What Oprah Doesn’t Get About Atheists

Winfrey’s definition of God is meaningless, applying to everything and nothing all at once.

On her show “Super Soul Sunday” this past weekend, Oprah Winfrey interviewed marathon swimmer Diana Nyad about everything from her incredible endurance to her spiritual beliefs.

The part that struck a chord with me — and many other atheists — was Winfrey’s dismissal of Nyad’s non-religious label. Nyad explained that she called herself an atheist but that didn’t take anything away from the awe she felt about the world and all of its inhabitants. To her, “God” was humanity.

Winfrey clearly didn’t understand that, responding, “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then! I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is!”

First of all, Winfrey’s definition of God is fairly meaningless, applying to everything and nothing all at once.

More importantly, however, was the (unintentional) implication that those of us who find beauty in plants and animals and the universe itself can’t possibly be godless. That’s a common stereotype atheists face and it’s an incredibly pernicious one, made even worse because it was repeated by a celebrity of Winfrey’s stature.

I doubt Oprah would ever tell a self-described lesbian that she was really a bisexual, or a moderate Republican that he was really an Independent. Most of us who choose a label for ourselves like that do so only after a great deal of thought. That’s why Winfrey had no business telling Nyad she wasn’t really an atheist. Nyad politely explained her case, but you can understand her hesitation to push back too hard. It’s Oprah, after all.

But let’s get back to the real question at hand: Are atheists capable of feeling awe about our world?

Absolutely.

Atheist musicians experience that feeling when playing or listening to a beautiful composition.

Atheist scientists experience that feeling when they gaze at the stars or look through a microscope.

Atheist parents experience that feeling when they first lay eyes on their newborn child.

There’s nothing religious about it. It’s just nature: elusive, expansive, and enveloping. You don’t need to look for a Higher Power to give thanks. Sometimes, you can just bask in the wonderful way the world turned out, considering all the ways it could have gone in another direction. As Richard Dawkins so wonderfully wrote in his book “Unweaving the Rainbow,” “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” For Dawkins, there’s even a beauty to death. We are fortunate enough to experience this blink in the life of the universe. Let’s not waste our time giving credit where it’s not due.

Diana Nyad, who has spent so much of her life battling and embracing the ocean, understands all of that perfectly well. Religious people don’t have a monopoly on appreciating the world we live in — and Nyad, a proud atheist, is living proof of that.

Hemant Mehta is the author of “The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide” and a blogger at FriendlyAtheist.com.

Image via Alan Light.

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  • pecos45

    Atheism represents the height of the ego.
    “I recognize no authority above me. I am the end all and be all.”

    That’s the problem I have with it.

  • Julien L

    Atheism has nothing to do with ego.
    It’s simply a rational view of the universe and a recognition that the existence of a deity is illogical and irrational.

  • Aaron Arm

    That depends on your definition of “authority.” We certainly have authorities within nature and within our own societal structures. Even the most powerful man in the world is at the mercy of astronomical forces beyond his control. And, of course, if you believe in determinism then you can argue we have no true authority over ourselves. Or if “authority” simply means that which created us, then there are certainly forces responsible for where we are today.

    Maybe you suppose authority to mean an authoritative reason for life itself, instilled with meaning. To that extent, it’s true that humans create their own meaning for life. There’s nothing egotistical about that, though; it’s simply the existential truth.

    More importantly, though, atheism shouldn’t be believed or dismissed based on how palatable you think it is. If you choose your beliefs based on their aesthetic appeal, then you’re not actually believing in anything…

  • amablue

    I feel like that’s sort of a silly objection to atheism. A person doesn’t believe in Christianity for example because they feel like they should have someone with authority over them – they are Christian because they have seen or felt something that they do not believe an atheist believe structure can explain, or that a Christianity explains better.

    I’m an atheist, but I recognize that there are laws that have authority over me (both legal and moral). I don’t see why a lack of belief in God is an egotistical position to take. It’s got nothing to do with ego, it’s got to do with the evidence we have.

