Monday, November 26, 2007

It's Kind of Sad Being an Atheist

Declaring oneself an atheist is, by itself, a purely negative statement. Being atheists means that, in the absence of some proof that a god(s) rules the universe, we don’t believe in any such god(s). We of course feel forced to define ourselves this way in a country where roughly 85% of the population believes literally in heaven and miracles.

But “atheist” is still an uncomfortable designation, since we don’t want to define ourselves solely on the basis of a negative belief. So what are we to do? The answer is not at all obvious. Many of us (including me) consider ourselves to be secular humanists. This means to me that we hold the same beliefs as any right-thinking liberal person: love, appreciation of the beauty of the earth and of cultural human endeavors, and the rights of all people to have access to a happy and fulfilling life. In the atheist Thomas Jefferson’s ringing phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…” (Yes, the rest of that sentence unfortunately mentions “their Creator”, but the impact of the “self-evident” phrase is not lessened thereby).

A movement called The Brights ( has proposed a solution to this quandary. I feel sympathetic to their statement of principles, but personally find it still too undifferentiated. Perhaps we atheists should extend our self-designation slightly to something like: Atheists Who Also Seek to Live Full, Loving, and Generous Lives. Too long a name, of course, but maybe a start.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Night and Day

(with apologies to Cole Porter)

Night and Day, You made neither one.
Without You we have both the moon and the afternoon sun.
People search both near and far,
For a god, whatever You are,
They think of you night and day.
Day and night, why is it so,
That this longing for You follows wherever they go?
In the roaring preacher's boom,
in the darkness of a lonely room,
They think of you night and day.
Night and day, it really gets to me,
there's an oh, such a bilious anger
burning inside of me.
And its torment won't be through
‘til it’s clear the world does move along without any You,
day and night, night and day.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The God Assumption and the (n) Principles of Atheism

About 100 years ago, the great French scientist and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace created the first correct theory of the nebular origin of the solar system. The Emperor Napoleon heard about Laplace's theory, and said to him: "M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator." Laplace’s delicious reply to Napoleon was: “Sire, I did not need to make such an assumption”.

My appreciation of Laplace’s blunt response to Napoleon prompted me to start a list of Principles of Atheism. Other such lists already exist, and mine is certainly incomplete. So input from readers of this blog would be greatly appreciated.

1. In the spirit of Laplace, we have no need for a God/Creator assumption, nor any reason to make any such hypothesis.

2. All theist religions, whether living (e.g., Christianity), marginal (Zoroastrianism, etc.) or dead (Norse mythology, etc.), represent equally primitive superstitions. There's really no reason to believe in any of them. You seen one god(s), you seen them all.

3. As I discussed in my previous blog, no miracles are allowed anywhere in the universe, including of course here on Earth. Miracles break physical laws, and are therefore no fair.

4. We atheists have no holy book preaching that non-believers either should be killed, and/or face eternal damnation. So, as humanists, we are at least as kind and generous to our fellow humans as are members of any organized superstitious group.