New Atheism scares a Christian because it’s too optimistic

This is the second time I’ve heard this criticism of atheism, the first being the bizarre lucubrations of Francis Spufford, who didn’t like the atheist bus slogan (“There probably is no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life”) because it was too optimistic.  There is more to life, said Spufford, than merely enjoying it.

Now, over at PuffHo‘s “Religion” section, Paul Wallace (self-described as “a professor of physics [at Agnes Scott College] and a former working scientist”), Wallace diagnoses this optimism as “The real problem with New Atheism“:

What scares me? Plenty of things. “The Shining” scares me. Cancer scares me. The vulnerability of my children scares me. And for a number of years now the New Atheists have scared me.

It’s true: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett and even sweet lovable PZ Myers. I am not making this up. These gentlemen, with their impressive and sustained frontal assault on all religion everywhere, have scared me.

Poor guy! He needs a hug from Dennett. Why is he so scared? After all, he’s had his own doubts about faith:

Am I a closet atheist?

No. In my time of trying on Yes I never felt the familiar click and closure of discovery, of having come across something true.

Yet I was unsatisfied. I could not get to the bottom of my disagreement with these people.

Then, just last week, it happened: click and closure. I was leafing through my well-worn copy of William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” When I came across — for the nth time — that section of the book in which James draws a distinction between two psychological types, the “healthy-minded” and the “sick soul,” I saw clearly what separates me from the New Atheists: pessimism.

The truth is, if I were more optimistic I’d probably be an atheist.

Yes, Wallace sees the big problem of New Atheism as optimism.  I would have thought the opposite: we’re the people who don’t believe in life after death, and so have been accused of nihilism.

The essence of my discovery is this: What truly separates me from atheism is not my belief in God; that’s a long way from the point of departure. It is instead my conviction that evil and weakness are not only problems to be solved, but are also reliable clues to the secret of the world. For me the emptiness of the glass is, in James’ words, “the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only opener of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.”

That’s bizarre: he doesn’t see the big difference between him and atheists as turning on the matter of God? In fact, according to the above statement he does: both atheists and non-atheists see evil and injustice in the world, but he sees it as the key to “the deepest levels of truth,” which presumably involve the Divine.

Wallace then tells us why we should be more pessimistic, and why the bus slogan is inappropriate:

Contemporary atheism is optimistic. Given its wall-to-wall phalanx of writers hell-bent on mocking everything that smells of religion, it may seem that this label is ill-applied. Yet under its bluster and iconoclasm atheism is full of good cheer and high spirits. Anyone who knows an actual atheist knows this.

Really? Since when has Dawkins been accused of “good cheer and high spirits”?

This sanguinity is likely drawn from science, which is without question the most optimistic enterprise ever concocted by human beings.

. . . Yet science as a philosophy is incomplete. It wears blinders and refuses to acknowledge whole classes of questions that are important to people everywhere, questions of good and evil, and of human weakness, and of meaning. And it seems that New Atheism, in its wholesale dependence upon science as a philosophy, imports science’s blinders — bound as they are to its optimism — into its overall worldview. And this is where the problem lies.

Science isn’t a philosophy, for crying out loud; it’s a methodology for finding out what’s true about the universe. And certainly we recognize that there are questions about morality and meaning that science can’t answer. Which scientist thinks that we have a handle on what’s right, and how each person should live his or her life? All we maintain is that there are no objective answers to those questions, only personal ones, and that one can’t derive them, and shouldn’t base them, on a nonexistent being.

Here’s Wallace’s real beef:

Imagine a clear fall Saturday in London’s Hyde Park. Footballers are out; lovers doze on picnic blankets; tourists stand in clumps shuffling through maps; university students pass by laughing. And then, over at the park’s edge, behold! There passes the Atheist Bus, one of those U.K. buses that, a few years ago and with Dawkins’ support, were plastered with the brightly-lettered and chirpy slogan, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

This is the zenith of optimism.

It is optimistic because it assumes that the default condition of human life is peace. It is optimistic because, in its refusal to acknowledge the deeper problems of life, it redraws human experience on a solvable and finite scale, presuming that what people really need is to “enjoy their lives.” After all, it’s a beautiful day in the city; what else could there be to need? It is optimistic because the creators of the campaign could not bring themselves to imagine — or if they did imagine it they did not take it seriously — someone reading it who, in the words of Francis Spufford, is poverty-stricken, or desperate for a job, or a drug addict, or a mother who just lost a child to social services. Someone who is truly alone in this world and who may have nothing but the faintest hope of a loving God keeping them alive. Maybe they did think about such a person and decided that they too need to “stop worrying and enjoy their life,” starting with a breath of clean godless air. Now that’s optimism.

I don’t buy it. And as a Christian, I’m not supposed to buy it. The Joel Osteens of the world notwithstanding, it is only through the channel of pessimism — the full and unqualified acknowledgment of life’s dark underside as a clear and present reality — that Christianity is able to do its transformative work.

The Christianity I know takes note of the blue London sky, of the footballers, and of the picnicking lovers, but it starts with the addict on the street. You know, the one optimism forgot about. The fragile one standing alone at the edge of the park, watching the Atheist Bus roll jauntily past.

This is just dumb.  Does Wallace think that atheists don’t take the problems of the world seriously, and are just lah-dee-dah about everything? One of the hallmarks of atheism, for instance, is its refusal to ignore the problems that religion causes. That is, after all, one part of life’s “dark underside”: a part that Christianity can’t cure because the religion causes it.  Which atheist refuses to admit that the world is beset with political, religious, and environmental problems?

Finally, Wallace, like Spufford, simply ignores one likely meaning of the athist bus slogan (granted, it could have been clearer about this).  To me, the phrase “stop worrying and enjoy your life” means this: “stop worrying about whether you’re going to heaven or hell, because you’re worm food after you’re dead.  Instead, try to make the most out of your one short life.” Well-being, which is a form of enjoyment, is one of our goals. We want it not just for ourselves, but for others, because for many helping others is a source of personal satisfaction.

Only a petulant Christian would single out the atheist bus slogan to create a diatribe against New Atheism for being too optimistic.  We can’t, it seems, do anything right.


  1. kelskye
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    I remember hearing a Philosophy Bites podcast with a similar argument – though it was more so they could say that the atheists were also deluded (in thinking this world warrants optimism to begin with).

    • Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      …but believing in a magic man in the sky is not deluded, always love those arguments!

      • kelskye
        Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        Actually, the philosopher didn’t dispute the claim that God is a delusion, only that the atheists who claim that God is a delusion are deluded themselves. (Paraphrasing) “We have our delusion, they have theirs”.

  2. Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    It’s notable that — as always — the objection to atheism isn’t about facts or evidence or truth, it’s about an emotional reaction.

    And certainly we recognize that there are questions about morality and meaning that science can’t answer.

    Sorry Jerry, I must demur. As an unapologetic scientismist (there must be a better word for that!), I don’t think there are questions about morality and meaning that science cannot answer.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      Agreed. There is plenty of science on morality, including evolutionary origins, neuroscience of what functional components go into our moral reasoning, measurements of variations and flexibility of morals, game theory modeling of natural selection pressures, correlation of moral principles with other factors, genetic and environmental factors affecting moral views, differences between moral behaviours and moral judgments, and framework for scientifically optimizing the above bases of morals.

      I find it odd when people say science can’t answer moral questions. After all, if it can’t, then what value do these “morals” provide? You need to demonstrate that they have real value in order for them to be respected, and that value means a scientific process. And we do have a pretty good scientific understanding of where moral behaviours and judgments come from and what they are trying to optimize.

      Of course I’m using a broad definition of science here to include essentially all forms of objective evidence and applied reasoning to anything that interacts with our reality, which includes math, game theory, and applied logic. But I think that’s fair given the context. When people say “science can’t answer …” they don’t mean “but math can”; they are seeking support for some made up process that has no basis for measuring anything of value.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Value involves an ordering on choices. So, one such value “morals” provide is a meaning to “value” — even utilitarian/consequentialist. Again, you first need an axiomatic bridge to cross from “is” to “ought”. Science can tell you a lot about what bridge is in use, but not (without a starting bridge) what bridge ought to be in use.

        Ought is the business of Engineering, not Science.

        • Richard Wein
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          Is that electrical or mechanical engineering?

          • JohnnieCanuck
            Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink


        • gravelinspector
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

          Value involves an ordering on choices.

          Errr, actually it doesn’t strictly. (This is one of the few things which “stuck” from learning “object oriented programming” in an Open University course several years ago.) Objects, including in this context concepts in “philosophy”, can perfectly well have a “value” property, but unless they also have a property that inherits the behaviour of “comparable” (I forget what the standard Java class is ; or is it an interface ; like I said, it was several years ago). Without comparison, one cannot have an order.
          So, the natural numbers (integers) clearly have a natural comparison property ; the test (for integers ‘a’ and ‘b’) “IF A < B” always has a result, for all values of A and B. However, if ‘A’ and ‘B’ are of class ‘fruit’, then there is no answer to the test
          'A' = 'apple' ;
          'B' = 'orange' ;
          return(if ((A) < (B))) ;

          Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ have value, but they don’t have either order or, more fundamentally, comparability.
          In philosophy, and presumably in it’s particularly void subset called “religion” there is an implication that the test "adherence to $FAITH" < "optimism" returns a result. I can’t determine that result because I haven’t seen an implementation of the comparable interface for the class “philosophy” (from which “religion” is derived). Which leaves philosophy as a variant of “stamp collecting” in the same way that biology was “stamp collecting” until the comparable interface was applied by the test of fitness (with artificial and natural selection as incidental emergent consequences).
          I’ve been decorating the house for the last couple of weeks, in negotiation with “‘er indoors” ; does anyone have an idea of how to implement the comparable interface for the classes “colour” and “wall covering”? (I can handle the implementation for things like how to actually paint the damned walls ; and obviously she wins, by definition.)
          I’m pretty sure that there are philosophers of programming (where do you think new programming languages come from? Off tablets of stone?), but are there programmers of philosophy?

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      There are questions that science hasn’t answered yet, and the dilemma is whether these questions (about God, morality, etc) are testable hypotheses, as Stenger and Harris have asked.

      Are these questions that science cannot answer or merely questions that science has not answered (yet)?

      Is God a testable hypothesis or not? I agree with Jerry, the fact that a given atheist is optimistic or pessimistic has nothing to do with the discussion.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        God hypotheses are testable if they claim that a god exists. This is a serious problem for believers and keeps theologians busy trying to rationalize reasons why there is no good evidence for any gods.

        They are caught in a catch 22. They attempt to refine their hypotheses of god so that the probability of any testing rendering clear results is lower and lower. But as they do so they inevitably are also hypothesizing a god who’s probability of interacting with reality in a way that could affect us is also lower and lower.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Science is in the business of answering questions about the empirical “is”. It cannot answer questions about the abstract “is” — it takes mathematics as a given; unary probability proof that angle trisection by compass and straightedge is beyond its scope. It also cannot answer “ought” questions directly, though it can indicate the consequences of choices and thus advise a consequentialist decision implied by some particular is-ought bridge. The answers of science are also probabilistic, and thus potentially subject to revision based on further evidence.

        …but that’s about the limits.

        Whether God is a testable hypothesis depends on whether one works from a philosophy that can tell a hawk from a handsaw without a miracle. God is testable, if and only if hawks and handsaws can be distinguished.

        • Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Science … takes mathematics as a given …

          As several of us have argued on these threads, the axioms of mathematics are ultimately derived from empirical experience, they are distilled empiricism, and thus mathematics is just as much a “science” (in a broad sense) as other sciences.

          • gravelinspector
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

            As several of us have argued on these threads, the axioms of mathematics are ultimately derived from empirical experience,

            Georg Cantor’s sanity is calling ; do you want to take the call?

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted October 23, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

              Haven’t you ever seen a countable infinity before?

              In fairness though, the word ‘ultimately’ could serve to save this remark.

              Even the most bizarre topology or Hilbert spaces or differential geometry does seem to ultimately trace to intuitive concepts of human experience being generalized, abstracted, extended, and recombined in various logically consistent ways. It’s really not so strange to extend what is 3 dimensional to N dimensional, what is linear to non-linear, what is finite to infinite, what is static to dynamic, what is ordered to unordered, what is known to unknown, and so on. A math based entirely on unfamiliar concepts would be difficult to arrive at conceptually, though maybe somebody knows of one.

              • Posted October 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                Some of the small Universal Turing Machine languages come close.

                Again, however, I’d say the key distinction is that in Science relation to the empirical is an absolutely necessary condition, but for Mathematics it’s simply a lucky bonus… sometimes. (The Banach-Tarski sphere dissection does not appear to have an empirical counterpart.)

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink


                I agree that mathematics is a superset of math that has applications in science, and also a superset of what can be associated with real world empirical phenomena in a straightforward way.

                But there is something other than ’empirical’ going on here, which I don’t know how to explain formally. I studied math 30 years ago and got a BA, so I have some understanding here, but not really expert. I had to look up the Banach-Tarski paradox.

                What I mean by saying there is something other than strictly empirical going on, is a kind of intuition related to experience, but also related to how our brain is genetically structured. Even young babies, before they have language, show intuitive sense of space, expectations of how liquids pour into a cup and overflow ultimately, of objects falling, of stability in shape, color, number, and that they can’t occupy the same space at the same time. This comes from reading Steven Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought” some years ago. There is a kind of physics built into our brains at birth, similar to how there is a linguistic facility for parsing and recognizing phonemes and associating sounds with concepts at birth (or shortly thereafter based on natural development, not environmental experience necessarily). This isn’t too surprising if one ponders how the brain might have evolved.

