Tag: atheism

Should Atheists Slam Religion or Show Respect?

From: AlterNet

By: Valerie Tarico

“A Midwestern (sic) atheist tells of sitting in her lunchroom at work and listening as conversation opened up around her about religious differences. Her co-workers included several kinds of Protestants, a Catholic, even a Jew. Sensing they were in risky territory, they worked to find common ground. “At least there aren’t any atheists around here,” one woman said in a warm inclusive tone.

What’s a girl to do in a situation like that? Should she out herself or just keep quiet? In his seminal book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, sociologist Erving Goffman posed the perennial quandary of stigmatized persons: “To display or not display; to tell or not to tell; to let on or not to let on; to lie or not to lie; and in each case, to whom, how, when, and where.” (p. 42)

Disclosure feels risky because it is. In 2008, Atheist Nexus gathered “coming out” stories from over 8000 visitors who described themselves as atheist, humanist, freethinker, agnostic, skeptic, and so forth.  Some of the tales are painful to read. One woman said, “I’ve had people literally, physically BACK away from me upon hearing I am atheist. My children were told to run away from our evil home.” A man’s confession of lost faith almost cost his marriage: “My wife told me that I’m caught in Satan’s grip, and confessed that after I deconverted she considered leaving me. I believe the only reason she didn’t is because she’s financially dependent on me.” Elsewhere a young woman tells of losing thirty-four Facebook friends when she announced her lack of belief.

The consequences of anti-atheist stigma are public as well as private. Most self-described atheists are acutely aware of survey results showing that U.S. atheists are less electable than reviled minorities including Muslims and gays. Seven states still have laws on the books that ban nonbelievers from holding public office.  A Florida minister whose deconversion recently made national news said that job interviews were cancelled when prospective employers found out.

In the minds of many believers atheism is linked with immorality, and despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, religious leaders reinforce this stereotype. I once attended a Palm Sunday service at a popular Calvinist megachurch in Seattle. The minister was determined that his congregation should believe the resurrection of Christ to be a physical, historical event. He said, “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there is no reason for us to be here. If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are parties to be had. There are women to be had. There are guns to shoot. There are people to shoot.” I found myself thinking, if the only thing that stands between you and debauchery, lechery and violence is a belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus, I’m really glad you believe that. But what are you saying about the rest of us?!

Anti-atheist stereotypes work to bond believers together in part because many Americans think that they have never met an atheist. A stigmatized minority can be the nameless faceless “other” that people love to hate as long as members remain nameless and faceless. But as the gay rights movement has shown, things get more complicated—and attitudes start changing–when we realize we are talking about our friends, beloved family members, and co-workers. Coming out has been such a powerful change agent for gays, that atheists (along with other faceless groups like Mormons and women who have had abortions) are explicitly taking a page from the gay rights movement and launching visibility campaigns.

That is easier than it sounds. Among atheist and humanist leaders, passionate disagreements have erupted about what kind of visibility will actually help advance acceptance and rights for those who eschew supernaturalism.

As a social cause, rather than just a life stance, atheism was catapulted forward by 9-11 and the ascendancy of the Religious Right. Cognitive scientist Sam Harris says that he began writingThe End of Faith the morning after seeing the trade towers bombed with jet fuel and airline passengers. Biologist Richard Dawkins, who had previously hosted a gracious series of televised interviews exploring faith and non-faith, shifted tone and became a patriarch of anti-theistic activism. Journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote his scathing indictment, God is not Great. Doubters started coming out of the closet. I, myself, began publically challengingEvangelical Christian teachings when George Bush pointed to heaven to indicate where he had sought advice before invading Iraq.

It takes energy and guts to buck taboos and norms as strong as those surrounding religion, and so the first out the door were anti-theists who felt so strongly that they were willing to throw themselves into the fray, do or die. The “New Atheists” attracted a preponderance of young males who largely fit godless stereotypes: some defiant, some nerdy, many hyper-intellectual.  All were, for one reason or another, either impervious to rules protecting faith from criticism or willing to pay a price for breaking those rules.

Some of these firebrands can be counted among today’s leaders, and many have kept an edge that is honed by the seemingly relentless assaults on science and civil rights perpetrated by Christian and Muslim fundamentalists. They remain fiercely defiant, unapologetic about their scorn for religion, willing to use shock tactics if that’s what it takes to break what they see as a terminal religious stranglehold on society.  Several years back, a group called the Rational Response Squad promoted a “blasphemy challenge” urging people to videotape themselves denying the Holy Spirit because one Bible writer calls such blasphemy an unforgiveable sin. In 2010, a Seattle cartoonist launched “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” after learning about death threats against Trey Parker and Matt Stone for depicting Mohammed in Southpark . This winter American Atheists provoked quite an outcry with a billboard that quoted a Bible verse: “Slaves Submit to Your Masters – Colossians 3:22.”

