Science Saved My Soul


I recently ran into one of the tried-and-boring christian come-backs against atheism: “if you don’t believe in god, how can you find joy in your life?” You know, that kind of yawner.

The brief response to that, by the way, is “pizza” – which leaves your interlocutor in the awkward position of having to argue that pizza is a gift from god, or that god invented Naples and therefore pizza, or something equally stupid. Unfortunately, that will not hinder christians’ willingness to deploy stupid arguments on demand.

Instead, I refer people to philhellenes’ youtube video, “Science Saved My Soul” which is pretty damn good, especially because it’s slightly cheesy (speaking of pizza: pizzas should not be slightly cheesy)

In case you haven’t seen it:

I remember when I used to sometimes watch various atheist videos on youtube, until it turned out that their authors were just creeps who were beating on christians because they offer themselves as easy targets for contempt. I prefer philhellenes’ approach of pointing out how cool things are, rather than the other approach, calling christians stupid. They’re contemptible, sure, but we should pity them.

Comments

  1. James says

    That was a great video! I can’t recall any mindgasms on the level of what he described but it was realizations broadly similar to what he described that made me realize the sense of wonder and awe that came from just trying to understand what was around us. No need for religion to give a deeper sense of meaning, trying to understand the universe is more than sufficient.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    English is sorely lacking for a word that means “the emotional sense of exaltation that comes from feeling yourself to be a part of a larger whole.” People get it from being out in nature, or listening to Beethoven or the Ramones, or looking at stars, or at a ball game, or, yes, attending a church service. Wordsworth and other poets made describing it their life’s work.
    “Mindgasm” is a nice try, but I doubt it will catch on. I’d like to steal the word “spirituality” back from the theists, but that would be hard to do, I suppose. The feeling is literally awesome, but we just don’t have a word for it.

  3. rblackadar says

    Thanks so much, I hadn’t seen it. And what a well-chosen montage at the end. (Bronowski at Auschwitz, wow…)

    Also, what I couldn’t help thinking is that one of his strongest epiphanies, our mind-blowing connection to the stars, is not very old science at all, and many details of supernova nucleosythesis are still being worked out — e.g. the role of neutron-star mergers was discovered in/after 2017. And indeed, even the existence of galaxies beyond our own (the name “galaxy” itself, even) was not established science until Hubble’s famous paper of 1925.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’m sure mileage varies greatly, but I find it somewhat amusing to watch this while knowing that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a devout Catholic priest, and that Einstein was sure (for a while anyway) that he must be wrong.

  5. rblackadar says

    @3 — yes perhaps it is strange that King, a man of religion, is included in the montage.

    Obviously not meant to be considered contemptible. So… there is religion based on fear and psychological coercion, and then there is the other kind, exemplified by King. Perhaps some nuance was lost there.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    rblackadar @4: Interesting history: Hubble is still widely credited with discovering “Hubble’s law” (1929), but Lemaître had published the result two years earlier.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    rblackadar @6: The ‘contemptible’ was from Marcus, not the video.

    There’s a shitload to criticize about organized religion. It has stifled and oppressed free thought to maintain and expand its (temporal, mind you) power over people. Like other rigid ideologies, it has caused much suffering.

    But I think it’s a huge leap from that to the pigeonholing of individuals who identify as Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whatever. We’re all hugely complex creatures, and as adults we’ve spent a good deal of our lives picking and choosing what we hold dear, for many and varied reasons. I’ve seen too many atheists saying, in effect, “there must be something wrong with people who haven’t reached the same conclusions I did”.

    Abdus Salam (Nobel co-winner for electroweak unification) considered himself a devout Muslim, and his faith inspired his work. In his acceptance speech he quoted from the Q’uran;

    “Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary.”

    This in effect is, the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze.

    I think that’s quite beautiful. He did ignore other parts of the Q’uran; he was fond of single malt whisky. But so what? His personal beliefs were the destination his personal journey had taken him. Same for us all.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    robertbaden @10: And I can barely walk with the osteoarthritis in my right knee (sometimes only with a crutch), but you’re failing to see the big picture. Even our crappy joints are made of starstuff! And when our solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short lives are done, our component molecules go back into circulation. Makes me feel warm all over.