  • Drew Harvey

    To think that an all knowing god gives two bleeps about what you do on a daily basis – now that is the height of the ego.

  • Farmboy Astronaut

    Sir, you’re using ‘I’ when you should say ‘we’. Just as Christians believe Lord Yahweh is the father to all of humanity, an atheist believes that humanity in general lacks a celestial authority.

    One could argue that it is in fact Christianity that represents the height of the ego. “God created the universe just for me. He gave me dominion over all the animals. He made me in his image. I pray to him because he listens closely to my desires and is willing to alter the course of history in favor of my personal interests.”

    However, it is equally preposterous to suggest that egotism is the motivating factor for faith as it is to suggest that it is the motivating factor for reason.

  • Brian Bourgeois

    You’ve got it completely backwards – theism represents the true height of ego and self-centeredness. To believe that there’s an all-powerful entity that cares about you *individually* and even so much as converses with you is extraordinarily arrogant. Some are even arrogant enough to claim that they were created in the image of this being (creationists). Humility is admitting the fact that we are nothing but animals and have no more important a place in the scheme of the universe than a speck of dust.

  • Orange County California

    What Oprah doesn’t get is that people can have a belief in a supreme being without having any strong religious beliefs.

  • 3vandrum

    Hemant Mehta cannot have any monopoly on the definition of atheists. Atheists come in different forms. Buddhists do not believe in any God or soul but they believe in reincarnation. Jains do not believe in any God but believe in souls and re incarnation, they are all considered atheists. There are also Buddhists who do not believe in re incarnation but they accept and respect Buddhist philosophy and values like compassion. There is no universal definition of atheists. Diana Nyad said the entire humanity was her God Many people consider “the awe ,the wonder and the mystery of the universe” as God. Mr.Mehta should stop worrying about the definition of atheists and start worrying about the religious fundamentalists who are about to destroy this planet with their access to nuclear weapons and chemical weapons.

  • nkri401

    Ms. Oprah may be a good entertainer and shrewd business person but that does not make her anymore of an expert on theology or string theory. But your string theory will not make you even 1/1000 as rich as her…

  • grlspitfire

    This is just another excuse for a nonsense story. Who cares about what Oprah says? Diana got her 15 minutes (or more) of fame.

  • DrBill3

    God is a three letter word. What that word means is up to you.
    Religeon is when someone or some thing tells you what it means.
    Take it. or leave it.

  • OmartheLittle

    “Are atheists capable of feeling awe about our world?”

    Nyad said she does, you said you do. Question answered. Move on.

  • pease504

    IMO – Oprah has a pretty superficial understanding of what is spiritual.

    Can an atheist be spiritual? Certainly. A person who celebrates the wonders of the universe is spiritual. A good person who cares about others is spiritual.

    I’m a Christian. But looking at the thousands of stars over the Grand Canyon one night, my first thought was “This is damn awesome, overwhelming, wonderful”. I would have said it except I was mostly speechless.

    Pretty sure a lot of atheists have had the same thoughts and also been mostly speechless.

  • chowlett1

    I seem to be the only person I know who thinks that Oprah did a good job – and an unjudgemental job – of interviewing Ms. Nayad. Ms. Nayad is a fascinating and compelling person, I found her beliefs interesting even if I do not share them, and I was glad that Oprah pressed her to express them. In fact, no one would be talking about Ms. Nayad’s beliefs if she had not had the stage that Oprah offered her.