                So in some ways there are certain kinds of things that are naturally ‘thinkable’ for humans. Any kid might think of smashing something to pieces and trying to reassemble it again. So while the end result of Banach-Tarski is surprising, counter-intuitive, and defies what we might predict before “doing the math”, the whole idea of operating on point set topologies in this way is fairly natural. So something about the kinds of math we make up and the kinds of things that occur to us to try with mathematical objects is related to or perhaps constrained by what is ‘thinkable’, which is constrained by how our brain is structured and operates. And this natural relationship between the physicality of our brain and the kinds of things we can think may ultimately be at least part of the explanation for the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.

              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

                I agree that mathematics is a superset of math that has applications in science, and also a superset of what can be associated with real world empirical phenomena in a straightforward way.

                The thing is, there’s nothing at all special about mathematics in that regard.

                That you can construct mathematical models that have little or no bearing on reality is no different from the fact that you can build astrophysical models that also have little or no bearing on reality. Trace the evolution of the model of the universe, and we go from a flat earth with the dome of the firmament to the geocentric spherical model with planets and the Sun in perfect circular orbits to epicycles to Copernicus to Newton to Galileo to Einstein…

                …and we know today that even Einstein’s model, as fantastically brilliant and useful as it is, is fundamentally flawed in some important way since even it can’t explain quantum gravity.

                If there’s a difference between math and any of the other sciences, it’s that mathematicians spend more of their research in imaginative flights of fancy whilst the others tend to keep grounding their work…but it’s a very fuzzy distinction, as both make frequent and essential forays back and forth between imagination and observation. But, even there, you’ll see scientists (like Einstein) who’re more imaginative and mathematicians (like Shannon) who’re more practical.



              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

                Agreed with all you said. My main point, which I buried in too many words as usual, was to push back on what I think are two mistakes: the idea that math is empirical, which you addressed, and an idea like Tegmark’s.

                As you point out, there is a remarkable productivity in the combinatorial power of information, which gives math, and language in general, freedom to deviate wildly from the more narrowly confined domain of natural reality.

                But still there is that “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”, which I think drives the thinking behind the two mistakes I mention at the outset: that math is empirical, or that nature is math.

                That Einstein had such a high degree of accuracy is amazing, but I think it’s a mistake to think his work was either completely possible with a priori deduction (as Tegmark might claim) or that it was completely empirically based. It was a kind of iterative feedback process between some empirical measures, and some a priori reasoning, albeit reasoning motivated or guided by empirical results known to Einstein, and guided by Einstein’s intention to “get it right”.

                The main point I wanted to make, which I believe is in agreement with you, is that the “unreasonable effectiveness of math” isn’t so unreasonable or special at all. Math is so like nature, so effective, because nature shaped our brains and how they think, so the anthropic principle applies. The effectiveness of math is entirely reasonable, in other words. When we wonder at the conformity of math with nature, or go off the deep end like Tegmark wondering at the conformity of nature with math, we are gazing at ourselves with the narcissism of Douglas Adam’s puddle.

              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                But still there is that “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”

                I think a psychologist, especially one who specializes in cognition, would be much better suited to addressing the reasonability of the effectiveness of math than a mathematician or a physicist.


          • Posted October 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            And I’ve disagreed, repeatedly. Axioms of mathematics may be used because of general correspondence to empirical experience. However, the lack of particular empirical correspondence does not make the mathematics wrong; it makes it the wrong mathematics. The Pythagorean Theorem is still a theorem; it just happens to not describe our space-time. Thus, Mathematics is distinguished from Science in that for the latter relation to the empirical is an absolutely necessary condition, but simply is a lucky bonus for the former. Mathematics is not itself a science; it is the mother of all the sciences.

            I’d also note, in some cases, axioms are in effect taken in thoroughly arbitrary and abstract fashion, with empirical relation simply resulting because such mathematics (sufficient to eventually describe correspondents of integer addition, multiplication, and exponentiation) effectively can model anything.

            • Posted October 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

              The Pythagorean Theorem is still a theorem; it just happens to not describe our space-time.

              The Pythagorean Theorem is a prime example of a theorem arrived at precisely because it does match our empirical reality very well (even if not exactly).

              I don’t know of any mathematics that has no empirical roots (no axioms rooted in empiricism) at all.

              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                It was discovered because of the near-match. However, it remains a mathematical theorem, despite being not-quite true.

                Yes, all mathematics has empirical roots in at least a historical sense, some are effectively divorced from it in their modern form. The main example I’d point to would be from formal languages, viewing the abstract relations of the language grammar (or alternately, transition rules of the Turing machine) as axioms of an abstract proof system.

              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                Eh, if you think Turing’s work and formal language grammar are somehow divorced from empirical reality, then you’ve obviously never done any computer programming.

                Basically all I do in my day job is set theory. The accountants who request the reports I create / modify don’t realize that that’s what I’m doing, but I assure you that my ability to effectively perform abstract set-theory manipulations on real-world data is entirely to account for why I get paid so much more than said accountants.



              • Posted October 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I’m an IT geek.

                Yes, the results have application to empirical reality; however, there are starting axioms to get there which do not have empirical counterpoints. That they have the ability to describe empirical reality is because the axioms are general enough to effectively describe anything, not because that was the starting point.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      I prefer to refer to myself as a Gnu Scientismist.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        My subscription to Gnu Scientismist lapsed several years ago when it jumped the woo-shark… again.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          Yes, they’ve often been guilty of running headlines clearly designed to draw attention and sell magazines rather than accurately represent the content, but I think that that content, on the whole, is still fairly strong.

          Newscientist is less than ideal, but can you recommend a better alternative? (That’s not supposed to imply skepticism about the existence of such an alternative; I’m genuinely curious.)

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            I used to read it cover to cover (and earlier, also SciAm), but don’t read any paper periodicals these days at all. It’s hard enough keeping up with three or four blogs, one national news site, and daily doses of zoology (and occasional other science articles) in all the journals in the world.
            Also, having finally got a pocket-sized communication device a year ago, I’ve been working my way through Project Gutenberg. Great value (FREE) and many of the OCR errors are hilarious.
            Not enough days in the year anymore…

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      “questions about morality and meaning” that the Bible and Koran answer in the worst and most demeaning sense of all.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      I’d have to disagree. Morality and meaning involve ordering relationships on sets of choices. Science is limited to “is” questions; those are “ought” questions. That makes them Engineering, not Science.

      Science can answer questions about human morality, and possibly help philosophers tease out the roots, but it can’t answer whether those root principles are “good” or “bad”. You first need an axiomatic bridge to cross from “is” to “ought”; science only can tell you what bridge is in use, not what bridge ought to be in use.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Science can answer questions about human morality, and possibly help philosophers tease out the roots, but it can’t answer whether those root principles are “good” or “bad”.

        The reason science cannot answer those questions is because in the abstract they have no meaning, since there is no Absolute Shouldness Scale, so asking an abstract “should” question about where on the Absolute Shouldness Scale something comes is ill-posed.

        The only meaningful should/shouldn’t, good/bad questions are about the opinion and feelings of some sentient being having that opinion or feeling. And science can answer any question along those lines. I argue this more extensively here.

        • Posted October 25, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Also, given any arbitrary objectively defined ordering basis, science can identify conditions and outcomes associated with the choices, and thus indicate the choice ordering resulting from that particular basis — with “some sentient(s) come to have opinion/feelings” merely being a particular instance of the more general case.

          However, the addition of whatever choice-ordering “ought” axiom moves you philosophically out of the territory of science, and into the philosophical territory of engineering.

          • Posted October 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            However, the addition of whatever choice-ordering “ought” axiom moves you philosophically out of the territory of science …

            But you don’t need to add any choice-ordering “ought” axiom in order to answer questions on this topic.

            • Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

              Noting whether “some sentient(s) come to have opinion/feelings” (or does not) does not require any choice-ordering. Considering cases of the former “good” relative to the alternative of the latter is an ordering of choices; while the existence of a set of such ordering relationships can be shown (constructively, for finite sets), specifying one as the particular ordering requires an additional definitional axiom — IE, an is-ought bridge.

    • vincenttoups
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      ” As an unapologetic scientismist (there must be a better word for that!), I don’t think there are questions about morality and meaning that science cannot answer.”

      This seems quite naive, sorry. There are manifestly questions which science is ill equipped to answer. Most obviously this category includes poorly posed questions like “Which is morally better, green shoelaces or red shoelaces?” But there are other completely reasonable questions which are legitimate but not scientifically tractable, such as “What should a person desire?” I would argue that this question cannot be answered without explicitly or implicitly appending an “if that person desires an outcome or state of affairs X” at the end of it, which is circular. Perhaps, again, it is a kind of poorly posed question, but one so common its hard not to admit it into the ‘party of questions’ on the basis of popularity alone.

      But there are also questions which are well posed (at least not obviously ill posed) which science cannot answer, like “What happened outside of my light cone?” I think it would be difficult to conclude that things outside of your light cone don’t exist, and yet they are manifestly outside of the ken of one’s observational faculties.

      The list goes one. Suppose a Boltzmann Brain spontaneously erupts from the vacuum and finds it has a craving for chocolate. There can be no meaningful answer, scientific or otherwise, to the question “Why does the Boltzmann Brain desire chocolate?” except a kind of sterile tautology: it so desires because it is a physical configuration of matter which reports, when asked or otherwise examined, that it desires chocolate.

      This segues nicely into the question of qualia and whether they are perceptually identical in different perceivers and all that associated jazz (to say nothing of purely mathematical questions like “Is the Reimann Hypothesis True?”, or even “How important is the `axiom of choice`, _really_?”), but I think my point is clear. Science is a great tool, but there are many questions or apparent questions of real or apparent human interest which are not scientifically tractable.

  3. Donkeyotee
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    I hope none of my “click” moments look this silly when written down.

    Apart from it being a bow drawn too far, he can’t seem to distinguish between worry about whether there is a god watching over one, and worry about the state of things in the natural world. The former is what the bus slogan was suggesting you could shrug off; the latter I would argue is open to anyone, atheist or no.

    Indeed, with no supernatural comfort to fall back on in times of strife, uncertainty and death, surely it’s the atheist who has more reason to take the slings and arrows more seriously.

  4. gbjames
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    And then you also hear Xtians go on about how we atheists have such a hopeless worldview, what with our lack of a Happyland to look forward to after death. Such is the consistency of believing in The Deity.

  5. jose
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    He’s right on one thing, religions prey on the weak, the desperate, the ones who have nothing else to rely on. Society has failed them, employers won’t hire them, they are vilified by the TV as a danger to decent citizens. Their only hope left is that the next life might be better. And behold, here comes religion to tell them exactly that. No wonder poorer countries are more religious.

    I’d think an optimistic person who considers her unemployment status or other situation she may be in as a practical problem to be solved here on planet earth is less likely to listen to the siren song of religion.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Then how do you account for high religiosity and republicanism in the USA?

      • John K.
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        The USA is more the exception than the rule for prosperity and religiosity. I think it is mostly because it is still carrying the momentum of its much less religious past (in government anyway). The increasing religiosity in politics is doing great harm, and may well continue to pull us down to the realm of other highly religious countries.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          Also, there are many people in the US who aren’t prosperous at all. I don’t know where people get the idea that if a country is prosperous as a whole, then most of its citizens must be enjoying prosperity. Historically this has rarely been the case. 19th Century England was prosperous, and many of its subjects lived in abject poverty.

          • gravelinspector
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

            I don’t know where people get the idea that if a country is prosperous as a whole, then most of its citizens must be enjoying prosperity.

            I thought that the US typically came in in the second or third “five” of most measures of prosperity – per capita income, life expectancy, (low) infant mortality, (low) crime rate …

      • jose
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink


      • Marella
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        It has less to do with prosperity and more to do with security. Regardless of how wealthy you are, if you know it could just vanish tomorrow and you’d have nothing you don’t feel safe, so you look for something to help you feel safer. In the USA people are aware that the only thing between them and disaster is one serious illness. This is not the case in other western democracies where there is better health care and other social security services.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

          Yes! +1

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        The usual explanation I’ve seen is that it is the disparity in income and the lack of a social safety net in a country that makes people turn to religion.

        Socialist that I am, I can’t understand why the general approach in America seems to be that it’s the fault of the downtrodden if they don’t get rich like they are supposed to.

  6. Ray Moscow
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    You might think that a general embrace of and enjoyment of life, to the extent one is able, to be a good thing. But no: Christianity thrives on misery, and so misery shall be championed and, if necessary, imposed.

    After all, a great many people are sick, hungry, until threat of violence, going to hell, etc. — there’s no reason for you to enjoy life, you ungrateful optimist!

  7. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    Religious bus slogan:
    “God is watching you. Keep suffering until you die.”

    • John K.
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink


    • jonny
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      +2. Don’t forget to say Grace.

      “Thank you Heavenly Father, for this our daily bread. And as for the children who had to die for the lifestyle we are accustomed to, thank you for that as well. Amen.”

  8. Siggy
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    It’s a normal human reaction to justify ones own beliefs be criticizing the beliefs of those in opposition. What makes Mr. Wallace’s article so disappointing is that that motivation is so thinly veiled under a bad excuse for a sound argument.

  9. Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    This Wallace guy falls in the interesting types. Why have beef with optimists? The world is so full of sadness that a little joy need to be passed around. Let him cheer up and be an optimist besides he must believe he is going to heaven

  10. Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink


  11. Stonyground
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    He also omitted to mention that those bus slogans were posted as a reaction to evangelical posters that basically said ‘believe what we do or burn in hell’.

