Thanking those who deserve thanks

This is an article from last year but worth repeating with the US Thanksgiving holiday coming up.

There are many religious ceremonies and prayers giving thanks to a god. I often think these are rude on two grounds:

  • I many case these are imposed on people who don’t share the belief in a god (consider our parliamentary prayers, Christian prayers and “grace” in a mixed social situations);
  • Thanks are directed at a mythical being while the real people responsible for theDan Dennett goodness in the world are ignored.

The later point was made by Daniel C. Dennett in his article THANK GOODNESS! In this he expressed his thanks for recovery from nine hours of serious heart surgery. It’s worth reading the full article but consider this extract:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who’s counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

What a wonderful approach! It really does show how inadequate the religious ceremonies of thanks are. Next time someone tries to impose a religious prayer to “Thank God” for a meal I suggest replacing it with thanks to the people responsible for the meal, the production and transport of the food, the researchers who made this production possible and society in general for all the goodness that is out there.

See also
Daniel C. Dennett: Thank Goodness not God on Thanksgiving
‘In honour of Dan Dennett’ by Richard Dawkins

Related Articles:
“Let us pray . . . “
What do we teach our children?
Religion and Schools
Atheism and religious diversity
Discrimination at school
Christian prayer problems
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Religious Diversity Statement

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46 responses to “Thanking those who deserve thanks

  1. Thanks are directed at a mythical being while the real people responsible for the goodness in the world are ignored.

    How do you know that God is a mythical being? How do you know that real people did not have contact with a real God? Where is your evidence that this did not happen?

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  2. How do you know that God is a not mythical being? How do you know that real people did have contact with a real God? Where is your evidence that this did happen?

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  3. James said…”How do you know that God is a mythical being? How do you know that real people did not have contact with a real God? Where is your evidence that this did not happen?”

    How do you know that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a mythical being? How do you know that real people did not have contact with a real Flying Spaghetti Monster? Where is your evidence that this did not happen?

    No. 109: ARGUMENT FROM LACK OF DISPROOF
    (1) You can’t prove God doesn’t exist!
    (2) Therefore, God exists.
    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm

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  4. I can’t say I’m a fan of Dennett’s philosophies, but I’ve said ‘Thank goodness’ for a long time for much the same reasons. I remember getting stuck into the crowd at Kiwiblog over some stupid police constable’s idea to scare taggers with pink (e.g. “girly” and “gay”) jackets. Someone (John Ansell?) started citing Jürgen Habermas and ranting on about how Christian prayers in Parliament and institutionalised homophobia are somehow community-building.

    Yes. You can all mock me for commenting on Kiwiblog at all. *hangs his head in shame* I deserve it.

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  5. Today One News’ John McDermott ran an appalling piece of ‘journalism’ about how churches are coping. Did anyone else see it? I stopped work altogether to show my workmate!

    It opens with Wendy Petrie saying that ‘more than half of New Zealanders consider themselves Christian, so why are so many churches struggling.’ Simon Dallow then introduces McDermott, saying he will investigate ‘whether God’s Own Country is at risk of becoming a godless one.’ McDermott reels out footage of former Speaker Margaret Wilson saying the Parliamentary prayer, and then he features soundbites from a few Pakeha New Zealanders who profess no religion. ‘But there is an upside’, McDermott triumphantly declares, ‘migrant Christians from the Pacific Islands, Asia and South Africa are filling many of the gaps.’ He then interviews an Elim pastor who claims there is ‘a real hunger for spiritual things in New Zealand today.’

    McDermott clearly pushed that line that, for all that New Zealanders might lose interest in religion, Christianity is due for a resurgence because it is our national identity. I’m mainly amused, but also a little bit horrified that our mainstream media feels it is necessary to not-so-subtly misrepresent trends in religious worship.

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  6. How do you know that God is a not mythical being? How do you know that real people did have contact with a real God? Where is your evidence that this did happen?

    So you have no evidence that the God of scripture is a mythical being. Thanks, so I guess we can dismiss that assertion…

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  7. So you have evidence that the God of scripture is a mythical being. Thanks, so I guess we can dismiss that assertion…

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  8. So you have evidence that the God of scripture is a mythical being. Thanks, so I guess we can dismiss that assertion…

    Heraclides, this is how debate works. You make a positive claim, then you present evidence for that claim. The claim is that God (a creator)is a mythical being. You have offered no evidence for that claim. It would be more rational to say that such a God would be unlikely…

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  9. “…this is how debate works. You make a positive claim, then you present evidence for that claim.”