The organizers of these irreverent events see them as advancing values that they cherish deeply –perhaps one could say values they hold sacred: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom from cruelty grounded in dogma or superstition.  And yet, criticism of such in-your-face attacks on religion has often come from people who share their goals. As the atheist visibility movement has expanded, quieter, more diplomatic leaders have emerged.  Many of them insist that aggressive confrontation does more harm than good –that atheists need to be changing stereotypes, not reinforcing them, and that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Biologist P. Z. Meyers and Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein have staked out two very different positions in the naughty-or-nice controversy.  Meyers writes a popular blog,Pharyngula, which evolved from a primary focus on biology and politics to include broad-based uncensored anti-religious news and commentary. Meyers doesn’t suffer fools lightly and makes no bones about letting people know that he finds most religion not only destructive but also stupid. Epstein, by contrast, seeks to build ethical and spiritual community that builds bridges between faith and non-faith. His Humanist Community Project encourages humanists to develop the traditional virtues of religion: communities built around shared values and social service. Where Meyers might rail against “faith in faith,” Epstein’s colleagues find common ground with open, inclusive religious groups like the Interfaith Youth Corps.

Blogger Greta Christina has said that atheists should “let firebrands be firebrands and diplomats be diplomats.” She argues that both confrontational and collaborative tactics made the gay rights movement stronger and will do the same for non-theism. But what kind of confrontation? Ugly partisanship can backfire. For example, Fred Phelps and Sean Harris give homophobia such a vile face that they trigger disgust, pushing people in the opposite direction. Some atheist activism may do the same.

Even reasonable confrontation tactics can backfire –especially in the hands of a hostile journalist. Cathy Lynn Grossman of USAToday attended the April Reason Rally in D.C.,  a gathering she described as “hell-bent on damning religion and mocking beliefs.”  There she found plenty which, when taken out of context, could be used to reinforce stereotypes.  Her article headlined with a quote from Richard Dawkins, encouraging nonbelievers to “show contempt” for baseless dogmas. It was accompanied by a picture of Jen McCreight  cheerfully carrying a sign that read: Obama isn’t trying to destroy religion, I am. Other speakers were depicted as ornery, offensive and more than a little scary.

Ad campaigns by nontheist organizations reflects a struggle to find messages that connect with either teetering believers or closeted skeptics while avoiding backlash. In 2009 a London publicity campaign went viral internationally with bus ads proclaiming, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  A variety of billboard campaigns have followed, some more provocative than others:  “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence,”  “You Know It’s a Myth.  Solstice is the Reason for the Season.”  “In the Beginning Man Created God.”  “We are all Atheists about Most Gods; Some of Us Just Go One God Further.” “Don’t Believe in God? Join the Club.”  All have drawn protests or vandalism from indignant theists.

It may be almost impossible to avoiding causing offense while challenging the religious status quo. Nontheist organizations have traditionally ignored communities of color, but African Americans for Humanism recently launched an outreach campaign with the tag line, “Doubts About Religion? You’re one of many.” Billboards and posters show faces of familiar Black leaders – as well as ordinary group members. Coalition of Reason organizer, Alix Jules of Dallas says that even this understated approach is plenty controversial for two reasons:  Almost 90% of African Americans express certainty about the existence of God, and honoring religion is seen as a matter of loyalty.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, Humanists of Canada wanted to run a bus campaign that said, simply,You can be good without God . But the public bus agency refused the ads because they “could be too controversial and upsetting to people.” One reader commented,

I think we should make atheist ads as innocent and non-confrontational as possible. Not because we should avoid controversy, but because it we will get the controversy no matter what we put up, and the kinder and gentler our message the more obvious the hypocrisy of our critics. I’m hard put to think of one more innocent than this one, though.

Humanist blogger and speaker James Croft, a doctoral student in educational philosophy at Harvard, insists that it can be done:

There are ways of conveying our values that are both strong and civil, which avoid insults and (except in certain cases) ridicule without giving one inch of ground on the battlefield of our core values. All the evidence shows that this hybrid approach is more effective than simply seeking to be likable, or relying on confrontation alone.

In their effort to find the balance that Croft calls “strong and civil,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation has moved toward more personal messages, ones that offer a glimpse into a godless individual (or family) rather than some form of universal claim. Since 2007, they have purchased billboard space for messages including “Imagine No Religion,” “Beware of Dogma,” and “Thank Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief.” But their latest campaign, “Out of the Closet,” puts real names and faces together with simple statements of values or disbelief: “Atheists work to make this life heavenly,” says Dr. Stephen Uhl of Tucson on one sign. “Compassion is my religion,” says Olivia Chen, a Columbus student whose appears on another.  A recent campaign in Clarkville, Tennessee, merely shows a young woman identified as Grace beside the words, “This is what an atheist looks like.”

