Capt. Sullenberger Didn’t Pray When the Plane Was Going into the Hudson

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a plane safely into the Hudson River, was asked on 60 Minutes tonight about whether or not he prayed when US Airways Flight 1549 had lost its engines.

Here’s Katie Couric talking with CNN’s Howard Kurtz about her interview with the pilot:

Couric:… In fact, at one point I said [to Sullenberger], “Did you pray at any moment?” And he said, “There were a lot of people in the cabin doing that for me. I had to fly the airplane.”

Kurtz: Right. You know, even in normal circumstances, I guess, to be a successful pilot, you have to be able to tune out just about every distraction and focus on the job at hand.

Couric: Yes. He said it took enormous concentration and focus to kind of remove those feelings of fear, and obviously he did what he needed to do to get the job done.

This was from the actual interview:

Asked if he at any point prayed, he told Couric, “I would imagine somebody in back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane.”

“My focus at that point was so intensely on the landing,” he said. “I thought of nothing else.”

That’s not the same as saying he’s an atheist or anything. I don’t know what he believes.

But it’s an important point, I think. In a time of crisis, the man in charge didn’t stop to pray. He didn’t think about God.

He focused on what actions he could take. He eliminated any other “distractions” from his mind, including thoughts about God.

That’s what saved the passengers’ lives.

  • nogods

    I think it’s fair to conclude what Sully Sullenberger is not – he’s not part of the fundagelical crowd.

  • Sam

    I watched that, and I thought of the exact same thing. I said to myself “ya know what? I bet Hemant will post about this.”

  • christi

    I’m glad he is forcing the rest of us to give credit where it is due…to the crew. To call it a miracle would be an insult.

    Besides, if it was divine intervention that had enabled Sully to successfully ditch the airplane, why didn’t god just get the damn birds out of the way in the first place?

  • Janet

    If you pray ahead of time, you will end up having to pray less, if at all, in times of crisis. We don’t know what the captain’s history with God is.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I’m not one of those people trying to say this is or isn’t a miracle, but I would be very careful with leaving the NULL position because first of all, the pilot’s outstanding clarity could very well have been the result of another person’s prayer.

    Second, even if the pilot himself was a believer and did pray, he could have done so without distracting his mind or disengaging his physical senses from the imminent tasks. Now, if by “praying” we mean some ritualized prayer that we have to think about or recite in a particular way, I would say yes, such could be distracting. Although God might reasonably grant such a prayer, a bowed head, folded hands and closed eyes are useless in flying a plane.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~qadiwadi abdul khan

    sully clearly is not a bible-thumping maniac. he puts his energy into saving lives, not into looking skyward for divine help that isn’t coming.

  • Zen Bonobo

    I would have to think that affirming the best that an individual has in mind is a form of prayer of the non-intercessory category. Flying an aircraft is a form of priesthood that gets right to the heart of practical living. It is important that some distinction be made between what is superstitious in affirming methods and what is practical.

  • TK

    Considering that the majority of the aviation community and the military (especially the air force) are extremely religious, chances are he’s nothing near an agnostic. However, the way he presented himself shows that he understands that talking to yourself about irrelevant issues is a distraction.

  • http://www.sorepoints.com Joe

    But I’m sure: “Jesus take the wheel” would have worked just as well.

  • http://mylifeintheblender.wordpress.com Laurie

    you know, when I was a very conservative Christian, I was in a head on car collision. As I saw the other car coming toward me and realized there was nothing I could do to avoid getting hit, I didn’t even THINK about praying, even though prayer was a routine part of my life. I focused on what I could do to minimize the damage. Prayer or God did not cross my mind at all.

    Maybe my evil atheist nature started to emerge at that moment. . . :)

  • http://saganist.blogspot.com/ Saganist

    Yes, but surely God was the one who saved the passengers’ lives, by helping the pilot to concentrate on what he was doing. Or… now that I think about it… maybe that was training, experience, and skill.

  • Steve

    Captain Sullenberger elegantly sidestepped the perfunctory “did you pray” question while I suspect a theist would have felt obliged to say “yes”. I wonder how much indignation rippled throughout the devout who watched the interview.

  • http://www.dflintnernlp.com David Lintner

    What would people have needed to pray about? Christians show absolutely no evidence of their faith during these kinds of circumstances.

  • Iceman

    Why do people try to see God in the saving of the airplane but fail see him in giving the people minutes of pure agony in having their lifes threatened.

    In my country, a western country too, this question wouldn’t have been asked (the prayer question), the pilot would instantly be hailed as a hero with no mention of miracles or anything.

    I find this endless talk of miracles very boring indeed.

  • Gonch Me

    I have examined the video footage of the crash landing on the Hudson closely and there is no doubt that the plane was clearly touched by His Noodly Appendage.

  • Christophe Thill

    Praying? What for? Try to change God’s mind, and (if he had decided that everyone was to die) make him think that he took the wrong decision? Well, whether believer or atheist, you’d definitely better concentrate on piloting the damned plane…

  • TheDeadEye

    If you pray ahead of time, you will end up having to pray less, if at all, in times of crisis.

    If you consistently over pray, I would recommend getting an interest-bearing prayer market account. This way, your god of choice can lend your pre-prayers out to those who are in prayer debt; at a nominal interest rate of course.

