Category Archives: Dennett

Should you pray for an atheist?

The real question is would an atheist be offended if you told them that you had prayed for them? The answer depends on the sensibilities of the person concerned, but my attitude is it cuts both ways. So pray it if it makes you feel better. The only harm may be if prayer stopped you from doing something more useful for the atheist. Like calling for an ambulance, or performing CPR. Less drastic, do something for them they would appreciate.

Once a student showed me their pendant that said “I am a Catholic, in an emergency please contact a priest.” This provoked the quip that I needed a pendant that said “I am an atheist, in an emergency please contact the appropriate emergency service.”


The focus for an atheist is on this mortal coil of flesh rather than the safety of their immortal soul finding heaven. To my aid, I shall not limit myself to people cut of a certain frock, ideology or particular hobbies. Key is that they can perform the necessary life saving procedure due to their expertise and training. Hopefully, I will have the chance to thank them. Rather than first thank someone I never thought was there to begin with. The reserves of mental strength to be called on will be the positive reinforcements of memories of those I love and future plans, rather than a call to the mystic forces of the cosmos to see my hour of need. We all know though that at some point, our course will be run. While the energy never dies, what made up this carbon based entity will be spent in this incarnation.

My gratitude, beyond thanking those responsible for helping me pull through, would be to thank goodness. As Daniel Dennett mentioned on recovering from a life saving emergency operation:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now. [Source]

The late Christopher Hitchens on Christians organising a prayer for his soul:

“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries,” the atheist author wrote in a first-person article for Vanity Fair’s October 2010 issue.

“Unless, of course, it makes you feel better,” he added, echoing a past comment. [Source]

That last point is the thing. By all means pray. But rather than offer just them to the person, give something more tangible. Goodness is goodness whatever we think happens after this life.

Related Blog: Say a Little Prayer For You

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78



Filed under atheism, Dennett, Hitchens, Religion

Chaplin at the bedside

Death, or to be more accurate what is imagined to be after the end of the body’s mortal coil gives up the ghost, is conisdered the main reason for religion.

The fear of death in particular allowing people to cling on to a hope that the meaning of their life is rewarded, or at least continued in the hereafter. That loved ones are waiting for you or will be with you in due course.

The lack of any certainty in how this happens, which god is scoring your worldly doings and intimate thoughts, or the mechanism by which this is accounted for is besides the thought of rationalists to comprehend. The argument goes that hope springs eternal – at least till the last breath.

For loved ones that remain, it is a comfort to think they are in a better place. Even if not considered true, the rituals of pray, going to a chapel or prayer room, or seeing a man of the cloth brings a benefit to those in hospital.

The National Secular Society in the UK is arguing that the National Health Service should not pay for these services (effectively not the tax payer). Churches or faith organizations should foot the bill (£30 million a year) for these services so resources can be spent on front care services.

Humanist chaplins do exist – the demand for people to bring comfort, prepare you and loved ones for death or ill health is not in dispute. The funding is given to faith groups on the basis of demand. The idea being if a buddhist Chaplin is at your hospital then their services our required by patients.

Yet this is one which does not get me worked up. Daniel Dennett wrote how disappointed he was people prayed for him when he was rushed to hospital. For him the thanks was due to the staff that battled to save his life.

However, while prayers and people of faith would not raise my spirits, and I see the after life as a fools comfort like relying on the lottery to make you set for life, I am not inclined to take it away from people who do find it helpful.

As to funding these things, I would prefer to see this come from supporters rather than all tax payers. I expect that faith groups do make contributions both financial and of time, the figures would be good to know.

If this went to humanist chaplins too, then there would be a level playing field. The bottom line for me though is what helps the people in hospital. I am pleased the National Secular Society stress it is the funding that is the issue, not being at the bedside.

And if that means no humanist chaplins in a hospital but demand enough for a priest and a rabbi then so be it. It does not have to be rational, only demanded and in this circumstance the expense can be justified in welfare terms.

Radio 4 covered this in The Today programe this morning, which can be picked up on podcast.


Filed under Dennett, Religion, secular

The circular argument – the con artist

In the Round Table Discussion “The Four horsemen”. Dennett points out to notice the bag of tricks that have evolved to protect religion in debate –  the arguments that are circular, and could be about anything. They could be used to sustain anything – forms of non argument which con artists use.

What got me thinking was this discussion based on my religion and tolerance blog, the comments which run as follows:

  1. isaiah30v8 said, on January 14th, 2008 at 2:59 am

    Actually I am able to tolerate athiests. If atheists did not exist it would be more difficult to believe in the bible. So thanks!

    Oh yes, here is why:



  2. homoeconomicusnet said, on January 14th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    If I had a pound for every-time someone suggested science was like a religion then writing this blog could be a full time occupation.

    You mention original sin but do not actually define it (in your blog) which misses the point a little.

    You do have to separate philosophy and science. Philosophy is about asking the right questions about life. Science is about exploring the natural world. Science does not tell you how you should live your life or base your moral opinions on – nor should anyone seriously suggest it does.

