From the Publisher
“Presents plenty of interesting ideas and arguments . . . a punchy and provocative read.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Brilliantly designed and executed to entertain and enlighten. . . . This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking book.”
“Punchy. . . . Written in accessible, informal style, [Myers] lashes out at the Catholic Church for its sexual-abuse scandals, at the faulty science employed by anti-abortion activists, and at proponents of intelligent design. . . . Myers is able to deftly present serious scientific and philosophical counterarguments to belief in God, but he also acknowledges the necessity of humor—of fighting fire with fire: after all, ‘religions sure do promote some goofy stuff.’ Effectively kick[s] the legs out from beneath the wobbly logic that undergirds religious thought.”
“PZ Myers sets himself apart from the rest of the New Atheist authors by talking, not just about the bigger picture of God, but about religion as all of us experience it on a daily basis. Yes, he tackles the philosophers and theologians, but he also reserves energy to take on casual believers and the myths we come across every day. Nothing—not Communion, not the Holy Spirit, not even death—is too sacred to dissect. And that’s what he does, dismantling religious clichés with ease, making you reconsider all those ideas you grew up with (and may still hold). If you’re still religious after reading this book, you didn’t read it carefully enough."
—Hemant Mehta, author of The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide and blogger at FriendlyAtheist.com
“With a style that blends confrontation, humor, irreverence, and common sense, PZ Myers has become an important voice for America’s growing nonreligious demographic. The Happy Atheist is quintessential Myers—ridiculing absurdities, exposing contradictions, rejecting claims of authority, and reminding readers that religious dogmatism too often obstructs reason and critical thinking.”
—David Niose, Author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans and President of the Secular Coalition for America
“PZ Myers is well known as an angry man in the land of 140-characters and blogs where he made his name. That anger is also here in this book, and it's always a righteous anger. But PZ Myers is also a happy man, amused as well as bemused by religious follies.”
—Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
In this collection of punchy essays, Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota (he also happens to be the voice behind the popular blog Pharyngula), takes on what he deems the many contradictions and absurdities of religious thought. As Myers puts it, “religion is a parasite of the mind that makes people do stupid things and think stupid thoughts,” and it “breeds the most disgustingly vile haters in our country.” Written in an accessible, informal style, the author lashes out at the Catholic Church for its sexual-abuse scandals, at the faulty science employed by anti-abortion activists, and at proponents of intelligent design. Particularly scathing is his dismissal of Christianity as a fundamentally misogynist, patriarchal system, in which “women are treated as chattel to be abused and misused.” Myers is able to deftly present serious scientific and philosophical counterarguments to belief in God, but he also acknowledges the necessity of humor—of fighting fire with fire: after all, “religions sure do promote some goofy stuff.” Effectively kicking the legs out from beneath the wobbly logic that undergirds religious thought, he ultimately argues that “meaning is derived from the reality of what we see and feel, not from some convoluted vapor and self-serving puffery about the abstract concept of ‘God.’ ” Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Aug.)
Myers (biology, Univ. of Minnesota), author of the blog Pharyngula, is an excellent example of vocal atheists, ready to take up the torch from the so-called Four Horsemen (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens). This book is a series of amusing essays against religious belief. Like the Four Horsemen, Myers tends to assault the easiest and most ridiculous targets in religious life and take them for good samples of the whole of it. The spiritual seeking that renders over-literal readings of religious texts, shared by both too many believers and too many atheists, eludes him. VERDICT A ragout of witty essays that will enchant Myers's fellow atheists and interest others.
This series of scattershot attacks on all varieties of religion suggests that it's as pointless to argue with a true nonbeliever as it is with a true believer. Myers (Biology/Univ. of Minnesota, Morris) is preaching to the choir here, that choir of atheists who have total contempt for "the folly of faith" and who believe that "what religion does is make people believe ludicrously silly things, substitute dogma for reason and thought, and sink into self-destructive obsessions." Readers need not be believers to find Myers' position reductive, as it dismisses not only the fundamentalists who are such easy targets for his ridicule, but also fellow scientists who have somehow been able to reconcile their field with their faith. "Science and religion are incompatible in all the ways that count," he writes. "Science works. Religion doesn't." His rigidity permits no tolerance, no sense of wonder at anything that lies beyond human reason, no gray area or shades of interpretation. Even a nondoctrinaire writer on comparative religion such as Karen Armstrong receives rebuke for her "pretentious preciousness" as a former nun who "has rediscovered religion as a nebulous source of vague meaning." Most of these essays have the length and depth of blog entries, and they mainly seem designed to provoke anyone who isn't as disdainful as the author. Representative chapter titles include "The Top Ten Reasons Religion Is Like Pornography," "Afterlife? What Afterlife?" and "The Big Pink Guy in the Sky." The points Myers makes about religion have been made before, and the humor to which he pays lip service rarely lightens the repetitive load. Unlikely to change a single mind or cause even the slightest shift in perspective.
Read an Excerpt
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 rationality.
“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 earth.”
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 up.
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 religions.
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.