  • Luther Weeks

    Anyone who believes that Captain Sullenberger is a hero, in their heart of hearts, does not believe that God did it. If God did it then any pilot would do.

    We do know one thing, if God exists or not, it is definitely not “for the Birds”. If God had meant for the birds to live, why would it have invented jet engines?

  • Ex Partiot

    The plane landed safely in the river because of the skill and training and experience of the Captain and his Co-Pilot, not because of any supernatural sky daddy.

  • http://fatherdaughtertalk.blogspot.com Montag

    Praying is not necessarily some sort of separate silent language event, separated from the rest of what we are consciously doing.
    Pure silliness, pro and con.

  • RobL

    My grandfather, uncle, dad, both brothers, and myself are pilots. My uncle flew 36 missions as a Capt of a B24 over Germany, my grandfather flew over 30,000 hours before he retired. For most of my life I have lived and worked closely with professional pilots, a few of whom are not with us anymore because of mistakes they made. I had not thought about it until now but I don’t know a single bible banging professional pilot, and in fact I have never heard the mention of God or anything particularly religious while I was in a cockpit. The idea that pilots are a particularly religious group is a myth. Of all the pilots I knew my uncle had the best reason to believe in the supernatural – 36 missions and not a scratch on him or his crew. A piece of shrapnel took the heel of his boot off on one mission, lots of other close calls, but he never attributed his survival to anything but luck and skill.

    My experience is that good professional pilots tend to be secular. In the small sample I know there are a few church goers but it seems they are mostly keeping up appearances and not terribly serious about it. Like the general population they probably believe in some sort of supreme being but they tend to be pretty low key about it.

    Anyone who believes in divine intervention has no business flying airplanes, and professional programs tend to weed out anyone who has any sense that “something” will always take care of them. On the contrary it is beaten into your head that in an emergency YOU are the only thing that is going to save your crew and passengers.
    Personally, when I’m sitting in the back I want the guy (or gal) at the pointy end to 1) Be very clear that no divine power is going to save them and 2) Know that dead is DEAD, so don’t go there.

    Clearly Sullenberger is a superb pilot and I would be shocked if he believed their survival was due to more than skill and luck. As a side note it’s sad that Sullenberger is getting all the credit – there were two pilots and it is not clear if Sullenberger would have been successful without the help of the first officer.

  • Lindsay

    Throughout this entire interview, I was nervously waiting for Jesus to creep in . . we were watching dinner during it, and I put down my fork several times and said to my husband, “Uh-oh, here it comes.” But it never came! My husband’s take was, “Maybe he’s a UU.” Given Sulley’s response of, “I think other people were doing the praying for me,” that’s totally possible (UUs love to keep it PC, even if they are atheist). Either way, I’m with Hemant–it’s a step in the right direction.

  • gusti

    More than 155 people are alive today because Sulley was totally rational, not wasting time by praying to that invisible man in the sky. Wonder how many more disasters could have been avoided if people would just focus on the task, rather than pushing the responsibility off on an invisible deity.

  • http://www.headdibs.blogspot.com James

    So what if the pilot was not praying? Are you saying the prayers of those who DID pray were not answered? Nice try, but this post did not consider everyone else involved.

  • Gonch Me

    His Noodly Appendage touched all 155. There is no other rational explanation.

  • christi

    As an atheist military pilot (shhhh…don’t tell!) I agree with RobL. Even religious pilots do not rely on a deity to keep them safe, and if they did they would have a hard time finding a crew to fly with.

    Some of my American friends have trained Iraqi pilots and the one thing that scares the instructors the most is the Iraqi’s view of “Allah willing” which basically means that, “hey if I screw something up, no reason to try and fix it because it is Allah’s will to decide if we will fly or crash”.

    I have also attended aviation accident investigation schools and not once did an instructor point out that, “these guys are alive today because they prayed their bloody hearts out on short final”.

    And I ask again, if god chose to save the airplane, why in the hell did he let the airplane get into that situation in the first place? Oh wait, I know, to test our faith. (roll eyes)

  • RobL

    So what if the pilot was not praying? Are you saying the prayers of those who DID pray were not answered? Nice try, but this post did not consider everyone else involved.

    Huh? You think that because of the praying going on in the back God guided Sullenberger’s hand to a smooth landing?

    So what went wrong with Flight 93? I bet the level of praying on Flight 93 set a new record. Was it just not sincere enough to save them? Maybe they were not members of the “correct” brand of Christianity so God didn’t listen? Maybe there is no God just Allah, and the hijackers were on the right side?

    A friend spun his Cessna 340 into the ground down in Mexico a few years back and killed himself and the 5 other doctors on board. These guys were providing free medical services to the poor in the area. I’m sure they were praying before they hit. Why didn’t God save them? (Oh yeah, God works in strange and mysterious ways – explains all).

    This does not prove the existence or non existence of a god, but the idea that God intervenes in cases like this is just bizarre and inconsistent. If there is a god (and I dont think there is) it stays out of petty matters like this.

  • Jay Ballou

    the pilot’s outstanding clarity could very well have been the result of another person’s prayer.

    No, actually, it couldn’t have.

  • Jay Ballou

    Are you saying the prayers of those who DID pray were not answered?