  9. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#3:
    Martin Luther King Jr makes an appearance. Was he contemptible too?

    He’s famous for his liberalism and his fight for civil justice. I doubt anyone remembers of memorizes his goddy speeches, or Georges Lemaitre’s either. Surely you’re not suggesting that we have to respect the totality of a person, in order to respect their accomplishments at all?

    King was a thoughtful man, and would have doubtless been aware of the complexity of his being both a voice for civil rights and a paid-up member of an organization that had done its part to oppress his people. I would have wanted to ask him if that was part of why he backed off on the goddy stuff, once he realized where he fit in the grand scheme of things. In my opinion, it’d be hard for someone to simultaneously promote christianity as a system of oppression and civil rights, but King was still a young man when he was murdered, and maybe he hadn’t had time to think it through.

  10. John Morales says

    BTW
    “Video unavailable
    This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

    (Yes, I know how to watch it did I care to, just saying)

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @12:

    maybe he hadn’t had time to think it through

    Smug atheists just can’t help being smug. And I’m not sure what you mean by “he backed off on the goddy stuff”.

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

    This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    And I think that’s beautiful too.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    And if we’re playing the “what might MLK have been thinking?” game, I’d guess that he saw a lot of the oppression as a perversion of Christianity.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @12:

    I doubt anyone remembers of memorizes his [MLK] goddy speeches, or Georges Lemaitre’s either.

    AFAIK, Lemaître didn’t make goddy speeches, but he did persuade Pope Pius XII to stop making proclamations linking his theory to religion.

    Something that many people have forgotten is the push-back to the Big Bang theory from scientists who didn’t like that it implied a form of creation. They were so committed to an infinite steady state that, after expansion of the universe was confirmed, they postulated the continuous creation of matter to maintain a constant density. Now that is magical thinking. Before he was forced to come around, Steven Weinberg even said that steady state was an attractive theory precisely because it was the least like the Genesis creation story.

  14. brucegee1962 says

    I think that a lot of SJW atheists forget that there is a tradition of liberal Christianity in this country that is almost as long-standing and established as the conservative tradition. Roger Williams was a preacher and advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans; religious folks were heavily involved in the abolition movement and the underground railroad. If you look at what Jesus actually said, most of it would come across as fairly radical if someone said it today. I’m sure that is the tradition that MLK believed he was drawing upon — his Letter from Birmingham Jail (his best writing IMO) explicitly grounds the Civil Rights struggle in the entirety of Western moral thought, including religious thought.

  15. Badland says

    “if you don’t believe in god, how can you find joy in your life?”

    As a lifelong atheist this question makes as much sense as “what sound does yellow make.” It’s incoherent and boring and says far more about the questioner’s intellectual limitations than they obviously realise.

    The joy of life is in the finding and taking of joy. Duh.

  16. flex says

    To jump away from the religious debate for a moment, one of the short, windowed, clips at the end was of Dr. Johnathan Miller from his 13-part series in 1978, The Body In Question

    I watched it when it was on PBS many years ago, and about fifteen years ago I wanted to show it to my finance, to find it had never been released to video. (I suspect that the requirements for releases have changed since it was filmed and there are a lot of people who are probably dead and can no longer approve the use of their images. It does get rather personal at times.) I did find a torrent of it to watch it with my future wife, and it appears that someone has put it up on youtube. The quality is very poor, but it’s still worth watching.

    If you haven’t seen it, it’s a crash course in how the human body works. The clip is from him illustrating that the reflex to breathe is triggered not by oxygen levels but by carbon-dioxide levels in the lungs. So using a filter to remove the carbon-dioxide he re-breathes the same air until he starts to pass out, without feeling out of breath. It’s one of several dozen very dramatic demonstrations, and I would say rivals Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as one of the most interesting series ever made (along with Burke’s Connections and Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man).

    If you’ve never heard of it, go take a look.

  17. bmiller says

    ” If you look at what Jesus actually said, most of it would come across as fairly radical if someone said it today”

    You are making quite a few assumptions here. 1. that there was a “Jesus”. 2. That He said the various things quoted in the Bible. 3. That He did not also “say” a variety of heinous things by modern standards.

