“Shit Happens” Excrement Eventuates
This blog contains few original ideas. It’s all about a Tom Flynn editorial in Free Inquiry magazine, Vol. 32. February/March, 2012. My guess is, most people have never heard of Tom Flynn, so let me tell you a little about him and to his “Shit Happens” editorial.
I met Tom once but he probably doesn’t remember me, except perhaps that I am an occasional Darwin impersonator here in Indianapolis and a volunteer at CFI Indiana. Tom is the editor of Free Inquiry, the executive director of the Council on Secular Humanism, and the editor of the Encyclopedia of Nonbelief (Prometheus Books, 2007).
Tom’s editorial concerned something I have often thought about but without resolution. I expect most secular humanists/atheists have had the same thoughts. I’ll explain.
The last time the “Shit Happens” words and topic appeared in Free Inquiry, the magazine lost an unprecedented number of readers, who complained about the undignified language. Something tells me those complainers were not at home with the topic and Free Inquiry magazine in the first place. That was then, times have changed. Tom need not fear of that happening today. He offers a translation, “Excrement Eventuates” in jest.
I agree wholeheartedly with Tom, that we secular humanists do our critics and ourselves an injustice by describing ourselves inaccurately. Too often, we claim to have a feeling of “spirituality”, as did Einstein and Sagan. Sagan talked of looking up at the night sky with a sense of awe and reverence. Einstein’s metaphorical quip, “God does not play dice with the universe.” And Stephen Hawking’s “…we will truly know the mind of God.” are misleading metaphors to those who do not understand their actual philosophy. They were not deists in any sense of the definition, and never claimed to be anything but atheist/agnostic non-theists.
References to “god” and the words “spirit and spirituality” are often used by non-theists to convey their feeling about the wonders of nature and the universe. Unfortunately the words imply more than intended. The word spirit has over a dozen dictionary definitions, some of which imply a supernatural entity and a religious tie as in the “holy spirit”. When the words are used by non-theists, religious folk get the mistaken impression that the non-theists are dissatisfied with their philosophy and yearn for a spiritual life and a belief in a higher power. Tom believes that the words spirit and spirituality would best be not used so as not to confuse. Spirituality does not suggest we have a sense of cosmic meaning, of something that transcends time and space, of something different from our world of cause and effect and non-design. Spirituality does not suggest to us that alleged spiritualistic stuff exists and that is what souls, spirits and ghosts are made of. Tom believes our attempts at being naturalistic may get out of hand and convey the wrong message to religious folk. We are not spiritualistic and don’t live with a sense of deeper meaning. We do not read patterns into haphazard events and give them deeper meaning.
Tom writes, as we look at the glorious night sky we can be justly impressed with our insignificance. As we look through an electron microscope at the wonders of a human cell we can be awed at its workings. Such feeling inspire us, stir our natural curiosity, and move us to explore our universe and gain more knowledge. But, such emotions do not convince us that an unproven, inexplicable entity exists who substitutes for science and reason. As Secular humanists, we live in a world without design, without transcendent meaning and without what Mr. Flynn calls woo-woo.
Tom makes the point that shit happens to everyone regardless of their religious beliefs, the God they worship or not, how much money they have or don’t have, or how good a person he/she has been or is currently. I certainly agree. Nevertheless, money and birth sometime endow persons with advantages that enable them to remedy and even avoid flying shit when it happens. Being a member of an exclusive religion or party also endows advantage to undeserving individuals. So, although “shit happens” is generally and ultimately a true statement, it often happens less frequently to favored people and organizations. This fact is exactly what we should expect from a non-designed universe. There are no favorites except what nature has wrought by physical evolution and man has wrought by social evolution and his own wits.
Thank you Tom, for reminding us, we are not spiritual beings and, to be ready when “shit Happens”.