    No, he’s saying what he said, which is clear enough. But I will say it — neither their prayers, nor anyone else’s, are answered, because there is no one to hear or answer them.

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com odgie

    Where does anyone, Christian or otherwise, get the notion that any believer, in a life or death situation, would stop dealing with whatever the situation is and pray? While the Bible commands believers to pray, nowhere is that instruction followed by, “…then sit back and wait.”

    I know ER physician, cops, firefighters, and plenty of others in high pressure positions who are Christians. At no point has any of them ever told some story that goes like this: “I figured that it was just too difficult to get the bullet out of the patient, so I stopped and prayed.”

    Applying knowledge, skills, and abilities in a difficult situation says nothing about a person’s faith, or the role that divine intervention may or may not have played.

    What difference does it make for any of us what Capt. Sullenberger believes or doesn’t? If he had screamed out “Praise Jesus!” during the interview, would that make his accomplishment any less?

  • christi

    What difference does it make for any of us what Capt. Sullenberger believes or doesn’t? If he had screamed out “Praise Jesus!” during the interview, would that make his accomplishment any less?

    No, it wouldn’t, and it would still be Sully’s (and his crew’s) accomplishment, not a miracle.

  • nogods

    There was an ex-Navy pilot in South Carolina who flew an Mitsubishi MU2, a twin engine turbo-prop, corporate aircraft. This pilot was extremely public about his christian faith, and the aircraft had an over-the-top paint scheme, mixing good ole usa patriotism with christian righteousness.

    He died when the aircraft crashed on take off.

    I’m sure he was praying his ass off while he tried to regain control.

    Nothing fails like prayer.

  • Gil Gaudia

    I sent Larry King the following question after his interview with the crew.

    “Why did you find it necessary to spoil a wonnderful story of human courage, competence and caring by ending with the nonsensical “Send a Prayer’ banality of the blond nincompoop.

    In a few seconds of mindless trivia, you managed to dismiss the achievements of pilot, first officer, flight attendants, passengers and first responders on the river, by allowing some religious nut to sing praises to God, thereby diverting all credit to some phantom.

    But then again, I never really expected you to do any better. Are you really that stupid, or do you only seem to be?”

  • http://-n/a- Ed

    Okay, I haven’t read each and every post – I just skimmed through them, so I may be repeating something that somebody already said… BUT

    Airline pilots “go in the box” two to four times a year: that is, they get into a flight simulator (with co-pilot, of course) while some mean and nasty people throw a whole lot of difficult situations at them: one engine out, two engines out, brakes our (on landing) etc. etc. etc. If they don’t get a passing grade on the exam – guess what…

    You probably guessed it: they lose their license, at least temporarily…

    A pilot that prayed instead of attending to the real world in the cock-pit would, in Darwinian terms, be “de-selected”. Sully has practiced flying and landing without engines many times over the course of his career: any fright, etc., has long since be de-conditioned out, leaving only the core: a good, well-trained, well-practiced, pilot.

    The fact that he may have gotten the shakes afterwards is completely beside the point.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    I don’t mind saying that Capt. Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles appear to be very reasoned and articulate atheists who don’t want the aggravation of having to attend to the inherent bias, xenophobia and intolerance of a vast number of religious adherents.

    They are also representing the corporate interests of their employer so must be cognizant of such a responsibility.

    Working professionals have often expressed to me that they have little to gain by an outright exposure as atheists because of the emotional disturbances that religious dogma breeds when contested, contradicted or refuted. Therefore, they consistently couch their language and terminology in neutral and veiled phrases. Which, to the trained eye can be very informative.

    This is understandable to me, even though I have chosen to be a vocal, proactive and unambiguously “out” atheist in my community.

    My view is that only by rejecting commonly asserted false notions that atheism leads to deviancy and/or that atheists are valueless human beings without moral and ethical standards can clarity and correct understanding be attained.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    In addition to the story regarding Capt. Sullenberger taking a good, old fashioned, stoic and neutral pass on the whole “prayer” and “miracle” angle that Couric tried to serve up, check out this statement by one of the passengers during a February 9th gathering of passengers and crew:

    ———-

    http://www.newsday.com/services/newspaper/printedition/monday/news/ny-nypass0210,0,6186032.story

    Higgins called the day “a whirlwind” and said: “It is the icing on the cake to meet the crew and just to meet the other passengers and to listen to their stories.” She said she told Sullenberger: “You’re my hero. And God was your co-pilot.”

    She said Sullenberger laughed at that one and said: “No, Jeff was my co-pilot.”

    The reference was to co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who was with Sullenberger in the cockpit when Flight 1549 ditched in the frigid Hudson on Jan. 15.

    ————-

    And here is a very interesting quote from Jeff Skiles recently when he was on Larry King:

    When asked by Larry King if the landing was a miracle, Skiles responded, “I wouldn’t say that. I would still say that it’s just everybody did our jobs and we had good fortune, as well.”

    Video:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/02/10/lkl.hudson.crew/index.html?eref=ib_topstories#cnnSTCVideo

    (22:25 within video)

    And finally, here is Sully’s brief statement upon his homecoming in Danville, CA:

    “Circumstances determined that it was that experienced crew that was flying that particular flight that particular day”

    The video is easily found on Youtube.