Atheist visibility is more than ad campaigns.  In 2009 psychologist Dale McGowan, author ofParenting Beyond Belief, launched the Foundation Beyond Belief , a tool that lets the non-religious visibly contribute to nonprofits working on education, health, human rights and the environment. Last year, the foundation add a donation category called “Challenge the Gap” that builds bridges by contributing to the work of religious groups with shared values. Hemant Mehta of “The Friendly Atheist” hosts news and commentary of interest to young nonbelievers—absent the edge that characterizes an earlier generation of blogs. He brings more humor than anger when he talks with secular student groups about outreach.  Small local groups are doing their part. Seattle Atheists dress as pirates and carry a Flying Spaghetti Monster in summer parades. But they also participate in food drives and blood drives. They hand out water during an annual marathon. The aim is not only to make themselves more visible but to show that they too are compassionate members of the community of humankind.

As nonbelievers gain recognition as normal and ethical members of society, I think we will find that confrontation diminishes and bridge building grows.  It’s not only that both are necessary but that one paves the way for the other. The Stonewall riots and San Francisco drag scene laid the foundation for Feather Boa Fathers and It Gets Better and  pride parades that include local businesses and church banners. Early feminists who stayed defiant even when beaten and jailed made way for the apple pie tactics of Moms Rising, which has stenciled messages on onesies and delivered cookies to congressmen to get their equal pay message across.  In the words of Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The questions are in each case, to whom, how, when, and where.

Greta Christina has estimated that atheist visibility is about thirty-five years behind the gay rights movement. That sounds close. We’ll have caught up when a majority of Americans know they know a nontheist – and that friends, family members, and fellow citizens really can be good without God.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/155278/should_atheists_slam_religion_or_show_respect?akid=8723.123424.sDTZId&rd=1&t=5

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Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

From: AlterNet

By: Greta Christina

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.

Why?

Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, really, but with one basic idea at the core of them all: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is, entirely or in part, because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It’s an idea about how the world works — every bit as much as the germ theory of disease, or the theory that matter is made up of atoms, or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

And religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It’s not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, “I’m a one-woman man,” or “Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings.” It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.

So if we think it’s a mistaken idea, why shouldn’t we try to convince other people of that?

We do this with every other kind of truth claim. If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society — and we think these people are wrong — we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?

Now, of course, religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.

But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, a Republican or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it’s entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. In the short term anyway. Most atheists say that they’re happy to have let go of their religion… but many do go through a short period of trauma while they’re letting go.

But it can be upsetting, and even traumatic, to let go of all kinds of ideas. It can be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and chocolate and electronics you’re buying are made by slave labor; that the food you’re feeding your children is bad for them; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the possible permanent destruction of the environment.

And yet we still think it’s valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

Yes, there’s a tremendous diversity of religious ideas — a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too… and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the “disease” of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to “persuade” people out of their religious beliefs. Not to mention the little matter of knocking on people’s doors at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. It’s no wonder people are resistant to it.

But if that’s not what atheists are advocating? If we’re not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? If what we’re advocating is writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? If what we’re advocating is getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? If what we’re advocating is essentially standing up and saying, “The emperor has no clothes” — and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the emperor’s nakedness?

What is so terrible about that? We do that with every other kind of idea. Why shouldn’t we do it with religion?

Why should religion be any different?

And it’s certainly true that, throughout history, many attempts to “persuade” people out of their religion have resulted in persecution — or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust… the list goes on. And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism — rendering it even uglier. A lot of people can only see persuading people out of religion in this context of persecution, and are horrified by it. And while I disagree with their ultimate analysis, I can certainly understand their horror.

But religion isn’t the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. People who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren’t actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren’t really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as “dirty Commies,” with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn’t a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?

When we criticize religion — just as when we criticize any other kind of idea — we do need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn’t turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.

But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas — all of them. And we don’t exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution.

Why should religion be any different?

Why should religion be treated any differently from any other kind of idea about the world? Why, alone among all other ideas, should it be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it’s ridiculous, excoriation when it’s appalling? Why, alone among all other ideas, should we not try to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken?

Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember. And I’ve only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook (which was ages ago, so unfortunately I can’t find it and link to it), the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they’ve led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.

You know what? He’s right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he’s totally right.

And that’s an argument for my side — not his.

I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It’s a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don’t have very good evidence supporting them.

Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue… so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don’t feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays — and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things — we don’t have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, “My parents tell me,” My religious leader tells me,” “My holy book tells me,” or “I feel it in my heart.” And if we care about our belief — if it’s not some random trivial opinion, if it’s central to our personal and social identity — we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can’t have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.

But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc.… doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them… doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?

