Now You See Me. Now I… what?

Remember you can vote once per day for the Atheism Awards.  I’m one of five nominees for Best Atheist Blog.  More details here.

It’s A Week again.

No, not Improper Capitalization of Indefinite Articles Week, but a call for quiet atheists to come out of the closet and change their facebook profile pictures to something like the image above, to remind the people in their lives that they know atheists and that we don’t eat babies.  Just like last year, I’m having trouble getting too excited about the campaign.

If you’re not open about your atheism, by all means take the opportunity to come out (if the revelation isn’t going to put you in physical danger or get you kicked out of your house as a minor).  But for a lot of us, A Week is superfluous.  It’s hard for my friends to not notice I’m an atheist, since I post links to this blog with some regularity.  Changing my profile pic or cover photo isn’t going to be a revelation to anyone on my friends list.  And I can’t help but feel it would be wrong to rob them of my current cover photo:

So the question is, for those of who are out about our atheism, what’s the next task?  For LGBT people, being out can feel like a constant responsibility to witness.  Getting married to your gay partner?  Well, you’d better never ever get divorced or do so much as fight in public, because when ever you go out as queer, you’re carrying our entire civil rights struggle with you.

It’s less clear what counts as a tactical error for an out atheist.  One of the big stereotypes we seem to be trying to dispel is that you can’t be a moral person without a belief in a supernatural lawgiver (see the video below).  That’s the driving force between collaborating specifically as atheists to do charitable work, instead of only doing it as individuals where our religious beliefs are less visible.  I guess you could channel that into a week of charitable action, but, personally, I prefer to give money for other groups to use than to offer my unskilled labor for a few hours.  (But I’m counting this as another ping on my new charitable giving plan).

YouTube Preview Image

What’s the next step, after you are visible enough to be a counterexample to the most implausible slanders?  Well, when I’m making an effort to be out as a queer person, I’m essentially trying to get my interlocutor to expand their definition of ‘non-disordered human’ to include me.  That attitude shift will probably spark other changes (bullying policy, marriage law, etc), but my most basic goal is for them to expand a group to include me, too.

When I’m being publicly atheist, my long-term goal isn’t to help atheists be tolerated (though I may take that on as a short-term goal).  My goal is for everyone to be atheists.  Except that doesn’t really mean very much, so I actually want for everyone to be virtue ethicists.  Or even more precisely, I want everyone to be good, aggressive, loving philosophers who will catch me out in errors, so we can all get closer to the truth together.

But however you phrase it, my goals as an out atheist are a lot more intrusive and personal than my goals as an out bi girl.  So coming out as a non-believer is a prelude (however necessary) to the main event.  But I’m not exactly sure what that is.  What do you think would be a good goal for an amped up A Week?  I’d like to hear your suggested tactics in the comments.

Because my current plan is to use A Week as a reminder to do some necessary housekeeping on the blog, in addition to the normal schedule of posting.  (Spring cleaning is so much more tolerable when it doesn’t involve physical exertion).

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Diapeepees

    I don’t think of atheists as incapable of virtue. I would just argue that the virtue inside you is of God, whether you acknowlege Him now or not. He is with you either way.

  • Gilbert

    My definition of ‘non-disordered human’ currently includes Jesus and Mary. So it looks like you’ve set yourself quite a goal there.

  • Brian Green

    “My goal is for everyone to be atheists.”

    I thought your goal was to find the truth. Statements like this make me wonder if I should question your sincerity. Because it sounds like you are finished; already done.

    Are you already done?

    • leahlibresco

      Brian, you might want to look back at the post on faith and probabilty. Not being 100% certain doesn’t mean no committing to any action based on my beliefs, just as a Christian may sometimes doubt, be truly open to contradictory evidence, and evangelize. I don’t paper over the weak spots on my side for tactical advantage, I just say, truthfully, that it’s the best answer I’ve found yet and I think you should join me or convert me.