    By reflection and deliberation we may come to an appreciation of what leading a good life is like to that end my blog the way we are may interest you:

    I read the bible. That is why I am an atheist.

  3. isaiah30v8 said, on January 14th, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    “By reflection and deliberation we may come to an appreciation of what leading a good life is like.

    You can be like God knowing Good and Bad.

  4. homoeconomicusnet said, on January 15th, 2008 at 12:21 am 

    No I could never live up to a fantasy figure.

    But we can try and figure things out.

  5. isaiah30v8 said, on January 19th, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    In a prophetic end time scripture the Apostle Paul described the success of Satan’s unrighteous deception using words like “POWERFULL” and “WONDER”.

    2 Thessalonians 2
    9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.;&version=50;

    Some bible translations even use the word “MIRACLE” to describe Satan’s success.

    You and many others are a living manifestation of Satans extreme success!

    Your existence provides a large amount of support for my continued belief in the bible, God and Jesus Christ.

    Thank you.

  6. homoeconomicusnet said, on January 19th, 2008 at 8:51 pm 

    Funny how all religions think non believers are deluded, and in league with the evil one, isn’t it? Almost like religions use it to shield themselves from criticism.

    A circular argument, that is a loop, which never can be wrong because the logic is so flawed that nothing could disprove it. The only purpose it serves is to stop you thinking the unthinkable. The more arguments against yours you read the more it is proof you are right! QED you cannot be wrong even if you are!

    Muslims, Hindus and Christians think this too.

    An honest inquiry into the legitimacy of your belief would be:

    What would it take for me to leave my faith, or think there is no god?

    If believing in Virgin Births, resurrections, and walking on water is what you think it takes to lead a righteous life then you really need to try and understand that thinking about moral problems is not dependent on thinking ancient texts come from god.

    But if you cannot understand that about humanity, then can I at least point out the futility of quoting bible passages at me?

    The bible is proof that men wrote the bible over a period of time. It explains the conflicts, different opinions and is a product of the times. The evidence is there in print. This is the work of men. The significance is what you give it – but it has no more authority over me than the Koran or the Pali Canon.

    We are all atheists about someone else’s god. Some of us just go one god further. The abandonment of god is the leaving behind of an idea. The god concept is not the only thing holding up moral behaviour. If you are only moral and righteousness because you can read a book and think god is watching then your heart is not in the right place. If you could not be moral without god then there is something questionable in your motives.

It is self sustanining for this person. Anyone that has a counter argument to his belief is proof that his belief is right is evidence that he is correct. An opposite argument must be wrong and in league with the devil. Now that is not based on reason. It is a logical fallacy and a non argument.

Let us put it to something else. Liberalism is the only right way to care about people. If you have a different political opinion than you do not care about people. An opposite argument must be wrong and in league with President Bush.

Aldershot Town will win promotion to league football this season. This is their destiny. It is going to happen because I am turning 30 this year. I was 16 when I went to my first game, and they have been in existence now for 16 years. Numerology predicts that the shots are going up and now you are going to believe this. My faith in my team means they will be promoted this season. A lack of belief by the faithful will allow the evil one (Torquay) to win and we cannot let that happen. We must believe.

Now if I hold to these circular arguments (not recognising them as such) you will not convince me I am wrong unless I recognise the flaw in the argument. So all I can do is point out how ridiculous the reasoning is. And that all it does is keep you in a rut, while making others dizzy.


Sometimes all you are left with is humour, and thanks to the tag surfer came across this video  by Pat Condell, enjoy:


Filed under Dennett, Humour, Philosophy, Religion

The way we are

The archbishop recently praised Richard Dawkins for increasing public understanding about the natural world, that allowed believers to be in awe of the natural world (though of course the  Archbishop of Canterbury thanks god for creation). In this theology science helps with the understanding of the natural world, it’s theories verified explain the wonder of what god has accomplished.

In the view of god-of-the-gaps god created the world and what is more evolution is not the way he did it. Any evidence is either fraud committed by scientists or a trick of the evil one. It takes away the idea that god lends an active hand in nature and the world around us. Not only does intelligent design explain it all, but any question that cannot be answered by science is proof god did it, or if the answer is too complicated fingers in ear god did it personally.

Much was the reaction when my mother watched some of the Ken Miller lecture on Intelligent Design. So why is it that Ken Miller and the Archbishop do not find the theory of evolution a threat to their religious belief and way of life but others professing faith (like my mum) do?

In some ways Ken Miller spoke about it in his lecture. Basically the theory of evolution is seen as suggesting that we in common with other forms of life have a common ancestor. We are therefore not made in his direct image. From this theological problem is that because we are part of the animal kingdom than all manner of evils can be done, because we are no better than animals. So bring on the porn, rape the woman next door, steal from your boss and let Satan take possession of your soul.

This misses a very crucial point. Because the theory of evolution makes no moral claim on how we should live our lives. Rather game theory, tit for tat concept, the human cognitive ability to live by rules and empathises with others play their part. One reason we exist as a civilisation is that we are so capable of doing so – this has in terms of population benefited us.

