Maybe he has a Ph.D. in philosophy, and that’s why he’s driving a bus?

Mr Ron Heather, Unprofessional Bus Driver and Pompous Faith-Head, has decided to become briefly famous for his stupidity by refusing to do his job and drive a bus with advertising on it.

Mr Heather told BBC Radio Solent: “I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror.

“I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven’t got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did.

“I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.”

Apparently, passing an intelligence test is not required to qualify for a job driving a bus, since a sign that says, “There probably is no god” does do a little more than merely imply — it’s a simple declarative sentence. I think he’s also a little confused if he thinks his role as the guy with the steering wheel and brakes is to provide intellectual heft to the plethora of adverts sprinkled over his bus.

Although…when the Pope gets me fired and excommunicated, if he spares me house arrest, I think I ought to get a nice relaxing job driving a bus. I’d go in in the morning, look over the signage, and announce, “Shock horror, I don’t like that brand of shampoo. I think I better go home for a nice lie down.” “Shock horror, Victoria’s Secret? I really need a lie down.” “Shock horror, BILL O’REILLY? Boss, I need the week off. With a bonus for trauma.”

I think I could be the most sensitive and delicate bus driver ever, if I tried.


  1. Cheyenne says

    “I think I could be the most sensitive and delicate bus driver ever, if I tried.”

    But then you couldn’t work on your blog as much! How else could you stoke your ego?! ;)

  2. Matt7895 says

    Exactly. If this man had refused to drive the bus because he didn’t like the brand of shampoo advertised, or the film (although if it was an Eddie Murphy ‘comedy’, I would somewhat understand), or because it advertised meat and he happened to be vegetarian, he would be sacked in an instant.

    It’s so frustrating that people get special privileges depending on which imaginary friend they have. This man is a bigot, pure and simple, but instead of being chastised by his employers, he gets a sympathetic arm around the shoulder.

  3. says

    Isn’t it obvious?

    On the day that the Catholic Church decides desecrating a biscuit is a higher sin than genocide, it’s clear that this frightened fellow is terrified of his vehicle being the subject of some holy smiting. The desert ghost will ignore all that small stuff like, oh, wars, melting ice caps and Fox News but will focus his omnipotent eye on a bus.

  4. Rob C. says

    On the other hand, driving a bus with that declaration on it would put him on the front line, where he would necessarily catch the brunt of the memetic immune system response. If he’d said instead “Sorry, I wouldn’t be able to drive the bus with all the idiotic godbots yammering at me about it, and who knows, they’re crazy enough that someone, maybe a drunken godbot, could pull a knife on me, and that happens enough as it is.” then I might agree with his refusal. No hazard pay for bus-driving, after all.

    But that’s not what he said.

  5. Quiet_Desperation says

    my first reaction was shock horror

    Not just shock! Not just horror! It’s shock horror!

    Ask for it by name. Now on sale at WalMart, Target and creepy gas stations across the face of America!

  6. Tulse says

    The atheist bus ads may be coming to Toronto soon

    Hoody hoo! Where’s my credit card?

    (Although I can’t imagine the ads causing any stink here — T.O. is pretty multicultural and laid back about religion.)

  7. ice9 says

    I appreciate the man’s perspective. I hope he is not fired. Not because I oppose the sentiment in the ad; I embrace it. But remember–the purpose of the campaign, and every atheist’s experience, is that the drift of expectation in the US and UK is toward a backdrop of religion, and assumption of religion, a constant muzak of religion in every elevator of the culture. It will take time to create an alternative. I see no evidence in the account that the driver was among that group of people who have determined to impose their religion on us all by any means they can. The hallmark of the imposers is grandstanding, intellectual dishonesty, weaselly assumptions, and a highly flexible concept of principle. This guy just said, “I can’t drive that bus.” Then he went home. I kind of admire that, if the accounts accurately convey his simple refusal. Now when he’s held up as a martyr, maneuvered by godswopped christinists into refusing to drive any bus and getting fired for it, plunged into a media whirlpool, lionized by the World Nuts, and sent to Israel as Fred the Bus Driving Journalist to humiliate bus drivers everywhere, then I’ll be contemptuous. But give him a chance to go home, have a spot, chat with his wife, consider the economic realities, return to work and take his turn driving the Satan Bus with every other chap in the shop, maybe working out a trade so as to maintain a calm conscience (it is his, after all, regardless of how shaped and deceived)–if he is never heard from again, in other words–then we gave him time enough to be reasonable, understand what is right, ignore the strident hyenas, and get on with it. It is reasonable to give the regular folk a chance to think things through when confronted with major shifts in what they believe.


  8. Seanjjordan says

    PZ, you’ve got an italics tag on this post that didn’t close. It’s making the whole body italicized following the second-to-last graf.

  9. Robert Thille says

    It’s amazing and impressive just how effectively religion has insulated itself from criticism. One sentence on the side of a bus can cause such a reaction. I doubt sentences like “Eat babies, they taste great” would cause such reactions.

  10. AJ says

    The Jebus people hurt my brain and the italics font hurts my eyes. I guess it is easier to get rid of the latter, so let’s start with that!

  11. Holbach says

    Well hell, why didn’t he get his god to rip the sign off the bus, and while doing that, reduce the bus to it’s molecular structure? What better way to enhance and enforce his insane belief in bullshit? Where the hell is that god when you need it?

  12. says

    This is awesome news.

    By this logic, I can now refuse to go to work any time I’m concerned one of my co-workers is going to put some religious insanity in an email to me. Or any time I see any faith based anything in anyone’s office space that I might have to walk by at least once on my way to my desk. The starkness of their propaganda, boldly asserting that there’s some sort of Invisible Sky Fairy infringing on my personal freedoms 24/7, makes me so verklempt that I’m not even sure I can function in the office at all (the fact that it’s a Friday afternoon is entirely coincidental…) for the rest of today.

  13. says

    Of course, this works both ways!

    Any atheist, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Pagan or whatever now gets a free pass not to drive a bus with a Christian slogan on it; and if questioned about it, they only have to mention two words: “Ron Heather”.

    (I haven’t seen any of the atheist buses here in Derby [N52.92, W1.47] yet. Anyone got a list of where they are based?)

  14. Chris says

    Just so you know, philosophy majors have the highest average LSAT scores of all American college students. So, thanks for making a crack about a field that isn’t yours, just in the future try only making ones that are supported by the evidence.

  15. clinteas says

    Oh my,italics hell again….

    Actually,i was wondering whether some bus driver would object to driving around with an atheist ad,im just surprised it took so long lol…

  16. says

    You know…if we started buying ads for billboards near churches, someone would certainly frame that as persecution.

    I say we do it.

  17. says

    Let me assure you that it is no coincidence that this web page has been condemned to eternal italics. The Vatican is in Italy after all. (Some would say Vatican City, but with my recent proclamation against demonic visions of the Virgin Mary, I’m obviously trying to keep it real.)

    Behold the format-corrupting power of our Lord.

  18. Bogans says

    What’s with all these news stories I’ve been seeing lately that exist solely to let fragile people describe their horrified reactions to trivial things? That’s not news.

  19. says

    My bus driver talks loudly about Jesus and church & even made one lady pull out his bag so he could show her The Purpose Driven Life once.
    I could easily see him doing the same thing.

  20. Alan C says

    We should be grateful that Mr. Heather has given us so much free publicity.

    The irony is that the campaign was partly sponsored by Christians!

  21. Spyderkl says

    Nope, italics still aren’t closed. There is a cat here trying to help me type – maybe she can close it.
    Guess not.

    Poor little Ron Heather – I can’t imagine what he would do if they left out the word “probably” on the bus ad. His head would have exploded.

    #12: I hear what you’re saying, and I hope that will happen in Mr. Heather’s case. But I don’t think I’d be holding my breath that he’ll have even a gradual change of heart about his religion.

  22. Miguel says

    I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.

    Because nothing says “starkness” like uncertainty. Absolute git.

  23. Chupacabras says

    What about all those red “Stop” signs that are all around? That is too negative – I’m feeling depressed already!

  24. minusRusty says

    [his] first reaction was shock horror.

    Reminds me of a time a couple of years ago when I was working at an atheist booth at a local event.

    We were giving away water at the booth, and at one point in the afternoon, a man comes into the area looking around like he was looking for something (like maybe free water?), turns around, sees our sign, gets this ghastly disgusted look on his face, and immediately turned away in a big hurry. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at his reaction, and he heard me and just gave me a bitter look. “Hey, wait, come on over and talk to us, we won’t bite!” I yelled, but he was nearly at a run trying to get away… ROFL!