  • Symbiosis7

    Atheism can have a lot of different definitions now-a-days, however most of the prominent atheists in the public discourse are believers in philosophical materialism and have a purely mechanistic view of biology and cosmology. Denying a cosmic teleology. In fact in this view the universe is a machine winding down, losing its steam (entropy), leaving a life of purpose to be largely an illusion. Of course in the age of emergence, dark energy, Gaia theory, quantum entanglement, group selection, the embodied mind, biomimicry—this is simply not what science is telling us. At least science as a method of inquiry, not another “believe” system…

  • vaporland

    ” Oprah has a pretty superficial understanding of what is spiritual. ”

    you got that right. this is the woman who ‘helps’ her studio audience by ‘giving’ them automobiles, and leaving them to pay the gift tax on them.

    her religion is materialism. i’m not buying what she and her sponsors are selling.

  • Odysseus88

    I never understand why in America we have to reassure people that Atheists are three dimensional people capable of emotion. It reminds me of the British colonialists going to parts of Africa and Asia and observing the behavior of “savages” as if they were not normal humans.

    I’m atheist and I don’t derive my identity from denying somebody else’s beliefs. I just appreciate the complexity of the universe and accept that we will never understand it any time soon.

    Not believing in God doesn’t stop me from being amazed by life each and every day as I try to be a good human being to the people and planet around me. Don’t need a holy book to teach me morality, but hey, if it works for you, I don’t have a problem with that either.

  • jerryinmd

    As a PH.D. scientist, from what I have seen of nature, I can’t believe the structure of the universe was created by a big bang or by some random events by the forces of the universe. Therefore I believe like a lot of other scientists in a God that has created the wonderful order and structure we see all around us.

  • elginite

    it seems that you cared enough to read and respond.
    and that’s all the advertisers care about.

  • dlafave

    Just because you can’t or won’t believe something doesn’t mean it isn’t the case. It just means that you’ve closed off your mind. I would have thought that someone with a PhD in a scientific field would have learned that along the way, but I guess not.

  • Aaron Arm

    I suppose from a purely numerical standpoint, there are “a lot” of scientists who believe in a god, but that doesn’t negate the fact that MOST scientists do not. And the word “scientist” is pretty nebulous. What branch of science is your degree in? Biologists, astronomers, and physicists are more prone to actually understanding the forces at work behind the creation of the universe and, consequently, mankind. If you’re a PhD in physics, for example, and you think the forces of the universe are just “some random events,” I’m concerned what kind of education you’ve received.

    Of course, you are more than free to arrive at your conclusions, and I would never question your freedom to do so. I’m just baffled at how a scientist (assuming you’re well versed in critical thinking and the scientific method) would take an incomplete understanding of the universe and use that as the basis for a hypothesis on an omnipotent conscious entity.

  • dlafave

    “In fact in this view the universe is a machine winding down, losing its steam (entropy), leaving a life of purpose to be largely an illusion.” This is a fairly grotesque non sequitur. If you have some argument linking an increase in entropy to our lives being meaningless, please present it. I have no problem having meaning in my life, in the people I love, in the activities I value. These states are perfectly compatible with a natural “mechanistic” universe lacking “cosmic teleology”. The fact that the Earth will be engulfed by the sun in 5 billion years does nothing to make me not love my wife.

  • Symbiosis7

    ” Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” – Bertrand Russell

  • dlafave

    “I recognize no authority above me. I am the end all and be all.”

    I have yet to meet an atheist who doesn’t recognize the authority of the civil laws, so your first characterization simply isn’t true. As for the second one, you’ve given no explanation whatsoever what that has to do with the first claim or with atheists. It would be good if you stopped making false claims and presenting ridiculous caricatures of what atheists are like.

  • Symbiosis7

    “Metaphors may create realities for us, especially social realities. A metaphor may thus be a guide for future action. Such actions will, of course, fit the metaphor. This will, in turn, reinforce the power of the metaphor to make experience coherent. In this sense metaphors can be self–fulfilling prophecies.” – Lakoff and Johnson

  • dlafave

    I don’t know why you’re bringing up more and more irrelevancies (such as Dark Energy and metaphors), but I fundmentally I agree with Russell. If the meaning that someone finds in life depends on cosmic teleology or eternal life, or some other such thing that isn’t true, then they are building their life on a scaffolding of falsehoods. We create meaning in the here and nοw by the people and things that we value. That doesn’t require anything supernatural. Our brains are quite capable of valuing without the need for cosmic teleology. Why on Earth would anyone think otherwise?

