Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Sign from Athe?

The little counter at the bottom of this page just clicked over from 2008 to 2009, on today of all days. I take this as a sign from Athe that she is pleased with the blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Westboro Baptist Church: Incredibly Biblical

I don't know what possessed me to take a look through the Westboro Baptist Church's picketing schedule, and I don't really feel like rationalizing, but I looked over it and, as I expected, they plan to picket the inauguration of President-Elect Obama.

Frankly, I think most people get the message: God hates everything! Fags are bad, dead soldiers are good, and blah, blah, blah.

Still, there is something that makes me curious about their message, because the more I read into it, the more I realize that the notions that they are talking about are incredibly Biblical. I mean, they take care of all of their source citations and, when I do the references, everything is in context (though absurd and undesirable, and ignorant of some important passages).

It seems that while having the positions of the WBC is not the only result of a Biblical interpretation, the position is a rational one if the literalist worldview is espoused.

At least most Christians are self conscious and aware of the inanity of their beliefs.

Joshua Stein

From Josh's blog.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Quote of the Week

Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.

Chapman Cohen

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grow up. Or die.

The final minutes of the documentary Religulous:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

The first clergyman was the first rascal who met the first fool.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

How Can An Atheist Enjoy Christmas?

Apparently most Christmas traditions are borrowed from earlier pagan religions. This makes sense, since early humans must have watched anxiously as the winter sun slipped lower and lower toward the horizon. What if it just kept going and never came back? I'm fairly certain the first human inhabitants of, say, Sweden, during their first frigid winter, were certain that was precisely what was happening. Bye-bye sun. Bye-bye life. Looks like we blew it by heading north.

So the joy that resulted from the sun's gradual ascent, after such a worrying dark period, must have been close to ecstasy! (Accompanied, perhaps, by a bit of resentment toward the sun for pulling such a cruel stunt every year!) It also follows then that a celebration would definitely be called for. We're talking party time! Evergreen trees, berries, anything that did not seem to "die" every winter, would be an integral part of any such celebration. Evergreens represent, in a way, everlasting life. So decorate them, dance around them, sing, and party hearty! Enter Christmas.

The overlapping, nearly identical symbolism shared by the rebirth of the sun, and the birth of the "Son," scream out for recognition. Add to that the date of the winter solstice, usually around December 22, and the fact that the most influential god around the Mediterranean when Jesus was supposedly born, Mithra, had his Holy Day on December 25, and "Christmas" is defined. If there was a historical Jesus, no one has a clue when he was born. But it most assuredly was not on December 25.

Moving on then, what's wrong with non-theists co-opting Christmas, just as Christianity co-opted Mithra's birthday? I, for one, am always delighted to see the sun begin its climb in the sky every December. I hate those short, gloomy days when it's already dark long before dinnertime. And while my childhood was unmistakably saturated by my Christian faith, I was also a normal kid. To an eight-year-old looking at a Christmas tree poised over a cornucopia of beautifully wrapped presents, Jesus could come or go—who cared? There was so much fun to be had at Christmas!

Judith Hayes

Taken from the article An Atheist Christmas by Judith Hayes, a.k.a. The Happy Heretic.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dawkins on CBS

Dawkins is on form here, though the interviewer hardly poses any difficult challenges:

Via atheist media blog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

God: Christmas Trees are for Heathens

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Jeremiah 10:2-4

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Quote of the Week

An organization that requires the suppression of facts and the discouragement of knowledge in order to maintain its supremacy, is the relic of a tyranny which our free age and our free thought are in duty bound to remove from the earth.

Lemuel K Washburn

Monday, December 8, 2008

Crisis of Faith?

I've been talking to a lot of my religious friends who think that I am going through a "crisis of faith", even though I've been an atheist for years now, and I'm getting more than a little annoyed by it.

A crisis of faith implies that I am struggling, that I am depressed, that I, in some way, anguish to be wrong over the issue.

There are plenty of atheists who see their disbelief as problematic, and wish that they might be proven wrong. I am not one of those disappointed atheists, not because I think that religion is a terrible, viral infection (though I think that).