    This is a fairly clear example that religion holds no monopoly on morality, ethics and responsible healthy living.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    By the way, to answer the question “What difference does it make for any of us what Capt. Sullenberger believes or doesn’t?”

    The difference it makes is that it directly refutes the far too often claimed assertion that atheists are inherently deviant and untrustworthy folk without values, morals or ethics intent on destroying society.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheitsHated.htm

    This is a worthy cause in that it strives to establish a more correct understanding of atheism and atheists in general.

    That, in my view, is a very good thing.

  • Richard Wade

    Steve Schlicht,

    I don’t mind saying that Capt. Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles appear to be very reasoned and articulate atheists who don’t want the aggravation of having to attend to the inherent bias, xenophobia and intolerance of a vast number of religious adherents.

    Did I miss something? Have Sullenberger or Skiles actually said that they are atheists? Just because they’ve said more or less that they were too busy right at that moment to pray doesn’t confirm that they are atheists, nor does it confirm that they are theists who were too busy.

    Until we have an unambiguous statement from them about this, (and I think it is a credit to their good taste that they so far have not made one) it would be just as foolish for atheists to prematurely try to claim them as “one of their own” in an attempt to gain some kind of validation of their views as it would be for theists to try to validate their own views by grasping at any remark suggesting even vaguely that they did pray.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Hi Richard!

    Why would it be a matter of “taste” not to state confidently that one is an atheist?

    Is the mere word “atheist” inherently disgusting for some reason?

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong or offensive in providing my views and opinions regarding the observable statements and behavior as expressed to date.

    Several very significant links to quotes by both the good Captain Sullenberger and his Co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles did not make it through the submission process along with my prior posts here at the Friendly atheist for some reason.

    Here they are again with different reference points that may be more conducive to making it through moderating factors:

    From an interview with Larry King:

    Sullenberger took over the controls from Skiles, who had been piloting the plane, and Skiles tried to restart the engines. Within minutes, Sullenberger decided to land the plane on the Hudson.

    Larry King: Was it a miracle?

    “I wouldn’t say that,” Skiles said. “I would still say that it’s just everybody did our jobs and we had good fortune, as well.”

    This was a prime opportunity to promote superstitious thinking for an adherent, not taken by Skiles.

    Here is another example from a recent reunion of crew and passengers:

    Asked what she told Sullenberger when she met him, Palmer said: “You made history today . . . Thank you.”

    Higgins called the day “a whirlwind” and said: “It is the icing on the cake to meet the crew and just to meet the other passengers and to listen to their stories.” She said she told Sullenberger:

    “You’re my hero. And God was your co-pilot.”

    She said Sullenberger laughed at that one and said: “No, Jeff was my co-pilot.”

    The reference was to co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who was with Sullenberger in the cockpit when Flight 1549 ditched in the frigid Hudson on Jan. 15.

    Interesting response, to say the least.

    Finally (for now), here is a quote by Capt. Sullenberger at his homecoming in Danville CA:

    “Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly that particular flight on that particular day,” he told the crowd. “But I know I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the job we were trained to do.”

    Wonderful statements from a good person no matter their affiliation I will agree.

    For what it is worth I am not only an atheist, I am also a Humanist.

    It is acceptable to ponder the viewpoints of others, especially since they appear so sincere and plain in the open marketplace of ideas.

    PS Send me an email at HumanistFamilies[at]hotmail.com for the video and article links.

    PPS Since my most recent post, the prior post has apparently been moderated and found to be post worthy. Hope the date/time stamps aid in understanding the chronology of these latest posts. ;0)

  • PO

    For all the Atheists:
    I feel very sorry for you and also for Sullenberg and his crew because there was no acknowledgement of God. Who created all of us! Who blesses us daily by giving us food, water, shelter and safety. Yes safety! It was the Hand of God that brought that plane down. Why God chose to bring this airplane to safety and not another is for His own reasons. His way of thinking is much higher than ours–we are mere human beings. I know that many on this website will shake their heads, laugh, or even draw anger. I do not care. But I do care that maybe one of you can open your EYES. I feel very sorry for Capt. Sully, and the rest of you who do not acknowledge our God & Lord. So sorry…

  • Siamang

    Spare us the condescending tone, PO.

    It’s all good. We live good lives. Peace, brother or sister.

    But I do care that maybe one of you can open your EYES.

    I did open my eyes! The scales fell from them, and that’s when I realized that it was time to put childish things aside and start living this life, not a pretend afterlife.

    You and I don’t believe the same thing. That’s cool. But I didn’t come to your website to push my stuff on you.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Steve Schlicht,

    I missed seeing your comment until today. Sorry for the delayed response. You asked,

    Why would it be a matter of “taste” not to state confidently that one is an atheist?
    Is the mere word “atheist” inherently disgusting for some reason?
    I don’t think that there is anything wrong or offensive in providing my views and opinions regarding the observable statements and behavior as expressed to date.

    I was wrong to say they are acting out of good taste. I do not know that for a fact, and attributing all sorts of qualities and motives to people based on empty conjecture is exactly what I was objecting to. No, I do not think that there is anything inherently disgusting in the word “atheist,” and that is not my point. Expressing your views and opinions about Sullenberger and Skiles is perfectly legitimate, but I think that you are assuming things about them, and the quotations you have provided do not support your conclusions.

