I just read the talk given by PZ Myers at the Global Atheist convention and loved it! It had me saying Yes! Yes! when he talked about science, and had me in tears when he talked about us being a social species.
It was a long read, but well worth it. Here’s a few select passages that impressed me.
They are less than half of his talk and the ideas will not fit together as well as his complete talk, but you can read the entire talk at:
“The most brilliant thing Christianity ever did was to take that idea of the Word, that concept of identity wrapped up in an abstract set of ideas and stories, and to open it up to everyone. Aww, Rome fell? You’re all alone? Here, we can help you find yourself, we can give a new meaning to your life, we have a standard that you can hold high and find unity with a greater people. It’s called the Bible.
I repeat, absolutely brilliant. It made Christianity bulletproof.
Cities fall. Kings die. Bloodlines fade. But ideas can go on and on and on. Now, a 21st century person can feel continuity with a 5th century priest; an American can share a central element of their self with someone in South Africa, with someone in China, with someone in Australia; heck, with someone on the space station, or walking on the moon.
Ideas can change the world.
This is something atheists share in common with Christians; you’ll get no argument from the believers in any religion that ideas can change the world. It’s what they’ve been doing for thousands of years, usually for the worse.
But….You can kill an idea.
Read the pronouncements of popes and archbishops, read the newspapers and web columns, look to the priests in their pulpits, and you’ll see something wonderful: they are reacting to the rise of the New Atheists in the same way the Roman establishment reacted to the Visigoths appearing on the horizon. I cannot blame them for being fearful; we are galloping towards the central ideas of their identity, and we aim to tear down their walls and replace their obsolete myths with change and something more vital.
Deep in their heart of hearts, they fear that a sequel to St Augustine’s City of God is in the works, and it’s going to be written by an atheist…and it will speak of a brand new world and new opportunities, it will create a new ecumene of people united under something other than the folly of faith.
So how do you kill an idea? How will we sack the city of faith? By coming up with a better, more powerful idea.
Fortunately, our idea has been incubating for a few centuries, and has involved multitudes of our civilization’s greatest minds.
It’s called science.
Science is our weapon, our god-killer. It’s the greatest tool humanity has ever invented — it’s taken us from a hodge-podge of bickering near-savages living in the mud and dying young of disease and childbirth and starvation and sword-pokes to a hodge-podge of bickering near-savages who sometimes walk on the moon, who sometimes cure diseases, who live twice as long as our predecessors, who can look deep into cells or far out to distant galaxies. It has given us great power to accomplish marvelous things or to screw up the whole planet.
Science also has the power to transform our sense of identity. Some of us are no longer People of the Word, members of a special tribe bound together by the narratives and rules in quaint old books. We are instead the People of Reality: we are united by common knowledge, by a sense of universality, by our commitment to evidence.
The words of my people are written in the strands of DNA I find in every cell of my body, and the story they tell is clear and inspiring. We are all products of the natural world; stars died to create the elements we are made of, and 4 billion years of churning life struggled and was born and died to shape us. We are close kin to every single human being on the planet, without exception — there is no tribe that is outside our family. And even deeper, we are related to every living thing on earth. You simply cannot get any more universal than the scientific story of life.
There’s another reason I can take pride in science. Science has real power. Science actually works. But maybe I should actually take a moment to define what science is.
Science is the process that does its damnedest to figure out how stuff actually works, rather than how we wished it worked.
You know, I kinda wish peach pits actually cured cancer, but I think it’s more important to do the experiments and measure the results and see if they really do…because if they don’t, I think it would be a good idea for people to move on to more effective treatments.
When theologians argue, they try to resolve differences by turning to murky sources remote from anything fundamental: they open their holy texts, they cite fellow theologians, they try to reinterpret words that have been reinterpreted many times before. Have you ever heard scientists argue, though? They do all the time. But they don’t resolve issues by appealing to higher authorities: they don’t usually argue that because Richard Dawkins said it, it’s settled. They don’t argue that we have to parse Charles Darwin’s words a little more finely to arrive at the truth.
No, they say, “I’m going into the lab and do an experiment to test that proposition.”
