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Jesus And Moses

Were Invented

Jesus and )\'loses


Were In"ented

by Christopher

ISBN 1-57884-912-8

Stock #5592

IN THE LICHT

Living In The Light


Freeing Your Child From The
Dark Ages
by Anne R. Stone

M. Drew

A late American Atheist scholar


shows that Jesus and Moses
never existed as historical
figures.

124 pp. Paperback.

LIVING

Rearing children as Atheists isn't easy,


. but this manual will be invaluable for
parents who want their children to grow
up with reality-testing skills intact and
L'==========-JJ strong immunity to the wiles of supernaturalism.

157 pages, paperback


Stock #5588

ISBN 1-57884-908-X
$12.00

$8.00
THE ATHEIST'S

an ATHEIST
PRIMER

to Modern Materialism

An Atheist Primer
by Madalyn O'Hair.
This children's book explains what
religion and what Atheism are all
about. It is a great introduction to
Atheism for readers of any age.
Grades 2-4. Illustrated.
30 pp.
Stapled.
ISBN 0-911826-10-9
$6.00

by Philip A. Stahl
Materialism is minimalist by definition. Focusing on manifestations of
matter,
fields, and energy, it
excludes distracting and unverified
entities such as spirits and souls.
Professional Press. xxiv + 250 pp.
Paperback.
ISBN 1-57087-539-1
Stock #7001

$15.00

CD-ROM from "Bank of


Wisdom"
FREETHOUGHT AND
THE BIBLE
25 volumes on a single CD!
With Adobe Acrobat= PDF
format, it works on both IBM
& Macintosh computers.
Includes: The Bible
Comically Illustrated (2 vols.), The Bible, by John
Remsburg, The Jefferson Bible, Bible Myths and their
Parallels in Other Religions, by T. W. Doane, and
much more!
Stock #4504

$30.00

To order, please include check (payable to American


Atheists) or credit card payment for the price of the
books plus shipping and handling ($2.50 for the first
title plus $1.00 for each additional title.
Send order to:
American Atheist Press
P.O. Box 5733
Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733
Credit card orders may be faxed to:
(908) 276-7402

HANDBOOK

The Altar Boy Chronicles


by Tony Pasquarello
The hilarious romp of a logical mind trying to grow up Catholic

in Philadelphia's

Little Italy during


World War II.
214 pp. Paperback

S
I
THEGREAT

NFIDEr

Stock #5583

$16.00

The Great Infidels


By Robert G. Ingersoll, with foreword by Jon G. Murray
Newly reprinted and reformatted,
Ingersoll's sketches of the lives of
great Freethinkers is one of his most
inspiring works. Includes his amusing
discussion of the fallacy of informal
logic known as the "appeal to the
cemetery."

76 pages, paperback
Stock #5197

ISBN 0-910309-08-6
$7.00

American Atheist
A Journal

of Atheist

News and Thought

Cover Art: Keith McCaffety's polychrome realization of


Pannemaker's engraving of
Gustave Dore's "The Deluge," one
of many illustrations for the 1866
The Holy Bible with Illustrations by
Gustave Dare.
EDITOR'S DESK
A Second Noah's Flood
Frank R. Zindler

Why I am an Infidel
14
Luther Burbank
The genius who developed the
Burbank Plum, the Shasta Daisy, and
800 other varieties of fruits, vegetables,
and flowers comes out of the closet.

Atheism and Natheism,


Part II
30
Tony Pasquarello
The author of The Altar Boy
Chronicles continues his argument on
how to define Atheism.

Burbank Answers Some


Questions
16
George E. Macdonald
The author of Fifty Years of Freethought publishes Burbank's answers
to the religious questionnaire that
unleashed a storm of abuse from
Christians all over the world.

Tony Pasquarello's "Atheism and


Natheism," a Response
35
George Ricker
A retired newspaper editor offers his
opinion on how to define Atheism.

Luther Burbank, Infidel


18
Edgar Waite
A weather report on the storm that
broke out on 22 January 1926 when
Burbank's infidel views became public
knowledge.
Luther Burbank
Speaks Out
23
Joseph McCabe
A famous Atheist journalist and
author gives his account of the hurricane that swirled around the Plant
Wizard of Santa Rosa.

Disinforming the Faithful


4
Frank R. Zindler
The truths of science and objective
scholarship are being swamped in a sea
of religious disinformation. Can reality
survive?

Volume 42, No.1


Parsippany, New Jersey

The Word Is 'Freedom'


41
David M. Fitzpatrick
A short story set in our religious
future. Don't let Ashcroft see this - he
might get ideas!
Christmas Eve In Heaven
48
G. W.Foote
St. Paul wasn't the only one who
could be snatched up into the seventh
heaven. Evan an Atheist could do it and just as reliably.

The Deja-Viewing
53
Tony Pasquarello
After seeing another good Atheist
suffer the indignity of 'a good Christian
funeral,' Tony reminds us that he
warned us about this back in 1982.

13

Luther Burbank
13
E. Haldeman-Julius
The "Plant Wizard" as described in E.
Haldeman-Julius'Little Blue Book No.
1020.

Agnosticism: The Basis for


Atheism, Not an Alternative
to It
37
David Eller
The author of the forthcoming book
Natural Atheism argues that
Agnosticism is a method, not a philosophical or religious position.

On Avoiding That last Visit


50
Tony Pasquarello
A reprint of an article about the
funerary fate of Atheists that made a
deep impression on American Atheists'
founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

LUTHER BURBANK: INFIDEL


GENIUS
Introduction
Frank R. Zindler

Winter 2003-2004

Burbank the Infidel


26
Joseph Lewis
A great Atheist author delivers a
eulogy in New York's Central Park at
the 1927 tree-planting memorial exercises conducted by the Freethinkers of
America in honor of Luther Burbank.
Winter 2003-2004

A Physicist's Critique of
the Existence of a God
54
Alfred Bahr
A German physicist has a new way to
prove that gods are impossible.

Page 1

American
Atheist
Volume 42 Number

Membership Application for


American Atheists Inc.
1

EDITOR / MANAGING EDITOR


Frank R. Zindler
ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Ann E. Zindler
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Conrad F. Goeringer
BUSINESS MANAGER
Ellen Johnson
The American Atheist is published by
American Atheist Press four times a
year, in December, March, June, and
September.
Printed in the USA, 2004 by American
Atheist Press. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without
written permission is prohibited.
ISSN: 0332-4310.
Mailing address: P.O. Box 5733
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Voice:908-276-7300
FAX: 908-276-7402.
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For information on electronic access to
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E-mail: editor@atheists.org
Winter

2003-2004

American Atheist

Editor's Desk

merican civilization is awash


in a flood of disinformation a flood that, like the biblical
flood of Noah, threatens to engulf
most of the world. Some of the disinformation is political. In this category
we might place the disinformation
that led many to expect that the Iraqis
would welcome American troops as
liberators; the daily dispatches that
portray Israel as always on the good
side in 'the war on terrorism,' and the
arguments employed to perpetuate
the economic and social isolation of
Cuba. Most political disinformation,
however, does not threaten to engulf
the rest of the world. Mainly Americans are being deceived, although
infection does sometimes spread to
our closest allies. Political disinformation tends to be local, with each nation
having its own - to be used for its
own purposes. Rarely does it threaten
to become pandemic.
There is another form of disinformation, however, that is much more
pernicious and has the potential to go
global, even though at the moment it
is largely limited to the United States
and the Muslim world. This is the
type of disinformation that is created
for religious purposes and to advance
the political
ambitions
of major
investors in the superstition market.
Religious disinformation is more dangerous than ordinary political disinformation due to the fact that it
becomes the energizing catalyst for
political reactions of above-ordinary
scope and power. For example, the
political and military repercussions of
the Islamic disinformation cranked
out by the Ayatollah Khomeini have
only grown louder and more forceful
as they have flowed into other nations
and continents.

Frank R. Zindler
Parsippany,

New Jersey

The gravity of our situation can


easily be gauged by a simple measurement. Take up a copy of the Yellow
Pages for your area. Count the number of churches, synagogues, mosques,
and other entities that have religious
tax exemptions. Then count the number of schools and colleges, subtracting
from the total all that are obviously
religious in purpose. Consider the
remainder to be the number of places
where objective scholarship and learning may be possible. Add the number
of religious schools to the number of
churches to find the number of places
that exist for the purpose of impeding
or annihilating
the learning that
might take place in the secular
schools. These are the "fountains of
the deep" (to extend the biblical
image) from which the surging flood of
falsehood emanates in your neighborhood.
If you still own a radio, turn it on
and completely scan the AM and FM
bands, counting the number of stations that are completely religious,
partially religious, or nominally secular. Caution! Even if you don't live in
the Deep South, this exercise may
unleash a seizure of deep depression if
you are at all bipolar. If you are not
yet catatonic, consult your local edition of TV Guide. Tally the percentage
of programming time devoted to religious vs. secular programs. This is
actually much harder to do than the
radio survey, because religious disinformation permeates the supposedly
secular channels and programs to an
astonishing
extent. The Discovery
Channel and History Channel may be
giving serious consideration to Noah's
Flood, the resurrection of Jesus, or the
Shroud of Turin. CNN Headline News
may be devoting three days to reporting how the Catholic Church determines which miracles are genuine.
The religious broadcast media are the
Winter

2003-2004

"windows of heaven" from which a


downpour of disinformation threatens
to snuff out the last lamps from which
the light of learning yet shines.
In the western world, it is only
America which staggers due to the
dementia caused by religious disinformation for the moment. Even
before America's recent surge in imperial ambitions, however, we had been
exporting our delusions to markets in
other parts of the world. After the
breakup of the Soviet Union, a plague
of creationists and other missionaries
flooded into its remnant republics,
and creationists captured the educational system of Turkey. We soon shall
be
expanding
our
'Faith-Based
Programs' to include international
affairs. Will the presently sane citizens of our client or captive nations be
able to withstand the fantastic force of
the fantasies with which we shall
envelop them? Believing is much easier than thinking - hence believers
have always and everywhere greatly
outnumbered thinkers. Will anyone
still be willing to study geology and
genetics if they are told that reading
just the first eight chapters of Genesis
is more efficacious?
The hard-won truths of science
and historical research are being
swallowed up and lost in a surging sea
of superstition and revisionist propaganda. Atheists,
Humanists,
and
rationalists of all denominations must
stem this rising tide. We must preserve the legacy of learning we have
inherited from the illustrious thinkers
of the past - many of them infidels
who suffered privation or even death
for the cause of truth. How this is to
be done is not clear, but we dare not
reject the challenge. The first Dark
Age lasted nearly a thousand years.
The darkness that is about to fall
could last even longer.

Page 3

DISINFORMING
THE FAITHFUL
By Frank R. Zindler
dis.in.for-ma.rion
n. deliberately false
information leaked by a government, as
to confuse another nation's intelligence
operations
-Webster's New World Dictionary of
American English
Third College Edition
hroughout the course of the twentieth century, human knowledge
increased at an astounding, explosive pace. Newtonian physics gave way
to relativity and quantum mechanics.
The very concept of causality itself had
to be rethought
in the face of
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and
Kurt Godel shook the foundations of
mathematics and logic. As Darwin's theory of natural selection found confirmation in the blossoming of the science of
genetics, a veritable flood of fossil discoveries filled in most of the gaps in the
evolutionary history of tetrapods, birds,
whales, humans, and many other types
of organisms. The sequencing of genes
and genomes made it possible to refine
our understanding of the evolutionary
interrelations of microbes as well as
those of the plants and animals of ordinary human experience. Chimpanzees
were found to be 98.5% human. The conclusion that we live in an unplanned,
insentient universe became ineluctable.

Formerly a professor of biology


and
geology
in
the
State
University
of New York system,
for many years Frank R. Zindler
has worked as a linguist and analyst of chemical literature for a scientific society in Ohio. Since the
1995 murder of Robin MurrayO'Hair, he has served as editor of
American Atheist Press.
Page 4

Discoveries in biochemistry, physiology,and medicine transformed biology


from a collector's hobby into a scientific
discipline that by the end of the century
came incredibly close to understanding
the nature of life itself. They changed
medicine from a mysterious profession
that could be seriously challenged by the
mumbo-jumbo of Christian Science
practitioners into a branch of science
that understands the biological basis of
infectious diseases, the biochemical and
genetic bases of cancer, and the neurophysiological underpinnings of mental
illness. The human mind began to
explain itself to itself.
During the same century, human
achievements became more and more
impressive as the knowledge gained
from pure research found practical
applications. Our species went bodily
from Kitty Hawk to the moon and vicariously journeyed to other planets even sending a probe outside the boundaries of the solar system into interstellar space. The discovery of antibiotics
and improved vaccines, the development
of sophisticated imaging and diagnostic
systems, and the refinement of surgical
equipment and techniques transformed
medicine into a life-saving science without equal in the history of humanity.
The average
life expectancy
of
Americans after 1900 increased by more
than thirty years, climbing to 77.2 years
in 2001. The increase is nearly the
entire life span of the composer Franz
Schubert, who died at the age of 31!
Gods have ruled only the unknown
ever since the evolution of language created names for them. Gods have never
been needed in spheres of human activity where knowledge was sufficient to
make accurate predictions of the future
state of the system in question. Of
course, at the dawn of civilization ignoWinter 20032004

ranee was the norm and gods and


goddesses of all kinds never had to look
for work. They had to heat the sun, send
the rain, hurl lightning bolts, sprout
seeds, ripen fruit, and form each fetus in
the womb.
Steadily but surely, however, the
advance of science and other fields of
human knowledge shrank the domain of
the unknown to ever smaller dimensions. As answers were found for more
and more questions to which the answer
formerly had been "God," the gods of
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other
religions were sent into the ranks of the
unemployed. Today, there is nothing
worth mentioning left for gods to do.
Even church steeples are protected by
Benjamin Franklin, and storm gods are
out of work because of meteorology.
A Paradox Arises
During the second half of the twentieth century, as knowledge of reality
was growing, a paradox was developing
in America. As mainline religions were
shrinking and relinquishing ground to
science, the most ignorant and primitive
forms of religion not only were surviving, they were actually thriving.
Disinformed fundamentalisms of every
type were gaining in power and threatening to inaugurate a new Dark Age.
Snake
handlers,
Pentecostalists,
Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Mormons,
Latinate
Catholics,
Scientologists, and faith-healing fakirs
in alligator-skin boots were taking control of the superstition industry - the
biggest business in the history of civilization. The paradox was stunning: the
technology of the twentieth century CE
was being used to propagate the scientific misunderstanding of the twentieth
century BCE.
American Atheist

ers who will stop at nothing to prevent


ning in the printing of bibles.
their children's discovery of reality. In
What Christians Are Reading
this catalog one can find 'textbooks' for
As an Atheist activist, it is part of
all subjects that have been sanitized
my job to know what the opponents of
against secular-humanist heresies and
reason are thinking - or at least what
are deemed safe for children of all ages.
they are doing that takes the place of
Parents who have been able to insulate
thinking. Over the years, the best tool I
their children from the secular world
have found for accomplishing this rather
through their elementary-school and
onerous task is a book catalog - the
. middle-school years can find such useful
Christian Book Distributors (CBD) catacurriculum aids as Foundations For
log. Often 64 pages long and listing
Living:
Studies
in the Christian
thousands of books, tracts, videos, and Worldview - LIFEPAC Elective. The
yes indeed - Christian computer softcatalog exhorts them to "Equip your
ware, each issue of this catalog keeps
high schoolers to respond biblically to .
me abreast of how
The paradox was stunning: the power is flowing the tough issues that they will
encounter after graduation. Offering
through the circuits of
technology of the twentieth century 'muscular
practical instruction on topics such as
Christianity.' Best of
man's purpose in the world, the
CE was being used to propagate the all, titles listed usually
Christian family and roles within it,
dating and courtship, education, art,
scientific misunderstanding of the come with significant
and politics, this in-depth series guides
discounts,
so that
tWentieth century BCE.
today's young adults to live productive
when there are books
lives - and shapes them into the
that duty forces me to
Christian servants and leaders of the
television is nearly as hopeless.
purchase I soothe my conscience with
Preachers, preachers, everywhere: nor
future." (Softcover from Alpha Omega,
the knowledge that the publishers of the
anyone can think!
$47.95, sale $44.99.)
preposterosities are not getting as much
The CBD general catalog has a
Although the poll results are susof my money as they would like.
great deal of material aimed at the very
pect, it appears that a majority of
A recent issue of the CBD Catalog
young. Besides picture books, there are
Americans, despite the explosion of sciwas divided into more than fifty secvideos such as Hermie: A Common
entific knowledge in their country,
tions, covering Apologetics, Bestsellers,
.Caterpillar. "Poor Hermie's feeling very
either believe in creationism or at least
Bibles, Bibles on CD & Cassette, Bible
ordinary - with no splashy stripes, no
think that it should be taught along
Reference Works, Charismatic
Rewith real science in biology classes.
cool house like the snail, no supersources, Christian Classics, Christian
strength like the ant. But God sees past
Across the board, scientific knowledge in
Living,
Church
History,
Church
America is at an abominably low level. A
his plainness - and plans a surprise to
Resources, Commentaries, Comparative
frightful fraction of Americans do not
show Hermie just how special he is! Max
Religion & Cults, Contemporary Issues,
know that the earth goes around the sun
Fiction (an amusing classification since
Lucado's heartwarming parable comes
to life with stunning 3-D animation and
rather
than
vice-versa.
Giordano
nearly everything in the catalog would
Bruno's murder by the Inquisition has
voices by Tim Conway and Don Knotts."
be considered fiction by a rationalist!),
($8.99)
Kids' Bestsellers,
Leadership Resourbeen forgotten along with the facts for
which he fought.
ces,
Marriage
Whence comes the scientific ignoEnrichment, Music,
rance ofAmerica? Space does not permit
Prayer, Preaching &
" Equi p your
high schoolers to
exploration of the myriad ways in which
Pastoral Resources,
respond biblically to the tough
federal and state politics have harmed
Prophecy & Spiritual
education and impeded scientific discovWarfare, Software,
issuesthat they will encounter after
ery. To be sure, an Evangelist-in-Chief
Spirituality,
in the White House can hardly be
Theology,
Veggie graduation."
expected to encourage learning, and
Tales, and Videos.
Then there are the ''Veggie Tales,"
reactionary religious justices of the
Almost every page gives the toll-free
which come in CD-ROM and video forSupreme Court of the United States
number or the Web-site URL by which
cannot be expected to be respecters of
mats. What child would not be thrilled
supposed treasures of what passes for
truth. But demented governmental offiChristian thought can be ordered. (The
by Jonah: A Veggie Family Adventure! ?
cials are only symptoms, not the disease
''Your family will have a whale of a time
Web-site lists more than 130,000 items
itself. The source of infection - no suras they sail the high seas with Jonah
to advnce the cause of Christ!)
prise here - is without doubt the organand the Veggie 'pirates' and learn about
ized superstitions that have seized conSuffer the Little Children
important biblical values. A 70-minute
trol of the media. While I have already
Considering
the immeasurable
video, 114-page book, iron-on transfer
mentioned the baleful condition of the
importance of inoculating the young
trifold timeline of Jonah's story, and 10
broadcast media, I wish in this essay to
life application cards with a magnetic
with the virus of religiosity, it is not surfocus mostly on the print medium - the
prising that CBD has a separate catalog
holder help you practice compassion,
medium that had its inauspicious beginfor Christian home-schoolers - believshare God's love, offer second chances,
As a result, America and much of
the world now is being inundated by a
Noah's Flood of disinformation. Truth is
being swallowed up and lost in a sea of
superstition. For every school that tries
to advance human knowledge and learning there are at least a dozen churches,
synagogues, or temples that are trying
to nullify that understanding.
One
searches the broadcast media almost in
vain to find nonreligious, scientifically
sound programming. Radio has been
lost as a vehicle of enlightenment, and

Parsippany,

New Jersey

Winter

2003-2004

Page 5

ture minds of children that it is hard to


and more." ($14.99) The colorful pichas never been easy, and help in the
decide what else to note at this point.
tures on the box are calculated to be
form of books on apologetics has always
Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd
irresistible to children and Christian
been in demand for believers who are
Tripp, however, seems sinister enough
parents alike. But don't forget the Jonah
short in the fantasy department and
to describe. "Many parenting books are
songs on CD: "Jonah," "Jonah's
have to fight a proclivity to think rationbased on hit-or-miss theories steeped in
Overboard Sing-Along," and "Pirates
ally. Successful apologetics books are
secular thinking. This one draws from
Boat Load of Fun." Of course, these are
written so well that otherwise sane and
Pastor Tripp's seasoned experience as a
also available on cassette, and we are
rational believers are completely taken
father-and
from God's holy Word!
titillated by the promise that a new
in by what passes for reasoning and,
Jonah movie will be available on
after some amount of practice,
video and DVD in March!
will proceed to try out their
A complete biblical 'educaarguments on hapless friends,
tion' is available to the child
neighbors, school board memChildren
will learn that reality
whose parents
purchase The
bers, and even well-educated
includes magic and make-believe,
Beginners Bible Series and save
members of society.
$69 by buying the entire set of as well as physics and physiology.
videos.
"The
best-selling
In the CBD catalog before
Beginners Bible comes to your TV
me, pride of place is given to
The Case For Christ, written
screen! Now your whole family
by the apologist Lee Strobel. "If you
Grounded in the Bible's divine plan for
can share the timeless truths of God's
parenting, this guide defines your goals
were a journalist, how would you invesWord, because these videos combine
as a parent and provides the scriptural
tigate the hottest news story in history?
charming animation and memorable
methods for accomplishing them. Covers
songs to bring the Bible to life for all
Join award-winning reporter Strobel as
infancy through the teen years." One
ages. A delightful way to nurture your
he probes the life of Jesus Christ.
wonders if Pastor Tripp will advise us to
kids' faith!" Among the 14 half-hour
Interviewing 13 of the country's top
stone to death our unruly sons as comvideos that make up the set are ''The
Christian scholars, he ferrets out inconmanded in Deut. 21:18-21.
Story of Creation," The Story of Noah's
testable historical, scientific, and psychiatric evidence to support the claims
One last title in this genre: Every
Ark," "The Story of Joshua and the
Young Man's
Battle,
by Stephen
of Jesus. A unique approach to apologetBattle of Jericho," "The Story of David
Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. "From the
ics!" In this book you can examine the
and Goliath," "The Story of the
mockery Strobel makes of my own arguauthors of Every Man's Battle comes a
Nativity," "The Story of Jesus and His
survival guide for male teens and young
Miracles," and "The Story of Easter."
ment that Nazareth was uninhabited at
adults engaged in a high-stakes struggle
the turn of the era and you can specu(Normally retailing for $168.87, the
with sexual temptation. Learn how to
late about how uniformed a fool I must
entire set is yours for just $99.99.)
be to write the stuff I write.
help these young men implement a pracChildren will learn that reality includes
tical, realistic 'battle plan'-exchanging
It is perhaps to be expected that
magic and make-believe, as well as
this catalog does not carry Earl
their shame and confusion for a positive,
physics and physiology.
thriving relationship with Christ."
Doherty's Challenging
the Verdict: A
No child's brain could be considered
Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's 'The
Aaaachhh!
completely washed and properly launIf a Christian 'education' has been
Case for Christ'. You'll have to go to amadered, however, without exposure to
successful, its graduates will remain
zon.com to order this meticulous, pointBibleman videos, DVDs, and action figchildlike and undiscerning forever after
by-point refutation of Strobel's apoloures. An absurd caricature of Star Wars,
and will provide a market for 'adult edugies. Further to be expected, the catalog
the featured Bibleman video is Jesus,
cation' products such as A Life God
does carry Strobel's The Case for Faith:
Our Savior. "Finally, Luxor Spawndroth
Rewards - Video Curriculum.
Just
''Why does God permit evil? Why do
is vanquished once and for all! But just
some prayers go unanswered? Why has
$69.99, the catalog asserts that "Some
when the good citizens of Andersonville
questions never seem to go away - such
God allowed the church to engage in
think it's safe to go out, a new, even
brutality and hypocrisy? Tough quesas what will life be like when we step
more sinister villain takes his place into eternity? In this 8-part series,
'tions demand convincing answers. Join
Primordius Drool. Bibleman's superBruce Wilkinson offers a fresh, biblical
award-winning journalist Strobel as he
powers are put to the test when he must
view of heaven and shows why it's vital
once again journeys across the country,
convince the townspeople that nobody
challenging philosophers, theologians,
to serve God wholeheartedly now so you
can ultimately save them , except God
and ordinary believers to defend their
can enjoy the hereafter." I'll bet you can
himself]" Probably of more utility for
serve God today by sending your faith
faith. The evidence he uncovers may
parents who want to stunt the intellecsurprise you!" Indeed they will.
dollars to the following address ...
tual and personal growth of their chilAs upsetting as these books may be
dren, however, would be Bibleman
to those who are objectively engaged in
Apologetics
videos such as "Breaking the Bonds of
the quest for truth, it is downright repelDisobedience," "Defeating the Shadow of
In the culture to which the CBD catlent to learn that the two Strobel books
Doubt," and "Shattering the Prince of
alog panders, few things are more
are available in "Student Editions." "An
Pride."
important than defending the faith. Of
arsenal of truth for your teens on the
There are so many books in the
course, the more irrational the faith, the
frontlines of faith! Biblically sound reaCBD catalog aimed at propagating the
greater the defense required. Defending
soning and convincing evidence equip
faith by imprinting it upon the immafaith against the facts of the real world
Page 6

Winter 2003-2004

American Atheist

Defending faith against the facts of the real world


has never been easy,and help in the form of books
on apologetics has always been in demand for
believers who are short in the fantasy department
and have to fight a proclivity to think rationally.
them to defend their faith and answer
challenging skeptics' questions - all in
contemporary language." Just $12.99 for
the two-volume set. It is hard to overestimate the damage that will be done by
the disinformation crammed into this
apologetic effort.
For many years, one of America's
most visible and vocal apologists for biblical inerrancy and evangelical dogmas
has been Josh McDowell. CBD carries
his three-volume "Apologetics Library,"
consisting of Handbook of Today's
Religione.; The New Evidence That
Demands a Verdict, and A Ready
Defense - all for $43.99 ($79.97 list
price). "More than ever, Christians
must be prepared to defend their faith.
Equip yourself with well-reasoned arguments, conclusive evidence, and accurate information about creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, the
reliability of the Bible, the nature of
truth, postmodernism, cults, the occult,
non-Christian
religions, and much
more. Ideal for curious skeptics and onguard believers."
Extremely clever volumes all, they
are calculated to cause discomfort
among unbelievers and misbelievers of
all educational levels. Many arguments
require careful and detailed research to
find the fallacies A good example is his
defense of the historicity of Jesus. He
asks, "Is absence of evidence evidence of
absence?" To be sure, this is an old
chestnut, but it requires considerable
philosophical sophistication to show
that it misrepresents the problem and
fundamentally
misunderstands
the
methods of science.
If there could be such a thing as
academic respectability for apologetics
and apologists, Norman L. Geisler and
his productions would be the most likely
to be accorded it. Geisler can be thought
of as a philosophically sophisticated
Josh McDowell. He can argue about the
meaning of meaning, the foundations of
scientific knowledge, and the nature of
truth. A formidable opponent in debate,
he is perhaps the single most important
apologist for Atheists and skeptics to
understand and refute.
Parsippany,

New Jersey

The CBD catalog features the Baker


Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.
"At last, a handy one-volume reference
that covers every issue, person, and concept related
to the defense
of
Christianity - and gives you responses
to arguments against the faith. Geisler's
comprehensive work covers a variety of
topics, including
the relationship
between science and Christianity, philosophical systems, contemporary concerns, and more." Other Geisler titles
available are The Battle for God,
Christian Apologetics, Christian Ethics,
From God to Us, Introduction
to
Philosophy: A Christian Perspective,
Unshakable Foundation, and Why I Am
a Christian."
Geisler has also co-authored with
Ron Brooks the perennial best-seller
When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on
Christian Evidences. "When skeptics
ask questions, believers need to be ready
with evidences for their faith. This
handbook helps you do that. Geisler ...
and Brooks give understandable explanations why belief in Christ and the
Bible is reasonable. Their question-andanswer format makes it easy to find
what you need, and a glossary of terms
helps with unfamiliar words. When
skeptics ask ... you need this book!"
In the post-9-1-1 world, Islam is on
everyone's mind. Evangelical Christians
are up to the challenge, however, and
the CBD catalog has a number of
polemic works aimed at defusing the
Islamic bomb. Although they do not
name Geisler's co-author (Abdul Saleeb)
for Answering Islam, Second Edition,
The Crescent in Light of the Cross, they
will send it to you for $12.99 plus shipping. ''Understand the most formidable
religious challenge to Christianity
today! Written by a lifelong Christian
and a former Muslim, this theological
critique clearly presents the basic doctrines of Islam, offers a Christian
response to Muslim beliefs, and argues
in support of Christian claims. New
preface written in light of 9/11."
It will be recalled that waters for
the biblical flood came from opened
"windows of heaven" and broken-up
Winter

2003-2004

"fountains of the deep." If disinformation were water, the contributions of


Geisler and McDowel to the disinformation flood which has engulfed our civilization would probably be equivalent to
the effusions from the fountains of the
deep.
Creationism
Creationists never tire to tell us
that their work is scientific and not religious. The developers of 'Scientific
Creationism'
and
more
recently
'Intelligent Design' eschew religious language as much as possible and sport a
veneer of scientific language
and.
appearance. The cat is out of the bag,
however, thanks to the CBD catalog. On
the page headed "Defending the Faith"
and "More on Apologetics" we find creationism under all disguises correctly
located and identified for what it really
is: religious apologetics.
The politically important "Focus on
the Family Creation Videos" are both
available for $15.99 each or for $29.99
together. Titled Unlocking the Mystery
of Life: The Case for Intelligent Design
and Icons of Evolution: Dismantling the
Myths, these revisionist views of evolutionary science claim to have the real
facts. "How did life originate? Was it
from an undirected
evolutionary
process, or was something - or Someone - else at work? No questions are
more important, and these thought-provoking videos offer revolutionary
answers. State-of-the-art computer animation and insights from leading scientists provide an in-depth look at
Darwin's theory and the powerful new
evidence in favor of intelligent design."
Apart from professional biologists, it is
not likely that very many people will be
able to detect the distortions of these
disinformative examples of religion in
the clothing of science.
Intelligent Design 'theory' is represented prominently in the apologetics
section of the CBD catalog, and all the
usual suspects have been placed in the
lineup. Starting with the lawyer Philip
E. Johnson's Defeating Darwinism by
Opening Minds, we are asked ''What's
the best way to defeat the misleading
claims of Darwinism?" The answer
according to the CBD catalog, is "B;
developing
solid
critical-thinking
skills... [Johnson's] non-technical discussion of evolutionary naturalism
offers sound advice on spotting deceptive arguments,
grasping scientific
issues, understanding the impact of the
Scopes trial, and more. Ideal for teens,
Page 7

teachers, pastors, or anybody concerned


about the creation/evolution debate." As
with earlier creationists, Johnson's lobbyists make an appeal for fairness and
open-mindedness - equal time for ID
and evolution. Unfortunately, many
school board members can't tell the difference between a mind that is 'open'
and a mind that is gaping. Other offerings from Johnson are Darwin on Trial,
The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning &
Public Debate, The Triumph of Design
and the Demise of Darwin (video), and
The Wedge of Truth: Splitting
the
Foundations of Naturalism. It is hard to
tell just how many school boards have
been taken in by this creationist apologist, but he is a serious threat to science
education in the public schools.
Michael J. Behe, the biochemist
(really!) who almost single-handedly
started the intelligent-design (lD) revolution in creationist politics, has for sale
Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical
Challenge to Evolution, a book that
brings the nineteenth-century
arguments about 'design' in nature down to
the sub-cellular level. Whereas back
then creationists argued that such
things as half a wing or half an eye could
not even be imagined as adaptive (and
thus selectable by natural selection),
convincing explanations of organ evolution have forced Behe to retreat down to
the cytologicaland biochemical levels to
find yet-unexplained
conundrums.
Blood clotting systems and the flagellar
motors of bacteria are now claimed to be
"irreducibly complex," and thus evidence of an intelligent designer. Since
Behe can't see how these systems could
have evolved from other pre-existing
systems, his conceit leads him to assert
that no one else will ever understand
these systems either.
It is not surprising that we do not
yet know how these systems evolved,
even though we are closing in fast on
such understanding. These systems are
still being mapped at the molecular level
and we don't have a full picture of what
exactly we have to explain. (For perspective, consider the fact that I myself
am older than the science of biochemistry as a separate academic discipline!)
We are disputing at the leading edge of
science, the boundary line where everything on the other side is unknown and
where every newly discovered fact raises new questions of mechanisms and origins. Without a doubt, however, all these
discoveries are informed by Darwinian
insights and are, one after the other,
being explained in evolutionary terms.
PageS

Evolutionary
theory has great
heuristic value; that is, it makes useful
predictions and leads to discovery. By
contrast, Behe's god is the quintessential 'god of the gaps.' It leads to no discoveries, and as each gap in knowledge
is narrowed, the god shrinks proportionally. As each gap is filled, Behe will have
to go back to the vanguard of discovery
to find a new unanswered question
raised by evolutionary scientists. Then,
for a time, he will be able to proclaim,
"This system is irreducibly complex and
can't be explained in evolutionary
terms." But Behe will probably still be
alive when that problem is solved, and
he will have to recycle his claim with yet
another newly uncovered conundrum.
As a matter of fact, the prestigious
journal Nature has just published a discovery that undermines Behe's contention that cilia and flagella are irreducibly complex entities. It has just
been discovered that the intraflagellar
transport proteins that are needed for
growth and maintenance of flagella in
the single-celled alga Chlamydomonas,
are also needed for normal development
of the brain and spinal chord in mice.*
While these particular proteins are
essential for the functioning of cilia and
flagella, they don't need these motor
structures to be biologically employed. It
can be expected that other flagellar components soon will be found to have a
variety of other functions as well. Cilia
and flagella will be seen to be jerry-built
organelles resulting from the same sort
of evolutionary tinkering that is seen
everywhere as the hallmark of the blind,
undesigning process of natural selection.
One of the theoreticians behind
Behe is William A. Dembski, whose
Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between
Science & Theology is on sale for just
$11.99. With great affectation of erudition, Dembski claims that there are scientific ways to detect design in objects
and systems. Well, so did Archdeacon
Paley at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, when he first used the nowcliched example of watches pointing to
the existence of watchmakers.
The
Blind
Watchmaker,
by
Richard
Dawkins, quite thoroughly has laid this
question to rest. Another ID title available is Designer Universe: Intelligent

* Huangfu, Danwei, Almin Liu, Andrew S.