I am happy that I don't believe, because I think the world is beautiful in its simplicity, in its independence, and in the processes that drive it. Evolution epitomizes elegance, just as physics and mathematics lay a foundation for understanding the universe.

The continuity of the learning process, the ability to expand my consciousness through observation, through research and through reading is fascinating to me, and it opens up a philosophy of living that cannot exist in a world where god is recognized as sovereign, and ignorance is a blessing.

Atheism is the enlightened notion that it is possible for me to live for myself.

A theist may claim to see the face of god in a flower. I do not.

I see petals and stem and stamen and pistol, but what's more I see the work of an incredible process, and the simplicity, the elegance, of the processes that govern my universe. I see the beauty of particles forged in the center of stars in the dew on its leaf, in the flesh of its petal and the weight of my palm.

It is my disbelief that allows me to see, clearly, that I am in solidarity with the universe.

Joshua Stein

Joshua posted this recently on his blog. Great stuff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The God of the Gaps

Not everything has been explained, nor will it ever be. The important thing is that we have not observed anything that seems to require supernatural intervention for its explanation. There are some today who cling to the remaining gaps in our understanding (such as our ignorance about the origin of life) as evidence for God. But as time passes and more and more of these gaps are filled in, their position gives an impression of people desperately holding on to outmoded opinions.

The problem for religious belief is not just that science has explained a lot of odds and ends about the world. There is a second source of tension: that these explanations have cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God to play a starring part in a great cosmic drama of sin and salvation. We have had to accept that our home, the earth, is just another planet circling the sun; our sun is just one of a hundred billion stars in a galaxy that is just one of billions of visible galaxies; and it may be that the whole expanding cloud of galaxies is just a small part of a much larger multiverse, most of whose parts are utterly inhospitable to life. As Richard Feynman has said, "The theory that it's all arranged as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems inadequate."

Most important so far has been the discovery by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace that humans arose from earlier animals through natural selection acting on random heritable variations, with no need for a divine plan to explain the advent of humanity. This discovery led some, including Darwin, to lose their faith. It's not surprising that of all the discoveries of science, this is the one that continues most to disturb religious conservatives. I can imagine how disturbed they will feel in the future, when at last scientists learn how to understand human behavior in terms of the chemistry and physics of the brain, and nothing is left that needs to be explained by our having an immaterial soul.

Steven Weinberg

Taken from his article Without God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Atheist Communities

I just posted about a small victory for reason in the evolution vs. creationism war on my other blog, and it got me thinking. You've probably heard the quote "organizing atheists is like herding cats". Richard Dawkins has a good response to this:

Even if they can't be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored.

Cincinnati Zoo's change of heart about hopping into bed with the Creation Museum after a number of complaints, many from readers of PZ Myer's Pharyngula, is proof that Dawkins is really onto something, and is an excellent example of what can be achieved with a little organization. Many others have realized this, and atheist communities are starting to spring up and grow (several of them are linked on the right). I'm a member of two at the moment, The Brights (a "constituency of individuals who share a naturalistic worldview"), and Atheist Nexus (an atheist myspace/facebook). Joining these communities is a quick and simple way to make a lot of noise. They are a good way of meeting like-minded people, keeping up to date on relevant issues, raising money for worthwhile causes and just generally helping to give atheists more of a presence in the world. Have a think about joining one today.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quote of the Week

Maybe a President that didn't believe our soldiers were going to heaven would be less willing to get them killed.

Bill Maher

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reason's Greetings: Atheist Christmas Cards

It's nearly December, and time to start thinking about mailing out those cards. Here are some you might like to send this year. Click the images for links:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote of the Week

Arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there would be no religious people.

Gregory House MD

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brian's Shoe

This is my favourite part of the movie The Life of Brian. It shows how quickly religions can arise... and divide:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quote of the Week

Shepherds don't look after sheep because they love them — although I do think some shepherds like their sheep too much. They look after their sheep so they can, first, fleece them and second, turn them into meat. That’s much more like the priesthood as I know it.

Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There Is No God

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.

Penn Jillette

An excerpt from this article.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quote of the Week

If ignorance of Nature gave birth to gods, then knowledge of Nature is calculated to destroy them.

Baron d'Holbach

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Encouraging Election Result

Democrat Pete Stark, the only openly atheist member of US Congress, was re-elected as California state representative, winning 76 % of the votes in his district. From

Polls have shown that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America, and that most Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office. At the same time, however, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008 saw a "small but significant" increase in the number of Americans who say they are "uncomfortable when they hear politicians talk about how religious they are."

"This year, we saw an incumbent U.S. Senator not only defeated but roundly criticized after trying to paint her opponent as godless; and now we see an openly godless member of the House handily re-elected," said Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America. "This looks to us like progress, and we praise Rep. Stark for his courage and leadership."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Freethought Books for Prisoners

Leslie Zukor runs the Freethought Books Project, which has been "donating secular & freethinking literature to inmates, mental hospitals, and others in need since 2005". This is a terrific scheme, especially given the following statistics:

US Population that is Atheist/Agnostic: 14%

US Prison Population that is Atheist/Agnostic: 0.21%

Why not send Leslie that old copy of The God Delusion you've got lying around?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Quote of the Week

Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson

Friday, October 31, 2008

How to Deal with Fundamentalists

If your goal is to simply counter them and let them know there are happy, informed nonbelievers in the world, then that is easy. Just be yourself, say what you think, and don’t worry if they change their minds. Be relaxed about it. You are not the one with the problem and you can’t solve everyone else’s problems. If you try too hard to change their mind, it can make you look uneasy, like you are “protesting too much,” which they most certainly will take as a sign of insecurity. It can also validate their “war” (as the hymn says, “Onward, Christian Soldiers”), hardening their resolve.

If your goal, however, is to convert them, then you have a lot of work to do. Well, actually, we can’t “convert” anyone. We all have to come to our own conclusions. If you were raised religious, like me, you know that your de-conversion came from inside, not from an atheist evangelist. But still, some of us atheists and agnostics do feel a need, or responsibility, to champion reason, science, and kindness, and would like to improve the world by persuading others to abandon superstition and dogma.

Dan Barker

Taken from this article.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote of the Week

Agnostics are just atheists without balls.

Stephen Colbert

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I Don't Believe In God

My journey to atheism began as I studied science. I gradually traveled from young earth creationism to old earth creationism to theistic evolution to atheistic evolution. Evolution elegantly refuted my belief that design required a designer. I also realized the probability of an “infinitely complex” God was inherently more improbable than any other cosmological solution, because something infinitely complex is infinitely improbable.

I studied the history of the Bible. Eventually I acknowledged its messy history, contradictions, horrors and absurdities. It had no more evidence of being from God than any other holy book. Without blind belief in the Bible, there was no evidence for the supernatural claims of Christianity. Furthermore, I realized that miraculous claims were always based on anecdote. There was never any evidence, only tall tales.

Long ago, man, in his ignorance, created gods to make sense of the world. Then, when that failed, man created science. Science has been the most successful way of discovering truth ever invented. For example, we no longer have to pray for the sick or exorcise demons - we heal with medicine. Science has, in every way, proven far more effective than religion.

God is no longer necessary, and I say good riddance.

Daniel Florien

Daniel is an ex-evangelical Christian who now runs one of the top atheist blogs Unreasonable Faith.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Atheist Bus Campaign

You may have heard about an advertising campaign intending to put atheist slogans on buses in the UK. The scheme started today, and is funded by donations to the British Humanist Association. The organizers had hoped to raise £5,500 to pay for the adverts. At the time of writing the total money raised stands at a whopping £49,700. It's great that so many people are showing their support for this. The slogan that will appear on the buses is:

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

I think they can come up with something better than this (perhaps one of the many atheist quotes found here and elsewhere would do), but it's a start, and should get people talking at least. In the words of Richard Dawkins:

This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

Monism - too much emphasis cannot be placed upon this truth - admits of no breaks, allows for no interference, no guidance, no special providence. From star mist to planet, on through protoplasm to man, it asserts the existence of an unbroken sequence. If there are any gaps, they are in our knowledge, not in the things themselves.

