March 31, 2011


I am still pretty new to Twitter. I am still getting use to how to use it, and how to get the most out of it. I also am still getting used to sorting out who to follow. One person I followed sometime ago is Adam Savage from The Mythbusters. I have been a fan of the show for years. So following Adam and Jamie seemed like a no brainier. What I didn't know from watching the show, (though in retrospect I am not surprised) is the Mythbusters are Humanists.

A few weeks ago Adam tweeted a link to the acceptance speech he gave when he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Harvard Humanists. The speech was given about a year ago, but like me, people are still discovering it.

If you have not come across the speech here it is.

Here are the points he makes as I understand them;

1.People can be good without God
2.We have to take care of ourselves
3.You can appreciate the universe and beauty without God
4.Religion turned it back on truth
5.The primary mover argument is to complex, thus likely to be false
6. We can have no purpose, but still be on a mission

With that little outline lets proceed.

1. This is the mantra of the humanist movement. 'Good without God' or 'Good for Goodness sake'. I have already talked about this in more detail, so I will be brief. When Christian use the word good, they mean more along the lines  of prefect, or without sin, or righteous. When humanists use the word good they mean, morally responsible, law abiding, and more or less nice people. The two things without a doubt overlap but they are two different ways of understanding good. Yes people can be good in the humanist sense without any particulate belief system or any need for any kind of god.

2.I admittedly had a hard time titling this point, or even deciding if it should be one point or three. Here Adam hits on a few things, first prayers effectiveness, second his method of problem solving, and third his reflection on empathy and helping others. His comment that prayer works because it helps us become more aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and others is interesting. I suspect prayer does have that affect. It helps to calm our mind which enables us enter into problem solving mood. But that is hardly the entire story of prayer. Likewise this assessment only covers prayers that are seeking some kind of advice. It hardly addresses times when the problem you face cannot be solved. What can really be done when you are sitting helpless in a funeral parlor, or beside a hospital bed? Prayer is not the same thing as taking a deep breath, and clearing your mind to objectively look at a problem. Prayer is more.

3. Again here I feel that this is a non-starter. I have no doubt a person can appreciate beauty and the universe without a belief in God. Though the Christian and the Humanist may appreciate these things in different ways. However I think it is fair to say we both experience a sense of awe. Maybe the only difference is Christians can move from awe to praise.

4. There is a sad truth to his point here. The fact is Christianity has earned a bad reputation because we refused to talk with people who disagreed with us, and we have harmed people when we should have protected them.These are things that we need to apologize for and move on. We need to take seriously our call to love children as Jesus did, and to love God with all our minds.

5.It is these last two points that Adam moves from his personal observations to something more in line with theological or philosphoal reflection. And it is here we move beyond just being able to say, 'Well your experience may be X, but mine is Y.' Adam states that the primary mover argument for God, while it cannot be disproved, can be safely ignored. He thinks this because it is the most complex idea about the formation of the universe, so Ockham's razor defeats it. First let me say, I am not convinced that this is true. I do not think that invoking a primary mover is in some way more complex than the alternatives.

Lets take a look at the alternatives for a minute. If not a primary mover than what? Do we live in an unobservable multi-verse? Where one universe gives birth to another and another. But how did the first universe start? Or did the universe just spontaneously appear? Thus after eons of nothing all of a sudden a universe showed up uncaused by anything? Or did the universe come into existence through an infinite series of depend causes? Of course that can't be true because sooner or later we must run into something that started the whole process, something that itself was not caused.

All of this aside I think in any situation Ockham's razor can only tells us part of the story. After all there have been many simple explanations that needed to be discarded once they proved untrue. For example we used to believe the world was made up of four elements; earth, fire, wind, and water. That rather simple explication had to give way to the more complex and more factual periodic table. The natural world being made out of four elements may be the most simple explanation available, but it is still wrong. In the end more complex is not the same as untrue. 