    Rob G does make a point or two. Good people can be inspired by their religion to do great things. Hard to avoid seeing the hand of Christianity (or Islam or whatever) in a culture and society suffused with it. But awful people also used their “same” faith to justify awful things. Read some of the writings of Confederate leaders, who actually probably had more scriptural support, it can be argued, than the Abolitionists.

    Nonetheless, I agree with Rob (and others) that Atheist smugness can be problematic and dangerous. It is too easy to damn people who are complicated critters.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    bmiller @21:

    awful people also used their “same” faith to justify awful things.

    Absolutely. Awful people can use any ideology to justify awful things. If warped versions of religion have killed more people than warped versions of Marxism or capitalism (and I’m not even sure that’s true as of now), its only because they’ve had much more time to do their damage.

  19. consciousness razor says

    If you look at what Jesus actually said, most of it would come across as fairly radical if someone said it today

    I doubt it’s “most,” but to whatever extent that’s the case, what this demonstrates is how little those things have meant to the many centuries worth of Christians ever since. You don’t need to learn much history to notice that it’s certainly not because they lacked the power or the ability to execute their ideas in society. (But they did it with the ones they actually had, not those they’ve only pretended to have.)

    Anyway, if the first step to be made takes something like 2,000 years (or more), and it consists of not thinking some very old idea is particularly radical,* then it may still be quite a while before they get around to actually doing something about it. I’m figuring that in 10,000 years or so, there might be a modest amount of real progress. Maybe … if there aren’t any unexpected delays, and of course, assuming people haven’t already wiped themselves off the map by then. Look, the chances of it actually happening aren’t so good, alright?

    *That is, it’s not a random quote from an old book that you just use to shield your religion from criticism. You’d kind of need to agree with it as well.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @23: You could offer similar critiques about many ideologies which have achieved dominance. Founding principles end up either being ignored or ‘reinterpreted’ by an ever more exclusive elite. And that is almost invariably accompanied by increasing oppression of ‘heretics’, the manufacture of scapegoats/’enemies’, and massive use of propaganda. See Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Western capitalism, etc.

  21. publicola says

    It’s too easy to paint with a broad brush, ( I should know, I’ve done it enough times ). Each individual should be judged individually on his/her own merits. What difference does it make where a person finds joy or comfort, whether it be in a god or the unfathomable complexity of existence; in a sunrise or a song. as long as it doesn’t hurt another, isn’t imposed on another? If a person does not denigrate my beliefs, what right do I have to denigrate his, regardless of how wrong I think they may be? Of course, if someone tries to force his ideology on me, I will push back, but only if I’m pushed first. I know this all sounds preachy, but as thinking people we should set a high standard for ourselves in our dealings with others. It’s often easier said than done, and we will fail, maybe often, but we must keep trying.

  22. consciousness razor says

    You could offer similar critiques about many ideologies which have achieved dominance.

    You could, and maybe you would, because you’re clearly motivated to do so.

    If I tried, I doubt they’d be very similar.

    See Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Western capitalism, etc.

    Three of them are just names of individual political leaders. If I took it to mean their political factions, we’re still talking about a very specific group, whose influence was confined to very specific places, before it fell apart shortly thereafter and is no longer. I just don’t see much of an analogy. The particularities of how it came about and sustained itself (in that time and place) make so much more of a difference in those cases, unlike when we’re talking about the entire history of Christianity as a whole.

    “Western capitalism” is maybe a better choice as a similar kind of thing, depending on what you mean by that term. But in any case, there’s no analogous founding text to speak of, with which we could even compare people’s actions in the real world with the statements in the text that they purportedly believe. So I still don’t know how I could start to make that comparison.

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @26: The Khmer Rouge might be ‘no longer’, but the legacies of Stalinism and Maoism are very much alive, and they all managed to rack up a body count which would have made Crusaders and Conquistadors either envious or disgusted, in a very short time. If you don’t see much of an analogy, it’s because you’re clearly motivated not to.

    there’s no analogous founding text to speak of

    You’ve never heard of The Wealth of Nations?

