Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’

We hit 100,000 views a few days ago, and to celebrate (if that’s the right word) we’re listing the best posts we’ve published, divided by category. Here’s the first installment.






This is the first of several “best of” posts we’ll be running over the next week or two. The following installment will cover several categories: Economics (much more on capitalism there), Gardening, Interviews, and Journalism. We’ll also be putting up multiple installments devoted purely to humor, because humor posts comprise by far the largest category on this blog — over 500 total, out of the roughly 1,500 we’ve put up so far.


Don Lacey, state director of the year (Arizona) for American Atheists, had a great idea and put it into practice. (We do not endorse American Atheists.)

Don’s insight was that the most important thing atheists can do is to build community, and have fun.  And everything else will flow from that. (The AA hierarchy gave him an incredible amount of grief about this.)

So, Don started the Tucson atheist meetup groups a few years ago. Purely social groups, and they grew.

There are now about 1,300 members of the Tucson Atheist Meetup groups. Some have moved beyond the purely social and are doing good, everything from lobbying the legislature to picking up trash along the highways.

Would they have done it without Don’s initial push? I don’t think so.

Years ago, a friend of mine, Jon Russell, told me that social-change groups were doomed unless their activities were at least 80% fun. People would do the work after that.

Jon and Don were right.

I’ve been involved with leftist/anarchist and atheist groups for about 50 years now. The universal constants are that the internal dynamics are the same: joyless work is the raison d’etre for damn near all of ’em, and it’s the reason that damn near all of ’em fail. A big part of that is that the people into self-sacrifice almost invariably also  expect others to sacrifice themselves.

This is what people joining atheist and other do-good groups typically face when joining: “Give up all hope ye who enter here. And don’t whine about it.”

Is it any wonder that people join atheist and other social change groups, hoping for something different, something better, and then leave in droves?

Don Lacey defied the leftist/atheist puritans, and founded the most successful atheist group in the country. A group based on voluntarism, on simple attraction, on voluntary cooperation — a group that gets things done, in contrast to damn near every other puritanical, self-sacrificing atheist group in the country.

* * *

If you’re down here in Southern Arizona, please join us. You’d be a welcome addition. And if you’re not around here, please consider starting your own purely social Meetup group. Trust us. You’ll have fun, and you’ll get a hell of a lot more done than if you start a joyless, self-sacrificing cause-oriented group.

We put up our 1,000th post a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been looking through everything we’ve posted, and are now putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the seventh of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, Economics, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Politics,  Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Atheist Posts

Atheists for Human Rights (AFHR), an all-volunteer 501 (c) 3 group,  is one of the smallest atheist organizations in the U.S. But it’s the only one–yes, the only one–that donates money to individuals and groups suffering religious persecution in this country. AFHR has little in the way of resources, but puts its money where its mouth is via its Moral High Ground project. Here’s a list of AFHR’s donations in 2013:

  • $1600 ( $400 each) to four abortion clinics, all suffering vicious attacks by the religious right. The clinics include those that picked up the torch when Dr.Tiller was murdered. These are clinics where the doctors come to work wearing bulletproof vests and the religious right attempts every possible legal scam–while they hypocritically lie about being concerned about the health of women–to try to shut them down.
  • $500 to LGBT tuition grant.
  • $300 to Final Exit Network, the death with dignity organization that assists the terminally ill, for their ongoing legal expenses in defending themselves against malicious  “assisted suicide” prosecution by fanatical district attorneys.
  • $658 to Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD).  CHILD,  essentially all alone for decade, has been fighting faith healing laws, that allow religious fanatics to deny life-saving medical care to their children.  (They get almost no support from other child-welfare groups because that would require those groups to challenge [insane] religious beliefs–our biggest social taboo.)

If you’re an atheist or agnostic  and want your dollars to support victims of religious persecution in this country, please consider donating to AFHR’s Moral High Ground project. You can check them out via the AFHR web site.

“There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

Front cover of "The Anti-Christ" by Friedrich Nietzsche


cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle


by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

(This is a lightly edited, slightly shorter version of the cover article of the May/June 2014 The Moral Atheist,  the magazine of Atheists for Human Rights.)





Defensible Interests

. . . [T]o fulfill our deepest interests in this life, both personally and collectively, we must first admit that some interests are more defensible than others. Indeed, some interests are so compelling that they need no defense at all. . . . For nearly a century the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom.

— Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. pp. 190-191.


Not So Defensible Interests

“There are secular reasons to oppose abortion.”

— David Silverman, President of American Atheists, communication with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), seeking common ground.


It’s Not As Bad As It Looks

We are calling attention to a problem the atheist movement has inexplicably ignored, perhaps because we are so inundated with it we don’t see it. That is the problem of the essential immorality of religion. Instead of pointing to and challenging it, we tend to accept the myth of religion as a morality -based institution and even try to emulate it. They do food shelves? We do food shelves. They do blood donations? We do blood donations. They do clothing drives? We do clothing drives.

Nothing wrong with this. It’s all good civic virtue stuff any decent society does if it doesn’t want to fall apart into chaos. But it doesn’t deal with the basic problem—all the ways religion harms society. How do we counter this? With billboards that say some of us are happy to be atheists or that religion is based on myths or that we can be good without God—implying there is a goodness about religious belief, and we atheists can also have that goodness?

No. There is no goodness about religious belief, but when do we bring that to the public’s attention? Not often, if ever.

The Road to Secular Hell

The road to secular hell is indeed paved with good intentions, however poorly thought out. American Atheists went to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March (keynote speaker Sarah Palin) to let the generally atheistic “libertarian” fiscal restraint contingent of the far right know they were welcome in the atheist community. Libertarians want government out of a good part of our lives, including the personal part, so why would Silverman offer up women’s personal autonomy as a bargaining chip in seeking common ground?

It doesn’t take much experience with the atheist movement to know the answer. There is a strong view running through it—as with all of society—that women in their reproductive function are something of a public utility to be regulated. The idea of a woman having autonomy over her own bodily reproductive processes seems unthinkable and contrary to what nature intended, however mindlessly. The adverse effects on a woman of a disastrous pregnancy are pretty much viewed as irrelevant. She is there to have children, regardless of the cost to her.

And atheist organizations wonder why there are relatively few women in atheist organizations. Why align with any group that thinks your childbearing function makes you public property? There are only two atheist organization I know of that, as a founding principle, refuse to demean women this way: One is our own Atheists For Human Rights and the other is the Humanist Association of Canada, founded by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a result of his experiences providing abortions to women, because he saw how necessary that was to their wellbeing. He was a morally active, human-centered physician, ultimately willing to pay the price of imprisonment to save the victims of religious tyranny . . . victims Silverman seems willing to throw under the bus to attract a few more members to his organization.

Timidity as a Moral Blindfold

Then there’s’ Sally Chizek’s experience in San Antonio, Texas. She’s a long time member of the Freethought Association of Central Texas (FACT). Here’s what she says:

For the past 15 years, I have gone to City Hall to protest the National Day of Prayer held on the City Hall steps. When I learned that the protest was not to be advertised as a FACT event I asked why. I was informed that FACT does not prescreen the signs and if the protest goes badly and the FACT sign is there it will likely cause irreparable damage to our reputation and our relationship with the city. While it has never been problematic before, all it takes are a few new folks with aggressive/insulting messages that then speak for all. The FACT officers were not willing to take this on on behalf of the members at large.