So yeah. This wasn’t such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn’t a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I’ve asked, “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” I’ve been met with what was essentially silence.

I’ve gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I’ve been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I’ve been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has beencompared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I’ve even been called “evil in one of its purest forms” — as have many other atheist writers; I’m hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate — the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated — is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.

And yet when I ask why — why it’s okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should be exempt from the vigorous criticism that every other idea is expected to stand up to, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), why religion should be the sole exception — I’ve only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.

Does anyone have a better answer?

Or any answer at all?

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/155158/why_does_religion_always_get_a_free_ride?akid=8678.123424.Q8uqNp&rd=1&t=8

Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

From: The Atlantic

By:Ross Andersen

It is hard to know how our future descendants will regard the little sliver of history that we live in. It is hard to know what events will seem important to them, what the narrative of now will look like to the twenty-fifth century mind. We tend to think of our time as one uniquely shaped by the advance of technology, but more and more I suspect that this will be remembered as an age of cosmology—as the moment when the human mind first internalized the cosmos that gave rise to it. Over the past century, since the discovery that our universe is expanding, science has quietly begun to sketch the structure of the entire cosmos, extending its explanatory powers across a hundred billion galaxies, to the dawn of space and time itself. It is breathtaking to consider how quickly we have come to understand the basics of everything from star formation to galaxy formation to universe formation. And now, equipped with the predictive power of quantum physics, theoretical physicists are beginning to push even further, into new universes and new physics, into controversies once thought to be squarely within the domain of theology or philosophy.

In January, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that, as its title suggests, purports to explain how something—and not just any something, but the entire universe—could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory. But before attempting to do so, the book first tells the story of modern cosmology, whipping its way through the big bang to microwave background radiation and the discovery of dark energy. It’s a story that Krauss is well positioned to tell; in recent years he has emerged as an unusually gifted explainer of astrophysics. One of his lectures has been viewed over a million times on YouTube and his cultural reach extends to some unlikely places—last year Miley Cyrus came under fire when she tweeted a quote from Krauss that some Christians found offensive. Krauss’ book quickly became a bestseller, drawing raves from popular atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, the latter of which even compared it to The Origin of Species for the way its final chapters were supposed to finally upend “last trump card of the theologian.”
By early spring, media coverage of “A Universe From Nothing” seemed to have run its course, but then on March 23rd the New York Times ran a blistering review of the book, written by David Albert, a philosopher of physics from Columbia University. Albert, who has a PhD in theoretical physics, argued that Krauss’ “nothing” was in fact a something and did so in uncompromising terms:

“The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields… they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.”

Because the story of modern cosmology has such deep implications for the way that we humans see ourselves and the universe, it must be told correctly and without exaggeration-–in the classroom, in the press and in works of popular science. To see two academics, both versed in theoretical physics, disagreeing so intensely on such a fundamental point is troubling. Not because scientists shouldn’t disagree with each other, but because here they’re disagreeing about a claim being disseminated to the public as a legitimate scientific discovery. Readers of popular science often assume that what they’re reading is backed by a strong consensus. Having recently interviewed Krauss for a different project, I reached out to him to see if he was interested in discussing Albert’s criticisms with me. He said that he was, and mentioned that he would be traveling to New York on April 20th to speak at a memorial service for Christopher Hitchens. As it happened, I was also due to be in New York that weekend and so, last Friday, we were able to sit down for the extensive, and at times contentious, conversation that follows.