      • Brian Green

        I apologize, I was feeling grouchy and was therefore too blunt. Of course one can still act while short of 100% certainty. And I do think you are sincere. But I have to say, I am Catholic and even I don’t say that I think everyone should become Catholic. That all should be atheists is a very oddly totalizing statement, indicating certainty without doubt, to me. And denying even multiple paths to the truth (whatever that may be). I think we have learned by now that diversity is a strength, not a liability. Furthermore your desire is for totalizing a nullity. Or more likely, not a nullity but something popular and subject to popular whim. Perhaps a diversity of whims. I guess you can have it both ways…

        I suppose my real concern is a theory-practice one again, as usual. As you gain practical commitment to atheist causes, the bond strengthens. Theory follows practice. Habit deepens. When you become president of the American Atheists, your freedom of thought will become highly constricted just due to practical concerns, even if on an unconscious level. The stronger your overt physical commitment, the more tightly are you mentally chained to that commitment.

        If you are interested in a stronger examination of Catholicism – stronger than just staring at a monstrance or talking to a Dominican (which are fantastic, by the way, absolutely wonderful and I love to hear about them) – there are lots of options. Anything serving the poor would be primary. Counter practice with practice, theory with theory, and see which rings most true. Practices are truer than truth. Do atheists practices exceed Christian ones? Do rallies make better people? (A critique at Christians too.) What is a better person? A bunch of questions with no easy answers. Well, that’s enough for now.

    • Daniel A. Duran

      “Are you already done?”

      She’s too young to have the inflexibility an old person. Brian, atheism is more common with people in their twenties and early thirties, and less common the older you get. She’s young, give her time to mature, build a family, etc.

      • anodognosic

        Pro-tip: benevolent condescension is just going to make everyone stop listening to you.

        • Daniel A. Duran

          anodognosic , read what I wrote and notice that I never made mention of *why* older people are less likely to be atheists. You’re the one assuming that I’m, somehow, being condescending.

          Protip: ascribing malice, bigotry, ill-will, or generally bad intentions on other people rather than engaging what is being said is just going to make everyone stop listening to you.

          • anodognosic

            “…give her time to mature…”

            Unless you’re talking about wine or bonds, your use of the word strongly implies that atheism is a product of a yet-undeveloped mind. Understood as such, the comment is patently dismissive and condescending, which is the opposite of engagement. And if that’s not what you meant, then your original comment bears revising.

        • Daniel

          “Unless you’re talking about wine or bonds, your use of the word strongly implies that atheism is a product of a yet-undeveloped mind.”

          Stop assuming I “implied” this or that. She’s not mature or old enough to have rigid and inflexible views like an old person, and the older you become you become the less likely you will be an atheist. I did not say *why* people older people are less likely to be atheist, precisely to avoid the sort of uncharitable assumptions you’re engaging on right now.

          Practice what you preach and engage me by asking whether I meant what you think I said. Do not waste your time and my time by assuming “implications” or “insinuations.”

  • Slow Learner

    @Brian, I don’t want to speak for Leah, so I’ll just go from my own situation:
    My atheism is provisional – it is not a final conclusion, and new evidence or new arguments might see me change my mind.
    However, I am sufficiently confident in the provisional conclusion that I am prepared to persuade others to adopt it. That does not reflect on my sincerity in looking for the truth, just the balance of the evidence that I have seen so far.
    It is analogous to my voting intentions in the run-up to an election – I have not finally decided my vote until I mark it on the ballot paper, but I will persuade others to vote in the way I expect to vote myself.

  • deiseach

    A goal for Atheist Week? Maybe, if the goal is “We want you to be atheists”, then address “Can I Be an Atheist and not be a Scientist?”

    Because the impression I do get (from my extremely quick, shallow and superficial overview) is that a lot of the online sites are pushing for a “Become an atheist and then you too can be a scientist” or rather, I should say, that atheism necessarily involves a scientific view of looking at the world.

    I don’t see much room or much voice for atheists who are useless at maths, not that interested in physics, couldn’t care less about cosmology, and are only interested in biology as far as a visit to the doctor goes. What about the atheist poet, artist, dancer, musician, writer? If you’re not devoting all your time to curing cancer or teaching critical reasoning (from an outside view) it looks as if you don’t have much to provide by way of accomplishment.

    So – how about something for all “I’m an atheist but I still need to count up on my fingers when adding a simple sum; however, I can make a knock-you-dead Victoria sponge”?