  • Symbiosis7

    90% of our learning is unconscious.

    Conscious Thought = 40 pieces of data per second

    Unconcious Thought = 11 million pieces of data per second

    And our unconscious is influenced by metaphor, as Lakoff and Johnson detail so well in their books. The machine metaphor in many respects has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Andyet there are many things in this world that the “mechanistic” paradigm can’t begin to understand.

  • Symbiosis7

    And yes the the sun will likely become a red dwarf and turn the lights out on earth in a few billion years, but to think that everything is merely fixed and static and we can no control is exactly why people deny anthropogenic climate change—it doesn’t fit their metaphors, their worldview. We do however live in a self-regulating biosphere. And the machine view of nature has only helped us to be at war with it and insure our demise all the quicker.

  • california405

    A couple thoughts: First, Oprah knows that atheists, as a group, are not very popular (they rank up there with the Tea Party and Ted Cruz in terms of popularity). So, right or wrong, I think she was trying to “save” her interviewee from the scorn she knows her viewers are likely to have toward her. Second, atheists, such as the author of this article, need to lighten up. You sound like a zealot when you get so defensive about your views. In my opinion, a person who is so utterly convinced that they know there is no god is a) not scientific (a true scientist knows they do not know everything) and b) has a fervor on par with the religious thinking they so detest. After all, regardless of your religious beliefs, you have to admit humans are far from perfect and far from understanding everything about the universe or ourselves.

  • MidnightRambler

    FWIW, Mehta is himself an ex-Jain.

  • AGuyCommenting

    As you noted, atheists are not very popular. Unlike the tea party, we are not trying to force our beliefs upon anyone. We are hated only because we don’t believe in God and don’t want others’ religious beliefs forced upon us. Sometimes this situation gets us frustrated and angry.

    I think most atheists are not utterly convinced there is no God; it’s merely of no concern until there is proof of a Higher Being’s existence. That’s why there’s the saying, “atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” It’s not on our radar until you guys bring it up.

  • AGuyCommenting

    Symbiosis, I’m not certain what you mean by your long list of despair.

    For all your nattering, atheist Odysseus88 sounds wonderfully energetic toward the world: “Not believing in God doesn’t stop me from being amazed by life each and every day as I try to be a good human being to the people and planet around me.”

    What else would you want from someone?

  • nkri401

    From Liberty University? Discovery Institute? PhD in science of ID?

  • BackFatBarbieReluctantlySubscribed

    The scariest thing to this atheist is the understanding that it’s only a belief in and submission to a “higher authority” that keeps of lot of people from doing terrible things. How would YOUR life be different were it not subject to the authority of your god?

  • mustang4me

    Because telling an atheist they can’t be an atheist because of her own personal prejudice and lack of comprehension isn’t judgemental. Meh.

  • mustang4me

    The problem is the millions of believers who presume they have the capacity and the authority to define what atheists are, when they do not.

  • 3vandrum

    @MidnightRambler,
    I know very well that Mr.Mehta is Jain but claims as atheist now. My question is who has the authority to define who is a true atheist. Sam Harris would say there are no “non astrologers”
    .

  • Paul S Madley

    Actually, I’ll think you’ll find “most atheists” have actually given it a lot of thought, concluded that none of the religions they’ve heard of makes any sense, and therefore won’t worship any of them. I think you’ll also find that most atheists would accept any evidence of any god, if any was found.

    True, we don’t know everything; we never will. But, based on available information, we can reach best-fit conclusions. In this case; none of the gods we’ve heard of are real.

  • Paul S Madley

    That’s ridiculous. “We don’t know everything, so Atheists are wrong, and Christians are right”.

