Susan K. Perry Reviews My Book!

Multiply-published author and Creative Atheist blogger here at Patheos, Susan K. Perry, reviewed my book!

Who Would Have Thought?

Reason makes strange bedfellows, so to speak. Sharp thinkers aren’t limited to blue states or big cities. Those who “get it,” those who think rationally rather than having mindless faith in the impossible, are everywhere.

Even after you’ve written and published a book or two, you still tend to think an “author” is somebody distant and impossible. Can’t be you. So it’s always strange, and strangely wonderful, to hear other people’s views of you and your writing, especially when it’s as positive as this.

His paragraphs are short, nothing like academic-ese, and his conclusions are sometimes pleasantly original. I heartily recommend book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist for a bracingly imaginative take on the value of reason and the potential harm of faith. I, for one, will be looking out for his next two atheist-themed books, due out sometime this year.

(Sharp thinker! Pleasantly original! Hey, that’s ME she’s talking about!)

Thank you, Susan! You’ll be first on the list if — no, when, WHEN! — those next two books come out.


BTW, those of you reading this, take a gander at Susan’s own books. If you’re an aspiring author, read her recent piece in Psychology Today, 25 Truths Learned While Writing a First Novel.



Clarification of an Argument for Atheism

What follows is an excerpt from my book (Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith), specifically a section from Chapter 20: Uneven Ground, about a double standard in arguments about atheism. The double standard is that one side gets exacting scrutiny, while the other side too often gets a pass.

I made reference to the argument — “As I explained in my book …” —  in my most recent post, Beta Culture: Proposing A New Definition of Atheism, but so briefly I wasn’t sure it was clear. Hopefully this will help:

Millions of people who would otherwise be full-blown atheists self-identify as “agnostics” because, even though they’re pretty darned sure there are no such things as 3-part gods and holy virgins who amuse themselves by appearing on freeway overpasses, they feel ouchy about making what they consider to be a logically-insupportable statement to that effect. “Well, if I don’t search the entire universe and determine for myself that it contains no Parrot-Headed Jimmy Buffet Goddess, I can’t logically support the assertion that there is no such thing. So I guess I’ll have to keep quiet and allow for the reasonable doubt that She Of The Green Feathers might really exist somewhere.”

My point is this: in the loosely-argued domain of personal faith – which is where all statements of religion are made – the assertion of atheism is equally justified.

If you’re not going to apply the strict standards of logic and proof to the first one, you can’t single out the second one for harsh scrutiny. That would be like waving a white job applicant through while forcing the black applicant to undergo a battery of strict tests.

In this loose domain of personal faith, the two are equally supportable – there is a god, there is no god – and you can “believe” either one with perfect justification. Yet our civilization is seriously slanted to favor one, reject the other. So much so that if you attempt to equate the two, or assert the no-god position, you seem to be radically slanted the other way.

Atheism – in the domain of personal faith – is as justified as any other “belief.”

But there’s this other domain, isn’t there? The one where both assertions – god/no-god – have to pass the stricter real-world test?

I need to go off on a slight tangent here, to talk about the couple of different flavors of atheism.

What I’ll call “hard atheism” is the definitive statement “There are no such things as gods.” This is active disbelief, the certainty that these mystical superbeings don’t exist.

“Soft atheism” is the slightly less definitive statement “No specific god or gods have been proven to exist, and it’s a mistake to actively believe in them until there’s some proof.” This is more like “I’d be willing to consider that they might exist, but only if some supporting evidence shows up.”

My own feeling is that, after 20,000 years or so, and among the 8 billion or so humans ever to live on Planet Earth, if nobody has yet provided any concrete evidence for the existence of one or more of these gods, then for every practical human purpose the second statement is indistinguishable from the first. If you’re the least bit non-belief-prone, there’s no use wasting your personal time on the question of God’s existence until the sky opens up and an angry 70-foot-tall Zeus steps down with lightning in his fists. (Well, of course it’s going to be Zeus. What, you thought it would be that Jesus character?)

But back to this matter of logic and evidence: There’s an interesting little side-issue that few religious people consider when the question of God comes up, something that lives at the heart of proof itself.