Rakeman, Noel S. Murcia, Lee Niswander, &
Kathryn V. Anderson, "Hedgehog signalling
in the mouse requires intraflagellar transport proteins," Nature, Vol. 426, 6 Nov. 2003,
pp.83-87.
Winter 2003-2004

Design and the Existence of God, by


Harry L. Poe & Jimmy H. Davis - just
in case anyone were in doubt as to
where ID 'theory'is intended to lead the
public school system.
Creationists of all stripes and spots
are available in this catalog. There is
Kurt Wise's Faith, Form, and TIme:
What the Bible Teaches & Science
Confirms About Creation & the Age of
the Universe. Kurt was a doctoral student under Steve Gould at Harvard,
would you believe? Despite his fundamental misunderstanding of science, he
passed all his exams (with flying colors,
I'm told) and Harvard had no choice but
to grant him a Ph.D.
Hugh Ross, an old debate opponent
of mine, is represented by The Creator
and the Cosmos, as well as Lights in the
Sky and Little Green Men: A Rational
Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials (with co-authors K. Samples
and M. Clark). The founder of modern
'creation science,' Henry Morris, has a
catalog entry for his The Biblical Basis
for Modern Science,
Revised
and
Expanded. Morris, it should be noted,
has always refused to debate me, sending his son John to argue Noah's Flood
with me in his stead. (Since I have no
Ph.D., you see, he has not wanted to dignify my position by bringing it up to his
level. A transcript of the debate can be
found on the American Atheists Website <www.atheists.org>
under the
"Bone Pit" button.)
Spiritual Warfare
It may be that the editors of the
CBD catalog are a bit embarrassed to
include books about 'spiritual warfare'
in their inventory. Nowhere do they
explain exactly what spiritual warfare
is, nor do they have even one explanatory blurb pushing the twenty-one titles
listed under the heading "Spiritual
Warfare." Fortunately, I am something
of an authority on this subject - due to
the fact that last year I debated a
Christian college professor whose doctoral dissertation devoted hundreds of
pages to the subject. Naturally, I had to
read the whole verschluggene treatise
before debating the fellow. Like many
true Christians, he believes in what may
be dubbed 'jinni-geography.' Every particular region of the world, it seems, is
being plagued by a specific demon or
devil whose job is to stymie the efforts of
Christ's salvation army. These all can be
defeated, first, by 'discerning the powers'
- i.e., learning the name and antisocial
American Atheist

Cilia and flagella will be seen to be jerry-built


organelles resulting from the same sort of evolutionary tinkering that is seen everywhere as the
hallmark of the blind, undesigning process of natural selection.
security number of each demon in
charge of each region. Then, once the
jinnis have been identified, their names
can be used magically in prayers and
exorcisms. In the darkest days of the
Dark Ages, no superstition surpassed
this one for silliness, fatuousness, or
just plain ignorance.
Among the titles offered to legions
of clueless Christian soldiers are How to
Cast Out Demons, by Doris M. Wagner;
What the Bible Says About Spiritual
Warfare, by C. Peter Wagner; Strategy of
Satan, by Warren E. Wiersbe; Warfare
Prayer, by C. Peter Wagner; The
Handbook
for Spiritual
Warfare
(Revised and Updated), by Dr. Ed
Murphy; Spiritual Warfare, by A. Scott
Moreau; Deliverance from Evil Spirits,
by Francis MacNutt [how appropriate a
name for this authorl}; Unmasking the
Jezebel Spirit, by John Paul Jackson;
Kingdom Warfare: Prayer, Spiritual
Warfare, and the Ministry of Angels, by
Jack Hayford; and Preparing for Battle:
A Spiritual Warfare Workbook, by Mark
1. Bubeck.
These theorists and some of the
leaders in George W. Bush's military
have been busy of late 'discerning the
powers' in Iraq and are believed by
many to be doing a far more important
job than that done by our troops on the
ground. More important even than our
air force, these mentally hapless
hoplites
constitute
the
spiritual
Luftwaffe that our president is counting
on to turn the tide in the Near East.
Now that Saddam Hussein has been
captured, it will be possible for these
spiritual intelligence experts to determine for certain which evil spirits have
taken possession of the demonized exruler. While rationalists must perforce
consider all this to be absurd and ridiculous, they must at the same time realize
the grave importance of the fact that
many of their disinformed elected officials and military leaders take all this
as seriously as body-counts.

Parsippany, New Jersey

Prophecy
When Ronald Reagan was yet governor of California, he expressed his
belief in the Book of Revelation publicly,
indicating that he believed he was living
in the 'end times' foretold in that apocalyptic book. When he became president,
I lived in constant fear that he might at
any minute decide that it was necessary
to catalyze the advent of Armageddon. If
God wants the world to end in our time
how could any God-fearing president act
contrary to the divine will? Would that
red telephone be in his office if the Good

and the Middle East Crisis-Revised.


"Armageddon is closer than we think,
believes noted Bible scholar Walvoord!
Explaining how biblical prophecies are
now being fulfilled in such events as the
ArablIsraeli conflict, Walvoord prepares
you for the final drama leading to the
second coming of Christ. Are you ready?
Walvoord offers a plan of salvation so
you can be sure." While rationalists
must be amusedly skeptical of a
prophetic book that has had to be
revised, legions of true believers at all
levels of our society have taken this
book quite seriously and are trying to
figure out exactly where they fit into '
this divinely designed scenario.
No prophecy section of a truly
Christian catalog would be complete
without the works of Tim LaHaye,
including Charting the End Times: A
Visual Guide to Understanding Bible
Prophecy. "Does apocalyptic literature
leave you bleary-eyed? Gain a clear pic-

More important even than our air force, these


mentally hapless hoplites constitute the spiritual
Luftwaffe that our president is counting on to turn
the tide in the Near East.
Lord hadn't
planned
it? Would
Armageddon become a self-fulfilling
prophecy?
If any
Bible-believing
Christian is sitting in the Oval Office,
will Armageddon become a self-fulfilling
prophecy?
Reagan was the darling of reactionary Christians everywhere, and his
belief in the importance of biblical
prophecy greatly amplified an already
loud clamor emanating from true believers who claimed that everything happening in our world was predicted by
the ancient authors of their sacred
books. This prophetic chorus has continued to grow in volume up to the present
day, and it is now the opinion of a considerable number of very high officials in
Washington. In the case of the president
himself, it is hazardous to try to separate public pretense from private profession. He does appear genuinely to
believe that he has been chosen by the
god of his Bible to invade Iraq and
depose its demonic leader. Where might
he (or the spiritual powers behind his
throne) have gotten such ideas?
Possible answers can be found in the
CBD catalog. Consider Dr. John
Walvoord's best-selling Armageddon, Oil
Winter 2003-2004

ture of Bible prophecy with this astonishing visual guide! Features stimulating text; over 50 dynamic color charts;
timelines to clarify end-times chronology; and a 6-panel foldout panoramic
view of God's plan for the ages. The
result of decades of research and study
by two prophecy experts." Also available
are LaHaye's Are We Living in the End
Times?; The Complete Bible Prophecy
Chart; The Merciful God of Prophecy;
The Rapture:
Who Will Face the
Tribulation?; and Understanding Bible
Prophecy for Yourself Keys to Unlocking
the End Times.
Once again, rationalists may laugh
at the whole concept of prophecy, with
its fundamental
assumption
that
Yahweh or Jesus wasn't really speaking
to the people the Bible says he was
addressing but rather was talking to
people who would live thousands of
years later in lands yet unimagined. It is
no laughing matter, however, to consider
the danger inherent in a world whose
leaders and lobbyists not only actually
believe such nonsense but think, moreover, that the future is not going to be
the logical result of actions we have
taken in the past and present, but
Page 9

rather was all planned out by a presciObesity is rampant in America, as I


scientific writings of men who would be
entific society that wouldn't have had
am painfully aware from my own solimplacable enemies of science if they
the faintest idea of what to do with "a 6diering in the 'Battle of the Bulge.'
were alive today. I suspect Dr. Colbert
panel foldout panoramic view of God's
Practically everyone today is overweight
has reaped a healthy harvest from the
plan for the ages." Belief that the future
- or thinks so. Is this a challenge for
sale of these best-selling books. His
of human society not only has been
Bible Man's accountant or what? Who
investment in Christian credulity and
determined by causes outside human
can forget that Moses wrote that "Allthe
ignorance must be returning tidy earnfat is the LORD's"[Lev 3:16] ? Any entercontrol but is unalterable by human
ings for him.
actions is noxious. It
It would appear
can only foster societal
that Dr. Colbert is a
paralysis.
No true
mere novice compared
Elmer Gantry can show you that Lev 3: 16 to Carole Lewis in the
believer can be expected to do the slightest
of cashing in on
does not just apply to the fat of sacrificial ani- art
thing to prevent a realChristian credulity and
world Armageddon mals. Jehovah wants
fat as well, and you gullibility. She has crehence my alarm years
ated an astonishing
really shouldn't ignore his kinky desires.
ago during the Reagan
money-making scheme
regime. Of all the disthe equal to which will
information leaked to
be hard to find - even
prising Elmer Gantry can show you that
credulous
American
governmental
in the CBD catalog. She is selling not
that verse does not just apply to the fat
'intelligence' personnel by all the varijust a book; she is selling a plan: First
of sacrificial animals. Jehovah wants
ous insurgent theocracies now contendPlace: The Original Bible-Based Weight
your fat as well, and you really shouldn't
Loss Plan. "Here's a weight-loss proing for control of this land of ours, none
ignore his kinky desires. Besides, Jesus
gram that's about gaining ... a lifeis as pernicious as the notion that the
agrees with his dad completely on this
changing
relationship
with
God!
Bible can foretell the future without the
issue, as you can find out by reading a
Participants in the 13-week program folneed of science or rational actions of any
popular book by Don Colbert, M.D.
low a fitness and Bible study plan that
kind.
For just $16.99 you can own What
includes regular meetings, prayer,
Would Jesus
Eat?
The
Ultimate
Scripture reading and memorization,
Dieting and Health,
Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great,
healthy eating, accountability, fellowWith Key to the Scriptures
ship, and exercise. Learn to be victoriand Living Longer. "Does Scripture
teach us how to live and eat? Based on
ous over old eating habits and commit
For many decades, American
medical and' historical research, this
your spirit, heart, mind, and body to
Atheists has been arguing before state
health specialist say yes! Dr. Colbert
God."
legislatures and in its various periodishows you why those foods Jesus ate are
The catalog cheerfully assures its
cals that religion can be dangerous to
ideal for 21st-century living-and why
readers "Here's everything you need to
one's health. We have focused, of course,
those he avoided continue to pose health
start a First Place group: Group Starter
on the most dangerous cults such as
risks. Discover a comprehensive nutriKit $149.99 [$119.99 for CBD cusChristian Science, the Faith Assembly,
tomers], Member Kit $79.99 [$63.99]."
tion plan that incorporates Bible-based
and other groups that eschew scientific
"Everything," apparently, is more
eating. " For just $15.99 more you can
medicine in favor of "treatment by
get Colbert's The What Would Jesus Eat
than just the Group Starter Kit and the
prayer alone." Our polemic has been
Member Kit. You're not going to get on
Cookbook. Another $14.99 (unless you
directed mostly at the religious 'healing'
want it on audiocassette or CD) will get
this diet for just $183.98. Oh, no: there
of children, many of whom have died of
you Colbert's Toxic Relief. "Dr. Colbert's
are the "Books in the series" that you
prayer over-dose during the last thirty
will need:
proven 30-day fasting and detoxification
years. Alas, this horrific form of child
program will help cleanse your system,
abuse continues to be legal in most
Eating
Healthy,
Eating Right: A
restore your vitality, shed toxic fat, and
states of the union, thanks to the lobbyComplete 16-week Meal Planner to Help
reclaim your health."
ing expertise of the Christian Science
You Lose Weight, Scott Wilson, E.E.E.,
Of course, it cannot be assumed
Church.
A.A.C. & Jody Wilkinson, M.D., M.S.
that everything in these books will be
It must be admitted that killing
$18.99 [$13.99]. [For some reason, the
silly or ill-advised. I have not had the
kids with prayer is not a widespread
meal planner is for 16 weeks even
time to obtain these books, and I am
practice in mainstream
American
though the program is only 13 weeks.]
willing to grant that they may be reaChristianity, but I remain cynical as to
sonable rehashes of common medical
the reasons for this apparent benignity.
First Place: The Original Bible-Based
wisdom on the subject of health and
Perhaps it is due to the simple fact that
Weight Loss Plan, Carole Lewis with
nutrition. My gripe is that where these
Terry Whalin, $18.99 [$13.99].
there's little money to be made from
First Place Bible Study,
$19.99
books may be giving good advice it will
dead children. (As far as I am aware,
[$13.99].
be for the wrong reasons. Instead of
only Christian Science Practitioners can
First Place Leader's Guide, $19.99
credit accruing to the lineage of infidel
collect from Blue Cross and other
[$15.99].
scientists who have slowly and painfully
sources for prayer 'treatment' even
Health 4 Life: 52 Simple Ideas for
accumulated knowledge of the functionwhen it has killed the patient.) On the
Living Healthy in Every Area, Jody
ing
of
other hand, there are other markets
Wilkinson, M.D., M.S., $14.99 [$11.99].
the human machine, credit - and crediwhere religions and religious authors
bility - will be conferred upon the precan invest their time and energy.
American Atheist
Winter 20032004
Page 10

your

Bible," "Bible Studies, and "Bible


Reference Works."
It must be said at the outset that
there is almost nothing of any scientific
value in those pages. That is, there is
very little representing objective and
impartial scholarship in them. A great
Even though you must have realdeal has been discovered about the oriized that
the
gins and evolution
actual foods to be
of the various biblieaten
are not
Instead of credit accruing to the lineage of infidel cal texts, but you
included in the
won't find much of it
scientists who have slowly and painfully accumulat- for sale here. To the
prices
listed
above, you should
ed knowledge of the functioning of the human contrary, you will
not suppose that
find only books and
it will only cost
machine, credit - and credibility - will be conferred reference
works
you the discount
that toe the evanupon the prescientific writings of men who would gelical line and
price of $268.92
plus postage and
be implacable enemies of science if they were alive eschew 'Modernism'
handling. I have
and other secular or
not told you yet
today.
scientific heresies.
that you also need
There are endless
"Bible
studies
series of bible-study
Bible Study
with Scripture memory CDs" to do this
guides and courses, not one of which is
diet. In addition, you need to buy:
worth naming in this essay. Not one of
I have to confess that I get the CBD
them will give any insight into the
Everyday Victory for Everyday People,
catalog for more reasons than just keepnature of the biblical texts or let the stu$19.99 [$15.99J.
ing abreast of what the Fundies are up
Giving Christ First Place, $19.99
dent know what real scholars have figto. As a scientific student of the bibles of
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ured out, say, about the forgery known
Judaism and Christianity, I possess a
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as the Book of Daniel. Not one of them
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very large library of scholarly resources
will alert the student to the fact that the
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authors of Matthew and Luke plagia[$15.99J.
Greek, and Hebrew dictionaries in great
rized the Greek text of Mark, fitting it to
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number, bibles in Greek, Hebrew, and
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other languages, journals, symposia,
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one will derive the creation myths in
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be willing to sacrifice $364.86 in order to
Genesis
from
Canaanite
and
collected works of early church fathers,
begin letting Jehovah lap up the lard
Mesopotamian
mythologies.
Only
and photocopies of scholarly treatises in
that rightfully belongs to him. Some
benighted ignorance is for sale in the
German, French, and other languages
truly true-believing dieters might worry,
bible-studies pages of the CBD catalog.
published as far back as 1793. As the
however, that the LORD may look
There is so much more to tell you
reader may suppose, such things don't
askance at their discount sacrifice - he
about the books and paraphernalia
usually come cheap and they make up a
might think they aren't sufficiently supbeing sold to the child-like, believing
significant part of my annual budget (as
pliant by not presenting Him an offering
population that has helped an ultraconif I were well enough organized to have
at full sticker price. True Christians
servative 'Neocon' oligarchy to seize cona budgetl). Naturally, I try to buy such
such as they might well want to avoid
trol of our country, but I fear I have run
things at the lowest-possible prices.
this discount catalog and buy everything
out of antacids and cannot turn another
Once in a great while, I can find somestraight from the manufacturer
at
page in this catalog without suffering
thing I need in the CBD catalog. Great!
Suggested Retail Price, so the LORDwill
ulceration of my splenic mucosa. I have
Most often, however, there is nothknow they are sincere.
already discharged all the bile I can proing I can use in the catalog. Although it
It is hard to imagine an easier way
duce for a single review and shall have
does carry standard grammars and dicto make money from Homo boobus, as H.
to let the hundreds of remaining catalog
tionaries for the biblical languages, I've
L. Mencken once christened the believitems go unclassified
as well as
owned them all for over thirty years now
ing American
multitude
the
unnamed - unscored and unscourged.
and they are of no interest to me.
'booboisie.' I am reminded of Jon
Certainly, however, they will be of use to
Murray, when he became president of
What Does It All Mean?
young scholars beginning their investiAmerican Atheists indulging in some
gation of the bibles of Judeochrisfantasizing about how to get Christians
The CBD catalog conceals an importendom, although most of them are not
to pay for Atheism to make up for the
tant message, one that can be extracted
discounted all that greatly. Unfortuages through which Atheists have had to
from every page: America is on the verge
nately, young scholars will be impeded
pay for Christianity. He had just seen a
of plunging back down into the depths of
in their inquest into the nature of the
bumper-sticker inscribed with Lev 3:16
the Dark Ages of Faith. The most
biblical texts by all the nonsense that
- "The Fat is the Lord's" - along with
abysmal superstitions of a pre scientific
blights the pages under the headings
something suggesting Christian dieting.
world are selling faster than Freedom
"Biblical Studies," "How to Study the
He thought it would be fun to cook up a
[Normally 29 each, you can get each
simple idea for just 23 a piece in lots of
52 or more!]
Today Is the First Day: Daily
Encouragement on the Journey to Weight
Loss and a Balanced Life, Carole Lewis,
$19.99 [$14.99].

Parsippany, New Jersey

biblical weight-loss scheme, publish it


under a pseudonym, and launder it
through a high-volume Christian distributor such as CBD. If only he were
alive today to see how even his fantasy
has been surpassed by the Christians
themselves.

Winter 2003-2004

Page 11

Fries and are being back-ordered. The


catalog tells us that there is an enormous market for disinformation in
America and that the ignorance industry is a frightfully large business. Worse
yet, it tells us that a large segment of
our civilization desires to be deceived. It
repeats the antique message of Pope
Paul IV's legate to Paris: populus vult
decipi - the people want to be deceived.
It tells us that the investors who are
profiting from the disinformation market have not forgotten the even earlier
message of the fourth-century church
father Eusebius, who titled a chapter of
his Prteparatio Evangelica "How it may
be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood
as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of
those who Want to be Deceived."
It might be argued that my use of
the term disinformation is not quite in
accord with the dictionary definition displayed at the beginning: "deliberately
false information leaked by a government, as to confuse another nation's
intelligence operations." It seems to me,
however, that our present situation is

entirely analogous to that of two governments competing for hegemony. One is


the secular government set in power by
the Constitution of the United States;
the other is a clerical, shadow government engaged in guerrilla warfare
against the constitutional authority. The
clerical disinformation specialists not
only are trying to deceive the American
government with ancient lies and fables,
they are creating new falsehoods that
have allowed government officials to
'discover' that the First Amendment
doesn't really require a wall of separation between church and state or guarantee freedom from religion, and that
the American Founding Fathers really
wanted to establish the Christian
Nation that we are becoming.
Our civilization is being engulfed in
a veritable Noah's Flood of disinformation. Atheists, Humanists, and rationalistic people of all denominations are desperately needed to play the part that
Yahweh is said to have played at the end
of the biblical flood:they must cut off the
water supply. They must close the

"windows of heaven" to stop the rain and


plug-up the "fountains of the deep" to
stem the tide. Unfortunately, their task
is greater than that of Yahweh. Now
that the flood is already on the earth,
what is to be done with the water? For
the flat earth on which Yahweh operated
it would be easy: just let the water run
over the edges of the earth and "asswage" and "abate." For the real world in
which we are trying to survive, however,
this option is not available. Our earth is
a sphere, and water can't drain off it into
outer space. We must somehow annihilate the 'water' that is suffocating the
senses of our government officials and
choking the intellectual life out of our
civilization. How is this to be done? Alas,
I do not really know - but I'm working
on the problem.
Readers who have ideas about how
to fight the disinformation war are invited to e-mail Frank Zindler at uiuno.editor@atheists.org> or send a snail-mail
letter to him at P.O.
Box 5733,
Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733.

Present day:

1543 A.D.:

"ANYONE WHO BELIEVES IN


"ANYONE WHO BELIEVES THAT
EVOLUTIOi\J IS GOING TO HELL!
THE EARTH ORBITS THE SUN
SCIENCE INSTRUCTORS WHO
WILL BE BURNED AT THE STAKE!" TEACH IT MUST BE FIRED!"
Page 12

Winter 20032004

American Atheist

Luther
Burbank:
Infidel
Genius
Introduction
by Frank R. Zindler

rowing up on my grandfather's
small farm in Michigan, I
learned early-on that some ofthe
most beautiful flowers and the most
delicious and productive varieties of
fruits and vegetables had been 'produced' by a man named Burbank. After I
learned how to read real books, not just
the primers and readers taught in the
two-room school I attended, one of the
first books of any kind I was to read all
the way through was a children's biography of the "Plant Wizard" Luther
Burbank. The book gave no hint that the
man who had been named after the
founder of my family's religion held heterodox views in the sphere of faith.
There was not a word or phrase that
would have suggested that Luther not
only wasn't a Lutheran, he wasn't even
a Christian or believer of any kind at all.
Luther Burbank (1849-1926) became
my first hero, and I read his biography
at least twice. I resolved to follow in his
Parsippany, New Jersey

footsteps perhaps to become a


Lutheran Luther Jr. Life is irony!
It wasn't until years later, after I
had graduated from college - perhaps
significantly, as a biologist with a heavy
emphasis in botany - that I happened to
learn the truth about Luther Burbank.
(No, Burbank California is not named
after Luther Burbank; rather, it is
named after a Los Angeles dentist,
David Burbank.) The man whose fungus-resistant potatoes had restored to
life Catholic Ireland was an 'Infidel' an unbeliever in any of the superstitions
afflicting this credulous world of ours.
I have long wanted to publish a tribute to Burbank in this journal, but I
have never had the time to research a
completely original article. As other
projects have had to take priority over
the Burbank project, I have begun to
worry that it will never come to publication and that my childhood hero will
pass into oblivion and be forgotten even
by members of the American Atheist
community. For this reason, I have
decided to reprint the full text of the
'Little Blue Book' ofE. Haldeman-Julius
dealing with Burbank: Why I Am An
Winter 2003-2004

Infidel: Luther Burbank, LITTLE BLUE


BOOK NO. 1020, Edited by E.
Haldeman-Julius
(Girard,
Kansas:
Haldeman-Julius Company, no date). In
addition, I am reprinting part of a chapter from George E. Macdonald's book
Fifty Years of Freethaught (1931) that
contains the actual survey questionnaire to which Burbank replied and
touched off the wave of hostile reaction
alluded to in the Little Blue Book.

Luther
Burbank
(Apparently written by
Haldeman-Julius)
[Pages 3-4 of E. Haldeman-Julius'
Blue Book No. 1020]

Little

uther Burbank, naturalist, originator of new fruits, flowers, etc., was


born in Massachusetts in 1849. he was
always devoted to nature study, especially plant life, with which he early
Page 13

began to experiment. He moved to Santa


Rosa, California, in 1875, where he conducted Burbank's Experiment Farms.
He often had several thousand distinct
experiments under way - even at the
time of his death growing some five
thousand distinct botanical specimens
from all over the world. He was also a
special lecturer on evolution at Leland
Stanford, Jr., University. His fame as a
botanist and inventor of new plant
forms awakened widespread interest in
plant breeding throughout the world. In
January, 1926, Luther Burbank made a
declaration of agnosticism to a newspaper reporter. Although Burbank's rationalistic convictions were not by any
means unknown to readers of his books,
or to his friends, the publication of this
interview in the newspapers created a
furore of criticism throughout the country. Since it then became known generally to the public at large, the facts
about Luther Burbank's agnosticism
were news. In spite of criticism from the
pulpits, he refused to qualify his
unequivocal statements. "I am an infidel," he said.
About the middle of March Luther
Burbank became III with gastro-intestinal complications. He died April 11,
1926. Lest the "last words" of this infidel
be garbled in future ages to delude credulous mankind, it should be emphatically stated that Luther Burbank did
not recant - even the newspaper
accounts of his death made this fact
clear. He remained an infidel until the
last - an unbeliever, scientifically sure
of himself, passing from life into
darkness.

WhyIAm
An Infidel
by

Luther Burbank
[Pages 5-9 ofE. Haldeman-Julius'
Little Blue Book No. 1020]

C! cience

is knowledge arranged and


according to truth, facts,
and the general laws of nature. Our Dr.
David Starr Jordan defines it more
briefly as "organized human knowledge"
or "human experience tested and set in
order."

oclassified

Page 14

There are always at least two sides


of every question which may be suggested to the human mind. Sometimes both
views are correct, but far more often one
is right, and according to facts and
truth, the other wrong. All personal,
social, moral, and national success
depends upon the judicious wisdom of
our choices made by the aid of science.
Narrow personal prejudices and feelings
quite too often becloud the issue and
ultimate defeat is the inevitable result.
Life as we see it around us on this
planet is usually thought to be confined
to man, animals, and plants, those
organisms which grow and reproduce
their kind with more or less precision.
Why should we omit crystals which
grow as truly as plants and reproduce
themselves quite as precisely to type, or
the more primitive forms of life which

for the continuation of any species. All


these various powers of adaptation have
to be acquired individually and repeated
indefinitely until so fixed in the life
stream that they are reproduced.
Repetition is the means of impressing
any quality or character in animal life or
in man and by just the same means
plants are impressed, and their qualities and habits changed as we desire. All
life depends upon a series of selections,
and repetitions.
The first faint glimmerings of choice
may be seen in the polarity of the magnet, next we see it perhaps in plants and
the more primitive forms of life, and as
we mount higher and higher in the scale
of life there is more and more freedom
of choice and less dependence upon
heredity.

