"I¿m an atheist swimming in a sea of superstition, surrounded by well-meaning, good people with whom I share a culture and similar concerns, and there¿s only one thing I can do. I have to laugh." (PZ Myers)
On his popular science blog, Pharyngula, PZ Myers has entertained millions of fans with his infectious love of evolutionary science and his equally infectious disdain for creationism, biblical literalism, intelligent design theory, and other products of godly illogic. This funny and fearless book collects and expands on some of his most popular writings, giving the religious fanaticism of our times the gleeful disrespect it deserves by skewering the apocalyptic fantasies, magical thinking, hypocrisies, and pseudoscientific theories advanced by religious fundamentalists of all stripes.
With a healthy appreciation of the absurd, Myers not only pokes fun at the ridiculous tenets of popular religions but also highlights how the persistence of Stone Age superstitions can have dark consequences: interfering with our politics, slowing our scientific progress, and limiting freedom in our culture.
Forceful and articulate, scathing and funny, The Happy Atheist is a reaffirmation of the revelatory power of humor and the truth-revealing powers of science and reason.
Why are science and religion in conflict? Because changing ideas and new
knowledge are sacrilegious.
Throughout Ken Ham’s Creation Museum, in northern Kentucky, a
persistent story is exhibited in display after display. Two ways of
looking at the world are shown: “God’s Word,” the ultimate source
of knowledge, the Bible; and “Human Reason.” For Christians, human
reason is always the fall guy, the error-filled path, while the only
truth lies in listening to what God has to say. Christians have an old
book with the whole story laid out—literally, as the creationists like
to claim—and by their definition, all observations about the natural
world must be accommodated to it. In contrast stands human reason, which
dares to contradict the Bible, dares to show great truths not
encompassed by the Bible’s stories, and most horribly, proposes an
alternate, better source of knowledge than a body of ancient myths.
That’s a major theme throughout the “museum,” that science defies
the word of God, and that the only valid knowledge must be that which is
reconcilable with the Bible; Scripture is the sole arbiter of truth.
According to the Creation Museum,
“In a biblical worldview, scientific observations are interpreted in
light of the truth that is found in the Bible. If conclusions contradict
the truth revealed in Scripture, the conclusions are rejected.”
To that mind-set, insisting on the primacy of evidence other than the
Bible is heretical—a theme at the evangelical Christian creationist
organization Answers in Genesis, for instance, is that even the phrase
millions of years is a signifier of gross, un-Christian error, since the
Bible clearly (doesn’t it?) explains that the earth is only six
thousand years old.
But, you might say, isn’t fundamentalist Christianity a kind of
pathological religion that carries its antirational claims to absurd
extremes? Is it fair to judge faith in general on the basis of this one
radical example? Yes. Because fundamentalist Christianity isn’t at all
unusual. Consider that well-known sixteenth-century theologian Martin
Luther. Oh, Luther offers a rich vein of distressing statements opposing
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being
she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed
whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under
foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom. . . . Throw dung in her face to
make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism. . . . She
would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the
house, to the closets. Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it
never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than
not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that
emanates from God.
People gave ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus] who strove to show
that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and
the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system,
which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to
reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us
[Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the
Note that last objection: this is not just the opinion of some radical
Protestant. The idea was shared with the Catholic Church, which
similarly resisted the conclusions of astronomers. Islam also promoted
geocentrism, despite the fact that the Koran is said to be without error
and contradiction. That’s the problem with having a source that is
claimed to be infallible but was actually written by people who knew
next to nothing about the world around them—the stories don’t hold
Unfortunately, the religious strategy for coping with this conflict is
not to maintain flexibility and adapt to new information, but instead to
restrict new knowledge and condemn it when it contradicts tradition.
At the very least, religion’s fear of honest information about the
world leads to stagnation; at worst, it is destructive to any culture
that values scientific advances and the education of its children.
Here’s a nightmare to contemplate: the staff of Answers in Genesis
teaching children about science. And they do! They lead groups of
children through recitations condemning evolution and all science that
denies the “facts” of the Bible, sing songs about how the earth is
only six thousand years old and the dinosaurs sailed on the Ark with
Noah, and teach them how to stump scientists. (It’s easy: ask
scientists “Were you there?” and when they say no, you’ve
demonstrated that they have no evidence to back up their science.)
I’m beginning to think that child abuse is a tenet of the Abrahamic
So here are some more sacrilegious acts you can commit: Learn something
new. Teach something new. Question dogma. Challenge tradition. Laugh at
the quaint myths religion offers us.
Excerpted from "The Happy Atheist" by PZ Myers. Copyright © 2013 by PZ Myers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.