    His argument also fails if any atheists do anything for the less fortunate, I certainly do. My charity work doesn’t come with a side order of poisonous superstition either.

  12. James Walker
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Is it really that surprising? The central belief of Christianity is that, because we’re responsible for the sins of our great-to-the-nth-power-grandparents, we’re all condemned to eternal punishment after we die, unless we acknowledge that God sent his son/himself to die (except that he didn’t really) for those sins. Except that there’s always the danger that we’ll do or think something that will earn ourselves eternal punishment.

    No wonder church and religion classes always left me depressed and worried when I was a child.

  13. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    …”but it starts with the addict on the street.”

    The addict who is berated if he doesn’t turn his “will” and his life over to the care of Yahweh.

    • Nick Evans
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      religions … opiates… masses …. No, can’t quite put my finger on it.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Religio-Induced Psychotic Disorder, Recurrent, White Noise Continuous, Severe, with Delusions and Ideas of Reference.

  14. Matt G
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    For more nonsense, check out an article over at Salon written by an anti-atheist atheist.

    • Matt G
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Larry Moran has written a piece criticizing the Chris Stedman article on his blog:

    • suwise3
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Clearly, I have not questioned the motives of science enough. Can we now concentrate on it’s negatives- like how gravity oppresses us and keeps us down. And I am pessimistic that we will ever be able to overcome this.

      • Marella
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        Not to mention the stubborn intransigence of the speed of light, we clearly need to pray harder for this to be dealt with.

  15. Miles_Teg
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    The thing I liked about the atheist bus campaign was the ultra cute chick pushing her left boob into Richard Dawkins’ side. He must have thought he was in heaven… 🙂

    • Miles_Teg
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      Sorry, forgot the link:

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      I have felt that when I was a model photographer and indeed, if feels like heaven.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Thinking again, I don´t believe heaven will feel that good.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      The name of that “chick” is on the top of the jpg image. She is Ariane Sherine [comedy writer and journalist] who created the first Atheist Bus Campaign. Interestingly she has distanced herself from atheism since those heady days.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      What a terrible thing it is to be embodied, apparently.

      But then there’s this.

  16. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    A friend of mine (a devout mainline Christian) was dealing with her alcoholic husband — now ex, and went to Alanon meetings. In it she learned something which I think fits here — ironically since the AA culture is built on the “higher power.”

    “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

    Christians, as a group, extol the “suffering” of Jesus…aka he “suffered and died for your sins.” On essence, they have taken suffering and made it something to be encouraged. The very idea that an individual or group would think that suffering is bad flies in the face of their mythos and their world view. “The world sucks, so you need to suffer, then go to heaven.”

    Perhaps the world does suck (or perhaps it’s just the humans within the world who suck). The fact that humans feel pain is true…that’s part of being human, I think. On the other hand, we don’t have to focus on the pain. We can enjoy our lives!

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      Top: “in essence”

    • Rebecca Harbison
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      Just a minor quibble. That does make it sound a bit glib: I remember sometime during the period between when I decided to seek counseling for my anxiety disorder and several sessions in, possibly even as late as when I started medication. At some point, it dawned on me that I was living under a black cloud that had come over me so slowly that I hadn’t realized it until then. Maybe it was when I got into a particularly dark patch and I decided that I had to do something or go mad, or maybe it was the first glimpse of a region where the cloud wasn’t so thick.

      (I still get moments like that: just the other week was the first time I’d slept well before a morning plane flight; normally I can’t sleep because I’m worried about missing the flight or leaving something behind.)

      Suffering is hard: without resources like psychologists or a strong circle of friends and family, I can see why clinging to any way (regardless of if it’s healthy or unhealthy) to make it stop or give it meaning would feel necessary.

      • Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

        Agreed…and I apologize if the “saying” came across that way. It was not my intent to minimize the difficulties that people go through in their lives…illness, personal tragedies, etc.

        Most uses of a sound bite make more sense in context. This one referred to building inner strength and taking the personal responsibility needed to deal with a particular type of mentally ill spouse…and the support which made the “suffering optional” was implied. I agree…support is essential.

        I used my friend as an example, but I went through something similar when my life-partner was having serious problems stemming from PTSD and her personal history. The work I did to keep myself from falling into serious suffering was by no means trivial (suggesting that your “quibble” is not at all “minor”).

        Thanks for your insight.

  17. Anthony Paul
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Based on the description of the article, I think the greatest weakness of Mr. Wallace’s quasi-argument may be that he doesn’t seem to realize that he is actually looking at Christianity as a tool, or methodology, rather than as a matter of substance. As best I recall, the whole point of Christianity is supposed to be that it’s the truth (or Truth if you prefer). Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t approach science as a method but as “a” philosophy.

  18. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    ““stop worrying about whether you’re going to heaven or hell, because you’re worm food after you’re dead. Instead, try to make the most out of your one short life.””

    I am sure they would have gone with your suggestion, except there are not too many articulated busses around London 😉

    Facetiously tho, I feel very happy that one of our most annoying attributes is that we are optimistic. Anxiety over a non-existent deity is not for us; we cheerfully snigger in the face of death, knowing that it holds no fears for us. Nihilism is for those who can only gain life-affirming thoughts from imaginary supernatural fictional characters.

  19. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Well, I hope that his Christian friends with all their non-optimism manage to forego holiday celebrations this year, opting to spend all that cash on the needy.

    Yeah, that won’t happen because they are just too fucking happy about the world and stuff. What an idiot.

  20. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    ‘The Christianity I know takes note of the blue London sky, of the footballers, and of the picnicking lovers, but it starts with the addict on the street.’

    Yes, Christians do so much work for charity that there are no homeless in London, no addicts , no lonely old people, no down and outs living rough.

    What are things like in your city?

    If you have problems, just get a few Christians in and they will be solved.

    Christians might well be boastful about how much charity work they do, but when you see the results (no starving, no homeless, no alcoholic tramps on the streets), perhaps we can forgive their boastfulness.

  21. Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Wallace is amazing. With his claim that Christianity can only be worth something if he, and everyone else, is miserable, he makes his religion only a sado-masochistic bit of nonsense. He has essentially abdicated any responsiblity he has for his life, by insisting that no one should try to make the world a better place because his religion aka his god *needs* pain and misfortune

  22. eric
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    it is only through the channel of pessimism — the full and unqualified acknowledgment of life’s dark underside as a clear and present reality — that Christianity is able to do its transformative work.

    I think you just gave the game away, Prof. Wallace.

    Yes, people turn to religion to comfort themselves in the face of evil and suffering. And yes, without so much evil and suffering, religion would not have the appeal it does. This, however, is not something I’d brag about as a religious believer. Moreover, its certainly not evidence that your religion or any other religion is true.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it is almost as if it is an elaborate con job. “Sure, just follow these instructions, and everything will be better. Don’t forget to tell your friends about it to…. no, that last part is not optional.”

      You would think that after following the same guide book and instruction manual for 2,000 years evil and suffering would be gone by now.

      Contrarywise, I can’t help but notice that the societies that have rejected the failed guide books by deciding to come up with something new based on rational examination of the world we really live in are doing much better.

      Or would that be too Gnu Scientismistic of me 🙂

  23. ForCarl
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    It seems Spufford read the wrong book. He should have read The Varieties of SCIENTIFIC Experience by Carl Sagan.

    He would have found not only a tremendous sense of awe of the universe, but a healthy dose of optimism too.

    He’s just having a hard time letting go of the comfort blankie.

  24. shockofatheism
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Reason Alliance and commented:
    An excellent post from Why Evolution is True.

  25. IW
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    You know that every minute you spend obsessing on “the New Atheism” you’re aiding Wallace and his ilk to maintain a cudgel with which to browbeat you. Let it go. Move on. As long as you feed these trolls, they’ll continue to salivate for more.

    “Atheism”, new, old, or timeless, is unimportant. What’s important is addressing and redressing the evil of organized religion.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Every minute you spend obsessing on people obsessing on “the New Atheism you’re aiding . . .

      It may just be me, but your concern seems cliche, and a bit patronizing. Try and demonstrate that the OP is obsessing about “the New Atheism.” From the beginning of that term coming into common usage the OP has expressed reactions ranging from laughter to pride in being labeled such. But I have never witnessed him obsessing over it.

      Are you by chance what a New, or Gnu even, Atheist would refer to as an accommodationist?

  26. Charles Jones
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Atheists ignore the poor, sick, and vulnerable? I don’t mean to conflate atheism and humanism, but it seems to me that one of the real achievements of humanism is the establishment of government programs to look after the poor and sick. U.S. evangelicals and Republicans want to destroy such programs and replace them with charity that is contingent on accepting Jesus. I’d say the humanistic solution is more universal and effective.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      He’s not criticizing us for ignoring them, he’s criticizing us for not feeling miserable about it.

  27. matt
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    you’re right, jerry: This is just dumb.

  28. Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Ho hum. Another shallow carper complaining that a bus-ad is too short to contain a ten-page position paper.

  29. Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    “…Science isn’t a philosophy, for crying out loud; it’s a methodology for finding out what’s true about the universe…”


    • Ysaye
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      Aah, but what “level” of true are you talking about? Because, apparently, there is true, truer and the “deepest level of truth”.

      Seriously, isn’t there a single religiously motivated writer out there who can write coherently? Reading this stuff hurts the brain.

  30. Bob Carlson
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I can’t recall a gloomier post by an atheist than yesterday’s by Jason Rosenhouse concerning presidential politics. His most revealing remark:

    The problem for Democrats, in this as in every election, is that the Republicans claim a majority of the stupid vote, and in this country that’s a very large voting block indeed.

    Alas, that is a premise I am not prepared to argue against, but I still hope the outlook isn’t as grim as he supposes it to be.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Is the Stupid Vote effect multiplied by your electoral system which we call “first past the post” but should be called “majority [of the minorities] takes all”?

      (We in NZ changed to a proportional representation system which is delivering far more minority representation, though it has opened up new avenues for under-the-table finagling. I’d say the breaking of the either Left-or-Right – or in your case, Right-or-furtherRight – monopoly has diluted the power of the Stupid Vote.)

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        A majority would be over 50%. Our system is “largest plurality takes all”. You can win with 30% or less of the vote if enough strong parties compete. Minority rule is the inevitable result of more than two strong parties running. It’s an awful system.

        In practice candidates run to rope-in the most extreme elements of their party during primary elections, which determine which candidate represents a party. Then in the general election the party candidates go at it by assuming they have the primary “base” vote locked in and competing for the so called swing voters or independent voters who may choose either party. So you see more extreme positions in the primary, and more moderate positions in the general election. Candidates have to try to straddle this contradictory set of demands while appearing to be consistent. Romney, more than any candidate I’ve ever seen, has completely abandoned the idea of showing even the slightest nod to consistency, and he has avoided providing specific details but sticks to vague formulas that are widely open to interpretation. I call him the quantum mechanical candidate because he seems to be a superposition of every possible position between moderate center and extreme right.

        Often what happens is the stupidest stuff gets sorted out in the primaries, and the general election pivots on center-left and center-right issues, as does governance. But there is still plenty of stupid left over.

        The disturbing thing today is that a coalition of religious loonies and laissez faire economics libertarian fanatics in the Republican party have succeeded in shifting the center point between the two parties pretty severely to the right. Somehow they created a fusion of prosperity gospel and hard core libertarianism that involves believing it is God’s will that every family is on their own with no interference by any laws or government regulation. It’s a kind of “return to the 17th century”, return to raw origins reactionary fantasy. The libertarians have to hold their noses on the conservative social issues like banning same sex marriage and banning abortion, but they have achieved a rickety ideological fusion on economic issues, namely that Government spending should always shrink, taxation should always decrease, federal government is evil and ruins everything it touches, and that pushing prisons, military, schools, courts, and health care into the private sector is always automatically without question an improvement. They’re idiots.

        • Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          Actually, the shift away from the center and towards one authoritarian extreme or another is another typical feature of first-past-the-post systems. If anything, it’s remarkable that it took so long for it to occur here in the States.


      • gluonspring
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

        I marvel that NZ managed such a reform. First-past-the-post systems strikes me as virtually impossible to reform since it gives such clear advantage to a couple of entrenched players. No one with power has the slightest incentive to change it so it would seem to require some kind of crisis to make it happen. I certainly can’t imagine that kind of reform in the U.S. short of some unprecedented calamity. Not only do we have entrenched players who don’t want it, but we also have made a cult out of our original constitution. Often people will argue endlessly about what the Founding Fathers wanted and breathe not a word about what might actually be good or what actually makes sense or reflecting that maybe, just perhaps, we’ve accumulated a little more information in the past 200 years.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink


  31. Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Suffer now and then when you are in heaven just think about those poor souls getting charred in hell!!.

  32. Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Wallace is obviously one of those neo-Puritans who’re absolutely terrified at the thought that somebody, somewhere might be having fun.

    Poor guy. He really should stop worrying and start enjoying his life.


  33. Kevin
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    tl:dr — “the problem of evil, therefore god”.

    Egad, that’s brilliant. Crown him King of the Sophists.

  34. Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Yet science as a philosophy is incomplete. It wears blinders and refuses to acknowledge whole classes of questions that are important to people everywhere, questions of good and evil, and of human weakness, and of meaning.

    Sigh. Once again: yes, those aren’t questions of Science. Those are questions of Engineering. They involve “ought” ordering relationships on sets of “is” choices, requiring an axiomatic bridge defining “ought” either consequentially (with explict design goal) or deontologically (with an implicit design goal).