6. I found this idea of being on a mission, even if life has no purpose to be interesting. I understand the idea, I even find it admirable. Everyone wants to think their life has some meaning and will have some lasting impact. However if the humanist position is correct every mission ultimately ends in failure. 

Maybe it is because our young adult group is currently studying Ecclesiastes but as I read the story about the Eagle all that was running through my head was, 'vanity, vanity a chasing after the wind'. If death is the end, if 70-100 years (if I am lucky) is all I get, than everything really is vanity. 

No matter how much knowledge I gain, no matter how much wealth I acquire, no matter how much pleasure I indulge in death will sallow it all up. The sands of time will erase my name from this world likely within a few decades. The most I could hope for is that I become one of the very few people that does something that is worth remembering. But even than, sooner or later the human race will end. Either we'll blow ourselves up, or an illness will get the better of us, or the sun will explode or the universe will run out of gas. Now this may take hundreds, or thousands, or millions, or even billions of years, but sooner or later everything ever done will come to an end, forgotten, locked away in a dead cold universe. Our mission whatever it was, will have been for nothing.

In the end there is a lot we can walk away from as we digest this speech. It shows that we need to work hard on a number of fronts. We need to show the world we can use our minds with the best of them. We need to trumpet the power of prayer. We need to strive for moral excellence. And we need to be aware that everyone no matter what their worldview is, are looking for meaning. We need to show them we have found it.

Well not really, there was nothing to bust so to speak.
I just wanted to use the graphic.
I mean what would you have done?!


  1. Christopher,

    I, like you, am fairly new at this tweeting thing and never too sure... what's next.

    I was a bit surprise to see you following an "atheist". I am curious why you would do so? Fine by me.

    But I don't think that religious people get that a person can not be a believer. Just a comment on one of your assertion.

    It is a fallacy to say that as an atheist, i have no purpose. I have the purpose I give myself. And it is not by vanity, it is by design. Natural design.And it brings me meaning.
    Also, it irritate me when life is reduced to ...just a few years on earth, then death? why bother? It demeans the commentator.

    Why do you have this instant to live... if you reject it as worthless? This instant exists for this instant.What you find in it is the purpose of your existence. When you get that...

  2. I get that people cannot be believers. There are lots of reasons for disbelief in my system, and any number of reasons to believe in others, or in nothing at all.

    I think that most art, science, religion and charity are attempts to participate in something that is bigger than ourselves. We want to make a lasting impact. We want something to out last us.

    I have no doubt that you and lots of others find purpose and meaning in lots of things. I don't mean to belittle the happiness you have found.

    My point is that the mission we self assign if there is no God is doomed to failure. Sooner or later whatever we did, whatever monument we built will fade away.

    Living in the moment, enjoying the instant may bring a great deal of satisfaction. But sooner or later you run out of moments.

    I think it is a far question to ask if nothing lasts does anything matter?

    I like the poem Ozymandias I think it says a lot,

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear:
    `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away".

  3. Yes... But what is the point of all forms? They come, they shine for a moment, they go. Not even to be remembered.

    In all of these moments... is inscribed ALL that exists. Even in the life span of a grain of sand.

  4. I appreciate, even enjoy the poetry and romance of that idea, that every moment of every thing shines with the brightness of a thousand stars, containing within it the sum total of the universe.

    But you did not answer your own question, what is the point? Is the point to experience it? The experience will one day be lost forever. The point of existence, cannot be 'to exist'.

    And even if it could be sooner or later we will not exist. We will have failed to hold on to the point. The universe is not eternal, though it is long lived. It is finite. And if all there is, is finite, nothing can have everlasting meaning.

  5. The next sentence was the answer. (All) is there,in this moment. What we capture... with our senses, with our mind, with our experience of being... is the point, the purpose of being alive (now).

    (On the attack now!): But the religious person looking to an exalted after-death MOMENT diminishes the present moment, and she/he is left saying:"is this all there is?" Never to know... what this moment is capable of meaning.(Thus, the great damage cause by religion.)