  25. Gustavus says

    Just so you know, philosophy majors have the highest average LSAT scores of all American college students.

    I keep hearing this and similar statements. I’m personally skeptical, because the average philosophy student seems to me…well, not all that bright. Can someone please confirm or disconfirm this alleged statistic?

  26. Your Mighty Overload says

    Ice et al.

    I highly doubt Mr Heather refused his pay for that day of work HE refused to do.

    I missed the part where bus drivers are asked to decide what adverts are shown on what buses. I mean, they don’t even own the buses….

    If Mr Heather really doesn’t like the companies policy, he should feel free to quit.

  27. says

    People should NOT get a paycheck for the work they protest. They should either A) be fired/find a new line of work, or B) do the job and protest after hours.

    Letting a bus driver pick when to drive based on “moral preference” would let him have his cake and eat it too. Normally the only people who get that combination of freedom AND pay are entrepreneurs/freelancers; but they assume a lot of risk and obtain that freedom at the expense of job stability. It’s basically a “pick two” situation: money, job stability, work discretion. If we give this driver all three, that’s not fair to every other worker in the world (though if you know where I can get high levels of all three, sign me up!)

    Say a freelance graphic designer is offered $1000 to make a huge sign for the KKK. He can easily decline the job because of moral discretion, but then he also has no right to take the Klan’s money. Why would he?

    The bus driver similarly has no right to the bus company’s money if he doesn’t drive the fucking bus.

  28. says

    “Shock horror, Victoria’s Secret? I really need a lie down.”

    Nah, surely not Victoria’s Secret? it might more likely be “Adventures in Odyssey” that would force you flat on your back. :)

  29. Sastra says

    Matt 7895 #3 wrote:

    If this man had refused to drive the bus because he didn’t like the brand of shampoo advertised, or the film (although if it was an Eddie Murphy ‘comedy’, I would somewhat understand), or because it advertised meat and he happened to be vegetarian, he would be sacked in an instant.

    More to the point, if it was an atheist who refused to drive a bus which had religious signs on it (and such buses are common), he would be reprimanded not only by his employer, but by the general public. They’d consider such sensitivity a sign of weakness.

    ice9 #12 wrote:

    This guy just said, “I can’t drive that bus.” Then he went home. I kind of admire that, if the accounts accurately convey his simple refusal.

    If it was the situation I describe above, where an atheist heads for home because of a “Jesus Saves,” would you also admire that? And advise that we hold off our criticism, as atheists to atheist?

    It is reasonable to give the regular folk a chance to think things through when confronted with major shifts in what they believe.

    Yes, but one of the things that helps people “think things through” is being exposed to complaints and argument from the other side.

  30. says

    I think FirstBus run the buses round here too. Perhaps, next time I get on a bus that sports an advert I disagree with, I’ll refuse to pay my fare.

  31. porco dio says

    and if i’m not the first to mention it…, i’ll certainly not be the last…

    if this total fucking wanker refused to drive the bus because there was an advert for a mosque or a gay-pride parade then he’d not only be fired, but even probably dragged before a judge…

    why is it possible to get away with this type of subordination…?

  32. Allen N says

    Chris @ 23..

    And what does that say about the LSAT and what it measures? Don’t take it so hard. Around here the joke goes “How do you find a geologist? ‘Hey waiter'” You may feel free to sub English major, physics doctorate holder or other other degree as you wish.

  33. OctoberMermaid says

    Jesus, a bus driver just refused to work? How will we ever find someone to replace him on such short notice!?

  34. Andyo says

    porco dio #46,

    I think that’s a great idea, I think they should start putting up Muslim ads and gay ads in the buses, see what these christian dumbasses do.

  35. says

    Check out what is happening in Italy. The advertising company for bus of Genoa had rejected an atheist quote sponsored by UAAR (the national atheist association) because it can offend the christian sensitivity. Some government politician said they were going to block the adv anyway.
    In italian TV the News associated atheism with islam terrorism because of that.

  36. Alverant says

    If someone refuses to do their job for religious reasons, they shouldn’t have that job. It’s that simple. Unfortunately with “freedom of conscious” protection laws being supported, religion will continue to have a protected status. But what do you want to bet that if the situation was reversed, an Atheist refusing to do his/her job using the same rational, all that legal and public support would vanish?

  37. plum grenville says

    This is very similar to the receptionist in Florida who refused to answer the phone with her employer’s preferred greeting, “Happy Holidays” during the Winter Solstice/Newtonmas/Hanukah/Christmas season. She claimed that it would violate her religious beliefs to contribute to the secularization of Christmas. She wanted to say either, “Merry Christmas” or the greeting that the company used the rest of the year. She was fired and has now filed a job discrimination claim.

  38. Am I Evil? says

    And if a bus driver started to refuse to drive a bus with an Alpha poster on the side, would they get the same sympathetic treatment?

    Would they shite!

  39. says

    If it was the situation I describe above, where an atheist heads for home because of a “Jesus Saves,” would you also admire that?

    I can’t speak for the original commenter, but speaking for myself: yes, I probably would. Standing up for your opinions can be a difficult and courageous thing to do, so I have some admiration for anyone who does it nonviolently, although this particular chap probably knew that they wouldn’t dare fire him.

    The problem is, of course, how you balance employees’ rights to refuse work they find morally objectionable with the public’s need for services like buses (or, to take another such dispute, prescriptions for contraceptives). Employers’ rights to make money come third on my list.

  40. says

    I used to go to university in Southampton and I feel this idiot has more to worry about when driving his bus than what is on the sign on the side of it.

    Taxi drivers!

    Homicidal bastards most of them, many a time I nearly lost my life because they had forgotten what traffic lights were there for.

    I tell you they wouldn’t shy away from taking on a bus in order to get where they wanted, even if it was the wrong way up a one way street!

    Mr Heather needs to realise that he has less to fear from atheist signs and has it all to fear from Satan possessed taxi driving maniacs!


  41. SteveM says

    Frank Lovell wrote:

    [/i]Italics? What Italics?[i]

    Frank, that isn’t html. HTML uses < and >.
    also, if yours had worked, you would have just left the italics still open.
    third, if PZ leaves a dangling italics tag, it cannot be closed by anything in the comments. It has been tried countless times before.

  42. Jason Spaceman says

    Hoody hoo! Where’s my credit card?

    (Although I can’t imagine the ads causing any stink here — T.O. is pretty multicultural and laid back about religion.)

    True, however you can always count on Charles McVety to feign some sort of outrage over it.

  43. Norm says

    I agree with the bus driver. No one has the right to tell me to “stop worrying and enjoy my life”. I’ve got me my original sin and my shame, and that’s the way I likes it!

  44. pdiff says

    And isn’t it a little disconcerting that “pre-law” and “criminology” score dead last on the Law School Admission Test?

  45. Tulse says

    Who cares about LSAT scores? What do they measure apart from who is likely to do well in the first year of law school?

  46. says

    When I first heard about these advertising campaigns for atheism I thought they were a worthless idea, a waste of money, but now, seeing these reactions to this very mild statement I’ve changed my mind. This ad is having an interesting effect on some people. I’m so glad the statement was so mild.

    I had more mixed feelings about the “Imagine no Religion” ads because when religious people “imagine no religion” they’re not imagining the same thing most atheists are and it’s vaguely threatening — it could be seen like a Nazi saying “imagine no Jews.”

  47. PCB says

    Who cares about LSAT scores? The author of post 23, that’s who. He brought it up in a statement that was dead wrong.

  48. Tulse says

    I wouldn’t be so sure that Torontonians would go quietly.

    There may very well be a wackaloon or two complaining about such signs, but Canada is very secular, and we generally don’t have the same problems with religion that the US or even Britain does.

  49. cedgray says

    Imagine that! Someone using religion as an excuse not to have to do something they don’t want to have to do!

    Go to work, or simply get offended and storm off.
    Do anything at all, or simply pray.

  50. Jay says

    From #71

    There may very well be a wackaloon or two complaining about such signs, but Canada is very secular, and we generally don’t have the same problems with religion that the US or even Britain does.

    Point taken. There may be fewer nutbars (I like the ring to that name more than Wackaloon), but even the few still get coverage in the Star, for some reason.

