May 21, 2010

What Was “Good Enough For These Idiots?”

To Be an Atheist? Or Not To Be?

Atheists Portrait

The picture says, “ATHEISM: Good enough for these idiots.” It takes a whimsical look at some of our world’s highly regarded leaders and innovators. It’s purpose is not to espouse these persons as idiots, but as revolutionary and ingenious thinkers. Bottom line, these people are smart.

It suggests that these people are atheist and therefore atheism is a smart choice.

But, what is atheism?  Is it a “disbelief” in a deity? or is it a lack of belief? Or is it a flat out denial? There remains a lingering question over what it means. There is also a lot of misinformation too. And everyone has their own infallible opinions to add to the mix.

And yes, there is a lack of evidence provided here in support of these people being atheist. It can be argued in some length about the validity of any information and it’s interpretation. But, the intent here is not to prove anything, but provide food for thought –

Everyone questions the existence of God.
It takes faith to believe.

Even the brightest and smartest of us wrestle with the questions about God. Their doubts do not suggest a disbelief, but a pattern of questions. Questions are a natural part of searching for the truth, not just settling for a simple label. Let these same people speak for themselves.

  • Ernest Hemingway

There is not a whole lot of information about Hemingway about his religious beliefs.

Hemingway had a very strict religious upbringing, but as he grew older and certainly more rebellious, he seemed to want to disassociate himself with the Christian convictions of his family. His second wife Pauline was a devout Catholic and in order to marry her, Hemingway had to convert to Catholicism, but whether he took this conversion and everything associated with it seriously is suspect.

Timeless Hemmingway

  • Abraham Lincoln

Is he an atheist? or not? It would appear that he wavered back and forth.

As Lincoln matured, and especially during his term as president, the idea of a divine will somehow interacting with human affairs increasingly influenced his public expressions.


  • Carl Sagan

Apparently, Carl Sagan would be offended to be of this picture. He would be of the opinion that atheism is a complete denial in a deity and that being an agnostic is not the same as being an atheist.

Sagan, however, denied that he was an atheist: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know." In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic."


  • Mark Twain

Mark Twain was often critical about Christianity. But, does this define him as an atheist?

In the essay Three Statements of the Eighties in the 1880s, Twain stated that he believed in an almighty God, but not in any messages, revelations, holy scriptures such as the Bible, providence, or retribution in the afterlife.


  • Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is one of many writers of the US Constitution. He possibly is most famous by atheist for using the phrase “wall of separation between state and church.” 

But, does this label him as an atheist? Jefferson was a Deist in that he believed in a Supreme Creator but not believing in the supernatural.

As an illustration to this are Jefferson’s own writings. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as The Jefferson Bible, is a collection of verses from the four gospels omitting anything and everything supernatural.

Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazarath
(The Jefferson Bible)
Thomas Jefferson

  • Benjamin Franklin

Franklin was a non-dogmatic believer, who felt that organized religion was necessary to keep men good to their fellow men, but rarely attended church himself. His faith in God was an important factor in his support for the American Revolution…


When he stopped attending church, Franklin wrote in his autobiography:

...Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.


  • Albert Einstein

I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with  books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.


  • Charles Darwin

Would it be fair to assume that the “Father of Evolution” was an atheist for creating the one theory that dared to “defy” any theory of creation?

Though reticent about his religious views, in 1879 he responded that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind…"

In 1879 a letter came asking if he believed in God, and if theism and evolution were compatible. He replied that a man "can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist", citing Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray as examples, and for himself, he had "never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God". He added that "I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind."


A Final Word

Keep in mind, these are only one side of the argument. It is mere food for thought. Some are clear in saying that to call some of these people an atheist would be appalling at the least.

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May 6, 2010

A Prayer For Milk: Part 3 – Prayer Studies

A Deeper Look

Biology one-oh-whaaaa?

Image by Moody75 via Flickr

Nobody has built a prayer-proof room and we would think it unethical to tell patients or relatives not to pray. So, you cannot have a zero prayer control group.

Dr. Mitchell Krucoff 

The first study cited in the video was from an article in the New York Times. In the video, people were told they were being prayed for. Were they ever prayed for? That is unclear. Who was doing the praying? Was it some random person? Or someone who may have no believe in any god? That is also unclear.

The study is more about intercessory prayer. But he overlooks a quote that supports the idea that there is more to prayer than asking God for stuff. This study is more about the psychological powers when someone thinks they are being prayed for.

From the first study:

Historically, religions have promoted many kinds of prayer. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving and repentance have been highly esteemed, while intercessions of the kind done in the Benson study — appeals to God to take some action — are of lesser importance. They represent a less-respected magical wing of religion.

Faith-Based Medicine
New York Times
April 11, 2006

The next study partly cited was by the Boston Globe. But there is much more.

[Dr. Mitchell] Krucoff cautioned against concluding that prayer doesn't work based on his study. Nearly 90 percent of all the patients participating said someone was praying for them separate from the prayers commissioned by the researchers. So the study, in effect, measured whether distant prayer provided an added benefit to personal, local prayer, he said.

The study offers no evidence about bedside prayer by patients themselves or their loved ones. Krucoff said he did not attempt to look at that question because of ethical and logistical problems.

''Nobody has built a prayer-proof room and we would think it unethical to tell patients or relatives not to pray," he said. ''So, you cannot have a zero prayer control group."

A prayer for health
Boston Globe
July 25, 2005

The third study cited has to do with “a positive attitude,” not prayer. One can only assume that the video is equating prayer with “a positive attitude.” Prayer is about much more than “a positive attitude.”

But, maybe, the question “Does prayer work?” is the wrong question.