    There is a good reason to be very careful about not presuming others’ motives based on bits and pieces or ambiguous remarks. It’s disrespectful. I hate it when people make assumptions about my attitudes and motives, don’t you? Even in the 1% of the time when they may be assuming correctly, I find it objectionable because condoning that condones the other 99% when their assumptions are wrong. I want them to ask me, not assume, so I practice that with them.

    People, both theists and atheists are trying to force their own opinions into the mouths of these two men, but Sullenberger and Skiles are simply being reticent. That’s all we can observe, reticence. To try to build a case for their being atheists based only on that is absurd, and it does not reflect the good habit of skepticism that atheists are famous for. Jumping to conclusions without evidence is what eager believers do.

    These men are now famous and admired as heroes. If there’s any bad taste it may be in all sorts of people who seem to be trying to steal some of that fame to glorify their own side of some issue. Maybe they want a piece of the action, an endorsement of their product, service or ideology from the celebrities-of-the-month. I can just imagine Sullenberger being approached by companies selling breakfast cereals, men’s clothing and Viagra. Here I’m starting to assume things so I’ll shut up about that, but “heroes” face this crap a lot.

    I have read all your comments and the quotations from the interviews that you have provided. I am sorry, but I think you are jumping to conclusions and attributing unfounded significance to things that are left unsaid rather than actually said:

    Sullenberger giving Skiles the credit for being his co-pilot rather than God does not say “I, Chesley Sullenberger do not believe in God or gods.” Giving credit to his co-pilot does not rule out the possibility that Sullenberger believes in some kind of divinity. It doesn’t say yes or no.

    Skiles saying that the landing was not a miracle but instead was due to the skills of the crew and good fortune does not say “I, Jeffrey Skiles do not believe in God or gods.” Giving credit to his fellow crew members and not picking up on the miracle angle does not rule out the possibility that Skiles believes in some kind of divinity or in some other kind of miracles. It doesn’t say yes or no.

    The fact that you know some professionals who keep their lack of belief in God or gods private in order to avoid problems from their employers does not make Sullenberger or Skiles atheists. It doesn’t say yes or no.

    Now Steve, please don’t jump to any conclusions about me. I am not building a case for Sullenberger and Skiles being Christians or believers of anything. I’m saying that neither of us know and it is not a good idea to assume something about them by inventing significance about their silence. Not saying something does not imply one believes something else. Not responding affirmatively to one opinion does not imply one believes the opposite opinion.

    I think that as atheists we should always practice the discipline of skepticism about everything, not just gods, and as humanists we should afford others the respect and dignity of not assuming things about them in the absence of clear evidence.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Hey Richard!

    Please, should you consider continuing our discussions, just call me Steve.

    No problem about the delayed response by the way, it has been awhile since I had a chance to even notice that you even responded. I’m glad that you did, because this is a very important topic that can directly affect society for the greater good when open to examination.

    Your overall assertion seems to be that someone must always raise their hand right hand and specifically articulate that they are an atheist as if that is the absolute requirement to attain certainty about their views.

    I find that to be rather unrealistic and impractical unless involved in formal debate where topics and positions must be itemized prior to opening statements.

    My experience is that many working professionals (especially when they’re representing a corporation) who are also atheists, igtheists, agnostics and/or humanists/freethinkers/irreligious must remain ambiguous when expressing any sort of view that addresses the issue of the outright rejection of supernatural beings beyond space/time, especially in light of the hyper-religiosity of our American culture and the serious ramifications of being “out”.

    That said, my view is that both the good Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Skiles, on more than one occasion and in more than just one venue, went very much out of their way to counter religious language in favor of strong refutation against common super naturalistic rhetoric.

    In other words they were neither reticent nor neutral, but specific.

    It is with this in mind that I hold to my earlier assessments of their irreligious expressions as positive indicators that they do no believe in miracles or that any of the purported God(s)ess(es) exist, much less fly planes or answer emergency supplications for special favor in time of crisis.

    I don’t feel that it is disrespectful to either of these men to note and to speculate about their views (freely offered) and that my conjecture (and Hemant’s for that matter) is plainly not “empty”.

    It is not only not absurd to recognize the fact that neither men were ambiguous about their feelings, but it is very important to note that they specifically rejected religious language when directly asked.

    In other words, I agree that I am making assumptions about them, but my assumptions are based on a reasonable and critical analysis of the stated facts and circumstances I’ve already articulated.

    As for me, I actually enjoy setting the record straight when people make assumptions about my motives and attitudes. In fact, I take every opportunity I can to articulate my position in unambiguous language in order to bring about clarity and understanding.

    Maybe Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Skiles are reading this even now and would like to elaborate every single nuance of their personal life philosophy here in the open marketplace of ideas.

    Finally, I find nothing wrong with being an assertive, proactive, strong vocal atheist who is also known for good moral character and good community service.

    It is often necessary to counter the monopoly religious adherents have had over the years defining atheists as untrustworthy deviants and atheism as a communistic threat dedicated to abolishing freedoms and tearing apart the order of our society when nothing could be further from the truth.