Chapman Cohen

Thanks to Josh Stein for suggesting this quote.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do Believers Really Believe?

All Christians fail to act on their avowed beliefs. Suppose you believed that Heaven exists and that only some of us will qualify to live in it for ever, as the vast majority of Christians claim to. How would this affect your behaviour?

It would depend on what you thought were the admission criteria for Heaven. But whatever you took these virtues to be, they would utterly dominate your life. When everlasting bliss is on offer, nothing else matters at all. People who believed in Heaven would surely act quite unlike those who do not.

Yet the expected behavioural difference is not to be observed. The vast majority of Christians display a remarkably blasé attitude toward their approaching day of judgment, leading lives almost indistinguishable from those of us open non-believers. Put simply, they fail the behavioural test for belief.

Jamie Whyte

An excerpt from this article.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This movie has been out for a few days now and reviews are mostly positive. I'm hopefully going to see it later this week, and maybe I'll post a mini-review. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer by clicking on the poster on the right, and here are the creators Bill Maher and Larry Charles talking about the film:

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quote of the Week

Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses.

Sigmund Freud

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bertrand Russell's Wisdom III: Christ's Moral Character

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation.

Bertrand Russell

From his article Why I Am Not A Christian.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Does The Bible Tell Us?

Look at the bible as a pastiche, a collection of mutually and often internally inconsistent fragments slapped together for crude reasons of politics and art and priestly self-promotion and sometimes beauty and a lot of chest-thumping tribalism, and through that lens, it makes a lot of sense. It does tell us something important…about us, not some fantastic mythological being. It tells us that we are fractious, arrogant, scrappy people who sometimes accomplish great things and more often cause grief and pain to one another. We want to be special in a universe that is uncaring and cold, and in which the nature of our existence is a transient flicker, so we invent these strange stories of grand beginnings, like every orphan dreaming that they are the children of kings who will one day ride up on a white horse and take them away to a beautiful palace and a rich and healthy family that will love them forever. We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

PZ Myers

From his Pharyngula post Theology is a Deceitful Strategy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the Week

I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest - and as scientists honesty is our precise duty - we cannot help but admit that any religion is a pack of false statements, deprived of any real foundation. The very idea of God is a product of human imagination... I do not recognize any religious myth, at least because they contradict one another...

Paul Dirac

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why Are There No Atheist Churches?

That’s our strength. We don’t need support groups. When I meet someone in Georgia, or Manila, or Calcutta who thinks like me, it takes a few minutes of conversation before we understand each other. We know there are millions of us all over the world. It’s an easy handshake of recognition. We don’t think “OK, now we have to get together every seven days, or twice a day, to shout and holler just to reassure ourselves that we still believe it.” We don’t need that. It can be believed without effort, without fanaticism. It’s an understanding, and it’s based on reason, and literature, and to some extent irony, and a little humor, and culture.

The fact that religion keeps having to pump people up at mass rallies is a sign of its weakness. It needs constant reinforcement, and would crumble without it.

Christopher Hitchens

Taken from this interview.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My God is a Little God

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way'.

Carl Sagan

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

Doubting Thomas – the patron saint of scientists.

Richard Dawkins

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bertrand Russell's Wisdom II: The Argument from Design

Since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.

When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?

Bertrand Russell

From his article Why I Am Not A Christian.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Edward Current's Wisdom

Time for a little humour. Edward Current is one of the more prolific religious satirists on YouTube, and this is just one of many videos he's made that could so easily be mistaken for the real deal (see Poe's Law):

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Mark Twain

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hitler and Atheism?

Even if Hitler was an atheist, so what? Hitler was also a vegetarian. Does that suggest that vegetarians have a special tendency to be murderous, bigoted racists?

The point is that there is a logical pathway leading from religion to the committing of atrocities. It’s perfectly logical: if you believe that your religion is the right one, you believe that your god is the only god and you believe that your god has ordered you through a priest, or through a holy book, to kill somebody, to blow somebody up, to fly a plane into a skyscraper, then you are doing a righteous act. You’re a good person. You’re following your religious morality.