They say, “I’m going to build a new instrument to measure that and see who’s right.” Our only authority is reality, and that’s what we test all of our inferences against.
Science and religion are in opposition. Faith is the atheist’s enemy. Remember, science is a process for figuring out how the world actually works. If you short-circuit the process and declare that you already have the answer, you just have to believe, then you are an enemy of science. If you simply assert your desired conclusion, and ignore the fact that reality is rarely about the answer you want, you’re an enemy of science. Truth is often uncomfortable, you have to value it because it is true, not because it makes you feel good.
Perhaps you’re a moderate, you support good science, education, and the environment, you just love Jesus or Mohammed, too.
I’m sorry, but I don’t like you. I’ll concede that you are doing less direct harm, and I will thank you for your support of shared causes, and I’ll also happily work alongside you in those causes, but I also think you are still doing indirect harm to foundational principles of a rational society. You believe in some outrageous bullshit.
You promote unreason by telling people that it is OK to believe in some things without evidence, and even in contradiction to evidence and reason. You are cafeteria realists, and you undermine the essential goal of bringing the whole of humanity out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of the real world.
I tell such people that the universe is clearly lacking in gods and supernatural forces, so grow up and set all that nonsense aside. Join us and become a good atheist — you’ll be much happier and will waste less time in pointless just-pretend foolishness
We (atheists) are not sheep. We love people who stand up for themselves, we detest people who try to impose rules on us —
we find common cause with the people who have also been oppressed by this racist patriarchal culture we live in
I can think of no clearer example than a struggle that has riven the online atheist community for the last year or two, the effort to acknowledge the role of women in atheism. For years, the face of atheism has been white, male, and middle-aged, and a certain complacency had settled in — women by default had their role, as wives or organizers, and we had adopted a casually masculine expectation that all of our intellectual leaders would look like, well, me. Atheist meetings looked a lot like meetings of the Mormon leadership.
women have even more reason to be pissed off at religion than men, and they are a fast-growing segment of our community.
Our ranks are swelling with fierce independent women who are changing us, making us stronger and louder, and standing up for their causes and making all of us fight for women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and equality of opportunity.
If you are a human being with real world concerns, who wants to change the world, who wants to contribute in a unique way that encourages those diverse views, then you should be one of us.
The club is only closed to people who fuss about an imaginary afterlife, getting right with an imaginary god, conforming to an arbitrary dogma, and who think the most useless act of all, prayer, is a contribution you deserve thanks for.
Three weeks ago, we had a wonderful meeting in Washington DC,the Reason Rally. 20,000 people gathered together in utterly miserable weather — it was cold, and it rained all day. I walked around in the crowds, and you know what? Everyone was smiling. Nobody was complaining (except for the cranky protesters on the fringe). The policemen monitoring the crowd were smiling. Goddamn, if I were the Grinch my heart would have grown three sizes that day.
We are a social species, and we thrive in communities, it’s how we have survived and grown so far. And atheists, contrary to some of our critics, are fully human, not aliens at all.
This willing cooperativity is something we have to value. We humans are different from other species in this regard.
You know that in the childhood of our species, we were prey to the predators of the African continent. Alone, we were soft, weak, and tasty, and I’m sure the lions and leopards enjoyed a hominid snack. But together…I’m sure that when some ferocious big cat came upon a tribe of humans, together, and when they all turned 10 or 15 pairs of eyes on the predator and reached for stones and sharpened sticks, that cat felt fear and slunk away. Those eyes, those hunter’s eyes on the front of the face…when a group of us turn those eyes in cold calculation on any problem, when our hands work together, we are the most powerful force on the planet.
Yesterday I was listening to our Christian protesters outside, and I thought, “Huh. So that’s what you get when you give a sheep a microphone, amplified bleating.” There they were, calling on everyone to deny the richness of human experience and join the flock in the narrow boring confines of the sheep pen.
You are not sheep. You, my brothers and sisters in atheism, are a fierce, coordinated hunting pack — men and women working together, and those other bastards have cause to fear us. So let’s do it: make them tremble as we demolish the city of god.”