  24. consciousness razor says

    Rob:
    In #24, you had your own critique, which is yours, but I thought we were talking about a critique that’s similar to mine in #23. Not sure if you got yourself mixed up about that along the way, but I just want us to be on the same page.

    the legacies of Stalinism and Maoism are very much alive,

    Is that like Christianity itself (not “a legacy” of it) still being a very dominant social institution after all this time? I don’t think it really is like that.

    and they all managed to rack up a body count which would have made Crusaders and Conquistadors either envious or disgusted

    I don’t understand how you think that’s supposed to relate to this discussion. It just seems like “a thing to be upset about” which you tossed in for no particular reason, or maybe you’re somehow under the impression that I’m defending any of those authoritarian regimes.

    Anyway….

    Was there any concept of pacifism/nonviolence that was central to the founding of those ideologies? No. Was there even a mild emphasis placed on tolerance/fairness/compassion/etc. toward “enemies of the people,” “outsiders,” or anybody not deemed by the party to be counted as part of the revolutionary class? No, there was not.

    Since it wasn’t there to begin with, it never had to be “ignored or reinterpreted” by anybody. Agreed?

    You’ve never heard of The Wealth of Nations?

    If you want to claim that there are a bunch of “Wealth of Nations”-ists in the real world, which is supposed to be equivalent to the ideology of “Western capitalism” that you referred to before and not just an influential economics theory, and if for some reason it’s okay to just ignore that this isn’t nearly 2000 years old, then …

    … well, then what?

    Smith certainly wasn’t trying to start a religion or anything of the sort, unlike early Christians. So when you try to make a connection between his principles and the things modern capitalist ideologues espouse (barely worth calling “principles,” if we’re being serious), then you’re doing a bit of creative reinterpretation yourself. I don’t need to do the same thing when I’m just told to “look at what Jesus actually said” according to the Bible, then compare/contrast that with how actual Christians actually view those ideas (today, a thousand years ago, or whenever it may be). I can simply read it as the religious text that it obviously is, as everyone else does, without making a move like that.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @28:

    Not sure if you got yourself mixed up about that along the way,

    No mix up. The parallels between the ideologies I mentioned and Christianity are glaringly obvious.

    maybe you’re somehow under the impression that I’m defending any of those authoritarian regimes.

    No, you’re not defending them. Just ignoring what their progress has in common with the progress of organized religions.

    Was there any concept of pacifism/nonviolence that was central to the founding of those ideologies?

    There was the concept of a just society.

    Smith certainly wasn’t trying to start a religion or anything of the sort

    Smith was certainly trying to come up with a more just, equitable and prosperous paradigm for society. A better way of life. Instead, we have modern capitalists/libertarians yammering on about his ‘Invisible Hand’ out of context, and ignoring his clear message that the role of government was to make sure that commercial interests didn’t fuck us over.

    You can’t see the similarities between these forests because you’re too busy examining the trees.

  26. John Morales says

    Strange attractor ignored.

    I recently ran into one of the tried-and-boring christian come-backs against atheism: “if you don’t believe in god, how can you find joy in your life?” You know, that kind of yawner.

    My rejoinder is some version of “how do you?” / “Same as you” / “why do you imagine God is needed for joy?” and similar.

    (The not-so-hidden premise is that without God, there can be no joy. Which, given joy evidently exists (ever seen a happy puppy?), entails God must exist)

  27. John Morales says

    [PS I do know mine is but a version of Marcus’ — theme is the same, but specifics are different]

  28. maat says

    I reached zero tolerance for religion a long time ago.
    I consider the question of the existence of god totally irrelevant.
    However:
    It would be very convenient if ‘only’ believers were irrational, but, in fact, being an atheist does neither make me, or prove me to be, a more intelligent o a better person; it merely means I do not have that particular delusion. I, like all human beings, probably have many others.
    It would be very convenient if ‘all’ believers were irrational, but I have known religious people who are amongst the more open-minded people I met in my life.
    If we make assumptions about anything or anyone, we will only see what we have decided to see, thus learning nothing. And that is undoubtedly irrational.

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