    (OK, human “weakness” might somewhat be a question of traits in the human psychology, except the science part of psychology doesn’t necessarily indicate whether a trait is a “weakness” or “strength”. Psychotherapy may, but that’s more a branch of engineering — psychological engineering.)

  35. John K.
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I have trouble figuring out how Wallace gets a “refusal to acknowledge the deeper problems of life” from the billboard saying. Apparently if you are not invoking god or actually are enjoying things you cannot possibly be thinking hard enough about them. How much insight is he expecting from a single sentence anyway? The billboard does not acknowledge free will either, so what? Jerry’s clarification is right on the mark. Hell is probably not real, so do not worry about it. If that is too optimistic for you, I pity you.

    This is as bizarre an indictment of atheism as I have ever heard. Don’t be like those new atheists; you might actually end up happy!

  36. raven
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    What a bunch of gibberish.

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. ― Carl Sagan,

    Paul Wallace seems to find the New Atheists scary because they don’t live in the demon haunted darkness.

    Well why should we? The demon haunted darkness of the xians is self created and imaginary. Demons don’t even exist!!!

  37. ColdThinker
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Basically this Wallace guy just tries to rehash the old canards “atheists have no ethics” and “only religion can account for altruism” and wrap them in a new package.

  38. Mike Brady
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Dear All,

    I have noticed William James popping up again and again as a source for resisting “New Atheism” (Massimo P. recently had an essay on it)…which of course is not really new.
    I am a scholar of classical American Pragmatism and it bothers me that Wallace (and others) point fondly to James. Let me explain just what James is doing in the Varieties of Religious Experience. James has a position called radical empiricism. This position says that everything we experience should count as empirical. So in Varieties when he recounts many versions of christian faith and mysticism he is saying that yes these people do actually experience these things (they are not lying).
    This does NOT mean there is any metaphysical reality attached to these experiences. James is agnostic on that point as there is no evidence either way in his view.
    So when James sets out the “healthy” vs. “sick” soul this background is important. The healthy/sick distinction is best understood as a description of certain types of character (character as in personality). One has a certain view of the world and it colors everything else we see in the world…this distinction is directly traceable to Emerson’s essay “Character.” Once again for James this is a description of what he finds…not a metaphysical statement. He was a pragmatist and they tend to be very leery of inferring metaphysics from experience.
    The Varieties of Religious Experience is often cited by more humanistic believers and we should not let them use it for anything more than what it is…a description of people’s experiences…no metaphysical god necessary.

    • Bebop
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      “This does NOT mean there is any metaphysical reality attached to these experiences.”

      The opposite is also true.
      And if this kind of empirical evidence is not common, we have a lot of different testimonies from different times and culture that are pointing in the same direction.
      I can’t tell if mine were real for real or just made up by my brain, but between the two options, I’ll choose what is more useful.

      • gbjames
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Huh? What “opposite” are you referring to? Are you saying that because several people have hallucinate demons talking to them then there must be actually be demons?

        • gbjames
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink


      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted October 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        When you feel you can fly, it’s definitely more useful to decide these feelings were made up in your brain than to decide they were “real for real”. The same is true whenever you think God is talking to you.

        You refer to all these testimonies (whatever they are) that point “in the same direction”. I doubt you could gather a substantial list of testimonies and show what direction it is they are pointing. What are they pointing at? What do you mean by direction? And how do you know they are all confirming these definitions? It’s much harder to start with the facts and work from there to a conclusion than it is to start with a conclusion, wave your hands at a bunch of facts, and deceive yourself into believing that all those facts must confirm your initial conclusion.

        • Mike Brady
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          Dear All,

          James explicitly calls the book a “study of human nature” (in the conclusion). It is an attempt to look at the extremes of belief (his words) and try to understand what this tells us…if anything…about human nature. He believes he is doing science of the inductive sort and collecting facts about different types of religious belief. He was a scientist after all-one of our first psychologists. His questioning is NOT an attempt to give evidence that belief implies existence for the object of that belief. In the conclusion he writes about the science of religion: “The scientist, so called, is during his scientific hours at least so materialistic that one may well say that on the whole the influence of science goes against the notion that religion should be recognized at all.”
          James does not fully attach himself to this position, though he uses it himself. And he seems to have some sympathy with the religiously inclined. Religion, James believes, has a strong “stimulant” and “anesthetic” quality. Like a placebo it has a real effect that James the scientist cannot deny. But he is clear on the existence question, “Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he? are so many irrelevant questions” (in conclusion). James was almost certainly a super-naturalist of some very deistic type (as he says elsewhere) but this book does nothing but report the range of human religious experience.

        • Bebop
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          First, I didn’t say that God was talking to me.

          Second, I find it motivating that meaning isn’t strictly a human invention.

          Third, every mystic tradition has its way to describe the egoless state where you are no longer just your “little self” and can see the uncreated nature of the “bigger self”.
          If you would have read about sufism (mystic Islam), buddhism, hinduism, the kabbala, mystic christians like Meister Eckhart, you would know about the testimonies and direction I’m referring to. They all explain how to get rid of the ego in order to have access to another perspective, how to escape the default dual mode of perception that comes with our natural condition but that isn’t absolute.

          Now, that can only be experienced and understood subjectively. Science can’t deal with that even if it is an empirical matter.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

            You seemed to contradict the statement about metaphysical reality attaching to religious states of mind. My remarks were questioning that assumption that if we feel or experience something in our mind, that it must be associated with something outside of our brain. I think this is the fundamental fallacy of most, if not all religious belief.

            There is nothing mystical in transcending the ego, no metaphysical forces or objects need intervene for humans to reach such states of mind. Drugs can help, or rigorous practice can accomplish it.

            What I think you are saying is that something just made up in your brain attaches or s connected with something real outside if your brain, and I think that us mere self-deception.

            So give us an example of meaning that is not a human invention. I’m very curious to hear what specifically you had in mind there.

            • Bebop
              Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

              First, we need to define more what is mysticism. I would define mysticism as empirical evidence for a divine phenomenon. Of course, that can only be experienced subjectively because in the end, it deals with the nature of consciousness itself. And I would define “divine” as an uncreated phenomenon who is responsible for consciousness, and everything else…

              That is why buddhism is by default mystic because it requires you to experience the divine (as described above) as opposed to christianity who asks to believe, try your best and wait and see. But buddhism didn’t invent the egoless state it is referring too, it gives a path to attain it, like it is described in sufism by the word fanaa, the sufi term for extinction. “It means to annihilate the self, while remaining physically alive. Persons having entered this state are said to have no existence outside of, and be in complete unity with, Allah. Fanaa is equivalent to the concept of nirvana in Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism or moksha in Hinduism which also aim for annihilation of the self or mukhti in Sikhism.”

              So if you are able to recognize the uncreated part of your self, well, in a sense, life becomes meaningless. But not with a nihilistic twist but with a joyful twist because all the scenarios that we made to feed the ego aren’t necessary anymore, there is no need for any justification, you just let it be. That becomes a meaningful meaningless thing that language can’t really express.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                I would define mysticism as empirical evidence for a divine phenomenon.

                Well that definition is telling I think. I disagree with it because I don’t think that “evidence for a divine phenomenon” can be given intelligible meaning, so the whole definition is senseless.

                I would define what is mystical as that which is beyond understanding or defies explanation. Mysticism would be a fascination or preoccupation with what is mystical. It’s worth checking a dictionary definition (from Wiktionary):

                mysticism (uncountable)
                1. The beliefs, ideas, or thoughts of mystics.
                2. A doctrine of direct communication or spiritual intuition of divine truth.
                3. A transcendental union of soul or mind with the divine reality or divinity.
                4. Obscure thoughts and speculations.

                I guess I think of #1 and #4 as the sensible or actual meanings, and #2 and #3 as hypothetical imaginary subjective speculations.

                If you look at the phrase “evidence for a divine phenomenon”, it’s very hard to imagine what it could mean. For example, let’s say the ‘evidence’ you are referring to is some subjective experience in the mind, say a perception of light or a presence of some kind. You are starting with no firmly established empirical basis relative to which to interpret that experience, so to infer suddenly that this subjective experience relates to or is evidence of something “divine” is just piling another subjective concept on top of your subjective experience without any justification. There is no basis for that inference other than that you can’t explain the subjective experience (though it surely has an explanation you simply don’t know). The mind just grasps at something unknown or unexplainable simply because it has nothing known or explainable to fit into that empty space. The inference is nothing other than wish fulfillment, which is a desire strong enough to make the brain attempt to create a something out of a nothing, which is the source of the invention of the ineffable divine concept. There is absolutely nothing involving evidence or empiricism in this process beyond the initial experience, which is most likely fully explainable in terms of brain chemistry.

              • Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink



              • gbjames
                Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                But, Ant, it is non-dual poop.

              • Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                Uncreated poop, too, I’ll wager!


              • Bebop
                Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                Point #3 fits very well with what I said…
                3. A transcendental union of soul or mind with the divine reality or divinity.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                You didn’t respond at all to the matter of whether a subjective state of mind can qualify as “evidence” of something “divine”.

                By not responding, I’ll assume you are saying you cannot respond, which isn’t surprising because there is no credible way to infer that a subjective experience in your head could be evidence of something existing outside of your head, divine or not.

                If that were the case, I could visualize in my mind a mango tree in my back yard. Once I perceived this image so clearly that I’m certain it must be a real mango tree, I could go into my back yard and pick a mango. Hopefully you accept that this is impossible, unless I live in a suitable climate, plant and tend the tree, and wait the requisite number of years for the tree to bear fruit, all of which can proceed quite well without my visualization of the tree.

                If one perceives the union with “divine reality” in one’s head, there is no reason “divine reality” is any more real than the mango tree in my backyard.

                That is how it is with mysticism: it relies on inferring the existence of things for which there is no evidence, which affords the mystic the great convenience of not being subject to verification. You are not experiencing “evidence” of the divine; your mind is playing parlor tricks on itself.

                And of course, the only sensible approach is to remember: that which can be asserted without evidence can as easily be dismissed without evidence.

              • Bebop
                Posted October 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

                Let’s say I’m the first homonoid who can walk. What I would say (if language would be something existing) would make no sense for all my colleagues who don’t walk. What i could see and do would have no common measures with what my brothers could see or do. All that would be subjectively true. Subjectivity is an objective fact. There can’t be objectivity without subjectivity.

              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

                “But I be done seen about everything
                When I see an elephant fly!”


              • gbjames
                Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

                @Bebop: “the first homonoid who can walk”?

                All hominoids can walk. Other than in the case of paralysis, injury, or due to being an infant, all hominoids have always been able to walk. Indeed, with the exception of aquatic mammals (and the above mentioned injured, etc.) all mammals have always been able to walk.

                More focus on the real world and less on hallucinations would do you a world of good.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

            “Second, I find it motivating that meaning isn’t strictly a human invention. ”

            Evidence for this?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

            I think your statement that “meaning isn’t strictly a human invention” contradicts your idea about an “uncreated consciousness” that lies “beyond duality”, which you have likened (in other posts) to the Buddha’s state of Nirvana.

            Meaning is always ‘about’ something, and therefore never identical to what it ‘means’. There is always a difference between what something ‘is’ and what it ‘means’.

            As I read your past comments on “uncreated consciousness” (which I think is simply created by our brain), it is a state of pure awareness, beyond the internal dialog of “what is this, compared to that?”, “why is this, compared to that?”, “how is this, compared to that?”, etc. This is a goal of Buddhist meditation, of calming the noisy wild mind and perceiving the impermanence of things, the emptiness of things, which is to recognize they do not have intrinsic meaning or value. They simply are.

            So I think there is a strong case that the Buddhist state of mind known as Nirvana is in fact a state of mind absent meaning, a sense of unity with that which ‘is’, pure awareness without the chatter of assigning meaning and value to everything.

            If humans were to be wiped from the face of the earth, what meaning would there be on earth? In my view, none but perhaps what glimmers of sense and meaning the minds of animals can construct. Certainly there is meaning of some kind to the prey who is caught or the predator who captures, to the mother who gives birth or the cub seeking its mother, and so on, though this form of meaning wouldn’t reach the rich levels of abstract associations the human mind is capable of, though some advanced mammals seem to be able to manage some of our simpler logic. So if all animals were absent, thinking back to the earth’s earliest days, before any life forms evolved, what meaning was present with no mind to contemplate it?

            • Bebop
              Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

              I’ll quote what I wrote above:
              “So if you are able to recognize the uncreated part of your self, well, in a sense, life becomes meaningless. But not with a nihilistic twist but with a joyful twist because all the scenarios that we made to feed the ego aren’t necessary anymore, there is no need for any justification, you just let it be. That becomes a meaningful meaningless thing that language can’t really express.”

              • gbjames
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 4:29 am | Permalink

                “So if you are able to recognize the uncreated part of your self…”

                When a conditional clause of a statement is an unfounded garble of unsubstantiated tripe, the rest of the statement need not be taken seriously.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

                Apart from what gbjames says, which is true, you have completely avoided the question. The question was about how meaning could exist that humans (or other life forms) don’t create. Your answer totally depends on the existence of a human mind. If all life were eliminated from the earth, or from the universe for that matter, do you think meaning would exist? This is like the tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it. Of course it makes sound waves in the air, but there is no ear to hear it, no mind to think “oh, that must have been a tree falling”, thus no meaning because no mind creates the meaning.

                So how is there meaning not created by intelligent minds? How is meaning something humans don’t invent?