Let me explain something about the mechanics of proof. If you believe a thing, say that All Men Are Dogs, you can’t prove the truth of that statement by getting a bunch of your sorority sisters together specifically for the purpose of talking about what dogs men are.  You can’t do it that way because none of you, come to tell your own horror stories of Life Among the Dogs, are able to view the question objectively. Objective conclusions can’t happen when everybody weighing in has an axe to grind.

To really determine the truth of the matter, you have to turn the question over to someone objective. Get it? Someone who does not already believe that all men are dogs.

The judge of the statement might decide, after hearing your evidence, that all men are dogs. She might decide that all men are not dogs. She might decide that no men are dogs, or that some men are.

But she has to start by not believing your assertion that all men are dogs. Only from that position can she objectively consider the weight of the evidence … which you then have to deliver. If you don’t trot out the evidence, and a good, solid lot of it, your assertion can’t be considered true.

That’s the way reasoned argument works. Every question has to be weighed from the viewpoint of someone who has no axe to grind. Someone who doesn’t already believe in the conclusion the proponent hopes to advance with her arguments and evidence.

Perhaps without knowing it, you already agree with the point: No matter how devoutly religious you are and how much you might insist that everybody should automatically accept the existence of your god, if you come into court accused of a crime, you want the jury to start by not believing the charges made against you. All of us know full well that a juror who already believes the truth of the charges filed against the accused is not a fair juror, and a great deal of effort is made to see that those people don’t get into the jury box.

The only way to be sure each claim or assertion gets a fair hearing is to have a judge who starts with a mind clear of belief in any particular conclusion. A skeptical judge. A judge who says “I don’t believe you right now, but I’m open to convincing. Prove it.”

Whether you’re proving that all men are dogs, or that a Subaru Outback is the best car ever made, or that your specific God exists, that’s how proof works. You start with someone who doesn’t believe it.

Or, given the lack of an objective outside judge, you yourself have to start by assuming the assertion under scrutiny isn’t automatically true.

You can’t logically, rationally prove the existence of your god in a court that consists of nobody but other believers. You can only prove it, really Prove It in some sort of objective, rational terms, in a court not already convinced.

Which means, as I said: If there’s evidence, you have to trot it out. You can’t just say “Prove that he doesn’t exist.” You have to prove that he does.  Otherwise, it’s no proof at all, it’s just you and your friends doing a triumphant circle-jerk.

In the arena of reason and evidence, every statement has to survive on its own merits. Religion can’t get a free pass. Every religious belief has to pass through the court of skepticism, held to the same exacting standards of logic and reason, as any other assertion of truth.

In other words, religion has to be looked at from a viewpoint free of religious belief, and in that viewpoint religion has to prove itself.

Putting it still another way, the default state of a rational mind considering the truth of religion is one of unbelief. You start with the lack of belief, and then the believers have to prove their case.

Which means: Every time you have a conflict of one person who says “I don’t see any evidence that a supernatural superbeing exists,” and another guy who says “God is real,” it’s the second guy who has to trot out the evidence. The god-believer is the one who has to do the proving.

Which also means: In the real world of reason and logic, the default viewpoint in any argument about the existence of supernatural superbeings is unbelief. Which is to say, soft atheism.

Which also-also means: Atheism is always logically justified.

So …

People who hold atheism to what they think are strict standards of logic are already demonstrating a very high degree of illogic, first when they fail to use that exact same standard in judging – on that same field of argument – each and every claim of religion, and second, when they fail to realize that atheism – unbelief – is the starting point for any proof of the existence of gods.

So the next time someone says anything at all about their god, we should all chime in with “When you can offer objective evidence that your god exists, then we might be willing to talk about it. Until then, you can’t logically make such a statement.”

It’s only fair.

Book Review Love from a Fellow FTBer

Al Stefanelli of A Voice of Reason says some flattering (and totally true) stuff about my book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith.

Packed into twenty-five chapters is the wisdom of a lifetime and proves you do not have to be a great thinker to think great things. The foreword begins not with a treatise on astrophysics, molecular biology or archaeology. It starts with, “My dog died,” and flows into life in the Eastern Sierra’s of California, dealing with grief, loss and time it takes to understand the impact of life on mere humanity. It ends with a realization of enlightenment, then contentment and the lightness of no longer being afraid to live without the shackles of religion hindering ones self.