    I’m an Agnostic Atheist; I don’t believe any of the gods I’ve heard of exist, but I’ll happily admit I’m wrong if any sane evidence is ever presented. I think you’ll find most of us heathens think like this.

  • Paul S Madley

    Sorry, had trouble signing up, I thought. Anyway, sorry for the two comments.

  • Paul S Madley

    You sound like the sane, non-judgemental Christians we enjoy over here in the UK, yet you wave the US flag. Thank you for not condemning us godless heathens to hell!

  • Symbiosis7

    That’s because your view is be passive, don’t be engaged with the world, don’t try to make it better, just have fun. I have fun, but I also like to think I can make the world a better place.

  • AGuyCommenting

    No apology necessary.

  • Symbiosis7

    But according to Dawkins book the Selfish Gene, we are not naturally moral, you have to teach empathy, thus why the book says “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish”. As primatologist Frans de Waal says “The solution Dawkins has found is to attack God. But that’s a distraction. Whether God exists or not doesn’t solve the issue of where morality comes from. On the other hand, Francis Collins says that morality cannot come from biology, but we clearly do have morality, so that means God must exist—which in a way is more logical.
    Atheists—some of them, at least—have talked themselves into a corner and they don’t know how to get out of it, because we need to find a way of explaining where morality comes from. I think the way to do that is to return to Darwin. Darwin tried to place morality within human evolution. And that’s what I’m trying to do, at least with my primate studies. I’m trying to say, look at the behavior of other primates—there are enough indications that they have what Darwin would call the social instincts needed to get to morality. They don’t exactly have it, but they’re close enough for me to see that there’s a continuity. I think that’s the way out of the dilemma.”

  • DanaB1

    First, of course atheists recognize authority: they recognize the authority of the government, they recognize the authority of their boss…they simply don’t believe that any divine authority over human being – in other words, any god – exists. “Recognizing no (divine) authority” isn’t ego if, as atheists believe, it’s true that there is, in fact, no divine authority. It’s simply a rational recognition of the nature of the universe.

  • davewtc

    @california405 Clearly, you need to read up on this some more. We atheists are not absolutely sure your god doesn’t exists and no thoughtful atheist will say that. However, one cannot put it any better than the sadly departed Mr Hitchens: “It must not be said that there is no god. It can, however, be said that there’s no good reason to think that there is.” That, sir, is where the thoughtful atheists stands. As to your telling us to “cool it”, no, not any more. We’ve had it with the shoddy treatment, the imposition of your lunacy on us, and having to put up with the disasters triggered by your fairy tales. No more.

  • davewtc

    Your supporting of your comment with the statement that you have a PhD is completely meaningless. Your comment shows you to be no scientist. I hope I never hire you by accident.

  • ReasonRules

    Oprah knows that atheists will not make money for her. She needs god-fearing nut jobs to do that. Thank her for doctor phil, etc..

  • ReasonRules

    PhD? That does not mean you can really think. You completed coursework and did a dissertation on what and where? And you specialized in what? Jesus studies? “In the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost.” Bless you with holy water and some incense.

  • RobH2

    You are not alone. Data from Pew Research Center shows that more than half of scientists believe in some form of deity or higher power.

    Funny how the atheists attack the intelligence and education of whomever believes differently from them, evidenced by the above. What I see from the atheists are intolerance and hate.

  • compchiro

    RobH2,

    As an atheist I can state with absolute certainty that of the hundreds of fellow atheists I know more than 95% have no problem with other people believing in deities, they just recognize that it is just a belief, not based in anything coming close to fact or proof. I know many scientists who believe in god (or other deities) but also are honest enough to admit that said belief is purely faith and not proof-based. That does not make them any less intelligent or educated and at least they are being honest that their religious beliefs are separate fro their scientific mindset.