There are too few who exploit the inexhaustible


forces of nature and far too manS' who exploit
their fellow beings. Useless waste and unneeessat'S'parasitism take at least nine-tenths of the
productive capacitS' of the United States.
are reproduced by division? Science is
proving that the world is not half dead,
but that every atom is all life and
motion.
Life is self-expression, intricate
organized polarity. The lure of happiness and the fear of pain are fundamental qualities possessed by all living
things and are the two forces which
have through untold millenniums kept
what we usually call life from destruction by the ever encroaching outside
forces of destruction. Life is heredity
plus environment. At birth of a plant,
animal, or man, heredity has already
been fixed. Environment may now call
into action only those tendencies which
have been experienced in the age long
past, yet may recombine and intensify
them in a most surprising way. Such a
modification is limited, generally, to the
individual, but may, if repeated generation after generation, by slow increments at last become fixed and available
in the species.
Assimilation and reproduction are,
and, of course, must be fundamental
and universal. The power of adaptation
to various conditions which beset all life
may also be considered as fundamental
Winter 20032004

Ancient tribes and nations had


many gods, often one for almost every
phenomenon of nature. The Hebrews
have the credit of inventing the conception of our monotheistic
JewishChristian God, who however is represented as having most of the weaknesses and bad habits of primitive man; this
was a step in the path of evolution
toward man's present conception of God;
the God within us is the only available
God we know, and the clear light of science teaches us that we must be our own
saviors, if we are to be found worth saving; in other words, to depend upon the
"kingdom within." The manhood and
womanhood which would make the most
of life in service to others is a sublimated form of the best of self which leads
the way to a long lifetime of usefulness,
happiness, health, and peace.
There are without doubt some
human beings in every nation, who,
according to our present standards of
civilization are truly civilized, but grave
doubts may be entertained as to any
community or any nation who could in
any way measure up even to this standard scale of life, where we find more
and more freedom, but even man today
American Atheist

Our lives as we live them are passed on to others


whether in physical or mental forms tinging all
future lives forever. This should be enough for one
who lives for truth and service to his fellow passengers on the way. No avenging Jewish Gcd, no
satanic 'Devil, no fiery hell is of any interest to him.
is far from free. Slaves yet to war, crime,
and ignorance - the only "unpardonable sin." Slaves to unnumbered ancient
"taboos," superstitions, prejudices, and
fallacies, which one by one are slowly
but surely weakening under the clear
light of the morning of science; the savior of mankind. Science which has
opened our eyes to the vastness of the
universe and given us light, truth, and
freedom from fear where once was darkness, ignorance, and superstition. There
is no personal salvation, there is no
national salvation, except through science. There are too few who exploit the
inexhaustible forces of nature and far
too many who exploit their fellow
beings. Useless waste and unnecessary
parasitism take at least nine-tenths of
the productive capacity of the United
States.
Will the growing intelligence of man
(Science) forever tolerate the wholesale
production of the ever-increasing proportion of idiots, morons, mongoloids,
insane, criminal, weak, destitute, nervous, diseased half men and women who
infest the earth to their own sorrow and
disgrace and perhaps the ultimate
destruction of our present state of civilization? A knowledge of the fundamental laws of nature, not inefficient palliatives, is the first step. Is there a problem
equal to the building of a better humanity? Our lives as we live them are passed
on to others whether in physical or mental forms tinging all future lives forever.
This should be enough for one who lives
for truth and service to his fellow passengers on the way. No avenging Jewish
God, no satanic Devil, no fiery hell is of
any interest to him. The scientist is a
lover of truth for the very love of truth
itself, wherever it may lead. Every normal human being has ideals, one or
many, to look up to, reach up to, to grow
up to. Religion refers to the sentiments
and feelings; science refers to the
demonstrated everyday laws of Nature.
Feelings are all right, if one does not get
Parsippany, New Jersey

drunk on them. Prayer may be elevating


if combined with works, and they who
labor with head, hands, or feet have
faith and are generally quite sure of an
immediate and favorable reply.
Those who take refuge behind theological barbed wire fences, quite often
wish they could have more freedom of
thought, but fear the change to the great

ocean of scientific truth as they would a


cold bath plunge.
Mr. [William Jennings] Bryan [the
presidential candidate and anti-evolution Scopes Trial orator] was an honored
personal friend of mine, yet this need
not prevent the observation that the
skull with which Nature endowed him
visibly approached the Neanderthal
type. Feelings and the use of gesticulations and words are more according to
the nature of this type than investigation and reflection.
Those who would legislate against
the teaching of evolution should also legislate against gravity, electricity, and
the unreasonable velocity of light, and
also should introduce a clause to prevent the use of the telescope, the microscope, and the spectroscope or any other
instrument of precision which may in
the future be invented, constructed or
used for the discovery of truth.

c:::Jc::::::l
(

(I

Winter 2003-2004

Page 15

Burbank
Answers
Some Questions
Excerpted from Fifty Years of Freethought: Story of The Truth Seeker
From1875, Vol. II, by George E. Macdonald (New York: The Truth Seeker
Company,

he hot debate on evolution in


1922 acquainted us incidentally
with the reason why scientific
truth makes slow headway against
religion. It was that the exponents of
truth never could depend upon the scientists to rally around and battle for
the right interpretation of facts. From
the first of my Freethought reading I
had learned that science traversed
every article of faith held by the
Christian world. The light of science,
the writers of fifty years ago finely
said, had dissolved the mists of superstition, or were destined to do so at an
early date. And Evolution - Why, evolution didn't leave religion a peg to
hang its millinery on. But they hoped
against experience. Science didn't dissolve the mists; the mists befogged
science.
There is that old Science of
Astronomy, with all its facts. that in
the days of Galileo and Copernicus
created a new heaven and a new earth
wholly incompatible with Bible geography, aeronautics,
and ascensions.
The Bible had residents in heaven and
on earth swapping visits and returning calls; and belief in that sort of
thing - this ascension of persons from
the pages of the Bible into heaven has survived the clearly demonstrated
truth that there is nowhere for such
persons to go. The belief is still so common that it is only the unusual man or
woman who will openly express doubt
Page 16

1931), pages 548-553

that Jesus was received bodily into


heaven wearing his Sunday clothes.
There is prospect that before my book
is out, the pope, yielding to tradition
and the request of many heads of religious societies, will promulgate the
dogma - and see it accepted next day
by the newspapers - of the "assumption" of the virgin; that is, that the
mother of Jesus was snatched alive,
with all her disabilities, into the presence of her son, seated just to the right
of his father in heaven. Copernicus
handed that foolishness a fatal blow;
yet one may now examine orthodox
faith closely and not find a dent made
in it by astronomical fact.
That other great science, Geology,
by which it is certified that the six
thousand year period since Genesis is
less than sixty seconds on the clock of
the world, disturbs the faith of no one
who really wants to be a child of God
and accept Jesus as his personal savior. This notwithstanding that no man
having such endowments
of horse
sense that he knows a contradiction
when he sees one can believe in modern astronomy and geology and in
Christianity at the same time.
Still it is hard to give up the
belief, taught some of us at our mothers' knees, as it were, that knowledge
shall yet dissolve the morning mists of
superstition like fog before the rising
sun.
Winter 20032004

In 1922 Miss Lovisa Brunzell of


San Francisco, who had been brought
into
Rationalism
by the
1915
Freethought
Congress in that city,
thought to hang Christianity higher
than Haman by taking the depositions
of all the men of science in America
and publishing them in a book for general circulation. Hence her famous
Questionnaire, which before she completed her part of the work had been
sent to all of the eleven thousand men
and women who were members of the
American
Association
for
the
Advancement
of Science.
Luther
Burbank, the Darwinian plant "wizard" of Santa
Rosa, California,
answered promptly and favorably on
one of the first forms distributed, and
returned
the questions
with the
answers here appended:
Q. Do you believe in the divinity
and miraculous conception of Christ?
B. I do not; there is no proof of it,
either natural or otherwise.
Q. Is it your opinion that prayer is
answered by an intelligent being from
without?
B. I do not believe that prayer has
been or ever will be answered by any
intelligent being from without. There
is absolutely no proof whatever of this,
though it may be very comforting to
some to believe this myth.
Q. Do you think that the sole
value of prayer consists in its effect on
American Atheist

Questioner: What, in S'0uropinion, has given rise to religious beliefs?


Burbank: ProbablS'two things: First, the desire to extend our present life;
and second , the desire of its teachers to be supported bS'those who labor.
.

the person praying?


B. Mostly. Sometimes it might
prove of value to others.
Q. Has science taught you that
heaven and hell do not exist?
B. The common orthodox heaven
and hell do not exist. They could not
exist ifthere were an all-powerful and
just ruler. No criminal could be as
cruel as the God who would consign
human beings to a hell.
Q, What is your opinion of the
Bible? Is it the work of God or of man?
B. Without the shadow of a doubt
the work of man, being a history of the
lives of ancient tribes reaching up
toward civilization, and constructed
mostly unconsciously by men both
good and bad.
Q. Do you assume that the soul of
man ceases to functionate
[szc] at
death?
B. In other spheres, I do. Its influence will live in humanity - will live
for good or bad for all time. We actually live in the lives of others.
Q Do you agree with Buchner that
"the brain is the seat of the soul"?
B, A very difficult question to
answer in a few words. The brain, if
we include the whole nervous system,
is the soul. Millions of souls functionate [szc], through heredity, through
our own personal ones.
Q. Would you say that matter and
force govern the universe rather than
a supreme being?
B. Matter, which in its last analysis is force, governs what we know of
the universe.
Q. Can you harmonize
the
Christian
faith with the laws of
nature?
B. In part, though this requires
more than a ''Yes'' or "No." It is a faith
grown up in our heredity, and has
been an important factor, even though
it does not harmonize with the laws of
nature.
Q. Can you say with Darwin that
"Agnostic would be the more correct
description of my state of mind"?
Parsippany, New Jersey

B. Yes, with reservations.


Q. Have your labors in the field of
science and research caused you to
alter your earlier opinions on religion?
B. All my work in the field of science and research has come through a
change in my earlier opinions on religion. Growth is the law of life.
Orthodoxy is the death of scientific
effort.
Q. What facts of nature substantiate your views?
B. The evolution and development
of man and his civilization through
his own efforts, and only these.
Q. Is life after death proved or disproved by science?
B. It has never been proved or disproved, but it is rapidly, in my opinion, being disproved and so accepted
by intelligent people.
Q. What, in your opinion, has
given rise to religious beliefs?
B. Probably two things: First, the
desire to extend our present life; and
second, the desire of its teachers to be
supported by those who labor.
Q. Is religion of any value in the
conduct of human affairs?
B. There is no possible doubt that
it has been and, like police force, will
be in the future to those who are not
able to govern themselves, especially
in their relations toward others.
Further remarks: The thousands
of religions which exist and have
existed are stepping-stones to a better
adaptation to environment, and are
one by one being replaced by the clear
light of science and knowledge - in
other words, as the fables of childhood
are being supplanted
by a better
understanding ofthe facts oflife.
Faithfully yours,
LUTHER BURBANK.

might otherwise feel that they would


be too much alone in expressing
heretical
opinions, supposing they
held them).
Hudson Maxim, the inventor,
junked the Christian
religion and
threw it into the scrap heap. He said
that the story of Joshua holding up
the sun and moon, the incident of
Jonah and the whale, the gossip about
a miraculous conception, the fable of
the Holy Trinity, and a hundred other
stupid inventions were absurd myths
that Christian fanatics had for two
thousand
years
tried
to compel
mankind to believe, using the tortures
of the Inquisition for that purpose.
A professor in the university at
Tucson, Arizona, for the first time in
his life yielding to the temptation to
write an anonymous letter, argued
that if all men of science should
express their views for publication, it
would bring the conflict between science and religion to an issue in which
the adherents of science would be
squelched unless they took shelter in
the church.
Candid replies were submitted by
a score who withheld their names
from publication; but so many more
made inconsequent answers that, as I
read their responses, I concluded that
we had overestimated the importance
of the opinions of the scientists about
religion.

Miss
Brunzell
printed
the
answers of Burbank on a separate
sheet and inclosed them with future
copies of the Questionnaire,
in the
trust they would encourage to frankness some of our scientific men who
Winter 2003-2004

Page 17

Luther Burbank, Infidel


by
Edgar Waite
[Pages 9-25 of E. Haldeman-Julius'
Little Blue Book No. 1020]

hen Luther Burbank, disciple, prophet and high priest


of nature, announced himself as an infidel he loosed a shot in
the hierarchy of orthodox thinking
that was destined, like another shot
before it, to be heard around the
world.
On the morning
of Friday,
January 22, 1926, before Burbank's
avowal of disbelief was broadcast
through the press, California's gentle
patriarch went about his experimental labors with the serenity of one who
knows that he has harbored no evil
thoughts of his fellowman and that in
seventy-seven years of life he has
never consciously hurt a living being.
He was the revered, kindly old
gentleman of an admiring world. No
voice had ever been raised against
him. How could any voice be raised
against a man who had done only
good, who had filled the world's gardens with more beautiful flowers than
they had ever known before, who in
times of hunger and war had helped
replenish the world's granaries by his
genius, and who had given mankind
meaty vegetables and gorgeous fruits
such as nature, working blindly, had
never before visioned?
At noon of that day the San
Francisco Bulletin, shielding its sensational "beat" against the buccaneering plagiarisms of rival papers, rent
wide its pages to make space for my
copyright interview in which the
famous horticulturist described himself fearlessly as an infidel, expressed
disbelief in immortality, and of course
scornfully dismissed Henry Ford's
Page 18

recently pledged adherence to a fantastic theory of reincarnation.


And before night Burbank, wrested violently from his calm nature-lore
in the thriving little city of Santa
Rosa, became the center of the most
exciting philosophical and theological
discussion of our era. Letters and
telegrams began pouring in, first from
nearby cities, but, as the days passed,
from an ever-widening circle that
finally took in Canada, England,
Germany and a score of ether countries. From scientists and laymen who
with Tennyson believe that "there is
more faith in honest doubt than in
half the creeds," came messages of
commendation. From the orthodox

Like kernels of popcorn, livid defenders of the faith, scorched by the heat of
what a great man sees as Truth,
jumped high into the air, and with
quavering voices went into convulsions. Sententious champions of the
gospel squared off to engage Burbank
in Quixotic jousting, and fanatics ran
amuck with anonymous threats of
every dire punishment known either
to God or the evil eye. One writer,
addressing his protest to the newspaper that
had
first
interviewed
Burbank on the subject, consigned the
plant wizard to no less a tropical climate than hell itself, where it was
promised he would meet Conan Doyle
and Sir Oliver Lodge.

Like kernels of popcorn, livid defenders of the


faith, scorched bS' the heat of what a great man
sees as Truth, jumped high into the air, and with
quavering voices went into convulsions.
clergy, and from cranks of all conditions of mental servitude, there came
an
avalanche
of expostulation,
reproof, and sibilant recrimination for
the man who had the temerity to tell
what he thought In the face of established doctrine.
Ministers in Luther Burbank's
own town, whose churches he had
attended at times and for whose congregations he had more than once
spoken on scientific subjects, winced,
looked first askance, then scandalized. With wry faces religious leaders
pecked at his words, outraged orators
enveloped him in the gases of withering, trenchant criticism, and fanatics
lashed him with biblical platitudes.
Winter

2003-2004

And for many days thereafter, the


furore, drawing fuel into the vortex
with tentacles
that encircled the
earth, continued unabated. Rather
was it marked with increased intensity, for many things were happening
after that first interview was published.
But through all the fury and the
flailing of a fetid atmosphere Burbank
himself remained unperturbed. The
Women's
Christian
Temperance
Union in Santa Rosa, of which he was
an honorary life member, held a meeting of prayer (which only ten women
attended!) for the misguided scientist
- a meeting that became not so much
a time of prayer as an indignation
American Atheist

council - yet Burbank refused either


to have his soul saved or to recant.
They could pillory him for the leering
stares of a morbid public. They could
burn him, figuratively, at the stake.
They could unroll eternal thunder to
peal out threats of everlasting damnation, but Burbank remained inflexible
on his original platform.
From the outset the storm that
blew so suddenly to rattle the holy
Eucharist became a battle of the dictionary.

ness of the Christian Church.


2. One who does not believe (in
something understood or implied).
Thus the harried, lovable old
man, met his well-wishers
with
unflinching eye, and was able to say:
"I am an infidel. I know what an infidel is, and that's what I am."
I heard these words with keen relish, for doubtless it would have gone
hard with me had Burbank squirmed
out of an unpleasant
situation by

From the outset the storm that blew so


suddenly to rattle the holy Eucharist
became a battle of the dictionary.
Burbank had said he was an infidel. Self-constituted
apologists, as
represented by the newspapers that
had missed the story and by zealous
ecclesiastics, insisted at once that
Burbank had been misunderstood,
that he had meant agnostic or something else less offensively noxious
than infidel, Churchmen and newspapermen invaded Burbank's
home
grounds in hordes, all apparently bent
on the determination to substitute a
less inflammatory word.
But Burbank evidently had consulted the dictionary before employing
the word "infidel" in the first place, or
in any event he peeked into its confiding pages after the first storm clouds
began to break.
He had found that an agnostic is
one who professes ignorance as to the
beginning of things and the power
behind them. He had found that an
atheist is one who denies the existence of God. And he had found, in

Webster's
New
International
Dictionary that an infidel is:
1.In respect to a given religion, one
who is an unbeliever; a disbeliever;
especially a non-Christian or one
opposing the truth or authoritative-

declaring what so many wanted him


to declare - that he had been misquoted, that his sentiments had been
garbled and distorted as the words
and deeds of Christ himself.
II
I had been sent to Santa Rosa to
quiz Burbank as to his theories on
immortality
and
reincarnation.
Burbank had that day been quoted in
a brief dispatch as disputing the theory
of his old friend, Henry Ford, that we
return to earth after death to live
again in some other form - perhaps a
maple tree or a fox terrier.
"All right," said the managing editor, "Burbank has told us what he
doesn't believe. Now it's your job to
have him tell us what he does
believe."
Burbank answered the question
first by an epigram, and he asked that
the Interview begin with the thought
it contained.
"Most people's religion," he said,
"is what they would like to believe, not
what they do believe. And very few of
them stop to examine its foundations."
Then, going on to tell why he does
not believe in a resurrection: "The

universe is not big enough to contain


perpetually all the human souls and
the other living beings that have been
here for their short spans. A theory of
personal resurrection or reincarnation
of the individual is untenable when
we but pause to consider the magnitude of the idea. On the contrary, I
must believe that rather than the survival of all, we must look for survival
only in the spirit of the good we have
done in passing through. This is as
feasible and credible as Henry Ford's
own practice of discarding the old
models of his automobile. When obsolete, an automobile is thrown in the
scrap heap. Once here and gone, the
human life has likewise served Its
purpose. If it has been a good life, it
has been sufficient. There is no need
for another."
The scientist,
who thus took
exception to theories of a man whom
he had but recently described as "one
of the living geniuses who can truly
typify our age," then went on to his
adopted principle, true in his plant
world as in human life, that there is
no repetition in nature.
"The theory of reincarnation," he
said, "comes, like all other religious
theories, from the best qualities in
human nature, even ifin this as in the
others its adherents sometimes fail to
carry out the tenets in their lives.
"Religion grows with the intelligence of man, but all religions of the
past and probably all of the future will
sooner or later become petrified forms
instead of living helps to mankind.
Until that time comes, however, ifreligion of any name or nature makes
man more happy, comfortable, and
able to live peaceably with his brothers, it is good.
"But as a scientist I cannot help
feeling that all religions are on a tottering foundation. None is perfect or
inspired. As for their prophets, there
are as many today as ever before, only
now science refuses to let them overstep the bounds of common sense.

theory of his old friend, Henry Ford, that we return to earth after death

i1

to live again in some other form - perhaps a maple tree or a fox terrier.

Burbank had that day been quoted in a brief dispatch as disputing the

Parsippany,

New Jersey

Winter

2003-2004

Page 19

Edison, Burbank, and Ford


"The idea that a good God would
send people to a burning hell is utterly
damnable to me. I don't want to have
anything to do with such a God. But
while I cannot conceive of such a God,
I do recognize the existence of a great
universal power - a power which we
. cannot even begin to comprehend and
might as well not attempt to. It may
be a conscious mind, or it may not. I
don't know. As a scientist I should like
to know, but as a man, I am not so
vitally concerned.
"As for Christ - well, he has been
most outrageously belied. His followers, like those of many scientists and
literary men, have so garbled his
words and conduct that many of them
no longer apply to present life. Christ
was a wonderful psychologist. He was
an infidel of his day because he
rebelled against the prevailing religions and government. I am a lover of
Christ as a man, and his work and all
things that help humanity, but nevertheless just as he was an infidel then,
I am an infidel today."
There it is, the hated word buried
deep in the philosophical folds of a few
candid remarks to a reporter. But let
us go on:
"I do not believe what has been
served to me to believe. I am a
doubter, a questioner, a skeptic.
"However, when it can be proved
to me that there is immortality, that
Page 20

there is resurrection beyond the gates


of death, then will I believe. Until
then, no."
One might think that these words
would be accepted as the reasoned
thoughts of a sane man. But in this
age of bigotry they were not accepted.
Burbank would have been the last
man concerned to object to a calm,
rational refutation of his views.
Instead of any such well ordered
rebuttal, those of narrow vision and
intolerant hatred for free thinking
sought to crucify him, with stinging
words.

thinker in order that the hysterical


clamor that rent the air may not be
accepted for more than its face value.
Burbank studied life at its fountain head - in the marvelous little
buds and shoots and leaves that burgeon forth each spring to fill us anew
with the awe for nature. He was a naturalist, no less than Thoreau. Nature
was his teacher and he recognized her
as a symbolism of that mysterious
power which he was willing to have
called God but which suited him as
well if it was called merely Force. He
saw nature, with Goethe, as the living, visible garment ofthat same mysterious power - God or Force, and
faith in nature won him the eminent
place he occupied in the world.
Why, then, did he lack faith in the
accepted doctrines of religion? Why
did he see all religions on a tottering
foundation?
Because religions are
based on a promise of immortality,
and a threat of divine punishment for
sin - two things to which this nature
man could not reconcile himself.
For the hope of immortality, he
believed, is the refuge of cowards, and
he could appropriately quote the Bible
itself in pointing out that the commonly accepted faith is merely the
substance ofthings hoped for, the evidence of things not seen but for which
puny man, striving
selfishly
to
improve his position, to increase his
goods, always reaches out a grasping
hand. Voltaire pictured faith as "deferential credulity." Burbank saw that

, ' ... as a scientist I cannot help feeling that all religions are on a tottering foundation. None is perfect or
inspired. As for their prophets, there are as manS'
todast as ever before, onlS'now science refuses to let
them overstep the bounds of common sense."
III
So it becomes necessary for me
(since I have talked with Burbank
many times on many subjects) to tell
more about him as a man and as a
Winter 2003-2004

incredulity may rob us of our smug


complacence, but in recompense gives
us a sense of sincerity in our efforts to
arrive at the truth. The philosophy of
the infidel, he knew, may not be the
philosophy best suited to the masses,
American Atheist

held in subjection by a tempting


promise of good things to come, but to
the thinker who wishes to tear aside
the veil of false promises this philosophy must, after all, be the only
acceptable one.
All this having been true to
Burbank, if I caught his thought correctly, the great scientist's tolerant,
yet withal inflexible, attitude toward
those who were disparaging and excoriating him is entirely understandable.
When the Women's Christian
Temperance Union of Santa Rosa
called its meeting
to pray for
Burbank, he only smiled, as much as
to say that prayer at least was harmless, even if it couldn't do any good.
Burbank had been a contributor
to and a member of the organization
for many years because he believed in
its efforts toward bringing about prohibition. But he was not in the least
perturbed when the very woman who
had proposed him as an honorary life
member five years ago joined in the
call to save his soul. This call concluded with the following paragraph:
All mothers and women who
believe that irreparable injuries
have been done to the cause of
religion by the utterances
of
Luther Burbank, and who believe
in the efficacy of prayer, are invited to join together for a season of
prayer for Luther Burbank that
his eyes may be opened and our
youth may not be led astray from
the religion of the fathers.
The meeting was not so well
attended as was to be expected. Only
ten women of Santa Rosa, where
Burbank had developed practically all
the marvels of the fruit, vegetable,
and grain worlds for which his name
has become known throughout the
nations of the globe, turned out to lift
their eyes in solemn supplication that
his soul might be redeemed, that he
might be forgiven for his blasphemy.
But in some inexplicable manner
their prayers seem to have been unanswered. For Burbank continued to
smile urbanely - and he stuck to his
guns. On the other hand, Mrs.
Burbank, the scientist's young wife,
flashed defiance. In announcing that
Parsippany,

New Jersey

she and her celebrated husband had


declined invitations
to attend the
meeting, she said of her fellow townsmen: "It is simply an effort by the people of Main Street to get a little publicity. If these misguided, impertinent
people would confine their activities to
persons of their own caliber they
would be much more logical and perhaps accomplish some good. It is all
quite in line with the efforts frequently
made to get rain by praying for it."
And then, further to complicate
an already vexed situation, Burbank
accepted an invitation to speak from
the pulpit of the First Congregational
Church in San Francisco. He had been
so invited some time previously by the
Rev. James L. Gordon, a modernist
type of minister who leans more to the
sensational and to the attractions of
immediate
public
interest
than
toward the old-fashioned, conservative line of church programs. Now,
with the discussion of immortality,
resurrection,
and infidelism at the
boiling point throughout the country,
but particularly in California because
its centrally distributing element was
located here, Burbank philosophically
consented to address the fashionable
San Francisco congregation on his
beliefs in divinity and eternity.
The church, of course, was crowded to the vestibule. Hundreds stood
outside hoping to get in long after the
doors were closed, and then stood an
hour or more longer to see the whitehaired infidel come forth from the
church, where he had explained simply why he could not accept many of
the commonly accepted beliefs.
It was a trying situation, no doubt
- both for Burbank and for Dr. Gordon
- but a congregation that had assembled in the huge stone edifice, forewarned of what it would hear, did not
march out in indignant protest at
Burbank's sacrilege, but stayed to
hear him out in respectful silence,
then left, some of them perhaps with
the feeling that they had enjoyed a
most entertaining hour.
But even that did not close the
incident, although Burbank expressed
hope, not without fervor, that the matter might be allowed to drop and he be
allowed to get back to his work.
Letters continued to stream in
from all points of the compass - 538
Winter

2003-2004

of them in a single day, with the temperature steadily mounting. In all this
febrile rush of things, however, the
scientist was not too busy to write a
reassuring letter to his newspaper
friend, who in the midst of the furore
had sent him a solicitous
note
expressing hope that his story and its
reaction would not forever deprive
Burbank of a zest for living.
"To be sure," the scientist wrote, "I
have had my hands full the last few
days, as I am receiving some five hundred or more letters a day, but the
publication of our interview made my
life happy, not miserable."
And then, doubtless with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes, he
returned with sardonic glee to the
word around which the whole controversy has ranged, subjoining, "Faithfully yours, Luther Burbank."

IV
In the meantime, the orthodox
clergy of California joined with that of
other sections in soundly berating
Burbank for being so courageous as to
voice his views.
Said the Rev. Fred A. Keast of the
First Methodist Episcopal Church in
Santa Rosa, where Burbank
had
attended services sporadically: "Mr.
Burbank, in a time when the youth of
the land are jazz crazed and breaking
away In large numbers from religious
teachings, has voiced foolish utterances." And he went on, according to
press dispatches, to score Burbank as
an uneducated man.
Whereat
the
latter
replied:
"Although I went to college as a youth,
I never considered it necessary to
steep oneself in academic learning, in
order to learn how to think. I welcome
a fair and square, open and aboveboard fight on any subject, including
this, but I despise a man who sneaks
around under a cloak or cover of any
society or clique to strike his blows."
Said the Rev. E. E. Ingram, pastor
of the First Presbyterian Church at
Santa Rosa: "If words can be made to
mean anything that one wants them
to mean, we are bordering on linguistic anarchy. I regard Mr. Burbank's
statement as most unfortunate and
not worthy either of Mr. Burbank's
head or heart. Mr. Burbank does not
Page 21

seem to know the meaning of the


words and terms he used."
But Burbank merely smiled,
pointing his finger suggestively
toward the dictionary, and replied: "I
said I am an infidel in the true sense
of that word. Look it up, if you don't
believe it."
In addition to these critics, others
presented themselves from near and
far. One suggested kindly that "the
gardener should stick to his cabbages," another that "the cobbler
should stick to his last."
Archbishop Edward J. Hanna of
San Francisco, who was mentioned in
press dispatches from Rome as a likely
candidate to be elevated to the rank of
cardinal, entered into a lengthy dissertation to prove that there is a God
- a premise, or conclusion, as you
will, that Burbank never denied. He
merely said that for all of him the
power called Godmight just as well be
called Allah, Force, or by any other
name deemed fitting.
On this point he elucidated further: "I believe in a supreme ruler of

lowers.

1893 Burbank

Catalog

the universe, no matter what name


one applies to it. The chief trouble
with religion has been too much
dependence upon names or words.
People fail to discriminate. They do
not think. Generally people who think
for themselves, instead of thinking
Page 22

Burbank merelS' smiled, pointing his finger suggestivelS' toward the dietional'S', and replied: "I
said 1 am an infidel in the true sense of that word.
Look it up, if S'oudon't believe it."
according to the rules laid down by
others, are considered unfaithful to
the established order. In that respect
I, too, differ with the established order
and established designations."
Nor did Burbank stand alone in
his fearless tearing away of old veils.
Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, president
of Stanford University, had this to
say: "The great accomplishment of science has been to place much of superstition in the discard. Science deals
with ascertainable facts. Religiongoes
farther than science in that it deals
with personality and persons. The
great difficulties that science has had
with religion have come largely from
the fact that there has always been a
strongly dogmatic quality in organized religion. A race grows with accumulated experience, just as does a
child, and with a racial growth there
come new conceptions of religion.
There is evolution in religion and religious thought that is as evident as the
evolutionary processes in other phases of the world."
Of the western ministers, only
one, Rabbi Jacob Nieto, spoke up in
partial defense of Burbank's views.
"While not going so far as to say that
religion today is on a tottering foundation," he told interviewers, "I do
believe that it is in a state of transition and that Tom Paine's 'age of reason' is dawning upon the world. If Mr.
Burbank meant that he is an agnostic
rather than an infidel I can understand his position, for neither do I
believe everything that is told me. It is
true that the Bible has been edited
and re-edited many times, in each
case to suit the spirit of its particular
age and occasion, but I would not say
that Christ's words have been garbled.
As to immortality, let us remember
the verse in Ecclesiastes: 'Then shall
the dust return to the earth as it was
and the spirit shall return unto God
who gave it'."