I know that you’re just coming from Christopher Hitchens’ memorial service. How did that go?
Krauss: It was a remarkable event for a remarkable man, and I felt very fortunate to be there. I was invited to give the opening presentation in front of all of these literary figures and dignitaries of various sorts, and so I began the only way I think you can begin, and that’s with music from Monty Python. That got me over my initial stage fright and my concern about what to say about someone as extraordinary as Christopher. I was able to talk about a lot of the aspects of Christopher that people may not know about, including the fact that he was fascinated by science. And I also got to talk about what it felt like to be his friend.
I closed with an anecdote, a true story about the last time I was with him. I was reading the New York Times at his kitchen table, and there was an article about the ongoing effort to keep Catholic students at elite colleges like Yale from losing their faith. The article said something like “faced with Nietzsche, coed dorms, Hitchens, and beer pong, students are likely to stray.” There are two really amazing aspects of that. For one, to be so culturally ubiquitous that you can be mentioned in a sentence like that without any further explanation is pretty exceptional. But also to be sandwiched between “Nietzsche” and “beer pong” is an honor that very few of us can ever aspire to.
I want to start with a general question about the relationship between philosophy and physics. There has been a fair amount of sniping between these two disciplines over the past few years. Why the sudden, public antagonism between philosophy and physics? 
Krauss: That’s a good question. I expect it’s because physics has encroached on philosophy. Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then “natural philosophy” became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there’s a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers. This sense that somehow physicists, because they can’t spell the word “philosophy,” aren’t justified in talking about these things, or haven’t thought deeply about them—
Is that really a claim that you see often?
Krauss: It is. Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, “those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym.” And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it’s fairly technical. And so it’s really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I’d say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn’t.
KraussLawrence_4177.JPGLawrence Krauss, author of “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing”
On that note, you were recently quoted as saying that philosophy “hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.” But computer science, particularly research into artificial intelligence was to a large degree built on foundational work done by philosophers in logic and other formal languages. And certainly philosophers like John Rawls have been immensely influential in fields like political science and public policy. Do you view those as legitimate achievements?
Krauss: Well, yeah, I mean, look I was being provocative, as I tend to do every now and then in order to get people’s attention. There are areas of philosophy that are important, but I think of them as being subsumed by other fields. In the case of descriptive philosophy you have literature or logic, which in my view is really mathematics. Formal logic is mathematics, and there are philosophers like Wittgenstein that are very mathematical, but what they’re really doing is mathematics—it’s not talking about things that have affected computer science, it’s mathematical logic. And again, I think of the interesting work in philosophy as being subsumed by other disciplines like history, literature, and to some extent political science insofar as ethics can be said to fall under that heading. To me what philosophy does best is reflect on knowledge that’s generated in other areas.
I’m not sure that’s right. I think that in some cases philosophy actually generates new fields. Computer science is a perfect example. Certainly philosophical work in logic can be said to have been subsumed by computer science, but subsumed might be the wrong word—
Krauss: Well, you name me the philosophers that did key work for computer science; I think of John Von Neumann and other mathematicians, and—
But Bertrand Russell paved the way for Von Neumann.
Krauss: But Bertrand Russell was a mathematician. I mean, he was a philosopher too and he was interested in the philosophical foundations of mathematics, but by the way, when he wrote about the philosophical foundations of mathematics, what did he do? He got it wrong.
But Einstein got it wrong, too—
Krauss: Sure, but the difference is that scientists are really happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there’s more to learn. And look, one can play semantic games, but I think that if you look at the people whose work really pushed the computer revolution from Turing to Von Neumann and, you’re right, Bertrand Russell in some general way, I think you’ll find it’s the mathematicians who had the big impact. And logic can certainly be claimed to be a part of philosophy, but to me the content of logic is mathematical.
Do you find this same tension between theoretical and empirical physics?
Krauss: Sometimes, but it shouldn’t be there. Physics is an empirical science. As a theoretical physicist I can tell you that I recognize that it’s the experiment that drives the field, and it’s very rare to have it go the other way; Einstein is of course the obvious exception, but even he was guided by observation. It’s usually the universe that’s surprising us, not the other way around.

“It’s usually the universe that’s surpising us, not the other way around.”