There is no such logical pathway leading from atheism, or secularism, to any such atrocious act. It just doesn’t follow.

Richard Dawkins

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bertrand Russell's Wisdom I: The First Cause Argument

I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.

Bertrant Russell

From his article Why I Am Not A Christian.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Quote of the Week

The best thing about religion is that it’s so transparently absurd it can’t possibly last forever. I’m convinced it will only take a small shift in human consciousness for it to be laughed off the planet, and I hope I’m still around when that happens.

Pat Condell

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Atheist Spirituality

Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one’s place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality — art, for example. Consider the 1889 impressionist painting The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. It is a magnificent swirl of dark and light, punctuated by stars, with the sky and land delineated by horizon, and the infinite vastness of space hovering over humanity’s tiny abode.

The Starry Night is awe-inspiring art, but it is the product of centuries of scientific discovery, coming after Nicolaus Copernicus displaced us from the center of the cosmos; after Johannes Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion; after Galileo Galilei discovered the moons of Jupiter, mountains on the moon, and sunspots; after Isaac Newton united celestial and terrestrial physics; and after Charles Darwin put us in our proper place in nature’s ancestry. No one, especially an emotionally volatile impressionist painter like Van Gogh, could look up at the night sky and not be daunted by the vastness of the minuscule portion of the galaxy we can observe from Earth (about 2,500 out of the approximately 100 billion stars in the Milky Way).

Van Gogh painted the conflict between body and soul, between objective and subjective, and between outer and inner experiences. As he told his brother Theo: “I retain from nature a certain sequence and a certain correctness in placing my tones. I study nature so as not to do foolish things — however, I don’t mind so much whether my color corresponds exactly, as long as it looks beautiful on the canvas.” In fact, Van Gogh described The Starry Night to his brother “as an attempt to reach a religious viewpoint without God.” Read spiritual for religious.

As magical as The Starry Night is, Van Gogh painted it decades before astronomer Edwin Hubble expanded our universe by orders of magnitude through his observations from the 100-inch telescope atop Mount Wilson in Southern California. On October 6, 1923, Hubble first realized that the fuzzy patches he was observing were not “nebulae” within the Milky Way galaxy, but were, in fact, separate galaxies, and that the universe is bigger than anyone imagined. He subsequently discovered through this same telescope that those galaxies are all red-shifted — their light is receding from us, and thus stretched toward the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum — meaning that all galaxies are expanding away from one another, the result of a spectacular explosion that marked the birth of the universe. It was the first empirical data indicating that the universe has a beginning, and thus is not eternal. What could be more awe-inspiring — more numinous, magical, spiritual — than this cosmic visage? Darwin and the geologists gave us deep time. Hubble and the astronomers gave us deep space.

Michael Shermer

An excerpt from Shermer's article Why I Am An Atheist.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Quote of the Week

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.

Charles Darwin

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Ancient Superstition

Religious belief is humankind's earliest science. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are young religions in historical terms, and came into existence after kings and emperors had more magnificently taken the place of tribal chiefs. The new religions therefore modelled their respective deities on kings with absolute powers.

But for tens of thousands of years beforehand people were fundamentally animistic, explaining the natural world by imputing agency to things - spirits or gods in the wind, in the thunder, in the rivers and sea.

As knowledge replaced these naiveties, so deities became more invisible, receding to mountain tops and then to the sky or the earth's depths. One can easily see how it was in the interests of priesthoods, most of which were hereditary, to keep these myths alive.

With such a view of religion - as ancient superstition, as a primitive form of explanation of the world sophisticated into mythology - it is hard for non-religious folk to take it seriously, and equally hard for them to accept the claim of religious folk to a disproportionate say in running society.