  51. says

    [/i]Italics? What Italics?[i]

    Frank, that isn’t html.

    No, it’s BBCode, which is just similar enough to HTML to really confuse those of us who comment in both HTML- and BBCode-based fora. Of course, you’re correct that Frank’s got the open and close tags reversed, so it’s wrong even in BBCode.

  52. Jeff Flowers says

    I know how the driver feels. When I work at my part time Barnes & Noble job, I dislike helping people find books in the religious section, but I understand that I am not paid by B&N to impose my values on others.

  53. uncle frogy says

    this story reminds me of the cases of pharmacy employees who refuse to fill prescriptions for drugs they disapprove off because of “moral-religious” views.

    but with even less rationality!

  54. CalGeorge says

    Off-topic. This petition is still active and worth signing:

    The Biology Department Graduate Students held Darwin Day Celebration 2007. As part of our festivities, we developed a petition requesting that books debating evolution versus intelligent design or proposing intelligent design and creation as an explanation in place of evolution be removed from the science section and placed in a more appropriate category. There is in the Dewey Decimal Classification, for example, category 215 – science and religion – that would be more suitable. We are asking scientists to sign our petition. On February 12, 2009, as part of Darwin’s 200th Birthday Celebration, we will present this petition to the Library of Congress as well as libraries and bookstores across the nation, in an effort to remedy the current issue of creation and intelligent design subjects being classified with the science categories. If you would like to sign this petition, please use the link on the left to go to our petition. Your email will not be made public and is used only for signature verification purposes.

    Total Signatures to Date = 903 (scientists)
    Total Signatures to Date = 711 (concerned citizens)

    Example from LC catalog:

    Of pandas and people : the central question of biological origins
    Call Number:
    QH367.3 .D38 1993
    Main subject heading:
    Evolution (Biology) –Textbooks.

  55. kermit says

    Bill Dauphin “Of course, you’re correct that Frank’s got the open and close tags reversed, so it’s wrong even in BBCode.”

    I think that’s the point. See, if it had worked, everything after PZ’s penultimate paragraph would have been italics – except his innocent question…

  56. SteveM says

    The article says “When he returned to work on Monday” which seems to imply he was working on a Sunday…

    did you read the article?

    … and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest.

  57. Giblet Tugwell says

    #82: I suppose the pharmacist who refuses to dispense
    birth control pills is afraid of being charged with
    abetting an abortion, which as we’ve seen is worse
    than genocide.

  58. says

    No, it’s BBCode, which is just similar enough to HTML to really confuse those of us who comment in both HTML- and BBCode-based fora.

    I can heartily recommend this nifty browser extension which allows you to apply text effects in BBCode and x?html from the context menu.

    Of course, you’re correct that Frank’s got the open and close tags reversed, so it’s wrong even in BBCode.

    No, it’s actually right; because the first tag was attempting to close the errant [i] (except, this being HTML-based not BBCode-based, it would really have been an errant <em>) and the second was attempting to reopen it afterward. This merely follows the long-standing typographical convention that when you wish to emphasise a phrase occurring within a section already rendered in italics, you use upright type to make it stand out.

  59. E.V. says

    It’s amazing that anyone thought Mr. Heather’s actions were newsworthy (except those with a decidedly pro-religious bias). I’m sure someone will sue, claiming mental distress over the signs, and the media will grant them a page one headline and heart wrenching interview.

    “Local Man of Faith Assaulted by Godless claims!”
    “Impious Slogans Victimize Heaven-bound Seniors!”

  60. 5ive says

    I think people are misunderstanding the philosophy remark. I think Mr. Meyers meant that if Mr. Heathers really understood the statement on the ad and had an understanding of at least basic philosophy (or a PhD…) as his actions and statements are meant to reflect, then why would he be driving a bus and not employed in a field of philosophy? It is a dig at the man’s complete lack of philosophical nuance. The statements made by Mr. Heather show that the man is most likely not a holder of any sort of educational credentials to be making such philosophical judgements on a simple slogan that merely disagrees with his world view.

  61. David says

    Christ! What’s with all the hostility towards philosophy graduates!!??

    Considering this is ostensibly a forum for discussion between enlightened free thinkers I sure am seeing a lot of wankers.

    Is this the best thing we can do with our time?

  62. E.V. says

    Christ! What’s with all the hostility towards philosophy graduates!!??

    Being a little sensitive are we? PZ could just have easily made the same statement and substituted Ph.D. in Liberal Arts & Humanities, since we know there are such an inordinate number of jobs available for people holding those degrees.

    signed – a self employed liberal arts major (who minored in philosophy)

  63. Pauline in UK says

    This man is employed by the same company that runs the main line trains that serve my area – Bristol, south Wales, west country, to London. They run on minimum staffing levels and their performance is consistently awful on both buses and trains. Their weak-kneed attitude to a bolshie employee is typical. At a time when unemployment levels are rising here, I’d have told this driver that if he thinks such a mindlessly trivial complaint is good reason for refusing to do the job he’s paid for, there are plenty of others who will disagree with him. I’d take the risk of being sued for violating his precious religious bigotry – yes we have that kind of bad law on our statute books here too.

  64. talking snake says

    No sympathy. The guy was hired to drive the bus, not read the ads.

    Oh, by the way, we won’t be able to fill your birth control prescription because it’s against our religion. Perhaps you can get the atheist pharmacist in Podunk to fill your prescription. I bet you can drive there in under two hours. Would that be inconvenient? What a pile of bullshit.

  65. Michael Johnson says


    I don’t think there’s any hostility to philosophy majors per se. It’s just homeboy @23 whined about a harmless trope, brought up the LSAT as if standardized tests measured anything interesting, and criticized everyone for not checking their facts when in fact he was wrong about the relative superiority of philosophy majors on said exam. It’s only natural to smack such persons down.

  66. Feynmaniac says

    I think people are misunderstanding the philosophy remark. I think Mr. Meyers meant that if Mr. Heathers….

    Who’s this Mr. Meyers you speak of?

  67. says

    The ragging on bus drivers (implying that they’re uneducated) is a bit out of place.

    After all, Douglas Prasher drives a bus now, and he has a Ph.D. in biochemistr. He arguably got closer to a Nobel prize than you or I are ever going to get.

    Beyond that: I struggle to recall an incident where academic elitism/classism strengthened an argument. This guy Heather is a dolt, regardless of his profession.

  68. says

    Why? Why the philosophy hate? Where do you think “Critical Reasoning” is generally taught?

    I think you mean “theology.” Philosophy has its flakes, but every field has those. Critical, close reading is the trademark of the field. Science and philosophy are supposed to be friends!

  69. says

    He’s being a proud religious martyr, but if we point out all of the occurrences of religious signs, billboards, advertisement, etc. we are being uppity atheist jackasses. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s what we have to work to change.

  70. Steven Carr says

    To be fair to Mr. Heather, he knows his God has an alleged track record of taking out dissidents.

    May as well have painted a target on the side of the bus for heavenly thunderbolts.

    I think Mr. Heather knows that his God is not the sort of person who will turn the other cheek.

  71. E.V. says

    Again people, what percentage of people with degrees in Philosophy work in jobs that actually require Philosophy Degrees? Substitute any humanities discipline for philosophy and you’ll get the joke. sheeeesh.
    Overheard at an L.A. restaurant: “Oh actor, there’s a fly in my soup!”

  72. Sue Blue says

    #82 – You beat me to it! Poor, persecuted, put-upon christ-bots everywhere are standing up for their right NOT to do their jobs if it bothers their “conscience” or their “morals”. I wonder how well it would go over if, as a nurse, I refused to treat someone who came into the hospital where I work because they were wearing a crucifix or Saint Christopher’s medal. After I loudly proclaimed how, as an atheist, I was utterly repelled by the visible signs of this person’s delusional state and could not possibly be expected to go against my personal feelings and treat him, I would probably last about five seconds before being fired. As I should be.

  73. Holbach says

    They are still granting degrees in Philosophy? All the many schools of Philosophy have been established many years ago. What else is there to discover and know? The great atheist Joseph Lewis made a wise and apt comment on Philosophy and the need to dispense with this outdated principle. I have it in one of my free thought books by him or in reference to him, but it annoys me not to have it at the ready for this comment. I will keep searching and post it when found. This is no insult to you budding or established “philosophers”, but Joseph Lewis’s remark is direct and heedful. No philosophizing now, because philosophy will not work anymore on the religious insane rabble, but stark reality and blatant proof.