    Should you be interested, I have recently been given an opportunity to further expound on this particular topic over at msatheists and would welcome you’re participation.

    Take care, Richard, and be good no matter which of the many purported God(s)ess(es) you do or do not believe in!

    Steve Schlicht
    Biloxi MS

    Great Southern Humanist Society

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Hey PO!

    I’d be interested to know why exactly you “feel sorry” for atheists?

    Do you think something is going to happen to us specifically?

    Also, if your God has its own reasons for things happening as they do (good, bad and ambiguous) and you, as a human being, cannot ever hope to know the intent and purpose and detail of such a plan, how do you propose to know it is even beneficial to humanity?

    Thanks for any insight you can offer.

    Steve

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Steve,
    I have been enjoying our debate, but I think we have reached our impasse and I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. You have said,

    In other words, I agree that I am making assumptions about them, but my assumptions are based on a reasonable and critical analysis of the stated facts and circumstances I’ve already articulated.

    Our impasse is that what you call a reasonable and critical analysis of the stated facts I call conjuring up significance from ambiguity.

    You have repeated your arguments for your hypothesis that Sullenberger and Skiles are secret atheists, but repeating them has not made them any more substantial or convincing. It may very well be that they are atheists, but your case for that is still weak in my view, because it is 95 percent your analysis and five percent their words, words which are not definitive. You have only added your personal assertions, such as that the two men…

    went very much out of their way to counter religious language in favor of strong refutation against common super naturalistic rhetoric.

    “Very much out of their way” is a subjective characterization of what they said, an opinion of your own. In my own just as subjective opinion, the statements I have heard them make don’t seem like they worked very hard to refute the religious implications that people were dangling in front of them, they simply side-stepped them. That could have been for a dozen reasons other than that they were closet atheists. A dodge is not a counterpoint. Why they dodged is not clear, and any number of reasonable explanations for dodging would suffice, including that they are simply private people who just don’t want to get into all that crap.

    As a possible motive for them being cagey, you repeated your experience of professionals who are secretive about their non-belief because they don’t want to bring controversy to their employers. I can just as easily talk about the professionals I have known who keep their devout religious views private for similar reasons, or for reasons that are strictly personal or even a part of their religious convictions.

    Just to be clear, I’m an atheist, an atheist who is very skeptical about everything, especially assumptions about people. Nothing puts our feet into our mouths more often than making assumptions about people whom we do not know very closely, and even with our intimates assuming things is risky.

    I want to be respectful, but to me, your examples and arguments for this assumption are just as insubstantial as the arguments we hear from theists for the existence of their gods. I’m reminded of their cliché, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Absence of evidence is absence of evidence. Period. We really should have the patience and humility to live with that until evidence is finally found. I’m not saying that you are wrong. I’m saying that you have not come close to showing that you are right.

    Why do I think that being so careful not to jump to these conclusions is so important? Because as I said before, people grab on to heroes and celebrities to lend themselves credibility by association, and that is demeaning and degrading to both. Wait for Sullenberger and Skiles to make their own statements if they ever do, instead of putting meaning into their ambiguous statements. If they eventually do acknowledge non-belief, great, but it should be their choice.

    Even if you are right that they are atheists or something of the sort, prematurely grasping at straws to try to bring their shining example into our camp comes across lame and undignified. I have been embarrassed to hear atheists speculate that President Obama must be an atheist because he re-did the bungled swearing in without a Bible. Oh pullleeeze.

    I agree with you when you say,

    Finally, I find nothing wrong with being an assertive, proactive, strong vocal atheist who is also known for good moral character and good community service.

    …and some day, years from now that may be what most atheists can enjoy. To get there we will have to individually step forward as examples of non-believing solid citizens to wear down the negative stereotypes that you have described so well, but it must be our own personal choices to do that, not because others tried to “out” us by claiming that we are atheists because of one conjecture or another.

    Steve, we have worn a hole in this thread, and probably you and I are the only ones still reading it. I have enjoyed our dialogue and I look forward to more discussions with you, perhaps on less belabored topics. My best regards,
    Richard

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Hi Richard,

    I have been enjoying our discussion as well and I agree that we are certain to conclude by agreeing to disagree.

    My experience is that the value of these sorts of conversations is for others to read, assess for themselves and use whatever value they find in our respective perspectives to shape their own world view and opinions if they choose to do so.

    I enjoy merely expressing thoughts in the open marketplace of ideas!

    We both are repeating our assessments of the facts and circumstances, Richard, and I don’t mind being a bit redundant if you do not.

    It is interesting to me that you have spent so much of your personal time trying to deconstruct the specific notion that good and moral atheists exist, that they must choose to be ambiguous in their language in a specifically hyper-religious society so that they are not ostracized and devalued for their views and that you further reject the notion that anyone should apply even a subjective recognition of those who purposefully decline to promote religious notions and rituals when given national opportunities to do so.

    My motivations are clear, these men did not remain neutral.

    They both proactively countered against the notion that:

    1). Prayer was personally used by the Captain to resolve the situation.

    2). The outcome was a “miracle”.

    3). A deity was involved in co-piloting the plane.

    Further, in every single interview and documented account of gatherings of crew and passengers, both men promoted the notion that their training, diligence and human efforts were directly responsible for a successful landing and saving of lives.