Moving on to your book “A Universe From Nothing,” what did you hope to accomplish when you set out to write it?
Krauss: Every time I write a book, I try and think of a hook. People are interested in science, but they don’t always know they’re interested in science, and so I try to find a way to get them interested. Teaching and writing, to me, is really just seduction; you go to where people are and you find something that they’re interested in and you try and use that to convince them that they should be interested in what you have to say.
The religious question “why is there something rather than nothing,” has been around since people have been around, and now we’re actually reaching a point where science is beginning to address that question. And so I figured I could use that question as a way to celebrate the revolutionary changes that we’ve achieved in refining our picture of the universe. I didn’t write the book to attack religion, per se. The purpose of the book is to point out all of these amazing things that we now know about the universe. Reading some of the reactions to the book, it seems like you automatically become strident the minute you try to explain something naturally.
Richard Dawkins wrote the afterword for the book—and I thought it was pretentious at the time, but I just decided to go with it—where he compares the book to The Origin of Species. And of course as a scientific work it doesn’t some close to The Origin of Species, which is one of the greatest scientific works ever produced. And I say that as a physicist; I’ve often argued that Darwin was a greater scientist than Einstein. But there is one similarity between my book and Darwin’s—before Darwin life was a miracle; every aspect of life was a miracle, every species was designed, etc. And then what Darwin showed was that simple laws could, in principle, plausibly explain the incredible diversity of life. And while we don’t yet know the ultimate origin of life, for most people it’s plausible that at some point chemistry became biology. What’s amazing to me is that we’re now at a point where we can plausibly argue that a universe full of stuff came from a very simple beginning, the simplest of all beginnings: nothing. That’s been driven by profound revolutions in our understanding of the universe, and that seemed to me to be something worth celebrating, and so what I wanted to do was use this question to get people to face this remarkable universe that we live in.
school_of_athens2.jpg“Philosophy hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.”
Your book argues that physics has definitively demonstrated how something can come from nothing. Do you mean that physics has explained how particles can emerge from so-called empty space, or are you making a deeper claim? 
Krauss: I’m making a deeper claim, but at the same time I think you’re overstating what I argued. I don’t think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen. I try to be intellectually honest in everything that I write, especially about what we know and what we don’t know. If you’re writing for the public, the one thing you can’t do is overstate your claim, because people are going to believe you. They see I’m a physicist and so if I say that protons are little pink elephants, people might believe me. And so I try to be very careful and responsible. We don’t know how something can come from nothing, but we do know some plausible ways that it might.
But I am certainly claiming a lot more than just that. That it’s possible to create particles from no particles is remarkable—that you can do that with impunity, without violating the conservation of energy and all that, is a remarkable thing. The fact that “nothing,” namely empty space, is unstable is amazing. But I’ll be the first to say that empty space as I’m describing it isn’t necessarily nothing, although I will add that it was plenty good enough for Augustine and the people who wrote the Bible. For them an eternal empty void was the definition of nothing, and certainly I show that that kind of nothing ain’t nothing anymore.
But debating physics with Augustine might not be an interesting thing to do in 2012.
Krauss: It might be more interesting than debating some of the moronic philosophers that have written about my book. Given what we know about quantum gravity, or what we presume about quantum gravity, we know you can create space from where there was no space. And so you’ve got a situation where there were no particles in space, but also there was no space. That’s a lot closer to “nothing.”
But of course then people say that’s not “nothing,” because you can create something from it. They ask, justifiably, where the laws come from. And the last part of the book argues that we’ve been driven to this notion—a notion that I don’t like—that the laws of physics themselves could be an environmental accident. On that theory, physics itself becomes an environmental science, and the laws of physics come into being when the universe comes into being. And to me that’s the last nail in the coffin for “nothingness.”
It sounds like you’re arguing that ‘nothing’ is really a quantum vacuum, and that a quantum vacuum is unstable in such a way as to make the production of matter and space inevitable. But a quantum vacuum has properties. For one, it is subject to the equations of quantum field theory. Why should we think of it as nothing?
Krauss: That would be a legitimate argument if that were all I was arguing. By the way it’s a nebulous term to say that something is a quantum vacuum in this way. That’s another term that these theologians and philosophers have started using because they don’t know what the hell it is, but it makes them sound like they know what they’re talking about. When I talk about empty space, I am talking about a quantum vacuum, but when I’m talking about no space whatsoever, I don’t see how you can call it a quantum vacuum. It’s true that I’m applying the laws of quantum mechanics to it, but I’m applying it to nothing, to literally nothing. No space, no time, nothing. There may have been meta-laws that created it, but how you can call that universe that didn’t exist “something” is beyond me. When you go to the level of creating space, you have to argue that if there was no space and no time, there wasn’t any pre-existing quantum vacuum. That’s a later stage.
Even if you accept this argument that nothing is not nothing, you have to acknowledge that nothing is being used in a philosophical sense. But I don’t really give a damn about what “nothing” means to philosophers; I care about the “nothing” of reality. And if the “nothing” of reality is full of stuff, then I’ll go with that.

“But I don’t really give a damn what “nothing” means to philosophers; I care about the “nothing” of reality.”