    Precisely, that’s exactly why I’m doing what I am: highlighting that you never made a positive claim. Go, on: read your first post. No claim made. Just three questions. In any event you are going off on a tangent from the real topic, again.

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  10. On topic (yes, that’s a hint to you, James):

    Ken, I agree that thank should be given to “goodness”, the good deeds that people do.

    My position is that it’d be better to aim to be inclusive. After all, the modern meaning of Christmas for most people (I know of) is bringing families together. Any religious meaning has long moved to the background for most families that I know of, even ones with a few religious members. I’d like to think that Thanksgiving is similarly mostly thought this way, too. By insisting on something that only applies to themselves (prayer), religious people not being inclusive of the other family members. In fact, you might even look at prayer in the context of a mixed family as being selfish, imposing your want on others. The “goodness” you refer to is common ground, that everyone can see sense in. It seems a good suggestion to me.

    (You could argue that non-religious people should be thoughtful of religious people’s want to pray, but, firstly, I can’t see why they can’t do this on their own time and, secondly, there is common ground, use it!)

    And, as you say, it doesn’t overlook those who do good, regardless of their “faith” or not. You could argue that in insisting on prayer, many religious people are thinking of themselves when it comes down to it, rather than thinking of of “doing good” and being thankful of others’ good deeds.

    The parliamentary prayer should go, its not consistent with a secular government and is something hanging on from the past that isn’t particularly relevant to governments today.

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  11. @Matty Smith – November 24, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Re the claim that “more than half of New Zealanders consider themselves Christian” – this is usually based on census data which in 2006 showed that 53.1% of those answering the religious affiliation question were Christian. However, when we take double dipping into account (some people apparently declare more than one Christian sect) then 49.5% of the total population described themselves as Christian (Is New Zealand a Christian nation?).

    I think we should start saying that only half of NZers, or slightly less than half of NZers declare themselves Christian. Put this way it does make it more difficult to claim NZ as a Christian nation, etc.

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  12. Precisely, that’s exactly why I’m doing what I am: highlighting that you never made a positive claim. Go, on: read your first post. No claim made. Just three questions. In any event you are going off on a tangent from the real topic, again.

    Duh! No kidding – I did not make a claim! Sheesh! The claim was made that God is a mythical being – that is the claim – now back it up with evidence…

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  13. Would it help James, if instead of saying ‘God is a mythical being’, we said ‘For all intents and purposes, God is a mythical being’? Much the same as Aphrodite is, for all intents and purposes, a mythical being (can’t disprove her either). Much the same as unicorns are, for all intents and purposes, mythical beings (can’t disprove them either). Except the Invisible Pink Unicorn. B.H.H.H.

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  14. Would it help James, if instead of saying ‘God is a mythical being’, we said ‘For all intents and purposes, God is a mythical being’? Much the same as Aphrodite is, for all intents and purposes, a mythical being (can’t disprove her either). Much the same as unicorns are, for all intents and purposes, mythical beings (can’t disprove them either). Except the Invisible Pink Unicorn. B.H.H.H..

    Yes, it would be much better. But since we have a documented history of men interacting with the God of scripture spanning over two thousand years and since we have the claims, person and resurrection of Christ Jesus – I would like to see evidence that these men were not in contact with their Creator – like they claimed. I don’t know any one who claims to have had a personal contact with a Pink Unicorn.

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  15. A documented history of people believing in a myth (any myth), doesn’t make it right.

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  16. But since we have a documented history of men interacting with the God of scripture spanning over two thousand years and since we have the claims, person and resurrection of Christ Jesus

    We have a documented history of men interacting with Aphrodite, too.

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  17. We have a documented history of men interacting with Aphrodite, too.

    Really? Where?

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  18. A documented history of people believing in a myth (any myth), doesn’t make it right.

    They don’t claim to believe in a myth – they claimed to have been in contact with God. Were you there? If not, then how do know they were wrong?

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  19. 18: If you write something as daft as that, you’re not going to get much of a reply, eh?