    That said, it does become clear that these are humanistic and secular views and not super-naturalistic in any way.

    Much in the same way we can recognize that those who do promote the notion that prayers were effective while giving supplication to their God in the aftermath of a dire situation are “religious” without being characterized as being offensive in our presumptions of others, deviously subjective, just wrong, lame, undignified or that we are grasping at straws for our in-group, we can engage in making perfectly rational assessments of statements and behavior and provide a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt and present them openly.

    I don’t think that it is “too risky” to make an assessment of such statements and behavior given the facts and circumstances as we now know them at this point in time as long as we are willing to be open to any new offering of statements and evidence that may or may not change such a conclusion.

    If, hypothetically speaking, Captain Sullenberger comes on Oprah today in blue jeans and collared shirt and begins promoting Scientology or Catholicism or Mormonism or his strong belief in the views of Joel Osteen then (as rational observers) we can re-assess the evidence and make changes to our views to incorporate this new data (sounds a bit like the scientific method).

    As it stands at this point in time, I think the stronger case is that they are secular, humanistic and pointedly irreligious in contrast to common religious assertions as we equally recognize them.

    We are not absent of direct evidence, in this case.

    As for President Obama, I think that the evidence would indicate the he is a Christian, because he states openly that he is a Christian.

    That said, he also states that he was raised in a home that was not religious by a mother who was a humanist and an atheist.

    More information can be found at the American Humanist Association website (AmericanHumanist.org)

    Now, this organization (along with many others) is a valuable resource to rebut the common notion that religious values are necessary to establish good, moral and ethical behavior.

    My view is that we have not come anywhere near wearing a hole in this topic, my friend!

    I think it is part and parcel of a foundational need to keep such a dialogue flowing so that these issues can be challenged, articulated and expressed (even if, as you pessimistically suggest, no one else is interested in reading this thread) to promote the probability that someone, somewhere will consider taking that step to look for commonality where it exists and understand that there are other atheists, freethinkers, humanists and irreligious skeptics in this wonderful global community.

    You may disagree on certain nuances of case by case assessments and practice, but I hope you do see the potential that is available.

    My best to you as well, Richard, I’m off to work the Mardi Gras parade in Biloxi so…

    Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulet!

  • Richard Wade

    Steve:

    It is interesting to me that you have spent so much of your personal time trying to deconstruct the specific notion that good and moral atheists exist, that they must choose to be ambiguous in their language in a specifically hyper-religious society so that they are not ostracized and devalued for their views and that you further reject the notion that anyone should apply even a subjective recognition of those who purposefully decline to promote religious notions and rituals when given national opportunities to do so.

    Now the only thing I’m interested in “deconstructing” here are your non sequitur generalizations and Olympic jumps to conclusions about me in the above fanciful paragraph. It is a good example of what I have been objecting to, inventing your own meaning for someone else’s statements. I’m done with the discussion about Sullenberger and Skiles; the impasse remains.

    I have learned to write very explicitly rather than implicitly because some people don’t just read my words, they would much rather frolic and play with giddy abandon in their fantasy world in between my words, making up silly meanings that have nothing whatsoever to do with my crystal clear, frank and explicit meaning. But no matter how careful I am, I still run into some who can’t JUST READ MY WORDS. Like you.

    Herein begins the deconstruction:

    I have never said nor implied that good and moral atheists do not exist. I spend most of my blogging time continuously arguing with people for the exact opposite, that most atheists are good and moral people. How you came to think this about me is beyond my imagination. I have a very healthy imagination, but I know when to turn it off.

    I have never said nor implied that atheists must choose to be ambiguous in their language to avoid being socially ostracized. Some choose to be ambiguous, some make other choices. They get a variety of consequences for whatever choices they make. I think it’s great when they do come out, because that helps to normalize societal attitudes toward atheists. I have no idea why you think I have such a prohibitive view in general, when I have said repeatedly that such decisions should be up to each individual.

    I have never said nor implied that no one, at any time should ever, ever, ever “apply even a subjective recognition of those who purposefully decline to promote religious notions and rituals when given national opportunities to do so.” I have only said that I found your and only your subjective views about S. and S. not convincing, and I have repeatedly said very clearly that people in general should simply be cautious about jumping to conclusions in general. I made no big, hard, absolute prohibitions against any and all conjecture, just my views about the desirability of having a high standard for evidence when indulging in conjecture.

    Herein ends the deconstruction.

    Steve, everything I have said to you in all these exchanges has been ONLY about your arguments about Sullenberger and Skiles. NOT ABOUT ANYTHING OR ANYONE ELSE. If you have ideas about what I am saying that go beyond the simple, straight forward meaning of my statements, please ask me “Richard, do you mean this, do you mean that…” rather than assume all sorts of implications swarming out of your imagination like bats out of Carlsbad Caverns.

    I hope you had a great time at the Biloxi Mardi Gras.

    Accueillez en arrière à la Terre.

  • Mike Mann

    C-SPAN aired Sulley and his crew as they appeared before the House Aviation Subcommittee on Feb. 24, 2009. He started his comments by giving his condolences to the families of those who perished in the plane crash near Buffalo last Feb. 12. He stated that they would be “in his thoughts and his heart,” not the traditional “thoughts and prayers.” Let us add this quote to the growing evidence that Sulley is low on superstition and high on piloting skill.