  74. Þórr says

    May as well have painted a target on the side of the bus for heavenly thunderbolts.

    Yup. The just horseless wagons are metal. And it pisses a lot down there. Those metal horseless wagons are wet. Full of plumb sacrifices ready to char. Thunderbolts ahoy!

  75. ggab says

    I can’t figure out who is more fragile.
    Is it the bus driver in the story, or the philosophy students in the comments thread?

  76. withheld says

    #46 – In Minneapolis, we have already had a bus driver refuse to drive a bus with ads for Lavender, a GLBT magazine.

    Are there any religions that have more than 200 holy days in a year? I couldn’t possibly work on the Feast of Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot.

  77. says

    Personally, I think the insinuations about philosophers are, well… unnecessary, off the mark and a bit insulting… it’s true that it’s harder to get jobs, but actually it’s not that bad.

    The cliché view of philosophers doesn’t really fit any of the students or professors in philosophy I know personally – not even remotely. Those people that do or did fit the cliché are basically not philosophers, but people who thought themselves deep, took a few courses and realize they couldn’t get by with mushy positions unsubstianted by argument and then dropped out to do whatever.

    I can honestly say that almost all of the philosophers I have met in my time at university belong to the most intelligent and learned people I know. And many of them have pretty well-paying jobs because they can think outside the box, quickly assimilate knowledge, are specifically trained to analyze the logic of arguments, check them for validity and devise formal proofs. They usually have training at least in predicate logic and some ZFC set-theory. Of course there are different areas. Someone specializing on German Idealism usually won’t be much of a science geek – but will be very good at handling complex conceptual issues with ease.
    Like many other philosophers, I am a true science geek – my focus is on neurophilosophy, philosophy of science (metatheory of empirical sciences), of physics, informatics and of biology… with philosophy of religion as a hobby horse. If you have ever read even one book of Dennett’s – you will most likely be able to appreciate the value and status of philosophy.

    ‘What would Dan Dennett say?’


    Nah, just wanted to remark that the profession is mistreated by being linked to this pitiful, arrogant and idiotic bus-driver… and really doesn’t deserve to be sneered at.

    Perhaps PZs remark is indeed being misinterpreted. I have every reason to believe that PZ knows better than to misjudge philosophy so drastically, so I see no reason to blame him. But it was an unfortunate remark, and for reasons the comments should make clear, I think the above had to be said.

    All the best,

  78. Feynmaniac says

    Why? Why the philosophy hate?

    There’s also some “science hate” in philosophical circles. I took a course in philosophy and remember I heard a number of times “science is just an ideology”. There are also a number of philosophers (e.g. Steve Fuller) who have actively work against the interests of science.

    I think this part of the larger hostility between the Two Cultures. The conflict is just dumb. There are smart people on both sides. While I’m more of a science person, the humanities are interesting to me. Sure I have some criticisms of how things are done in the humanities, but I can’t say everyone is taking the wrong approach. For example, I love reading Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.

    This whole science vs. humanities thing is just childish.

    P.S. The title was just a joke. Lighten up. My philosophy professor right before our exam told us this:

    Q: How do you get a philosopher off your porch?
    A: Pay for the pizza.

    If he can laugh at himself I don’t see why you can’t.

  79. says


    your ignorance and arrogance are truly astounding. You’re making a fool out of yourself in the eyes of everyone with even the faintest hint of a clue about what really goes on in philosophy. I can no more be kind about this than about the religious idiots who make grand claims about the invalidity of science without having the faintest idea what they’re talking about.

    … Seriously, what a load of ridiculous bullshit, Holbach.

    Robin’s got it almost right – except that (historically, conceptually and methodologically speaking, not academically) the sciences are a ‘subset’ of philosophy. Philosophy marked the ascent from mythology to investigation of the world by applying REASON. And that’s what philosophy is. So, of course the empirical and abstract scieces are a part of it – they developed out of it and its various branches and disciplines.

    Do you really think there would have been a Newton without an Aristotle? A Turing or von Neumann without Frege, Russell and Oppenheimer? A Damasio or Ramachandran without a Gilbert Ryle, without Place and Smart?

    Not to mention that what Newton did was part of academic philosophy – natural philosophy to be specific – what the pre-socratic philosophers started a long time ago. The philosopher Democritus was the first to come to the conclusion that things are composite, and that diversity of entities is explained by compositionality of a limited diversity of smaller things, atoms. That was, just to remind you, in a time when no-one had ever heard of the scientific method, and no-one had any theories and methodologies to work with because before philosophy, all there was was mysticism – animistic, spiritistic and – specifically – religious.

    A good time before Darwin, Hume completely blew the Design-Argument out of the water. Kant dealt fatal blows to the most sophisticated arguments the best theistic minds could come up with. J.L. Mackie’s “The Miracle of Theism” is so serious and through in its criticism of theism that even professors of theology I’ve met say this book is one of the hardest challanges a theist’s beliefs can ever face…

    Sorry for the lengthy posts, but ignorance and arrogance concerning this irks me just like ignorance of and arrogance about science irk you and me.

  80. ggab says

    Bus fare
    Copy of Hume’s “an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”.
    Philosophy degree
    $39,000.00 annually
    Sense of humor about said degree

  81. severalspeciesof says

    I just can’t imagine what the driver’s reaction would have been if the word ‘probably’ wasn’t there…


  82. says


    I get your points – in turn, I have seen students of the sciences being totally dumbfounded that one could even dare to critically question the epistemic status of science. They were as such ‘bad scientists’ because they were unwilling to shake the ground they’re trying to stand on to check if it can hold them.

    After all – the self-questioning is what actually gives science the high epistemic standard it has.

    I hope you didn’t confuse un-nuanced statements that ‘science is just an ideology’ with correct and important remarks about the theory-ladenness of observation, the Duhem-Quine thesis and the resulting insight that empirical science is in need of epistemic support and is not objective.
    To someone who knows about science, this will be either nothing new or nothing to find fault with. We are merely humans – intelligent apes… science is a collective, intellectual activity of ours – immensely successful, but we mustn’t confuse ‘having working theories with great explanatory power’ with ‘having objectively true descriptions’… as if that were ever possible.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming that you did mistake this – I just wanted to note that people can actually be prone to making that mistake.

    And then I truly have met philosophers who were ignorant about science and didn’t really care… I would say I met 2 such people… that’s it.

    Yes, the conflict is dumb. I don’t even see ‘two sides’ or ‘two cultures’… I see one narrow-mindedness trying to separate what is continuous. Most of the brilliant people in all the academic fields do and will be part of a cooperative enterprise, and there will be significant interactions. Let me give you just four names of recent philosophy: Dan Dennett, Patricia Smith Churchland, Paul Churchland, John Bickle. All of these were and/or are actively engaged in cooperative, integrative research on the subject of mentality with people from all the various neurosciences, from AI and computational sciences and so forth… and have contributed a great deal to our understanding of mentality.

    Interdisciplinary is the way to go, at least it seems to work damn well. The work, once you actually take the time to learn to understand it, speaks for itself.

    And I do like the joke – I hadn’t heard that variety before :)

    Anyway, I agree – let’s try to engage the ignorant and collaborate with all the brilliant minds that are we have, fortunately.

  83. E.V. says

    A sense of humor is a wonderful thing. Obviously, someone’s philosophy department didn’t have a course in levity. Jeesh, lighten up a little, Mr. Overintellectualized-and-disproportionately-outraged philosopher. It’s a needling little joke based on an over-generalized … aww fuck it, if you have to spell it out…

  84. says


    the trouble is that philosophers get so much unnecessary flack that they tend to be on the defensive. Making light-hearted jokes about them when they don’t know you’re being light-hearted is a bit of a bad idea – especially on the internet, as people can neither hear your tone of voice nor see your body language.

    As for me, I would most likely drop my current job if someone offered me the chance to get a philosophy PhD.

  85. says

    Hmm… do you have to assume that there is outrage, just because you can’t handle well-mannered criticism?

    And once again – I did like Feynmaniac’s joke… the title-joke however is so old and lame I just don’t think it’s funny anymore… I mean, it actually does happen that people don’t find a joke funny that also ponders to stereotypes.

    Getting all upset about a moderate, well-mannered criticism of said joke seems to be to be far closer to hysteria than the mood I’m in. I’m actually feeling rather amused – and outraged by the arrogance of the bus-driver.