              • Bebop
                Posted October 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

                Meaning is a distorted echo that comes from an uncreated source where meaning is at its source meaningless. But that meaningless quality is still a quality, not in itself but from our finite created perspective. So it goes both ways. Il kike what the kabbalh says about tgis:

                “Luria held that the divine principle of the cosmos is both Ein-sof (without end) and Ayin (absolute nothingness), that creation is both a hitpashut (emanation) and a Tzimtzum (contraction), that Ein-sof is both the creator of the world and is itself created and completed through Tikkun ha-Olam, the spiritual, ethical and “world restoring” acts of humanity, and, finally, that the Sefirot are both the originating elements of the cosmos and only fully realized when the cosmos is displaced and shattered (via Shevirat ha-Kelim, the Breaking of the Vessels).”


              • Posted October 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink



              • gbjames
                Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

                “Meaning is a distorted echo that comes from an uncreated source where meaning is at its source meaningless.”

                Like the remainder of the comment which follows the sentence I quoted.

              • Bebop
                Posted October 27, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                You guys are my best fans…

  39. jonny
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    The degree to which this Believer’s arguments appear to be “genuine” and “intelligent” have invoked an emotional reaction in me; one of mild alarm. Are they getting more surreptitious now? Uh oh. Might they redact Numbers 31:18 and what have you? I could almost believe some of the brighter ones if they knocked out the worst 5000 verses in their book of insulting sleaze and trauma-inducing absurdity.

    I’m with Coel (comment #2). I do not believe there are questions about morality and meaning that science cannot answer and what’s more, I do not believe Logic cannot solve all the problems in the world right now! All the problems are religious, at their core; and all of religion – when you break it down – is about the demented Toddler Entitled ‘Reasoning’ that goes like this:

    “I want my cake. And I want to eat it as well. And I also want your cake. I will not negotiate. I will kill and hijack and terrorise and reduce and rape until I get what I want. I want what I want. I don’t know why I want it. I JUST WANT IT OKAY!?”

    It’s just the way Toddlers feel. But these aren’t complex issues to solve. Humanity has simply lost the capacity to be truly, mercifully humane.

    It’s Truth v Lies. And we’re splashing around violently in the sewers of our own ‘private’ Shame. Religion started it all, but we only have ourselves to blame for not being humane about putting pain out of its misery. The entire world has been screamed insane. Everyone is lying, for each other’s sake. Lying for peace. Lying for social cohesion. Lying to validate the imagined feelings of the emotionally insane. We lie non-stop, without even realising it. We’re so detached from Reality, it’s almost comical. But 30,000 children under the age of 5 die every single day. Only sociopaths couldn’t care; but unless you’re a heroin junkie or addicted to painkillers, your claim to be humane would be difficult to verify. Most wouldn’t even care to pretend they cared and it seems we require ~7,300,000,000 tall glasses of Kool-Aid?

    In a world of deceit, only the most insane of all could imagine they perceived Reality or imagine they Knew anything worth knowing.

    So of course, they not only know Everything there is to Know about All of Knowledge, they even Know Best.

    When humans stop lying, within a generation or two Humanity will know what Utopia means. But until then, we shall continue to hobble our young and clip their wings, and continue to wallow in our miserable deceit. We’re a tiny little rat species who murder, rape, violently assault, fight, molest, manipulate and exploit each other, but mostly ourselves. We’re like little emotional Toddlers, snickering and smirking and sneering and screaming our emotional insanity at each other and we do all of this purely so that we can be Happy!

    To any alien species that might be persuaded to put us out of our misery and/or enslave us with a better kind of Terrible, please! Do hurry. Rest assured, this is actually how we humans pursue Happiness in this, the auspicious Two Thousand and Twelfth Year of our New Religious Toddler Overlords.

    And time for this drunk Toddler to go to bed.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Did you have a bad day?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Not at all. It is my understanding that, as apes go, we are rather peaceful.

      You may think we aren’t equipped (yet) by evolution to handle societies. But in fact Pinker and Rosling has shown us that we are. If we can stabilize the population, and it seems that we at least are heading for a maximum in about a generation, we will be beyond the hump.

      Incidentally I just watched Sean Carroll from TAM 2012. It is a good talk, everyone should listen to it.

      Carroll explains how we, with the discovery of the Higgs field, now have finished “the easy part”. We now know all of the basic rules for everyday life. In his analogy, we have seen enough chess played to know the rules.

      He look forward to discover what we should do now that we know the rules, and become ‘masters of chess’. It may take 1000s or 100 000s of years to get good at it. But we can do it, since:

      We know the rules now!

      • jonny
        Posted October 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

        We know the rules? Can someone let me know what they are?

        Because until people understand why Humanity cannot carry leeches and prosper, we will all stagger around being dragged on the backs of our children we lie to.

        You cannot prepare for War. It’s insane. Everyone else has to prepare for War. In a world of lies and violence, everyone is compelled to Prepare for War. Why prepare for peace if the other guys are gonna take everything and burn what they do not understand and kill all the males amongst the little ones, kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him and keep all the “women children” alive for themselves?

        No one except children who don’t know the Truth are ever going to make or produce anything of value. We have been in the Age of Warlords from as far back as “In the beginning…” and no one understands the insanity of lies and violence. You can’t win with either.

        You just make everyone lose. I’m pretty sure we’re going to need to lose for real before we can start winning again. Nuclear holocaust one time.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      “I do not believe Logic cannot solve all the problems in the world right now!”

      I don’t know if it can or not, but it certainly shouldn’t stop trying, and it’s damn certain Illogic cannot.

      • jonny
        Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        I am a dyslexic ape.

        Of course I meant:

        “I DO DO DO believe Logic cannot solve all the problems in the world right now!”

        I donut no how that “not” got in their. I maent to say I DO BELIEVE LOGIC CAN DO IT.

        I think it’s probably fair to say someone else’s Logic will have to do it.

        • Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          Your first attempt was correct. It was simply a slighty confusing double negative.

          • jonny
            Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

            loll noose.

            I’m like a pidgin-speaker of English when I write it. Using it in every-day life, I have some conversational level fluency.

            But you know how it’s pretty tacky to mock someone for whom English is not their native tongue yeah?

            I don’t have that excuse.

  40. Jeff Johnson
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Shorter Wallace: how dare atheists not address fully the deeper issues we face in life in a one-line slogan.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Oh come on: it was *two* lines long. So really: no excuses for neglecting to solve world hunger, cure AIDS and cancer, fix global warming, and just generally bring about utopia, via a bus ad.

      Superficial lazy-ass atheists.

  41. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Every time I read a variant of this diatribe I can’t help but think that these are religious that consciously or intuitively understands that religion thrives in a dysfunctional society and hence wants that.

    Never mind that the secular society and its morals (democracy, social medicine, human rights, freedom of religion, free markets) has lowered many ills when it has made societies functional and peaceful.

    What has religion done for us lately (the last millenniums)?

    It is instead my conviction that evil and weakness are not only problems to be solved, but are also reliable clues to the secret of the world.

    This smacks of non-observed teleology.

    What would Spufford suggest as “the secret”? If not gods, of course.

    And, maybe it is a language problem. But as opposed to Coyne I would say that there is no religious “evil” of soulism or teleology, especially if one doesn’t recognize free will or gods.

    Instead there are bad (or unfortunate) traits, bad behavior, bad circumstances, starting from innocent mistakes to “devilish” people and of course the ultimate in immoral behavior of Ratzinger. (Realistically there should be a few “ratzingerish” people today and through history.)

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      That great religious leader George W. Bush taught us what evil is. When Al Qaeda attacked the US and killed 3,000 Americans, that is evil. When the US attacks Iraq, directly or indirectly killing 100,000 or more civilians, that is defending freedom.

      See the obvious difference?

      Me neither.

      • jonny
        Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        You know on 9/11/01, 30,000 human children were murdered by Christians and limited liability corporations right?

        I found the 9/11 media coverage offensive. There was more newsworthy story to lead with.

        And speaking of which, is it just me or did CNN & BBC and the global media terrorise the world? I mean, the jihadists terrorised NYC, and I don’t watch any Islamic Fundamentalist or Al Qaeda news channels so it was CNN terrorising me 10,000 miles away.

        I thought that was strange. Why would they fulfill bin Laden’s greatest hopes and dreams for him?

        • gbjames
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

          Citation, please, for those 30,000 murders.

          • jonny
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink


            I must have been going off an old report; it’s supposedly down to 22,000/day from 34,000/day – ostensibly dropping every year but who counts children dying accurately? Seriously, the number would be probably be over 50,000/day in Reality.

            But if you’re referring to their being murdered, when I say Christians killed them what I mean is that God killed them. And when I say God, of course I mean the Pope.

            He kills the majority of them. Corporations are responsible for the rest; or do you think countries are war torn because they like war? No it’s a little more horrifying than that. Arms manufacturers like war.

            Why if you didn’t know better you could be forgiven for thinking they loved it.

            • gbjames
              Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              I find the “oh yeah? what about this more horrible thing” form of moral argument rather thin gruel. For one thing, it is completely incapacitating. Why bother to address a wrong when, after all, you can find another even worse wrong if you want to?

              • jonny
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

                I completely sympathise with the sentiment, and have often remonstrated with those who do that much in a nearly identical manner. It’s exasperating when you point out wrongdoing and someone says “Yeah but…here is a worse wrongdoing so there’s no point caring about this one.”

                But there is another sentiment that presents as “Selective Empathy” and is only felt by sociopaths and narcissists.

                It’s very easy to distinguish between “Empathy” and “Selective Empathy”. Humans cannot pick and choose between human suffering. They care about it all. Narcissists only care about Their Own suffering, that directly affects them. Sociopaths only care about Your Own suffering, if they have an interest in you.

                Put the three slippers on the feet of each member of ‘Humanity’ and see which one fits. I’m afraid you’ll find the results to be rather confronting.

                I like Americans. They are, for the most part, more humane than the corralled vassals of almost any other Westphalia nation-state (and I’ve been to most). But on 9/11/01 (or 11/09/01, and if you think it’s unimportant that the rest of the world has it the other way around to 911, you’d be wrong), I watched in horror as humans killed humans thousands of miles away, and all of Humanity was screaming in trauma & shared empathy. I was 3 months from graduating military academy with a commission from a sovereign to lead her fodder into battle for Queen, God & Empire and I knew we were going to war.

                Two niggling questions bothered me, however. And they niggled away for a decade.
                1. Why did people care so much about 3000 humans murdered on one day; and not care at all about 30,000 humans murdered every day.
                2. Why did the global media fulfill all of bin Laden’s wildest hopes and dreams and make him the happiest little demon in the world.

                Humans can answer those questions. Narcissists ignore them. Sociopaths get angry at the human asking the question.

                Which slipper fits your feet?

              • gbjames
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

                Your two niggling questions are good questions.

                But your assumed position of moral superiority is offensive, your slipper analogy is useless, and the arrogance of assuming what figuratively fits the feet of your fellow commenters is pathetic.

              • Jonny
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                The third slipper response cannot raise my ire.

                I’m in a little too much pain from the somewhat more catastrophic suffering being endured by Humanity – it’s called “empathy”, only humans feel it for real. I’m incapable of taking the bait because only sociopaths cannot understand the Selfish motives of humans who care about suffering inflicted upon them via suffering inflicted by sociopaths and narcissists onto humans. I care only about my Selfish best interests, and I am not interested in suffering. It is laughable that sociopaths imagine I could be emotionally manipulated by the transparent attempt to paint me as a ‘martyr’. I am not. Make me choose between me and an innocent child and the child is dead as a door nail. I would feel almost nothing beyond a desire which will motivate my not being placed into that position again.

                The difference is my Selfish interests are not served by their deaths. No one’s interests are. Sociopaths believe (idiotically) otherwise. Sociopaths are always insanely Needy. Humans just need the suffering, the lying, the insanity to end. Humans are not Needy leeches. Sociopaths are. Narcissists have bigger problems to concern themselves with; namely, the mysterious incapacity of the world to care about them and what they care about – and that will always be a scream that sounds like ME ME ME.

                Sociopaths make the identical argument because a sociopath is merely a narcissist who has learned how to manipulate and narcissists and confuse humans into imagining they’re making a different argument. They are not. Sociopaths’ argument is always ME ME ME but it sounds like YOU YOU YOU, but only for those who want it to.

                It only fools those who want to be fooled. Love and hate don’t trigger an emotional response from me, because I am not publicly traded on the emotional market. I took myself off the market and no longer care about the opinions of people who express their personal feelings. I did this so I could care for their (read: my) welfare instead. The two (opinions v welfare) are mutually exclusive and it’s all about Truth.

                People don’t care for it.

                I don’t care for people who have a problem with it. But I would like to?

                Like I said, I’m shamelessly Selfish. Please answer the questions and ignore the question asker. You’ve done the other thing, that thing that sociopaths do.

              • gbjames
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Sorry, jonny, I ain’t taking the bait.

      • Gary W
        Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        See the obvious difference?

        The killings by Al Qaeda were an act of terrorism. The deaths in Iraq were civilian casualties of a war to depose the brutal dictator of that country who had a 20-year record of mass murder and violent aggression against neighboring countries. That seems like a pretty big difference to me.

        • Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          Silly me.

          Here I am, thinking that our host had made it pretty clear that he had had enough discussion on the legality and merits of recent US military operations against civilians.

          Maybe you’ve mistraken this for another Web site, perhaps?


        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          Put yourself in the place of an Iraqi and think again. Especially in the place of an Iraqi who lost loved ones. Many Iraqis would prefer the tradeoff of pre-war stability even with the perils of Saddam’s rule. But more importantly, Iraqis would have been better off with self-determination like the Libyans. What might have happened in Iraq without a US invasion? Perhaps something more like the liberation of Libya, which avoided most if not all of the mistakes of the Iraq invasion.