That was two members at large. One had not heard any discussion of official FACT sponsorship and thought individuals can do what they wish but not speak for others. The other didn’t want FACT involved because ‘some people are looking for an excuse to shut us down . . . . This ain’t the hill we want to die on.’

Only one man noted our web site—in About Us—concerning our objectives: ‘Challenge the encroachment of religion into . . . local government and eliminate all discrimination and limitations placed on our civil liberties. . . . Does the National Day of Prayer appear as a violation of separation of church and state? It’s fine you do not agree and you decided to click ‘not attending.’

“The event was advertised by FACT, but they wanted everyone to know it was not a FACT event. Why not? It was dealing with church and state. The Christians use the front steps and lawn so citizens who have business to conduct have to use the back door.

So Sally held her own protest and lined up people to attend. She made extra signs in case someone showed up without one. The signs supported state-church separation but did not mention FACT. “But what concerns me,” Sally said, “was how gutless the board members appeared to be. I am 86 years old and could be knocked down with a feather, but I’ll take my chances. Otherwise no one will protest and the NDOPers will think they have all the rights and just get bigger.”

Tim Gorski, founder of the North Texas Church of Freethought, agreed with Sally. “FACT was founded by the late Catherine Fahringer [a well known, outspoken and feisty activist], he said, “which makes it sad that it is not getting out in front of a protest against NDOP when there are people who want to participate. They won’t be able to prescreen the signs? Are they afraid someone’s sign will say, ‘Godless Bitches’? Oh, that’s already on FACT’s website. . . . Some people may show up with obscene signs? Just say, ‘They’re not with us.’ Besides, NDOP is itself an obscenity.”

The Moral High Road Not Taken

“NDOP is itself an obscenity.” Yes, that’s the point. The moral point that’s been there all the time and we’ve ignored it. There is an inherent organizational timidity at work that fears to take religion on where it is most vulnerable and it leaves activists like Sally Chizek to do what they can on their own. Atheist organizations should challenge the obscenities of religion. Challenge their claim to the moral high ground. They don’t own it; they are squatters. Atheists are distrusted and demeaned precisely because there is a prejudice that, without religion, a person is unlikely to be reliably moral and therefore not to be trusted.

But what is morality? Most of our social problems are caused by religious beliefs that are an obscenity. They seek to deny women’s rights, gay rights, the right to make our own end-of-life decisions, the right of medical researchers to do what is necessary to find cures for diseases.

The list of religion-caused social problems goes on, and atheist organizations dismiss them with lip service at best, saying they “are not atheist issues.” All of these repressive religious obscenities are based on batshit crazy religious beliefs, including the most bizarre of them all—that a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence is a full human being with more human rights than a disastrously pregnant disposable woman has. This is insanity in its purest form, yet we are supposed to respect it because it is a “deeply held religious belief.”

Decent people don’t need religion to be decent. Most of us behave decently because we are programmed by evolution to want to get along safely and peacefully with others. It’s a matter of survival. Religions are established almost always by those with no interest in religion—faithless people using the faith and belief of others to steal from them, and to control them for their own self-aggrandizing purposes.

Will Atheists Ever Learn How to Fight?

Why do atheists think state-church separation involves mainly ritual things such as government-sponsored prayer, religious monuments on public property, religious graffiti on our money, and teaching creation myths as science? Yes, those are all significant matters, but they do not affect the sacred “morality” aura that surrounds religion. Why not show where respect for batshit crazy religious beliefs leads?

Prayer: I saw a report of religionists setting up a “Prayer Station” in a courthouse somewhere. Sure, that’s a state-church violation, but it doesn’t get to the point, which is that prayers are useless incantations that are (or should be) as embarrassing in public as picking one’s nose.

In such a case, of course go file a First Amendment lawsuit, but also set up a complementary prayer station with placards quoting Bible verses such as “Whatever you ask in my name it shall be granted unto you.”

Turn it into a theatrical event. Invite the press, and then publicly gather and solemnly pray to Jesus to turn, say, a pear in your hand into a carrot. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the value of that religious Prayer Station.

Same with legislative prayers. Set up tables that track the ineffectiveness of those prayers as legislation is run through the meat grinder sausage-making process. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the foolishness of legislative prayers. And don’t forget to note the biblical prohibition against praying in public.

Ten Commandments: American Atheists won the right to put up an atheist monument next to the Ten Commandments on government property. Fine! But the religionists have thousands of places where they can afford to do that. We can’t. Why not, instead, show public outrage (as we should regardless) at every government display of such an unAmerican barbaric set of “commandments”? Challenge the denial of religious freedom, the lack of commandments against slavery and torture, the commandment (not to mention the entire Old Testament) that treats women as property, etc., and demand that such an obscene monument be removed. Don’t simply demand “equal time”–point out how obscene the Ten Commandments are.

Abortion: Stop this timid “well, I support Roe v. Wade” stuff and hand wringing about it being a “gray area” or somehow open for discussion. It is totally a medical matter between a woman and her doctor. All restrictions, beyond regulations that affect all medical procedures, are a state-church violation.

If not, let’s hear David Silverman explain what his “secular reasons” for opposing the right to abortion are, and why they are not patriarchal and misogynistic. Take an unequivocal stand for women’s rights that show atheists are with them. Do the same for gay rights: Both women and gay people might see atheists in a better light, as a moral voice opposed to their oppression by the religious right.

Stem Cell Research: Our lives and our health should not be held hostage to embryo “personhood” insanity. It’s insane! Say so. Very plainly
End-of-Life Decisions: We should not have to suffer needlessly simply because of others’ crazy religious beliefs. Say so. Loudly.

Bible Reading: So just why do atheists want to stop this? Everyone should read the Bible. Just make it mandatory that students read the whole thing with both religious and atheist instructors explaining it. All Bibles given out in school should include a copy of Awkward Moments Children’s Bible. Great illustrations. Takes the Bible seriously and quotes it exactly. Not what the religionists want, of course, but it’s their Bible and they’re stuck with it.

Some commentators are starting to get the message. Greta Christina is talking about engaging non-religious young people in areas in which their interests lie. By and large they are not interested in school prayer and nitpicky things like that. Young people are leaving religion because religion is messing with their lives by restricting birth control and abortion and abusing kids. Americans United for Separation of Church & State has started opposing religious assaults because of their basis in law with no secular justification. One commentator is starting to note that religion is founded by hucksters. At AFHR, we’ve been saying this all along. Maybe someone out there is finally listening.


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Disbelief 101 front cover(Excerpted from Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock)

One of the more annoying aspects of talking to believers in god is that they always consider the god hypothesis to be the default position in any argument about the natural world. For example, a believer might ask you if you know how life could have “sprung up” in the first place. If you say science isn’t sure yet, but has some pretty good, and testable, hypotheses about how it might have happened, the religious person will seize on this. “But you’re not sure, are you? Nobody was there!”

All of a sudden, people who will believe anything the Bible says on faith become the most careful skeptics when it comes to science. The implication of the above comment is that if there isn’t any conclusive evidence on a topic involving the natural world, then “god must have done it.” The religious seem to be saying, “If you can’t prove it in front of my eyes, then my belief must be true.” Or, if you can’t absolutely show me how science explains this beyond a shadow of a doubt, then my religious ideas and your science must be on equal footing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the claim that science is killing god is not true. God committed suicide a long time ago. The sharpest arguments put together to “prove” god’s existence end up cutting god to pieces.