    I’ve said what I thought needed saying, so let’s move on…

    I honestly think one well-formulated and well-mannered letter to the bus-company criticizing the double standards would be in order.

    If we ever want such things to change, we’ll better speak up.

    I mean for goodness sake, if the guy is such a fragile creature keep him away from the bad, bad world out there where even atheists can dare to advertise their position… But really, it’s bad form of the company to be such amazing suck-ups to this arrogant, ignorant bus-driver who is apparently not fit to partake in a pluralistic society.

  86. Holbach says

    MPHIL @ 115

    There you go with the predicted philosophizing and the defence of. If you read my comment carefully, it made no mention or inference to a principle that is most worthwhile and which we are the wiser and richer for having such philosophies to explain and enrich human understanding, that it is now better to disregard as there is no further need of. All the great philosophies are of the past. What is there to further discover? I am not denigrating philosophy per se, but just showing that what we have is from the past and nothing new in the way of human understanding will be formulated. My namesake was a philosopher and one whom I am indebted to for understanding why I don’t believe in superstitious nonsense. His philosophy is still viable and will not be improved on, reevaluted or replaced. So dispense with the defensive philosophical whining and accept the obvious that philosophy is a past discipline and will not lead to new discoveries of human endeavors or understanding. Your gripe is with Joseph Lewis, but alas, he has been dead since 1968 and so you will not be able to complain to him of his misguided and unwarranted remarks in spite of having a legitimate reality.

  87. CJColucci says

    On principle, the answer is easy: Drive the fucking bus or get another job! Still, as a matter of basic human relations, I have to agree with ice9 (aptly named) that in practice the sensible thing to do is let everyone cool off. If there are other buses and it’s no big deal to shift him to one, then shift him to one. If accommodating him turns into a real problem, or if he persists in being an asshole, then drop the hammer on him. But nothing valuable is lost by trying to lower the temperature a bit first.

  88. says


    Thanks, I for one do… it’s just that I found the link between this idiot bus-driver and philosophy in the title to be a bit of an insult… not the joke about philosophers not getting jobs.

    Oh… and, what Baron Scarpia said.

    Now you go on and continue being excellent at kicking the shit out of some distasteful ideology :)

  89. Steve says

    “is that the drift of expectation in the US and UK is toward a backdrop of religion”

    Firstly, I lived in the UK for 52 years and for the last six years in Washington DC. I can tell you that the UK is a million miles away from the USA in terms of religious fervour or interest. Most Brits will put down their religion on an official form as Church of England (UK is not a Catholic country)but only as a form of insurance just in case of that minute chance that there will ever be a glorious ‘rapture’ as Southern Baptists like to believe. In fact most only go to church for christenings/weddings and funerals and if you are middle class you might also attendat Easter/Harvest Festival/Christmas Eve. An exit poll in the 2004 Presidential election found over 50% of Americans stating that the church was the centre of their community while over 70% of Brits said it was the pub. I had never seen people pray before a meal until I moved to the US.

    Secondly I used to work as bus driver and union rep for FirstGroup and so I am not going side with the tossers who are demanding his firing, especially that snobby cow from Bristol, moaning about workers on the FirstGroup rail franchise Great Western. It’s not their fault that it is a shit railway but 1) the Conservatives for privatizing it and 2) FirstGroup for being greedy capitalists.Although they are a highly unionized company in the UK (not like their subsidiaries in the US and Canada) they can and do behave like bad employers given half a chance.

    But having said that, if I was this guy’s union rep, I would give him a bollicking too (especially as I contributed to the atheist bus ad campaign). There are thousands of muslim and hindu workers in First who must be offended by the Christian Voice adverts that point you to a web site that says that all non-Christians are going to hell.

    I am glad that the campaign was so well supported and that it has given non-religious people a chance to speak up and the poor Chrisitians who are so offended because they are used to having so many rights and freedom from criticism despite so many wrongs committed over the last 2,000 years in the name of religion.

    The only thing that the guy should ever be fired for is talking to the right-wing rag called the Daily Mail which has dragged the name of journalism through the mud. In fact this where the term “hate mail” comes from, in its early days the Mail used to have editorial columns that focused on hate stories in order to increase circulation numbers.

    Many of the thousands of comments on the web have said that Dawkins should not have wasted his money on this campaign, completely missing the point that hundreds of people freely donated their money. Of course the religious side never mention the money that the church has spent on idols, vestments, preciuos metal candlesticks and other adornments.

  90. says

    Most philosophers are WELL able to laugh at themselves. Like any subculture, it’s when the opposition laughs at us that we get touchy.

    Full disclosure: I’m a cognitive scientist, but several of my degrees are in philosophy. I have a joint appointment in three departments: Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science.

    I agree with what MPhil said, but it looks like us mind theorists are the ones likely to be attracted to (and overlap with) the sciences, so keep in mind that any of the philosophers commenting here are unlikely to be the postmodernists most likely to be the target of the “unemployable” jokes. (Although I say this with a nod of respect toward many of my graduate school colleagues who landed good jobs right out of school doing theory theory.)

    Any philosopher worthy of respect is in full conversation with the sciences, and any scientist worthy of respect would be wise to be in full conversation with philosophy, or risk misunderstanding the limits of her own field.

    But “science” and “philosophy” are ridiculously broad titles with absurd numbers of subfields, so most of this is just me avoiding putting together my new syllabus for classes Monday.

  91. says


    you’re not showing any such thing. If you’re honestly asking “what is there to be discovered”, I can only assume that you haven’t taken the time to actually get into modern work in academic philosophy. There is still so much to do. Take the four philosophers I’ve mentioned – Dennett, P.S. Churchland, P. Churchland and Bickle… there are so many more, but they clearly demonstrate that philosophy is not a thing of the past.

    As someone actively engaged in the field of inquiry of the above, I have to tell you that your comments about philosophy being a thing of the past (and the view of philosophy this is based on) are, quite simply, factually wrong. You may not even want to try and start reading Bickle unless you have a good grasp of set-theory, predicate logic, category theory, Meta-theoretical structuralism about science…and neuroscience.

    But Dennett is very accessible – and the Churchlands, while at times quite hard to understsand unless you’ve studied computational neurosciences, are definitely worth reading, and somewhat in between Dennett and Bickle in accessability.

  92. says

    MPhil wrote:

    Like many other philosophers, I am a true science geek

    In this day and age it would be hard for any philosopher who wasn’t a science geek to be anything but a bad religious apologist. So much of what is on the cutting edge of science blurs into philosophy and has serious implications for it. For example, I imagine as someone into neurophilosophy you are familiar with Marvin Minsky’s “The Society of Mind” and “The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind” (which I have yet to finish, just read the sample chapters). Are those books works of philosophy or are they outlines of a scientific theory of mind — or both?

    I think both.

  93. HideousClaude says


    #57 – It is so the world over, or at least across the Empire. I drive buses in Vancouver and have found my driver’s licence a much more productive and less costly credential than my undergraduate degree in Psychology. Even so, I enjoyed the years I spent in the student union pub.

  94. woody says

    Posted by: Holbach | January 16, 2009 3:14 PM
    MPHIL @ 115,

    Re: The purpose of philosophy, I agree with Wittgenstein (from the Philosophical Investigations, by memory which is notoriously laggard):
    “The purpose of philosophy is to provide an account of things prior to any act being taken to amend conditions.”

  95. says


    Full disclosure: I’m a cognitive scientist, but several of my degrees are in philosophy. I have a joint appointment in three departments: Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science.

    Nice! Sounds like a person I would love to work with :)
    If you should ever feel like it, I’d love your input on the work I’m doing currently – and of course I’m always glad when another philosopher visits my blog… although it’s not very well maintained nowadays… too busy working and procrastinating :)

  96. mandrake says

    When I went to college the joke was that Philosophy majors *were* among the smartest of the lot, but had the least transferable skills, and therefore would be consistently underemployed unless they managed to land a scarce job in high-level academia.
    One of my friends tells a story about visiting Reed College in Portland: He got into a cab at the airport and asked to be taken to Reed. The middle-aged cab driver asked him if he were thinking of applying there, and when my friend said yes, the driver said “It’s a great place! I have a degree in Philosophy from Reed.”
    The good part about this is my friend went to Reed, majored in philosophy, and is now a professor.