Science is no way to base morals. Social Darwinism (nothing to do with Darwin) is to be confined to the trash bin of political ideology. When anyone suggests that we should have a public policy based on it shout them down with reason and humanity. As Dawkins points out we fight, outwit and go against what would benefit our genes all the time because it benefits us as people in terms of our goals – why on earth should we live our lives for them?

The other reason is that people are skeptical of experts. BSE, climate change, MMR, SARs, GM crops – confidence in science, let alone politicians, is shaken. People are questioning a materialistic culture in a world where most people barely survive. People question not only organised religion but anything just because it is an institution.

So into this vacuum come the alternative ideas – new age therapies, homeopathy. Supposed Gurus tell people to search themselves for the answers, and even the way to heal themselves. Most religious claiming people belong to no church – they are in touch with god because they feel the divine everywhere. I am convinced that this abstract concept is what the majority of religious people mean when they say they are religious but more detailed surveys would be illuminating on this point (see Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” for a much more detailed suggestion on how to try and do that).

Gather all the empirical evidence you want. Explain science with enthusiasm about beauty, exhibiting the awe of understanding. For some belief in belief will never be broken down by mental appeal. Rather, it could only work by understanding why the person needs their belief. When that is based on fear (of people and other ways to live) and love (of other people and ways of thinking) – when you say evolution for some people you are not just questioning their god, but their whole system by which they survive in this world. It is rooted that some benevolent force will make things right now or in the future – it is a shred of hope held so tightly that to know how it is rooted by fear and love you would never get at it in a debate on ID and evolution.

In short those that think one day reason and facts will win over superstition and super naturalism need to really appreciate how people reflect on things. The way we think lends itself to a self centred ego placed in the central point of the universe. This feeling gives rise to spiritual explanations of how things are or could be for you. Religion survives down the eons because it piggy backs well in the way the mind thinks of itself.

On an intuitive level it seems to most people to make sense. Intuition has been seen as the way to overcome supposed expert opinion – you  know best, come to your own conclusion, live your life. In some ways that has been part of the individualistic agenda as demonstrated in Thatcher’s Britain.

In short, it really has to be up to a person to be curious about what science has to offer. And prefer the higher knowledge questions of how rather than answering lower intuitive questions of why.  Science answers the how very well. Why questions denote the self discovery aspect of what we deem the way we think (consciousness) – and religion jumps in there whether being the old guard or menu-a-la-carte of the modern age.

So does it really matter? Yes because science is our best hope of not only understanding the cosmos, the natural world and us, but also in improving our quality of life. A world where science is belittled and challenged by religion would signal a world of introspection, skepticism of everything accept how you feel. Where progress is not measured by who benefits but whether it offends sensibilities of some group that can veto it otherwise. This extends not just to science but to culture as well.

In this sense are the values of the enlightenment under threat. We are the in touch generation, the one that has access to so much information and yet is skeptical of so much that is credible. Yet where MMR scares are accepted as “medically proven” (they are unfounded), where homeopathy is seen as a credible medical practice (there is no proof it does anything physically changing). Where ideas about Princess Diana’s death by agents of the state take precedent over a drunk driver. When more people believe in horoscopes than any organised religion. Where writers and broadcasters are put to death or threatened for what they say.

It is in this society that we make our stand. If I am sounding pessimistic that is not my intention. This is climbing the mount improbable of thought. By slow careful steps it can be done. But to think this is one quick charge is a grave error in calculation. This is a war of attrition. One can only make the case – but the priority for me is that science education should not be subjected to religious belief, that children should not be branded by their parents religious beliefs, that religious education of all faiths and philosophy is more necessary in the modern age not less.

Above all is the recognition that life is precious and fleeting – that life is over too quickly for too many in this world. We must use our collective talents to get a grip on the problems of this world. Too often religion, ideology, nationalism, even the human ability of kinship get in the way of recognising that as humans we are descended from the same ancestor. These differences are few compared to the many similarities we have – yet we allow trivial things to divide us.

In the global world how will we respond to the challenges facing ourselves and the planet? Can we go beyond our selfish self preservation and do what benefits all? What will we look to for the answer – because whether we think it is faith or science (or even both) one thing I do agree with the Archbishop on in his sermon:

It starts with us embracing our common humanity.


Filed under atheism, Dawkins, Dennett, Philosophy, Religion, Science

Round table Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens – The Four Horseman

The Fab Four

Oh to have been a fly on the wall I thought, as we marched from Jefferson Memorial to the White house during the Atheist Alliance International Conference 2007, as I had got wind of this Round table discussion happening but kept my mouth shut sworn to secrecy. So it is with great delight that the discussion between Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens is now available to watch on the internet, and will be on DVD next month.

In many ways the Round table discussion is better than the talks. Because they are bouncing off ideas, anecdotes, and experiences between them back and forth – and dealing with the common criticisms that they have encountered. Do enjoy, about two hours split in two parts below or watch via this link here

Part One

Part Two


Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Religion, Sam Harris