Winter 2003-2004

v
The battle of the dictionary, and,
for that matter, the eternal battle of
the ages - almost as old as the battle
of the sexes - continued to ebb and
flow.
Burbank, rising as ever at six
o'clock and putting in a hard day's
work in his experimental gardens fifty
miles from San Francisco, lent a not
too attentive ear to the conflict, going
on serenely about his labors, his conscience clear, his mind keenly alert,
but willing to wait for Death itself to
show whether there is anything
beyond. Burbank knew that the reason of weak men staggers before the
thought of immortality, and that
through appetite for it "imagination
foldsher weary pinions."
As for himself, let the curtains
draw aside when they might. He knew
he would continue to believe that
Christ was but a man, and that when
we quit this life we lie down to rise no
more.
Nor had he any apologies to make
for his heresy. If anyone asked him,
there were always the words of
Carlyle:
Pin thy faith to no man's sleeve.
Hast thou not two eyes of thy
own?

American Atheist

Luther Burbank Speaks Out


by

Joseph Mceabe
[Pages 25-32 of E. Haldeman-Julius'
Little Blue Book No. 1020]

here were two Pillars


of
Hercules in the United States
whom I wished to see. Thomas
A. Edison towers on the eastern coast,
but I had to rush through New York
and could not stay for my friend to
present me. In San Francisco I had
the - for so restless a wanderer unusually long stay of six days, when
the imperious voice of E. HaldemanJulius, vibrating
over the wires,
roused me from my slumbers and
bade me seek the shrine of Santa
Rosa. I responded with alacrity. No,
that is not poetry. I rose at 7 a.m. For
me that is deadly prose.
And prosy was the journey of fifty
miles to see the great master of practical science. The Golden Gate was of
ancient lead. The hills were sullen. A
gray-blue haze screened the fair maid
California. She was just recovering,
maidlike, from a prolonged fit of weeping, and seemed cold even to the
amorous sun, though the stately
palms and rich green oranges bore
witness to the warm blood pulsing in
the heavy bosom, and the soft sibilants of the Spanish names suggested
saints and sinners. San Rafael, San
Anselmo, and so on. We have wiped
out these superstitions,
of course.
Now we have St. Riley and St.
Straton. Well, Anselmo was at least a
conscientious scholar in his time, and
Rafael, if tradition be worth aught,
was a comely youth. But these modern
saints and sages ...
We are in Santa Rosa and this is
the house ofthe man who did as much
as any to impress on the world the
beneficent power of science. He added
billions to the wealth of the world, but
this is no marble palace softly gleaming through the palms and cypresses.
A very plain house, and a very pretty
Parsippany,

New Jersey

maid looks at me cynically through


the mosquito-net door. She is used to
visitors, and does not trouble to unfasten the door.
"Is Mr. Burbank in?"
''Yes, he is in," she says, and she
does not add in words, "And you are
out." Even the dog is hostile, silently
disdainful. "Another old fool trying to
see the master," it insinuates. But my
card throws down all defense and a
moment later. I am shaking (very gently) the rather limp hand ofthe man I
would have gone far to see.
Pathetically he points to a pile of
opened letters, ankle-deep, on the
floor. "Today's crop," he says. A smaller pile lies on the desk and must be
answered. We must hurry, though
there is no mistaking his genuine
pleasure to see me.
"Well, what about this recent misconduct of yours?" I ask, sternly.
Candidly he is puzzled, and I have
to tell him that the world is shocked or
elated, according to the length of its
hair, at his recent pronouncement on
the future life - I mean, on the

it

and he did not speak in parables. We


no more survive, he said, to the representative
of the San Francisco
Bulletin, than does the automobile
you fling on the scrap-heap. Those are
his words. We survive only in "the
good we have done in passing
through." Souls? Why, said Burbank,
"the universe is not big enough to contain perpetually all the human souls
and the other living beings that have
been here for their short span." Very
comforting to some people, these religions, he said, but "as a scientist I
cannot help feeling that all religions
are on a tottering foundation." God?
Well, there is "a great universal
power," but whether it is "a conscious
mind" or not, Luther Burbank did not
know. What is worse, he did not care.
"As a scientist I should like to know,
but as a man I am not so vitally concerned." No wonder California, the
land of saints and angels, wept.
Not much to be added to, or
explained, in that," Mr. Burbank said
to me, smiling. He disliked talking.
Looking rather frail, pale and artistic

"What is the use of assuring Fundamentalists that


science is compatible with religion. They retort at
~ once, 'eertainly not with our religion'."

absence of a future life. Henry Ford,


his friend, had recently declared his
belief, not only in incarnation, but in
reincarnation.
Henry always does
things big, and, incidentally, it is
always the people who know most
about machines - Kelvin, Lodge,
Faraday, Ford - who talk most about
spirit. Psychologists and biologists,
who ought to know, are very shy of
spirits.
However, Burbank
was asked
what he thought about the matter,
Winter 2002-2003

- he somehow reminded me at once of


my good friend Eden Philpotts, the
most artistic of living writers after
D'Annunzio - he seemed born to finger a brush or a pen, not a spade.
Artist he was, of course: the great
artist of modern science. He worked
with its flower. He did not speculate
about it.
"There is nothing at all new in
this interview," he said. I had, of
course, read his Training of the
Human Plant, and had for that
Page 23

enshrined

him

in

my

States.
"Yes, another big element in the movement," he
occasions when he does
assents. "And to think of this
speak in public, he speaks
great country in danger of
out in a way that goes far to
being dominated by people
redeem
the
credit
of
ignorant enough to take a few
American science. "Here," he
ancient Babylonian legends
said to me, "you have the
as the canons of modern culsentiments
I lately
exture. Our scientific men are
pressed in the pulpit of a
paying for their failure to
chapel at Santa Rosa."
speak out earlier. There is no
It was just the same outuse now talking evolution to
spoken denunciation of thethese people. Their ears are
ology. "No avenging Jewish
stuffed with Genesis."
God, no Satanic devil, no
I almost felt at times as
fiery hell, is of any interest
though I were talking to
to me," he said. Jesus? He
Darwin, and I expected some
...children are, he said, "the
liked the literary figure, but
deprecation of my vigor and
greatest sufferers from outgrown
"the clear light of science
lack of diplomacy, such as
Darwin used gently to adminteaches us that we must be
theologies. "
ister to Haeckel. Not a bit. I
our own saviors." God? "The
patible with religion. They retort at
took courage and remarked
that
God within us is the only available
once, 'Certainly not with our reliGod we know." We must come out
Fundamentalism
must be fought
gion.'"
from "behind theological barbed-wire
"with both fists."
Burbank uses the word religion,
fences," into "the great ocean of scien"Of course it must," he said, "and
but it is never misleading. It is, he
tific truth." "Science, unlike theology,
our scientific men must be criticized
says, "Justice, love, truth, peace, and
boldly. They will not feel comfortable
never leads to insanity." The word
harmony,
a serene unity with science
when you and I are through with
"ceremony," he pungently said, "is
and the laws ofthe universe." It is idethem."
derived from cerements" or "grave
alism, and there is not the slightest
clothes." Very topical, in a chapel.
He spoke with envy of the
countenance of any sort of theology in
Religion is a matter of feeling, and
Rationalist Press of England and its
Burbank's use of the word.
honorable company of distinguished
"feelings are all right if one does not
I remind him that Dr. David Starr
men of science and letters. I told him
get drunk on them." "Obsolete misJordan is popularly supposed to have
that I am to do a bigger work in
leading theologies," he said, "bear the
hinted that his friend went too far.
America than I have ever done in
same relation to the essence of true
"Not in the least," he says disdainEngland. "Mr. Haldeman-Julius,"
I
religion that scarlet fever, mumps,
fully. "Jordan is one of my best
began ...
and measles do to education." But
friends, and thinks as I do."
"Doing splendid work," he said.
what will become of the children? If
And, in fact, though the language
"Can we have some of these Little
there was one thing Burbank was
is a little more diplomatic, Jordan's
Blue Books to help in the work?"
zealous about it was the training of
pronouncement
is, substantially,
He lighted up with enthusiasm
children, and children are, he said,
Agnosticism. Mr. Burbank did not
when I described the plan which Mr.
"the greatest sufferers from outgrown
believe in knocking a man down when
Haldeman-Julius and I have hatched
theologies. "
it is not good for him to stand up. He
- fifty Little Blue Books covering the
No, there is not much to add to
provided a chair. Dr. David Starr
entire ground of religious controversy
that. Luther II threw his ink-pot at
Jordan
is inclined to provide a feather
and inquiry, systematically and courthe devil - the parson - with a vigor
bed. There are physicians who think a
teously, but firmly and inexorably.
that surprises when one recalls the
wooden chair the most healthful seat.
"That will be magnificent help," he
fleshy physique of the first Luther,
Anyhow,
there is no Millikanism or
said. "And let us have some of the Big
and contrasts it with the gentleness
Osbornism about either of these two
Blue Books too."
and silver hair of the second. But he is
fine American gentlemen.
as disgusted as I at the "timidity" of
Haldeman-dulius
"Bryan - a great friend of mine,
his brother scientists in America. I
by the way - had a Neanderthal type
explain, almost apologetically, that I
I explained that some of the latter
of head," Burbank says. "As to Riley,
have
entitled
an
article
"The
are already in circulation and more of
he has not even the oratorical skill of
Cowardice of American Scientists."
a Rationalist nature will come. The
Bryan. The whole movement is based
"Quite right," he says. "And it is
old man was visibly delighted. Almost
on the poor whites of the south."
not only cowardice, but wrong tactics.
alone in his scientific world he outspoI remind him of the ten million
What
is the
use
of assuring
kenly disdained
creeds and cerereligious colored people of the United
Fundamentalists that science is commonies. Undermining ancient dogmas

Dictionary
of
Modern
Rationalists, but, on the rare

Page 24

Winter 20032004

American Atheist

is not enough. The people, who begin


to see the power of science, must know
what men of science, with their
trained minds and their grasp of realities, think about man and the universe.
So out I went, to continue my mission in California, with the hearty
"good-speed" of this wonderful man.
Santa Rosa, nay California, is proud
of him, and there must be some temptation to avoid friction. What, no danger in California? Why, here in a suburb of San Francisco I hear of an audience
of
five
thousand
Fundamentalists rocking with laughter at some ofthe elementary truths of
science. Even the educated run after
iridescent verbiage and shun facts.
Hindu word-spinners dig gold here.
As I sped away my eye caught a
board in a field by the road: "Jesus is
the way, the truth, and the life," it

Haldeman-Julius

said. This after 1900 years experimental verification of his efficacy! And in
the heart of California, where Luther
Burbank showed that the only way
and truth and life is science. All honor
to him that he did not leave it to such
obtuse minds to "draw their own conclusions," as so many do. "Science is
the only savior," he said to people. He
said it in church one memorable day.
"I very rarely speak in public,
and, curiously, my two addresses are
in churches," he said, eyeing me, I
thought, apprehensively.
"I know no better place to say
such things," I retorted, and I thought
sadly of the very different things
which American men of science had
recently, been saying in the churches
of Kansas City during the convention
of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science.

"Sorry about the delay, but we're having a problem sorting out species and subspecies."

Parsippany, New Jersey

Winter 2003-2004

Page 25

Burbank the Infidel


bS'

Joseph Lewis (1021)


(Excerpted from the book Atheism
and other Addresses, The Freethought
Press Association, New York, 1941,
1952, pages not numbered)
Address delivered
on May 22,
1927, in Central Park, New York City,
at the Tree-Planting Memorial Exercises, conducted by Freethinkers
of
America, in honor of Luther Burbank,
who was a member
and First
Honorary Vice-President.
On April 11, Luther

Burbank

died ..

His death was not only a bereavement to his family and friends, but the
entire country, aye, the whole civilized
world mourned his passing.
The world mourned because a
man had died who had brought happiness to the human race; had added to
the sum total of knowledge, and had
made the world better for his having
lived.
Luther Burbank was a rare spirit,
a tender soul. He was a noble son of
the earth and his death was an
irreparable loss to mankind.
We honor Luther Burbank today
not only for his independence
of
thought, although that alone would
entitle him to our homage, but also
because of his achievements as a scientist and his accomplishments in the
realm of Nature.
Stone and marble do not seem to
be fit attributes
for this lover of
Nature and so we plant a tree to his
memory. It symbolizes more appropriately his life and work.
Flowers and plants and trees
were his intimates and formed part of
his family.

Page 26

He loved them as we love human


beings and they became as much a
part of his life and existence as if he
were born one of them. This close intimacy gave him a familiarity possessed
by no other man. He learned the
secrets of the plants and spoke the
language of the flowers. So remarkably intimate was he with life in the
flower kingdom
that he became
known as "The Wizard of Pi ant Life."
He moved in a mysterious way
among them his wonders to perform.
He nurtured a flower as we do a child
and it seemed to love him for it. A broken branch of a tree touched him to
pity, and the wanton destruction of
flowers was a grievous hurt to him. He
cured sick flowers, brought beauty to
ugly ones and sweet odors to all.
From early life he manifested a
kinship with them and often when
provoked by pain to tears his mother
would place a flower in his hands and
a smile would appear on his tearstained cheeks. He took the rough and
uncouth of plant life and brought
beauty and charm to them by the
magic of his touch. Flowers seemed to
obey him like good children a kind
parent. No man had greater love for
them. And no man was more tenderly
revered by them.
Burbank also loved children, his
country and mankind. His life was one
continuous romance. He lived like a
man forever falling in love with his
wife and child and family. What a glorious feeling to be in love and happy
and live!
He gave as freely of his work as
flowers their perfume. He made the
earth a better, brighter, and more
beautiful place than he found it, and
Winter

2003-2004

the world is healthier and happier for


his having lived. More cannot be said
of any man. Even a god would be
proud of such a record.
It is even impossible to calculate
the value in health and the amount of
enjoyment his creations of fruits, flowers and vegetables have been even to
this generation.
Millions are enjoying the fruits of
his labors without the slightest knowledge of their benefactor.
Laws of selection, variation and
heredity which he discovered and
applied are in themselves invaluable
instruments of knowledge with which
to accomplish among human beings
what he so marvelously achieved with
plants.
Burbank's work is not done, it has
really just begun. His death ended his
own labors but placed a tremendous
responsibility
upon
the
living.
Thousands are now required to do the
work that he alone performed.
On March
7, 1849, Luther
Burbank was born.
Twenty-six years later he entered
Santa Rosa, California, the little town
which he made his home and which he
has since immortalized.
He lies buried there beneath a
tree he planted.
It is said that he came to this little
town with but ten dollars, ten potatoes and few choice books.
Three authors of these books
inspired him in his life's work. They
were, Henry Thomas [sic] Thoreau,
Charles Robert Darwin, whom he
loved to call "Master," and Alexander
Von Humboldt, who imbued him with
the spirit of the importance and worth
of his work.
American Atheist

more brilliant conversationalist


the
around his neck, but rather mileThese three men inspired him
plants have never known. Once on
stones on his road to fame.
with a burning desire to accomplish, a
speaking terms with Nature he estabEach difficulty proved a new expeconfidence that only one genius can
lished a friendship never to be broken.
rience, and a new experience to
impart to another, and with an idealHis loyalty never wavered.
Burbank meant more knowledge with
ism known only to the few heroic men
He was also an apt pupil. He studwhich to work. He built his knowledge
and women who have been mankind's
ied her alphabet, mastered her gramupon experience and experiments.
benefactors.
mar, punctuation
and rhetoric and
He had a keenness of perception
And it is most fitting for us to
wrote many pages in the book of Life
not surpassed
by any man. He
plant this tree as a memorial to
which only a few are privileged to do.
watched for the slightest variation to
Burbank that it may grow and spread
"I took Nature's mind and added
wrest a secret from Nature. Experiits verdant leaves as a shade over the
it to my own," said Burbank, "and by
ence is the only knowledge we possess
magnificent head of this "Columbus of
so doing bridged centuries of time in
and is the basis for the development of
Science."
adding sweetness
and charm
His material equipment was
and color to Nature's products."
indeed poor, his body was not
He
married
beauty
and
overstrong, and his heart was
strength and sweetness to probroken. He had been unsuccessduce the Ideal.
ful in love. He tried to mend his
He took Nature by the hand so
broken heart by lavishing his
to speak, and led her into paths
love upon his beautiful garden
of beauty that she had not
and upon the flowers he loved as
dreamed existed. With his help
his children. And what an abunhe made Nature excel herself
dance of love he had, and with
and sit and marvel at her
what abandonment he lavished
wonders.
it!
Burbank did not claim occult
He added strength to his
powers. He did not pose with a
body by living close to Nature,
halo around his head. He did not
and following the advice of
boast that he was "divinely
Mother Earth.
inspired." He performed no mirEnraptured in his work he
acles, although he accomplished
began his labors of more than a
marvels.
half of a century.
He gladly, freely and generousLuther Burbank & Thomas Edison
Although Burbank came to
ly gave his knowledge to others.
Santa Rosa unknown and in
He was an intellectual spendthrift.
our mind. In Burbank's experiment
poverty, the world made a beaten path
"What I have learned, you may learn,"
with the cactus he discovered how
to his door. The celebrated and the
are his words.
intelligence
is gradually
formed
famous the world over came to pay
His soul was the heart of a true
through experience and manifests
homage to this "Gardener touched
scientist.
itself through what we call instinct.
with genius."
Where did Burbank learn the
As with Edison, perspiration was
By the fruits of his labor he gave
great truths that he applied so effecthe predominant part of his inspiraincalculable wealth to others.
tively and so ardently wanted man to
tion. No task was too arduous for him
Do not let it be said, however, that
follow? Why was he so sure that they
and he permitted no obstacle to stand
Burbank's accomplishments were the
in his way. He knew the ends he
would be as successful in the human
result of a magic wand. He labored
realm as they were in the plant kingwished to accomplish and determinedly
assiduously and found competition
set about his work.
dom?
most keen.
Surely his own academic educaHe did not always work from
There may be room always at the
tion was not sufficient to give him this
appearances. Appearances, he found,
top, but there is always a crowd that
grasp of Nature, nor was his technical
were as deceiving in flowers as in
must be pushed aside in the middle of
human beings, and he often went back
training sufficient to enable him to
the road so as to clear the passage for
perform his wonders.
many generations to correct a fault.
the ascent.
His early schooling was the barest
A changed environment invariBurbank found many botanists,
rudiments that the little Red School
ably changed the character of the
and horticulturists, and plain gardenHouse had to offer.
flower, but to eradicate a deep-seated
ers who were doing things a bit above
The secret of his marvelous intelfault it was sometimes necessary to
the ordinary, and he realized early in
lect and his ability to apply the knowllife that if he was to distinguish himoperate upon the roots.
edge he acquired are told in his own
Once he learned the secrets of
self he must do something that had
Nature, once he learned to talk to
not been done before.
words.
The obstacles that he found in his
He received a scholarship which
Nature in her own language, Burbank
anyone with a desire for knowledge
became proficient in conversation. A
path did not prove to be millstones
Parsippany,

New Jersey

Winter

20032004

Page 27

may secure also. He said: "My school


has been the University of Nature. I
matriculated in the College of Horticulture, Department of Market Gardening, but I finished that course in
short time and entered the laboratory
where Nature teaches Plant Breeding.
I cannot say that I graduated from
that branch ofthe Institution even yet
- there is so much to lean! But in the
years that I have been a student I
have spread out considerably and
taken something pretty nearly of
every course my Alma Mater offers
except Football and Public Speaking. I
was not taught everything, but was
taught
the fundamentals
behind
everything!"
In the University
of Nature,
Burbank not only learned
about
plants and flowers and trees and vegetables, but also about rocks and soil
and mountains and rivers, about birds
and fish and horses and cows and dogs
and men.
He was told by the great
Humboldt that "the Universe was governed by law, " and in the University
of Nature, Burbank verified this great
truth!
Burbank wanted others to enter
the University from which he was
graduated with such high honors and
in these words differentiated it from
any other college in existence.
"The great difference between my
favorite University and. the schools
men build is that the ambitious and
the interested student can enroll for
life and take every course offered, and
each fact he adds to his store, and
semester work he does, fits him precisely and definitely for the next subject ahead without any loss of motion
and without a line that is superfluous
to him."
The University of Nature might
well be proud of the distinguished
career of her pupil and above the portals of her entrance
should be
inscribed these words of his.
"Nature is not personal. She is the
compound of all these processes which
move through the universe to effect
the results we know as Life and of all
the ordinances which govern that universe and that make Life continuous.
She is no more the Hebrew's Jehovah
than she is the Physicist's Force; she
is as much Providence as she is
Page 28

Electricity;
she is not the Great
Pattern any more than she is the
Blind Chance."
A great artist was once asked by a
lady admirer what he mixed his
paints with to get such marvelous
results,
and he answered: "With
brains, madam." Burbank's brain bore
the same relation to flowers as did the
artist's to his paints.
With an almost uncanny touch
the artist can, with a daub of paint,
change the perspective of his picture;
and so sensitive was Burbank to the
pulse of the flower, that he could, with
the slightest touch, make it perform
wonders for him.
In his own words he defines this
unusual characteristic. "It was with
this instinct for selection that I was
gifted. It was born in me, and I educated and gave it experience, and have
always kept myself attuned to it. I
have particularly sensitive nerves that accounts partly for my unusual
success in selecting, as between two
apparently identical plants and flowers or trees and fruits. I have always
been sensitive to odors, so that I could
detect them, pleasant or disagreeable,
when they were so slight that no one
about me was conscious of them."
Burbank never grew old in mind
or body. He was as ready to accept a
new truth as to discard a wrong
. impression.
This attitude of mind is the first
requisite of knowledge. It is the first
principle of an alert intellect.
And these words of Burbank
should become an axiom in our language:
"Intolerance
is a closed mind.
Bigotry is an exaltation of authorities.
Narrowness is ignorance unwilling to
be taught."
That he did not consider the Bible
a divine revelation can be attested by
these words of advice:
"Let us read the Bible without the
ill-fitting colored spectacles of theology, just as we read other books,
using our own judgment and reason,
listening to the voice within, not to the
noisy babel without. Most of us possess discriminating reasoning powers.
Can we use them or must we be fed by
others like babes?"
No dogmatism hampered Burbank. No theology prevented him from
Winter

2003-2004

peering into the unknown. He never


permitted himself to become set in his
opinions.
"Folks wonder how I keep so
young!" he said. "I am almost seventyseven and still can go over a gate or
run a foot race or kick the chandelier.
That is because my body is no older
than my mind, and my mind is adolescent. It has never grown up. It
never will, I hope. I am as inquisitive
as I was at eight."
To those who ask us "what will
you give us in exchange" when we free
them from their superstitious religion,
how pertinent and precious are these
words of Burbank. I wish they could
be impressed upon the mind of every
living person. "I have seen myself," he
says, "lose intolerance, narrowness,
bigotry, complacence, pride and a
whole bushel-basket of other intellectual vices through my contact with
Nature and with men. And when you
take weeds out of a garden it gives you
room to grow flowers. So, every time I
lost a little self-satisfaction, or arrogance, I could plant some broadness or
love of my own in its place, and after a
while the garden of my mind began to
bloom and be fragrant and I found
myself better equipped for my work
and more useful to others as a consequence."
"I have learned from Nature that
dependence
on unnatural
beliefs
weakens us in the struggle and shortens our breath for the race," said
Burbank, and in the twilight of life,
when he knew that the end was
approaching, he said that "the time
had come for honest men to denounce
false teachers and attack false gods"
and with a courage characteristic of
this great and grand man he proclaimed to the world that he was an
infidel!
When Burbank made this declaration, the theological hyenas were
ready to tear the flesh from his body.
They maligned and vilified him, and
tried to inter the good that he did with
his bones.
When he made that statement,
however, he classed himself with
Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, Lincoln
and Ingersoll.
Burbank refused to accept the
dogma and religion of his time
because he knew that they were poiAmerican Atheist

soning the brain and mentality of


man. They were paralyzing the intellect. He looked upon them as weeds
that must of necessity be rooted out
before man could think freely and act
properly upon the problems of life.
Because of his fame, and despite
his open declaration, the religious
world is making an attempt to claim
him as one of their members. What
hypocrisy!
Luther Burbank was not religious!
His name cannot be mentioned in
the same breath with that impulse,
with that conviction which produces
religious mania, religious strife, religious hatred and religious prejudice.
Religious love is clannish.
Christian loves Christian.
Jew loves Jew.
Luther Burbank loved everybody.
He said: "I love everything. I love
humanity. I love flowers. I love children. I love my dog."
Luther Burbank was not religious
- he was too human for that.
He was a humanitarian, a lover of
mankind.
A religious person loves his GDd.
He loves his GDd so vehemently that
he has no love left for man.
Burbank hated the idea of an allpowerful GDdand said: "The idea that
a good GDd would send people to a
burning hell is utterly damnable to
me.
The
ravings
of insanity!
Superstition gone to seed! I don't want
to have anything to do with such a
GDd."
And in a letter from him shortly
before he died, in response to my
request for a statement indicative of
his belief, he wrote, ''This should be
enough for one who lives for truth and
service to his fellow passengers on the
way. No avenging Jewish God, no
satanic devil, no fiery hell is of any
interest to me."
A religious man attends church,
observes feast days and fast days. He
takes part in religious ceremonies and
pays the priest to pray for him.
"Prayer," says Burbank, "may be
elevating if combined with work, and
they who labor with head, hands or
feet have faith and are generally quite
sure of an immediate and favorable
reply."

Parsippany, New Jersey

To pray for that which you have


not labored for is the most selfish
impulse in life.
A religious man is one who has
sold his brain, and who has mortgaged
his intellect. He believes in a heaven
and in a hell.
Burbank asked for no heaven
because he knew that it did not exist,
and he feared no hell because he knew
that there was none.
No, Luther Burbank was not a
religious man. He was a good man. He
was a grand man - one of the grandest that ever lived on this earth.
Moses, and Jesus and Torquemada were religious. So were John
Calvin and John Knox and John
Wesley and Martin Luther and Cotton
Mather. The pope is religious. '""Hypatia and Bruno and Galileo
were infidels. So were Ernest Haeckel
and Herbert Spencer and Charles P.
Steinmetz and Voltaire and Thomas
Paine and John Burroughs and Mark
Twain. Clarence Darrow was an infidel.
Luther Burbank is dead.
His lips were sealed in death with
the same conviction that was his philosophy while he lived.
And now that he is gone we seek
to honor his memory with the fullness
of our love.

Winter 2003-2004

We have come not to honor a soldier or a statesman. No bugle is to


sound taps for his military triumphs.
We are honoring a simple, lovable
man.
One who was a saver of life, a
benefactor, a creator of joy, a dispenser of happiness.
One who was not revengeful or
vindictive.
One would rather have made a
mistake on the side of mercy than to
have a single human being suffer
because of his mistake.
Those who were privileged to
know Luther Burbank have lost a
friend. Our country has lost one of her
chosen sons, one who helped to make
her famous and added lustre to her
name.
The world has lost one of its great
benefactors.
In the heart of the flower and in
the beauty and sweetness ofthe world
he has perpetuated himself.
And in the starry firmament of
immortality is seen a new star - and
there appears this illustrious son of
America - this great and good man
- this Scientist, Naturalist, Humanitarian and Infidel - Luther Burbank.

Page 29

Atheism and
Natheism
Part II
By Tony Pasquarello
In an earlier paper, I coined
the term 'natheism' to stand
for a relatively new version of
Atheism which defines 'atheism' as "lack of belief in God."
Natheism retains the term
'atheism' but redefines it. I
then argued that natheism is
mistaken; the standard conception and dictionary definition - "denial of the existence
of God" - is indeed, correct.
For these papers, I have chosen not to provide direct attribution or identify the source
of specific remarks. The positions are there, and fairly represented; those who take them
will recognize their handiwork. All are taken from
items in the Bibliography. I
A

frequent

contributor

to

American Atheist,
Tony Pasquarello is perhaps best known
for his hilarious quasi-autobiographical
book The Altar Boy
Chronicles, published in 1999 and
still available on the American
Atheist
Web-site
-cwww.atheists.org. Tony is a retired philosophy
professor
(Ohio
State
University) who continues a lifelong career as a professional
pianist.
Page 30

write of Atheism primarily,


and only incidentally of atheists. For a group whose crying
need is unity, unity resulting
in political power, it is surely
inappropriate to foment an
internecine struggle. The last
thing needed by the freethought community is more
internal strife, hostility and
wrangling
in an infinite
series of point-counter-point
tomes.