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Hi Richard,

    The impasse between you and I remains of little to no real importance because we are still typing here for other reasons.

    What is important, in my opinion, are our respective motivations for still typing.

    My perspective is that other readers can have a chance to determine what those motivations are by what we type and take anything of value for themselves.

    I think that all good readers and writers do their personal best to digest the material, give it an honest examination, direct a response and review their own responses diligently prior to posting so that any uncertainty, ambiguities, perceivable differences in interpretation, etc. can be at least filtered down to the purest offering.

    In my experience, it is virtually impossible to cover every nuance that some other person can take, quote-mine, hone in on and twist (intentionally or not) into some other meaning inadvertently causing confusion and even unnecessary insult (signal to noise ratio).

    With that in mind, here is my view of your deconstruction:

    While you have not directly stated that your views are not that good and moral atheists do not exist, you have gone out of your way to deconstruct the Sully and Skiles observations regarding good and moral atheists without supplying anywhere near an equivalent effort promoting the fact that we do exist.

    In short, your dedication has been specific to prohibition against speculation in any case at all and was directly demeaning to any who propose that it should be done.

    So, I do wholeheartedly agree that it is in fact a tangential nuance and non-sequitur that I offered about your responses within the larger framed topic of good and moral atheists existing and how we can recognize them in society at large.

    For that, I apologize.

    Perhaps you can present some high profile atheists who are prime examples of folks with good and moral character and how you’ve come to realize that they are “atheist”.

    That said, I do note that you did merely focus on this one issue you had with my prior post and totally dismissed the issue of making valid assertions based on currently available data and holding open the possibility that new information may update any theories that are offered.

    We seem to disagree that it should even be done.

    I think it is acceptable to make observations and come to reasonable subjective conclusions (ala CelebAtheists) while you find offense in such observations and expressions.

    In any event, I am so glad we decided to continue this conversation past the few attempts offered suggesting that we have reached the end of the line regarding such an important issue!

    My view is that we all understand that you (Richard) are not convinced. I (Steve) am convinced based on what we know at this time and am open to new information should it arise and require an update of subjective view.

    I certainly think (like Hemant) that it was worth looking into and commenting upon.

    As I said, it is my hope that the expressions we have both made are valuable to any others interested in such observations regarding high profile incidents and any comments made by those directly involved.

    Did you happen to watch the interviews with Joe Barnhart after he was injured and had a close friend killed during the shooting at the Unitarian church in Knoxville?

    It was a wonderful exhibition of humanism and compassion. Joe never once stated that he was an atheist, but I know of him from his participation on the Humanist Editorial Advisory Board which published our account of experiences before, during and after hurricane Katrina in The Humanist magazine.

    Now, my personal view is somewhat different and I did make it a point to remove ambiguity when I was involved in such dire situations.

    You can read some of the story by googling “Humanist in a Hurricane”.

    If you get a chance to read that, please let me know what you think.

    I don’t think my practice of allowing for free-flowing narrative and expression of opinion is restrictive of making new discoveries even if they risk error as long as replies can clarify any misunderstandings (like we’ve done here).

    We do have differing styles.

    My honest view is that it is very possible that even if I did come out with “Richard, do you mean this or do you mean that” you might still have played the rogue and offered a retort starting with “I’m not going to respond further, we’ll have to agree to disagree”, while subsequently responding with a six paragraph narrative of how you subjectively think that I’m wrong.

    ;0)

    By the way, I had a magnificent time at the parade!

    We kept it safe and secure for the kids and I only had to make one arrest which was a good thing.

    I’m sun and wind burned as all get out, though.

    I’ll post pictures over at our Great Southern Humanist Society website soon, so please stop by for a visit.

    All my best,

    Steve

    PS Thanks for the update Mike, definitely worth noting!

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    To happily belabor the point:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29522880/?GT1=43001

    “People want to relate it and say it’s luck, divine intervention or heroism, but my thought was everybody was just doing their jobs,” Skiles said.

    Wink, nod…my thought as well, sir.

  • bobcarp

    In this, or any other emergency situation, there are three possible outcomes. Everyone lives, everyone dies, or some live and some die.

    If everyone lives, believers will proclaim that it was god’s divine intervention that saved everyone (like in this case with the Hudson landing).

    If some live and some die, believers will proclaim it was god’s help that kept more from dying (like 9/11, when many people in the WTC buildings were able to escape safely).

    If everyone dies, well, they will proclaim that it was god’s intervention that kept the plane from crashing into a school or some other populated area. Or they will claim it was god’s intervention that someone who was originally suppose to be on the plane changed their plans or was late and missed the flight (like the airplane accident that happened a week after the Hudson landing in Buffalo, NY where everyone died).

    If people really believe praying to [insert your god of choice here] works, just pray right now for no more airplane accidents ever to happen for the rest of time.

    Why does the prayer have to take place right at the moment of the emergency?

  • Jon H

    From the Katie Couric interview, what I thought was most cool was that Captain Sullivan felt like he had been prepared his whole life for that event…  his training and experiences.  I never heard him acknowledge God, but I thank the Lord he was the one piloting that plane.