Unpopular Ideas

On this day in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. 50 years later, he would publish “On the Origin of Species”, which pretty well blew the doors off the scientific world, outraged the contemporary religious culture, and established the key scientific foundation of the field of biology for all time.

Darwin knew what he was doing. He sat on “Origin” for years, aware that the core implication of his work—that no God was necessary to explain the diversity of life on Earth—would bring him a deluge of hatred and ridicule. He was right.

159 years on, Christian fundamentalists still rail against Darwin’s discovery. Their entire worldview is threatened by his simple suggestion that a far simpler and more elegant mechanic is responsible for the diversification of life on Earth. Not to mention by the fact that this mechanic—natural selection—has been demonstrated over and over to be, yes, the actual explanation for speciation.

Atheopagans know something about being the bearers of unpopular ideas. In both the atheist and Pagan communities, we’re viewed somewhat askance, either because of our religious practices or because we aren’t religious (as in, credulous in gods) enough.

But what if what we are about is actually the more elegant answer to long-posed questions, just as Darwin’s theory was?

What if reconciling the spiritual and the scientific really is a matter of understanding religion as not about the nature of the Universe, but the nature of us, as humans? If it is our needs, as evolved through the development of our brains, that are fed by religious behavior, and this has nothing to do with what is “out there” in the Cosmos?

What if we can meet those needs while contemplating the Universe as it truly is: dispassionate and godless?

As the proportion of non-believers continues to rise, these are going to be increasingly important questions. We have something to offer those non-believers: practices verified by science to be beneficial in their lives, to help them to build community and to feel connected to the greater whole of Nature and the Cosmos. Principles with which to live lives of integrity. And thoughtful celebration of the magnificent Universe through a lens of both joyful embrace and critical analysis.

Theism is waning—in the developed world, at least, and precipitously in the Americas. There is a great deal that Paganism has to offer, but if it comes bound up with theism, it will increasingly find fewer and fewer prospective takers.

So take heart, Atheopagans, when you get grief for your beliefs and practices.

Darwin was on the right track. So are we.

Happy birthday, Charles.

10 thoughts on “Unpopular Ideas

  1. YariGarciaYA

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m not atheist, nor exactly pagan, but I’m really enjoying your blog.

    I’ve never had trouble accepting science/biology/etc along with my spirituality (which is flexible and non-denominational). If anything, science shows me just how beautiful and complex the world is, which has been way more inspiring to me than any religious text.

    Great post 🙂


  2. While I’m a fan of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Lamarck was the first to propose a theory of evolution, and I don’t know if I would not call it “the key scientific foundation of the field of biology for all time.” Cell theory probably takes that honor. Also important to note in the context of this discussion is that Darwin was not always on the right track. He got the mechanism for inheritance wrong, for example; he proposed a process called pangenesis, involving particles called gemmules, which subsequent experimental results did not support.

    Where am I going with this? First, the history of science is complicated, and putting Darwin, his ideas, and those who revere them on a pedestal for being “right,” “most important,” or “most elegant” might boost the ego, but it misses some important context and might cause us to miss seeing our own faults. Second, and more important, being smug hurts and disconnects us from people who think differently than we do. I can’t see the good in that.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful work. We’re engaged with many of the same concepts and ideas. I enjoy reading and responding, even when we come to different conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The point is not to lionize Darwin, but to point out that unpopular ideas can turn out nonetheless to be correct and useful. I have heard evolution referred to as the bedrock of biology, which is why I termed it so, but I grant that cell theory certainly gives it a run for its money.

      Finally, it’s not about being “smug”. It’s about having the courage of one’s convictions and standing for that even in the face of hostility, the expressors of which seem to share none of your concern about hurting and disconnecting from nontheist Pagans. I don’t know if you’re reading what I’m reading, but there is certainly enough of that out there. Its arguments, however, are unpersuasive; if they weren’t, my position would be evolving.

      I am glad you are enjoying reading the material, despite your disagreements.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t identify as atheist; I’m a pantheist and probably also an animist. So I’m not sure I count as a nontheist, and I’m probably not reading the same things. The only hostility towards my beliefs or spiritual practices I’ve experienced has been within the HP community itself, e.g., belittling language about those who practice magic or identify as Witches. Still, it hasn’t been that bad, really.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Kenneth

    Darwin’s work certainly dismantled Christian creationism explanations from a scientific point of view. Casting him as a champion of atheism is problematic. Darwin never openly identified himself as atheist nor endorsed the use of his work as evidence against theism. He was, at most agnostic and content to stick to his area of expertise, which was science and not religion.

    There is some linkage between unpopular ideas and truth inasmuch as all significant discoveries offended prevailing wisdom and expertise. Of course it doesn’t follow that unpopularity creates a likelihood of being right. Nor is the issue of theism vs non-theism in Paganism (or anywhere else) likely to be settled by science anytime soon. It is also not the case that Pagan belief can be reduced to a binary system of either total atheism and materialism on the one hand or fall-for-anything woo magical thinking on the other.

    I’m not an atheopagan as I do work with phenomena/entities I perceive as gods. Might I be wrong about that? Of course. I fully acknowledge my perceptions may be colored by some psychological need to believe (seriously the thought that humanity might be “all we have” is enough to make me want to hang myself with my own shoelaces). My perception of gods might well be some burst of some tryptamine neurotransmitter or tapping into aspects of myself or whatever. I don’t feel the need to defend my perception nor to inflict it on someone else. It works for me in that it helps me to be a bit wiser and less of an ass, if only by slow and small degrees. There’s plenty of room for all varieties of Paganism as there is no central dogma or authority of any kind.

    Popularity has no real bearing either way. Sure, atheopagans are unpopular in the greater movement. But who isn’t? Who ever is or was cool enough to measure up to the popular will, whatever that is and whoever dictates it? Pagans are thorny, opinionated and disagreeable bastards on any topic. Our greatest strength and weakness perhaps. People will identify with us as they will or not. I would argue that modern Paganism’s real influence has happened far beyond, and even primarily among people who do not identify as Pagan nor practice it as a religious belief system.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with all you write here except the suggestion that I presented Darwin as a hero of atheism, which he clearly was not and I did not–merely as an example of someone with an unpopular idea which was nonetheless valid.

      You’re probably right about the overall character of the Pagan community. My point was to be encouraging to atheist Pagans who get fired on by the Pagan circular firing squad. That’s all.


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