Leaving Out 'Believing In'

ome fifty-plus years ago, a member of the University of Pennsylvania's illustrious


Philosophy
Department took aside an undergraduate major and issued a stern admonition: "Son, if you want to get anywhere in philosophy,
never use
'believe in'. Well, 1 never got anywhere
in philosophy, but it was sterling
advice, nonetheless. 'Believe in' is
both ambiguous and vague, a hopeless
expression often used - deliberately, 1
suspect - to obfuscate discussion. We
believe in persons, things, institutions, theories,
books, doctrines,
virtues, ... 'Believing in God' sometimes means 'believing that God
exists', and sometimes 'believing that
God will help me' or 'believing that
God knows best'. "Do you believe in
your spouse?" is obviously a very difWinter 2003-2004

ferent question from "Do you believe


in ghosts?" The latter is the existence
query; the former clearly not.
But in is not the only culprit here;
believe is a logically maddening concept on its own demerits. At one extreme, it is used to represent the
unswerving conviction and absolute
credulity of the true believer. "God
said it. 1 believe it. End of discussion."
Thus does the familiar bumper-sticker
flaunt the unassailable level of belief
of the car's occupants. Most religious
beliefs are held with similar, unshakeable intensity - which demonstrates
that psychological certainty, the feeling of certainty, has little connection
to knowledge. When, in the immediate
aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy, an
entire nation knee-jerks its way to
praise and pray to the very Being who
caused, or, at least, permitted, the
slaughter,
that's
what's
called
BELIEF!
On the other hand are the many
usages that make believe the black
sheep of the epistemic family, the
counterfeit of knowledge, the shadow
of truth, and the margarine of certainty. "Only Make Believe"; "I believe
my spouse is faithful"; "I believe 1
added correctly." Believing is what
you do when you don't really know.
Dictionaries reflect this wide range of
vagueness by listing both extremes:
for the former, "to take as true, real";
for the latter, "to suppose or think."
This last use is quite close to concepts
like 'guesses' or 'hopes', i.e. the tiniest
degree of confidence.
American Atheist

'Knowledge' has been defined in


terms of belief. Those attempts, e.g.
('knowledge' = justified, true belief)
and their flaws are notorious. But,
how is 'belief' itself to be defined?
Perhaps behaviorally?
That approach may work for some
practical,
empirical
beliefs,
but
founders on the rocks of abstract
beliefs and beliefs involving universals. "Sam believes that 'The True'
cannot be reduced to 'The Good"';
"Sam believes there are no primes
between 1069 and 1070." Such beliefs
appear to have no behavioral counterparts or pragmatic implications.
Not the least of all the puzzles
involved in attempting to clarify the
concept of belief is the matter of 'doxastic voluntarism', a forbidding name,
indeed, for a much more comprehensible theory. Are beliefs freely chosen?
Can we pick or select our beliefs? Can
we decide to believe? Voluntarism
answers these questions affirmatively.
It is a theory implicit in a great deal of
religious usage and thus, directly relevant to our inquiry. When evangelical persons, preachers, and pamphlets
invite us to "believe in Jesus" or
"believe that Christ died for your
sins," they presuppose that there is an
act of believing, and that we can freely
choose to perform that act. We can
decide to believe.
While there certainly appear to be
a number of mental states that are
volitional - contemplating, calculating, imagining, and analyzing come
readily to mind - many thinkers
would deny that believing is one of
them. Rather, believing seems to be
properly classified with desiring, or
wanting, or knowing itself. It makes
little sense to decide to desire sushi, or
to choose to want bourbon. Either one
is in the state of wanting something or
not, and it is impossible voluntarily to
put oneself in that State. So it seems
with believing; reports of believing
something or other are best understood as reports of a pre-existing,
mental/dispositional
state. What we
can decide to do is to undertake a set
of activities that will probably result
in our having the given mental state
at some future point. We can't decide
to be thirsty, but we can decide to
exercise vigorously, and that should
produce thirst.
Parsippany,

New Jersey

Of course, religion is masterful 111


its use of the art of conditioning.
Repetitive prayer - autobrainwashing
- is a case in point. Repeat the
'Apostles' Creed' ad infinitum
and,
subsequently, a person could be convinced that she actually believes the
propositions comprising that mantra.
In retrospect, it seems a sensible speculation that religion had to promote a
voluntaristic interpretation
of belief
so that its victims could aver, in good
conscience, that they believed the
mysteries, the occult nonsense, the
irrational and illogical doctrines. Just
choose to believe them! No comprehension, no understanding required.
For religion's nefarious purposes,
belief could not be characterized as
attendant or consequent upon knowledge. Quite the contrary, the believer
knows the doctrine is true, because he
believes it.
From this absurdly brief survey of
the checkered semantics of believe, it
seems reasonable to draw the following conclusions:
1. For serious analyses, avoid the
term when possible, unless, of course,
that is the concept being explored.
2. For serious analyses, all occurrences of 'believes in' are to be reduced
to 'believes that', using intent and context as guides. What follows 'believes
that' will be a complete proposition,
the only sort of linguistic formation
capable of being true or false. 'A
believes that p' makes explicit the
complex nature
of the original
ambiguous proposition and indicates
the direction our explication must
take: first, we ascertain whether p is
true or false, probable or improbable;
then we can determine whether A's
belief that p is warranted or misplaced.
This obvious, logical analytic
strategy accomplishes an enormously
significant shift in focus, by turning
attention to what is believed, rather
than to the believer. In other words,
the emphasis is put on the objective,
the facts of the matter, the relevant
evidence, the state of reality - not the
subjective, psychological considerations.

Winter

2003-2004

3. Those
distinguished
thinkers
who, deliberately
or unwittingly,
retain 'believe in' in their formal
xaminaticns ofthese concepts, all the
way to their last formulations, are
just perpetuating
muddiness
and
murkiness, bad weather for reasoning. The flawed believe-in locution is
endemic in the writing - and thinking
- of Natheists; it might even be fingered as the "enabler." Here are direct
quotes from leading proponents of
natheism:
"All atheism requires is the
lack of belief in God."
"An atheist does not believe in
the existence of a God."
"Atheists ... lack belief in a
god."
"'Atheist'
means
'without
belief in God'."
Yes, these would be considered
ordinary, commonly employed expressions, but they're hardly appropriate
if one claims to be doing serious, philosophical explication. In that context,
they must be adjudged as circuitous,
bloated, evasive attempts at hinting
(wink, wink), that God doesn't exist,
without saying it directly.
4. I've often wondered why Atheists
don't make greater use of the wonderfully apt, ready-made, 'Santa' analogy,
when discussing
God's existence.
Using any of the myriad gods from
humanity's mythic past would also
serve, but not as well. Santa is a current, vivid, and dynamic figure with
tens of millions of devout followers.
And, they're all small children, i.e.
intellectually immature. If an adult,
native-born American were to state
his position on Santa, using similar
expressions - natheispeak
- we
would conclude that his sleigh wasn't
hitting on all reindeers. "I'm just without belief in Santa"; "I lack a belief in
the existence of Santa." Statements
like these would make us cringe, if not
scream. Why doesn't he speak plainly?
Why doesn't he say simply that Santa
isn't real?
As we acquire the terms of a language, we acquire concepts. As we
acquire facility in using a term, we
acquire the cluster of related concepts
that comprise that linguistic family.
We acquire beliefs, ideas, opinions,
judgments, etc. It is, therefore, logically
Page 31

impossible, at that point, to assume


the pose of the feral innocent emerging from the deep jungle, clutching his
unsullied tabula rasa. It is logically
impossible to know how to use the
term 'God' yet not have any beliefs
pertaining to God.
For any person, A, fluent in the
language, who does not 'have', or
'hold', or 'believe in', or who is 'absent',
'lacks', is 'free from' or 'without belief
in' some proposition, p - (these are
typical ofthe cumbersome circumlocutions employed by N atheists
to
express this new version of Atheism) this may be the case because: (1) A is
unfamiliar with the component concepts ofp;A does not understandp. As
indicated, for the God concept, this
option is not open to a practiced
speaker of the language. (2) A lacks
the information enabling one to judge
the probability or truth value of p.
(E.g., p is "Magnesium can be found
on Jupiter"). A may believe that .p'e
value is unknown or unknowable at
his intellectual level, or unknowable
in general, or at the present time, or
to science, or in principle. A may be
gathering information about p, or
awaiting some event, or the outcome
of some experiment bearing on p.
Perhaps A has simply not made up his
mind about p. Any of these could be,
and has been, considered some form of
classic Agnosticism. (3) Finally, A considers p to be highly improbable or
false. Given our topic, this is classic
Atheism. A is 'free of' belief in God
because A is convinced that God does
not exist. It is quite normal, and logical, not to 'hold' or 'embrace' a belief
that one considers false!
Without the baggage of the bloated belief-vocabulary, a much more
succinct summary can be given. For
any mature language-user, a given
proposition will be meaningless or
meaningful; if meaningful, its probability or truth value will be known or
unknown.

Taking Good Advice


Ifwe follow our own schematic, 'A
doesn't believe in God' becomes 'A
doesn't believe that God exists'. Now,
how is that to be parsed? Common
sense, ordinary linguistic practice,
and reasonable understanding of the
Page 32

thrust of the negative all point to 'A


believes that God doesn't exist'. That
is one, standard way of expressing
standard Atheism.
But, the reform Atheists, the
Natheists, are adamant in their insistence that they are painstakingly
carving out another interpretation
that is significantly different from the
flat-out denial that God exists. (It is
different, but it's certainly not new,
since it is no more than the old, familiar Agnosticism.) Natheism claims
that 'A doesn't believe that God exists'
must be unpacked to 'A is without the
belief that God exists'.
Let us grant that, for the sake of
our analysis. Now, only one crucial
question: How about the belief that
God does not exist? Is A also 'without'
or lacking that? Either he is or he
isn't.
If he is, i.e. A holds neither the
belief that God exists, nor the belief
that God does not exist, for whatever
reasons, A, an intellectually mature
language user, is properly classified as
an Agnostic. If A is not lacking the
belief that God does not exist, then he
has the belief that God does not exist,
which is traditional,
strict, hard,
explicit Atheism. There is no other
alternative. It follows that Natheism
is not a separate, discrete stance on
"belief in" God but collapses into
. either traditional Agnosticism or traditional Atheism. But, since Natheism
itself is unyielding in insisting that it
is positively not traditional Atheism,
then it must be Agnosticism. Q.E.D.
This proof is easily formalized and I
am convinced of its logical soundness.
If a reader detects any flaw, either logical or factual, please apprise me of it.
The same sorts of skewed conclusions can be deduced from the various
redefinitions of 'atheism' proposed by
Natheism. A definition is, by definition, an equivalence. If '... all that
Atheism requires is the lack of belief
in God," then that lack of belief is both
necessary and sufficient for Atheism,
and therefore, equivalent to Atheism.
But, an Agnostic, by definition, lacks
belief in God (for any of a slew of problematic reasons connected to concepts
like
'knowledge',
'certainty',
'unknowability', etc.). Therefore, it follows, rigorously, that an Agnostic is an
Atheist! This would surely come as
Winter

2003-2004

startling news to most Agnostics, who


constantly, vigorously strive to differentiate their stance from the "arrogant
certitudes"
of
Atheists.
Grotesque results
like these are
inevitable when Natheists engage in
this redefinist orgy reminiscent of the
absurd claims of Soviet revisionism.
When leaving the semantic boundaries of the dictionary's realm, the
Twilight Zone often lies just ahead.
It's hardly surprising that our
analysis has led us to the conclusion
that Natheism is really Agnosticism.
Every philosophically
sophisticated
acquaintance to whom I mentioned
the natheistic redefinition of 'atheism', without
any comment, had
essentially
the same reaction "Sounds like Agnosticism to me". Our
analysis confirms that first impression as absolutely correct.

Under a Semantic Spell


How bewildering when so many
distinguished thinkers seem to be linguistically bewitched by Natheism
when, logically speaking, that theory
has so little to recommend it. One can
only speculate as to which fallacies
might have entrapped them, though I
suspect that the ultimate source ofthe
errors is not poor logic, but a political
motivation. That involves creating a
position that could be seen as a
kinder, gentler Atheism; one that is
politically correct and less confrontational. The redefmition of Atheism so
that it emerges as Agnosticism is a
significant part of a larger agenda
calling for downplaying Atheism, and
rendering it impotent and irrelevant
-in the present case, by defining it
out of existence. As the best-known of
all humanist thinkers wrote to me
some six years ago, ". . . atheism is
out"! But, these issues must be made
the subject of another paper.
Illicit conversion of the universal
affirmative proposition could possibly
be one of the snares that influenced
some of these profound thinkers to
adopt such a peculiar interpretation of
'atheism'.
'All X is Y' cannot be
reversed or converted with impunity;
it is risky business to do so because
there is no guarantee that the original
truth value will be retained. Hence,
American Atheist

the reversal "is an invalid procedure.


Could this, then, be the trap that gave
rise to Natheism? They realized that
all Atheists lack belief in God (because
they deny that God exists), unwittingly
turned that around, and came up with
'All who lack belief in God are
Atheists', (an obviously false proposition). Could it have been that simple?
Or perhaps it was the fallacy
called undistributed middle in syllogistic logic. All Atheists are without
belief in God, and all Agnostics are
without belief in God, but it surely
does not follow, either that all Atheists
are Agnostics, or that all Agnostics are
Atheists. (To see that, try "All members of American
Atheists
are
Atheists" and "All Communists are
Atheists".)
Whatever other traps ensnared
Natheists, they definitely commit this
specific, little-noticed faux pas - definition by negatives. Informal logic
teaches that a definition should not be
negative where it can be positive.
Eminently reasonable advice. Define
apple as "not blue, not Martian, not
uranium ... " - and, a few trillion negative properties later, you will still be
no closer to conveying the idea of what
an apple is. Define atheist as "without
belief in God" and, while that may be
true, it is hardly informative. For the
Atheist is also without the beliefs that
grass is red, squares have 5 sides, etc.
Consequently, the natheistic redefinition only tells us what the Atheist
does not believe and fails to convey
the essence of Atheism, the positive
claims that make it distinctive.
Incidentally, one wonders if the
natheistic formula for definitional
reconstruction applies to all negative
belief statements. When A, confiding
in his friend, B, confesses that he
doesn't believe in his wife, B might
reasonably respond, "So, you think
your wife's unfaithful?" But A, having
absorbed a little too much natheist
rhetoric, replies indignantly, "What? I
never said any such thing! I merely
meant that I lack the belief that my
wife is faithful. That's all." Well, while
we may differ on the definition of
atheism, surely, we'd all agree that
such a conversational exchange would
be the very definition of ludicrous.
So many ways to go wrong! These
are merely hints at what might have
Parsippany, New Jersey

led Natheists astray. Then again, that


gamy
aroma
emanating
from
Natheism could be the result of having been too long in the stable, putting
the cart before the horse. To be sure,
Atheists are 'without', 'free of', or
'lacking' belief in God, for the very
same reason that we are without
belief in statements we consider false.
Ordinarily, we do not knowingly incorporate false proposition into our belief
systems. Atheists claim that God does
not exist; naturally, they do not hold
or have the belief that God does exist.
Their lack of the latter belief follows
from, is a consequence
of, their
Atheism; not vice-versa. That seems
clear enough.
This cart-before-the-horse
blunder, essentially a causal fallacy, seems
to be a key misstep. For, in general, it
is a matter of misplaced emphasis.
Emphasis on the believer and his
mental state, rather than what is or is
not believed. Emphasis on a person's
lack of belief rather than the reasons
for that lack. Mistaking a consequence
of Atheism - lacking the belief that
God exists - for the essence/definition of Atheism - the denial that God
exists. When we do not have or hold a
belief that we understand and know
something of, it is usually because we
have previously rejected the belief as
false or highly improbable. That is,
after all, why I don't hold the belief
that grass is red.
"Why are you without?" This is
the crucial question
to pose to
Natheists. When one is without a
near-universal belief, it is surely fair
to ask why. Why is the Natheist lacking the belief that God exists? How
come? It would be equally legitimate
to ask "Why? of a three-year old child
who lacked belief in Santa. (And the
child would surely answer that his
parents taught him that Santa isn't
real.)
When N atheists talk of "freedom
from" or "being without" God-beliefs,
what do they have in mind? The child
of some sturdy Nordic freethinkers in
a remote corner of Montana? It's probably not a good idea to base philosophic analysis, or anything else, on
an anomaly, a rarity. Our explorations
of these tangled concepts should stem
from, and apply to, real Atheists in the
real world. That isolated child will
Winter 2003-2004

hear about God the moment he begins


the socialization
process. He will
acquire the term 'God', and, with it,
beliefs about God. Given the smothering omnipresence of religion in the
contemporary milieu, any adult in the
Americas has beliefs about God. Those
beliefs will be either theistic, atheistic, or agnostic.
Freethinkers of all varieties often
express their exuberance in being unbelievers by emphasizing being 'without' or 'free from' the madhouse of religious beliefs. Many Atheists escaped
that asylum only with great hardship
and suffering. The comparison with
extreme cults is perfectly fitting here
since the differences between them
and mainstream religions are usually
matters of size and severity of indoctrination.
Similarly,
intellectuals
and
sophisticates,
pseudo or genuine,
often express their disdain for the
entire religious scene by ignoring it,
by dismissing it as "beneath" them, or
calling it "unimportant."
In reflecting on these commonplace cases, it could be tempting to
assert that these individuals proceeded directly to a state of lacking Godbeliefs, without passing GOd, i.e.
without claiming that God does not
exist. It seems that they are without
God-beliefs, but have never expressly
denied the existence of God. They
exult in the Atheist life style but cannot remember ever having explicitly
declared "God does not exist."
While this may be true in some
cases, it misses the point. First, many
Atheists can recall some life point at
which they did explicitly deny God's
existence. But, explicit denial is not
necessarily
the criterion;
implicit
denial, implied denial also counts.
Whatever is implied is thereby, presupposed. And, we have been attempting to show that being responsibly and
securely without the belief that God
exists, presupposes having the belief
that God does not exist.
The argument - a very simple one
- goes something like this: if God, the
interactive, wrathful! loving, punishing/ rewarding,
Judeo-ChristianIslamic deity really existed, it would
be extremely important. It would be
important
to ascertain the deity's
wishes and commands; important to
Page 33

live by them; important to have the


proper religious beliefs. Indeed, ifthat
sort of god existed, it would be the
most important fact about life, about
reality. I assume everyone would
agree.
Now, add the premise that religion and religious beliefs are unimportant, and it is possible and rationally acceptable to be 'without' or 'lacking' them (another way of saying
they're unimportant) and it follows,
deductively, that God does not exist.
This shows, I think, that one cannot
casually, safely take the natheistic
high-road
of freedom from Godbeliefs, without presupposing
oldfashioned Atheism.

Pro - Non-Existence
I think an analogy can be drawn
that illuminates both my comments
about political correctness and about
a logical presupposition; an analogy
between Natheism and the liberal faction in the abortion controversy. It
was nothing less than a stroke of
genius to adopt the slogan "prochoice" instead of "pro-abortion." Who
can be against freedom of choice?
That would be un-American. And who
wants to hear the distasteful term
"abortion," with all its yucky, biologi-

cal connotations?
Yes, "pro-choice"
was a masterful public-relations gambit.
Yet, we should be aware of the
logic of the situation: the claim that
one ought to be able to perform cer
tain actions without legal repercussions or sanctions presupposes
the
belief that the action is morally permissible, i.e., not wrong. That could be
the reason why we find no pro-choice
advocates for bank robbing or child
molesting. Those calling for the legalization of prostitution or marijuana
should adopt this strategy and just
refer to themselves as "pro-choice."
So, being pro-choice presupposes, and
therefore implies, being pro-abortion.
'Pro-abortion' obviously does not mean
that abortion is a wonderful thing and
everyone should have one; its meaning would parallel the sense in which
we are
all
'pro-appendectomy'.
However, the use of 'pro-choice' was a
triumph of political correctness and
strategic savvy.
Here's the analogy: in all cases of
any interest to our inquiry, being
'without
belief in God' describes
Agnosticism, or presupposes Atheism.
And if the usual description of God as
all-powerful and all-knowing, as well
as all-rewarding and all-punishing, is
at all accurate, the only way to be

Sna shots at jasonlove.com

---

1--..::---_

Page 34

Winter 2003-2004

comfortably free of god-beliefs is to


have made the prior judgment that
God is mythical. The nine-year-old
child who feels secure in no longer
putting out cookies for Santa on Xmas
Eve, has, at some prior point, decided
Santa is not real. I claim that
Natheists must have made the analogous judgment
"God does not
exist." For both the child and the
Natheist, it is too dangerous to be
blithely "lacking" certain beliefs without being pretty sure of the non-existence of the respective entities.

Bibliography
I am listing some key items in this controversy - both pro and con - with which I
am familiar. All are by freethinkers. Some
are eminently sensible; some few level justified critiques at Atheism. I agree with a good
deal of what is said. However, some have
raised my hackles to Viagral levels; some
appear to be sound-bites written for Pat
Robertson; some are more critical of Atheism
than the Pope is!
Cooke, Bill, "Atheist in a Bunker," Free
Inquiry, Spring 2003, Vol. 23, No.2.
Dawkins, Richard, "A Challenge to Atheists,"
Free Inquiry, Summer 2002, Vol. 22, No.3.
Eller, David, "Atheism:
Positive
and
Negative," American Atheist, Autumn
2003.
Estling, Ralph, "Another Skeptical Inquiry,"
Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 200l.
Flynn, Tom, "ASecular Humanist Definition:
Setting The Record Straight,"
Free
Inquiry, Fall 2002, Vol. 22, No.4.
Frazier, Kendrick, "Science and Religion
2001: Introductory Thoughts," Skeptical
Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 200l.
Kagin, Edwin, "Speech," American Atheist,
Winter 2002-2003.
Kurtz, Paul, "First Things First: Toward a
Minimal
Definition
of Humanism,"
PHILO, Vol. 1, No.1, Spring-Summer
1998.
Kurtz, Paul, "Secular Humanism: A New
Approach," Free Inquiry, Fall 2002, Vol.
22, No.4.
Murray, Jon and Murray O'Hair, Madalyn,
All the Questions You Ever Wanted to Ask
American
Atheists,
American
Atheist
Press, 1983.
Pigliucci, Massimo, "Methodological vs.
Philosophical Naturalism," Free Inquiry,
Winter 2002/03, Vol. 23, No. l.
Shermer, Michael, "Do You Believe in God?"
Skeptic, Vol. 6, No.2, 1998.
Smith, George H., Atheism: The Case Against
God, Prometheus Books, 1989
Zindler, Frank R., "Atheism: Its Logical and
Philosophical Foundations,"
American
Atheist, Summer 2000.

American Atheist

Tony Pasquarello's ''Atheism and Natheism"


A response from George Ricker

ony Pasquarello's "Atheism and


Natheism"
(Autumn
2003
American Atheist) raises some interesting points about the definition of
atheism and the apparent disagreement that plagues us over the meaning of the word. I offer the following
comments on the subject.
Although I have no objection to
'dictionary philosophy' I think it's
worth noting there has been a persistent theistic bias evident in most dictionaries and most dictionary definitions. Toillustrate consider the following entry:
atheism
IA'the e ism I, n. [Cf. F.
atheisme. See Atheist.]
1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent
Being.
Atheism is a ferocious system, that
leaves nothing above us to excite awe,
nor around us to awaken tenderness.
-R. Hall.
Atheism and pantheism are often
wrongly confounded.

-Shipley.

2. Godlessness.
(Webster's
Revised
Dictionary, 1996)

Unabridged

This bias - evident in the selection of the sentence from R. Hall - is


George A. Ricker is an awardwinning journalist and weekly
newspaper editor, now retired. A
1963 graduate ofthe University of
Miami (Coral Gables, Fla.) with a
degree in secondary education, he
has worked at a variety of occupations, including one year spent as
associate pastor of a Methodist
church while he was attending a
theological seminary. He lives in
Palm Bay, Fla. and is a member of
American Atheists, Atheists of
Florida, and the Freedom From
Religion Foundation.
Parsippany, New Jersey

hardly surprising since most human


cultures for most of human history
have promoted the virtues of gods and
religions and deplored their absence.
However as usage changes, dictionary
definitions change as well. We are
beginning to see the "lack of belief'
definition show up in places like
Encarta, which calls Atheism "unbelief in gods and deities, and UltraLingua.Net,
an on-line dictionary
which offers the 'lack of belief' definition as the first or preferred and the
doctrinal (the doctrine or belief that
there is no god) as the secondary.
It's also worth noting that virtually
every dictionary recognizes the root of
atheism as in the Greek a meaning
'without' and the as meaning 'god.'
Hence atheas means 'without god.'
One who is 'without god' need not
think there are no gods. Indeed, one
who is without gods need not think of
them at alL The condition of being
without god or gods is independent of
any knowledge claims about the existence or nonexistence of a deity of any
description and need not depend upon
any belief at all. Not only do virtually
all dictionaries recognize the atheos
construction as the root source of the
word, they also are nearly universal in
recognizing 'godlessness' as the best
synonym for atheism.
Again, the condition of godlessness requires no one to make any
claims about the existence or nonexistence of deities. While the definition of
Atheism as 'the absence of (or lack of)
belief in a god or gods'is fairly modern
usage, I submit it is a more accurate
reflection of the word's root a (without) + theos (god).That modern usage
is partly, I suspect, a reaction to the
attempted pigeonholing ofAtheism by
religionists who insist Atheism is simply being in "denial" about the existence of a god. In fact, there are reliWinter 2003-2004

gionists who insist there is no such


thing as real Atheism, only the act of
denying 'God' who everyone,
Atheists included, knows exists.
Tony Pasquarello's identification
of Atheism as "a claim about reality"
which is that "reality does not include
the entity normally called 'God' "
seems questionable to me. First of all,
I'm not entirely sure what is meant by
"the entity normally called God."
Indeed, having given the matter considerable thought, I'm no longer certain what anyone means by the use of
that word. I realize it's one of the
words on which he says there is general agreement and that may be true
- in dictionaries. But out here in the
real world, I have a great deal of difficulty getting many theists to make
any sort of a good-faith effort to
define, with any precision at all, what
they mean by the word 'God.' Indeed,
most of them run away from the exercise entirely and insist that 'God' cannot be defined or described in any
detaiL Besides, what normally is
called 'God'here in the U.s.A. is quite
different from what normally is called
'God' in India or China.
Pasquarello insists "It would be
true that 'God' does not exist even if
no Atheist had ever existed." However,
the more relevant fact is that the concept of Atheism would not exist if
there were no such thing as theism.
Absent god-belief, there would be no
need for the distinction made by
Atheism. And whether or not there is
such a concept as Atheism has
absolutely nothing to do with whether
or not god(s) exist in reality.
Secondly, and perhaps I run the
risk ofbeing drummed out ofthe corps
for saying this, I don't think Atheism
is a "claim" about anything. Atheism,
in my lexicon at least, is a word which
describes the absence of an attribute.
Page 35

It is the absence or lack of theism.


Theism is god-belief. Atheism is being
without god-belief. Theists believe in
gods. Atheists don't. I think that is the
most economical and the most inclusive definition of Atheism. I also think
it is the definition that best reflects
the attitudes of most modern Atheists.
In my view it is a mistake to
attempt to load the term with more
than it should rightfully have to carry.
I repeat, with all respect to Mr.
Pasquarello, I don't think Atheism is a
claim about anything
I'm not sure who came up with
the following description
of the
Atheism/Agnosticism
matrix, but I
think it works. Both Atheism and
Agnosticism depend upon their root
words for their own meaning. Atheism
is being without theism or god-belief.
Agnosticism is being without gnosticism or knowledge (originally this had
to do with knowledge of god and that
is the sense in which I'm using it
here.).
If that dichotomy is correct - and
I understand it can be argued differently - then it suggests the following
positions relative to the god hypothesis (i.e. the beliefthat a god or gods of
some description exist) :

I think each of these positions


accurately reflects the meanings of
the words in question. Of course, most
of us simply identify ourselves as
Atheists or Agnostics or Theists most
of the time. It's also true that in this
breakdown,
one who claimed no
knowledge and had no belief could call
himself an Agnostic, an Atheist, or an
Agnostic Atheist.
It seems to me that both atheism/theism
and agnosticism/gnosticism correspond to binary switches.
One either believes or does not
believe. There is no convenient middle
ground to occupy. The belief switch is
either on or off. By the same token,
one either makes a knowledge claim
or one does not. Here again, it simply
is not possible to know and not know
at the same time. Of course, when
we're talking about god(s), one must
begin with a clear understanding of
the nature of the entity or entities

about which the knowledge claim is


made.
If I understand Mr. Pasquarello
correctly, the only atheism in his lexicon would be that which I call
"Gnostic Atheism." It would not be
enough for one to not believe in gods,
one would have to claim to know there
were no gods in order to be entitled to
call oneself an Atheist.
I find that unsatisfactory, and I
suspect most Atheists will. Ultimately,
atheism should mean what the majority of Atheists want it to mean. The
definition of Atheism as the absence of
god-belief leaves room for many
degrees of Atheism. But whether one
is a "strong" Atheist, a "weak" Atheist,
an "Agnostic" Atheist or a "Gnostic"
Atheist, and regardless of why we are
not Theists, we are united by one simple fact: we don't believe in godts).
That may not work for Mr.
Pasquarello. It does for me.

Agnostic Atheism - a lack of


belief in god(s) and no knowledge
claim about god(s)
Gnostic Atheism - a lack of
belief in god(s) and a knowledge
claim about godrs) {the claim
that gods don't exist}
Agnostic Theism - belief in
god(s) but no knowledge claim
about god(s) {this would be the
position of someone who "chooses" to believe but doesn't claim to
know whether those beliefs correspond to any sort of reality}
Gnostic Theism - belief in
god(s) and a knowledge claim
about god(s) {this would be the
claim that one or more gods do
exist}

"No thanks, I'm on a low carb diet."


Page 36

Winter 20032004

American Atheist

AGNOSTICISM:
THE BASIS FOR ATHEISM,
NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO IT
By David Eller

Ai

old question recently led me


to a new thought: can an
gnostic be a Theist? The easy
answer appears to be yes, because
there are people who call themselves
Agnostics and Theists. As we will see
below, we cannot leave that claim
unchallenged. But a second question
emerges from this line of thought: can
an Agnostic be an Atheist? In other
words, what is the relationship
between Agnosticism, Theism, and
Atheism? Is Agnosticism a third, intermediate, alternative position, or is it
something else?
This general issue was raised in
these pages by Tony Pasquarello, who
distinguished between Atheism and
what he called Natheism (as if we need
another neologism'), the former being
the good old dictionary-definition version of belief that there is no such
thing as god(s) and the latter being a
"new" position of rejecting belief without rejecting god(s) (1). This second
position, which is sometimes called
"weak" or "negative" Atheism, I also
find incoherent, as I have argued in a
previous article (2). What could it possibly mean to say that I don't believe in
X but I am not maintaining there is no
X? That is why I concluded that all
Atheism is positive Atheism - we do
not believe in X because we maintain
there is no X.
What does all of this have to do
with Agnosticism? Everything, as it

Dr. Eller is an anthropologist as well as American Atheists


Director for Colorado. He is the
author of Natural Atheism, a book
which
will be published
by
American Atheist press later this
year. He can be reached at:
ellerdavid@onebox.com.
Parsippany, New Jersey

turns out. Atheists who dilute their


Atheism into Agnosticism are not only
doing the cause and philosophy of
Atheism a disservice, but they are also
committing a crucial conceptual error
- and allowing others to commit it too.
The error is the assertion
that
"Agnostic" is some third thing to be, an
alternative to both belief and nonbelief, and in fact a milder and more
acceptable alternative to belief than
Atheism. Agnostics are supposedly
people who claim to be "undecided"
about religious questions or possibly
uninterested in them. They are "not
sure" or noncommittal, they do not
have "enough information," and hypothetically they are waiting, actively or
passively, for some basis on which to
settle the two "claims" of Theism and
Atheism. Agnostics - persons who
declare themselves to be Agnostics allegedly say "I don't know."
However, this will not do. First,
Agnosticism is not an alternative position to Atheism, because Agnosticism
and Atheism are completely different
kinds of phenomena, not simply different positions on the same continuum.
Agnosticism is in fact not a position at
all but a method for arriving at a position. It is not on the belief spectrum in
any sense. Second, Agnosticism is the
only proper approach to the particular
problem it addresses - the problem of
knowledge - and as such it is not only
compatible with Atheism but is actually a foundation, the essential foundation, for Atheism.
What is Agnosticism?
Agnosticism is a recent concept,
introduced by Thomas Huxley, the
famous friend and advocate of Darwin,
to describe his own concerns about
knowledge and belief. It is derived
Winter 20032004

from the Greek roots a- for 'no' or


'without' and gnosis for 'knowledge.'
Dictionary definitions, which are often
worse than useless, tend to depict it as
the position that certain things, like
god(s), are unknown or ultimately
unknowable; in common usage it is a
third
religious
position
between
Atheism or Theism. The Oxford World
Encyclopedia goes so far as to declare
that it is a "reasoned basis for the
rejection of both Christianity
and
Atheism" (3).
However, neither dictionaries nor
common usage reflect Huxley's intent
in coining the term. His original formulation ofthe concept goes as follows:
Agnosticism is not a creed but a
method, the essence of which lies
in the vigorous application of a single principle. Positively the principle may be expressed as, in matters of the intellect, follow your
reason as far as it can carry you
without other considerations. And
negatively, in matters of the intellect, do not pretend the conclusions
are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.
It is
wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a
proposition unless he can produce
evidence which logically justifies
that certainty.
In this characterization, which we
can take as authoritative, there is no
mention of belief in general or of religion in particular. Rather, it addresses
what we should and can claim to know.
It is akin to skepticism in the less
extreme sense: not that it is impossible
to have knowledge or that we have
none but that we should not claim to
have knowledge that we do not have.

