I don’t exist!

David Klinghoffer has outdone himself. For a guy who thinks the discovery of an extrasolar planet is a challenge to materialism, the bar for the dumbest thing he’s ever said is already high, but he has cleared it with room to spare:

In a sense, there are no atheists.

He’s right, in a sense. In the sense that we can arbitrarily redefine words to mean whatever the hell we want them to mean. Let’s look at some equally valid examples:

In a sense, all mammals are descended from snakes.

This is true, in a sense, because I define snakes as small Triassic insectivores.

In a sense, there are no dump trucks.

This is true, in a sense, because I define dump trucks as wine bottles that magically refill themselves.

In a sense, David Klinghoffer is a ghost.

This is true, in a sense, because I define ghosts as human beings who occasionally say monumentally stupid things.

A Ghost Story

David Klinghoffer, in a sense. Image from A Ghost Story, downloaded from IMDB.

Here’s the whole quote, lest I be accused of taking it out of context:

In a sense, there are no atheists. Humans aren’t animals operating on instinct. We continually make choices between competing alternatives, but those choices can’t be made fresh at every turn. Instead, to guide our path, we place our faith in a construction of values. It’s not possible to operate in the world without casting your lot with some such system — just to set your priorities for the day, if nothing else. Systems like that command our loyalty in a god-like fashion even if we don’t ascribe divinity to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to Mr. Klinghoffer for defining me out of existence. My grocery bill is way down, I don’t worry about deadlines anymore, and I don’t even have to pay taxes! Since ghosts presumably don’t worry too much about those things either, I suppose I’ve returned the favor.

In a sense.


  1. Bruce says

    In a sense, an alternative interpretation is that it is Klinghoffer who doesn’t exist.
    Here’s why.
    Descartes said: I think, therefore I am.
    As Klinghoffer works to prove he does not think, the clear conclusion is that it is he that denies his own existence.
    I am satisfied with this logic, in a sense.

  2. rjdownard says

    Presuming David Klinghoffer does exist, it would verify how counterproductive cognitive traits are indeed sustained in some naturally occurring organisms.

    How definitions can trip us up, consider my short version of systematics: all organisms are either cows or not cows. You’ve got to admit, that’s way simpler than that pesky cladistic phylogenetics.

    Btw I see Matt’s new BMC Biology paper is out on “Trait heritability in major transitions” and as Matt’s scheduled to be on my Jan 16th “Evolution Hour” I’ll be sure to have a link to that in the video description. See you then Matt!


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