I’ll go into the three most common arguments for the existence of a god, but before I get to them let me explain why they are so deadly to the very god idea they are designed to protect. Normally, when people argue endlessly about a topic it is because they are arguing from different beginnings or prepositions. (As you’ve probably heard, there has to be some original point of agreement before two people can argue about anything.) For example, the argument over whether abortion should be legal or not will likely never go away because people cannot agree on the preposition. For someone who thinks that human life begins at conception, abortion at any stage is “murder.” However, for people who think that human life begins at birth, then abortion is not murder. (The abortion debate is more complex than this, but the purpose here is to explain how arguments work.

We are fortunate, then, that we have no such problem when dealing with the three most common arguments for god’s existence. I disagree with all of their premises, but that won’t be an issue because even when I pretend that I agree with them they obliterate the concept of a god. Here, then, are god’s “suicide arguments.”

God’s Suicidal Arguments

1. The Prime Mover

It is a religious trick to dress absurdities up with solemn ceremonies in the hope that no one will notice their silliness. The taking of communion, for example, where Catholics eat a very sacred wafer that is supposed to change, at some point, into the flesh of Jesus is about as bizarre as you can get. Yet if everyone goes through the procedure with a solemn face, as if this is all very serious and important, then it appears to have some weight.

Sometimes atheists fall into the same trap and treat religious arguments with the same type of seriousness. So, any discussion about the Prime Mover argument generally begins with a long preamble about the deep philosophical thought of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and blah, blah, blah. It’s like putting a mule in a tuxedo.

Essentially, the Prime Mover argument makes the case that something had to cause the universe. That something, according to the religious believer, must be god. No effects exist without a cause, so there must have been some “first cause.”

The reason this argument is so suicidal to god is that it brings up an even bigger question. Where did god come from? How does adding an all-powerful invisible entity at the beginning help us at all? (In fact this argument is flawed scientifically. The universe did not need a first cause, and this will be explained shortly.)

Let’s all just accept the Big Bang theory for a moment. The Catholic Church does, saying that it was the finger of god that sparked the creation of the universe. Well, we might then ask the scientific question of what existed before the Big Bang? We can have a lot of fun just throwing out theories without evidence. I could say that before the Big Bang all that existed were two wart-covered aliens playing video games. And one of the aliens got angry and threw his controller through the television set, thus providing the spark for the Big Bang. So, what we see now as “reality” is simply the video game running on, broken and partially haywire. You would laugh at this. Where did the aliens come from? Where did the television set and video game console come from? Sure, it’s possible that this happened. After all, no one can prove conclusively that it didn’t, but the absurdity of it makes this hypothesis seem unlikely.

And yet, people who would laugh at the Alien/Video Game Theory will simply believe in the existence of a being who is infinitely more complex than they are, and who has created reasons for our existence which are equally bizarre. In fact, every “effect” we see in the universe has an easily explained cause. When I see a baseball flying through the air, I don’t have to look very far to see what caused it—someone threw it or hit it. We could then ask a seemingly endless set of questions such as, “where did the thrower come from,” etc., and we would have unremarkable answers all the way back until the Big Bang. Now, if we accepted god as the Prime Mover, he would be the only cause in this massive chain for which we have no explanation or hope of an explanation. This, somehow, makes him more likely to exist?

Science, as always, will simply say, “Well, we won’t know until we can gather enough evidence to create a decent theory.” Science does not insist upon anything that it can’t prove. The idea of god being the first mover in the universe is silly and utterly without evidence. It should be of no more intellectual merit than the notion that a talking tractor, video game-playing aliens, invisible flying clowns, or angry raccoons created the universe. None of the arguments for a god are any better than the arguments for any of these things.

When talking about the origins of life, that is, when life actually began, religious people will often bring up a concept related to the Prime Mover argument. This is the principle of Occam’s Razor, which is maybe the most misunderstood concept in philosophical history. (Even many professional philosophers miss what Occam’s Razor implies.) According to the medieval philosopher William of Occam, if you are presented with two explanations for a phenomenon, then the explanation with the fewest assumptions is generally the right one. This is usually paraphrased as, “All else being equal, the simplest explanation is best.”

To put this another way, Occam’s Razor simply means that we have to consider the evidence without any “extras.” We’ll see what this means in a moment, and also why Occam’s Razor is so dangerous to religion. (The medieval church, by the way, at least seemed to sense what Occam was up to and was not pleased—he died in exile. So, I’m not sure why religious people think his razor should be used on their behalf.)

When talking about the creation of the universe, religious folks will often invoke Occam’s Razor and say: “What could be simpler than ‘god did it’?”

Well, this is not such a simple explanation. First of all, we must make the mother of all assumptions—the existence of an all-powerful, invisible deity. Then we have to tack that notion on to any explanation we give for anything. So, God becomes a tumor that grows on the back of any explanation.

Let me show how Occam’s Razor can be used to cut away the tumor from a more sophisticated argument made on god’s behalf. The passage below is from a liberal and respected theologian who spoke up on behalf of evolutionary theory (and hence against the “intelligent design” proponents) at a trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. Catholic theologian John Haught was arguing that there was no conflict between science and religion, because, he believes, the two do not intersect:

Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove, and someone comes into the room and says, “Explain to me why that’s boiling.” Well, one explanation would be it’s boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.

But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, “It’s boiling because my wife turned the gas on.”

Or you could also answer the question by saying, “It’s boiling because I want tea.”

All three answers are right, but they don’t conflict with each other because they’re working on different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another . . . The problems occur when one assumes that there’s only one level.

(quoted in 40 Days and 40 Nights, by Matthew Chapman [Charles Darwin’s great grandson], p. 106)

This line of reasoning made me think for a while, which is something that the god arguments have been inspiring people to do for years. However, it seems that Dr. Haught’s argument cannot survive Occam’s Razor. The idea that explanations can work on different levels is interesting. In fact, most actions do have several layers of explanation. The fallacy in this is in thinking that this includes a supernatural, rather than natural, explanation.

If I stated that the water was boiling because I wanted tea, then my want of tea could be easily explained through biological means. My body needs moisture and sends me signals to make sure that I get it. Ancestors that didn’t have such signals would have died of thirst. Perhaps I was tired and my intellect, derived through evolution, would remind me that tea has caffeine.

If my wife turned on the stove for me, it may be because we have found that doing small favors for one another makes our marriage work better. Where, exactly, would I need god in any of these explanations? You see, if I was trying to observe and explain why water on a stove boils, the simplest explanation would be to say that heat causes the particles inside the water to move, that heat was caused by the electricity flowing through the heating element, and that the electricity came from a power plant, etc. If I believed in god, I would still have to explain the water particles, heat, etc., but I would have to tack on an extra layer of explanation at each point. Instead of saying, “The particles in the water are moving quickly because of the heat source,” I would have to say, “The particles in the water are moving quickly because of the heat source and because an eternal, invisible deity of unlimited complexity designed this.” Or, to use Occam’s Razor to cut through Dr. Haught’s several layers of explanation, I would have to say, “I want tea because I’m thirsty and because an eternal invisible deity of unlimited complexity wanted me to be.” Adding a god, or an Invisible Flying Clown, or any other supernatural cause to an explanation makes it more complicated, not less. Occam’s razor cuts no tumor more deeply than the one called god.

So, we see that the “prime mover” argument holds the seeds of its own destruction as does its companion, the misused Occam’s Razor. If everything that exists must have a cause, and god exists, then where did he come from? (By the way, if he’s all powerful, could he make a rock so big that he couldn’t lift it?)