Page 37

Agnosticism, then, is not a branch


of religion but of epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge: what is it possible to say that we know with some
acceptable degree of certainty, and how
do we know that we know it? More
accurately, it is a method in regard to
knowledge, a method for separating
out what we can justifiably say we
know from what we cannot justifiably
say we know. It is certainly not a body
of particular knowledge, nor is it a
position to take on any particular
issue. It is the process by which to
arrive at such knowledge on which to
base one's position. In this sense, it is
entirely consistent with - in fact, it is
virtually the same thing as - reason.
It is the demand for true facts and
valid logic as the grounds for one's
sound conclusions. In the absence of
true facts and valid logic, one cannot
call one's conclusions sound and should
be at least cautious if not self-critical
about them.
Applied to religion, Agnosticism
means that we should not claim to
have 'religious knowledge' unless we
can demonstrate
by our 'agnostic
method' that such knowledge is justified. It does not insist prima facie that
religious knowledge is impossible, only
that it must pass this test. The question then is whether anything that we
can seriously call religious knowledge
does or can pass the agnostic test. Can
we claim to have sound, even true, religious knowledge? I would argue that
we do not and most likely cannot have it.
What exactly is religious knowledge? It would be propositions about
religious topics - in particular, the
existence and nature of god(s) - that
are accepted as true on the basis of evidence and/or interpretation
of evidence, with the requirement that such
evidence
and interpretation
lead
soundly to the propositions.
Such
knowledge
seems
astronomically
unlikely and logically impossible. The
myriad of beliefs about godts), contradictory and mutually exclusive as they
are, makes it just short of inconceivable that one of them could be the 'true
knowledge' of god(s) while all the others have it wrong. Furthermore, there
is no way imaginable that we could
ever determine which was the true
knowledge and which was teaching
false gods. There is no criterion for
judging the truth or justification of a
Page 38

religious claim other than one that is


itself part of the very religious system.
For example, Christians sometimes
argue the veracity of their religion on
the grounds of biblical prophecy or the
special nature of Jesus. However, if you
do not accept the authority of the Bible
or see its prophecies as fulfilled, or if
you do not accept the divinity - or the
very existence - of Jesus, then this
argument is moot.
There are two 'agnostic problems'
with any claims to possessing religious
knowledge. The first is the possible
source of such knowledge. There are,
in the end, only two potential sources
of religious knowledge - authority and
personal experience. In other words, if
I know something about godis), I either
learned it from someone or I experienced it directly. If I got it from an
authority, where could my religious
authority have gotten it? Either from a
prior authority or directly from experience. And where could his prior authority have gotten it? Either from an even
more prior authority or directly from
his experience. We can therefore distinguish the regression of authorities
passing 'knowledge' on from one to the
other, without any means of verifying
the
truth
of the
information.
Authority, then, amounts to little more
than hearsay and testimony, and we
can reject it out of court as a source of
knowledge, as a way to certify that our
knowledge is sound. In fact, the appeal
to authority or to tradition is a wellknown logical fallacy.
That only leaves personal experience as a source of religious knowledge.
This is perhaps the fountain of all
things religious and the last refuge
from rationalistic criticism. If I had a
personal experience, how can you argue
with that? Well, there are a number of
ways to argue with that. The first isthat, in all fields except religion, personal experience is not accepted as a,
dependable source of knowledge. If a
prosecutor brought a psychic into court
who said that she had had a personal
vision of the defendant committing a
crime, both would be (rightly) laughed
out of the building. Second, since this
experience is subjective or "internal,"
there is no possible means of verification - I cannot even be sure that you
had the experience, let alone that you
had the experience you think you had
or that it refers to anything in external
Winter 2003-2004

reality. Third and perhaps most importantly, experiences are subject to interpretation and the vagaries of memory.
An individual who has a 'spiritual experience' (whatever that is; see my earlier
article on spirituality) (4) might interpret it as the Christian God in one time
or culture, as nirvana in another, as a
'good trip' in another, and as a hallucination in yet another. In other words,
even if the experience is real, the object
or referent of the experience is questionable and ultimately not known. But
if this is the case, then personal experience cannot be a source of religious
knowledge either. Predictably,
the
appeal to personal experience is another well-known logical fallacy.
This is at least partly because it
faces the second problem with religious
knowledge - that it does not conform to
the rules of evidence and logic. Even if
we might, for argument's sake, accept a
personal religious experience or an
authority's testimony as evidence for
the existence of some god, this evidence
still fails to satisfy the conditions of falsifiability, comprehensiveness, honesty,
replicability, and sufficiency on which
sound
knowledge
depends.
For
instance, why do we accept that authority rather than some other? Why do we
accept this person's experience instead
of that person's? Also, there is no way
we can test them, either for accuracy or
for actuality; we cannot verify that you
had any experience at all, let alone the
one you claim. This is, of course, the
main charm of personal experience for
Theists, since it is unimpeachable by
science or reason. However, no one not even a Theist - lives his whole life
this way, taking for granted and acting
on somebody else's subjective claims; if
someone said, "I had a vision that
chocolate bars cure cancer," or even,
"My alternative healer said that chocolate bars cure cancer," you would be a
fool to stop your medical treatment and
go on a regimen of candy. Precisely
because
personal
experience
and
ancient authority are so unapproachable for purposes of testing and falsifiability, they are untrustworthy as evidence. Agnosticism - that is, reason
rejects them.
You Don't Know - But
Do You Believe?
We may safely conclude, then,
that there is no 'religious knowledge'
American Atheist

that we Atheists are lacking. In fact,


even Theists themselves
typically
emphasize belief (faith) over knowledge; especially Christians,
but all
Theists to an extent, devalue knowledge as a way of approaching spirituality and privilege
'faith'
instead.
Undoubtedly, many Theists think that
knowledge is possible and good, and
some have tried to reconcile faith and
reason, but in the end, reason takes a
back seat to faith. As Tertullian, an
early church father, stated clearly,
Christianity
is true because it is
absurd - because there is no evidence
for it and nothing else like it in human
experience.
We humans are, therefore, all
without religious knowledge. In other
words, in the realm of religion, we are
all a-gnosis. People who claim to have
some gnosis, like the famous and
appropriately named Gnostics, essentially must maintain that they know
what everyone else does not and cannot know; yet, their claims to gnosis
have no substance and need not
bother us.
Let us state then simply and firmly
that all of us are, in the conventional
sense, Agnostics, since we are all without knowledge when it comes to religion. We might think we have some,
and we might have learned some
teachings about religion, but this does
not and cannot qualify as knowledge.
In Huxley's original sense, we might
not all be Agnostics, but we all should
be; we should practice Agnosticism and
refrain from making claims to knowledge that we are not justified in making. But if religious claims
- like
claims about the existence of god(s) fail inspection, doesn't that mean that
we should reject them?
Yes, it does. Let us look at it this
way: the question for us is, does a god
with these or those particular qualities
exist? There are only two possible
answers: yes or no. How do we begin to
approach the problem? We begin to
approach the problem with a method,
in this case the Agnostic method: we
collect information, we make observations, we subject it all to careful logical
analysis, and we do not accept an affirmative answer until there is sufficient
reason to do so. In the meantime, we
adopt the 'null hypothesis' (as scientists say), the innocent-until-provenguilty stance (as jurists say), or, in this
Parsippany, New Jersey

particular instance, the "presumption


of Atheism" (as Antony Flew says).
Thus, there are only two possible
outcomes to our investigation
- yes
this god exists, or no this god does not
exist. The first is (one of the many
types of) Theism, and the second is
Atheism. These two positions represent the poles of the spectrum of belief.
In fact they are the only two points on
that spectrum. Either you believe in
god(s) and are a Theist, or you do not
believe in godls) and are an Atheist. So
Agnosticism does not and cannot
belong on this spectrum, let alone 'in
between' the theistic and atheistic
points.
It is now apparent that Agnosticism is in a different dimension (the
methodological dimension) than both
Atheism and Theism. Atheism and
Theism are positions, but Agnosticism
is a process. In what dimension do
Atheism and Theism dwell? The most
common answer would be the dimension of 'belief.' Now we are back on
familiar ground. Theism is the belief
(or one of the many beliefs) in godis),
and Atheism is the belief in no godts).
However, as I have argued elsewhere
and will continue to argue, this is
wrong: Atheism is not a "belief' at all.
Theism is a belief in the sense that you
must stand your theistic ground
must make the claim of the truth of
your 'religious knowledge' - without
the aid of solid evidence or logic; it is
accepting something as true without
confirming evidence or even in the face
of disconfirming evidence. It is acceptance of a knowledge claim in disregard
or contradiction
to the 'agnostic
method.' Atheism, conversely, is the
(sound) conclusion that any such
knowledge claim is false, completely
and necessarily in compliance with the
agnostic method. As I have stressed
before, when there is firm evidence,
valid logic, and sound conclusion, there
is knowledge - and no need to appeal
or refer to belief whatsoever. (5)
If Atheism is not a belief, then
what is it? And ifit is not a belief, what
does it have in common with Theism
that it does not have in common with
Agnosticism; that is, what is the correct spectrum on which Atheism and
Theism fall? Pasquarello, in the article
cited above, refers to it as "metaphysical," referring to that other branch of
philosophy that deals with the nature
Winter 2003-2004

and composition
of reality. Metaphysics is distinct from, although significantly related to, epistemology, so
the Theism/Atheism schism is distinct
from, although significantly related to,
Agnosticism.
However - and this is
the theme of the entire present article
- they are not related in the sense that
most people think.
Name your god. He/she/it either
exists or not. Call it a metaphysical
question if you like. In the final analysis it is an empirical question: the fact
is either the god does or does not exist.
There is no third alternative. We may
not easily be able to know which, but it
is one of the two. How is the empirical
question to be solved? The only possible answer is with the correct method;
here, empirical truth and methodology
meet. In other words, here Atheism
and Agnosticism meet. In other words,
here belief and knowledge meet.
What ultimately is the relation
between the two dimensions - between
Agnosticism and Atheism/ Theism,
between method and fact, between
metaphysics
and
epistemology,
between belief and knowledge? The
answer is clear. If you have no knowledge of a thing, if your methods yield
no knowledge of it - not of its existence, not of its characteristics - then
how could you justifiably ever believe
anything about it? You cannot. If you
do not know, you should not believe.
Your only sensible option is to reject
the knowledge claim and to eschew
any belief on the subject. Your only
sensible option is Atheism.
Therefore, if Agnosticism is the
method
pertaining
to
religious
knowledge, then the only valid conclusion from that method is Atheism.
There is, then, a natural and unavoidable connection between the two concepts. If Agnosticism is the process,
Atheism is the product. I am an Atheist
because I am an Agnostic. I have
reached the conclusion of Atheism
because I have traveled the only road
there is and arrived at the only point to
which that road leads. Of course, not
all people practice Agnosticism - certainly not in their religious lives - and
not all, obviously, recognize their
inevitable state as Agnostics. Those
who do practice it conspicuously must
inevitably concede that there is no
foundation whatsoever for making any
religious claims that have any reality
Page 39

to them. People may, do, and probably


will continue to believe in the absence
of evidence or in contradiction to the
evidence, but that is now the only way
that they can believe. Belief as a
respectable and rational position has
been vanquished. Theism is defeated,
and
only
Atheism
remains.
There is one last
problem to dispatch.
Theists, and Agnostics
in the conventional
sense, will often dismiss Atheism as if it
implies or requires certain knowledge that
god(s) does/do not exist
- as if we are claiming
to 'know' that there
is/are no god(s). But that is a false
characterization,
and this is now
patently obvious from an 'agnostic perspective'. Atheism is not and does not
have to be about certainty; rather, in a
funny way, it is about the lack of certainty. As Huxley put it, "do not pretend the conclusions are certain that
are not demonstrated or demonstrable." Therefore, if a Theist cannot
demonstrate the existence of god(s) or even worse, argues that such existence is undemonstrable - we are right
to reject the conclusion.
We don't
know; they pretend to know. So
Atheism does not depend on certain
knowledge of the non-existence
of
god(s). It depends on the non-existence
of certain knowledge of god(s).

My conclusion is that everyone is


agnostic
or at least should be;
Agnosticism, like reason, is the only
trustworthy method for threshing the
true from the false. In reality,
Agnosticism is simply another name
for reason - and probably an unfortu-

misrepresent ourselves and muddy our


thinking in the process, then we are
betraying our true convictions and
crippling our own ability to think. It is
not only false but false to ourselves.
Ultimately, it even aids Theism by
making the existence of god(s) implicit
and default: if Agnosticism is the position
that
god(s)
is/are
unknown or unknowable, that presupposes
that there is such a
thing as god(s) beyond
knowledge.
Operating
on that definition cedes
the ground to Theists.
Finally
we can
return to the question
we posed at the top of
this article: whether it is possible to be
an agnostic Theist, for example an
agnostic Christian. The answer, after
further inspection, is no. If there is no
religious knowledge that we can claim
with any certainty, then there is no
ground for belief and Theism. An
agnostic Theist is a Theist in violation
of Agnosticism. A reasonable Theist is
a Theist in violation of reason. It
should be immanently clear that there
is no agnostic
path to Theism.
Agnosticism is a path indeed - the
only viable and reliable path
through the thicket of theistic claims,
but its necessary and inevitable destination is Atheism.

Atheism does not depend on


certain knowledge of the nonexistence of god( s). It depends on
the
non-existence
of certain
knowledge of god(s).

Conclusion
To Believe or Not to Believe,
That Is the Question
There may still be those who call
themselves
"Agnostics" as if that
names their position or frees them
from the necessity of taking a position.
But Agnosticism does not invite you to
suspend judgment; it invites you to
reach judgment in full light of the facts
and the logic and to stand by it. And,
as the old adage goes, if you don't take
a position, then you are taking a position - a position against. If you are not
actively a Theist, you are passively an
Atheist. If you are waiting to believe,
you are not believing now. God, if
he/shelit exists, will not make the distinction.
Page 40

nate name, since people are led to


think that it is a unique process in its
own right or, even worse, a unique
thing or conclusion in its own right.
But one would not say "I'm rational" as
the description of one's position; that
does not tell us what you think, only
how you think. Agnosticism is not an
alternative to Atheism, let alone a
compromise between Atheism and
Theism, but rather the very foundation
upon which reasoned Atheism stands.
Perhaps we should only talk about
Agnosticism in the active, verb form:
not that I am an Agnostic but that I
'agnosticize.' Thus, I agnosticize, therefore I am an Atheist.
Why do even so many Atheists
continue to represent
and defend
Agnosticism as a 'middle way' on religion? I would hope that it is from not
having thoroughly pondered the meaning of Agnosticism and of Atheism,
from a lack of understanding of the difference between methodology and outcome, between process and product,
between
epistemology
and metaphysics. This article is meant to contribute to the clarification of these
issues and to make Atheists stronger
and clearer advocates for their own
position. I fear, at the same time, that
the confusion may be intentional - a
tactical move to make non-belief more
palatable to the pious public. It is more
acceptable to be "an Agnostic" than "an
Atheist," since it appears not to refute
belief but simply not to share it ("Oh, I
don't say you are wrong, I just don't join
you in it"). While I understand the
appeal of public palatability, if we must
Winter 2003-2004

REFERENCES
1 Pasquarello, Tony. "Atheism and
Natheism.' American Atheist, Fall
2003, 19-24.
2 Eller, David. "Atheism, Positive and
Negative." American Atheist, Autumn
2002,42-4.
3 Humphries, Christian, ed. The World
Encyclopedia. NY: Oxford University
Press, 2001, 11.
4 Eller, David. ''Why I am not Spiritual:
Spirituality
as the Alienation of
Humanity." American Atheist, Winter
2003,12-5.
5 Eller, David. "Belief and Knowledge: A
Conceptual
Analysis."
American
Atheist, Summer 2001, 47-9.

American Atheist

The Word Is 'Freedom'


By Davtd M. Frtzpatrtck

hey pursued him through the deluge, mindless crusaders with a


purpose. He'd been able to see
lights behind him across the fields for
the last hour, but in the past five minutes he'd been able to hear them. The
mad, howling storm was so intense that
to hear them at all meant they were
dangerously close.
Horizontal rain stung his face like a
plague of locusts. He leaned into the
screaming wind, squinting, hand out to
break the rain from his eyes, and
pushed onward. He couldn't be captured. If they acquired what he carried,
so many would suffer.
He stole a look over his shoulder.
Over the rise were the faint glows of
many lights. He stumbled on the muddy
gravel but kept moving. They were
damn close, and he was so tired. He'd
barely slept at all in the past five days.
His body ached and cried out in its
exhaustion for him to stop, to just collapse and let sleep overtake him. He
couldn't let that happen.

*****
"How do we know he has it, Captain
Gramwell?" the nervous young man
hollered over the storm.
"Another of his kind told us all
about it," Gramwell hollered back in the
dimness of their lights. "It's amazing
what those barbarians will say when
you drive a few steel spikes through
their bodies."
Maine
author
David
M.
Fitzpatrick
is a freelance writer
and militant Atheist whose fiction
has appeared in such publications
as Brutarian Quarterly, Night to
Dawn, Amazing Journeys, and
American Atheist. He can be
reached at indY@haddusa.com.
Parsippany, New Jersey

"I wonder what's taking the skimmer so long," the kid said.
Gramwell smiled. ''Youtired of this,
kid?"
"No, sir," the kid said, but his face
said otherwise.
"Not discouraged from the rain and
the wind?" he asked with a sardonic
grin. Rain smacked his wrinkled face;
wind whipped his soaked hair around.
He was the only one in the group not
wearing any headgear. The rest of them
were bundled up as if ready for an Arctic
trip. "Not tired and hungry and wishing
you were dry?"
"I suppose I am, sir," the kid yelled.
"But I want to see him caught."
"As well you should," Gramwell said
with a chuckle. "And we'll get him, son.
We have to. He carries something we
need. So all of you remember," he said,
raising his voice, "as tempting as it is,
keep this one alive - and don't damage
him. We don't know where it's hidden."
"Sir, the skimmer is on its way,"
came a voice from the liquid darkness,
and Gramwell smiled with satisfaction.

*****
He broke the rise and saw it.
Straight ahead, nearly invisible in the
black torrent, he saw the dark outline:
the forest, several hundred feet away. A
surge of hope exploded in his heart like
a firecracker and he surged drunkenly
forward. If he could break the treeline
before they topped the ridge behind him,
he'd be safe. Without dogs or air support, they'd never track him in there.
His heart was like a woodpecker
trapped inside a tree. His lungs felt like
swelling balloons, full of chilly air and
cold water. If all he got out of this was
pneumonia, he'd be lucky.
His foot suddenly hit an unseen
rock and he went over the way they'd
toppled what was left of the Washington
Monument when he was eight. He hit
Winter 20032004

the ground sprawling, cursing the precious lost seconds.


He clambered to his feet and
snapped a look back as he staggered into
a clumsy sprint. He couldn't see their
lights behind them. The trees loomed
close before him. He was going to make
it. He ran again, fast and awkward, feeling like the scarecrow in a movie he'd
seen as a child. It was banned now, like
most movies -especially a fantasy like
that, full of magic and all. The censorship was such a tragedy ...
The sky lit suddenly up above and
before him. He yelled in anguish, skidding to a stop as the massive hovercraft
roared into view over the treetops and
dropped sharply between him and the
woods. Blinding spotlights targeted him
as if he were some overrated stage performer. The thirty-foot, silver-domed
skimmer's sensors were locked on and
he knew it wouldn't lose him. He
watched helplessly as it lowered to the
ground, blue-glowing pulse guns ejecting from their compartments with
hydraulic whirs.
He stood in the driving rain, pelted
as if by countless nails, hands up and
fingers at his temples, waiting for the
end. That was standard procedure. He
only hoped they opened up good, and
aimed above his shoulders. That ought
to destroy his cargo.
Behind him, the voices were loud.
He looked over his shoulder to see the
searchers herding toward him like excited cattle. He spun back to the hovercraft, eyes wide.
"Do it!" he yelled above the din of
the storm, keeping his hands at his temples. "DO IT!"
They did it.

*****
He was on cold concrete, still wet.
Every joint was stiff. Every muscle
ached. He had a pounding migraine. He
Page 41

tried to sit up and could only groan in


pain.
"Morning."
He rolled sideways, pushed himself
painfully into a sitting position. He was
in a jail cell, barely eight feet on a side,
without any beds or mats. A single dim
overhead light down the hall weakly
illuminated the cell through the thick
bars. Distant voices were barely evident.
"How long?" he asked, hoarse and
raspy.
"About ten hours." He was a young
man, blond and athletic, dressed in a
black prison jumpsuit. He sat in one corner with an arm resting on an upright
knee. "It was late last night. They didn't
even get you dry clothes. What'd
you
do, anyway?"
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Nice dodge. I'm Thomas. You?"
He regarded the kid for a moment,
then answered, "Clevalis."
"Can't say I've ever heard a name
like that."
"No. My parents created it."
"Something wrong with James or
Peter or Matthew, or any other normal
name?"
"Yes,"Clevalis said evenly. "They're
Christian names."
Understanding crossed Thomas's
face like a dark cloud over the sun. "I
see. You're one of them."
"Interesting way of putting it. What
them are you talking about?"
''You're Godless," Thomas said, visibly astonished. "That's why they treated
you so badly. They're never nice to sinners in here, but you ... they dumped you
in here like ... garbage." He said the last
word as if he'd actually tasted it.
Clevalis winced as he leaned
against the wall. The concrete was
rough, but the coldness felt good against
his burning back muscles. ''You think
I'm garbage, kid?"
"Doesn't matter to me. Matters to
the Church. I'm not sure why I deserved
you as a roommate, but if you don't mess
with me, I'll stay on my side of the cell."
Clevalis cocked his head curiously.
"That's quite judgmental for someone
also in here for breaking a moral."
"My immorality doesn't compare to
yours."
"Do tell."
Thomas shrugged. "I was caught
stealing."
Clevalis raised his brow. "Oh, not
just any moral - you broke a Commandment. They'll crucify you for that."
"Just for a few hours, and no
spikes."
Page 42

"Ah, yes
typical Christian
hypocrisy. The Church has decided God's
will: stealing gets you strapped up for a
while, but not honoring God is punishable by death."
"That's because 'Thou shalt have no
other gods before me' is first on the list.
You broke the primary Commandment."
Clevalis laughed, shaking his head.
"So much for 'judge not, lest ye be
judged.' Anyway, the logic is flawed.
Being an Atheist isn't the same as having another god, you know."
Thomas blinked. "Being a what?"
"An Atheist - you know, godless
types. But I suppose they don't teach
you about that."
"They sure don't, mister."
"So how many times have you been
up on the cross?"
"Is that your business?"
"I'm trying to make it my business."
The kid considered it. "This will be
my fourteenth. But I've never been
spiked. They've all been minor thefts ...
well, I got caught lying once when I was
in school, and I skipped daily service
once a few years back and got caught."
Clevalis gave a low whistle. "You
don't learn, do you?"
"I just have a... theft problem. I
don't get caught often. I have some nifty
tech gear that usually gets me out of
trouble."
"Tech gear is very immoral for citizens to possess," Clevalis said. ''You get
caught with that ... "
"No kidding. The only reason I've
gotten caught at all is because I didn't
want them to see me using my tech
gear." He shrugged, smiling under his
blond mop. "So once in a while things go
wrong and I get tied up for a while."
"So what's your tech gear?" Clevalis
pressed.
Thomas shook his head. "Sorry, I
don't tell anyone that." He shifted
uncomfortably on the floor, changing
which knee was up and leaning the
opposite way. "So why are you locked
up? They usually crucify you guys
immediately. "
"I'm a special Atheist."
Thomas grunted in amusement.
"That's an oxymoron. What's so special
about you?"
"I'm sure you wouldn't care."
"Hey, you wanted to make things
your business. Now it's my turn."
Clevalis nodded with a raised brow.
"Fair enough. I have a cybernetic
implant in my body. The Church wants
it."
Winter 2003-2004

"So why don't they just kill you and


take it?"
"They don't know where it is. It's
microscopic. It could be anywhere. They
don't dare risk damaging it. But soon,
an expert with the right equipment will
be here to find it. Then they'll spike me."
Thomas was visibly interested now,
leaning forward a bit, eyes slightly
wider than before, mouth slightly open.
''What's in that implant?"
"Names," Clevalis said. "Names of
Atheists hidden in society, pretending to
be just like you. People whose lives will
be ended if they're discovered."
Thomas scoffed. ''Well, you're asking for it, you know. Your beliefs are
clearly against the morals of the
Church. All you have to do is accept God
when you're up on that cross tomorrow
and you'll be spared."
"That will never happen," Clevalis
said through gritted teeth.
"Why not?"
"Because I don't believe."
''Why not?"
"We could debate this all day,"
Clevalis said. "My clock's running down,
kid; I don't have time to try to stir up the
logic and reason I know is buried in that
head of yours somewhere."
"Maybe you're not clear on this,"
Thomas said carefully. "As soon as they
get the implant, they'll string you up on
a cross and they'll pound spikes through
your hands and feet. They'll leave you
up there for an hour, a day, a week however long it takes. It's not going to be
some anti-Church statement. It's not
going to make you a martyr, because
nobody will care. It's going to be painful
and terrible and will result in your
death. So give them what they want and
convert, man!"
Clevalis chuckled. "I can't give up
my intellect in favor of fairy tales - not
even to save my own ass."
Thomas shook his head in disbelief.
"Then ... lie! Just tell them you believe.
Hell, I don't think anyone should be tied
up on a cross for stealing or lying, but
man, I tell them that's what I believe.
Youjust have to play the game their way
if you wanna live. After all, if you have
atheists living in society who are pretending to be like us, why can't you do
the same?"
"The mindlessness never ceases to
amaze me," Clevalis said, closing his
eyes and leaning his head heavily back
against the cold wall. "Listen to yourself,
will you? Preaching about how righteous
you are and how terrible godlessness
is ... talking about what's good and what
American Atheist

isn't ... and at the end of it all, advising


me to lie about believing to save my ass
- and telling me how you do the same. If
you could truly hear how ridiculous you
sound ... maybe you'd learn to think differently."

*****
"Captain Gramwell?"
Gramwelliooked up from his paperwork at the face ofthe cop leaning in his
doorway. "Go ahead, officer."
"Bringing the prisoner, as ordered."
Gramwell's face hardened.
"All
right."
The young cop came in, Clevalis in
tow and in handcuffs. Two other cops followed. The office was spacious, the far
wall open glass; the spires and bell towers of countless cathedrals standing tall
in the backdrop of the cloudy sky could
be seen for miles. The walls were
adorned with the decorations Clevalis
expected: Christ on the cross, painting
of the Last Supper, a few assorted
Psalms, portraits of Church leaders.
Bookcases full of Bibles and other religious texts lined every wall.
Clevalis, now in a prison issue black
jumpsuit, took it all in as he was led
before the monstrous mahogany desk.
Gramwell, decked out like the officers in
his dress whites, blue field with a superimposed red cross huge on his chest,
leaned back in his chair and regarded
the prisoner for a few long moments.
"You sad bastard," Gramwell finally
said. "Standing there in your godless
glory, nothing but a filthy animal.
Running free in our good society, corrupting the lives of good Christians ...
running from the acolytes as they chase
you all over God's Creation. Pitiful,
Clevalis - shameful and embarrassing."
"I'm not ashamed or embarrassed,"
Clevalis said quietly.
Gramwell rocketed forward in his
chair, slamming both hands on his desk
with a resounding smack. The whiteclad officers jumped at the sudden
sound. Clevalis didn't flinch.
"I'm ashamed because of you!"
Gramwell snarled, his dark face a mask
of rage. Age lines in his face hardened
into steel grooves. "I'm embarrassed
that you're living in my world. I'm
offended by the very smell of you, you
evil little punk. You and your kind disgust me."
He calmed abruptly, smiling lightly
and clasping his hands before him. "But
that can all be past you. Everything can
change. We give you people a chance the chance you're deserved as a child of
God. Officer, get this man a book."
Parsippany, New Jersey

The first cop scrambled to a bookcase behind him, fished out a volume,
and scurried to the desk. He set it down,
bowed his head briefly with his hands
together before him, then backed off to
his original position.
Clevalis regarded the book, disinterested. It was big, thick, and white,
with black letters emblazoned across the
cover:
THE HOLY BIBLE
THE PERFECT WORD OF
ALMIGHTY GOD
NEW MODERN CHRISTIAN
AUTHORITATIVE
ULTIMATE FINAL VERSION
REVISED
"That is a Bible," Gramwell said. "It
will be your very own Bible when you
leave here. It will be your personal
understanding of God's word and His
will, carried with you everywhere you
go, for consultation whenever you need
it - if you make the right choice. That

choice is this: you place your hand on


this Bible and proclaim acceptance of
Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Then, like any good citizen, you'll have a
Guardian Angel device implanted in
your body. That will enable us to keep
track of you, in case you're ever led
astray."
Gramwell smiled, leaning back in
his chair once again, visibly pleased
with himself. Clevalis regarded him
with the same neutrality he'd exhibited
since being brought in. "So are you
ready to make that choice?"
"I see no choice," Clevalis said in
monotone.
"Then open your eyes, boy. You
choose what I've told you, or you go to
the cross. Now, for a lot of things, we
just tie them up for their sins and let the
catcalls and thrown stones teach them
the error of their ways; but not for you
atheists. Disbelief is the worst offense,
and we'll spike you for it. We'll nail you
up there and let you bleed to death. So
that's your other choice, atheist... and

~o~\ ~ ~0f~~B~U~~
W\e,~!

