Category: christians


This is a post I’ve wanted to do for some time.  I finally decided to do it after seeing a co-worker the other day with a copy of “On the Origin of Species”.  I expressed to her that it is, in my opinion, one of the most important sets of ideas ever put to paper.

There are lots of resources out there for people who want to understand the world from a scientific point of view.  Of course, there aren’t really books on “how to be a better atheist” – because such a subject would be pointless as there are no rules to being a “good atheist”.  Also, if you have faith there is a god, reading a book or watching a video isn’t likely to change that – just as reading a book on religion won’t change my mind.

These books and videos give a good narrative on how the world actually works (from a scientific point of view).  They explain the things that were once chalked up to religion and the supernatural.  They also look at the negative impact religion has on our species and our future.

Of course, these only scratch the surface.  Feel free to post your own suggestions in the comment section…

Videos

Richard Dawkins: Growing Up in the Universe

This series of lectures from 1991 provide a fantastic look at the development of life on earth.  It answers many of the questions we are asked about evolution (Why are there still monkeys? Why does everything seem so well-designed? What about organs of irreducible complexity?).  Dawkins simplifies evolution…and makes it accessible.  As a warning, though – the videos are very “British 1991”.  In fact, in America, it may seem like it was recorded some time in the mid-eighties.  Still, the science is strong…and it’s not nearly as old as some of the stuff other people use to get answers about life on earth.

Phil Plait: Don’t Be a Dick Speech

This one is for anyone who thinks that being brash and confrontational with theists helps the atheist cause.  It doesn’t – it just pisses people off and it makes you seem arrogant.  I will probably catch flack for this, but I believe it’s important to always be the better person.  While some religious people can be very “in your face” about their views…I feel it’s better to take the high road.  Be peaceful with people of opposing viewpoints.  I may think that people who don’t agree with the concept of evolution are stupid and delusional…but telling them that isn’t going to change their mind. This doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate or open or expressive about your views…just don’t be a dick about them!  We’ve dealt with the religious being dicks about their point of view for centuries…it pisses us off.  We must be better than that…

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consider morality to be somewhat of an illusion.  There are no hard-fast rules…killing someone is wrong, but killing someone who poses an imminent threat to you or your loved ones is not.  Because of this sliding scale, I can’t imagine that we’ll ever fully apply science to questions of morality.  Harris’ argument is not about deciding what’s right and wrong, but more about applying what we know in science to determine what is best for humankind as a whole.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Bullshit is probably the best show out there for skeptics…points are argued passionately, charlatans are called out for ripping people off, and the record is set at least somewhat straight on myths like astrology and religion and exorcisms.  If you haven’t checked it out – you can NetFlix several of the seasons.  Now, I should point out that these videos go against the “don’t be a dick” rule…

Symphony of Science

I nice diversion…it’s music created by putting the greatest scientific voices through an auto-tuner.  You get passionate music that explains the concepts of science.

Books

Probably no surprises here…these books are all well-known – I put them in my order of preference.

Also, full disclosure – I am not much of a reader, so I listened to the audio recordings of these books – when I say ‘read’ – I actually mean ‘listened to’.

Sam Harris: The End of Faith

This is my favorite among the books I’ve read about atheism.  I like his writing style.  This book looks at religion from the standpoint of reason and morality and takes a critical look at the negative impact religion has on the planet.  His followup Letter to a Christian Nation is also a great read and I anxiously await his latest book about the science of morality.

Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species

I remember reading about this book in school and thinking that the entire book was about lizards on the Galapagos Islands.  There is so much to this book.  Not only do you get to see the very beginning of the concept of evolution, you get to see the struggle Charles Darwin had with setting what he was raised to believe aside in favor of what he observed.  There are so many times in this book where Darwin says, if XYZ were not true, this theory simply won’t work…but, here’s what I observed…and why that points directly at XYZ.  He opened the door for explaining the diversity of life on earth using logic and reason.  I see this book and the research that followed it as the beginning of the end for theism…it’s just sad that it has not come to pass as it should.

Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

While Dawkins does look at morality and reason, The God Delusion is more from a scientific point of view.  He explains the origins of life according to Darwinian evolution and some of the evidence to support it.   He uses science to explain the things that have always been chalked up to the supernatural.  I was an atheist before I read the book, so I don’t know what sort of impact it would have if I was not.  I can say that the book made me feel more comfortable with not believing there’s a god.

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot is a look at the future of space travel for humans.  It’s also a critical look at ourselves as a species.  Sagan’s science is intertwined with his opinions on space travel, the possibility of life elsewhere and how we go about determining our place in the universe.  I love that much of the audio book is read by Sagan himself…his voice carries the gentle passion of a man who truly believes in the human spirit.

Christopher Hitchens: God is Not Great How Religion Poisons Everything

Hitchens is among the greatest writers of our time…and it’s nice to see that he’s on our side.  He’s sharp, blunt and eloquent all at the same time.  This book is probably harshest of the books I’ve read about atheism.   He holds nothing back…and that is admirable.  I put it this far down on the list simply because I feel his writing style may be off-putting to those who are on the fence about atheism.  If you are already an atheist…perhaps this book should be closer to the top.

Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinov: The Grand Design

Hawking does a top-notch job of making the latest theories of the universe easy to understand.  While it does not come right out and say that there is no god, it points out the many reasons that the system that created the universe works better without a conscience.

Michael Shermer: Why People Believe Weird Things

This book opens the door to explaining why people think the way they do. It looks at the reasons behind some of the myths that permeate our lives on a day-to-day basis – but doesn’t touch much on religion as a whole.  Weird Things is more of a manual on skepticism than atheism, but I found it to be worth the time.

The Bible

I’m up in the air on this one…many atheists like to read the bible to “know thy enemy” – but I don’t think that referencing the bible goes very far in arguing our case.  You will not see the bible the way theists see the bible.  The bible is low-hanging (forbidden) fruit…pointing out that the stuff in the bible is just plain silly (it is) is insulting and embarrassing to those who hold the bible dear.  While those who follow science welcome questioning inconsistencies, theists do not.  Besides, there are so many iterations of the bible…are you going to study them all? How about the Qu’ran? There are too many religious texts out there…bogging your mind down with what’s in them uses up valuable brain space that could be used for facts…

In lieu of reading the actual bible…I recommend instead reading:

C.J. Werleman: God Hates You, Hate Him Back (no audio book…gotta do this one the old-fashioned way)

In this book, Werleman takes a humorous, yet scathing look through the bible.  The entire bible isn’t there…but enough of it is.  It’s sort of like reading the bible with the guys from MST3K sitting next to you.  Theists will say that the book just picks and chooses what it wants to portray from the bible without telling the “whole story” – to that I say…tough shit.  Most theists simply pick and choose the parts of the bible they want to follow…so…why can’t we? 🙂  The book isn’t perfect…my copy is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors which hopefully will be fixed in future editions.

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Again, this is by no means supposed to be a complete list…just a look at some of my favorite things I’ve read and watched that have made me more comfortable and confident in my beliefs.  Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

//jb//

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When I started this blog, I decided that I wasn’t going to harp on the bible.  I realize that people hold this book very dear, and it is not my style to disparage something that people hold so dearly.  This post will be an exception to that…but there are things that just need to be said. 

I have to admit – I didn’t grow up reading the bible.  I knew many of the stories – Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, Jesus – you know, stuff like that.  However, I was well into my teens before I realized that grown-ups actually took it seriously.  I mean, sure, we celebrated Christmas and Easter – but never really as religious holidays.  They were times to get together as a family and enjoy ourselves. 

I read the bible as an adult – and I have to say that it baffles me just how much people take it seriously.  Not only to the stories defy logic, they’re an affront to human nature.  There is no progress in the bible…

Today, I’m going to spend some time writing about the many ways people try to explain the things in the bible…

Allegory:
Many try to say that what’s written in the bible is “allegory” and should not be taken literally – but there is nothing in the bible that would suggest that the contents within should be considered less than the literal word of god. God created the universe and everything in it, then gave a vague set of rules for its residents to abide – and horrible punishment for those who don’t.
 