2. The Watchmaker, er, Cell-Phone Maker

The second of god’s suicidal arguments is roughly two hundred years old and was first put forth by the Anglican philosopher William Paley. The argument is rather simple. If something looks designed, then it must have a designer. A watch must have a watchmaker. In other words, if something is complex then it requires something more complex to create it. The universe, obviously, is very complex, therefore its creator must be, well, you get the picture.

Now, let’s refer back to the believer’s assertion that god as a prime mover, in keeping with Occam’s principle, is a simple solution. As the great science writer/teacher/atheist Richard Dawkins has pointed out, any “Creator” must be at least as complex as his creations. It makes no sense to explain how something became complex by invoking an invisible, undetectable something that is infinitely more complex. In other words, if the universe is too complex to not have had a creator, then what does that say about the creator? If a watch needs a designer, then how could an incredibly complex creator just have sprung into existence?

In fact, the watchmaker argument, often used in conjunction with the human body, is not just suicidal but deeply flawed. For one thing, it ignores that many people are born with harmful birth defects that almost immediately cause suffering and death. Was the Watchmaker drunk? Secondly, the most complex things actually have teams of inventors, so it would seem that this argument actually is a better proof for the existence of many gods.

Thirdly, this argument is historically preposterous. Imagine a watch just popping into existence, fully formed. This is absurd. Everything that is complex in the universe has less complex origins. Modern cell phones include cameras, video games, telephones, radio transmitters and receivers, and computers. The cell phone was not created before any of these other inventions, but was made up of them. And each of the cell phone’s components had ancestors which were less complex. Digital cameras did not come out, indeed could not have come out, before Polaroids. Flat screen televisions with DVR capabilities did not come out before black and white television. The Grand Theft Auto video games did not come out before Pong. Nothing that is complex just pops into existence. The very nature of complexity is that it is made up of things that are less complex.

Further, if you grasp this, you would understand that the phones from the 1950s, the kind that Andy Griffith spoke into when he was calling Aunt Bee and Opie from the sheriff’s office, could be considered a different species from the modern cell phone. Andy’s phone did not want to become another type of phone. It did not consider itself to be a “transitional species” of phone, but merely survived for its time and then eventually found itself out-competed and then extinct. Only its fossil record survives in thrift stores, attics, and museums

You might say, yes, the phone has evolved but it took humans (something more complex) to guide that evolution. Humans are a good metaphor in this case, but not for god, since no human being who grew up on an isolated island away from modern technology could ever hope to create a cell phone, or even conceive of what it is. (For that matter, imagine telling people fifty years ago that one day they would carry a phone in their pocket; I would bet that, almost universally, their first comment would be about how long the extension cord would have to be.) Human “inventors” aren’t a good metaphor for god; but they are a good metaphor for natural selection. All that humans can do is look at all the phone designs that don’t work (experiment) and then pick the ones that do. This is just a faster version of what nature does through environmental and sexual selection.

If I was ever brought into court to refute the watchmaker argument, I would find it an easy task. Every part of a watch had, at one time, uses that were entirely unrelated to its use in a watch in the same way that many of the features of a modern cell phone were once completely unrelated to being part of a cell phone. Numbers obviously had uses other than just being on a watch face. Gears were used for mills. The glass on the face of a watch was used for windows, and the strap is just a shrunken belt. When they all came together they turned out to have another use, at least partially unrelated to their original uses. Better yet, I could prove this. It would not be difficult to show the origins of numbers, of glass, of gears, of straps and to show that they had other uses prior to being part of a watch. I could even show “fossil” evidence of the antecedents of the modern watch. Egyptian sundials, Chinese water clocks, and the great designs which came from John Harrison’s workshop (google his name; he’s pretty cool) could all be used to prove the point that the watch evolved from smaller, less complex pieces. The evidence table would be full and the court reporter would have to stop and massage the tendons of her wrist when I was through.

And I could be confident that god would never show up to testify on his own behalf.

3. Why is there something rather than nothing?

The third of god’s suicidal arguments is not really an argument. It actually involves an interesting question that theologians hope has an assumed answer. That is not to say the answer that believers give is interesting; it isn’t. Religious people simply have to hope that believers will assume that the uninteresting answer is true.

We will now examine the biggest question of them all: Why is there something rather than nothing? Personally, I don’t know why people assume there ever was nothing. What if the natural state of the universe is to be here? I don’t know why people who live in a world of something should assume that there was at one point nothing.

Here’s the problem with this question: Religious people don’t believe there was ever really nothing, do they? According to them, god was hanging around, just waiting to create a universe so that he could make humans and play his little faith-or-hell game with us. This, then, is the problem. You cannot ask the question of why is there something rather than nothing if you don’t assert that there actually was nothing. Instead, religious believers assert that rather than nothing, there was an Ultimate Something. This argument is the most persuasive when it is being used against the notion of a god. Why is there a god rather nothing? Again, this argument is suicidal for the god idea.

It is here that we can also address the point I raised earlier about the universe not needing a “first cause” or “prime mover.” Stephen Hawking (the really smart guy in a wheelchair who is often depicted in “The Simpsons”) addressed the issue of the universe’s creation from nothing to something and stated this in his best-selling Brief History of Time:

[T]he quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior of the boundary . . . The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just BE. (p. 141)

Dr. Hawking is careful to point out that this is just a proposal based on the mechanics of quantum gravity and will remain a proposal until all the evidence is in. That being said, doesn’t it make much more sense to theorize about the universe’s “beginnings” (if the word even applies) from the standpoint of science than it does to theorize about it from the standpoint of religion? What, exactly, makes anyone think that a religious proposal is likely to be helpful here?

I prefer to address the question in this way. The question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” answers itself, since it is not possible to ask its opposite.

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Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations


by Chaz Bufe, compiler/editor of The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations, and See Sharp Press editor

I was talking yesterday about the fear of death with one of the See Sharp Press authors, and how incongruous it seems that religious “believers” are so often terrified of death. The author mentioned that his  sister teaches at a Catholic university on the West Coast, and during a recent conversation she’d said that one of her colleagues, a Catholic priest, was dying of cancer.  When the priest told her of this, she’d said to him that his religious faith must be a great source of comfort. He admitted that it wasn’t, and that he was terrified. Score one for the priest: at least he was honest about it.

That begs the question, why are so many devout Christians, who stoutly maintain that they look forward to everlasting life in heaven, terrified of death? The obvious answer is that their actual beliefs do not match their professed beliefs. They desperately want to believe in an afterlife, but they don’t actually believe in it.

This explains a lot, including why “believers” routinely do everything in their power, even in extreme old age, to stave off death. It also explains why they’re so often hostile to atheists: the pointed words of nonbelievers threaten to burst their carefully constructed wishful-thinking bubbles. If “believers” actually believed, they wouldn’t care what atheists say. But they do. Like frightened children, they stomp their feet, howl angrily, and lash out at those who say anything that calls their wishful thinking into question.

A related aspect of this childish clinging to comforting illusions is that “believers” are pathetically eager to hear their “beliefs” parroted by others. The “reasoning” is that if everyone says their particular brand of bullshit is true, it must be true. Hence childhood religious indoctrination. Hence the perennial popularity of priests and preachers, no matter how transparently phony. Hence the huge industry in Christian books and videos, almost all of which flatter their fear-driven consumers (“the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people”), and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

In itself, this is enough to explain why so many Christians are terrified of death. But there’s one additional reason: atheists accept death as inevitable. For the most part we’re far from happy about it, but we accept it.  And most of us have had decades to come to terms with our own mortality. Religious “believers,” on the other hand, have spent their entire lives pretending that death doesn’t exist. They’ve spent their entire lives not coming to terms with it. So when they come face to face with death, they’re terrified.