    • Ray

      The way I see it, there’s two reasonable ways to get to atheism. The first way is to simply notice that stories involving gods are implausible for exactly the same reason as stories involving fairys, goblins, and unicorns. i.e., this religion stuff is just obviously bogus on it’s face.

      I think this first approach is basically right, but it has the problem that some people don’t find it obvious, so, to reach a firm conclusion on the God issue, you have to apply a form of reasoning that gives definitive answers, despite the lack of obviousness. Science and Math are really the only areas that uncontroversially do this, hence the science and math centrism of the atheist movement. If you already think it’s obvious that stories about the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than equivalent stories about Romulus, and you don’t feel the need to convince anyone, I don’t see that any science is required.

      • deiseach

        Yeah, but Ray, where is the famous atheist composer? Painter? Poet? I’m seeing rafts of the likes of P.Z. Myers, but what about Joe Average who just about scraped through algebra, likes baseball, hasn’t darkened the doors of a church since his cousin Sindy got married (and that was only because his mother dragged him along) and is just an ordinary guy who feels slightly intimidated by the notion that he needs to draw equations on his sign for the Reason Rally to be a full and proper participant?

        (No disrepect to Leah, and I think she should bring her Disgruntled Crustacean along, even if she might have to paper over a naughty word for public on the street consumption).

        • @b
        • leahlibresco

          Are we counting Jews who are atheists? Because then we’ve got a bunch.

          Also, does anyone know for sure whether Stephen Sondheim and Tom Stoppard are atheists? I can’t find a cite, but I thought they were.

          • Christian H

            How could Stoppard not be? (I can’t find a citation either, though.) By the way, just read Arcadia for a class I’m TAing. Astounding. Bloody astounding.

          • leahlibresco

            I read it for the first time right after I’d taken fractal geometry. I’m so glad you’ve gotten to read it!

            I’ve never done much study of the play (my analysis tends to be interrupted by squeeing). What kinds of stuff are you going to do in class?

          • Christian H

            The prof is talking about loss/death/entropy; dance as order and chaos together, also carpe diem themes; sex as denial of death (tied into other two); simultaneity of comedy and tragedy (in the dramatic sense). I was talking about contingency, since this play seemed like a great way to bring up a concept important to English lit right now. I related contingency to deterministic chaos, which is described but never named, and to what happens to documentary evidence in the play.

      • Daniel

        “The way I see it, there’s two reasonable ways to get to atheism. The first way is to simply notice that stories involving gods are implausible for exactly the same reason as stories involving fairys, goblins, and unicorns. i.e., this religion stuff is just obviously bogus on it’s face.”

        This is exactly the sort of philistinism that keeps me away from joining mobs like the one on the 23rd. I am curious,ray, is it a “rational way towards atheism” to assume the universe is fundamentally irrational as well? ( i.e. it lacks a reason for its existence).

        • Ray

          Look. Calling something philistinism isn’t an argument. The point of reasoning isn’t to be sophisticated, it’s to get the right answer as soon as possible. The fact is, there are a number of common intuitions that lead people to the conclusion that all “supernatural” claims are bogus (The scare quotes are to indicate that I think the definitions of supernatural given by Theist philosophers are not consistent with the way the word is used in practice.) Judging from expert opinion in most areas of philosophy, not to mention science (which I think is relevant, as much as Theists may protest — and again, many philosophers support me here,) these intuitions may well be right.

          I personally think early iron age folk tales are similar enough to early modern ones that they can be treated as part of the same phenomenon, but if you really want an exact match in style and social role, fine, pretend I said Greek myths instead. I don’t really see how this helps you.

          So what exactly is your problem with the reasoning:

          Do you think fairy tales or Greek Myths are plausibly true? If not, what is your argument for rejecting these and not the Jewish and Christian Scriptures? (Note that many Greco-Roman myths, and even some fairy tales (e.g. the pied piper), have a genuine historical basis, and pretty much every major mythical hero from Romulus to Hercules was regarded as historical in antiquity. Likewise, unicorns were believed in enough to lead to a thriving “alicorn” industry and the inclusion of unicorns in the KJV translation of the Bible, and belief in elves continues to affect the Icelandic construction industry.)