  97. Angel Kaida says

    What do Ron Heather and internet commenters with philosophy degrees have in common? They take themselves too seriously. Quit whining, folks!
    I was in low-level philosophy and found myself so infuriated by my fellow-students (their mushy woo-ridden brains) that I had to switch majors. Now I’m even less employable.

  98. ggab says

    Did you switch to art history?
    I own a couple of coffee shops and some of my best employees have degrees in art history.
    It’s an extra bonus that I’ll never have to worry about them quitting because they found a job in their chosen field.

  99. mandrake says

    ggab – where do you live? I’m an English major in San Francisco who needs a job… I know it’s not as good as Art History…

  100. says

    When I went to college the joke was that Philosophy majors *were* among the smartest of the lot, but had the least transferable skills, and therefore would be consistently underemployed unless they managed to land a scarce job in high-level academia.

    Oh, we get around and don’t do too badly. After working in a legal office I’m now employed by a rather large accountancy firm. There are a few people I know with science PhDs doing the same job.

  101. says

    Holbach wrote:

    All the great philosophies are of the past. What is there to further discover?

    Here are two philosophical subjects and some related questions that have not been entirely settled:

    1) Epistemological questions. What are the limits, grounds and nature of human knowledge? One small example; I can make the statement that I don’t think theological knowledge has a reliable foundation, but how can I prove it? At the root atheists and theists are ultimately disagreeing about basic epistemological principles.

    2) Ontological questions. Ontology is about what entities exist or can be said to exist, and they can be grouped, put in a hierarchy, subdivided according to similarities and differences.

    Science will ultimately have a huge impact on both philosophical questions. That’s what there is to discover.

  102. Holbach says

    ggab @ 143 and Angel @ 142

    Art History! Ah, now there’s a subject that requires no philosophizing. You put brush to canvas and paint what you see and imagine and then develop a history down through the ages. And I can still see and read the results whether at the Frick, the Metropolitan, or any other great Art Museums across the U S and Canada. And all without a hint of having to philosophize why I get so much pleasure out of great Art. Reality without the unsubstantiated reason why.

  103. tony says

    I don’t see what the problem is here with Philosophers. I like philosophers – especially toasted!

    But to be serious for a moment, I think Mr Bennett is an ass, but the company response is not necessarily wrong – just inappropriate in this case:

    As a manager, I need to balance my staff’s ‘sensibilities’ against my group workload. I do have some vegans in my team – assigning them to a ‘meat packer’ account where they would come into contact with ‘aggresively carnivorous persons’ would likely be of little value (for them, for the client, and ultimately for me!)

    However – there are ‘some’ occasions when it becomes impossible to work around sensibilities, and we need to confront the fact that we are all grown ups and that we knew all along that our workload would be wide, varied, and not under our own control.

    The difference with the bus driver/ad and my teams position is one of involvement.

    My teams are intimately involved in the businesses to which they are assigned. They need to ‘get inside the heads’ of their client counterparts to work effectively. they need to gain a rapport. Therefore they need to be have points of congruence (or at the very least – insignificant differences)

    The bus driver is simply that – a driver. There is no relationship between him and the ads on his bus – other than the simple fact that they are in the same vehicle.

    My response to one of my team who made such a request would potentially include a visit to HR to discuss terms of employment.

  104. says

    Holbach wrote:

    Art History! Ah, now there’s a subject that requires no philosophizing. You put brush to canvas and paint what you see …

    Where do you think I saw these things:

    …and imagine…

    But why can I imagine these things and what do they mean to me or the viewer?

    And all without a hint of having to philosophize why I get so much pleasure out of great Art. Reality without the unsubstantiated reason why.

    You may choose not to ask why you get such pleasure, but for many of us it’s a legit question with some legit answers that have aesthetic and economic consequences.

  105. Holbach says

    Norman Doering @ 148

    There is the reality and answer in one word: Science. Overrides philosophy and displaces it unequivocally.

  106. Tulse says

    Science. Overrides philosophy and displaces it unequivocally.

    And how do you know what counts as “science”?

  107. tony says

    One correction – who the hell is Mr Bennett?

    Of course I meant Mr Heather. I will now go and craft some CYA in case anyone called Mr Bennett ever reads this blog.

  108. Jadehawk says

    to any past and future commenters claiming 1)that the man was in any way brave to stand up for his beliefs, or 2)that eventually those kinds of Christians will have to make the decision between being employed and being sensitive:

    he could refuse to drive that bus ever second day, and they still wouldn’t fire him. That’s not brave, and neither will this result in him having to make any realistic decisions. On the other hand, a vegetarian refusing to drive a bus with the “Powered by Tyson” meat ads, or an atheist refusing to drive a “Jesus Saves” bus, would be immediately fired. THOSE people you can consider brave if you like.

    This favoritism towards religion needs to stop.

  109. Holbach says

    Tulse @ 155

    The better question should be; “How do you know what does not count as “science”?

  110. says

    Holbach asked:

    The better question should be; “How do you know what does not count as “science”?

    I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed to ask that question because it’s a philosophical question and you’ve already stated that all the philosophical questions have been answered. So, you should already know the answer.

  111. Nibien says

    As someone who is almost done with undergraduate courses for my philosophy major, I fully expect to drive a bus for a living.

  112. E.V. says

    As someone who is almost done with undergraduate courses for my philosophy major, I fully expect to drive a bus for a living.

    But you’ll be a bus driver with a very rich inner monologue.

  113. Holbach says

    Norman Doering @ 160

    No, all the philosophical questions have not been answered, for there are still philosophers of today and the past who still ponder the existence of a god and yet cannot answer in the negative, but science has more reasons to disprove them with sheer physical and blatant reason. Science proves to me that the planet Mars I see is real and confirmed by telescope and not by philosophical blather. Science existed when the Universe was born; philosophy was born by the human mind to explain why we know science exists. But it exists despite being philosophized to distraction and useless pondering. I live and experience science every day. I marvel at the philosophy of minds trying to understand what it is all about when philosophy was formulating it’s idealogies. Science is still the prevailing and tangible reality. We are living better by science; we can live without philosophy that science has no need of.

  114. Rob Jupp says

    Question: What is the difference between a mathematician and a philosopher?

    Answer: A mathematician needs a pencil, lots of paper and a large wastepaper bin. The philosopher doesn’t need the bin.

  115. says


    yes, but what you’re forgetting is that philosophy both lays the foundation for science (by being able to defend its epistemic status, which is not a task the sciences themselves can accomplish) to constantly influencing and guiding science, both in the philosophical thinking of the scientist and in the research of the philosopher – not least because it is philosophy that, as woody notes, charts the territory and the lays out the tools for new sciences, develops the conceptual framework for new directions, disclosing new fields of inquiry.

    Think of Systems Theory, Synergetics, formal logic and as such formal languages in general and computational sciences specifically – and the other examples I mentioned.

    I think this is really best viewed from the perspective I laid out above. Historically, methodologically and conceptually, philosophy, as the ‘love of wisdom’ is the application of rationality to the questions we face when we try to form an understanding of the world – and as such opposed to mythological, a-rational or even irrational approaches to understanding the world (like any form of supernaturalism and all forms of delusions – not that an instance of the former can’t also be an instance of the latter).

    Philosophy in general is simply the totality of rational inquiry as opposed to ‘making up stories’ – and as such includes all the sciences, from concrete to abstract, from empirical research to theoretical conceptualization.

    That which we, today, call the ‘sciences’ developed historically mainly out of the philosophy of Greece, Germany, Great Britain and France. The sciences we practice today use conceps and modes of framing models and descriptions that are essentially and unmistakbly a product of the European philosophy from the greek classic era to the mid 19th century (Newton was still officially doing natural philosophy – something which dates back to the philosophical discipline called ‘physics’ in the philosophical schools of the classical period). They are not discontinuous to philosophy because they are part of philosophy.

    Physics is the most individuated because it is the oldest – and can make the claim that everything in the universe is at its core physical, i.e. made out of strings, or fundamental particles or knots in spacetime or whatever we currently have most reason to assume. No other science can make that claim to all-inclusivity.

    Unless you’re a supernaturalist, you will agree with me that everything that exists is in principle describable by(present or future) physics. The universe (or quantum-omniverse) is literally all there is, and whether made out of strings or knots in space-time or fundamental particles, whatever account of fundamental physics might be true – that would be what everything is made of – and that’s all there is to it.

