If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 21 January 2012

An Atheist's Epitaph

I get great pleasure from reading Greg Ross's Futility Closet, which never fails to surprise, challenge and entertain me. I don't like pinching other people's posts wholesale, but this was too good not to share. It's the text of an inscription on the monument to one George F Spencer of Vermont, who died in 1908:
Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to lead by a light above nature. Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false.
I'd call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist*, but this message rings very true for me.

*In this I follow my father, who answered my question "what religion are you, Dad?" thus: it is not that we do not know whether God exists (which can be resolved one way or the other, given time and/or sufficient evidence), but that we can never know.

I am reminded in this of J B S Haldane's famous remark: "My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. "


  1. "Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings"

    A bit out of date now.
    He died before meeting the global warming scamming 'scientists'.

    1. If you recall that climate science has all the hallmarks of a religion, rather then a true science, it all makes sense.

  2. Spike Milligan had it right, with his epitaph:-

    "I told you I was ill."

  3. Did your Dad set the Finals exams for the PPP course at Oxford by any chance?

    1. Heh, not quite. I am paraphrasing a long conversation. He was very reluctant to talk about anything resembling emotions or beliefs, but his point that the human mind probably cannot comprehend enough to be sure of the existence or otherwise of God has stuck with me. In the same way, the bacteria under your fingernails can't comprehend the concept of the mini-roundabout.

    2. I like it

      We are bacteria

      The Milky way is a mini roundabout

      Brian Cox is the old Douglas Adams?

  4. Thanks for posting that Richard. I do believe it was well said.

  5. Am reminded of Mark Thomas's comment when arguing with a Christian. "If God was going to exist, he would, but he doesn't. I know...people write books about this stuff and everything."


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