But I don’t have to accept that argument, because space didn’t exist in the state I’m talking about, and of course then you’ll say that the laws of quantum mechanics existed, and that those are something. But I don’t know what laws existed then. In fact, most of the laws of nature didn’t exist before the universe was created; they were created along with the universe, at least in the multiverse picture. The forces of nature, the definition of particles—all these things come into existence with the universe, and in a different universe, different forces and different particles might exist. We don’t yet have the mathematics to describe a multiverse, and so I don’t know what laws are fixed. I also don’t have a quantum theory of gravity, so I can’t tell you for certain how space comes into existence, but to make the argument that a quantum vacuum that has particles is the same as one that doesn’t have particles is to not understand field theory.
I’m not sure that anyone is arguing that they’re the same thing–
Krauss: Well, I read a moronic philosopher who did a review of my book in the New York Times who somehow said that having particles and no particles is the same thing, and it’s not. The quantum state of the universe can change and it’s dynamical. He didn’t understand that when you apply quantum field theory to a dynamic universe, things change and you can go from one kind of vacuum to another. When you go from no particles to particles, it means something.
I think the problem for me, coming at this as a layperson, is that when you’re talking about the explanatory power of science, for every stage where you have a “something,”—even if it’s just a wisp of something, or even just a set of laws—there has to be a further question about the origins of that “something.” And so when I read the title of your book, I read it as “questions about origins are over.”
Krauss: Well, if that hook gets you into the book that’s great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. In fact, in the preface I tried to be really clear that you can keep asking “Why?” forever. At some level there might be ultimate questions that we can’t answer, but if we can answer the “How?” questions, we should, because those are the questions that matter. And it may just be an infinite set of questions, but what I point out at the end of the book is that the multiverse may resolve all of those questions. From Aristotle’s prime mover to the Catholic Church’s first cause, we’re always driven to the idea of something eternal. If the multiverse really exists, then you could have an infinite object—infinite in time and space as opposed to our universe, which is finite. That may beg the question as to where the multiverse came from, but if it’s infinite, it’s infinite. You might not be able to answer that final question, and I try to be honest about that in the book. But if you can show how a set of physical mechanisms can bring about our universe, that itself is an amazing thing and it’s worth celebrating. I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down. The multiverse could explain it by being eternal, in the same way that God explains it by being eternal, but there’s a huge difference: the multiverse is well motivated and God is just an invention of lazy minds.
In the past you’ve spoken quite eloquently about the Multiverse, this idea that our universe might be one of many universes, perhaps an infinite number. In your view does theoretical physics give a convincing account of how such a structure could come to exist?
Krauss: In certain ways, yes—in other ways, no. There are a variety of multiverses that people in physics talk about. The most convincing one derives from something called inflation, which we’re pretty certain happened because it produces effects that agree with almost everything we can observe. From what we know about particle physics, it seems quite likely that the universe underwent a period of exponential expansion early on. But inflation, insofar as we understand it, never ends—it only ends in certain regions and then those regions become a universe like ours. You can show that in an inflationary universe, you produce a multiverse, you produce an infinite number of causally separated universes over time, and the laws of physics are different in each one. There’s a real mechanism where you can calculate it.
And all of that comes, theoretically, from a very small region of space that becomes infinitely large over time. There’s a calculable multiverse; it’s almost required for inflation-–it’s very hard to get around it. All the evidence suggests that our universe resulted from a period of inflation, and it’s strongly suggestive that well beyond our horizon there are other universes that are being created out of inflation, and that most of the multiverse is still expanding exponentially.
multiverse.pngAn artist’s rendering of the multiverse.
Is there an empirical frontier for this? How do we observe a multiverse?
Krauss: Right. How do you tell that there’s a multiverse if the rest of the universes are outside your causal horizon? It sounds like philosophy. At best. But imagine that we had a fundamental particle theory that explained why there are three generations of fundamental particles, and why the proton is two thousand times heavier than the electron, and why there are four forces of nature, etc. And it also predicted a period of inflation in the early universe, and it predicts everything that we see and you can follow it through the entire evolution of the early universe to see how we got here. Such a theory might, in addition to predicting everything we see, also predict a host of universes that we don’t see. If we had such a theory, the accurate predictions it makes about what we can see would also make its predictions about what we can’t see extremely likely. And so I could see empirical evidence internal to this universe validating the existence of a multiverse, even if we could never see it directly.
You have said that your book is meant to describe “the remarkable revolutions that have taken place in our understanding of the universe over the past 50 years–revolutions that should be celebrated as the pinnacle of our intellectual experience.” I think that’s a worthy project and, like you, I find it lamentable that some of physics’ most extraordinary discoveries have yet to fully penetrate our culture. But might it be possible to communicate the beauty of those discoveries without tacking on an assault on previous belief systems, especially when those belief systems aren’t necessarily scientific? 
Krauss: Well, yes. I’m sympathetic to your point in one sense, and I’ve had this debate with Richard Dawkins; I’ve often said to him that if you want people to listen to you, the best way is not to go up to them and say, “You’re stupid.” Somehow it doesn’t get through.
It’s a fine line and it’s hard to tell where to fall on this one. What drove me to write this book was this discovery that the nature of “nothing” had changed, that we’ve discovered that “nothing” is almost everything and that it has properties. That to me is an amazing discovery. So how do I frame that? I frame it in terms of this question about something coming from nothing. And part of that is a reaction to these really pompous theologians who say, “out of nothing, nothing comes,” because those are just empty words. I think at some point you need to provoke people. Science is meant to make people uncomfortable. And whether I went too far on one side or another of that line is an interesting question, but I suspect that if I can get people to be upset about that issue, then on some level I’ve raised awareness of it.
The unfortunate aspect of it is, and I’ve come to realize this recently, is that some people feel they don’t even need to read the book, because they think I’ve missed the point of the fundamental theological question. But I suspect that those people weren’t open to it anyway. I think Steven Weinberg said it best when he said that science doesn’t make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible to not believe in God. That’s a profoundly important point, and to the extent that cosmology is bringing us to a place where we can address those very questions, it’s undoubtedly going to make people uncomfortable. It was a judgment call on my part and I can’t go back on it, so it’s hard to know.
You’ve developed this wonderful ability to translate difficult scientific concepts into language that can enlighten, and even inspire a layperson. There are people in faith communities who are genuinely curious about physics and cosmology, and your book might be just the thing to quench and multiply that curiosity. But I worry that by framing these discoveries in language that is in some sense borrowed from the culture war, that you run the risk of shrinking the potential audience for them—and that could ultimately be a disservice to the ideas. 
Krauss: Ultimately, it might be. I’ve gone to these fundamentalist colleges and I’ve gone to Fox News and it’s interesting, the biggest impact I’ve ever had is when I said, “you don’t have to be an atheist to believe in evolution.” I’ve had young kids come up to me and say that affected them deeply. So yes it’s nice to point that out, but I actually think that if you read my book I never say that we know all the answers, I say that it’s pompous to say that we can’t know the answers. And so yeah I think that maybe there will be some people who are craving this stuff and who won’t pick up my book because of the way I’ve framed it, but at the same time I do think that people need to be aware that they can be brave enough to ask the question “Is it possible to understand the universe without God?” And so you’re right that I’m going to lose some people, but I’m hoping that at the same time I’ll gain some people who are going to be brave enough to come out of the closet and ask that question. And that’s what amazes me, that nowadays when you simply ask the question you’re told that you’re offending people.
But let me bring that back full circle. You opened this conversation talking about seduction. You’re not giving an account of seduction right now. 
Krauss: That’s true, but let me take it back full circle to Hitchens. What Christopher had was charm, humor, wit and culture as weapons against nonsense, and in my own small way what I try and do in my books is exactly that. I try and infuse them with humor and culture and that’s the seduction part. And in this case the seduction might be causing people to ask, “How can he say that? How can he have the temerity to suggest that it’s possible to get something from nothing? Let me see what’s wrong with these arguments.” If I’d just titled the book “A Marvelous Universe,” not as many people would have been attracted to it. But it’s hard to know. I’m acutely aware of this seduction problem, and my hope is that what I can do is get people to listen long enough to where I can show some of what’s going on, and at the same time make them laugh.