          Do you think that first cause arguments lend credibility to YHWH/Jesus/ whatever? I guess you could make this argument, but it’s pretty hard to get to a position favoring Judean montheism over Sidonian monotheism, say, from abstract philosophical arguments, even discounting the fact that God belief long predates any philosophical arguments for it. Besides that, I don’t think the arguments work in the first place (and I’m in good company.)

          • Daniel

            “Calling something philistinism isn’t an argument.”

            That you think religious beliefs are akin to belief in fairies is the sort of crude ignorance that should not require argument to be pointed out.

            “The point of reasoning isn’t to be sophisticated,…”

            So your reasoning Is *not* sophisticated? That would be an odd concession.

            I do not know what these “intuitions” are and I do not know why or how theists use the term supernatural inconsistently, perhaps you can clarify.

            “Judging from expert opinion in most areas of philosophy, not to mention science”

            You’re the same guy who calls philosophy useless because it does not invent, you know, cool gadgets and stuff. That speaks volumes of your intellectual sensitivity and curiosity.

            “So what exactly is your problem with the reasoning: Do you think fairy tales or Greek Myths are plausibly true?”

            Whether unicorns or goblins exist is not evidence against the existence of god. And sophisticated theist belief is nothing like belief in goblins. That I must stoop to this level to point this out to you embarrasses even me.

            I’ll skip some off your stuff since it is irrelevant to what I said.

            “You are trying to make a first cause argument.”

            No, I am asking you whether you think the universe is fundamentally irrational and since you admit it has no reason for its existence you’re admitting as much. I asked because you think atheism is a rational attitude towards the universe and that it makes reasonable assumptions about the universe…it does not seem to be the case, though.

            “So I guess you’ve made enough assumptions to get yourself to solipsism.”

            And this coming from the guy that assumes the universe is irrational at its most basic level…solipsism? That has a certain irony. Imagine a theist cam up to you and said.

            ‘The way I see it, there’s two reasonable ways to get to creationism. The first way is to simply notice that stories involving evolution are implausible for exactly the same reason as stories involving things popping into existence, monkeys becoming humans and random chance giving way to order are; this evolution stuff is just obviously bogus on its face.’

            What you think of our dear creationist above?

          • Ray

            1) Reread my post on being humble. Your position is in the minority in educated circles. (Heck, in my experience, most educated Christians don’t even think that first cause arguments work.) You don’t get to accuse me of “crude ignorance” without an argument.

            2) I said “reasonable,” not “rational.” Partially to avoid associations with “rationalism” in the “I don’t need to look at empirical data to develop my views” sense. In any event, “rationality” is a term that is best applied to minds. I don’t think there is any meaningful sense in which the universe is a giant mind. You apparently do. You call that mind God. But it is a well known fact that when believers refer to God’s thoughts, they are actually referring to their own. (see e.g. the article described and linked here: p.s. The Hindus figured this out centuries ago: .) Long story short, once the proper identifications have been made, Thomism and solipsism are the same thing.

            Or, to put it another way, the equivalence you are drawing between the rationality of a single person’s thought process leading to Atheism with the “rationality” of the universe as a whole, is either committing the fallacy of composition or is map/territory confusion on such a massive scale as to justify my accusation of solipsism.

            3)You still have not demonstrated that fairy tales and the supernatural events described in the Bible lack sufficient common features to be rejected together. I have specifically pointed out that the relevant commonality is whatever literary devices lead the reader to instantly recognize that the events being described are supernatural. Do you deny that Bible stories and fairy tales both describe supernatural events?

            4)Whats wrong with “supernatural”? Many christian philosophers define supernatural as “not empirically testable.” This is inconsistent with the specific sort of events usually described as being supernatural (e.g. I kings 18) and with the process used by the Catholic Church to vet miracles for sainthood.

        • Ray

          Uck. You are trying to make a first cause argument. I’m sorry, like it or not, you are just going to have to accept that there is such a thing as a brute fact. If you start with no assumptions, you will reach no conclusions. Your reasoning will be that of an inert rock.