AC Grayling

An excerpt from the article Believers Are Away With The Fairies by AC Grayling.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Atheism Pamphlets

Cyberguy has some atheism pamphlets available to download. They're a little lacking in artistic flair at the moment, but they're a great idea. Next time those Jehovah's witnesses come knocking you can give them one, you never know, it might make them stop and think. Hopefully Cyberguy and others will work to improve these, and let's get them out there...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Quote of the Week

I shall not waste any time on fashionable claims that science is just the white, western, patriarchal view of truth. Science works. That is why when you go to an international conference on cultural relativism, you go by Boeing 747 rather than by magic carpet.

Richard Dawkins

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

Which is more likely: That the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie?

David Hume

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sir David Attenborough On Religion

In this short interview clip, Sir David Attenborough discusses his views on religion and God after a life-long career spent studying the natural world:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Future Is Not Fixed

We have no reason to believe that there are dates inscribed in heaven or hell. We may yet destroy ourselves; we might scrape through. Confronting that uncertainty is the obligation of our maturity and our only spur to wise action. The believers should know in their hearts by now that, even if they are right and there actually is a benign and watchful personal God, he is, as all the daily tragedies, all the dead children attest, a reluctant intervener. The rest of us, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, know that it is highly improbable that there is anyone up there at all. Either way, in this case it hardly matters who is wrong - there will be no one to save us but ourselves.

Ian McEwan

An excerpt from Ian McEwan's article about scriptural prophecy The Day of Judgment.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quote of the Week

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Evolution as Evidence Against Christianity

The most devastating thing, though, that biology did to Christianity was the discovery of biological evolution. Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people, the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve, there never was an original sin. If there never was an original sin, there is no need of salvation. If there is no need of salvation, there is no need of a saviour. And I submit that puts Jesus, historical or otherwise, into the ranks of the unemployed. I think that evolution is absolutely the death knell of Christianity.

Frank Zindler

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Recommended Reading for Believers

This was posted in one of the comments sections of Pharyngula in answer to the question "What literature would you recommend to the believer who is interested in considering atheism as a potentially superior alternative to theism?"

The best book to read would be the bible, in its entirety. That is what made me an Atheist. I was a Southern Baptist sunday school teacher, in the choir, played handbells, the whole nine yards. I was deeply religious. I studied the bible in depth and was so disturbed by what I read I began to question Christianity. I then joined a more progressive denomination and became a youth minister. (They didn't take the bible literally.) Even that didn't put me at peace. Even when I tried to look at the bible from a philosophical standpoint, I knew the whole religion was based on racism and hatred and I could not in good conscience associate with such evil. I walked away and found out how wonderful it feels to be free.

The bible is a vile and evil book. Few Christians have actually read the whole thing. They read what they are told to read and skip the nasty stuff. Once you read it for yourself and find all the contradictions and see the purely evil things God has done, a decent person cannot remain a Christian. The basis for religions that worship deities is just too idiotic to ignore once you really start searching for truth. Once you care more about truth than you do being accepted and popular, you will find truth.

The original post can be found here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quote of the Week

Without a doubt, humans and civilization are in sore need of the intellectual cleanness and mental health of Atheism.

G. Richard Bozarth

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Little Religious Wisdom?

Happy is he who has found wisdom,
and the man who has acquired understanding.
For wisdom is more profitable than silver,
and the gain she brings is better than gold.
She is more precious than red coral,
and all your jewels are no match for her.
Long life is in her right hand,
in her left hand are riches and honour.

Proverbs 3:13-16

I think this passage sits well alongside the following quote:

Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quote of the Week

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Demanding Irrationality

This imperviousness to reason is, I think, the property that we should most fear in religion. Other institutions or traditions may encourage a certain amount of irrationality - think of the wild abandon that is often appreciated in sports or art - but only religion demands it as a sacred duty. This might not matter if the activities that composed religion were somewhat insulated from the rest of the world the way they are in sports and art. Then we could treat religious allegiances the way we treat differences in taste: if you have a taste for kick boxing or heavy metal bands, that's your business. Knock yourself out, as we say, it's only a game. Not so with religion. Its arena includes not just the participants but all of life on the planet. Given that, it's troubling to note how avidly some people engage in deliberate make-believe in order to execute the prescribed duties.

