We do not know what awaits each of us after death, but we know that we will die. Clearly, it must be possible to live ethically—with a genuine concern for the happiness of other sentient beings—without presuming to know things about which we are patently ignorant. Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person you will pass on the street today, is going to die. Living long enough, each will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would anyone want to be anything but kind in the meantime?
— Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2004)
Think about that the next time you’re in a crowd. For every single person you see, young or old, there will be one death, one funeral, one grave or ash-filled urn. I work on a university campus where most of the people I pass on the street are young and healthy—and in this context the thought is jarring. Continue reading →
Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss says that science shows us that “we are more insignificant than we ever could have imagined,” and that “the future [of the universe] is miserable.” So why isn’t he bothered by this? He explains in this two-minute video. Continue reading →
Many people talk about the importance of spirituality. Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher, says that we tend not to have a clear conception of just what spirituality is, and that the concept tends to resist definition. But even though he doesn’t believe in the supernatural, he feels there’s something important lurking in all that vague talk about the spiritual: Continue reading →
Several days ago The Great Antagonizer posted a critique of the “God works in mysterious ways” meme, explaining how it functions as religion’s rhetorical “get out of jail free card” when bad things happen to good people. It reminded me of how the Bible’s Book of Job answers the question: a terrible answer, but kind of a funny story (in a perverse way), and one that sheds light on some of the inner workings of religious faith.
A Christian blog recently featured a post titled “There Is No God, And I Hate Him,” and it got me to thinking about one of the things that believers often throw at us infidels. I commented there but want to develop it a little more here. The blogger complained about “evangelistic” atheists, writing (in part):
I mean really, what’s the point? If there is no God, then eventually the sun will burn up, our world will be gone, everyone will die and that’s it…
And we know what rhetorical brickbat is coming next, don’t we?
I don’t normally go to creationist blogs looking for fights, but when a church posted a little animated video yesterday, titled, “Evolution is impossible, really funny!!” temptation got the better of me. At any rate, it’s an opportunity to share something really cool (if you don’t already know about Tiktaalik roseae, the “fishapod”) and to say something about the peculiar style of argumentation that’s become common among evangelicals.
The post is here, with a video that features a cartoon fish who gets the idea to jump up on land and evolve into humans. As the fish flops around helplessly on dry land, the ‘camera’ pulls back to reveal the bones of other fish who have apparently tried the same thing.
Ha, ha! See? Evolution is impossible! A fish would die on dry land!
I rolled my eyes. I grew up with this kind of pat-yourself-on-the-back ignorance. Continue reading →
“For we are free—free to suffer every anguish of deliberation, of decisions which must be made upon suspect information and half-knowledge, every anguish of hindsight and regret, of failure, shame and responsibility for all that we have brought upon ourselves and others: free to struggle, to starve, to demand from all one last, supreme effort to reach where we long to be and, once there, to conclude that it is not, after all, the right place.”
I’ll give you a hint: I don’t think it’s a lack of video games or a surplus of religiosity.
As with the health care debate, what’s so frustrating about the US gun control debate is this country’s stubborn refusal to learn from the rest of the world, as if the US is so special that what works for everyone else won’t work for us. Continue reading →
Detail of the “Pale Blue Dot” photo, showing Earth as seen from Voyager 1. NASA, via Wikimedia Commons
You’ve heard the claim from Christians—that atheism strips life of its meaning. No divine plan, no eternity, only the finality of death. How could you find joy in such a pointless existence? Why even get out of bed in the morning? This is a subjective question, but let me explain how I look at it. An analogy came to me while I was looking down from an upper-story window onto a snow-covered lawn.
Someone had trampled a message into the snow, “I [heart] U,” and I realized that while you probably couldn’t read the words from the sidewalk, you could see them perfectly from a fifth floor window. In fact, I realized the whole lawn could best be read from here. I saw neat lines of crisscrossing footprints and could tell where each walker was heading, and with what stride. I saw clumps of ornamental grass bent down under the weight of the snow… a feral cat disappearing leisurely into the bushes… a squirrel racing up a tree… a young woman talking animatedly on her phone, holding it with one hand and gesturing with the other, smiling, and then hanging up and walking on quietly, hands stilled… another squirrel racing up that same tree. Continue reading →