value, the Tragic Fallacy depends ultimately upon the assumption which man so readily makes that something outside his own being, some “spirit not himself” – be it God, nature, or that still vaguer thing called a Moral Order – joins him in the emphasis which he places upon this or that and confirms him in his feeling that his passions and his opinions are important. When his instinctive faith in that correspondence between the outer and the inner world fades, his grasp upon the faith that sustained him fades also, …because he is never strong enough in his own insignificant self to stand alone in a universe which snubs him with its indifference.”
There is another consideration suggested, for example by Sam Harris; that point being Harris considers faith, as expressed in religious dogma, to be a pernicious artifact from a more primitive epoch; while Krutch sees faith as a necessary component of a moral and rationally cohesive existence. For Harris, taking faith in the improvable, illogical, Iron Age edicts of religion out of spiritual life, and one would be left with reason to deal with all matters of human life. Krutch asserts that reason is insufficient as the sole pillar upon which man’s humanity, the arts, and cultural aspirations can thrive .
Krutch seems to echo the notion best expressed in numerous texts, that without belief in a personal God that oversees one’s actions, without the provisioning of immortality, the promise of reward and the co-mingled threat of punishment offered by religious faith, man would be unable or unwilling to function in an enlightened manner. Harris believes that he could – if religion focused on ethical behavior, elevation of spiritual awareness, love, care, respect, and support of beneficial entities – and elimination of preposterous notions encoded in liturgy.
The two views are not mutually exclusive: Harris objects to blind faith in preposterous, socially divisive claims. He does not object to involvement in a spiritual dimension of life, and human social interactions. He simply says there is no place in the modern world for putting someone to death for apostasy, heresy, or touching the skin of a dead pig. To Harris, modern religions have attempted to adapt to the present world by ignoring inconvenient edicts from the Holy Books, rather than to acknowledge the errors, fallacies, and limitations contained in them and amend beliefs and practices accordingly. For example, he considers the First & Second Commandments to be abominations – for a religiously mandated separation of humanity into believers; who are graced by God, and non-believers who are punished by God, and by man.
People in the West tend to find a distinction between God and Religion strange, because for them, religion and theism always appear together in the major religions which are common in their culture. However, throughout the rest of the world, a number of religious traditions have dispensed with the absolute need for gods and have managed to survive just fine. This is especially noticeable when we consider the question of mystical experiences which are one type of religious experience not only common among many different religions, but which is in fact common outside of religion as well. Mysticism or spirituality is neither inherently religious nor inherently theistic. An atheist generally agrees with the aim of removing theology from religion, to rescue it from God, to declare God redundant. It requires atheists to look anew at a civilization’s cultural and natural heritage, and to appreciate that the religious experience is one that is potentially available to everyone without having to make obeisance in the direction of the supernatural.
Science and religion are both concerned with the search for truth. The aspects of reality they investigate are different – in the case of science, the impersonal, physical world; in the case of religion, the transpersonal reality of God. Neither can tell the other what, or how to think in its own domain, but their insights do share some consonant relation to each other.
Science tells theology about the content, structure, mechanics, and history of the universe, and everything in it. Religion provides a framework of insight into human values, morals, and meanings which can set the laws of nature in a more profound context for human understanding, so that their deep order, rational beauty and anthropic fine-tuning become intelligible features ,and need not be conceptualized into a coherent framework by independent enquiry.
“For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of physical facts and relationships between facts.” – Albert Einstein
Science without profound curiosity suffers from the insuperable restraints of prior knowledge and dogma, while religion without science is doubly crippled, because theistic religions are based on a supernatural but evidentially fictitious being, and are further crippled when they reject the findings of science.
The duality of religion and science is reflected in the double lobed brain, the left and right hands, black and white, male and female, even in the particle/wave duality of quantum theory. Science can examine, detail, measure, explain, and predict physical properties of matter with great precision from the sub-atomic to the cosmic realms. Religion can take that knowledge, combine it with deist spirituality, and mesh both through to a concisely reasoned theology which can provide principles, guides, and a structured understanding for incorporation into any sentient being.
Unfortunately, it is when either oversteps its bounds, and attempts to negate the others contribution that problems arise. The oft stated example in religion is in attempts by believers to scientifically prove the validity of Noah’s Arc, The Flood, Ascension, or that God and/or Jesus were physical realities.
