Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jim Speaks

My dear and brilliant friend Jim has a nice humanism post.


James said...


Right up-front, I apologize for the ridiculous length of this post. (Maybe I can be forgiven since, in effect, I wrote this blog entry? lol)

I didn't know you are now a confirmed atheist! Congratulations! I'm thrilled to hear it! Welcome to the light. :)

I absolutely agree with what you posted in your first blog entry, regarding the various "arguments" on both sides. I've had precisely the same sort of reversion (as opposed to conversion) you've had: I value truth above all, so I simply refuse to lie to myself. This single guiding principle has led me inexorably to atheism, and I, like you, feel much better about my beliefs now than I ever have before. (I also agree with you about having qualms being publicly open about it.)

Of course, I've heard the various whacko (non)arguments by Aquinas, et al., too. And, many, many online arguers. But, even after 20+ years of hearing only the religionist "arguments", it took nothing more than a devotion to truth and honesty, and an open-minded examination of the FACTS, to convince me religion is all a load of crap.

I probably started along this path before you did, so I may (or may not) have spent more time reading and thinking about these things. If you want to talk about stuff, just let me know. I enjoy a good talk, especially with someone who's not going to flip-out over the issue. lol

In case you care, here's a cross-section of books/articles (and brief comments) I've read that are at least somewhat on the topic, and which come right to mind. I'm probably forgetting some, too, though.

George H. Smith: "Atheism, The Case Against God"
Pretty dry philosophical book, but makes some very good points---such as the fact that some of the listed characteristics of the Christian god are contradictory in and of themselves. lol

Bertrand Russell: "Why I Am Not A Christian"
Still philosophical, but dips more into life (such as Christianity's ridiculous obsession with sex).

Carl Sagan: "The Demon-Haunted World, Science As A Candle In The Dark"
An excellent book. Highly recommended. My dad borrowed mine and liked it so much that he bought his own copy before he even finished reading it. He returned my copy and finished reading his own. lol

Sam Harris: "The End of Faith"
Pretty good book, overall, but rather abrasive to the religious (probably because most of what he writes is true, and they can't argue effectively against it). I agree with most of what he writes, but I think he gets a little carried away with Buddhism.

Sam Harris: "Letter To A Christian Nation"
Again, a good book. Largely just a summary of "End of Faith", but does include some new information to make points more succinctly. A very quick read, but, ironically, it's probably best in the context of having read "End of Faith".

Richard Dawkins: "The God Delusion"
Both philosophical and scientific. Well-written, good book. I already knew much of it, but still good. Dawkins is a very lucid, to-the-point thinker and writer.

Richard Dawkins: "The Selfish Gene"
A really excellent book that is probably always misunderstood by "the opposition" and misconstrued as dealing with selfishness at the individual level. It's not. In fact, it deals primarily with evolutionary explanations of altruistic behavior which, I think everyone would agree, is quite different!

Richard Dawkins: "The Blind Watchmaker" (almost finished)
Layman-targeted description of evolution. Some of the points made are really good. Dawkins does not shy-away from traditional arguments "against" Darwinism; he utterly demolishes them by showing how some either completely miss the point (and are total non-arguments) or unknowingly actually support Darwinism! lol Also a very good book. (Having read three of his books now, I think I can safely say that ANY Dawkins book is worth reading. I know he himself is especially proud of his "The Extended Phenotype", which I might eventually get around to reading.)

Christopher Hitchens: "God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything"
An interesting read with many, MANY specific examples of how religion fubars everything. I thought I'd read it for a different sort of take on "anti-religion" (a journalistic, non-scientific approach). Overall, a decent book, but I think several parts degenerate into little more than mudslinging/ranting, which weakens the overall impact. Still, the plethora of specific references are interesting.

The Kitzmiller court decision (Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al.).
Oh boy... during this past winter, Michael Behe (leading proponent of the so-called "intelligent design" (ID) movement, and author of books such as "Darwin's Black Box") visited here, and I attended all three of his presentations. As I stated, I value truth, and I felt it was only fair to give him a hearing to see what he had to say---directly from him, with no intermediate interpretations or distortions by others. I thought a few of his points seemed fairly reasonable (and some did not)... until I actually researched some of his assertions and discovered they are bald-faced LIES! I strongly recommend that you read through this court case. It's a pretty quick and easy read (I skipped the footnotes), and I learned more about ID from it than I have learned from anything else I've ever read. It also has the advantage of being an official legal document, which requires that it be as straightforwardly honest and fair about the topic as is possible (AND, it was written by a conservative Christian judge---who systematically exposes the fraud that is ID). Read it, read it, read it! It's 139 pages, but it's large text and double-spaced. You can get it here:
or here:

(After reading the Kitzmiller decision, watch this: Seriously. Watch it!)