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  20. People can ‘claim’ all sorts of things. Simply the fact that they make a claim, doesn’t make that claim correct. In the Herald this morning, for example, there’s an article about people who claim that they are part of a real-life version of The Truman Show (& they want out!). OK, their doctors regard them as delusional, but these peole apparently genuinely believe that what they perceive is indeed real. So – how do we know that people claiming a relationship with a god aren’t similarly delusional?

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Simply claiming to have done something is not evidence that you really did.

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  21. re post 19: I thought that hadn’t be been sent (Ken, if you can be bothered, could you remove it. Its weird, as it didn’t show when I wrote the second so somehow its popped up later.)

    21: Have to laugh at the The Truman Show claim, enough though I know you should respect people do suffer from delusions, it seems a remarkable one to choose. I’ve have thought it schizophrenic, being a blend of fiction (the movie) and reality, but then I’m not a psychiatrist.

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  22. Well, the item did say that in at least one case the patient had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. On the Truman Show thing, there was the comment that perhaps it was a reflection of this celebrity-obsessed culture that we seem to live in 😉

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  23. On this ‘thanking those who deserve it’ thing – I remember reading a report of someone who’d been seriously injured & the doctors spent absolutely ages putting them back together, & it was all followed by a fair bit of time in ICU. And the family said, it was a miracle, thank g-d that the person survived… & I was left thinking, um, actually, the doctors & nurses had an awful lot to do with it… (bemused look)

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  24. @ 17

    Plato (who alleged there were two goddesses Aphrodite), Virgil, and many other writer/historians. Aphrodite is so real we even know where she was born (off Cyprus). Where was your god born, James? Huh? We all know that Aphrodite bribed Paris with Helen, just like God blackmailed Abraham into intending to kill poor Isaac.

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  25. Does it annoy anyone else when people explain medical staff’s hard work away as, ‘it’s a miracle’?

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  26. [OT]

    The story Alison is referring to is now up on Stuff: http://www.stuff.co.nz/4773564a19716.html

    On a somewhat related note (psychiatric issues), isn’t the internet suicide story one of the sadder, uglier and bizarre stories in a while? To compound this, according to the ‘Dispatches from the Culture Wars’ blog, some right-wing Christians are apparently trying to place blame for this on the university and(or) secular education. (Along with an article about an atheist society’s billboard being taken down!)

    26: You bet.

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  27. @24:Plato (who alleged there were two goddesses Aphrodite), Virgil, and many other writer/historians. Aphrodite is so real we even know where she was born (off Cyprus). Where was your god born, James? Huh? We all know that Aphrodite bribed Paris with Helen, just like God blackmailed Abraham into intending to kill poor Isaac.

    Apples and oranges Matty. You have nothing like the Bible in ancient history. Forty some authors over a two thousaid year period relating encounters with the same God. A God of the same character. I suppose you could say that these people, prophets and Kings were all mad but I suspect that they were more sane than you or I…

    @21: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    You mean like inanimate matter creating biological life? Or the non-rational, non-conscious forces of nature creating their opposite – rational, conscious life? I guess we all have our “unbelievable” creation stories Alison…

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  28. James, James, do stop erecting straw men. I didn’t say anything about abiogenesis, did I?

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  29. A key difference is evidence. Telling a story claiming something (anything) is true in the absence of evidence is to tell a story that amounts to a myth. It won’t be any less mythical if that story is repeated a trillion times without evidence backing it, or if a million books are written about it not backed by evidence. What would make a difference is evidence, but there seems to be rather little of that in the case of the stories you are referring to 😉

    At least sun worshippers could easily prove that their g-d existed! (In a sense: don’t take me too literally.)

    Christians may have more books, etc. that many other religions, but that itself doesn’t make them “more right”. You’re not mentioned Muslims I note, who also have lots of written accounts, (claims to) historical events, etc., too.

    As for the prophets, Kings, etc… they were just people of their time: they said and wrote what was expected of them. Just because they thought this, that or the other (or publicly said words to that effect) doesn’t make what they thought (or said or wrote) automatically right. Again evidence would help… (And again the same could be said of the Muslim prophets and rulers.)

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  30. James, James, do stop erecting straw men. I didn’t say anything about abiogenesis, did I?

    Ok, so you don’t “believe” that inanimate matter created biological life?