          So I guess you’ve made enough assumptions to get yourself to solipsism. I’m touched. You probably don’t realize you’re a solipsist (heck, you probably don’t even think you’re making any assumptions), but you are. That thing which you call God: That’s you, and you think everything exists only because He/you is thinking it into existence. You’ve even learned to play the part by being static, unchanging in your biases, and unmoved by facts. It would be adorable if it wasn’t so common.

        • Ray

          Sorry if I’m coming off as rude in my above comments, but it really annoys me that Theists don’t know how to be humble when arguing for their position. Like it or not, you are trying to defend a position that, despite loads of publicity, money, and political influence, is regarded as suspect or outright wrong by the majority of scholars in pretty much every respectable academic discipline. Confidence of the sort you are expressing is not warranted without a LOT of supporting material, preferably including some actual novel arguments (because the traditional ones aren’t convincing anyone.)

    • Ray

      Oh well. I guess I’ve been somewhat impolite here, giving my take on the matter before I really quite understand where you’re coming from. (I gather that you do in fact identify as an atheist?)

      What aspects of atheism are important to you (or if you prefer, what aspects of theism do you find objectionable)?

      Also, you seem to want to de-emphasize the connections between the scientific and atheistic worldviews. Is this because you want to tear down science, or is there something positive you want to emphasize instead?

      • deiseach

        If this is addressed to me, I’m not an atheist (sorry, one of those sneaky, back-stabbing Catholics).

        I’m not trying to de-emphasise the connections between scientific and atheistic worldviews, but as an interested outside observer, I do wonder where poetry and art and the like fit in: yes, I’ve seen the “if you want a real sense of wonder, consider the sky” but how about not considering the sky in terms of being an astronomer/cosmologist/phyiscist but rather a painter or photographer or singer?

        Admittedly, my exposure to atheist thought is limited to the loudest voices online, but I don’t see any incorporation of the humanities as a major part of the movement; it does seem to run along lines of science and maths are the tools to use in the struggle for reason (but not the only tools, surely?)

        I suppose when it comes down to it, what I’m asking is: where is the beautiful, as well as the true and the good?

        • Christian H

          If it’s any help–and I’m not sure it is–but the bulk of my peers in the English department (grad level) are atheists or agnostics (not all of us, though). I don’t know that all of them are rational materialist, or at least not all through, so they might not be welcomed with entirely open arms by certain atheist communities. And some of us in the department /are/ decent at science and math. But there are identifying atheists that I know who aren’t great at mathematics.

          This wouldn’t alleviate what seems to be a bigger problem that is related: how would the atheist movement, if universal conversion /is/ it’s goal, deal with people who are not intelligent enough to get the arguments? There seems to be a high valuing of intelligence in the atheist movement, which would be a good thing if it didn’t result in a certain nastiness towards those who are not intelligent or educated (or, at least, using accusations of a lack of intelligence as a weapon, thereby indicating precisely what they think of the unintelligent or uneducated). The glorification of math and science seems to be a continuation of this overall contempt for those who don’t have the highest IQs. And I’m not just talking about developmental disability, but also those who are uneducated due to financial constraints and handicaps from their family.

        • Ray

          For the record, there have plenty of artistic atheists — Mahler, John Lennon, Hemingway, Picasso, and Frank Black, to name a few. That said, I’m not sure that’s exactly the point. Atheism tends to be part of a positive world view of one sort or another — whether such a view is Scientific, Humanist, Marxist, Existentialist, Ayn Rand Objectivist or whatever, and, aside from the last one, all of those have lead to some worthwhile art. (I also don’t think you should so cavalier about dismissing the artistic value of science — I don’t think DaVinci would be the same without his proto-scientific interests, nor would Bach be Bach without the mathematical jokes and celebration of innovation in piano tuning.)

          As a side note, I think Catholicism is about the worst place from which to make the “why you got to make everything so rigorous and precise” argument. In my mind catholic liturgy (especially the creeds and systematic theology) are to religious literature what midichlorians are to Star Wars.

          • deiseach

            Ray, what I meant was “Quick, name a current atheist writer” and (for me anyway) the first and only name off the top of my head was Terry Pratchett.

            Everyone has heard of Dawkins, Dennett, Myers, etc. etc. etc. But where are the creators of beauty up there on the platform along with the instructors in reason?