    But then we have to ask us: What about animate objects – plants and animals? They’re qualitatively distinct – so let’s investigate their distinct features… But far more critically:

    What about mentality, the first-person perspective, beliefs, intentionality and as such teleological action and stuff like theories and science, numbers, poetry, economy, language – how exactly does that work in a universe that is nothing more than different structures formed by fundamental particles interacting in specific manners we try to describe as ‘laws of physics’?

    This is certainly something that needs explaining. Here, philosophers, scientists and engineers cooperate to understand these phenomena and how they are ’embodied’ in the physical universe. But to really approach the hard questions, you first have to develop a conceptual scheme to be able to start inquiry.

    Just as hard work made the emergence of biology possible – of explanations of how the living, the animate works in a purely physical universe, we philosophers of mind and modern analytical philosophy in general seek to do the same for other more abstract phenomena – and we’re definitely getting somewhere.

  116. EricV says

    Those who suggest that one who decides not to do their job for non-religious ethical reasons would get fired while the religious-reasoned work failures are privileged:

    I don’t know that I agree. Employers are going to make that decision based on a number of factors. Reliable, good-natured workers usually get that taken into consideration and unreliable unreasonable workers get THAT taken into consideration.

    Call me overly optimistic about people, but I don’t think theists are generally one-minded enough to do as has been suggested.

  117. says

    @SteveM – I did read the article. I know it said he walked out on Saturday, it doesn’t say, however, if he works on Sundays or not.
    I could have worded it better though…

  118. Last Hussar says

    Some comments go on about him being sacked. The company wouldn’t be that stupid. In the US he would have gone straight on Bill O’Reilly. In England (where our TV has to be neutral) he would have gone straight to the Daily Mail- Putting the ‘Small Minded Bigot’ into Middle England.

    On the upside the council who sacked the registrar won the appeal.

  119. says

    I’m watching Richard Dawkins interview with the Evolutionary Psychologist David Buss – and in their first few minutes – they discuss the status of this discipline.

    Indeed both this discipline and what Dawkins does in the Selfish Gene and Extended Phenotype actually belong to the philosophy of biology, not biology itself. And I think they’re very good indeed.

    Incidentally, ever since Ruth Millikan developed a theory of ‘function’ in biology – starting the program of teleosemantics/biosemantics (how you can get teleology without a telos in nature, from within neodarwinian evolution) – the philosophy of biology has been very much alive.

    On this page:

    there are two especially great (peer-reviewed) papers on the “Evolution and Evolvability of Culture” and “Language, Modularity and Evolution”.

    This is only a tiny part of what modern philosophy is – but I think it’s a good example. (P.S.: There is also a review of Dawkins’ “A Devil’s Chaplain” in there, where Kim Sterelny also outs as an atheist)

  120. blue says

    kinda on the topic, you have to see the hilariousness ensuing down here in South Florida, as a Muslim advocacy group has paid for ad space on buses which read:

    “ISLAM: The Way of Life of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”

    I think they meant that those guys lived a lifestyle that fits their definion of ‘islamic lifestyle’, thus if you like them you should be chill with Muslims… But of course it just reads as ‘Moses and Jesus were Muslims’. You can imagine how well the very tolerant Jewish and Catholic locals are taking it…,0,7060947.story

  121. E.V. says

    You have enough ego to fill up a bus and more.

    Was that directed at anyone in particular or do you have a literary form of Tourette’s?

  122. Pauline in UK says

    Steve can think I’m a snobby cow or not, I couldn’t give a monkey’s. I do know the railway, I worked in InterCity Great Western civil engineering and Railtrack Major Projects/Project Delivery for years. Great Western’s performance was a lot better when it was a joined-up railway, ICGW being managed by an outstanding manager and lifelong railway man. I was a TSSA (Transport Salaried Staff Association) union rep, and saw the blame culture and clean-up operation after the Ladbroke Grove disaster, close up. I was on that train (the GW train, not the one where the worst injuries happened), fortunately uninjured, and I was involved in the management clean-up team. And actually, Steve, we agree. It’s not the workers’ fault, it’s privatisation (which we told the government would never work in that form), and the bloody managers – I also had a grandstand view of the egos and the lies that killed Railtrack. But ICGW’s MD wouldn’t have tolerated that bus driver’s attitude either.

  123. llewelly says

    You know…if we started buying ads for billboards near churches, someone would certainly frame that as persecution.
    I say we do it.

    If memory serves, the FFRF has already had billboard companies refuse to make certain locations available to them on the grounds that they were too close to churchers or schools.

  124. Frasque says

    Considering my experiences riding buses around Metro DC, I’m surprised it took this long. I’m almost weekly harrassed by preach-bots, but the worst was when a fellow passenger suffered a routine epileptic seizure. Several women started screaming and one ordered us to get down on our knees and pray, because the guy was possessed by demons and god was coming to get us. Lucky for the dude I knew what was going on – he’d gone limp draped over a seat, and it was cutting off his airway. Shudder to think what would have happened if there hadn’t been one person on the bus who read a first aid manual and not the bible.

  125. Anton Mates says

    I think they meant that those guys lived a lifestyle that fits their definion of ‘islamic lifestyle’, thus if you like them you should be chill with Muslims… But of course it just reads as ‘Moses and Jesus were Muslims’.

    Of course, Muslims do believe that Moses and Jesus were Muslims. They consider both characters to have been prophets of Allah, after all.

  126. says

    Hmmm, if I over-simplify MPhil’s and Holbach’s positions I could say that Holbach claims science supercedes and replaces philosophy while MPhil claims that science is really just a branch of philosophy, “natural philosophy.”

    I think I’d go more with MPhil. The two subjects are too blurred into each other to separate. There is no theory in science that is not grounded in some philosophical viewpoint and that viewpoint cannot be extracted from the science.

    However, MPhil’s definition might be too broad a definition of philosophy for Holbach’s tastes:

    Philosophy in general is simply the totality of rational inquiry as opposed to ‘making up stories’ – and as such includes all the sciences, from concrete to abstract, from empirical research to theoretical conceptualization.

    But I will agree with it until Holbach can explain what’s wrong with it and offer a different definition that makes more sense.

  127. Holbach says

    Norman Doering @ 179

    Why do you find it so difficult to divorce philosophical inquiry from the realm of science? You are muddling the concept that philosophy is so inherent to an understanding of science that you make it appear that science needs the support of philosophy to delve into it’s solved mysteries. I don’t inquire of philosophy when I turn on a light bulb to seek an answer to why the bulb lights up. Science is at work here and no amount of philosophic nomenclature is going to prevent the bulb from burning or asking itself why it is doing so. Leave the philosophical bantering to those areas which have need of it, and leave the reality of things to science which can operate very well without your philosophical patois. As far as I’m concerned, science is all.

  128. John Morales says

    Holbach @180, I consider that science relies on philosophy much as it relies on mathematics; also, your lightbulb example is more an example of technology than of science.

    As an analogy, I would say that technology can be considered applied science, and science applied philosophy; in each case, subject to natural contraints.

  129. Holbach says

    John Morales @ 181

    Your comment is your own and in no way reflects the true nature of science working in tandem with philosophy. Science is not applied philosophy, any more than philosophy is subject to natural constraints. As far as the light bulb is considered an example of technology than of science, I’m sure that Thomas Edison was not sweating over philosophy when developing that light bulb which had very much to do with science. I have read much philosophy throughout my life and of course found it enthralling, but have no need of it now, but every need that science brings forth without the trappings of philosophical baggage.

  130. John Morales says

    Holbach, indeed it’s only my opinion, but note I did say it was an analogy.

    By the way, if you have no need for philosophy, upon what do you base your ethics? ;)

  131. Holbach says

    John Morales @ 183

    Ethics without philosophical crutches is based on:

    Innate sense to do no harm to others; common sense, example from parents, authority figures, written treatsies devoid of philosophical bent, compassion for harm committed to others in all manner, and that most common of ethical awareness, The Golden Rule. Your manner of inquiry almost suggests a religious connotation, but perhaps offered in the guise of philosophy. Your inference to religion has been offered before in another thread which I deigned not to bother to answer. Are you satisfied or are you going to belabor the issue to the point of ennui?

  132. says

    Philosophy is the use of reason to explore and explain the world.

    Science is the use of reason to explore and explain the world, and get it right.

  133. Holbach says

    Sarah Trachtenberg @ 185

    I would prefer: “Not any god” , lower case g

    I saw a bumper sticker(old) that said “honk if you love jesus”. I honked alright, but gave a pronounced thumbs down. And the female driver was almost aglow with the love for another idiot when she realized the visciously downing of my thumb in several hard thrusts. Made my day.

