Thursday, September 18, 2008

Only in Berkeley

Well, Berkeley has outdone itself. The Judah Magnes museum has erected a temple to science. The press announcement goes like this:

Four millennia after Abraham fathered Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and 150,000 years after hominids introduced burial rituals to the Mediterranean, religion will finally be made compatible with science on September 27, 2008. From that day forward, a two-story downtown Berkeley building dubbed the Atheon will provide a spiritual home for rational people in California, and guidance to acolytes worldwide.

Establishment of an Atheon has been a high priority in the scientific community for the past several years, rivaling even enthusiasm for the new Large Hadron Collider. "When you listen to people like Nobel-laureate cosmologist Steven Weinberg, or Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, you hear a lot of talk about how god-based religion is out-of-date," says conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, founder of the Atheon. "The leading minds believe that science can and should provide a spiritually satisfying replacement. But until recently no one bothered to consider what form that alternative might take."

It gets better. There is a song composed for the temple. According to the story:

The song composed for the Atheon is equally scientific, a canon for three cosmic voices titled "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" The canon is comprised of sounds pulsating through several hypothetical universes as well as our own living cosmos, musically arranged by Mr. Keats using audio files produced by University of Virginia astronomer Mark Whittle. According to Mr. Keats, "these universes don't provide any answers. If people are to find spirituality in science, it's likely to be by immersing themselves in questions."

That's great. A place for people to go and ask "why am I here?" and get no answer. I get the same thing from Zombocom. This is EXACTLY what science isn't: a world view. Science is a means by which we examine the world and try to understand how it works. It has no power to provide a worldview. As far as rivaling the enthusiasm of the LHC, that is overreaching of the highest order. I was aware of the LHC for months ahead of its powering up. I heard about this nonsense only because I prowl the airwaves for things like this. The Atheon web site is here. If you find something other than a late 60s tie-dyed pattern, let me know. Sheer silliness that only Berkeley can provide.


  1. Oh great. When my conservative brothers find this it is going to be all over. Here I am telling them that science is not something you worship and not a replacement for God and then Berkely goes and builds this. The first line of the "about" is damning enough.

    The Atheon is a secular temple devoted to scientific worship

    When this gets out this first line will be quoted to me every time a creationist claims evolution is a religion. Indeed,

    Delivering spiritual fulfillment through exposure to the latest research

    James, can I request you email address. You can send it to me at

    pete_richert (at)

  2. Wow. That is incredible. I'm assuming this isn't some type of elaborate, delayed April Fools joke?

  3. Well, Steve, i wondered about that. It seems like something the Onion would pull off but i could not find evidence of that. If it is a hoax, i have been had. But if so, it is a great joke.

  4. Pete, I have adjusted my profile to allow my email address to show at the top.

  5. When I first clicked on it, I assumed it was a joke as well. But I couldn't find any evidence of that. I hope it is a joke.

  6. Pete, correction. You have to go to my profile. There is an "email me" link to follow.

  7. Of course we can always fall back on the "Yeah, but its Berkeley. Nobody takes that place seriously" excuse when people claim that evolution is religion. It was pretty hard to take them seriously after that Code Pink incident.

  8. Poe's Law.

  9. Update: a visit to the Atheon web site now gives a "page not found" response. A google search yields no sites beyond 2009. So much for the temple to science.