The problem with the allegory argument is that it gives believers breathing room for their faith. They can use what’s in the bible to justify nearly any point of view. “The bible says that women who are disrespectful to their husbands should be stoned to death, but I see that more as god saying that people should be nice to each other.”  This clearly makes no sense. Of course, most Christians won’t bring this up because they don’t realize just how bluntly the bible says that women who disrespect their husbands should be stoned to death. Why don’t they realize this? Because they haven’t actually read it.
 
Some even use the allegory argument to support evolution as something that god had a hand in. “The bible says the world was created in six days, but we don’t know how long a day is to God…we can’t assume that a day for god is 24 hours like it is for us.”  A day is the time it takes for our earth to make one revolution…24 hours (give or take a fraction of a second here and there). There is no reason to believe that “built the universe in six days” means anything more than six 24-hour periods. Besides, according to the legend – while god created light and coined the terms day and night on the first day…the sun and the moon (the two great lights in the sky) were not created until the fourth day.  For all intents and purposes, the sun is the source of all natural light on earth. So, without the sun – there is no light. I think you see where I’m going with this, so I’ll leave the completion of this idea to you. From a practical and temporal point of view, Genesis makes no sense. Take that one step further, it would make no sense for god to have created days…then use a different, arbitrary time scale and call it a day.
 
Times Have Changed:
Another feeble argument is “times have changed”. I’ve heard from people who say that some of the more stringent portions of the bible no longer apply in the modern world. This implies that there was a time when stoning a woman to death for disobeying her husband was appropriate. Seriously?  Should this even be up for discussion. Trite sarcasm and “every 28 days” jokes aside – name one situation, or series of situations where stoning a woman to death because she disobeyed her husband (or any reason) would be appropriate?  “You shall not murder.”  (Exodus 20:13) – Murder is the taking of a human life by another human…if you stone a woman to death, you shall murder her.
 
Old Testament Argument:
This brings me to another argument, the “old testament” argument.  When I asked a recently divorced Christian friend of mine why his ex-wife (also a devout Christian) was not brought out into the street and stoned to death as commanded by god, his response was…that’s the Old Testament. I will go back to my previous argument of “What kind of world is better off abiding by rules that involve stoning non-subservient women to death!?”
 
Also, if you would read the New Testament, you will find many passages clearly stating that it does not cancel out nor does it replace the Old Testament. There are too many passages where even Jesus subscribes to the Old Testament teachings to mention here…so, I’ll just post one…
 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” ~ (Matthew 5:17 NAB)
 
The Old Testament is a disgusting piece of literature. It is filled with hate, greed, vengeance and death.  Jesus was all for it…and that’s all I have to say about that.
 
Mysterious Ways Argument: 
The last argument I want to touch on is one that is a little more difficult to dispute, not because it makes more sense…but because it needs no explanation at all. I call it the “Mysterious Ways” argument.
 
The basis of the argument is this: Because god is of unimaginable intelligence and complexity, it is futile for us to try to figure out exactly what his intentions and abilities are. God does things because it is part of a plan that we cannot even begin to comprehend. “Mysterious Ways” is the last Bastian of hope for the faithful to cling to. If someone defaults to the “Mysterious Ways” argument, it simply means the only reason a person believes in god is because they want to believe in god. Wanting to believe in god defeats the purpose of faith.
 
Atheists are not without faith…we just put our faith in things we can actually trust. Things like truth and logic.
 
If I am holding onto a ball, and I let go – I have faith that the ball will travel downward with the force of gravity until it reaches the next available solid surface (usually the ground, perhaps a table or my foot) where it will either land or bounce successively until it stops or something else introduces energy to it. This is not something I want to believe, but I do. More importantly, this scenario is not dependent on my faith. It will happen even if I believe the ball will fall halfway to the next surface and stay suspended in mid-air.  I could have total faith that the ball will go upwards against the pull of gravity when I let go of the ball, but it will still fall downward. I could gather my friends, family, co-workers…and every single person on the planet at the same time to have faith that the ball will fall upwards against the force of gravity and it will still fall downward.
 
Again, wanting to believe something defeats the purpose of faith. 
 
//jb//