  134. Holbach says

    mythusmage @ 187

    The second sentence is the right one and should not be qualified by the first one which is now irrelevant.

  135. Tulse says

    Holbach, how do you know how to assess a piece of scientific evidence? How do you know what even counts as evidence? How do you know what a theory is? How do you know how to reason about the physical domain? How do you know what counts as science?

    All of these questions (and more) have been dealt with at great length by philosophers of science. Our current scientific practice did not arise unsullied from the raw cosmos, or present itself plainly written on the face of nature — it is the result of a lot of thinking about how to study and reason about the natural world. We call that practice “philosophy”.

  136. says

    This is absurd to the highest degree. It should not matter what you are advertising, either it’s beyond your control and not a reflection of self, or you are a fiscal whore for advertising anything. Getting upset over a particular advertisement is pointless exercise, it personalises an impersonal endeavour. The feigned outrage over the atheist freedom of expression only serves to show how childish the religious institution can make people.

  137. uncle frogy says

    that side track was very hard to read.
    I am under the impression that science tries to answer questions that it proposes with repeatable and measurable facts and outcomes.
    Philosophy tries to answer the questions it proposes with words only. While how you think about things may suggest what questions to ask the thinking does not change the reality of nature as we find it. While nature as we find it does have considerable power to alter how we think about nature.
    thinking is only in your head. It is something that we as humans do and can be fun and profound but it is often very selective of facts and subjective by nature while science can not afford such behavior.

    One of the reasons I like this blog is the questions and subjects that come up. I am left unsatisfied by philosophy and am not sure why I will have to look into it more.

  138. says

    Here’s something to say to Mr. Heather…


    I see christian adverts at work all the time posted on bulletin boards and in emails, but it doesn’t stop me from going to work. The company I work for actually has a faith-based mission statement, but it doesn’t stop me from getting paid. I see christian adverts on my TV, but it doesn’t stop me from using the TV. I see christian adverts as I drive down the road, but it doesn’t stop me from going anywhere.

    And, doesn’t some of the funds from the bus adverts go into Mr. Heather’s paycheck? Hey, look on the bright side, Mr. Heather, an atheist just put food into your mouth. Lighten up man.

    Aaaw, it will be alwight. You will just have to get use to it wike evewy body else does.

  139. Vaal says

    It is good news about the bus driver. It illustrates that religion demands everybody to be respectful and tolerant of them, yet shows zero tolerance to any other views.

    Hoisted by their own petard!

  140. David says

    “I don’t even see ‘two sides’ or ‘two cultures’… I see one narrow-mindedness trying to separate what is continuous”

    Thanks MPhil. That about somes it up as far as I can see.

    And as far as the whole, “philosophy graduates are over-sensitive cry babies” argument is concerned, I’d like to say two things:

    1) Maybe I am a little over sensitive but I feel a little weary of the same old jokes – especially when, as far as my own career is concerned, they’re a little depressingly close to the truth.

    Maybe I do take myself a bit too seriously but, to be honest, trying to find enough money to pay the mortgage does tend to make one feel a bit serious. So the same old jokes about people like me having poor career prospects… Yeah… ha bloody ha.

    2) My comment (way earlier) wasn’t directed as P.Z. – who had just made a bit of a tired old joke (Very forgivable: I’m a huge fan of Pharyngula P.Z., so I owe you plenty and am not in a rush to direct any complaints in your direction). I was commenting on the general tone that had followed on after Chris had made his post at #23. MAYBE Chris got his figures wrong (I have no idea and little interest) but the eagerness with which people have jumped back against anyone commenting positively with regard to Philosophy – especially early on, before the wonderful MPhil and Robin weighed in, really made me feel like there was a nasty atmosphere of tribalism taking over.

    Which is why I like MPhil’s post about the continuity and integrity that’s so inherent to the sincere search for knowledge and understanding.

  141. says

    “Apparently, passing an intelligence test is not required to qualify for a job driving a bus”
    One of the reasons I refused to get on a bus in the UK was the number of adverts plastered over the back of them saying “You could be driving this bus”.

    If one of the criteria for driving a bus is driving so close to one that you could take down the telephone number and spending too much time reading adverts instead of paying attention to the traffic, then the safest place is off one.

  142. epsilon says

    I have a lot of respect for you Holbach, but I have to agree with MPhil. Everytime you talk about philosophy you betray your ignorance of the subject.

  143. jomega says

    “Shock horror, Victoria’s Secret? I really need a lie down.”
    Really, PZ, you really shouldn’t need a lie down. But for discretion’s sake it might do to drape a jacket over you lap. And please, both hands on the wheel between stops, hmmkay?

  144. jomega says

    On a related thread derail, with the advent of the web, do guys still get VS catalogs anymore?

  145. Nerd of Redhead says

    I think the Redhead still gets the catalogs (she’s not online, hence my moniker). She beats me to the mail, so I can’t say for sure. I still get the email from when I submitted an online order.

  146. 'Tis Himself says

    One of the reasons I refused to get on a bus in the UK was the number of adverts plastered over the back of them saying “You could be driving this bus”.

    Trust Flanders & Swann to have the last word on that subject: A Transport of Delight.

  147. Mark says

    The work shy wanker should be fired,
    From a large, smooth bore cannon,
    Without a helmet,
    Or a safety net.
    He’d be fine,
    His imaginary friend would see to it,


    So there.

  148. Prazzie says

    Oh for the love of Karl Popper! I was just exposed to a little facebook group called “Boycott Atheist Buses”. It was so upsetting that my palms are sweaty. I just had to share this one gem that I found on the discussion board.

    There is only one topic – “Sharing Christ with an atheist”, posted by David Robinson. As usual, these people rarely have anything original to say, so his entire post is a copy paste of what was on Phil Fernandes’ mind. For further enlightenment as to the pain my brain finds itself in, this is what happens when you google Phil: “Dr. Phil Fernandes is a Biblical apologist and lecturer. He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion degree from Greenwich University…” Yes, we’re in for a treat.

    This is what made me splutter: “Third, don’t try to prove God’s existence beyond all reasonable doubt. Though this can be done, the goal is often too lofty. Our goal should be more modest: argue that theism (belief in God) is more reasonable than atheism (the rejection of belief in God).” (My emphasis.)

    The only good advice in the entire post is this: “Fourth, be willing to simply plant seed.” Yes, as long as it is good seed and not weeds or invasive aliens.

    Reading the comments in the main section makes one lose all hope, which is odd, as I’m regularly informed that hope is the main byproduct of religious blatherings.

    All I have left to say now is oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

  149. Tulse says

    I was just exposed to a little facebook group called “Boycott Atheist Buses”

    Hey, if religious wackaloons want to stand out in the rain and cold while mass transit goes by, more power to them (and more seats for us).

  150. Holbach says

    epsilon @ 198

    Thanks for the respect for me, but your respect is lacking in my acknowledged mention of knowing the philosophical ideas and history. You just cannot accept my utter disregard for the irrelevant use of philosophy when applied to today’s situations and realistic dealing of an outmoded explanation of behavior and being. It is all established and can only be explained in the former tense of understanding and not in the future tense. We will most definitely have future discoveries of scientific applications, but I doubt if they will be influenced by any new philosophical ideas and uses. I am completely satisfied with my assumptions, and until proven otherwise, will not deter from them. I still maintain my self- respect which to me is paramount.

  151. Hap says

    1) Assuming he thinks the ad is untrue, its presence on the bus doesn’t imply that he agrees with the it. I don’t assume, for example, that all the bus drivers around here have the advertised insurance or go to a specific (insurance-hating) body shop chain. It doesn’t seem to cast any aspersions on him (such as they are) to have the ad on his bus.

    2) If his beliefs are true, the message on the bus is irrelevant. Also if they aren’t – their nature doesn’t depend on what we say of them. If you are that concerned that people who start to think about why they believe in something are likely to stop believing in what you do, the you have a problem. Ideas are pretty flexible, and you can’t seal anyone off from them enough to keep them following you if the ideas argue otherwise. If your ideas don’t have substance, then your power is gone, and you whining and threats and violence will help you not at all.

    3) Perhaps someone could email the kind bus driver a copy of MLK’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail”, as referenced above. Perhaps he might understand what “civil disobedience” is and why his version of it is self-serving and pathetic and does his cause no good.