          • anodognosic

            deiseach, it’s easy to find good atheist authors if you look. You may not readily associate them with atheism, but a lot of the time it’s obvious that atheism has strongly informed their work. So: George R. R. Martin, Philip Pullman, José Saramago, Greg Egan and Ian McEwan, to name a few I’m reasonably familiar with. Then there are filmmakers, like Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and Lars von Trier. Also, I wouldn’t discount nonfiction writers as creators of beauty. There is a definite poetry to Dawkins’ writing about biology, for instance, or Sagan’s on cosmology.

  • Elliot

    Atheism is lame. It adds nothing and takes away an infinity of truth and goodness.

    • Smidoz

      I’m a Christian, and even I find this statement somewhat offensive. I’ve always battled to understand atheism, and even in my non-religious time, I held an agnostic point of view, but at least I’m trying.

      People are out to find the truth, different things convince different people, and nobody has a complete knowledge of the universe. I find atheism does add, quite a lot. Since reading this blog, and having discussions with atheist friends on the social networks, I’ve been challenged to not rest on the experiences that lead me to my religion, but have been compelled to dig deeper into it to answer some of the tough questions that have been levelled against it. If anything, there being atheists has helped to strengthen my faith, and although I don’t claim to have a burden of proof that would convince everybody, I have more than I had just over a year ago when I began my Christian walk.

      The level of intolerance and judgement in your statement only serves to confirm what the harshest critics of religion already think of religious people.

    • Elliot

      Not only is my statement not intolerant (I enjoy interacting with atheists and support their right to exist and hold their opinions, etc.), it’s also not “judgmental” from a moral standpoint. Many atheists, I understand, are simply intellectually turned about or laden with bad philosophical principles and thus prevented from realizing the truth. At some point believing things requires you to say (offensive though it may seem to the faint of heart) that other people are wrong. At the same time I did not say that all theists or all Christians are free of intellectual or moral error, or that they enjoy a full knowledge of God (no one living does, as far as I know).

      Actually what I said is a direct and necessary consequence of believing in the sort of God most religious people believe in (and especially Christians). A religious person is apt to know the truth about nature, history, psychology, sociology, and even math. They are, in addition to these things, also apt to know the source of this truth and of all being and goodness, namely God. Now, God is infinite. Thus to be an atheist implies, very simply, missing out on that infinity of goodness and truth, while gaining nothing that the theist could not have except ignorance about the last end of man and the cause of the universe.

      • Alex

        “A religious person is apt to know the truth about nature, history, psychology, sociology, and even math. They are, in addition to these things, also apt to know the source of this truth and of all being and goodness, namely God.”

        That’s quite a claim. By religious do you mean Christian or will any religion suffice?

        • Elliot

          What I mean is that a religious person is as apt to know such things on a purely natural basis as anyone. I.e., atheists are not privileged knowers of nature, history, etc.

          • Alex

            Okay. Are people who practice Hinuism, Yoruba or Vodou just as apt as Christians to know things on a natural basis?

          • Alex


          • Elliot

            Of course.

      • Smidoz

        You enjoy interacting with atheists, yet you claim atheism adds nothing, if this is the case, how can an atheist add anything to the conversation that is worthwhile?

        • Elliot

          A person is more than of of his or her beliefs. Were atheists just material embodiments of not-believing-in-God, I assure you I wouldn’t bother interacting with them. To the extent that some are, I don’t enjoy interacting with them. But nature is a colorful and many-varied thing, which has granted to man intellectual powers not constrained to a single act. Thus we humans think and love and do a great many different things which show forth our potential for goodness and perfection, and many (very very many) atheists are lovely and delightful in spite of their error.

          Supposing we lived in a civilization where it was a rising fad for peanut butter to be seen as bad for the liver, and thus a great many people ended up believing peanut butter to be inedible. These people would nonetheless be potentially delightful as human beings, though rather silly and unfortunate in their rejection of peanut butter. But it’s also true that their error is an error, that it adds nothing to the goodness of life, and that they are missing out on some aspect of truth and tastiness by rejecting the edibility of peanut butter. Sherlock Holmes is still a clever and pleasant man even though his intelligence is (in my opinion and Watson’s) damaged by his ignorance of astronomy.