          I agree that the various forms of evil can be placed on a scale of degree. But I suspect Al Qaeda felt every bit as justified as did Americans.

          We caused much more trouble in Iraq than was necessary because of hubris, mismanagement, greed, and mistrust of Iraqis to manage their affairs. The greatest debacle was the short-sighted and opportunistic bungling of the CPA occupation after the fall of Baghdad. The tableau that stands out in my mind was when George Bush received a CIA report from Baghdad station chief detailing the rising insurgency in reaction to American post war assertion of control. Bush said “What is he, some kind of defeatist?” and fired the guy.

          Second Aardwolf

          Reasons for Firing?

          US News

          The point is that evil is not an absolute presence or force, it is a human construct, invented for human convenience and self-justification. I don’t mean to diminish the horror or unethical nature of those things we call evil, or to dismiss the need to prevent or defuse them. The way we frame “evil” is just all wrong.

          Here is another case:

          RIP George McGovern

          George McGovern called for compassion for the Vietnamese victims of our political venture. He claimed they deserved as much compassion as American casualties. That was a big mistake politically because he transgressed the hive mentality of what was and wasn’t evil. Instead he was expanding the in-group consciousness of who was human, and deserving of being treated as humans. He was being a modern moral humanist rather than a primitive religious moralizer.

          • Gary W
            Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

            Put yourself in the place of an Iraqi and think again. Especially in the place of an Iraqi who lost loved ones. Many Iraqis would prefer the tradeoff of pre-war stability even with the perils of Saddam’s rule.

            The ethical status of the invasion does not depend on how the Iraqi people felt about it. I doubt that most German or Japanese people supported Allied military operations on their homelands in WWII, but that doesn’t mean those operations were unethical. It wasn’t just Iraqis themselves who were persecuted and abused by Saddam and the Baathists, it was the entire region. Saddam invaded Iran, causing the Iran-Iraq War. Then he invaded Kuwait, causing the Gulf War. He attacked Israel with missiles. He had a 20-year record of violent aggression in one of the most fragile parts of the world.

            What might have happened in Iraq without a US invasion? Perhaps something more like the liberation of Libya, which avoided most if not all of the mistakes of the Iraq invasion.

            What clearly superior alternative to invasion do you think there was? Continuation of the sanctions? They were reducing Iraq to third-world status. The UN estimated that by the late 90s the sanctions had caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children from disease and malnutrition. No one knows how many adult Iraqis the sanctions had killed. There was no evidence that any kind of peaceful “liberation” of Iraq was possible. Saddam and his henchmen maintained an iron grip on the country and controlled the military. His equally murderous sons were in line to take over power when Saddam died or stepped down.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted October 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

              The ethical status of the invasion does not depend on how the Iraqi people felt about it.

              It appears that you reject the golden rule. That’s an ethical position few would admit to.

              I don’t question the ethical status of the invasion, but the ethical attitudes of Americans toward not only Iraqis, but towards humans from foreign nations in general.

              What I more seriously questioned was the blundering ineptitude and foolishness of the invasion, particularly after Bush humorously declared “combat operations are over” and “Mission Accomplished”. It’s the blindness and stupidity of those culturally ignorant morons that I object to.

              I don’t see how you could think I objected to the ethics of overthrowing Hussein when I clearly discussed doing so by alternative means. And I never said anything about “peaceful” liberation either. You need to read more carefully. Libya was anything but peaceful. It was an efficient and judicious application of American military power, which Iraq most decidedly was not. Iraq was and idiotic quagmire brought to us by right wing idiots with quagmires in their brains.

              • Gary W
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                No, I don’t reject the Golden Rule. I just don’t apply it in the mindlessly literal way that you are here.

                I didn’t say you said “peaceful.” You’re the one who needs to read more carefully. I don’t think it’s at all clear that a better option than invasion was available. I do think the idea that Iraq could have been liberated from Saddam through a very limited military operation of the kind the U.S. and its allies conducted in Libya last year is extremely implausible. I think you realize your position is weak on substance, which is why you try to bolster it rhetorically with all your guff about ignorant morons, etc.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink


                There was no evidence that any kind of peaceful “liberation” of Iraq was possible.

                This is verbatim copy and paste from your post. Care to retract your statement now?

          • Jonny
            Posted October 24, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            That’s strange. I didn’t realize Self-determination had the capacity to CHOOSE Sharia Law; that generally tends to be imposed on the majority by a violent sociopathic minority. One wonders whether they’ll go secular at the next election but only if one is being especially wry. Or perhaps if one is utterly ignorant about what Sharia law is. Let me help you with that.

            “But I’m not Muslim.”


            Freedom? NATO brought Sharia law to a 90% secular nation. Oh they’re Muslim now, devout even. You and I would also be devout if we were in their position.

            I apologise I did not know of the host’s tiring of US military discussion but I would have to be banned before remaining silent on the assertion that anyone CHOOSES Sharia law. It’s a choice for life and it’s not a embarrassing tattoo that makes you cringe at times, 30 years later.

            “That’s a lovely tattoo you have there.”


            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted October 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              I’m not really able to tell if any of this is addressing anything I wrote. If it was, you’ll have to try again because I can’t grasp any connection.

              You do seem to be confused about what Sharia is. Most Muslims choose to live by it. Sharia relates to the Koran as Talmudic law relates to the Torah. The dictatorship in Iran is something totally different from Sharia Law. That’s a totalitarian theocracy.

              • jonny
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                This post your responding to is much more clinical than the other one where I’m talking about authoritarian types (which the guy you’re arguing with seems to be almost a poster-boy-man for).

                It was in response to your outrageous line that I assumed was innocent ignorance, where you asserted that Libya was “liberated”. Call me crazy but no one sane in the entire world who knows anything about Sharia would agree with you. It’s ludicrous to the point of being (I assumed) an innocent ignorance, easily corrected. But no. You seem Certain that Sharia is chosen via Self-determination. What a ludicrous proposition. It’s a choice for life. You get liberated from Sharia, not the other way around.

                Where are you getting your information regarding Sharia Law? Stop reading or listening to that source. It is pure lies they’re telling you. I looked at Wikipedia – it’s funny that people say Wikipedia is unreliable; the actual structure of it is logically all-but-guaranteed to be more objective any other source I can imagine. Wikipedia were very diplomatic but accurate enough. You have to read between the lines to see the obvious realities of the inevitable horror and abuse of process.
                Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting. Though interpretations of sharia vary between cultures, in its strictest definition it is considered the infallible law of God as opposed to the human interpretation of the laws (fiqh).

                There are two primary sources of sharia law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Where it has official status, sharia is interpreted by Islamic judges (qadis) with varying responsibilities for the religious leaders (imams).

                “Moral code, religious laws for sex, hygiene, diet, prayer.” If that is FREEDOM, no one would want to be free.

                “Interpretations vary.” If that is JUSTICE, you’d be better off with anarchy.

                “But it has the capacity to be infallible law of God.” I.e. if the Middlemen so desire; but not always, their buddies and Power get a pass. Connect the dots.

                I live in Thailand and I have a lot of friends in Malaysia which is a fascinating country of immense potential. 70% secular. Soon to be 0% secular.

                I try to explain to my Malaysian friends who are locked in the bubbles of apathetic and narcissistic denial because they know they’re protected by Petronas, but Petronas cares for Petronas. If things get religiously awkward…I try to explain but they don’t listen so now I just tell them, “Hey, let’s not get emotional about it. I’ll let the Morality Police explain.”

                Do you know what the Morality Police are in Sharia states? They’re volunteers who believe the Law isn’t upholding the letter of the law in a manner they believe is appropriate. They’re power-hungry demented little Toddlers, with weapons, bad attitudes and long beards. They’re volunteers with a mandate to kick the shit out of you, or your wife; if you piss them off.

                They get pissed off really easily. You wouldn’t want to annoy them. They’re annoyed by everything.

                “This is my girlfriend.”


                If you’re going to pretend that this is Freedom…

                Explain how a secular candidate can campaign when his existence is against the Law.

                If you cannot, and are not willing to accept the Truth of the horror of NATO’s intervention (Sarkozy owed 50 mil to Qaddafi – who was a twerp – but if I had to choose between Sarko or Qaddafi, I am not choosing that sociopath Sarko) – then my authoritarian comments are especially relevant to you as well as the guy they were intended for.

          • Jonny
            Posted October 24, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

            I actually believe you made a strong argument, in particular the George McGovern example which shows how “democracy” can easily be manipulated by those who control the conditioning. Have you ever made much headway using that argument, though?

            I spent a decade appealing to those I presumed were capable of understanding why decency is a good thing. I got nowhere. I’m not claiming to have a better way, but I understand the mindset of someone who asserts the moral high ground but cannot care for a clearly sane position.

            They are not interested in Right and Wrong, Good or Evil or any of those constructs. They are aware they are bullshit. That’s the problem. They know the constructs are bullshit
            Everything they say that has a moral slant to it is a bold faced brazen sociopathic lie. They don’t care about Good v Evil or at least, they understand the lesson drilled into them throughout the Bible. No one wants to be like the Devil but it’s an impossibly good question why that is the case.

            Throughout the Bible, the Devil is largely the voice of reason. God is the screaming insanity that kills children to prove to the Devil that Job was still his brainwashed mindless vassal even when he became the most vicious horror imaginable.

            This pattern is played out a lot, starting with the Tree of Knowledge where the Serpent tells the Truth after God lies through his filthy teeth. God loses his mind in fury, but Eve
            did not surely die did she?

            Authoritarian personalities are not as mindless as they seem. They’re merely the children of religious parents who don’t value logical argument, they value power’s argument and power’s argument is that it doesn’t need to make one.

            The children of religion are all sociopaths and this isn’t to say they’re evil necessarily. Largely, they mean well. But whatever power says is Truth, even in contradiction or hipocrisy.

            I apologise if I’m telling you what you already know, I assure you I don’t personally value “patronising” as an informational tool. The children of religious upbringing do but unless you have a rod you do not spare the use of, your argument will be spoiled by their corrupted perception.

            They don’t HAVE to listen to you, you’re not their father.

            I have been horrified by that reaction my whole life of failing to convince people to act in their own interests. I understand now.

            Why would they do a thing like that? The Devil got his ass Kicked. They’re not stupid! They’re just stupid. It’s amazing that anyone is confused. They’re not. They’re more certain than anyone. Who’s got the rod? Does he use it? That is all they care about and you know, it’s very unfair to marginalise them as stupid because of the way they were raised, by certain authoritarian figures who hold the rod and therefore don’t need to be good or right or even make sense.

            Not everyone can take the alternative to being broken-in, like a horse or dog or child of religion. I knew I was insane to persist with being “difficult”, but I couldn’t help myself. I was fueled by indignation and hatred. It took me a long time to come back to neutral on emotional issues, like child exploitation. I haven’t become pro-exploitation, I just was wrong in some embarrassing ways. I no longer insult children by asserting I know better; they know better until I convince them I am not their parents. I will never force them one way or another. We all have a right to go overboard if that’s our choice and the question shouldn’t be about whether children have the right to choose badly but rather what that says about their parents. Children are very honest, even in suicidal ways.

            Hope this makes sense. Posted from my piece of shit iphone

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted October 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

              As I read this, in several spots you are referring to things indirectly that I just don’t have access to because there are implicit assumptions, so it’s a bit hard to understand.

              But the gist, as I see it, is you’ve been very frustrated in the past trying to persuade people who seem to have a kind of childish insecurity and thus a need to cling to authority, even when it entails holding irrational opinions.

              The image that came to mind was “Lord of the Flies”. Follow the one with the conch, the one who killed the pig, or the one with the rod who will protect us from our own fear.

              People are very hard to persuade of anything they don’t already want to believe in, including you and I. This is, I’d say, because we don’t have free will. We are what our brain is at any moment, and that clearly determines what we can see and think.

              • jonny
                Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                Your last paragraph is fantastically intelligent, with the exception that you’re imposing your restrictions onto me. I don’t have that problem, because there is nothing I want to believe.

                I mean, I’d like to believe Natalie Portman and I have a future, but if Natalie isn’t keen…

                I’m a freak, literally. I have no positions that cannot be obliterated the instant I hear a superior logical argument. If you haven’t convinced me, you haven’t made one because unlike anyone I’ve ever met, I read everyone _trying_ to be convinced. And I’m convinced often, because I’m a moron and I know very little.

                In a world of deceit, the only thing you can really be Certain of is that you cannot really be Certain of anything.

                In regards to the authoritarian comments, I was mostly just offering some insight into the minds of those who cannot be budged from their immoral positions even though they often make arguments appealing to Decency, or Ethics or Morality.

                They don’t believe in any of those things. I was explaining why they don’t value those constructs; the Bible (brilliantly or stupidity, but very effectively) drills the NON-value of those constructs into the minds of children victimised by religion’s obsession with using “power” as a persuasive mechanism.

                All I was saying is that you cannot frame arguments in moral terms, assuming they could realise they were in the wrong. They don’t care about being in the wrong. They care about remaining on the Good Side of Power. And most even Trust Power to look out for their interests.

                “I’m your father. I may beat the shit out of you with my rod but I still love you. I may be too demented to explain my motive or reasoning or logic but I still love you. I have power. You submit. Together we’ll prosper.”