In addition, current statistical data demonstrates that over 70% of the populations of most industrialized nations are incapable of rigorous thought sufficient to interact with the principles of science or religious philosophy. For example, 77% of Americans surveyed in a 2008 AP-AOL poll said they believe in the existence of angels, which rises to 94% of those who attend weekly religious services. From another poll, 92% of adults told Gallup pollsters then believed in God; but just 34% in an AP-Ipsos poll in 2007 said they believed in Ghosts or UFOs. Using just the Stanford-Binet or Wechsler scale, less than fifteen percent of the population has an IQ over 115. Another marker is the distribution on the SAT/ACT scores, where the median is around 500; but for college admission at the university level admission personnel look for scores in the 750+ range. At prestigious schools the acceptance level for new freshmen is around ten percent of those who apply. Thus it could be argued that religion serves a useful purpose of providing a framework and narrative for those individuals who are incapable, or unwilling, to finding their own truths via the scientific method or via academic scholarship.
To really address this issue one must understand that Atheists perceive three different elements in the popularly framed narrative of God. One element is spirituality, one is faith in a God, and one is Religion. While generally considered as a unitary package by believers there is no validity in the notion they must necessarily be joined together.
While most atheists do not believe in the existence of a God, many profess admiration, and respect for the social aspects of organized religions – the good deeds, the social assistance agencies, the community support mechanisms, the expressed morality of believers, and the trappings of the Church such as the liturgy, or the architecture of the buildings, or the power of hearing Gloria in excelsis Deo in a large cathedral.
Similarly many atheists affirm a mental and emotional kinship with what might be called the spirit world. A sense of observed affinity with the order, beauty, precision, and majesty of forms from the most minute details, to matter at the edges of our known universe. One only has to internalize the principles of mathematics, the intricacies of DNA/RNA sequencing, the rigidity and precision of chemical reactions, the fluid chain of optics, or the defined rules of physics to think and feel a kinship between the self and everything else in creation.
The problem for atheist occurs when there is no acknowledgement that the three elements: of spirituality, faith, and religion cannot be separated, and accepted or rejected in part.
As Carl Sagan wrote:
“The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”
The “spirit World” is a staple of the American Indian heritage, among others, which across many tribes, and generations attributed an underlying spiritual presence in the air, the sun, the waters, earth, plants, and animals. For some, a name, an icon, or a ceremony celebrated one of these specific spirit beings. Thus we see the wearing of hawk, eagle, and crow feathers by warriors who believed the attributes of the bird could be transmitted to the faithful wearer.
Other groups attempted to merge with the spiritual via psychoactive drugs, sensory deprivation, intensely focused rituals, or communal rites. While there are countless avenues toward an awareness of spiritual connections from the individual to the whole, some of the best in the modern age have been expressed by scientists, such as Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan.
‘The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive. However, I am also not a “Freethinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insuffiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.” Sincerely yours, Albert Einstein.
—Letter to A. Chapple, Australia, February 23, 1954; Einstein Archive 59-405; also quoted in Nathan and Norden, Einstein on Peace P. 510…or in…
“Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer. What complicates the solution, however, is the fact that while most people readily agree on what is meant by “science,” they are likely to differ on the meaning of “religion.”
As to science, we may well define it for our purpose as “methodical thinking directed toward finding regulative connections between our sensual experiences.” Science, in the immediate, produces knowledge and, indirectly, means of action. It leads to methodical action if definite goals are set up in advance. For the function of setting up goals and passing statements of value transcends its domain. While it is true that science, to the extent of its grasp of causative connections, may reach important conclusions as to the compatibility and incompatibility of goals and evaluations, the independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.
As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the in-alterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.
It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.”
A response to a greeting sent by the Liberal Ministers’ Club of New York City. Published in The Christian Register, June, 1948. Also Published in Albert Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions pp. 49 – 52.
“Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of’ others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.
I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.
I never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal.
My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship.
All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.
I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavors in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is spirituality.
In this sense I am spiritual. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”
Or in John Stuart Mil:
“Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favorable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.”
Or in Carl Sagan,
“Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us — and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.” [Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection]
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of un-reason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]
“From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman ate an apple? And, on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer?” Paine is saying that we have a theology that is Earth-centered and involves a tiny piece of space, and when we step back, when we attain a broader cosmic perspective, some of it seems very small in scale. And in fact a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less of a universe.”
“My own deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a god does not exist, our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent with both science and religion, and is essential for the welfare of our species.”
…and finally in post mortem by Ann Druyan…
” Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other’s eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever.”
Edited by Richard Pressl .
First Draft: January 1, 1996. All rights reserved.
Latest Revision: 11 Dec. 2015