Wt'\oDA

~~u~\L- \1'"1
~~
C>

Winter

2003-2004

Page 43

from where I'm sitting, the first one is a


whole lot better."
"That's no choice," Clevalis said.
"That's the Church forcing people into
submission. That's the Church controlling everyone - do it their way or die."
''You're starting
to catch on,"
Gramwell said, his face hardening
again.
"I'll never surrender intellect and
reason in exchange for mindless, childish beliefs," Clevalis said. "I choose crucifixion."
Gramwell's eyes darkened and he
spoke through clenched teeth. "What
the hell is it with you people? All you
have to do is make the right choice and
you'll live, boy!And you're not protecting
anyone - our specialist will be here
tomorrow morning and we'll find that
implant and have those names. Then, it
won't matter if you accept God or if you
die screaming in agony on that cross like
a stuck pig. And when we find the rest of
the atheist scum, they'll all face the
same choice as you - become members of
Church society or die bloody deaths!"
Clevalis regarded him coolly, lips
pursed. "If that's what we have to
endure for exercising the free will your
own God has given all of us, so be it."
"Don't you blaspheme my religion,"
Gramwell hissed.
"How am I blaspheming? It's your
own rules!" For the first time, Clevalis
was showing emotion beyond his stony
face and flat voice. "Free will is guaranteed by your God - regardless of who we
are. And nobody but God is supposed to
pass judgment. Yet the Church has
molded society into its own will, not
God's - made all the decisions, spoken
on behalf of God, interpreted everything
to its own benefit!"
''You're Satan, quoting Scripture to
your own purpose!" Gramwell said, gripping the arms of his chair with
hydraulic fingers. His nostrils flared; his
eyes were flame.
"And you're a hypocrite," Clevalis
said, shaking his head. "All of you ...
nothing but an army of mindless hypocrites. Robots reciting what you've been
told to believe, ignoring logic and reason
when you can't explain your way around
the fallacies and contradictions of your
worshipped mythology."
"That will be all," Gramwell said,
still holding his chair arms in death
grips and trembling with anger. "Take
this Godless scum back to his cell."

Page 44

*****
"Good thing you have that implant,
or they'd have roughed you up," Thomas
said to him later. "They usually do."
"That's the 'convert or we'll beat you
until you do' technique," Clevalis said
from his comer of the cell. He lay on his
back, one arm over his eyes, and chuckled. ''You seem like a reasonably intelligent guy, Thomas. You mean to say you
can't see how silly that is?"
"I never said it wasn't silly," Thomas
said. "I told you before 1don't agree with
everything the Church says. It's just
that ... 1believe in God and you don't."
"That's not the point. Your religion
supports free will and your Church doesn't."
"I support free will. Heck, I've made
free choices to break more morals and
Commandments than anyone I know,
but that doesn't mean I don't believe."
Clevalis looked from under his arm
at him. "Okay, I'll go out on a limb.
There's no way I'm ever going to accept
your god or your religion, or this fascist
society that requires me to do so.
Knowing that, do you think I should be
allowed to live free or should 1be put to
death?"
"What
you're
really
asking,"
Thomas said slowly, "is whether 1think
anyone, regardless of beliefs, should be
allowed to live in our society without
Church control."
Clevalis smiled. "Like I said, you're
a reasonably intelligent guy."
Thomas returned the smile. ''You're
pretty sharp yourself, for a disbeliever."
Clevalis grunted his way into a sitting position, legs crossed, and leaned
forward with his elbows on his knees.
"So how about it?"
"Well, first off, 1think you're wrong
to disbelieve. 1can't imagine how you're
unable to see the truth."
"I believe as I do because I've used
logic and reason to direct my life,"
Celvalis said. "Now tell me how you
believe what you do."
Thomas shrugged. "I was brought
up that way. I learned from my parents ... from living in our society. It's all
around us ... it's in everything we do."
There was a long silence in the dark
cell. Thomas and Clevalis stared at one
another for the long moments; Thomas'
face blank and searching, Clevalis'
anticipatory. Presently, understanding
washed over Thomas and he smiled
weakly. "I get it. You're saying I believe

Winter 2003-2004

because I've been programmed


to
believe."
Clevalis shrugged. "I'm not saying
anything. I just asked a question. You're
the one making the connections."
"Well, it isn't like that."
"Maybe not. But it was nice to see
the intellect that I know is hiding in
that head of yours kicking in for a brief
moment."
Thomas glared at him. "So you want
to know if 1 think atheists should be
allowed to live."
"I already know your answer,"
Clevalis said.
Thomas rolled his eyes. "Now atheists are telepathic, I suppose."
"I don't need to be. You're not a
mindless robot like the rest of them,
Thomas. There's a stronger humanity in
you than most of the believers in this
society - certainly more than those who
run it. 1can see the good in you as clearly as 1 can see the senselessness, the
hypocrisy, the evil in the Church."
With that, he returned to his prone
position on the cold concrete floor, arm
back over his face. Thomas watched
him, mouth agape, anticipation still
coating him like a glass shell. Finally, he
said, "Well... what do you think 1 was
going to say?"
"You think Atheists should be
allowed to live as Atheists," Clevalis
said simply. ''You think it's a tragic
injustice for them to be forced into your
beliefs. You feel it the same way you feel
it's a tragic injustice to be strung up on
a cross even for lying or stealing - and
the way you feel it's a tragic injustice for
the Church to pervert your religion into
a society of people afraid to be who they
want to be."
Thomas thought for a moment
before saying, ''You seem pretty sure you
have me all figured out."
"It's obvious to me," Clevalis said.

*****
Thomas dreamed he was running,
barefoot, from the acolytic police. They
were chasing him through the streets of
the cathedral-populated city. No matter
where he ran, people crowded on the
sidewalks shouted insults and threw
stones. Some of the faces were people
who were sure of themselves in their
righteousness. Others were far more
doubtful- insulting and stoning because
they knew they were supposed to. In the
crowds were plenty of metallic robots,
too.
"Thief1"they screamed at him.

American Atheist

He ran faster, but his pants were


loose and trying to fall down. He hauled
them up and kept running, but there
were always people - and there were
always acolytes not far behind. They
commanded that he stop. He tried to fly,
but of course he was barefoot and beltless.
Eventually the crowds thickened
and spilled off the sidewalks, and his
path down the street narrowed. Soon
the road was completely blocked by
thousands of people pointing fingers all accusing, all judging, all condemning.
"I need to fly!" he hollered to the
heavens, hoping his God would hear
him. He tried to leap into the air, tried to
fly without his gear, but he fell to the
ground and collapsed in a heap.
The acolytes were upon him, beating him to the ground. He begged for
them stop, but there was no mercy for
one who had broken a Commandmentand run from those who would take the
Lord's vengeance on His behalf.
He was hauled up to a cross standing in the street behind him, and they
lashed him to it with the restraining
straps - wrists and arms, ankles and
legs, torso and neck. He struggled the
whole time, but the crowd liked it when
he did. They cheered, drunk with satisfaction. Everyone loved a good show of
barbarism.
"Thief!" they all screamed in primitive ecstasy.
''You are charged with breaking the
Commandment
against
stealing,"
Captain Gramwell called out, and the
crowd roared its approval. "And with
possession
of immoral tech gear
enabling you to escape your crime
scenes."
Then the cops stepped up with steel
spikes and mallets, and Thomas began
screaming again: "It's just stealing ...
they never spike for stealing... it's just
stealing!"
''You are also charged with violating
the most important Commandment of
all," Gramwell bellowed, and suddenly
his eyes glowed red and horns sprouted
from his temples. "For committing the
ultimate mortal sin, violating the
Commandment that prohibits having
other gods before Him, the penalty is
death."
The crowd went insane. Thomas
was thunderstruck. "But I believe!" he
hollered above the intense noise. ''You've
got it wrong! I believe!"
"But you've been listening to an
Atheist," Gramwell said, and with that
Parsippany, New Jersey

they drove the first spike through his


hand.

*****
Thomas woke with a violent shudder and stifled cry. It was dark in the
cell, even darker than usual. At night,
they killed the main lights down the hall
and left just the emergency lighting.
''You okay?" came a soft voice from
the darkness.
It took his muddled brain a moment
to focus. "I'm fine," he said shakily.
"Just ... bad dream."
"What were they doing to you?"
''Who?''
"The Church. 'It's just stealing, they
don't spike for that,' and other stuff.
What did you do to deserve spiking?"
"If you must know, I was charged
with violating the First Commandment ... for listening to you."
Clevalis whistled lightly. ''Well, I
don't think they spike for that in the
real world - yet. "
They lay quietly for a few minutes,
until Thomas' eyes had adjusted to the
darkness. He said, "So what does this
specialist do to you when he arrives in
the morning?"
"He'll use a tech device to scan me.
In five seconds they'll know where it is."
A few silent moments passed before
Thomas said, ''You were right in your
assessment of me. What they're doing to
atheists is wrong. What they do to liars
and thieves is wrong. Just about everything they do is wrong. I want to believe,
I want to keep believing ... but the
Church has twisted everything."
"It's hard to expect anything less
from the followers of a religion filled
with contradictions and illogic."
Thomas sighed, exasperated. "I'm
trying to communicate with you, and
you're crapping on my religion - and
you're not backing your mouth up with
any facts. Give me some examples of
how my religion is contradictory and
illogical."
"I could give you a thousand, but
I'm due to be crucified in a few hours; so
I'll leave you with one good one: if God is
all-powerful and perfect, why does he
need to be worshipped?"
"How is that contradictory or illogical?"
"Because he either needs people to
worship him, in which case he isn't allpowerful; or he wants people, which
makes him vain and thus imperfect. An
all-powerful, perfect God who wants or
needs anything is nothing short of a
totally illogical contradiction."
Winter 2003-2004

''We can't presume to understand


God's reasoning ... "
"But there isn't any gray area here
- he either needs or wants worshipers.
No Supreme Being, no Creator, would
ever have needs or wants. Is there a
Higher Power? I don't know. Maybe,
maybe not. But if there is, I'm certain it
doesn't need worshipping."
Thomas sighed again. "I admit
there are a lot of holes ... and I've questioned them myself, believe me. And
points like those make me question
everything about the Church and society."
"As well it should. Now I have a
question for you."
"Okay."
"Are you gonna tell me about your
tech gear?"
Thomas laughed aloud. "No! What
makes you ask that?"
"Well, you have my curiosity,"
Clevalis said. "I'll be dead in a few
hours, and before I go, I'd like to know
what nifty, immoral tech gear you have.
I mean, who am I gonna tell?"
"Sorry, man," Thomas said with a
grin.
Clevalis chuckled. "Can't blame me
for trying."
"Tell me something about the
names of the Atheists in your implant ...
why carry them at all? Why put them at
risk?"
"There are lots of us. The Church
can track every other form of communication, but we need to coordinate somehow. It's a necessary risk."
"But why live with us like they do?
The cause seems so hopeless ... why live
among us, risking their lives?"
"Because everyone should have a
choice," Clevalis said simply. "Every
human should choose for himself and
not be forced into anything - not
Christianity, not Atheism, nothing. Not
long ago, there were many other religions on this planet. Now there's only
one, because the Church runs the world
and nobody has a choice. We live among
you because this is our planet, too. We
work to educate others. Eventually, we
hope people will unite against the
Church and make Earth once again a
world where everyone can choose to follow any religion - or no religion. That's
the way this planet has to be."
"But the Church is too powerful and
far-reaching," Thomas said. ''Your cause
is beyond hopeless. There's a word for
why you do what you do. That word is
'insanity'."

Page 45

"No," Clevalis said, "the word is


'freedom'."
The only sounds in the dark were
the distant murmurs of their jailers,
down several corridors. The ventilation
system moaned faintly. Somewhere
nearby, Thomas could hear a light sobbing of another dissatisfied customer.
Finally, he said, ''Where's the implant?"
Clevalis looked at him in surprise.
"It doesn't matter. They'll find it
soon enough."
"I'm serious. If they'll find it anyway, why won't you tell me?"
Clevalis scrunched his brow. ''You
won't tell me about your tech gear ...
why should I tell you about my
implant?"
"Give up on the tech gear, Clev," he
said, irritated. "Just tell me where the
damn implant is."
Clevalis regarded
him a few
moments longer, then sighed. "All right.
They'll have it soon anyway. It's in
my right index fingernail, near the tip.
Just have to cut the end off."
"I want you to give it to me."
Clevalis gave a start. ''What?"
"Tear the end of your nail off and
give it to me," he repeated. "I've been
awake half the night thinking about
this. I don't know what I believe right
now, but I do know the Church is wrong.
If there's a God, I'm sure this isn't something he'd condone. I can't let you go out
there with the names of all those people
- not when I can do something about it."

*****
The next morning, their wrists and
ankles were shackled and secured
together with belly chains, and they
were escorted outside to the prison's crucifixion yard. Decorated with three
dozen crosses, the yard looked like a
field of giant daggers. Already, six
moral-breakers were tied up on crosses,
enduring the taunts of the crowd.
Several dozen citizens were beyond the
fence, letting the sinners hear their
thoughts on the sins. An occasional
stone was lobbed over the fence, but
nothing like Thomas knew it soon would
be - especially with an Atheist being
spiked.
"This is it," Clevalis whispered, nodding toward a group of guards coming
toward them. "Better not look like you're
friendly with me."
Led by Captain Gramwell, the
guards escorted a plainclothes tech over
to them. "This is the one," Gramwell
announced as the tech readied a hand
scanner. "Let's get this over with so I can
Page 46

get on with these crucifixions. You planning on repenting while you're up there,
Clevalis?"
"No," Clevalis said quietly. "And
there's no implant to find. Youwere misinformed."
The tech smiled smugly. "We'll see
about that."
"Don't bother," Thomas interrupted.
"He's gotten rid of the implant."
Everyone looked at him in surprise
- especially Clevalis. Gramwell stepped
up, nose to nose with Thomas. ''You're a
known thief and a liar, Thomas. You'd
better not be lying now."
"I'm not - I swear to God," Thomas
said. ''The implant was in his right
index fingernail. But he chewed off the
end so you wouldn't find it."
''You backstabbing bastard," Clevalis breathed incredulously.
Thomas ignored him as the tech
hurriedly scanned. The guards grabbed
up Clevalis' hand and produced the
proper finger. Clearly, the end ofthe fingernail had been recently chewed off.
The tech looked up, eyes wide. "I'm not
reading any implants in this man's
body."
Gramwell
turned
angrily
to
Clevalis. "Where is it?"
Clevalis gave no reply, and Thomas
said, "He'll never talk, Captain. But I
can tell you where it is. He flushed it
this morning. I'd have told the guard,
but I didn't know he was going to do it.
They returned him after a visit to the
toilet and he told me."
Clevalis
looked
astounded.
Gramwell ordered one of his officers,
"Shut down the sewer systems. Take the
tech down there to scan for it." To
Clevalis, he said, "All this does is delay
our finding the implant. You're still
dying today, you atheist scum."
"What about me?" Thomas interjected. "If it weren't for me, you'd never
know where to look. You might have
scanned him and assumed he never had
the implant at all. I've now made it possible for you to find the Atheists living
among us."
Gramwell sighed and nodded. "All
right. You'll get no pardon, but your punishment is hereby commuted. But don't
expect any 'get out ofjail free cards' from
me in the future."
"I appreciate that, sir," Thomas
said, and extended his hand. Gramwell
regarded it for a moment before taking
it. Thomas pumped it heavily with a
huge smile. "However, I have had the
unpleasant task of being stuck for two
days in a tiny cell with this Atheist
Winter 20032004

scum, listening to his godless propaganda." He gestured out at the crucifixion


field. "I'd like to be the one to lead him
up the steps to the cross - and the one to
drive the spikes through his body."
A slow smile
crept
across
Gramwell's face, and he nodded. "A fitting duty for a repentant man such as
yourself, Thomas. So be it."
"Thank you, sir," Thomas said with
a broad smile, and then he gestured
down at his prison blacks. "But can I
change back into my own clothes first?"

*****
By the time Thomas had returned
in his street clothes, all seventeen sinners - besides Clevalis - had been
strung up on crosses. Thomas stood,
silent and stoic, next to the still-chained
Clevalis.
Captain Gramwell was on the loudspeakers, playing to the huge crowd outside the fence. "We have one more for
you today, citizens ... one that will make
your faith in Almighty God ever
stronger!"
The crowd roared its approval.
Clevalis leaned his head toward Thomas
and whispered, ''What the hell are you
doing?"
''You don't believe in hell," Thomas
said with a smile.
"Here we bring you a Godless soul!"
Gramwell hollered, pounding the air
above his head with a fist. "Captured
while trying to destroy your right to
know the truth - an atheist spy!"
They screamed. They cheered. They
waved arms in the air.
"Citizen Thomas," Gramwell said,
"take the prisoner to his cross."
Thomas gripped Clevalis' arm and
strode forward. Clevalis stumbled along
clumsily in all his chains. The crowd,
like some beast with hundreds of voices,
cheered them on as they mounted the
steps.
"I hope there's something I'm missing," Clevalis said.
"You won't miss a thing," Thomas
said.
The punisher, all in white, waited
above. The binding straps were attached
to the cross, but the punisher held a
mallet in one hand and three gleaming,
stainless steel spikes in the other. When
they reached the top, he handed the
tools to Thomas and prepared to bind
Clevalis to the cross. Thomas stopped
him with a raised hand.
''You can spike him," the punisher
said, ''but I'm required to strap him."
"I know," Thomas said. "Just give
American Atheist

me your mike. I want to speak to the


crowd first."
The punisher passed over his handheld microphone and Thomas keyed it
up. The loudspeakers squeaked and the
crowd obediently quieted like a flock of
sheep. Gramwell regarded him from
across the yard with a satisfied smile.
"Citizens," Thomas announced, "I
stand before you now to do my duty in
punishing this Atheist."
"Spike him!" someone in the crowd
yelled, and others echoed his sentiment.
"But I say it is not our place to
decide the fate of others - that falls only
to God, and we cannot presume to know
God's wishes."
"What is this?" Gramwell hollered
out.
"It isn't our right to put a man to
death for being an Atheist," he yelled
over the microphone. "So I will not participate in the crucifixion of this man instead, I will set him free."
"Enough!" Gramwell cried. "Punisher, strap this blasphemous atheistlover to the cross!"
The
punisher
growled
and
advanced. Thomas whirled about, dropping the mallet and two of the spikes,
lunging with the third. The punisher
yelped in surprise, leaping back to avoid

being skewered, and toppled over the


edge.
"Guards!" Gramwell screamed, and
a dozen uniformed officers dashed
across the yard toward the stairs. The
crowd lost its collective mind now,
screaming in its displeasure. Several
people began trying to scale the fence.
"One more thing," Thomas hollered,
holding a silver and gold watch high in
the air. "Lose something, Captain
Gramwell?"
Gramwell frantically checked his
empty wrist and realized what Thomas
had done. Thomas stepped close to
Clevalis. "Hang on tight," he warned.
''You're crazy," Clevalis said, grabbing on.
"I must be," Thomas said, getting a
handhold on Clevalis' belly chain as the
guards thundered up the stairs toward
them, and then he hit the hidden button
on his belt buckle.
His boots kicked in and the pair
shot into the air high above the crucifixion yard, the startled guards, the prison,
and the city. The sounds of the screaming citizens below was quickly lost as
they antigravitated. His passenger hung
on for all he was worth, but the antigrav
field handled them both easily.
Clevalis yelled, "Antigravity boots!"

He laughed insanely. "I'd say they're definitely against the morals!"


"They certainly are," Thomas said
as they flitted quickly through low
clouds and broke into the endless blue
sky. "And that's not all. What good are
antigrav boots without a flight belt?"
Thomas kicked his feet at different
angles, leveling their trajectory. Clevalis
wrapped his legs around Thomas' as
Thomas thumbed other hidden controls
on the belt and they rocketed away to
the north.
"North to the Atheist lands?"
Thomas asked.
Clevalis nodded. "First order of
business will be to remove your
Guardian Angel so they can't track us."
Clevalis laughed. ''You amaze me. I
knew there was something special about
you, but this ... thank you."
"It's my pleasure," Thomas replied
as they soared on invisible wings toward
the horizon. ''You were right about freedom, Clev."
"So are you thinking differently
about your beliefs?"
"I don't know what I believe,"
Thomas said, "but I know things need to
change."
They flew off into the heavens,
angels happily cast out.

~J.lMJ>~.'fJiOW CAN PtNYON.


Wrrn.OOT Ii 8E..l.IE.t IN GOb
HAVE !iNY ~L.
O~ MORRLlTY.'

Parsippany, New Jersey

SENSE.

Winter 20032004

Page 47

By G. W. Foote
hristmas eve had come and
~
almost gone. It was drawing
nigh midnight, and 1 sat solitarYc
my room, immersed in memory,
~
dreaming of old days and their buried
secrets. The fire, before which I
mused, was burning clear without
flame, and its intense glow, which
alone lighted my apartment, cast a red
tint on the furniture
and walls.
Outside, the streets were muffled deep
with snow, in which no footstep was
audible. All was quiet as death, silent
as the grave, save for the faint murmur of my own breathing. Time and
space seemed annihilated
beyond
those four narrow walls, and 1 was as
a coffined living centre of an else lifeless infinitude.
My reverie was rudely broken by
the staggering step of a fellow lodger,
whose devotion to Bacchus was the
one symptom of reverence in his
nature. He reeled up stair after stair,
and as he passed my door he lurched
against it so violently that I feared he
would come through. But he slowly
recovered himself after some profane
mutterings, reeled up the next flight of
stairs,
and finally deposited
his
well-soaked clay on the bed in his own
room immediately over mine.
After
this
interruption
my
thoughts changed most fancifully. Why
I know not, but I began to brood on the
strange statement of Saint Paul concerning the man who was lifted up into
the seventh heaven, and there beheld
things not lawful to reveal. While pondering this story I was presently
aware of an astonishing change. The
walls of my room slowly expanded,
growing ever thinner and thinner,
until they became the filmiest transparent veil which at last dissolved
utterly away. Then (whether in the
spirit or the flesh I know not) 1 was
hurried along through space, past
Page 48

galaxy after galaxy of suns and stars,


separate systems yet all mysteriously
related.
Swifter than light we traveled, I
and my unseen guide, through the
infinite ocean of ether, until our flight
was arrested by a denser medium,
which I recognised as an atmosphere
like that of our earth. I had scarcely
recovered from this new surprise when
(marvels of marvels!) 1 found myself
before a huge gate of wondrous art and
dazzling splendor. At a word from my
still unseen guide it swung open, and I
was urged within. Beneath my feet
was a solid pavement
of gold.
Gorgeous mansions, interspersed with
palaces, rose around me, and above
them all towered the airy pinnacles of
a matchless temple, whose points
quivered in the rich light like tongues
of golden fire. The walls glittered with
countless rubies, diamonds, pearls,
amethysts, emeralds, and other precious stones; and lovely presences,
arrayed in shining garments, moved
noiselessly from place to place. "Where
am I?" I ejaculated, half faint with
wonder. And my hitherto
unseen
guide, who now revealed himself, softly answered, "In Heaven."
Thereupon my whole frame was
agitated with inward laughter. I, in
Heaven, whose fiery doom had been
prophesied so often by the saints on
earth! I, the sceptic, the blasphemer,
the scoffer at all things sacred, who
had laughed at the legends and dogmas of Christianism as though they
were incredible and effete as the
myths of Olympus! And 1 thought to
myself, "Better I had gone straight to
Hell, for here in the New Jerusalem
they will no doubt punish me worse
than there." But my angelic guide, who
read my thought, smiled benignly, andsaid, "Fear not, no harm shall happen
to you. I have exacted a promise of
safety for you, and here no promise can
Winter 2003-2004

be broken. " "But why," 1 asked, "have


you brought me hither, and how did
you obtain my guarantee of safety?"
And my guide answered, "It is our
privilege each year to demand one
favor which may not be refused; "I
requested that 1 might bring you here;
but 1 did not mention your name, and .
if you do nothing outrageous you will
not be noticed, for no one here meddles
with another's
business,
and our
rulers are too much occupied with foreign affairs to trouble about our
domestic concerns." ''Yet,'' 1 rejoined, "I
shall surely be detected, for 1wear no
heavenly robe." Then my guide produced one from a little packet, and
having donned it, 1 felt safe from the
fate of him who was expelled because
he had not on a wedding garment at
the marriage feast.
As we moved along, 1 inquired of
my guide why he took such interest in
me; and he replied, looking sadly: "I
was a sceptic on earth centuries ago,
but 1 stood alone, and at last on my
death-bed, weakened by sickness, I
again embraced the creed of my youth,
and died in the Christian faith. Hence
my presence in Heaven. But gladly
would I renounce Paradise even for
Hell, for those figures so lovely outside
are not all lovely within, and 1 would
rather consort with the choicer spirits
who abide with Satan, and hold high
revel of heart and head in his court.
Yet wishes are fruitless; as the tree
falls, so it lies, and my lot is cast for
ever." Whereupon 1 laid my hand in
his, being speechless with griefl
We soon approached the magnificent temple, and entering it, we mixed
with the mighty crowd of angels who
were witnessing the rites of worship
performed by the elders and beasts
before the great white throne. All happened exactly as Saint John describes.
'The angels rent the air with their
American Atheist

acclamations, after the inner circle


had concluded, and then the throne
was deserted by its occupants.
My dear guide then led me
through some narrow passages until
we emerged into a spacious hall, at one
end of which hung
a curtain.
Advancing towards this with silent
tread, we were able to look through a
slight aperture, where the curtain fell
away from the pillar, into the room
beyond. It was small and cosey, and a
fire burned in the grate, before which
sat poor dear God the Father in a big
arm- chair. Divested of his godly paraphernalia, he looked old and thin,
though an evil fire still gleamed from
his cavernous eyes. On a table beside
him stood some phials, one of which
had seemingly just been used. God the
Son stood near, looking much younger
and fresher, but time was beginning to
tell on him also. The Ghost flitted
about in the form of a dove, now perching on the Father's shoulder and now
on the head of the Son.
Presently the massive bony frame
of the Father was convulsed with a fit
of coughing. Jesus promptly applied a
restorative from the phial, and after a
terrible struggle the cough was subdued. During this scene the Dove fluttered violently from wall to wall.
When the patient was thoroughly
restored the following conversation
ensued.
Jesus.-Are
you well now, my
Father?
Jehovah.-Yes,
yes, well enough.
Alack, how my strength wanes! Where
is the pith that filled these arms when
I fought for my chosen people? Where
the fiery vigor that filled my veins
when I courted your mother?
(Here the Dove fluttered
and
looked queer.)
Jesus.-Ah,
sire, do not speak
thus. You will regain
your old
strength.
Jehovah.-Nay,
nay, and you
know it. You do not even wish me to
recover, for in my weakness you exercise sovereign power and rule as you
please.
Jesus.-O sire, sire!
Jehovah.-Come
now, none of
these demure looks. We know each
other too well. Practise before the
saints if you like, but don't waste your
acting on me.
Jesus.-My
dear Father, pray
Parsippany,

New Jersey

curb your temper. That is the very


thing the people on earth so much
complain of.
Jehovah.-My dearly beloved Son,
in whom I am not at all well pleased,
desist from this hypocrisy. Your temper is as bad as mine. You've shed
blood enough in your time, and need
not rail at me.
Jesus.-Ah, sire, only the blood of
heretics.
J ehovah.-Heretics,
forsooth!
They were very worthy people for the
most part, and their only crime was
that they neglected you. But why
should we wrangle? We stand or fall
together, and I am falling. Satan
draws most souls from earth to his
place, including all the best workers
and thinkers, who are needed to sustain our drooping power; and we
receive nothing but the refuse; weak,
slavish, flabby souls, hardly worth
saving or damning; gushing preachers,
pious editors, crazy enthusiasts, and
half-baked old ladies of both sexes.
Why didn't you preach a different
Gospel while you were about it? You
had the chance once and let it slip: we
shall never have another.
Jesus.-My
dear Father, I am
reforming my Gospel to make it suit
the altered taste of the times.
Jehovah.-Stuff
and nonsense! It
can't be done; thinking people s~e
through it; the divine is immutable.
The only remedy is to start afresh.
Could I beget a new Son all might be
rectified; but I cannot, I am too old.
Our dominion is melting away like
that of all our predecessors. You cannot outlast me, for I am the fountain of
your life; and all the multitude of
"immortal" angels who throng our
court, live only while I uphold them,
and with me they will vanish into eternallimbo.
Here followed another fit of coughing worse than before. Jesus resorted
again to the phial, but the cordial
seemed powerless against this sharp
attack. Just then the Dove fluttered
against the curtain, and my guide hurried me swiftly away.
In a corridor of the temple we met
Michael and Raphael. The latter scrutinised me so closely that my blood ran
cold; but just when my dread was
deepest his countenance cleared, and
he turned towards his companion.
Walking behind the great archangels
Winter

2003-2004

we were able to hear their conversation. Raphael had just returned from a
visit to the earth, and he was reporting
to Michael a most alarming defection
from the Christian faith. People, he
said, were leaving in shoals, and
unless fresh miracles were worked he
trembled for the prospects of the
dynasty. But what most alarmed him
was the spread of profanity. While in
England he had seen copies of a blasphemous paper which horrified the
elect by ridiculing the Bible in what a
bishop had justly called "a heartless
and cruel way." "But, my dear.
Michael," continued Raphael, "that is
not all, not even the worst. This scurrilous paper, which would be quickly
suppressed if we retained our old
influence, most wickedly caricatures
our supreme Lord and his heavenly
host, and thousands of people enjoy
this awful profanity. I dare say our
turn will soon come, and we shall be
held up to ridicule like the rest."
"Impossible!" cried Michael; "Surely
there is some mistake. What is the
name of this abominable print?" With
a grave look, Raphael replied: "No,
Michael, there is no mistake. The
name of this imp of blasphemy is - I
hesitate to say it - the Free--"*
But at this moment my guide
again hurried me along. We reached
the splendid gate once more, which
slowly opened and let us through.
Again we flow through the billowy
ether, sweeping past system after system with intoxicating speed, until at
last, dazed and almost unconscious, I
regained this earthly shore. Then I
sank into a stupor. When I awoke the
fire had burnt down to the last cinder,
all was dark and cold, and I shivered
as I tried to stretch my half- cramped
limbs. Was it all a dream? Who can
say? Whether in the spirit or the flesh
I know not, said Saint Paul, and I am
compelled to echo his words. Sceptics
may shrug their shoulders, smile, or
laugh, but "there are more things in
heaven and earth than is dreamt of in
their philosophy."
*A reference to the Freethinker, the journal
edited by Foote - for which he underwent
prosecution and conviction on a charge of
blasphemy. Foote spent a year in prison. At
the same time, a religious commission was
appointed to examine the works of Mill,
Darwin, Huxley, and others with the intent of
bringing blasphemy prosecutions against
their publishers. FRZ

Page 49

On Avoiding
That Last Visit
Tony Pasquarello

pled with a sickly-sweet sanctimoniousness. And little wonder, since those


Christian students imagine themselves
to be participants in some deadly serious, monumental struggle between
divinities and demons, angels and
beasts, christs and antichrists. Such
fatuous nonsense afforded us countless
hours of mirth; who says religion has no
value?
She married, quite recently, another
bright, sensitive, young Atheist. They
insisted upon certain modifications in
the ceremony - the "hip" music

tional biblical passages on traversing


certain shadowy valleys, and the talk of
souls and hope of an after-life - the
whole gamut of religious delusion. A nice
he was bright, yes. But there had
Christian funeral!
been other bright ones - those
One of her professors, a master
who had absorbed, with an enviShakespearean scholar, brilliant theable casualness, the intricacies of symatrical director, compelling orator, and
bolic logic, the twists of Platonic dialeccharismatic
teacher, was also an
tic, the meanderings of the Ontological
Atheist, and a dear colleague of mine.
Argument, the frightful paradoxes of the
He frequently told me of his admiration
Free-Will Problem. She had not merely
for my "courage" in openly espousing
brains, but a warmth and feel for
Atheism and reassured me that of
humanity, and a sense of humor honed
course, he too was an Atheist, but someto a fine edge. Simply put, she
what apprehensive about the
understood what I was saying;
wisdom of coming out of the
A minister spoke of how he had closet in a small, closed-minded,
here was one of those rare
human beings who make speakheld my comrade's hand at the mid-western town, dominated
ing seem to be synonymous with
by hordes of fanatical fundacommunication. Most notable of
end, and claimed that this con- mentalist ministers and the
all, she possessed a profound
Roman Catholic
firmed Atheist had accepted Jesus ever-popular
sense of the existential absurdiChurch (maintaining the big
ty (without the preposterous
high school with the super basChrist as his personal savior.
existentialist metaphysics) of
ketball team). And, as the years
this whole sorry farce called life,
passed, he began to see, with
in which we find ourselves unwitting,
painful clarity, that the dulling) stupefy(folk-songs and guitar), the vows oftheir
unwilling, and quite amateurish playing effect of religion on his students was
own composing, and the truly "now"
ers. She was, and is, my friend. She was,
really the root problem. He began to see
touch - the female minister! But, all else
and is, an Atheist. Not a joiner, not a
the utter futility of attempting to transwas the same: the church, the numerous
marcher - but a good Atheist nonethemit the humanistic insights of great litprayers, the appeals to God to bless the
less, who rejects lock, stock, and barrel
erature - revelations concerning the
union. Two hundred people left the
the Christian mythology, its perverse
minds and bodies of human beings, their
church content, secure in the belief that
and demented god, and the hilarious
loves, foibles, passions and powers - to a
they had witnessed another good
inanities of the contemporary religious
befuddled class staring back blankly at
-Christian marriage - a little peculiar
scene, How often we would swap stories
him while, all the while, they were wonperhaps, but still a good Christian marand ensuing hysterical laughter over the
dering what mortal sins they had comriage.
in-class gaffes of those "nice, Christian
mitted that day, where they would wear
Some two years before, her younger
students" - she from a student, and I
their permit number 666, or whether
brother, in his late teens, had been tragfrom a professorial perspective. We had
the "rapture" would take place before
ically killed in an auto accident. She had
both noted and both deplored a virtually
the end of the academic year. The years
told me of him - an easy-going, intellecuniversal characteristic of the Christian
wore on, and he grew weary of casting
tually curious lad who saw little sense in
mentality - an almost total lack of a
Shakespearean pearls before fundamenChristian balderdash. But the funeral
sense of humor, a stern solemnity coutalist swine. Disillusioned, discouraged,
service included readings of the tradi-

Reprinted from American Atheist,


February 1982.