                You’re not their father. They submitted. They don’t HAVE to listen to you. And they don’t respond to logic and reason. They will only respond when you start frightening them. I’ve seen this up close, it’s an amazing phenomenon. All the little vassals start screaming and running AWAY from the gentle liberal politician with a reputation for probity in a nation where corruption isn’t frowned upon, it’s literally an entrenched cultural ‘value’. The guy with ethics was campaigning to give them a Welfare State. They don’t want that. The other corrupt guy TERRORISED the shit of them. They’re on his side now for life (or until someone else starts terrifying them, and around and around the Patron System of Democracy goes). Self-determination?

                There isn’t a country on the planet where that could even be argued to exist.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

          I’m not seeing much of a difference. A war to depose a dictator is still a war of agression, and those people are just as dead.

  42. Kevin
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Come on. You do not have to circle the wagons around what was a childish bus slogan. Admit some fallibility.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Erm…sorry, but I must be missing something.

      “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

      What’s childish about that?


    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      So you think there is a god, or that people shouldn’t enjoy life?

      Because going beyond that is absurd.

      Of course we don’t know that there is no God.

      It’s just that everything we see and know indicates that the existence of an all powerful intelligence that has human interests at heart, or even one that exhibits petty human foibles, is incredibly unlikely.

      That’s why the ad says there is “probably” no God. Isn’t that admitting fallibility?

      What did you have in mind, exactly?

    • gbjames
      Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Please explain exactly what is childish about the bus sign?

      • Jonny
        Posted October 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        You’d understand his position if you understood Pascal’s wager.

        His position is moronic in ways Pascal’s wager is moronic. But he’s not a moron and he knows that. It’s unfortunate for him (and us) that he’s not a little cleverer because that’s what he’s being without being clever enough to make it advisable.

        There’s no easy way around that apart from making him cleverer. Unfortunately, we’re not his father or the authority figures he is NOT afraid of, he doesn’t HAVE to listen to us.

        That’s a pity for everyone. The guys who hold the rods of the world are never going to be the guys one can shrewdly vassal up with. You’d almost always be better off dead, in the long run. That’s the real problem. He’s living in the short term for a long, pain-filled life.

        He’s gonna need some children. They will respect their elders as well.

        • gbjames
          Posted October 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          I understand Pascal’s Wager just fine, thank you. I fail to see what your point is beyond an apparently overwhelming need to pontificate.

          • jonny
            Posted October 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            Sorry I assumed you wanted to convince him of Sanity.

            Clearly you just want to ridicule him and entrench him in his position, which doesn’t serve the interests of him, you, I or anybody.

            Forgive me for spending two decades trying to understand the minds of Christians you can drag to the Truth but cannot – no matter what you do – persuade one to think. Very few people have my appreciation of the way they think. They will think when you have the rod and aren’t prepared to spare it.

            This is because they’re not as dumb as non-Believers imagine. If you understood how many Christians believe it’s all demented bunk…they’re just respecting Power’s capacity to be vicious. What they don’t understand is you can’t have your cake and eat it as well; sleeping under the wing of the dragon only seems warm until you burn.

            I was appealing to his capacity to be more clever than he is. It’s in our shared best interests. Perhaps instead I should be refusing to accept your little “No Comment” above? How is asking direct questions ‘baiting’? You yourself said they were valid, no? You just didn’t answer or address them.

            That’s a bit like my father, the most Christian of all ‘Christians’. You wouldn’t want to buy a used car from him. He’d proselyte during the sale. Took me 2 decades to understand what he was doing, and why he made every sale stick. It was amazing, it flew right over my head.

            It’s called a “honeypot”. It only burns those who want to believe the stupid are stupid when they’re not. They just might be stupid. Don’t be confused. Fooled my dumb face and I was supposed to be learning the tricks of the Confidence trade.

            Sounds like you have a little Faith tucked away, just like my father. Little Faith umbrella for some raining questions?

            • Posted October 25, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

              “Very few people have my appreciation of the way they think.”

              Citation, please.


              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 25, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                I think the Link to that Resource is broken. I can predict this in advance without even knowing the URL. Endlessly repeated attempts to connect to that Domain only end in Frustration and Disillusion.

            • gbjames
              Posted October 25, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

              You know far less than you suppose, jonny. I am personally hostile to religious faith and have none “tucked away”. I dislike comments that rely on filibuster and self aggrandizement.

  43. gluonspring
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I’m just puzzled that what scares him about new atheists isn’t our propensity for fire bombing churches and killing believers… wait… oh, apparently I’ve been misinformed. Apparently our most dastardly undertaking has been to buy a bus billboard, say what we think, and have the temerity to go on living without all the necessary superstitions. I don’t know, doesn’t sound that scary to me but I’m no judge of these things. If he says it’s scary, it’s scary. Halloween is coming up. Maybe we can turn it into a carnival side show: “Scare yourself witless! Gaze upon the most horrifying sight known to the Christian heart…Enter, if you dare, and see that grotesque freak of nature, the optimistic atheist! Admission: $2.00”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      Firebombing churches and killing believers? Nobody told me about that. What have I been missing out on? 😉

      Reminds me of an old tagline – “Always remember to pillage _before_ you burn”

  44. Alan Fox
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Another Christian with an odd take on how atheists think:

    Would you want to believe that the Universe was created by a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully? Well? Would you want to believe such a being existed and was also omnipotent and omniscient? And had the power to judge you in the afterlife?

    I think it safe to say that no atheist would want such a being to truly exist. It would be more comforting to believe there was no God. Sort of like a wishful denial. So it looks like the sword cuts both ways. If Christians believe because they want to believe, atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.

    “Mike Gene” pseudonymous ID theorist now turned apologist.

    • jonny
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      Wow. I’ve never seen something like this before.

      So he’s saying rather than believe in the God of the Bible, he believes in a different God and that anti-theists don’t want to believe in the God of the Bible, because he’s the God of the Bible?

      If I have gotten that right, why isn’t Humanity being humane and Resting that guy In Peace?

      It’s inhumane to let him scream like that.

    • Marella
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:31 am | Permalink

      Why the hell would ANYONE want such a being to exist? This makes no sense at all, even for a Christian.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        Umm, because he (the Xtian) has the magic formula that prevents his monster-god from snacking on him, while it shreds everybody else?

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:40 am | Permalink

          That’s right, the my god can beat up your god mentality. God probably received his most fearsome aspects during the polytheistic phase of the early Hebrews. The crowning glory, the last embellishment they invented, was that not only is he the baddest kick ass god of all, now he’s the only god. Makes sense that to become the only god you’ve got to kill all the others off.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        It’s not so much about what people want but about what is effective. It is a long tradition in Christianity to first scare people out of their wits with visions of a judgmental God dangling them over the pit of eternal hellfire, for what are obviously the most trivial of offenses, and then to provide them with the relief of a magic ticket out of this horrible fate. Terror followed by catharsis. It’s an effective hook. Once you’ve been through a couple of cycles of it, some people might actually start to like it. And, not only do you get to imagine yourself saved, you get the added pleasure of imagining your neighbor, or whomever you despise, suffering at the hands of someone entirely ready to give them even more than what they have coming to them. For that purpose, it is useful to have the nastiest possible vision of God.

        I sat through many sermons that basically said that the judgment of man was a grim truth, that many people would burn in hell forever, sometimes decent people who simply failed to accept Jesus, but that we couldn’t let our feelings get in the way of facing facts (!). Atheists were accused of being people who were unwilling to face these facts because they didn’t want to subject themselves to God, because they had some sin in their life they simply couldn’t give up. It was almost universally accepted among the people I knew as a child that that was all there was to atheism, simple rebellion, the child plugging his ears and saying “la la la la I can’t hear you” to the parent’s correction. This idea that atheists are people who choose not to believe in God because they don’t like God is common place, bordering on universal, among believers. Atheists who behave well is thus fairly disturbing to them, because many have not even seriously entertained the idea that we reject religion on the evidence rather than because of a beef we have with God.

        • Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          This is so true. But it has to follow when believers so firmly believe that God exists that they simply cannot fathom that atheists genuinely don’t believe that any god exists: The only possibility, in their minds, is that atheists are in denial.


        • jonny
          Posted October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          Ah yes the classic Christian terror. They have malicious intent. Anti-thiests, atheists and agnostics are pretty comfortable with just being humane. If you think about it, only the malicious could even be intrigued by the Abrahamic religions. Because their scientific assertion is:

          “Humans are predisposed to be inhumane.”

          Interesting ‘logic’. I know humans are inhumane but then I know who created this world of horror with their lies.

          I know the first time I ever had a thought which could be construed as ‘evil’. I’d just considered killing my brother. Never imagined it prior to hearing the parable. Would have gone my life without imagining it. I looked over at him mischievously intending to do a pistol shot with my cocked thumb and forefinger or a thumb across my neck to signify his death but I didn’t do any of that. Everything got creepy and awkward instead. I looked over and he didn’t notice me looking, he was kinda staring at me with this queer look on his face before awkwardly looking away. He was 8, I was 5.

          The entire Bible is conditioning evil into the minds of children. 4-8 billion copies of the most filthy literature ever written? People who pretend to be confused…boy. So brave.

          I read the queerest shit like Steinbeck wondering what the moral of that story is. I don’t know what to make of creeps who don’t get the Bible but who do get porn and are very emotional about their children not watching any. So do they get the point, or not? I’m never sure.

          Rambo is considered fine of course. Cause that’s harmless fun. Adult themes? Tsk. Restricted.

          Lying to children is rated G. Reality is rated R or XXX. It’s peculiar is all. The Bible is so horrifying, it should be burned along with any Christians who want to send their David’s to fight Goliaths and keep all the women children for themselves.

          Cain and Abel is as simple as Framing the classic Christian Binary Dilemma.
          1 v 0.
          A v B.
          Good v Bad.
          Bad v Worse.

          Christians are always ‘victims’ of their own framing of dilemmas ‘forcing’ them to act maliciously against you. What choice did they have? They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and they placed the rock there. The Christian Hijack.

          “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

          Why would you imagine such a demented thing? Can he not keep himself? Keep your creepy possessive control away from him.

          “So I have to kill him then.”

          1 v 0.
          Possession v Murder.
          Love v Hate (but I repeat myself).

  45. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    As with the earlier post about the Gertrude Himmelfarb piece, this author fails to note that William James is ultimately critical of both the overly optimistic (“healthy-minded”) religions AND the heavily pessimistic (“morbid”) religions and seeks for a third way. Both Unitarians and Puritans seem to James to be missing the point. This author and Himmelfarb seem to think James is endorsing the gloomy religions.

    This piece pivots on the assumption that our sense of suffering is a “key” to the universe. It’s an assumption shared by several religions and the entirely non-religious philosophy of Schopenhauer.

    Religiously, thinking that religion was all about sensitivity to suffering was both a keystone of the commendable Martin Luther King, but also for the reprehensible Mother Theresa. King was not much of a hell-fire Christian, and I suspect this author is not eitther.

    A lot of creative artists have also thought that- some of them created much better work than others.

    So I would commend the author for his sensitivity to suffering, but ask him to think more deeply about what he thinks is the psychological remedy.

    Still, this is one of the better and more articulate religious pieces posted about here. The bus slogan looks better when you know its precedent, but I agree with him by itself the bus slogan seems shallow. He has a friendlier take on New Atheism at another Huffington Post article here entitled “How Atheism Can Help Christians Avoid False Idols”

    • jonny
      Posted October 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure the world is ready for the Truth about MLK, but he was a great deal more [that word] in ways Mother Theresa was.

      He was a Baptist minister, reading flowery words from The Master’s Book for Slave-Manufacturing. Two questions because it’s a very touchy subject.

      1. How’s that dream of his working out? I read the other day two Black Panthers have been in solitary confinement (pure torture) for 40 years. I don’t care what a human has done, I don’t care if they’ve killed a million people; put them down or rehabilitate them with Understanding / Education. This idea that Prison Rape is rehabilitation makes me want to be really humane. I couldn’t find out what those men had done; but explain to me how you would be docile in their position; the outrage and the injustices, the vicious hatred and petty malice, the violent smack downs, the non-stop horrifying insults, the NO NIGGERS signs prominently displayed in shop windows, having to suck up to every cop just so their beating wouldn’t be as bad or to avoid going to prison for a disrespecting a filthy animal in a uniform. Getting sent to prison for crimes where there wasn’t even any evidence. Just…40 years in solitary confinement that people say makes you insane within months. All whilst MLK’s sleazy betrayal of Americans is celebrated? When did the One Million Man march happen? Has MLK’s dream become reality?

      2. MLK’s dream. Celebrated but why? It was very black and white. Why, you might say MLK seemed determined to be divisive. If I had a dream, it would not be that my little daughters might be judged on the content of their character by imbeciles so moronic they would shrewdly screen prospective options for Happiness / Fun. If I had a dream, it would be for my little girls to be inclusive and fun-loving and intelligent and to have Self. If the sons and daughters of former slave-owners wanted to play with them, my dream would be that they would know how lucky they were. My daughters would not see colour in Humanity. Anyone that did would not be lucky enough to know them.

      I’m a nigger, but I had better dreams than MLK. And he died not for his speeches and especially not that speech, he died planning a financial rebellion – a slave uprising. Moving their money out of the banks that oppressed them, etc. Nothing wrong with that. Just more divisive bullshit but.

      In the land of the Free, or for Humanity really, the way freedom works is all are free. Or all are slaves. Apartheid of any kind is for niggers, no matter your perceived skin colour or socio-economic class. Humans don’t exclude options for happiness and fun and convert them into options for pain and misery. That…is what niggers do. Niggers fight those who would free them from their chains.

