Epicurus' World

The story goes that the renowned physicist Richard Feynman was once asked to summarize the most important finding of modern science in a single sentence. Feynman replied, "The universe is made of atoms."Although there are many other scientific discoveries that are arguably of equal importance, Feynman's choice makes a lot of sense. The discovery of atoms is so familiar to us that it's easy to overlook its breathtaking significance. We know, at the smallest scale where it still makes sense to … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Abner Kneeland

While some freethinkers have made contributions to science, the arts or the humanities, others are best known for exemplifying a sea change in human history - showing, by their lives, that one age was passing and another would soon dawn. Just so is today's post on the life of an American freethinker who has the unique distinction of being the last man imprisoned in America for blasphemy: a courageous reformer and patriot by the name of Abner Kneeland.Kneeland was born in Massachusetts in 1774, … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Koreshanity

Cyrus Reed Teed, a.k.a. the Prophet Koresh. Public-domain image from Wikipedia.It seems that every religion has at least one signature bizarre belief: whether it be that the messiah is an American soldier who will return from across the ocean bringing marvelous cargo, or that human beings are possessed by the ghosts of murdered aliens, or that God wants us to transform him into crackers and consume him each week. But for sheer extravagant, defiant wackiness in the face of obvious … [Read more...]

New on Ebon Musings: Dating the Good News

I've uploaded a new essay to Ebon Musings, "Dating the Good News". This essay attempts to fix a date of composition for the New Testament's four canonical gospels based on documentary evidence, both positive and negative, and draws some conclusions on what this date tells us about the evolution of early Christianity.This is an open thread. Comments and discussion are welcome. … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Frances Wright

Although the success of the feminist movement has secured equal legal rights for women virtually everywhere in the West - a guarantee de jure, if not always de facto - there are still pockets of institutionalized sexism that survive. The Catholic church is the most obvious example, but other Christian denominations also deny the equality of women, such as when over 100 Southern Baptist bookstores refused to display a magazine about female pastors.By contrast, the freethought movement has … [Read more...]

The Story of Atheism

In my previous post, I wrote some thoughts on the power of storytelling and how atheists can use it to our benefit. In this post, I intend to apply those principles to tell a story: the story of atheism.Because gods are fundamentally human creations, this is also a story of humanity. It opens in the time when the human race was newborn, when we had first come of age as conscious beings who could look around and conceptualize the world. I don't know the exact nature of the beings in whose minds … [Read more...]

The Roots of the War on Christmas

This year, as they do every year, the religious right is engaging in its annual bout of paranoia and conspiracy-mongering over the supposed secular plot to ban Christmas. Fox News, Christian-right groups, and other outlets in the culture war publish TV segments like "Christmas Under Siege", books like John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, and websites such as Defend Christmas.Judging by their hysteria, one would … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: The Millerites

Today's edition of "Strange and Curious Sects" concerns a now-defunct religious group, but one which has offshoots that survive to the present day. Like the stories of John Frum and Sabbatai Zevi, it's also a lesson in the almost limitless capacity of the human mind to rationalize away disappointment.William Miller was born in 1782 in Massachusetts. A voracious reader, he converted to deism when he was young, but his belief in an intervening god would be restored in the War of 1812. Miller … [Read more...]

To Bigotry No Sanction

In August 1790, Warden Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote an address to the recently elected President George Washington. Jewish congregations were still an unusual phenomenon in America at the time, and Newport's was the new nation's largest. Seixas' letter expressed his congregation's gratitude to President Washington, and to America in general, for their willingness to uphold the separation of church and state and offer shelter and toleration to a minority … [Read more...]

In Praise of Massachusetts Liberals

In the 2004 American presidential campaign, the label "Massachusetts liberal" was used as an epithet by Republican against the Democratic candidate John Kerry. In the argot of conservatives, the term signifies a candidate who is unacceptably far left, out of the mainstream of American politics - as indicated by their association with the prosperous, well-educated, gay-friendly state of Massachusetts. (See Conservapedia, which, as always, is not a parody.)I find it interesting that this term … [Read more...]