Peter Watson

On this date in 1943, author Peter Watson was born in Birmingham, England. An intellectual historian and investigative journalist, he was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, later living in the United States. He has written for The Observer, The New York Times, Punch and The Spectator, and is the author of fiction, as well as many books on art history, biography, psychology, and true crime. His books include: The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (2006, with Cecilia Todeschini), Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (2005), Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (2001) (also published as A Terrible Beauty), Sotheby’s: The Inside Story (1998), Landscape of Lies (1989) and The Caravaggio Conspiracy (1984). In Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, Watson seeks a new way to tell the history of the world from prehistory to modern day, asserting that human knowledge is divided into two realms: inward (philosophy and religion) and outward (observation and science). His stance supports the latter. Twins: An Uncanny Relationship? (1982), explores behavior patterns shared by identical twins, “to offer a rational alternative to mumbo jumbo for explaining many of the coincidences reported in twin studies, ” according to a Los Angeles Times review. “A few saints and a little charity don’t make up for all the harm religion has done over the ages,” he has said (CBC News, May 5, 2007).

When asked about the good that religion has done in the world in an interview by The New York Times Magazine (December 11, 2005), Watson replied: “I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it.” He went on to say, “I do not believe in the inner world. I think that the inner world comes from the exploration of the outer world–reading, traveling, talking. I do not believe that meditation or cogitation leads to wisdom or peace or the truth.” Since 1998, Watson has been a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, at the University of Cambridge. He lives in London, England.

“Religion has kept civilization back for hundreds of years, and the biggest mistake in the history of civilization, is ethical monotheism, the concept of the one God. Let’s get rid of it and be rational.”
~ Peter Watson interview, CBC News (May 5, 2007)

Christopher Hitchens

On this date in 1949, writer and columnist Christopher Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England. He attended Cambridge and graduated from Oxford in 1970, reading in philosophy, politics and economics. From 1971-1981 he worked as a book reviewer for The Times. In 1981 he emigrated to the United States. Hitchens wrote “Minority Report,” a column for The Nation, from 1982-2002. He then wrote for Slate, The Daily Mirror, as a contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair, and also wrote for Harpers and many other U.S. newspapers and journals. As a foreign correspondent, he covered events in 60 countries on all five continents. Hitchens wrote a host of books, but is best-known in freethought circles for authoring God Is Not Great (2007). His criticisms of Clinton and pro-Iraqi war views made Hitchens increasingly controversial among progressive readership, but he remained a stalwart atheist and iconoclast. In “Papal Power: John Paul II’s other legacy” (Slate.com, April 1, 2005), Hitchens pointed out that the pope “was a part of the cover up and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long.” Hitchens became a U.S. citizen in 2007. D. 2011.

“Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life—except religion . . . Why are we praised by godly men for surrendering our ‘godly gift’ of reason when we cross their mental thresholds? . . . Atheism strikes me as morally superior, as well as intellectually superior, to religion. Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

~ Christopher Hitchens, “The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s (July 1982), cited by James A. Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief (1996)

Agnostic Atheism

Concept of the day:

Agnostic Atheism: as anyone fluent in the contemporary debate between atheists and theists knows, is common parlance among nonbelievers. Roughly, the idea here is that when one uses the term “atheist” they’re making reference to their belief, whereas when one uses the term “agnostic,” they’re making reference to their knowledge. In this way, so the argument goes, one can be an atheist in the sense that they don’t believe that God exists (or that they positively believe that God does not exist) but nevertheless be an agnostic in the sense that they don’t know, or claim to know, that God does not exist.

Further, there is an additional distinction that is made between soft (or weak) atheists and hard (or strong) atheists. On the one hand, soft atheists are those who claim only to lack belief in God. On the other hand, hard atheists are those who claim to know or believe that God does not exist.

Now, descriptively speaking, this taxonomy seems to correspond pretty closely to the way that many atheists now days construe their atheism. So, as far as semantics go, this seems correct. However, and I say this as an atheist, in terms of its philosophical rigor, this construal of atheism seems a bit lacking. To demonstrate this, try to imagine an atheist using the distinction between atheism and agnosticism, as well as the distinction between soft and hard atheism, with respect to any other conception of god apart from the standard, Western monotheistic conception. That would be peculiar, would it not? So, the question is why don’t we atheists bother to qualify our rejection of Zeus or Odin with the caveats of agnosticism and a mere lack of belief? And if we don’t need to do this, why, then, must we do this with respect to the god of Christianity?

Well, frankly, I don’t think we need to. The mere fact that I don’t know *for certain* that Zeus doesn’t exist does not mean that I have to be an agnostic with respect to his existence, any more than the fact that I can’t know for certain that I’m not just a brain in a vat means I have to be agnostic about whether or not I’m just a brain in a vat. In other words, the sort of certainty that agnostic atheists point to in order to distinguish between their atheism and their agnosticism is itself based on a rather sophomoric understanding of epistemology that is quickly done away with by the slightest of philosophical inquiry. I may not know for certain that God does not exist, but this is not at all to say that I’m not entirely rational in going ahead and affirming my belief in the nonexistence of God all the same. And I don’t have to call myself an agnostic while doing so.

Sources: Atheist Republic

#NotAttackingReligion #FreedomOfBelief #JustSomeClarification

Church Membership in U.S. Falls Below Fifty Percent

Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

Source: https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

Atheism Quotes

“Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion.”

~ Steven Weinberg, Theoretical Physicist, Nobel Prize Winner

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

~ Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist

“The president of the United States [George Bush] has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.”

~ Sam Harris, Neuroscientist

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

~ Christopher Hitchens, Journalist and Critic

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

~ Epicurus (341-270 BC), Philosopher

“Don’t pray in my school, and I won’t think in your church.”

~ Unknown

“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”

~ Gene Roddenberry, TV Screenwriter and Producer

“Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions”

~ Blaise Pascal, Mathematician, Physicist, Philosopher

“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! ..But He loves you… and HE NEEDS MONEY!”

~ George Carlin

“I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence.”

~ Doug McLeod, Writer

“Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

~ Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

“Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.”

~ Unknown

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

~ Carl Sagan