          • Elliot

            Forgive me: the first line should read “A person is more than any one of his or her beliefs.”

          • leahlibresco

            Are you referring to Sherlock Sherlock? Or is the book version similarly ignorant of astronomy?

            Also, I cannot resist repeating this joke:

            Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see.” Watson replied: “I see millions and millions of stars.” Holmes said: “And what do you deduce from that?” Watson replied: “Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life. What do you deduce?”
            And Holmes said: “Someone has stolen our tent.”

          • Elliot

            Both! One of the beauties of the new TV series is the way it incorporates aspects of the original stories. One of Watson and Holmes’ first conversations involves the uselessness of knowing whether the earth goes around the sun.

            That’s a wonderful joke.

          • deiseach

            I’ve always had the suspicion that The List in “A Study in Scarlet” was book!verse Holmes’s way of pulling Watson’s leg; I really can’t believe he had no idea about the earth going round the sun:

            “My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

            …”But the Solar System!” I protested.

            “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

            Particularly when the list says “Knowledge of literature – Nil” and yet later we have Holmes quoting Goethe and Winwood Reade and so on :-)

          • Smidoz

            Even if the peanut butter unbelievers where wrong, they’d still have added something to the understanding of peanut butter as a foodstuff, since the people who don’t believe it’s bad for your liver will do research to work it out, and their faith in the value of peanutbutter as a good foodstuff would be increased. What bothered me about your statement was the unjustified claim that atheism adds nothing, but by expanding the dialogue, it has added something, since all theists need to confront the possibility that the major premise behind their beliefs could be wrong, and they should explore this.

          • Elliot

            By this logic it would seem that disease is good because it promotes the investigation of human anatomy. The investigation of human anatomy is indeed good and does come as an accidental consequence of disease, but isn’t something per se added to the world by disease. Even once we know the human body top to bottom, being sick will still be a bad thing. Your argument could be applied to all sorts of other things: genocide is good because it creates a passion for justice among certain people who wouldn’t think about it otherwise. This is true, and secundum quid genocide does indeed cause something good, but only accidentally and in a way that we would all do better without. The same is true with atheists. Yes, their ignorance might accidentally motivate others to learn more, but they could also have learned more through a healthy desire for knowledge about God, which is natural to human beings in the first place. It’s amusing to me that your argument is analogous to the arguments some people use to defend the necessity of evil. Consider this fine passage from St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, q.19 a.9, ad 1):

            “Some have said that although God does not will evil, yet He wills that evil should be or be done, because, although evil is not a good, yet it is good that evil should be or be done. This they said because things evil in themselves are ordered to some good end; and this order they thought was expressed in the words “that evil should be or be done.” This, however, is not correct; since evil is not of itself ordered to good, but accidentally. For it is beside the intention of the sinner, that any good should follow from his sin; as it was beside the intention of tyrants that the patience of the martyrs should shine forth from all their persecutions. It cannot therefore be said that such an ordering to good is implied in the statement that it is a good thing that evil should be or be done, since nothing is judged of by that which appertains to it accidentally, but by that which belongs to it essentially.”

            (By the way, atheists are not all perpetrators of genocide, in case someone wants to accuse me of saying that.)

  • Kerry Neighbour

    >>Atheism is lame. It adds nothing and takes away an infinity of truth and goodness.

    What a silly assertion that is!! Totally wrong for a start. I could argue every word in this dumb statement for pages, but will refrain.

    But let me just say a couple of things – theism is NOT good, and it is NOT true.

    There, I can assert things just as you can – but I can produce evidence for my assertions – can you?

    • Elliot

      You obviously can’t produce evidence for your assertions. I can, though a part of your error is that you’ll fail to recognize my evidence as evidence.

    • Smidoz

      I’m afraid I must agree with Elliot on this one.

      Evidence of supernatural existence comes through peoples’ experiences, we can choose to ignore all these peoples experiences as delusion or some kind of mental manifestation of their preconceived ideas, but I think it’s a bit difficult to say this for certain in every case.

