PZ Myers – Sacking the City of God

20 Jun

I recently enjoyed watching this video of PZ Myers, atheist extraordinaire, and thoroughly affable chap.

In it he discusses how we atheistic, rationalist, freethinking types can pull down the edifice of religion.

He starts with a nice theme. He says that “in the beginning was the word” is not right. First came the blood; blood used to knit people together with a common identity. Support for your kin meant you, or at least your genes, survived. Then the king or pharaoh was the symbol of your identity, and looked after your welfare. But kings died. Next was the city as it out-lives the leaders – get behind the city and you prosper. But cities like Rome fell. So then came ideas. People rally around ideas. This is why christianity has done so well.

He quotes Evey in the film V For Vendetta: “We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love…

However, ideas can be beaten with other ideas.

Christians, even more moderate ones, “believe in some outrageous bullshit. The christian myths of a virgin giving birth to a god who dies are illogical lunacy. And the christian doctrines of original sin and redemption through blood sacrifice by proxy are crippling psychopathological abominations.

He says he sees three principles emerging among atheists: Truth, Autonomy and Community (though he’s quick to point out that he’s not forcing any of his principles on anyone as that would be to fall into the immoral approach of the religious).

Atheists seek the truth – evidence based rather than belief. We want to know how things work by testing, by looking at evidence. That’s science. We don’t say we’ve already decided how it works because it says so in a mythical story. We don’t say that’s how it works because that’s how we want it to be – that’s just wishful thinking.

Autonomy, as we freethinkers are all different and have a wonderful mix of ideas, backgrounds and personalities. We are where we are because we reject the orthodoxy, we are weirdos and outcasts, we are not sheep. For many years we have been in the minority, “often feeling alone in seeing through the god-awful babble of the church“. We detest people that try to impose rules on us. “People should be free to be who they are with impunity“.

The thing is there are more and more people standing up and speaking out against the taboo topic of the immorality and danger of religion. We are not all geeky nihilists, though there may be some that are part of the community. There are diverse atheistic groups, whether on the internet, or at atheist and freethinker conferences. There is power in community and together we can work better to “free minds from the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” (to borrow from Morpheus).

I recommend his blog, where he features regular descriptions from people on why they are an atheist. It seems his mission is to make us superstition-deniers feel we’re not alone, that there are many of us out there, sharing the same core view that we are able to throw off the shackles of religion and move forward to a more grown up way of thinking.


5 Responses to “PZ Myers – Sacking the City of God”

  1. Damian June 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Wow – he would have made an excellent Christian preacher! He really is a bit like Morpheus!

    • 5i5i June 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      His beliefs do not require anyone else to believe. Ho ho.

  2. Dan June 21, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    There are many very good points here, and in some ways I’d like to get behind it entirely…BUT I still stick to the view that neither side can prove their case. Belief that there is NO God is a belief system or an idea; belief that there is A God is a belief system or an idea. I would like to give complete support to the views here, but the reality is I JUST DON’T KNOW. And I see the same urge to “rally round ideas”, as described above, in all ideas: Christian, atheist and others. Judging by a particularly persuasive piece of monologue in “Omen III: the Final Conflict”, I can see how people could rally round Satan-worship too.

    Scientific theories change and get refuted, new theories get proposed etc etc. throughout the course of history. I DO AGREE ABSOLUTELY THAT THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD IS BETTER THAN BLIND FAITH: but it still has considerable limitations. In other words, it’s the least imperfect method for obtaining knowledge, but imperfect it still is. Any theories are far more likely to be spread through teaching etc if they fit in comfortably with what enough people WANT TO BELIEVE.

    Bertrand Russell famously said (paraphrasing here) that if someone said he had to prove the non-exisitence of God, then they should have to prove the non-existence of a teacup orbiting the Earth: GOOD POINT, BUT… nowadays it’s just the opposite. The onus has shifted to the beiever to prove existence rather than the non-believer to prove the non-existence. But really the onus should be equally on either side.

    A final point related to the above: oxygen cannot be tasted, smelt, seen, heard or felt. So it’s pretty likely that for many centuries, people didn’t know it existed. But I’m pretty sure it did exist even when it could not be proved to exist. This is the point: things either exist or they don’t. Their existence does not depend on proof or even evidence; they can exist without it. This doesn’t mean they necessarily do exist, but simply that WE DON’T KNOW, ONE WAY OR THE OTHER.

    I DO AGREE THAT religion has some extremely damaging effects too, such as terrorism in the name of religion. But if you take away religion, will these people just seek another form of power? And how do you define what belief system is religious? Where do you draw the line?

    Here endeth the Lesson: thanks be to the Jenquoi.

  3. 5i5i June 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm #


    You raise some good points here. I’m also not entirely comfortable identifying myself as an atheist. Given the common law understanding of the word atheist:“there is no god” versus the word agnostic “who knows?”, the latter seems to be the more scientific approach.

    >>>> Definitions

    However I think it’s clear that the word does have different shades of meaning to different people.

    The dictionary says atheism is “A person who lacks belief in a god or gods.”. Wikipedia defines it as an absence of belief. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism.

    The Hitch said that an atheist is someone who believes there is no evidence available that says there is a god.

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

    By these definitions I’m happy to use the label atheist. I do not think there is any evidence that a god exists.

    And so this is where I would take issue with the idea that atheism is a “belief system”. It is an absence of belief. It is simply an opinion that there is no reasonable evidence that there is a god. Its meaning is extended by some to being an assertion that there is no god, though I don’t see that as necessary.

    Then there’s agnosticism which is defined by google as “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God”.

    I can also get behind that definition.

    >>>> Implications

    Although this is simply a label regarding ones opinion on the existence or otherwise of a god, or the evidence therefor, it does have implications.

    And as you know I’m specifically against the idea of the christian god. Proper nasty bastard.

    He lays out a good case for atheism in this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism.html.

    Basically religion is, in my view, bad for people and bad for society. As such identifying against such beliefs and systems with this “atheism” label feels to me to be taking a stand against it all. Particularly in America where people lose their jobs and are persecuted for “coming out” as atheist.

    That said, I’m not for stopping people practising whatever arcane superstitions they fancy. Just so long as they keep it behind the doors of their church/synagogue/coven, etc. But I am dead set against them imposing their bullshit “morals” on the rest of us (see gay marriage as the latest one), or trying to inculcate kids in schools, and so on.

    We must “make sure that our freedom *of* religion comes with this necessary freedom *from* religion”

    >>>> Oxygen Analogy
    Thing is, oxygen has been proved to exist now. We have evidence. Did people make up the idea of oxygen previously? Did they posit different kinds of oxygen? Did they claim to have a unique revelation of oxygen that no one else had, demand followers and obedience to a text about oxygen that is full of contradictions, blah, blah you get my point.

    Why do people say god exists? What is their evidence? Given the implications of the Christian beliefs: that we should follow a god that is interested in how we talk, how we eat, how we have sex, then I would say the onus is very much on them.

    We don’t know one way or the other. However, I presume that Santa and the fairies at the bottom of the garden don’t exist, and will continue to do so unless someone shows me pretty convincing evidence to the contrary. Simarly with the God Fairy in the sky.

    >>>> Science
    Finally, I’m curious to know what the limitations of the scientific method are that you mention.

  4. 5i5i July 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    This article interestingly distinguishes between positive and negative atheists: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Atheist&defid=1093596
    A negative atheist is “A person who lacks belief in a god or gods”.
    A positive atheist is a “person who believes that no god or gods exist.”

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