Ask an Atheist Day? Do I want to do this?

Sure, I’ll give it a shot, although I do add a qualifier here, because I don’t want to be associated with a lot of those other atheists.

Really, ask me anything, I might answer. You could ask why I think spiders are better atheists than people, or who has the loveliest grandchildren, or about why I’m pissed off all the time nowadays. It’s wide open!


  1. PaulBC says

    I’m tempted to ask a “serious” question about how you would distinguish between atheism and agnosticism. But now I’m too worried that poor old Prince Albert is going to suffocate.

  2. drew says

    You speak for the spiders. Do they feel (most) monotheists are missing something, given their lack of spider or even weaver gods?

  3. Don F says

    Who let the dogs out?
    Do you know the way to San Jose?
    Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
    ( I already know that one: 25 or 6 to 4 )

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Don F @15:

    Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

    Dunno, but every day’s the fourth of July.

  5. PaulBC says

    Also, do you really need a water bath to make cheesecake? If I start seedlings inside, what’s the best way to get them adjusted to direct sunlight? How much do I have to worry about someone stealing the catalytic converter from the Prius right in my driveway, because I hear about that a lot? Why the hell do we still have pennies? What are those squirrels doing chasing each other around the tree every morning?

    OK, that’s it for now.

  6. malleefowl says

    OK, so have you been able to mate chosen spiders and do you have any data on the genetics of abdominal spot patterns?

  7. redwood says

    I kind of wish we could give recs for comments we like. I would give a bunch to Rob Grigjanis @18 for continuing the Chicago theme. That made me laugh out loud.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    A: Some guy who reproduces medieval weapons.
    Q: Who put the ram in the ramadamalingdong?

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Bucky Katt: -Rob, how do you tell the difference between the mayor and a schratching post?
    Rob: That is funny, let me think….
    Bucky: No, seriously, how do you tell the difference? It might be important.
    Satchel: Hey Rob, there is a police car on our driveway…..

  10. Callinectes says

    If you could design and create a living vertebrate in the superficial form of a spider (and who among us wouldn’t if we could?) where would you position the spine? Do any other design notes for such a project come to mind that an interested gene-wright should consider? I’m asking for a friend.

  11. nomdeplume says

    Why do some atheists think it is perfectly possible and rational for some scientists to be christians?

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    nomdeplume @33: Since there are, and have been, many theistic scientists, it is certainly possible. As for ‘rational’ – well, that depends what you mean. To ideologues (including atheist ideologues), any view but their own is considered by them to be irrational.

  13. PaulBC says

    @33 @34 I resisted the urge to reply but I agree with RobG. All empirical evidence shows that science can be done by religious believers and has mostly been done by believers throughout history–even some real wackos like Isaac Newton. That’s enough to answer “why” you might think it’s possible: it has been demonstrated to occur. What else do you want?

    Why would anyone think it’s not possible? That seems to be a much more difficult case to make, probably turning into a “No true scientist” circular argument.

    Based on Pew Research surveys, scientists do tend to be less religious on average than the general population. Still, there are practicing Christians who pubilsh peer-reviewed scientific research, and whatever you may think of the reasoning that got them there, the process itself sets some reasonable quality standards on the work itself. (Err, well, it’s supposed to.)

    BTW, researchers can also be schizophrenic and still produce valid results in their field (I can’t think of a scientist, but there are definitely mathematicians). studied the patterns produced by mescaline hallucinations by taking mescaline. For all I know, he was rational most of the time, but I doubt he was thinking very clearly during these hallucinations (though I don’t know; how much does it affect cognition rather than vision?).

    The human mind is amazing and only sometimes rational. You can do many things with it, including science.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @35:

    researchers can also be schizophrenic

    Schizophrenia is a serious disorder. I suspect what you really mean has to do with compartmentalization. I’ve certainly known scientists who do that, but there have also been many whose beliefs don’t conflict with their work. James Clerk Maxwell and Abdus Salam come to mind.

  15. PaulBC says

    @36 No. I am aware it does not mean MPD as it’s often portrayed. I am thinking of a specific mathematician at the university where I went to grad school. He was on medication. Maybe he was actually bipolar, but it was far more serious than compartmentalization. He was considered absolutely brilliant in his field and an engaging lecturer from what I heard, but he was not completely “rational” or even close to being so for normal life.

    There’s also John Nash, though I am not sure how much his work overlapped with his illness.

  16. nomdeplume says

    @34 @35 – Well, Isaac Newton, and pretty much any scientist you care to name in centuries prior to the twentieth. My question was how could scientists NOW not be atheists. So perhaps you could tell me which gaps in reality you think a god could still be fitted into, and how such a god would bear any relation to any current religion?

  17. PaulBC says

    @38 Have you considered that scientists do not fill gaps in reality but tend to produce fairly specialized results in their field? Depending on the field, these results can often coexist easily with religious beliefs.

    And sure, scientists are a lot less likely to be religious, but it is clearly possible to be religious and do science. This is simply an observation. I mean, most people are wrong about some things and right about others. Scientists are no different.

    I have to admit I do not really understand why I should even be very concerned with “rationality”. I act according to my best guesses and reality is the ultimate arbiter.

  18. PaulBC says

    @36 I’ll backpedal on “schizophrenia” because the exact diagnosis wasn’t my point, only that there are functioning mathematicians who suffer from serious mental illness that can affect “rationality”, bipolar disorder for instance.

    Paul Erdős might be considered eccentric rather than delusional (and in fact he was well-read and politically astute) but he certainly had behaviors way off the normal spectrum of normal and very minimal adult “life skills”. He needed others to see to his well-being. He was phenomenally productive through all of this. Rational? I guess it depends on what you mean by that.

    I had not heard of Alexander Grothendieck but this is closer to what I was thinking. The catch is that it sounds like his productivity occurred before he succumbed to mental illness.

    Likewise John Nash, who I guess is the one everyone would think of.

    Given that mathematics can be understood as a closed system, it’s unclear why would would need to have a sound grip on reality to do it well. It is also true that those drawn to mathematics are often not like the general population.

  19. KG says


    IIRC, John Nash is on record as saying (in later life, when he’d largely recovered from schizophrenia) something along the lines of his mathematical insights coming “from the same place” as his delusions. Kurt Gödel suffered from paranoia, and eventually starved to death because of a paranoid fear of being poisoned, but I think his mental illness came after his most brilliant work.

  20. says

    I managed to get two questions answered by PZ on this. The ones about Scientific American’s presidential endorsement and the state of the US education system following the survey that 2/3 of young adults were unaware of the Holocaust.

    He didn’t answer my one about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow though!! ((c) Monty Python)