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  31. As for the prophets, Kings, etc… they were just people of their time: they said and wrote what was expected of them. Just because they thought this, that or the other (or publicly said words to that effect) doesn’t make what they thought (or said or wrote) automatically right. Again evidence would help…

    How do you know they wrote was “expected” of them, rather than writing an accurate, honest account of their contact with God? And again, their experience is the evidence. Just like your experience of the world is evidence for the world…

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  32. 31: Now you’re mixing threads: I and others have addressed that one over there. You know that because you posted here after replying to those posts.

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  33. James never met a bad argument he didn’t like with…”They don’t claim to believe in a myth – they claimed to have been in contact with God.”

    No.562: ARGUMENT FROM TALKING TO GOD, a.k.a. BILLY GRAHAM’S ARGUMENT
    (1) “I talked to Him this morning.”
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    And later…”Were you there? If not, then how do know they were wrong?”

    No 114: ARGUMENT FROM LACK OF EYEWITNESS (I)
    (1) You weren’t there to witness abiogenisis/Big Bang/etc.
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

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  34. No.562: ARGUMENT FROM TALKING TO GOD, a.k.a. BILLY GRAHAM’S ARGUMENT
    (1) “I talked to Him this morning.”
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    No the argument would be that God spoke to men and then raised His son from the dead-therefore God exists.

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  35. James said…”No the argument would be that God spoke to men and then raised His son from the dead-therefore God exists.”

    How do you know this?
    🙂

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  36. How do you know this?

    Read your New Testament. I’m sure you have a copy around…

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  37. James said…”Read your New Testament. I’m sure you have a copy around…”

    Read it.
    So?
    …………………………………….

    A: No the argument would be that The Flying Spaghetti Monster spoke to men and then touched them with his noodly appendage-therefore the FSM exists.”

    B: How do you know this?

    A: Read your Gospel of the FSM. I’m sure you have a copy around…
    …………………………………………….

    A: No the argument would be that Allah spoke to Mohammed and made him his prophet to lead the infidel to the healing faith.

    B: How do you know this?

    A: Read your Koran. I’m sure you have a copy around…

    (shrug)

    Divine Books: A Brief Introduction (Part 1)
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=9dRmYKnbaTo

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  38. How many times do we have to go over this? Aphrodite whispered to Paris that she’d give him the most beautiful woman, so obviously Aphrodite exists.

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  39. Ah, Aphrodite.
    Now SHE got around!
    Gallery of the Gods: Aphrodite

    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=cSWgvvampnw

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  40. Read your Gospel of the FSM. I’m sure you have a copy around…

    I have to get some dust off my shoes – excuse me…

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  41. @ 31: “Ok, so you don’t “believe” that inanimate matter created biological life?”

    Don’t you ever give up, James? We’ve been here before on another thread. But… In terms of belief in general – I don’t ‘believe’ scientific theories – I accept them as the best available explanations for a particular set of data.

    As for abiogenesis: I’ve yet to see a scientific hypothesis for this that speaks in terms of a creation event; that’s just you trying to put words into my mouth again. Abiogenesis is an active field of research, there are several possible testable hypotheses for how it could work, & I’m watching with interest. And an open mind.

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  42. 41: Mr. Reset Button 🙂

    (Thanks to Iapetus.)

    I would like to think that abiogenesis would be viewed as a process not “an event”, its a series of chemical reactions/processes, in appropriate conditions/settings, after all.

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  43. James said…”I have to get some dust off my shoes – excuse me…”

    Looks like the well has run dry for the moment.
    Oh dear.
    🙂

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  44. 44:

    I guess that the general argument is that that some people want to steal credit (in a sense) from those who did the work and grant it to their G-d. They seem to want to rework the ‘Materials and Methods’ section…!

    I like especially Darwin’s response: “I am of the firm opinion that both God and the Devil belong firmly with ‘data not shown’.” (Although it’d be nicer writing to not repeat the ‘firm’ in my opinion: once is enough.)

    I note that Henry Gee, Senior Editor, Biological Sciences at Nature doesn’t like this misrepresenting Darwin from a strictly accurate historical point of view. (See comments to the post you link @ Thursday, 27 Nov 2008 – 19:56 UTC.) Ouch. He may be technically right, I’m guessing that he sticks up for Darwin being represented in a historically accurate fashion…

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