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AI: Skeptical Songs


Pitzer College recently announced that they’ll be incorporating the nation’s first department of secular studies, headed by Phil Zuckerman, a professor of religious sociology.

Zuckerman has written at length on the topic of secularism in society, but the thing that most caught my attention was his list of picks for the 65 greatest songs for atheists and agnostics. Among the list are some predictable favorites, such as John Lennon’s Imagine and Frank Zappa’s Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk, but, as Zuckerman points out in the list’s introduction, not all of the songs focus on an a-religious theme. Many simply “critique faith, express healthy skepticism, laud doubt, [or] celebrate the natural world.”

One such song is #56 on his list: The Smartest Monkeys by new wave band XTC, which uses evolution as a metaphor to critique modern society:

What do you think of his list? What are your favorite songs that celebrate skepticism, rationality, and critical thinking? (Bonus points for artists who aren’t known for their skepticism!)

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

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  1. Agreed. Actually, he has a whole lot of repeated bands for only having a list of 65. I’m sure we can do better.

  2. First thing that came to mind was They Might Be Giants’ album Here Comes Science!, especially the track “Science Is Real”. I mean, check out the lyrics. It could pretty much be the Skeptics’ Creed.

    Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is a pretty skeptical song, in my mind (it’s also one of my favorite songs of all time, so it might just be confirmation bias :). Anyway, it specifically talks about Catholic dogma, but also the lyric “if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied / illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs” seems to me to signal at least a bit of doubt about the afterlife.

    Modest Mouse seems pretty skeptical to me at times as well. Their song “3rd Planet” could be interpreted as a journey from belief to skepticism. Also contains certain phrases that might ring a bell for skeptics, like “our blood is just like the Atlantic” or “the universe is shaped exactly like the Earth”. The song “Ocean Breathes Salty” also has a line: “you wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?”, which could be an admonishment to people who devote their life to religion.

  3. Being that it’s the man’s birthday I think it only appropriate to mention Superstition by Stevie Wonder and would also like too point out the one dimensionality of this list. I’ll have to think a little more, but Dear God 2.0 ( by The Roots is also a good skeptical/questioning song.

  4. Tool’s “Parabola” is hands down my favourite ‘secular’ song. The band has been pretty clear that they expect their lyrics to be subject to a considerable amount of personal interpretation, but the meaning that I like best is one hinted at in an interview that one of my old philosophy professors (the same professor who formally introduced me to Skepticism, as it was) conducted with Keenan.

    The lyrics revolve around the significance of every moment of consciousness we have the privilege of experiencing, given how little time we have to experience them. Conversely, it also considers how, at the level of matter, pain becomes illusory and ceases to exist, while we ourselves become eternal. The whole notion of “holy reality” is a very uplifting one.

  5. i think
    “the shins – young pilgrims”
    needs to be mentioned
    (even though it suggests that not thinking also has its advantages, should you be able to do so)

    “frightened rabbit – head rolls of”
    has been already featured on skepchick a couple of weeks ago, hasnt it

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