The best parts come at the beginning …

“Hank Fox wrote a book. You should read it” – Me

… and the end:

I strongly recommend you buy this book and read it from cover to cover.

Never Too Late for a Good Review!

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism reviewed my book!

His review post is from Feb. 1, but I only just found it.

In this book, he definitively puts to rest the oft-heard stereotype that atheism is a worldview solely for egghead ivory-tower intellectuals, not for heartland salt-of-the-earth folks. As he writes in the intro, “I’ve been a ranch hand, mule packer, wilderness guide, carpenter, truck driver, meat cutter, roofer, and a lot of other stuff besides… This is how I see the world.”

[ … ]

There are sections on the origins of religion, on non-supernatural morality, on the importance of forming true beliefs, on the importance of speaking out, on atheist views of death… and for all the author’s humble origins, it seems suspiciously erudite and clearly argued to me.

The selections were well-chosen, especially in that the author chose to begin and end with his strongest material. The first few introductory essays, in which Fox explains his own life’s journey, tells a wrenching story about the death of his dog, and describes the experience of deconversion – “a moment of brilliant light” – were excellent. And one of the last essays, “The Village”, is an atheist parable that’s one of the best essays in the book, starting slowly but building to unexpected intensity near the end. Check out Hank Fox’s blog; if you like it, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

Thanks, Adam.

Get Real: Losing the Love of God

Note for new readers: I lost my Dad, Dan Farris, a few months back. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and what it’s doing to me. I keep a digital recorder with me all the time, and I record thoughts and impressions about the process and the milestones.

Here is one such thought. I relate it for the same reason I wrote my book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist — we have plenty of books and speakers to tell us about the WHY of atheism, but very few to tell us about the HOW. Yes, getting free of religion is about understanding the emptiness of religion, why it doesn’t work, why we shouldn’t accept it. But staying free of it, living your life day to day in the real world, is about figuring out the minute-to-minute HOW of thinking and living outside religion. Continue reading “Get Real: Losing the Love of God”

Blue Collar Atheist: Three Posts

What follows (below, in posts time-stamped earlier than this one so they’re stacked 1, 2, 3 down the page) is two chapters of my book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith.

I’m posting this lead-in and these two chapters so you’ll have a better idea of the tone and something of the content. Yes, I’m selling them, and yes, I hope you’ll buy one.

Just below is the first chapter, Introduction: Who Is This Guy? — which is of course about me, and how I came to write the book, and below that is the Foreword: Saying Goodbye to Gods, which is about what I like to think of as the “journey” of atheism. Continue reading “Blue Collar Atheist: Three Posts”

Blue Collar Atheist: Introduction — Who is this guy?

I grew up in Texas with a bunch of rodeo cowboys.

I wanted to become a veterinarian, a horse doctor, but it didn’t pan out. Instead, I ended up working as a carpenter, driving a dump truck and then a soda delivery truck, being foreman of a roofing company, and a lot of other stuff in that same vein.

I moved away to the mountains in the west when I was about 21 and got a job at a pack station (a ranch, sort of) on the edge of the wilderness, where I worked with horses and mules. I was also a teamster for eight years, a real one, driving hitches of huge Belgian and Percheron draft horses on hay rides and sleigh rides in a little resort town. Continue reading “Blue Collar Atheist: Introduction — Who is this guy?”

Blue Collar Atheist: Foreword — Saying Goodbye To Gods

My dog died.

Don’t sweat it – it was more than a decade ago now, and I’m (mostly) over it.

Can’t tell you how much I loved the old beast.

His official name was Woodacres Ranger, and he was from a line of champion German shepherd show dogs. But I never even bothered to register him. To me, he was Ranger the Valiant Warrior, my best friend for more than 12 years, and we romped through the heart of the world together.

For most of his life, we lived in California’s Eastern Sierra, in a small town at about 8,000 feet above sea level. The trails are rocky, the water is crystal clear and ice cold year-round, and the wildlands thereabouts are filled with black bears, coyotes, uncatchably quick mountain bunnies, and all manner of smells and sights to delight an energetic dog. Continue reading “Blue Collar Atheist: Foreword — Saying Goodbye To Gods”