  6. Non-religious people have no sense of eternity, religious people have no sense of urgency. Both have immense value... the problem is when one side succeeds in overwhelming/negating the other. For better or worse(probably the latter), religious communities have long been the most organized and ambitious and so the many people who live their lives on "auto-pilot" are told to believe that this life has no urgency and the fate of our world is not at all in our hands (read: an excuse to be ignorant/unchanging)
    Now I would argue that the sheep of the world lack any sense of eternity, and their choices are made with too much urgency (fueled by greed, or some immoderate arbitrary passion) and so we are left with the opposite problem but many of the same symptoms (an impending sense of doom and no meaningful connection with/respect for mother nature).

    I would praise God with you, Christopher, for all the same reasons, if I did not feel that the foundations of your established religious doctrine were among the greatest and most manipulative scams ever pulled over the hearts of man. I commend you for working within the confines of this difficult framework to expand your spiritual well being (and more admirably, the people around you).

    -Shelby Drope

  7. Albert- You have a fair point. One can rightly criticize Christians as believing that life begins after death. That the now, the present, is in some way of no or little value.

    However not every Christian would agree with that. I certainly do not. And that is not what Jesus taught.

    He taught that our choices, our actions in the present carry consequences for better or worse into eternity. And not just a choice (as in belief or disbelief in God), but all of our choices.

    In many ways we have forgotten that. That is why many Christians have been no friend of the environment. Because they felt that the earth and how we treat it doesn't matter since it is temporal. But I would argue that that line of thinking misses the point of who God is and his redemptive plan entirely.

  8. Shelby- First I will say thank you. Given your response clearly I have some work do to, but your admiration thus fair is appreciated.

    Second I will say I think you may need to reflect more critically on history. Without a doubt you could rattle off a number of atrocities that were either perpetrated by or allowed by people of faith. Christians who claimed to be salt and light of the earth, and the holders of the keys of the kingdom have some apologizing to do.

    However a great deal of good has also been done, and currently is being done. The church is the largest charity and aid organization in the world, we build schools, care of the poor, work with the sick. We go in to forgotten and desolate places and try to help. Christians have helped to create hospitals (St John of the Cross), public schools (there was Sunday school before public education), Christians were at the forefront of abolishing slavery. We run soup kitchens, clothing drives, and free foot clinics for those who living on the street. We have created systems to offer and manage micro loans to people in 3rd world countries so they can buy goats, chickens and farm equipment helping to end the cycle of poverty heartless corporations have trapped them in.

    Yes at times we have faltered. But to say that to net impact of Christianity on the world has been negative shows you have more reading to do.

  9. One more word. Shelby... the now is eternal. Eternity is a continuous present. (Eternity has no beginning and no ending... just a present.) There is not another eternity beginning at death.This one instant is it

    That is why, Christopher, there is no "God".The now... your now, my now, everybody's, every particle of matter... contains all there is.

    Yes, religious people do some good. Of course.But keeping the the flock in suspended animation, till death, telling them that they are sinners, that the things of the world are not worth the goods of heaven...causes them to abdicate their present human power... and fall prey to "heartless" people and corporation.

    this is the life all that are alive have.

  10. I thought all evening on how to respond to your last point.

    First let me say that I think you are right in something that you say. If we had the capacity to open our minds, to everything that is happening everywhere at any given moment awe would be the only appropriate response.

    However let me respond to two things that you said. Eternity does not have to mean no beginning and no end. It can mean that, but it doesn't have too. Eternity can in fact mean that something had a starting point and than continued on forever.

    Numbers are one such example, the universe itself may be another the jury seems to be still out on that one.

    Also even if your definition of eternity were true, I find I do not follow your jump from there, to 'that is why there is no God'. Simply repeating that the now is all there is does not prove your point. Nor does it make it true.

    I have never found time to be a very effective defeater for the existence of God. Be that too much time , which seems to be your point, or two little which seems to be Richard Dawkins.

    Thank you for spending time on the blog and engaging with me. Feel free to drop by again.