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Disbelief 101 front cover


Excerpted from Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock

In our culture, perhaps no single word conjures up such positive overtones as the word faith. Religious people often proudly proclaim themselves to be “people of faith.” Children are taught that faith is an important aspect of their upbringing. “We’re raising our child in faith” is a common parental boast.

Faith is a central aspect of Christianity and Islam. But even religions that claim not to put a high premium on faith (that is, those that don’t claim it’s the golden ticket to heaven) still need faith. Religious Jews need to have faith that there is worth in carrying out the same rituals as people who lived and died thousands of years ago in a desert. They need to have faith that there really is a savior on the way. Hindus must have faith in myriad (it doesn’t hurt to look up a word now and then) gods and to have faith that good works will move them up the reincarnation chain to enlightenment. Buddhists have to have faith that the serene feeling that they get from meditation is somehow more spiritual than the feeling I get after going for a jog. In one way or another, faith, the ability to “believe,” is an important aspect of all religions.

But why is “faith” held in such high regard. What does it mean anyway? The Oxford Dictionary defines faith like this:

1. complete trust or confidence 2. firm belief, especially without logical proof. 3. a system of religious belief; b. belief in religious doctrines.

Isn’t this a strange set of definitions? First of all, faith implies a firm belief. The person of faith is usually a person who strongly believes in something. People of faith have little or no doubt about what they believe in.

Okay, you would think that people would have this kind of faith in things that have been proven to work, that is, things that have been proven true. I have unswerving faith that dawn will come tomorrow. It’s come every day for billions of years! And I have faith that the gravity which has kept the Earth swirling around the sun will continue to work tomorrow and the next day and the next. Why? It’s always worked. It’s easy to have firm belief in something that is proven by evidence to be true.

And yet, the next part of the Oxford definition makes the first part seem bizarre. Faith is not just a firm belief; it’s a firm belief, especially without logical proof.

Now wait a minute. How can anyone have a firm belief in something without proof for it? If I were to say that I had a firm belief in the existence of sound-carrying angels or an Invisible Flying Clown, people would think I was weird. If I said I had firm belief that the Invisible Flying Clown would rescue me if I jumped off a building, I’d be considered insane. After all, gravity is known to exist. One can have real faith in gravity. If something goes up, it comes down (unless it leaves the Earth’s gravitational pull), but to put so much faith in something for which I have no evidence, to the point where I’d wager my life on it, would be nuts.

Let’s revisit a slightly different version of an example I used earlier, but go into greater detail. Let’s say there’s a very religious farm family living out in the middle of nowhere, and the youngest boy has his leg mangled in a farming accident. The boy’s mother and father, having been raised to have faith in the power of god, simply cover the boy’s leg with a sheet and pray for him.

After one day of this, the boy is in extreme shock and delirium from pain and loss of blood. The mother calls her pastor who contacts the other members of the church, and they gather to pray for the boy’s healing. The boy gets worse and worse despite the prayers. One of the members of the congregation finally suggests that the mother and father take the boy to the hospital. They don’t, thinking that if they show a lack of faith in god he will take the boy’s life. The boy is only appearing to get sicker and sicker to test his and their faith.

The boy dies.

Any rational person, even a deeply religious one, would consider the actions of everyone involved, except for the injured boy, to be criminal. Why? Isn’t faith a good thing, and the more faith the better? Why should having so much faith in god be a criminal and negligent act? Why should it be considered child endangerment?

Many religious people would answer that, while they believe in a god, they also believe that he wants them to visit a doctor. Most people see no contradiction in taking a loved one to the hospital and then praying to god for his or her recovery while that loved one gets all the help of modern medical science.

But if you really have faith, why go to the hospital?

In his wonderful book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, wrote about a study called “The Great Prayer Experiment.” It involved 1802 patients in six hospitals. All were recovering from the same type of heart surgery. The patients were divided into thirds. One group was prayed for and knew it; the second group was prayed for and didn’t know it; and the last group was not prayed for and didn’t know it.

It turns out that those in the two groups that were unaware of their prayer-status had no difference in their health or recovery. The only ones to show a difference were the people who were prayed for and knew it. They “suffered significantly more complications than those who did not [know they were being prayed for].” (p. 63) Dawkins attributes this to the added stress the knowledge brought.

This should have been an unnecessary study. A simple look at history shows that prayer does nothing. The infant mortality rate used to be much higher than it is now. Plagues used to ravage medieval Christian Europe and the Islamic nations of the Middle East. I presume that many people in these deeply religious societies prayed often and fervently and died horrible deaths regardless. Nobody in America dies of plague or smallpox anymore. Is it because we pray harder than our medieval predecessors? Or is it because science has given us better medicines?
Do we no longer have epidemics in this country be-cause god likes us better than people in the past, or is it because we discovered that sanitation and hand washing are effective in preventing outbreaks?

Ask yourself why it is that you’re supposed to have just the right amount of faith. You’re not supposed to have so much faith that you actually expect god to do anything useful, like heal the sick or rescue the helpless, but just enough so that you believe in very old texts and in wild stories. Believe just enough, the church seems to be saying, to get your behind in the seats every Saturday or Sunday.

Why do all religions put such a high premium on faith? Why do they ask their followers to “grow in faith,” when clearly growing too much in faith can become a problem and can even land you in jail? What do the religions want? They want your faith to grow, but only in certain untestable areas. Religious Jews want you to have faith that a messiah is coming to save the world and that the books of the Old Testament are literally or figuratively true. They want you to have faith that Jesus was not a messiah, or savior. The Christians want you to have faith that Jesus was the son of god and that he was born of a virgin, walked on water, healed the sick, talked to Satan, was crucified for the sins of humanity, and that he died and came back three days later. The Muslims want you to have faith that Jesus was a prophet, but not the son of god, that god is named Allah, and that his true prophet was Mohammed, who was visited by an angel in a cave and spent his life conquering territory to spread Islam, taking many underage “wives” along the way.

How can these linked religions all exist? Simple: none of them have any evidence for their claims, so there’s no way to test their validity. Each claim, without any real evidence to back it, is just as valid as the next. It is the absence of evidence, of logic, of reason, that forces all religions to put a high premium on faith. Because they have no evidence for their claims, they have to make it a virtue to believe in things that are illogical—even though in any other area to have faith in something without evidence is crazy.

Every single religion in the world teaches that you exist for only one reason: to find and believe in that religion, whatever it may be. They all teach that god went through all the trouble of creation just so you can have free will and discover his one true religion.

And most people believe that the one true religion is whichever one they grew up with.

How do the many churches of the world sell something as blatantly stupid, as sadistic, as faith? Well, they promise a lot, don’t they? These religions claim that faith is the one thing that god requires. Many believers of various sects of Christianity and Islam think that god requires that we believe in him despite all evidence against his existence and the truth of the scriptures. It is a virtue, for example, to believe in creationism and not evolution because of all the evidence stacked against the idea of creationism; and the fact that there is not a single shred of real evidence in favor of creationism is only a test of faith. God wants to see if you will trust your own mind over the ancient holy texts he had written on his behalf. If you trust your own mind, if you lose faith that these comically flawed documents are the actual truth, then you will be punished. If you keep your faith, then you will be rewarded.

What are the rewards for having such faith, we might ask?