Gregory S. Paul article, published in the Journal of Religion & Society: "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies"
Very interesting article that compiles data from numerous sources and notes a particular correlation. It does not necessarily prove that giving-up religion is societally positive, but it does show that it's NOT negative (as it seems all religionists think)! Note the plots near the end, especially. You can get the article here:

In addition to the list above, I've watched a variety of things, too. Examples include "The Root Of All Evil?", parts 1 and 2, by Dawkins (about religion in general), and numerous youtube videos. (Check my favorites at, if you want.) Also--sort of related--I STRONGLY recommend you buy the "Cosmos" DVD set, by Carl Sagan. It's a truly excellent 13-part TV series on science that aired back in the '80s.

Of course, I've read other books, too. Like Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" (which is good, as is usual for Sagan--book and TV series are related) and Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" (which was alright, I guess; a very cynical novel, though). Sometime in the near future, I hope to read "Moral Minds", by Marc Hauser (mentioned in "The God Delusion", and looks absolutely fascinating--about the evolution of morality), and "Losing Faith In Faith", by Dan Barker (a Christian pastor-turned-atheist). I'd also like to read some of the works of Spinoza and Paine, and read the original "On The Origin Of Species", by Darwin. And, I'm sure there are other things I'm forgetting at the moment. (Oh yeah--perhaps "Doubt: A History", by Jennifer Michael Hecht.)

Anyway... do YOU have any recommendations for ME? :)

Again, sorry about the insanely long post. (I guess I'm just excited to hear of your progress!) hehe


P.S. Since you mentioned "telling the parents" (in another blog entry), this is on-topic: Right at this very moment, I am ironing-out the wrinkles on a gentle, but honest, letter in response to an "invitation to return to the church" letter my grandpa wrote to me. *sigh*

Iron Soul said...

Jimmery Jim!!!

Hey Thanks for the commnet. Between you and herb I may never finish my reading list. I've probably read about half of you suggestions. Harris, Hitchens, some Dawkins, the Kitzmiller transcript. I'm somewhat intimidated by Spinoza, but I definitly want to read Bertrand Russel and Carl Sagan. As for suggestions, I've really enjoyed reading the Pharyngula blog (linked to on my page). Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil is pretty good. I also recommend the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast. They spend a lot of time debunking lots of various pseudo-science as well as religion. They've managed to make a full fledged skeptic out of me. Though the truth is I really was only missing the atheist part anyway. Finally Douglas Adams. I'm sure you are aware of his stuff from reading Dawkins, but get Salmon of Doubt. Some nice essays and stuff in there, and as always humorous.

James said...

See... I knew I'd forgotten things! lol

I own and have read "The Salmon of Doubt".

I've also read some Shermer---specifically, "Why People Believe Weird Things".

I've watched things by James Randi and Penn & Teller, and also some rather interesting studies/documentaries on the power of belief, as well as atheism specifically. Examples include, amongst others:

"The Power of Belief" with John Stossel. I watched it in only two parts (on youtube), but that version's apparently been removed. However, I found the same documentary split into five parts:
/watch?v=B6FhmqgFKIQ (1)
/watch?v=BR6MCGKZPEM (2)
/watch?v=xq2giPQGKOk (3)
/watch?v=DmghKcUMaoM (4)
/watch?v=75URTf4Jtw8 (5)
Many of the topics covered are far more interesting than others. For example, I think the study of children right near the beginning is fascinating.

Penn & Teller (a famous atheist duo) clip on Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

And, a perfect analogy to religious behavior, but involving dowsing (a film-documented James Randi experiment):

"The Price of Atheism" with John Stossel:

Dawkins' classic answer to the idiocy that is "Pascal's Wager":

And, of course, the rest of my favorites listing. :)

(Another John Stossel presentation is in my favorites listing, although it is unrelated to atheism---"20/20 Stupid in America". He seems like a pretty cool reporter.)