    The real issue is that Oprah made an ignorant comment. She may not be capable of understanding Nyad’s point but many people (and many religious people who are educated and open-minded, which encompassed many of those I have met in my life) understand that recognizing the awe and mystery of nature and the universe is NOT necessarily the same thing as a deity. Just as the same idea that there may have a creative force in the universe but that is not the same thing as God, and that such a force does not deserve worship and in fact may not even exist anymore (the true idea of what was originally intelligent design before the evangelical world co-opted it for creationism and made it a fraud.)

  • compchiro

    God does not have to exist for humanity to evolve/develop/learn/create morality. What we now call morality was likely developed independently in a variety of regions over the course of generations as humans realized what behaviors benefitted society and what behaviors were detrimental to society. The creators of the various religions simply incorporated those lessons into their philosophies and then claimed that the deities they created to be the centerpiece of those religions put forth those moral codes and therefore self-justified their fraudulent claims that only their religion had morality.

  • PaulaMK

    Oprah betrayed Diana Nyad by judging that Nyad could not be what she said she was. Years ago, Oprah said in an interview that she wanted to give her audience her vision of the world. Obviously, her vision does not include atheists. Oprah feels a need to deny people the right to define themselves as atheists so she can force her vision of the world on them.

    I doubt that Diana Nyad talked to Oprah with the intention of promoting atheism. I have listened to Nyad several times and never heard her talk about atheism.

  • Symbiosis7

    Your point doesn’t take in account the debate going on. For one things that sentence in Dawkins book was actually retracted by him in the 30th anniversary edition of the book. Perhaps, because Jeffrey Skilling from Enron was inspired by the book to institute a system of “rank and yank” at Enron, and we all know that that worked out. See my point on metaphors becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. And de Wall for one isn’t saying you do need God, he’s just saying that biologists like Dawkins have implied things that don’t mesh with modern neuroscience and his own studies on primates. See mirror neurons, neuroplasticity and embodied mind theories..

  • Jumper

    My standard response has become “Well, you describe god and I’ll tell you if I believe in that.”

  • jmenon

    @Pease504 — I don’t think that’s what spiritual means. I think it has to do with having an awareness or acceptance of a non-material aspect to human life, that is, something that has been called a “spirit.” If you don’t believe in any non-material phenomena, which is what, in my experience, most atheists say they believe, then you can’t really be called “spiritual.”

    An atheist’s love of the overwhelming cosmos can certainly be real and true, but you can’t call it “spiritual.” Otherwise you start opening up aspects of reality that atheists either deny or argue are irrelevant and not worth really discussing.

  • Professor Snarky

    Save us, Oprah, from the disdain of the God believers! Tell us what we really believe! Even though it is just a clever trap to make us sound like zealots when we explain why you are wrong.

    Oprah’s casual remark was thoughtless and dismissive, stemming, I expect, from internalized Christian privilege. Your blame-the-victim defense of it is mind-numbingly inane.

    “Atheism” is a combination of the Greek prefix “a” and the Greek derived “theism,” meaning “religious belief.” It means “without religious belief,” as “a” plus “gnostic” means without knowledge and “a” plus “moral” means “elected Republican representative.”

    We don’t insist that there is no God; that would be like insisting that there are no ghosts, demons, fairies, leprechauns, or elves who bake cookies in hollow trees. We can’t prove that fairies don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean their existence is equally as likely as their non-existence, so we don’t live our lives worrying about hurting fairy feelings or forming opinions based on fairy belief. We don’t think fairies are going to punish us because we approve of equal rights for LGBT folk, and we don’t think we will go to fairy heaven if we listen to the right fairy preacher.

    I personally do believe in the elves in the hollow tree; I’ve actually eaten some of their cookies.

  • Symbiosis7

    Exactly God doesn’t have to be about a male patriarch in the sky, it can the field of possibility.

  • Symbiosis7

    Exactly God doesn’t have to be about a male patriarch in the sky, it can be the field of possibility.

  • Nerak

    People please, Oprah has been asking clarification and confrontational questions since day one. But she has always made it very obvious that she embraces everybody’s belief or non belief system.