Heaven. A place of eternal bliss.

When do you go to heaven?

After you die!!

Of course, our next question is obvious: If you don’t go to heaven until after you die, how does anyone know it exists? I think you know the answer:

You have to have FAITH!!!

And if you don’t believe in all of this nonsense, what do the many religions of the world say awaits you?

Hell. A place of eternal torment.

Take a wild guess when you go. That’s right: after you’re dead. (You’re getting good at this.) And how do we know that hell exists if people only go there after they’re dead.

Drum roll, please . . .

You have to have FAITH!!!

Oddly enough, these extremes of reward and punishment, heaven on one hand and hell on the other, are enough to scare many people into being religious. Many people go to church and give money to it like they put money into a retirement account, hoping to do just enough to get into the nice gated community that is heaven and, perhaps more importantly, avoid that nasty slum called hell.

Isn’t this insane? Isn’t this a crazy wager? What if you picked the wrong religion? What if you’re Catholic and god is a Southern Baptist? What if you’re a Hindu and god is an African Animist?

What if god wants you to conclude he’s not there, and the only people who get into heaven are those wicked atheists? Why not? If you believe in a god who enjoys playing little games, how hard is it to believe in a god who tells everybody he wants them to believe in his holy books, but who really wants them to buck the system and not believe?

Of course, I don’t believe any of this for a second. Many Christian and Muslim religious people are put off by the notion that people of other faiths, billions of people, are going to go to hell. And yet, if religious people want to believe that god lets people of all faiths into heaven, then what’s the point of believing in any particular religion?
You see the problem? If you can get into heaven being a Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, or whatever, then why should you come to—and give money to—some Christian church? From the point of view of members of any particular religion, it makes no sense to say that everyone gets into heaven; and yet it seems cruel to condemn most of humanity to hellfire for believing, with total faith, in whatever holy book and religion happened to be fashionable in the area in which they were born.

This is a real problem for those seeking to sell religion, so they mostly ignore it. In America, it is a social convention not to argue about religion. We seem to have a policy of, “if you don’t mess with my nonsense, I won’t mess with yours.” It’s downright impolite to bring up the topic of logic to a religious person.

If you ever ask people who attend a “megachurch” why they give money to it, when it’s plain for anyone to see that the tax-free cash is being used to build media empires and to line the pockets of already wealthy preachers, they’ll probably look at you funny. The truth is they don’t care where the money goes. They give the money because they have faith that god is pleased with them for giving it, and is building them a nice retirement condo in the clouds.
Because religion is a business built on faith, it has to make faith into a virtue. Religions have to get to you when you are young and plow into your impressionable mind the idea that faith is a good thing, that it’s the only thing that matters, that it’s important. Not total faith, no, just enough faith to believe what god’s spokesmen (and it is almost always men) are telling you, even when what they’re telling you is complete rubbish.

Religions have to do this. After all, faith is their only product. Faith may consume your whole life and a good deal of your money and your intellect, but it costs religions next to nothing to produce it. And the best part? Every indoctrinated child grows up to sell the product to the next generation.

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Disbelief 101: A Young Person's Guide to Atheism


Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Disbelief 101:  A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock

Many religious people view atheism as simply another form of belief, no different from Christianity or Hinduism. It’s not. It’s the absence of belief. However, for a moment let’s accept the assertion that atheism is a form of religion. (I don’t really accept the idea that atheism is another type of faith, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But for the sake of argument let’s accept the assertion that atheism is just another “belief.”)

Imagine if, of all the world’s religions, one of them, say some little-known Christian church buried deep in Alabama, began to work miracles. Let’s say that the members of this church, when they prayed and did their rituals, were actually able to heal the sick in high, statistically verifiable percentages. Let’s say this church eradicated smallpox, and through its members’ prayers sent people halfway across the world in hours, and to the moon in days. Let’s say that its ministers were able to stare far out into the cosmos and down at the tiniest particles. There would seem to be nothing, given enough time, that these believers couldn’t accomplish through their religion’s rituals.

Wouldn’t this little church win converts from all around the world? Wouldn’t a religious sect with this kind of real-world power become completely dominant? It would be considered the one true faith. According to those who look at atheism as a belief, there is such a religion. It is called atheism, and it works precisely because it is so different from all of the other religions. Where the other religions assume that there are gods and a spirit world, atheism assumes there are not.

Let’s define the “religion” of atheism in this way: “Atheism believes that questions of the natural world can be solved by beginning with the proposition that there is no god. Instead, the atheist looks at evidence before making a claim.”
Okay, now let’s assume that this “religion” of atheism has a ritual; it’s called the scientific method. We’ve all learned it. One asks a question, sets up a hypothesis, runs an experiment, and then examines the evidence.

Atheism has now been defined as a “religion” with a core “theological” doctrine, and a “religious” ritual. We could stretch the metaphor to include labs as places of worship, etc., but it’s unnecessary.

Let’s now imagine our religion of atheism in the real world, where it must compete with other religions for followers. It’s just one more piece of lettuce on the salad bar of religious belief.

The atheists, using their atheistic rituals, have conquered many of humankind’s most destructive diseases. They have created artificial limbs, the telephone, flight, advances in agriculture and medicine. They have even managed to predict the weather. (Talk about prophecy!) They have created weapons technology capable of destroying the entire world many times over. Is this not a powerful religion? Has atheism not truly discovered the ways of god by simply assuming that there isn’t one?

Imagine if any single religious sect could claim the kind of success in real-world results, for good or bad, that atheistic science has. Can you imagine if an evangelical Christian church could pray a man into orbit? Would they hide this away and say that god works in mysterious ways, or would they scream it from the rooftops and win converts because of their supernatural miracle?

Atheistic science has been too successful. It makes the miraculous commonplace. If ever the world was destroyed nearly entirely, and some new race of intelligent beings, mired again in religious mumbo jumbo, discovered that we, the ancients, knew how to fly and how to prevent plagues, and could see hurricanes coming, wouldn’t they think we had some powerful religion indeed? And if we could explain it all to this new race, wouldn’t they be surprised to find that not a single one of our miracles was the result of prayer or religious ritual? That there wasn’t a single word in any of our holy books about nuclear physics, about bacteria or viruses, about meteorology? We did the miraculous, we would have to say, by assuming that miracles don’t exist and by ignoring the false teachings in our holy texts.

So if atheism is just another “belief,” why doesn’t atheism have a massive following? Why are atheists instead a small minority in America? Why are we reviled and pushed out of politics and public conversation?

It’s because the advances of science are never described as being successful primarily because science assumes there is no god. Imagine a newspaper article that described a breakthrough in the creation of a smallpox vaccine:

A group of atheists, working under the always successful assumption that there is no god and that the natural world operates without any supernatural help, found today that smallpox is in fact created by microscopic entities called viruses. Now that this evidence is in, the scientists can work on the creation of a vaccine using weakened viruses to strengthen the body’s immune system. Another victory for the atheistic world view.

Don’t you see? Everything that works in the world, everything that humanity has created works because we assume there is no god. Cars work because we assume that no god will help run them if there’s no gasoline or engine. Diseases are cured because we assume that god has nothing to do with them; so scientists look for other causes. Buildings stand because we build them strongly, knowing that the hand of god won’t hold them up.

Imagine building a car with no engine, and assuming it’s going to run on “god power.” What irony! After centuries of priests and shamans praying for signs and praying that a god or gods interfere with human lives, the only thing that has worked in the real world is to assume that god doesn’t exist! To assume there is no god is to get off on the right foot every single time.