The better is enemy of the best: religion may make many people better, but it is preventing them from being as good as they could be. If only we could transfer all that respect, loyalty and intense devotion from an imaginary being - God - to something real: the wonderful world of goodness we and our ancestors have made, and of which we are now the stewards.

Daniel Dennet

The full article can be read at The Guardian.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence that whatever religion you are brought up in always turns out to be the right one?

Richard Dawkins

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Atheist Blogroll

Atheist Wisdom has now been added to The Atheist Blogroll, and I've added a link to this on the right. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to add your blog to the list, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reasons to Become an Atheist

Top ten reasons here. Number one is great:

1. No Christians after the Rapture! This is assuming that they are right, which is completely unlikely. But even so, could an atheist imagine a better world than one in which all the 'true believers' were suddenly whisked away to free the world of religious division and hatred and allow mankind to put our effort into improving the real world and this life for a change!

This page also offers some pretty convincing arguments. A couple of my favourites:'ll save money on funerals because you now know there's no point in getting all dressed up, since there's no place to go!'ll get to finally think for yourself, according to a recent scientific journal.

In truth no reasons are necessary to be an atheist (though they do exist!). Atheism is a default position, we are all born as atheists, starting out in life without any belief in deities. The burden of proof lays with the theists, it is they who must persuade us of the existence of their god and the validity of their religion.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quote of the Week

This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves.

Robert G. Ingersoll

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ten Myths About Atheism

TranceDevotee's YouTube video, based on an article by Sam Harris:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Quote of the Week

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dawkins on Darwin

On the 150th anniversary of the theory of evolution by natural selection, here is a video of Richard Dawkins being interviewed about Charles Darwin. The video also features some clips from a new three-part documentary about Darwin, which will be shown on Channel 4 in the UK later this year:

Dawkins on Darwin

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quote of the Week

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

Just woke up and heard the sad news that forward-thinking US comedian George Carlin has died, aged 71.

I don't have any beliefs or allegiances. I don't believe in this country, I don't believe in religion, or a god, and I don't believe in all these man-made institutional ideas.

George Carlin


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why Atheism is not a Faith

"Atheism" is a word used by religious people to refer to those who do not share their belief in the existence of supernatural entities or agencies. Presumably (as I can never tire of pointing out) believers in fairies would call those who do not share their views "a-fairyists", hence trying to keep the debate on fairy turf, as if it had some sensible content; as if there were something whose existence could be a subject of discussion worth the time.

People who do not believe in supernatural entities do not have a "faith" in "the non-existence of X" (where X is "fairies" or "goblins" or "gods"); what they have is a reliance on reason and observation, and a concomitant preparedness to accept the judgment of both on the principles and theories that premise their actions. The views they take about things are proportional to the evidence supporting them, and are always subject to change in the light of new or better evidence. "Faith" - specifically and precisely: the commitment to a belief in the absence of evidence supporting that belief, or even (to the greater merit of the believer) in the very teeth of evidence contrary to that belief - is a far different thing, which is why the phrase "religious thinktank" has a certain comic quality to it: for faith at its quickly-reached limit is the negation of thought.

AC Grayling

An excerpt from the article Gotta Have Faith? by AC Grayling.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

Fear is the mother of all gods. Nature does all things spontaneously by herself without their meddling.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Quote of the Week

Religion was our first attempt at describing the world, and because it was our first attempt, it was also our worst attempt.

Christopher Hitchens

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Point of Comparison

A point of comparison: The controversy of over Fitna was immediately followed by ubiquitous media coverage of a scandal involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). In Texas, police raided an FLDS compound and took hundreds of women and underage girls into custody to spare them the continued, sacramental predations of their menfolk. While mainstream Mormonism is now granted the deference accorded to all major religions in the United States, its fundamentalist branch, with its commitment to polygamy, spousal abuse, forced marriage, child brides (and, therefore, child rape) is often portrayed in the press as a depraved cult. But one could easily argue that Islam, considered both in the aggregate and in terms of its most negative instances, is far more despicable than fundamentalist Mormonism. The Muslim world can match the FLDS sin for sin--Muslims commonly practice polygamy, forced-marriage (often between underage girls and older men), and wife-beating--but add to these indiscretions the surpassing evils of honor killing, female "circumcision," widespread support for terrorism, a pornographic fascination with videos showing the butchery of infidels and apostates, a vibrant form of anti-semitism that is explicitly genocidal in its aspirations, and an aptitude for producing children's books and television programs which exalt suicide-bombing and depict Jews as "apes and pigs."