      As for your evidence, I’ve heard many arguments against the existence of God, and one would be arguing from the “absence of evidence standpoint.” I think it’s a little odd to claim that you have evidence that something doesn’t exist, since evidence of non-existence wouldn’t exist, would it?

      • Jake

        Right, but how can we trust experiential evidence of other people when its in direct contradiction to the experiental evidence of still other people?

        • Smidoz

          My argument here is that evidence of the supernatural comes down to experience, and not everybody can be delusional. My understanding as a Christian, which of course could be wrong, is that there are opposing supernatural forces in the world, and they will invariably give contradictory experiences. This doesn’t disprove the supernatural, but necessitates research into different possibilities, which would come throught the study of religious discourse.

          • Jake

            It seems like we agree that the majority of people are delusional, we just disagree about whether they’re delusional on their own, or whether there is some outside power leading them to that delusion. Is that a fair assessment?

            I see your point, that if everybody has these supernatural experiences, then it’s good evidence for supernatrual things existing. But I find two difficulties here: first, not everybody has these supernatural experiences. Certainly atheists don’t have them (or at least, don’t believe they have them), and even most religious people I’ve talked to seem convinced on a basis other than direct experience (Being raised in a particular faith seems to me the biggest motivation for many people to believe that faith- hence why there are more Christians in North America and more Muslims is the Middle East). Second, I see people deluded all around me in non-spiritual matters- why would I expect spiritual things to be different? Whether it’s leftist nutjobs or right-wing zealots, there’s people all over the map who take political and social views that I can only describe as delusional (no offense intended to any nutjobs or zealots in the audience :))

            Humans tend to be really bad at judging the reasonability of our own beliefs. That is to say, beliefs tend to be self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling (as Brian pointed out), so it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that people would continue to believe in the supernatural even if it wasn’t true (particularly because the idea of a supernatural can be an extremely comforting thing. It seems to me I would much prefer a world with a benevolent diety who’s on my side- and the fact that I would much prefer it means that I must be that much more suspicious of it, and require that much more evidence before accepting it)

      • Elliot

        If we’re talking about genuine faith, then “personal experiences” aren’t the basis, nor should they be put forward as sufficient evidence to inspire faith on the part of others. Faith is, secundum scripturam, its own evidence, and the evidence of the things to which it attests. Which means that (on its own, without grace) there is nothing that will appear as evidence to those who don’t have faith. This is, in fact, a major theme in the Gospels. (And Jesus marveled at their lack of faith.)

        If we’re talking about believing in God, again personal experiences count for relatively little. I’ve met a lot of crazies in my life, and an ample share of them were religious. In fact if you get your theology right, you’ll soon realize that virtually none of the commonly reported varieties of religious experience are sufficient in themselves to prove the existence of God. The main way we know God’s existence from ordinary reason is through his effects, and not in particular but universally. E.g., the fact that the universe is as a whole being reduced from potency to act suggests (via common sense) that there is some mover responsible.

        Still, I agree with Smidoz’s point about there being no evidence for the nonexistence of something. From a rational perspective there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary: everything that exists is evidence that God is.

        • Smidoz

          Sure, experiences with the supernatural don’t completely define ones faith, but they provide that individual with evidence that there is a supernatural. This said, peoples experience are largely based on experiences with the supernatural, certainly in Christianity. The Bible was written by people who had experiences with God; angels & demons. When it comes to ones own experiences, one then does research, via religious books, to see what explanations best explain their experiences. Then faith comes into play, but I personally think that faith void of experience is somewhat blind, & should be questioned even more rigorously than faith that at least has a foundation in personal experience.

  • @b

    >>what’s the next task?

    Secularism. Legal equality for infidels. Social justice for all moral agents.

    Counter-lobbying against today’s one-eyed moralisers, well-funded lobbiests, ill-advised politicians, etc. Protecting minorities against majoritarianism.

    Defending liberal democracy and Jefferson’s wall of seperation between church and state. Tax equity between organisations, be they religious or non-religious. Etc.

  • Pingback: Reason Rally/American Atheists Conference [Index Post] | Unequally Yoked

  • Pingback: Must we fight about fighting?

  • Pingback: Reason Rally Wrap-Up

  • Pingback: “A Week?” Tell me you’re a _____