Let’s imagine a situation where a child is badly injured. The child’s deeply religious parents, assuming there is a god who works miracles, pray over the child in their home and do not take her to the hospital. The child dies. In this case, aren’t the parents guilty of a crime? Don’t we all, deep down, know that it’s criminal to pretend there is a real god in certain situations? That injured child should have been taken to a hospital, where the doctors, who would assume that there is no god (through their actions if not their beliefs) would hopefully be able to repair her body and keep her alive. If there is a god, why does he demand that we deny him in order to make anything work?

Why don’t we begin to define atheism as a religion? Not only that, but let’s define everything that works as atheistic. Atheistic car mechanics, atheistic doctors, atheistic custodial workers. We could go on and on. Not a single profession in the entire world achieves results by assuming there is a god. That is, except for the religious profession, which exists only to perpetuate its religious beliefs. But, you might say, don’t many religious professionals do a lot to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and all that? Don’t religious people often do good things because of religion? Sure, but why do they have to do it? Because they know god won’t. Religious people themselves have to achieve real-world results in the same way that everyone else does: by assuming there is no god who’ll do it for them.

If we did define atheism as a religion, then maybe we’d start to win converts in the same kind of numbers that Jesus and Mohammed have.

But we don’t. Atheism is not a religion. What is it then? It’s an offshoot of scientific inquiry. Let me explain.
In the not so distant past, just a few centuries ago, people would look at the world and make guesses about how it worked. If a person was smart or well educated and wrote a guess down, then people began to believe it. Let’s use an example you may have learned in your science classes: that of meat and maggots. It was once believed that if you left meat out in the open it turned into maggots. After all, that’s what you saw if you left the meat out and came back a few days later. In fact, the idea that meat turns into maggots is just one of a seemingly infinite number of explanations for maggots.

Well, it’s simple to test whether or not this is true. You put meat in two jars and put them both on a window sill. Cover one with a cloth and don’t cover the other one. A few days later the uncovered jar will have maggots and the covered one won’t. Interesting. Now you know that meat doesn’t just turn into maggots. But you still don’t know that maggots are fly larvae. It could be that the sun helps the meat turn into maggots. So try the experiment again with the jars in the shade. When the results are the same, you’ll know that the sun is not a cause of maggots. But, if you’re watching, you’ll notice that flies are all over the meat in the uncovered jar. Could there be a connection? If you watch long enough, and closely enough, you’ll see that, yes, the flies are laying eggs in the meat. The hatched larvae must live off the nutrition in the dead flesh.

By collecting evidence, you found the truth. And the truth is useful because you can build upon it. Once you discover, for example, that maggots eat only dead flesh, you’ll find that they are excellent for cleaning the dead skin out of gangrenous wounds. This is an effective, though disgusting, medical procedure.

We reason in such a way. You begin by understanding something concrete and then building on it. Let’s say that we don’t know how sound works and that several of us are sitting around talking about the problem. One guy states that sound is caused by tiny little angels flying out of our mouths and entering the ears of the people we’re speaking to. Any time there’s a noise, it’s the work of angels. If it’s a really loud noise, then there are bunches of angels. The problem is that the angels get tired. If they have to fly too far, they give up or just fall down.

So this man creates a device that he thinks will carry the angels, and the sound, for long distances. It’s a complicated machine, a large pipe with holes on the sides. Every five feet, the inventor has placed strong but silent fans. The fans are at the holes to give the angels a burst of wind to help carry them farther on.

Once the contraption is built, the man stations himself at one end of the pipe and puts another person at the opposite end a mile away. He speaks and the powerful fans start whirring.

Now, let’s imagine that this inventor is in competition with a man who closely studied sound and discovered that it has a tendency to smash into an object, like a tree, but then seems to wash around the tree so that some of it comes around the other side. In fact, it acts rather like a wave.

This man realizes, because of previous scientific discoveries, that electricity, alternating current, is also a wave, and that it travels through wires. Well, if he wants to carry sound over long distances, it’s not just a matter of turning the sound wave into an electrical wave, but changing it back into sound at the other end. So, he invents a device called a telephone that translates sound waves into electrical waves when you speak into it, and turns them back into sound waves when you listen to it.

Obviously, this is just a thought experiment. No one person could discover the nature of sound and invent the telephone. This is something that happens over generations, but it illustrates my point. If you start with a belief that has no evidence to back it up, then you’ll get nowhere. The long-pipe/angel/fan machine obviously won’t work, because there are no angels.

The telephone will work because there are sound and electrical waves. In the beginning, to say that angels carry sound or to say that sound is made of invisible waves may sound equally valid, or equally crazy, but one statement has the power of evidence to back it up and the other doesn’t.

Likewise, if we begin with the idea that prayer really heals people, we will get nowhere. Prayer doesn’t heal people. Prayer affects viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells about as much as ancient or tribal people dancing around a fire and killing animals for sacrifice does.

So, let’s compare prayer with our example from above about the tiny sound-carrying angels. A contraption designed to convey sound-carrying angels over long distances doesn’t work. Why? Simple: because there are no angels. Likewise, praying to god to heal someone doesn’t work. Why? Simple: because there is no god

The thing is, atheism is not a religion. Atheism is a simple statement of disbelief in any kind of supernatural force. This statement can be made with words such as “I don’t believe in a god or group of gods.” Or, it can be made with actions such as when someone goes to the hospital because he knows that god won’t heal him. (And, I’m sorry, but the notion that god chose to heal a person through the creation of hospitals makes no sense. Where was god for the thousands of years that people got sick before hospitals existed?)

Once you’ve made that statement of disbelief, then you’re free to think about every topic, be it moral or scientific, through the use of reason and your own intellect rather than by searching some holy book for the answers given by “prophets” of questionable sanity. Religions are an end. Atheism is a beginning.

Every religion claims that human beings are put on this Earth for the express purpose of discovering that religion. Atheism says no such thing. Atheistic scientific inquiry is merely a tool that anyone can use. It’s like a hammer. And anyone can use a hammer. Scientific inquiry is like that. It doesn’t require that you convert to any ideology in order to use it.

Even a deeply religious person can use the experimental method and have it work. To be an atheist merely means that you don’t believe in anything, be it god, an Invisible Flying Clown, or sound-carrying angels, without evidence.
But wait! The religious person might be yelling at this point. You can’t prove there is no god through scientific inquiry. He could easily exist and just chooses not to answer prayers. You can’t prove that something doesn’t exist! That’s true. I can’t prove that there aren’t sound-carrying angels, either.

But, a liberal religious person might say, god does exist but he doesn’t answer prayers or interact with the natural world at all. Then, I, as the skeptic, would have to ask: “How do you know he exists?” After all, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. Prove to me he exists. If he doesn’t answer prayers, if he doesn’t interact with the natural world, then how do you know he’s there? And, given the fact that he is either actively involved in the evil of the world or completely detached and uncaring, why do you think he is good?

The religious person will undoubtedly answer with the most harmful word ever concocted in the history of humankind.


[more on this in a subsequent post–ed.]

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ATHEIST, n. A person to be pitied in that he is unable to believe in things for which there is no evidence, and who has thus deprived himself of a convenient means of feeling superior to others.