Check out . It has interviews with lots of significant people (including Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Ann Druyan, Christopher Hitchens, Francis Collins, Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, James Randi, Dan Dennett, Ibn Warraq, and many others). You can get them as podcasts.

Finally, on a somewhat different note, check out the presentations at . Although only a tiny fraction are of any particular relevance to atheism, they are still almost universally excellent presentations.

(Yet again, I'm sure I'm forgetting things... but, oh well. hehe)

Lori said...

You guys sound like a bunch of nerdos, you know, but I love you anyway. How am I ever going to get caught up on all this reading? Jim, your blog was great.

James said...

I thought of a couple more books I've read that I forgot to list.

Sean B. Carroll: "The Making of the Fittest"
Really good book that goes into some of the intricate details of the DNA evidence for evolution. A little bit technical, but still definitely targeted at the layperson. Pretty interesting.

Walter Alvarez: "T. Rex and the Crater of Doom"
Book about the hypothesis of, search for, and discovery of, the impact crater (Chixchulub) that was responsible for the mass extinction (including the dinosaurs) 65 million years ago. Very quick read, and surprisingly interesting.

James said...

Oh geez. Here are several more I've read. (We really need to keep in better touch, so the list doesn't get so long! lol)

Stephen Jay Gould: "Eight Little Piggies"
Interesting compilation of essays, some better than others. Overall, a pretty good book. (I wouldn't necessarily say "must read!" But, it's good.)

Stephen Hawking: "A Brief History of Time"
Obviously a famous science book, a classic. I think you've read this one already, right?

Brian Greene: "The Elegant Universe"
Interesting book about string theory (and M theory). Pretty far "out there", but definitely still interesting, even if often difficult to follow. hehe (It has a great intro about relativity and stuff.)

Richard P. Feynman: "The Meaning of it All, Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist"
Quick, easy, fun, interesting read. Feynman's thoughts on science, values, and more. (Other Feynman books are also good, like "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?".)

Edwin A. Abbott: "Flatland"
More of a math book, really. Still a fun, reasonably easy read. And very quick.

(I suppose it's not particularly relevant to list the Terry Pratchett (Discworld) books I've read. But, I know you like Douglas Adams' writing, and so I would strongly recommend them to you! They're great, and of a somewhat similar style to Adams. And, there are lots of them! :) I've also read "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert Heinlein (by the end, I thought it was pretty whacko hippie/cult-like stuff presented in fantasy/sci-fi form). And, I read the MASSIVE "Atlas Shrugged", by Ayn Rand, which was shockingly fascinating to read---although a daunting task to undertake. (I'd definitely recommend it, even though she herself was sort've a nut. It's good.) And, "Shadow of the Giant", by Orson Scott Card (the latest, and perhaps last, book in the "Ender's Game" series, if you've read any of that fantasy/sci-fi set). And, "The Da Vinci Code", by Dan Brown (poorly-written and WAY over-hyped, in my opinion; a bit of a page-turner, but nothing special). And, "Sundiver", by David Brin (a decent sci-fi novel, I suppose, but nothing stellar). If you happen to like fantasy/sci-fi stuff, I'd recommend "The Player of Games", by Iain M. Banks. Don't give up on it; give it a chance to get going.)

Iron Soul said...

Yes I've read Hawking's book. I'm intrigued by the pratchett books. I've read lots of Feynman's stuff, but not the one you mentioned first. I enjoyed the DaVinchi Code enough that I read Angels and Demons in Spanish. I like a plot dominated novel now and then to rest my brain, though reading in spanish was a differnt kind of mental workout.

Iron Soul said...

These are the books we talked about earlier.

The Seven Daughters of Eve - Brian Sykes. Oxford geneticist. Deals with ancestry based on mDNA.

Before the Dawn - Nicholas Wade.
Similar to the above, but recruiting evidence from multiple disciplines.

See also: Adams Curse - Brian Sykes. Similar, traces y-chromosome distribution.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

[reposted to fix a typo]
Here are two more, both by Ron Numbers, a former Adventist who is now at UW Madison and is a big name in the history of science.

The Creationists

Prophetess of Health [about you-know-who]

The first book is probably the most authoritative and best history of creationism out there. Very interesting, especially for Adventists. The second book is the one that got him fired (I think) from LLU.