  • compchiro

    Dawkins book is NOT the issue. Trying to make it that issue is fraudulent. He does not speak for atheism. He speaks for himself.

  • Symbiosis7

    Sure, but this article quotes him in a good light, “As Richard Dawkins so wonderfully wrote in his book Unweaving the Rainbow…,” and for the most part people are commenting in defense of this article by Hemant Mehta. But you can’t on one hand believe humans are “robot vehicles” doing the bidding of our selfish genes. And then backflip, claiming we humans have the unique ability to defy our selfish genes as he does. If Dawkins truly wanted to wake people up from their “god delusions” he wouldn’t be so dogmatic about us being deterministic robots, especially when so much science says otherwise. And since he’s one of the most prominent atheists out there, you would think more atheists would catch on to this, but they don’t. I guess many atheists can be just as rigid in their thinking as religious fundamentalists.

  • Symbiosis7

    And if more atheists did catch on to this, maybe people like Oprah wouldn’t have the kind of impression that she does of atheists.

  • Symbiosis7

    What most conventional atheists don’t get — read some books on the embodied mind, one the best Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

    The issue of cosmic teleology –
    Lakoff and Mark Johnson[36] showed that humans use metaphor ubiquitously and that metaphors operate at a conceptual level (i.e., they map one conceptual domain onto another), they involve an unlimited number of individual expressions and that the same metaphor is used conventionally throughout a culture. Lakoff and his collaborators have collected thousands of examples of conceptual metaphors in many domains.[36][37]

    For example, people will typically use language about journeys to discuss the history and status of a love affair, a metaphor Lakoff and Johnson call “LOVE IS A JOURNEY”. It is used in such expression as: “we arrived at a crossroads,” “we parted ways”, “we hit the rocks” (as in a sea journey), “she’s in the driver’s seat”, or, simply, “we’re together”. In cases like these, something complex (a love affair) is described in terms of something that can be done with a body (travel through space).

    A teleology is any philosophical account that holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that, analogous to purposes found in human actions, nature inherently tends toward definite ends.

  • AuntRyn

    @Nerak: “People please, Oprah has been asking clarification and confrontational questions since day one. But she has always made it very obvious that she embraces everybody’s belief or non belief system. ”

    And in most cases I believe she does – but in this case, she re-named that belief system. And in so doing, ended up re-defining the belief system in a way that did not capture Nyad’s. She was trying to find common ground, and did so only in terms she understood – which we all do – but in this discussion, she needed to listen more in order to expand her understanding.

  • AuntRyn

    @jmenon – you’re right – according to your definition, many atheists would not be considered spiritual.

    there are, however, different definitions of spiritual, many of which acknowledge an acceptance of something greater than ourselves (e.g., the vast universe) – a deep appreciation of the interconnectedness of things – but don’t include belief in anything supernatural, or what you might refer to as non-material (“spirit”). spiritualism can be a multi-layered and complex concept.

    not trying to be argumentative here at all – just bringing a different perspective.

  • compchiro

    Most atheists do not really care what Dawkins thinks. Just because the article quotes him is not a reason to presume that what he says matters to most atheists. Of the hundreds of atheists I have met only one or two said that anything Dawkins said had anything to do with their decision to become atheist or that they care what he thinks. They became atheists because they realized that there is no proof that god or any deity exists. And that humans do not need deities or religions to be ethical caring people. It is called simple common sense.

    People like Oprah make the comments they make because they are ignorant and are stupid enough to think that Dawkins speaks for us.

  • Joel Hardman

    The field of possibility? I don’t understand how that could be god. I don’t understand the compulsion to give odd nonsensical definitions for god. If you think god is a probability field or something similar, maybe it’s time to just admit you don’t believe in god.

  • Joel Hardman

    If you have a problem with getting a free car, sell the car! I’d be happy to be so burdened.