* * *

–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

(EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the reasons many people dismiss atheism is that atheist organizations seem to delight in pissing people off. They focus on relative trivialities, symbolic affronts such as nativity scenes in public places, rather than on the very serious religious intrusions — laws restricting  reproductive rights, gay rights, the right to die — that damage the lives of millions of Americans.  In the following post, Marie Castle calls out America’s atheist organizations for their wholesale abdication of responsibility. –CB)

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

Here’s something we don’t think about, but should. Gloria Steinem said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free, but first it will piss you off.” So here goes:

Why is it that so many religions are founded by people who claim to believe in a god, yet use that religion in greedy self-serving ways? Consider the difference between a cult and a religion:

In a cult, the person at the top knows it’s a scam.
In a religion, that person is dead.

How many religions today were started as a cult by someone who knew it was a scam? Probably most of them. Yes, some religious founders are honestly deluded, think a god is talking to them, and they have been especially selected to carry out some half-baked ideas about a spirit world. There are others who start a religion honestly to promote a worthy way to live — an ethical system such as Buddhism.

We are not talking about those founders, only about deliberate scams, begun by con artists — faithless men and women who used the faith and belief of others to steal from them. And that is wicked. And those wicked con artists are … unbelievers .. atheists! And their followers drank the Kool-Aid and continue to drink it and it never occurs to them that it was and is served up by … atheists.

Not atheists of the kind that form and belong to freethinker organizations dedicated to forcing religions to be benign, only those who have no interest in god beliefs except as the hook for the greatest and most profitable and longest con in history.

Let’s start with Moses. He is probably a fictional character but, if so, his story was created by con artists to achieve the desired results. Get a Bible and read about the Ten Commandments. Moses has led his people to the Promised Land. They are at Mt. Sinai. The mountain is rumbling, fire is coming from the top of the mountain as from a furnace. Moses says the rumbling is the voice of Yahweh, who wants to speak with him. (It’s just a volcano, but people always believe what they want to believe.) Only Moses is allowed to go up and talk with Yahweh. No one else must even come near. “Stay back,” he warns them repeatedly.

So this elderly man trudges up the mountain into the smoke and after a time returns with Ten Commandments carved at Yahweh’s direction on two stone tablets. Then there’s the Golden Calf incident, with Moses smashing the Ten Commandments, so he has to go back up the mountain for another set. They aren’t quite the same, but no matter. What’s important for the con is the instructions that go with them.

There are pages and pages of instructions for setting up luxurious tents for Moses, his brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons — a priestly class to be showered with perks: the finest fabrics, gold and silver vessels, the best the Israelites had to offer in food, drink and amenities. All for the glory of Yahweh, of course, even though enjoyed only by that priestly class. Nothing was too good. It was the Bronze Age equivalent of today’s televangelists with their mansions, swimming pools, and private jets.

The Catholic Church says the Bible story of the woman using precious ointment to wash the feet of Jesus instead of helping the poor was justified for the honor and glory of “god.” Same for why the church constructed such lavish cathedrals. After all, “the poor you will always have with you.” True enough if society’s wealth is squandered on the priestly class (now our biggest recipient of welfare through tax exemptions and perks and government giveaways).

Pope Leo X in the Middle Ages was quoted by his secretary as saying, “We all know how profitable this fable of Jesus Christ has been for our company.” Yes, another “faithless man,” like so many popes at that time, and even now. They know their church history as well as we do. They know there was no pope before the 4th century. They know it’s all a profitable fable. Some no doubt close their minds to that and convince themselves otherwise, but the facts are still there. People believe what they want to believe or have to believe to live with themselves.

How about the Mormons? This is history so close it’s beyond questioning. Joseph Smith was a known con artist with an arrest record. Can anyone read the account of his visit from the angel Moroni and those golden tablets (“evidence” that Moroni took back to heaven and so are not available) and his cobbled up hieroglyphics and Book of Mormon about Jesus visiting America and on and on without laughing? Yet Smith served up that Kool-Aid and his followers drank it and still do, never understanding that their faith comes from a con artist’s imagination — a faithless man using the faith and belief of others to steal from them. With Smith dead, his cult is now the Mormon religion.

How about Mary Baker Eddy? She had a carnival act with a guy named Quimby touting “mesmerism” — a mind-over-matter schtick about using one’s mind to control whatever. When Quimby died, Eddy turned the act into a cult purporting to use one’s mind to heal disease. Since Eddy is dead, her cult is now the religion of Christian Science. And it maims and kills children whose parents drank Eddy’s Kool-Aid and abandoned real medical care for prayer “treatments” that consist of refusing to admit a disease exists even when a child is clearly dying. It’s the ultimate in believing what one wants to believe. And we have legislators so determined to respect those beliefs that they refuse to rescind laws that support them. More Kool-Aid.

So What Should Atheists Do About This?

These and other cults/religions are clearly not founded by honest, well-meaning god believers. It’s time we honest atheists called them out. They are rogue atheists — hucksters playing the long con — with no more of a god belief than we have, but lacking the conscience that would keep them from exploiting believers. It never occurs to religious people that they are being conned by huckster atheists. Why not tell them?

Honest Christian behavior is immoral behavior because it hurts people. (Bible thumpers and “infallible pope” Catholics offer evidence for that.) Honest atheist behavior is moral behavior because it exists to oppose the harm religion causes. (Secular laws and social policies that help people live more productive lives offer evidence for that.) Organized atheism actually has no other valid purpose.

Christians become moral by abandoning traditional beliefs, in effect adopting the religion-free views of honest atheists. Atheists become immoral when they abandon atheism’s inherently moral position in respect to religion by becoming con artists in the name of greed.

We atheists drink our own Kool-Aid by not telling the truth. We need to rein in our outliers and expose their con game. And we need to learn something about public relations from the world’s reigning expert — Pope Francis. That is, you present a helpful, caring, friendly face to the world. In Francis’s case, that hides a con game intended to preserve and enhance doctrinal control over our social laws and public policies. There will be no retraction of the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-death with dignity, etc., restrictions now in place. If anything, it will get worse. But it won’t seem so because Francis will smile and talk of loving the victims and “accompanying them” during the travail his doctrines inflict on them. Kool-Aid.

An Honest Atheist Public Relations Policy

City council prayers are wrong. So are god pledges and mottoes. But no one cares if we lose the lawsuits and may feel irritated if we win. Billboards that say we can be good without god imply the god standard is good when it’s not.

None of this shows we care about people — only that we want “a place at the table” in forming public policy. And we want that place only because there are now more of us. Why does that matter? We should want that place so we can make life better for everyone, not just us. We should show that we stand with the victims of religion-based laws. We should file lawsuits on their behalf. We should be their heroes. Instead we ignore them and say the oppressions inflicted on them “are not atheist issues” when they are exactly that.

Atheists have abdicated their most fundamental responsibility–to stand up for the victims of religion. The Secular Coalition for America recently released a Model Secular Policy Guide for legislative issues. It looks like something put together by a committee. Bland and legalistic, it does nothing to inspire activism. Shouldn’t it point out the massive harm religion-based laws do to individuals and society? No mention of that, only that the intrusions do not pass constitutional muster. That will change if Supreme Court rulings make atrocious laws constitutional, as could happen. It’s been done before. Ther document makes it seem that atheists have no human-centered principles to defend. By not making a forceful and principled stand for the victims of religious tyranny we make no stand at all. We are drinking our own Kool-Aid.

(Re-posted from the  Atheists for Human Rights blog)

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“In a cult, the person at the top knows it’s a scam. In a religion, that person is dead.”

–Anonymous, quoted by Marie Alena Castle  (author of Culture Wars)

in “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid,” Moral Atheist, Jan./Feb. 2014


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