Any honest comparison between these two faiths reveals a bizarre double standard in our treatment of religion. We can openly celebrate the marginalization of FLDS men and the rescue of their women and children. But, leaving aside the practical and political impossibility of doing so, could we even allow ourselves to contemplate liberating the women and children of traditional Islam?

Sam Harris

An excerpt from the article Losing Our Spines To Save Our Necks by Sam Harris.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stupid Design

Part of a lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson, given at the Beyond Belief conference in 2006:

The entire conference was filmed and can be seen here:

Carl Sagan's The Dragon In My Garage

This article beautifully illustrates how frustrating it can be to argue with a believer from the lack-of-evidence perspective.

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floates in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative-- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved."

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons--to say nothing about invisible ones--you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it's not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages--but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I'd rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such "evidence"--no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it--is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Carl Sagan

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why I'm creating a blog.

I've been an atheist for as long as I can remember. Despite being taught bible stories and being made to sing Christian hymns in school, I can honestly say I can't remember ever believing in any of it. I guess part of this might be due to my parents, who, rather than being outright atheists or agnostics, just don't really care about the whole deal and tend to ignore/avoid it (I actually think the majority of people in the UK have a similar attitude, but maybe that's a discussion for another time). As I grew up my opinion of religion was that it was pretty much harmless and that as society progressed it would fizzle out with all the other out-dated ideas like racism, homophobia, patriotism and the like.

Several things have happened in the past few years that have changed my attitude to a more actively-hostile stance, however. Firstly, 9/11 and other religiously motivated terrorist events, for obvious reasons. Secondly, the recent publication of numerous atheist books (you know the ones), which haven't made me "more atheistic" but have led me to give my atheism some serious thought. And thirdly, I moved from the UK to Canada, where religion has far more prominence and can be very difficult to ignore.

To be honest I remain pretty optimistic for the future, and if I had to predict what the world will be like in 50 or 100 years, I'd predict a strong decline in religion. However, it's clear that the religious folk are currently fighting back hard as their ship goes down. In particular, creationist propaganda and the intelligent design lobby are spending a considerable amount of time and effort in propagating misinformation about evolution, a subject I've been fascinated by ever since my dad first showed me how an eye could evolve from just a light-sensitive patch of skin (one of my earliest memories). Recently I've been reading quite a few popular science books on the subject, and the beauty and elegance of the theory is wonderful. As someone with a background in physics, what has impressed me the most is that evolution can explain so much about the natural world with such basic ideas (and no mathematics!), and yet still be completely falsifiable. To see creationist webcasts LIE so blatantly about the subject has started to irk me in quite a profound way, and over the past few weeks I've started to have the feeling that I need to do something to push back against these idiots. This blog is my way of doing that.

Now I've always hated the idea of blogs. How arrogant of people to think that their opinion is interesting enough that the general public needs a chance to read it! Well, here I am writing my own blog now, so maybe I'm being a touch arrogant myself. At the moment, though, the idea of this blog is not so much to post my opinion as the opinions of others. A quick google search shows how many eloquent and witty blogs already exist on the subject of atheism, and I have neither the time nor the talent to compose original material for a blog on a frequent basis. So what I'd like to do here is re-post articles, quotes and links on atheism that I like and that I think more people should have the opportunity to read. Hence the title of the blog. Hopefully this will make me feel like I'm being a little more pro-active about my views. I'm not expecting to convert people, just to help spread the atheist message in some small way. There are numerous established blogs out there that are already doing this effectively, but I figure another one can't hurt, eh?