      The world’s probably not ready for that sort of thing. But when I went to the US, my 2nd favorite childhood hero got dumped off the list. (JFK #1 also dumped – there are no profiled heroes, merely unsung ones) It was years before I understood why MLK’s speeches were bunk, but I knew whatever he said…wasn’t the right thing to say. I knew that. Everywhere I looked, there was Apartheid. Humans Divided. Conquered. Ruled. I’m referring to Americans. Very free, except for following God’s directions in Genesis 1:29. Tsk. The _wrong_ plant leaf?

      Prison rape. It rehabilitates those who have not sinned, but who might consider it upon release. Also possible is that I’m babbling, but I mean well.

  46. Jeff Johnson
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The Christian concept of suffering seems so often to attach to the suffering of Jesus on the cross, which has a repulsive masochistic quality to it. The acceptance of punishment for sins inherited at birth is an entirely perverse notion, and only the oppressed and subservient would accept it at the hands of a sadistic dominating force, such as the authority of a church. It becomes even more perverse when you add the imaginary Grand Prize of the hereafter as incentive to sacrifice rewards and pay the price of suffering in the present.

    Certainly some suffering is necessary. It is the consequence of real actions, choices, and events. When it is inevitable we must endure it. I suppose to invent a mental technique to help fool the mind into enduring suffering has utility when suffering can’t otherwise be avoided. But suffering for the sake of suffering, such as in self-flagellation or other masochistic forms of worship, is hideous.

    Jesus’ compassion for the suffering of the poor, the sick, and the weak is an entirely different matter and a much healthier phenomenon. It is appealing to the atheist to try to relieve suffering in the here and now.

    Also the Buddhist concept of the inevitability of suffering in life, embodied in the Four Noble Truths, is instructive. The goal here also is to relieve suffering, and it prescribes a pathway to achieve that goal of escaping from suffering. This can also be sensible to the atheist: to have compassion and to relieve or prevent suffering.

    Certainly suffering is something worth understanding, something we all are forced to deal with, and something that is innate to much of biological life. To make it a key to understanding the universe seems misguided, which I can say without trivializing the very real and undeniable phenomenon of pain and suffering in the least. How is one to say that suffering is anything more than an evolutionary strategy that encourages survival? And yet how is one to say that this understanding amounts to a shallow dismissal of suffering?

    What is really stupid is to infer that to stop worrying about God and to follow the freedom to pursue happiness is the same as being indifferent to or ignorant of suffering. It is entirely an absurd and offensive assumption about atheists based on the most pessimistic, and yes, shallow, assessment of what and who atheists are.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      This was written more or less in response to #45 above.

    • jonny
      Posted October 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Jesus had compassion for the poor? When did this happen? Were these actions compassionate? I think in defending atheists (which I am not), you fail to perceive the disturbingly apparent Reality of Christians.

      They’re all sociopaths. They want you to suffer to please. Jesus had compassion which was healthy? You’ll have to give me some examples. Here’s some of his Evil. (nb. You don’t have to read my inept writing if it’s torturous – I enclose each example in asterisks.)

      ***Gave away loaves and fishes.***

      Did not teach them to be Self-reliant. It’s the difference between charity and social welfare programs; the difference between manufacturing dependency v Independence; or the difference between Selfishness v Evil. The damage done to the disadvantaged by Charity is unfathomably greater than the benefits. One of religion’s most creepy tricks is the manufacturing of suffering under the guise of “doing good”. Well if Jesus wanted to do good, he wouldn’t give them handouts to advertise the fact that he was a vile Patron System dolling out favours (and when he’s gone? his patronised victims scream and starve and die unless they become leeches). If Jesus was good, he’s have taught them something useful and productive like – oh I don’t know – how to fish and bake?

      ***Taunted a blood-thirsty and sociopathic self-righteous mob willing to kill an innocent girl to kill her.***

      The girl had done nothing remotely wrong or immoral. Jesus was taunting them to kill her even though she hadn’t done anything. Then he had the nerve to insult her by saying “Go, and sin no more”. What a filthy creep. A) If she was sinning, what an insulting thing to say; go and die? She’d be doing it for a reason. B) She was not sinning. What was her crime? Who was she hurting with her honesty and willing to trade fairly? If I’d been in that crowd, I’ve have listened to him and correctly thrown the first stone. And then all the stones. To kill the creep leech.

      ***Lost his mind and burned a fig tree for not giving him figs on demand.***

      Just creepy emotionally insane inanity.

      ***Suffered all the little children to come unto him so he could come onto them.***

      Laying his hands on them all before departing hence (as you do I imagine, when you’re a pedophile).

      ***Proclaimed the Golden Shower of Emotional Urine (often mistaken for a Golden Rule) of Christian sociopaths***

      They spray emotional urine over the world that has never and will never solicit it, cannot be expected to tolerate it, and the ways Christians do it is a capital crime. If you’re confused, pray tell how does the Golden Rule work with the insane? Should the insane do until children what they’d have the children do unto them? Christian compassion has gone viral because you can tell them to shove their emotional degradation, you can tell them that you have no need for their filthy emotional outrage and sympathy and imposition, you can tell them to stop, to screw themselves, threaten them, warn them to shut it down and they won’t stop. Because it’s not for you that they’re smearing you, it’s a sociopathic attack under the guise – as transparent as any – that they’re being sweet. They’ll pray for you! They feel sorry for you.

      Christians should do unto themselves. There’s no need for their sociopathic compassion. They feign it to smear midgets (having fun without hurting anybody), gays (having fun without hurting anybody), 12 year old girls (having fun without hurting anybody, little young but then still 11 years too old to be TOLD what to do as if she were her parents’ slave. Persuaded? By all means. If they cannot persuade their children, the children must be taken into care (not a Christian orphanage / brothel). You think that’s a joke but you think Christians are sweet. You should go hang out in the Philippines. 96% Catholic. The realities of the horror is just…they’re Christian. It’s because of that, not the other way around.

      ***Jesus told the Rich theirs was the Kingdom of Heaven, to other group of people he told them the meek would inherit the Earth.***

      Is that after Armageddon / Judgement Day or…why don’t the meek get to Heaven? He was promising a lot to a lot of people. 12 thrones for 12 tribes and wank jerk off airy fairy promises every Christian makes without capacity to deliver because are no Christians. Jesus said.

      ***To a rich guy who asked in good faith what he should do, Jesus lied like four times in a row, changing his story in outrageously insane fashion.***

      First, Jesus said “follow the laws of Moses, the Commandments” (which are from 1-10 some of the most putrid and vile shit as almost anything in the Bible. But none are as vile as the 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Rape). So Jesus basically told the rich guy he could rape and go to heaven. Good guys don’t do that shit. But the Bible is so pro-rape it’s ludicrous. QUIET WOMAN. SILENCE IN CHURCH. Almost every disciple repeats this fake misogyny. It’s vile but it’s fake. It’s twice as evil as the misogyny for that reason. Men were the marks.

      Rich guys says “which commandments” (which is cute because there are so many versions). Jesus ‘clarifies’ his position, nailing only 3 out 10 correctly and missing a bunch.

      Then Jesus changes his story again, “To be Perfect you must give away your shit to the poor.” The rich man goes away cause that’s the dumbest thing ever. He’d be poor. So they’d either give it back or lol @ St Francis of Assisi (the last Christian).

      Because after the rich guy leaves (he’s not Perfect), Jesus changes his story again for the fourth set of Terms and Conditions of Christianity. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven. Whoa. He just told the rich guy that giving it away was only if you wanted to PERFECT. Then he changed his Terms, saying it was required. That’s not cool. “And verily I say unto you, whomsoever he be of you that hath not forsaken all that they hath, you cannot be my disciple.” It’s not vague. No ambiguity. There isn’t a Christian on the planet. Of course, Christians know this. If you’re wondering, it’s for you.

      Christ was a filthy lying sociopath who cannot even keep his manipulation and shrewd haggling straight. That’s why Christians love him.

      ***Jesus turned the water into wine.***

      Not OJ, no berry, apple or grape juice, not even purified drinking water. He turned water into a sleazy toxic drug of dependence and shame. And 1900 years later a guy named Louis Pasteur (have you heard of him?) did this thing with milk that saved the lives of so many million Jesus wanted to die because he could do anything right? So why addictive poison that’s killed over 100,000,000 or so since? And gotten half a billion kids beaten. Because either:
      a) Jesus wanted them all to die for those 1900 years of poisoned milk; or…
      b) Jesus was a filthy liar who didn’t know that ‘trick’.

      I’m not sure which is worse, but there are maybe 50 more examples but what I’m yet to see is a single example of Jesus saying something that isn’t vile. It really annoys me when non-Christians assert that Jesus is ‘good’. It makes me wonder if the non-Christian has even read the NT. Or if he’s not a Christian after all.

      “And ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free” was not told to the masses. That’s why it’s in the foyer of Langley, CIA HQ. Perfectly in context.

      Taken out of context, it’s arguably the only True verse in the Bible.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted October 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Post is too long; please don’t write essays on this site. And you need to ratchet back on your posting for a new commenter.

        • jonny
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

          Yep. Apologies for getting carried away. Won’t happen again.

  47. Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Obviously (and surely he must know it) Wallace is *slightly* reading too much into what is in the end just a snappy slogan on the side of a bus…

    I wonder if when somebody raises a glass of wine and says “here’s to your health, then!” he would go off on how that ignores the problems alcoholism causes, how many people drink beer instead of wine because they can’t afford to, and how medicine does a much better job at making people healthy…

    You’d just not invite him to the next party anymore now would you?

  48. pilgrimpater
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    So he doesn’t like the slogan on the Dawkin’s Bus yet all those church notices threatening you with hell are ok.

  49. Jeff Johnson
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Reply to this comment by Bebop:

    Walking would have meaning. Propulsion by limb would be quite familiar, and bipedalism would be a new variation on an existing principle, with obvious advantages, and within the physical capacities of your peers.

    If somehow via time travel you could transport a jeep to an African savannah two million years ago, you would seriously blow some minds.

    The point is we progress biologically and culturally, which includes language and logic, by sensible increments related to what has been done before, our physical and mental capacities, and what is physically possible. What is physically possible is a hard limit. Automobiles and rocket ships are physically possible, but would have been very difficult to imagine even a thousand years ago. Yet here we are.

    The point that there are future innovations we can’t imagine today is a trivially obvious one. What you seem to ignore is that we are ultimately constrained by a limit of what is physically possible.

    If you want to sploink on your driquizziblort via smooglopoflims, it will make no sense to me, and has no meaning that can connect to my conceptual set of possible meanings. And if you can not find a way to explain these things by expanding them into combinations of logic and concepts that we already can understand, then it is doubtful you really understand them either.

    You seem to be claiming to be able to see, perceive, or understand something the rest of us can not, and that it is something so far beyond any conventional meaning, that we simply can’t grasp it. If that is so, you should stop writing about it and enjoy it privately. Another possibility is that you are a pretentious egotistical narcissist suffering from delusions or putting on airs and making claims you can’t possibly back with anything real. Just saying.

    Perhaps you really are so magically beyond us mere mortals, but you really also ought to carefully consider the latter possibility.

  50. Jeff Johnson
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    And also this:

    Subjectivity is an objective fact. There can’t be objectivity without subjectivity.

    These two sentences logically contradict each other. If A is subjectivity, and B is the set of all objective facts, you are saying:

    A is contained within B.
    B can’t exist without A.

    This amounts to solipsism, saying all objective facts are really subjective objects.

    You may be equivocating on the word ‘objectivity’. Meanings of ‘objectivity’

    1. existence of objective facts independent of subjective evaluation.
    2. a way of thinking about objective facts and concrete existence.

    In this first meaning, your lines are tantamount to solipsism, a perverse idealism. In the second meaning, your lines are tautological: there can’t subjective thinking without subjective thinking.

  51. shakyisles
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Wow, I sense that anything a person of any religious bent says, the author would disagree with simply because a religious person said it, rather than taking the words for what they are without embedding any agenda. Turn back! You can make a choice – exercise your free will 🙂 Try to meet your ‘foes’ in the middle – see what happens. And if you do – take note of how you feel – does it feel good to give a little? Compared to this constant bickering – doesn’t it weigh you down and stir up anxiety?

    • gbjames
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink


    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      If airplane engineers followed your advice, and used alternative views about aeronautics, planes would fall out of the sky.

      The disagreement is not because of who said it. It is because what they say is simply wrong.

      There is reality, and there is fantasy, and there is no reason reality should compromise with fantasy.

      Really, the goal is to destroy religion. And good riddance, because it’s a pack of lies.

  52. shakyisles
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Bother..I just wrote up a reply but it didn’t post. I agree with – no lies and no dogma. We don’t want our fellow humans suffering under the weight of dogmatic contraints – the author JC is very altruistic in his motives – a heart of gold. However, airplanes would never have gotten off the ground if the people designing them couldn’t agree on at least some things..if they were too busy puffing their chests out to find something potentially useful in what someone else says. This is human nature – there’s no forcing others to think a certain can only hope to influence

    • gbjames
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink


      I mean, who exactly are you saying is puffing their chest? Who thinks they are forcing someone to think some way?

      • shakyisles
        Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Anyone who is so dogmatic and arrogant that they can’t see anything worthwhile or agreeable in what other people are saying and only choose to focus on what what is wrong with others views. This applies to atheists and religious folk alike

        • gbjames
          Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Who is being this dogmatic? Where is this dogmatism? It is impossible to know how to respond if we don’t say what you are talking about.

        • Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

          So…erm…not to go all Godwin on you and what-not…but what’s worthwhile and / or agreeable in National Socialism or White Nationalism?

          No every person and every ideology is deserving of respect and admiration. Many, indeed, only deserve scorn and contempt.


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