Page 50

Winter 2003-2004

American Atheist

defeated, he turned to alcohol, and, as it


will do, alcohol turned on him, and he is
dead now. Older relatives claimed the
body, and he was given a proper
Christian burial. A minister spoke of
how he had held my comrade's hand at
the end, and claimed that this confirmed
Atheist had accepted Jesus Christ as his
personal savior. Soon after, a substantial trust fund was established at our
campus, to provide a yearly cash award
to the student contributing most significantly to the school's theater program a commendable, thoroughly humanistic
gesture. But how will additional young
minds be freed from the stifling bog of
religion in order to become possible candidates for that theater award? The
cause of Atheism receives not one penny
in direct support from the life of this
memorable teacher.
And that is my tale of three
Atheists. Summary: one Christian wedding and two Christian funerals. Score:
Christianity, 3; Atheism, o.
It has been well said that most
Americans will visit a church at least
three times in their. lives - birth, marriage, and death. There just isn't much
that anyone can do about that first visit,
but one would suppose that Atheists
could somehow manage to avoid the second and third. Yet, incredible as it may
seem, the probability is that they will
not! No one need own the imagination of
an Asimov to draw the moral from my
brief narrative: religion is culturally so
firmly entrenched, possesses so monolithic an inertial momentum, commands
so dazzling an array of financial
resources and so vast an arsenal of persuasive sophistry
that unless an
Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist or whatever takes specific preventive measures,
he will almost certainly have a "good,
Christian burial," and probably "a nice
Christian wedding."
Mind-boggling? Improbable? Not at
all. Indeed, it is quite easy to conceive a
scenario in which Madalyn Murray
O'Hair herself is given a "good, Christian burial!" A disaffected but financially powerful son, a suit for custody of the
"remains," a sympathetic, upstanding,
'good Christian judge'," and - 10 and
behold - there lies the corpse of
America's premier Atheist, and there
stands the clergyman swaying and praying over her, barely able to conceal his
gloating satisfaction. If we listen carefully, we can almost hear the quite plausible sounding eulogy, concocted of
shameless fallacies and convoluted
logic.
Parsippany, New Jersey

"...And so, dear brethren, I tell you


that she was more religious than many,
for - was not Atheism a religion to her?
Did she not, in her messianic zeal and
tireless fervor only exemplify the zeal
and fervor of our lord Jesus Christ? Will
he not forgive her errors, while accepting the purity of her sincerity and
integrity as payment in full for admission to Paradise? Let us pray ... "
Thus is Madalyn O'Hair beatified!
Given the terminal insanity of religion,
its utter disregard for the canons of reasoning, and its shark-like ability to
digest anything and everything, who
dares cry "Impossible!" were Rome, in a
hundred or so years, to declare O'Hair a
saint of the Catholic Church!
Although a wide and bewildering
variety of flimsy considerations is often
employed to justify this state of affairs,
perhaps the most important is the
maxim that "the funeral is not for the
deceased, but for the survivors" - just
as it is claimed that the nuptial ceremony is not really for the bridal couple, but
for friends and relatives. Psychologists
and sociologists and - of course - funeral directors stress the importance of
these "ceremonies," their critical role in
e.g., "grief therapy," and the churches,
having capitalized on this attitude for
years, echo these sentiments by pointing
to the need to "sanctify" and ''bless" the
central events of a human life. Besides,
a religious funeral is so easy, so convenient, so proper. Those helpful clergymen
with all their specialized training in
counseling and consoling, comforting
and conducting souls to their destinations. Why not have a religious funeral?
And surely they are correct in saying
that the funeral is not for (meaning 'for
the benefit of') the deceased. So, it must
be for the survivors; their wishes as to
the tone and content ofthe service are to
be respected as paramount.
Actually, there is only one type of
case where this argument has the
slightest plausibility - the deceased
Atheist has older, very close and very
conventional relatives who would be
deeply shocked and perhaps seriously
harmed by the revelation
of the
deceased's Atheism. However in the normal course of events, a person is survived by contemporaries, a peer group of
relatives and friends who would be, in
all likelihood, well aware of that person's position on religion.
But the ultimate and conclusive
refutation of this reasoning is merely to
point out that it would justify making of
Winter

20032004

the funeral service a mockery of truth


and a travesty of everything the life of
the deceased stood for - all in the name
of the comfort and pacification of the
survivors. Indeed, just as it might justify
- given very peculiar circumstances - a
religious funeral for M. M. O'Hair, the
other side of the coin is every bit as
absurd. Suppose, e.g., that some of Jerry
Falwell's closest relatives were to see
the light and "decouvert" to Atheism.
Then, if the funeral is "for the survivors," the Reverend Falwell should be
given an atheistic funeral service!
In truth, the real question is not
who, but what is the funeral service for? .
Surely, it is an occasion to assess and to
memorialize the posit of this one human
life. What were those unique personality characteristics which etched out an
individual identity and gave it vitality
and definition? What was the beloved's
music? Art? Literature? What were the
sports or hobbies? What was the favorite
food or drink? Did the deceased delight
in ice-cold draft beer, spicy meatballs,
and chocolate cheesecake? Then let that
be proclaimed! This is the time and
place. And - of greatest significance what were the ideas and ideals that this
being stood for? Towhat did he devote his
time and energy and finances? What
aspirations? What dreams? What sort of
world did this human being wish to
inhabit, and to bequeath to the future?
This is truly a eulogy, one which
delineates the meaning of one human
life and, in so doing, confronts those in
attendance with a legacy which they can
either embrace or reject, in part or
whole. In each case, they will know that
someone lived and stood for something,
and left them with a challenge - and
thereby, in a small way, enriched their
lives. Contrast such a service with the
ordinary religious farce; hollow ludicrous, impersonal. The dreary recitation
of standardized biblical gibberish - the
'Valley' passage and the 'Sparrow' passage, the 'Cleaning Lady' passage (I go
to prepare a place for you) and the
'Realtor' passage (In my Father's house
are many mansions). All this intoned by
a bored clergyman who, in most cases,
never even knew the deceased, nor knew
of those things which mattered in that
person's life. Is this proper memorialization? Is this a fitting close to human
existence?
But, here we must bear in mind one
of the striking lessons of Logical
Positivism - gibberish can be beautiful,
touching, moving, uniquely expressive.
Page 51

While, strictly speaking, nonsense is literally nonsense, it may deeply affect us,
emotively. Whatever the logical failings
of religion - and they are legion - one
must admire its psychological adroitness in grasping this point. After all, ifit
lacked both logical and emotional
appeal, how account for its
enormous success? Religion has managed to identify itself with much that
human beings find good,
important and valuable,
and thereby implied that
to approve the latter is to
accept the former. In the mind of the
typical person - even the non-churchgoer - religion connotes morality, peace,
brotherhood; hospitals, colleges, charities, food programs; camaraderie and
fellowship; celebration and ceremony
and sanctification. The supreme task for
the Atheist-humanist is to break that
connection, to sever the supposed bond
between religion and all those other
desirable values, and to keep insisting
that where religion does right, it does
right for the wrong reasons.
In short, the task is de-theologizing; keep whatever is of value, keep the
emotive significance, the beauty, the ceremony, and discard the fantasy foundation - those theological underpinnings

which were never there to begin with.


(It is no exaggeration to suggest that the
opening of the first Atheist hospice or
university, the first Atheist commission
to a major artist or composer, the first
Atheist aid program to some impoverished community - these might well be

to dedicate a portion of the battlefield.


Then he went on: 'But, in a larger sense,
we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground.'
''You might have expected him to
make the pious point here and, say that
we mortals cannot consecrate anything
because that is God's prerogative alone. But he
didn't say that:
" 'The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor
power to add or detract.'
"Not just the 'right'
side, but all those who fought, are the
consecrators. Suffering and dying men,
he suggests, have the power to make
holy or sacred what was ordinary and
profane before." (W. Hamilton, "The
Death of God," Playboy Aug. 1966)
Dedicating and consecrating, commemorating and celebrating - all these
can be done "without benefit of clergy."
Those focal events of life, particularly
marriage and death, would seem to be
excellent places to begin the detheologizing process. Humanistic Atheism has
its heroes and poets, its magnificent literary stylists. After the proper sort of
relevant eulogy, what could be more fitting or more moving than a reading
from some of the powerful prose of
Russell, Darrow, or Ingersoll? Indeed,
great expressive art is, by its very
nature, automatically detheologized - its
aesthetic merit autonomous from any
accident of religious inspiration, text, or
commission. Brahms' German Requiem
is no more a "religious" piece than the
symphonies, and the Last Supper stands
on its own merits as a study in compositional value and balances, irrespective
of the silly personages, bizarre events,
and quasi-cannibalistic
overtones of
that evening's dinner.
But good intentions, appropriate literature, even the understanding
of
friends and their willingness to be cooperative - all these will avail as naught
against the onslaught of the religious
behemoth. Like making a will, funeral
arrangements are easily put off until too
late. And when "too late" arrives, they whoever "they" might happen to be will call for the clergy. Christianity will
then record another victory and you will
have - and you can bet your American
Atheist membership card on this - a
"nice Christian funeral."

Gibberish can be beautiful,


touching, moving, uniquely

expressive.

Sna

more beneficial to the cause of Atheism


than all the litigation in all the courts of
all the world.)
Comte saw this quite clearly in his
advocacy of a secular religion celebrating the birth dates of scientists, rather
than saints. So did John Stuart Mill
when he urged that the Utilitarian
morality and the feeling of unity be
"...taught as religion, and the whole
force of education, of institutions, and of
opinion directed (to it), as it once was in
the case of religion ... " And so does
William Hamilton in his marvelous
exposition of the true import of Lincoln's
thinking in the Gettysburg Address "He said, you'll recall, that they had met

shotsatjasonlove.com

Really? I was
killed by a man
named Jesus.
Jesus Sanchez.

I was run over by


an ambulance.

-r=>.
'

A small section of heaven devoted to ironic passing.

Page 52

Winter 2003-2004

American Atheist

Tony Pasquarello

ometimes, there is no joy in being


a prophet; even a very good one.

Jerry was one of my outstanding


philosophy students, so many years ago.
He really shone in the logic courses,
where I noted his exceptional abilities in
critical thinking and analysis. After
graduation and a stint in the armed
forces, Jerry was employed by GM even
though his degree was in education. No
logical skills were needed to recognize
the enormous monetary differences
between
those
two
occupations.
Eventually, through savings and shrewd
investment - and lots of overtime - he
amassed a seven-figure-plus nest egg,
and took very early retirement.
Jerry's pleasures were few, and simple. Motivated by considerations of
health,
he became
a dedicated
body-builder with an impressively
sculpted physique. He thought
nothing of taking 4-, 6-, or 8mile daily walks, and truly
loved long bike rides, especially
through the glorious autumn
coloration of the area's hills and
dales. He had no vices - nor did
he need any, since he was
cursed, for most of his adult life, with a
severe depression and dread of financial
insecurity, despite his enviable monetary status. It was painfully difficult,for
him to give anything of his, including
himself. And so, e.g., he never joined
American Atheists, nor any other organization. Nor did he ever take steps to
insure that his final wishes would be in
accord with his views.
We became close friends and
enjoyed, literally, thousands of extended
conversations over thirty years oflunches and late-night beers. We thoroughly
dissected the Nixon and Clinton presidencies, the O. J. Simpson fiasco, the
Marilyn vos Savant
phenomenon
(Marilyn vos Savant is listed in the
Guinness Book of World Records Hall of
Fame for 'Highest 1Q'),the demise of the
Soviet Union, and - most happily - the
Martin
Gardner
type
of

mathematical-logical puzzles and paradoxes. And I could never forget the theological puzzles and paradoxes. I was frequently impressed by Jerry's ability to
unravel some knotty conundrum, and to
spot the key fallacy involved or see the
key to the solution when I could not.
Naturally, with such intellectual aptitude, Jerry became an outspoken, confirmed Atheist. His frequent letters in
the local paper enlivened and enlightened - small candles in the dreadful
night of the region's religious fanaticism.
Jerry's greatest fear, shared by
many, was a painful, prolonged death,
with uncountable quills of tubing protruding from every natural and artificial
bodily orifice. He had never seen anything "precious" or "wonderful" or
"unique" about human life. Life was,
like death, just a fact of life. So, at 58,

attempt to insure that the service would


be humanistic, in fidelity to Jerry's true
beliefs. To no avail. Just prior to the
service, I spoke privately with the looming, hulk of a minister. I began, "As you
probably know, Jerry was a good
Atheist." when the preacher interrupted
me with "I don't believe there really are
any Atheists." Astonished, I began again
to make the same point, but elicited
exactly the same response. I continued "I was hoping that, in honor of Jerry's
convictions, the religious aspects of the
service would not be heavily emphasized." Summoning up all his evangelical fervor, that insensitive man of God
delivered his final answer: "Sir, I intend
to preach the Gospel."
And so he did, this holy man who
could not even bring himself to acknowledge the reality of Atheists; this
stranger who had never known Jerry at
all. He prayed and preached
and psalmed. He assured us
that Jerry was in Jesus's
embrace at that very moment.
He memorialized my friend
with a performance, Christian
in every detail, from clap to
trap.
Little old ladies contributed anecdotes of Jerry, the boy; the boy who had
mistaken cranberries for strawberries. I
could have said much of Jerry, the man;
the keenly rational man. I could have
shattered the smug, Christian complacency of that tiny hamlet and all its resident ostriches. But, I didn't. I didn't
know what to do, what was right; I didn't know what Jerry would have wanted
me to do.
Thus it was that the irony that passeth all understanding
transpired:
North Central Ohio's Atheist par excellence was dispatched to eternity with
Christian credentials, under a religious
pall. An outrage, a dark travesty in such
contrast to the clean taste of that bright
September morning in the country.
Sometimes, there is no joy in being
a prophet - even a very good one.

Sometimes, there is no joy in


being a prophet - even a very
good one.

Parsippany, New Jersey

that deplorable, incurable brain sickness did its thing; Jerry took his own
life. Without any terminal affliction,
with a million bucks in the bank, without a penny of indebtedness, and with
the love and devotion of a good woman,
Jerry left. Quickly and neatly, without
pain or company. And the rest of us, so
terrified and confused over death, can
hardly say whether Jerry's act was one
of courage or cowardice, madness or
supreme rationality.
At Jerry's death, his mother and
brother swooped in, took charge, and
decided that the venue for all proceedings would be Jerry's native village, 25
miles away; he hadn't lived there for 40
years. I first became suspicious when I
noted the obituary's mention of a
"Reverend" who would be conducting
the memorial service. I appealed both to
Jerry's mate and to his brother to
Winter 2003-2004

Page 53

A Physicist's Critique of
The Existence of a God
by

Alfred Bahr

n all major religions 'God' is


thought of as being the creator of
men and the world, that is, the creator of the universe. This god existed
already before space, time, and matter
were created. God was therefore capable
of residing and governing in an absolute
'nothingness' according to the theologians. Great thinkers of all times have
attacked and criticized this god-idea
with philosophical arguments. Despite
this, the god-idea is still alive. Propped
up by questionable arguments and
means, it still clings to life. In what follows, this idea of a creator-god is analyzed and scrutinized with the logic of a
physicist.

This essay by German physicist


Alfred Bahr has been published
in German in the February, 2003,
issue of the philosophical journal
Aufkldrung und Kritik: Zeitschrift
fiir freies Denken und humanistische Philosophie, published by the
Gesellschaft fur kritische Philosophie (GKP), Nurnberg. Originally published under the title
"Das Problem der realen Existenz
Gottes aus der Sicht eines
Physikers" ("The problem of the
real existence of God seen with
the eyes of a physicist"), Bahr's
article has received considerable
academic acclaim as constituting
a completely new type of proof of
the non-existence of a god. Most of
Bahr's professional life has been
spent in the field of Satellite
Technology and related fields. He
now resides in Greece where he is
carrying out research in cosmology. He can be reached at:
alfredbahrath.forthnet.gr

Page 54

The belief in a creator-god stands


and falls with our understanding of
'nothingness'. If it can be proved that in
nothingness nothing - absolutely nothing - can exist, then the god-idea is finished. If, in addition, it can be shown
that this nothingness of the theologians
does not exist in reality, but can exist
only as a thought, as a speculative idea
in our brains, then the foundation for
the existence of a creator-god has vanished and this god is revealed to be only
a thought of the brain - a fantasy creation of the brain that does not exist in
reality outside the brain. In what follows these proofs will be presented.
It is maintained that this god
already existed before he created the
universe. This implies, that he was able
to reside in an absolute nothingness.
This nothingness is conceived as being
some kind of 'super-emptiness' or 'supervacuum' in which the creator-god
resides and in which space, time and
matter is located after it was created by
him. However, 'nothingness' is only a
synonym for 'nonexistence'. Ifit is maintained that this god resided in nothingness, this only means that he resided in
nonexistence. In other words, as nothing
yet existed, as there existed neither
space, time, nor matter, we had the
nonexistence of the universe. Now this
'nonexistence' expresses only a condition, namely the nonexistence of something; it does not mean that this nonexistence is a kind of vacuum, where at the
time X something can be created and
can exist. A vacuum is spatial, is empty
space. A vacuum, which is not spatial,
that is, a vacuum which does not even
contain space, does not exist, and has
never existed! No one can remove the
space from the inside of an evacuated
container. Therefore, where nothing
Winter

20032004

exists, that is, where we have a 'nothingness' or 'nonexistence', we can not


suddenly have space, time, and matter.
From this it follows that the universe can not have emerged out of nothingness. Indeed, modern cosmology
teaches today that the universe emerged
out of a quantum-mechanical state. In
other words, before our universe
emerged, there was already something
existing. The universe existed, so to
speak, at that time, in an embryonic
state, and then separated into space,
time, and matter with a bang - the 'Big
Bang'! In addition, according to the
newest theories of the cosmologists
(physicists) there exist not only one universe, but infinitely many, all of which
exist separately and are causally independent of each other. This conclusion of
the cosmologists appears also plausible;
if there exists one universe, why should
there not be very many somehow? In
this world-of-many-worlds there is, of
course, no longer any room left for the
nothingness of the theologians and their
god who is supposed to reside in this
nothingness.
But let us assume for a moment,
that there is such a nothingness and the
god of the theologians resides in this
nothingness, and let us look at the consequences of this arrangement. Their
god must have at least a form and a size.
In addition he must be some kind of substance in order to distinguish himself
from nothingness. God cannot be just
plain nothingness. But the notion of
form and size are dependent already on
space. But where there is no space, that
is, in nonexistence, nothing can have a
form or a size or a substance. In nonexistence there are no means to differentiate and to distinguish. In nothingness
there is also no time-flow possible. TimeAmerican Atheist

flow is possible only in space in the


nothingness, and would loose its exispresence of matter, which moves and
tence. It would not be able to exist in
undergoes changes. In nothingness
nothingness. However, we know that the
there is nothing that can move and
universe is existent. Therefore there can
undergo changes. There are therefore no
not be such a nothingness outside of the
clocks possible in nothingness. Only in
universe, and we must have space-time
space can we have time, and only in
outside of the universe instead, so that
space can something have a form, a size,
the universe can exist. But in that case,
and also a substance. In nothingness
there can not have been such a nothingeverything loses therefore its distinness before the universe came into
guishing marks, and even a god would
being. This in turn means, that there
not be able to distinguish himself from
can not be such a creator-god, since
nothingness, would not be able to choose
there is no nothingness to serve as a
the time X for the creation of space,
domicile for this god. It is therefore
time, and matter, would melt together
wrong to believe that there is a 'superwith nothingness, would become identiemptiness' outside the universe, or a
cal with nothingness and lose its exis'nothingness' outside the universe, or a
tence, because the nothingness is nonexregion of 'nonexistence' outside the uniistence. That applies also if we imagine
verse, or a beyond of space and time.
this creator-god to be of a spiritual
The nothingness of the theologians, with
nature - whatever the meaning of that
a god residing in this nothingness who
notion may be. In order for a god to
possessed a clock and decided to create
exist, the nothingness would have to be
the universe at the time X together with
space and time. Only in space-time is
heaven and hell, is an impossibility and
existence possible. But space-time
an unsurpassed absurdity! There is no
always appears together with matter.
nothingness and there is no god residing
That means that a god could exist only
in a nothingness. These ideas can exist
inside the universe, provided he existed.
in our brains only as a thought of fantaBut then this god could not be a 'creatorsy, but not in reality outside of our
god' but has been created at the Big
brains.
Bang together with the universe - as a perishable creature!
But let us assume again
for a moment, that the uniFUNNY - TMa WAIIT
verse has been created by a
TO SAN ~NIN~,
god out of nothingness.
SOT ALSO 'WANT
Logically, this universe must
eVERYONE TO
rnINl<~'1
then be surrounded by nothALIKE:. .
ingness, in order for the god to
continue to reside and govern
in nothingness. However, as
we have seen already, in nothingness there are no distinguishing marks possible. In
nothingness, therefore, nothing can distinguish itself from
nothingness. In particular, in
nothingness nothing can have
a structure, a form, or a size,
and the universe, seen as a
whole - seen as an object would loose its characteristic
feature of being an object,
would not be able to distinguish itself from nothingness,
would melt together with this
Parsippany, New Jersey

Winter 2003-2004

Besides, the notion of a nothingness


outside of the universe would introduce
an invisible border at the place where
space ends and the nothingness begins.
One may imagine a cosmic traveler who
suddenly reaches this border. One more
step and he has vanished into nothingness. But not only our cosmic traveler
would have vanished in nothingness if
he wanted to leave the universe; the
universe itself would have vanished in
nothingness long ago, namely at that
moment of its supposed creation by a
god. It would not have been able to exist.
in nothingness and would have vanished immediately after its creation, like
this cosmic traveler. We recognize how
absurd this notion of a nothingness outside of the universe is.
Since there is no "nothingness" as a
domicile for any god, there can not be
regions like a "Beyond", or a "Paradise"
and a "Hell" as a domicile for the souls of
the believers in the god, and for the
souls of the unbelievers, or for the souls
of the Islamic martyrs and for the souls
of the soldiers of Allah, etc. But when
there does not exist a region outside of
the universe or beyond space and time,
as a domicile for the souls, then the

Page 55

souls themselves can not exist and are


thereby revealed as being notions of
plain fantasy only. Along with the gods,
souls also are gone, and we all will have
to live in the future without a soul! And
since there is no god, there can not have
been a 'Son of God' named Jesus Christ
and no holy, miracle-working mother of
the 'Son of God' - the 'holy virgin Mary'.
For the Christian this means that he
will have to live from now on without
committing sins, since there is no GodSon, who can forgive him and absolve
him of his sins.
If there is no "nothingness" outside
of the universe, then this has serious
consequences for our worldview. Since
we know that only in space-time can
something exist, we must have space
and time outside ofthe universe. And at
any border of that space-time that we
may imagine, we find again space-time
beyond this imagined border as a necessary condition for existence of the whole
inside the border. This goes on and on
and on and we have an infinitely large
'space-time-world' before us. However,
this space-time-world can not be an
empty world, or hosting somewhere just
a single universe, namely ours. We
know, that a single universe is enormously large, but always finite in size
due to its Big-Bang origin. We also
know, that the duality of space-time is
possible only in the presence of matter.
Without matter, there are no spaceintervals possible, and without matter,
which moves and changes, there are no
time-intervals possible. That is, without
matter, there can be no space-time, and
wherever we have space-time, we must
also have matter. From this it follows
that there must be an infinite number of
universes in this infinitely large spacetime-world, since a single universe is
always finite in size. This 'World of
many Worlds' exists for ever, but there is
a persistent change: continuously new
universes are born and others die and
vanish. The universes are not only finite
in size, but have also only a finite lifetime. By arguing about 'nothingness' we
have arrived at an infinite space-timeworld, which is also postulated by modern cosmology,but which is based there
on different arguments.

Page 56

The recognition that there can be no


god and no souls has, of course, other
consequences. For instance, there is no
justification anymore for the so-called
religious education of our children. And,
of course, the churches' seminaries have
to be closed. However, the non-existence
of any god has other consequences,
which concerns the church itself. After
the church had established itself, their
bishops found it necessary to do something in order to reach also the educated
class and the rulers. This was considered a prerequisite
for spreading
Christianity to other countries - for
expanding the power of the church. It
was recognized, that it was necessary to
give Christianity a philosophical basis
in order to achieve this goal. Plato and
later Aristotle were subsequently discovered to be very much Christian in
their ideas. However, a few hundred
years later this was suddenly not true
anymore. (The birth and death of
Scholasticism in Christianity). In those
years proofs for the real existence of God
were constructed, because the educated
people and the rulers would ask questions and would want to see proofs. The
most important of those proofs were the
ontological argument, the cosmological

argument, and the teleological argument. However, we can not go into


details about these proofs here, since
this is not a place to take up philosophy.
All that can be said here is, that until
the time of Immanuel Kant (1726-1806)
practically everybody believed in the
existence of God and the Devil (and of
the witches, the brides of the Devil).
Immanuel Kant proved, that those
proofs for the real existence of God were
all wrong. However, Kant was not the
first to criticize the teachings of the
church. The first one was actually the
Englishman David Hume (1711-1776).
He was the one who initiated this grand
process with his criticism. After Kant
many other great thinkers entered in
this hard argumentation
with the
church, which lasted to the present
time. Today the position of the church is:
"The real existence of God can indeed
not be proved with certainty, but the
"nonexistence" of God can also not be
proved." Since the year 2003 the church
is here wrong; The "nonexistence of
God" has here and today been proved
with certainty. What are the consequences the church is going to draw now
from this new situation? When is the
church going to close its doors?

"Ifwe become born again Christians,


do we get a second belly button?"
Winter 2003-2004

American Atheist

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outlook verifiable by experience and


the scientific method, independent of
all arbitrary assumptions of authority
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efforts. This is a commitment which is
in its very essence life-asserting. It
considers the struggle for progress as
a moral obligation that is impossible
without noble ideas that inspire us to
bold, creative works. Materialism
holds that our potential for good and
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ancient
Greek
Materialism.
Atheism involves the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the
supremacy of reason and aims at
establishing a life-style and ethical

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