Emphasis Mine

see:

The Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Believe in God

From: AlterNet

By: Greta Christina

The following is an excerpt from Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina. The book is available electronically on KindleNook, and  soon in print.

“But just because religion has done some harm — that doesn’t mean it’s mistaken! Sure, people have done terrible things in God‘s name. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist!”

Yup. If you’re arguing that — you’re absolutely right. And the question of whether religion is true or not is important. It’s not the main point of this book: if you want more thorough arguments for why God doesn’t exist, by me or other writers, check out the Resource Guide at the end of this book. But “Does God exist?” is a valid and relevant question. Here are my Top Ten reasons why the answer is a resounding, “No.”

1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller. Why the Sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the explanations based on religion were replaced by ones based on physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural one? The number of times humankind has said, “We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it’s caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul”?

Exactly zero.

Sure, people come up with new supernatural “explanations” for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources? Again — exactly zero.

Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don’t have a thorough explanation — human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the Universe — will be best explained by the supernatural?

Given this pattern, it’s clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn’t understand the world as well as we do now… but that, on more careful examination, has never once been shown to be correct.

If I see any solid evidence to support God, or any supernatural explanation of any phenomenon, I’ll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I’ll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.

(Oh — for the sake of brevity, I’m generally going to say “God” in this chapter when I mean “God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance.” I don’t feel like getting into discussions about, “Well, I don’t believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe…” It’s not just the man in the white beard that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn’t the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.

2: The inconsistency of world religions.

If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do these perceptions differ so wildly?

When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we’re looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree — what other plants it’s most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary scheme, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree’s basic existence, and the basic facts about it.

This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement about what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or doesn’t act on the world, whether he’s a he, whether there’s one or more of him, whether he’s a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful people. What’s more, many smart, thoughtful people don’t even think God exists.

And if God existed, he’d be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don’t see God in even remotely the same way?

The explanation, of course, is that God does not exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren’t perceiving anything that’s real. We’re “perceiving” something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brain that’s wired to see pattern and intention, even when none exists, is inclined to see and believe.

3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.

I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following: The argument from authority. (Example: “God exists because the Bible says God exists.”) The argument from personal experience. (Example: “God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.”) The argument that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims. (Example: “God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.”) Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle… so abstract that it can’t be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: “God is love.”)

And all these arguments are ridiculously weak.

Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn’t have any mistakes. (The Bible, to give just one example, is shot full of them.) And the feelings in people’s hearts can definitely be mistaken. They are mistaken, demonstrably so, much of the time. Instinct and intuition play an important part in human understanding and experience… but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject. I mean, if I told you, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves,” and I offered as a defense, “I know this is true because my mother/ preacher/ sacred book tells me so”… or “I know this is true because I feel it in my heart”… would you take me seriously?

Some people do try to prove God’s existence by pointing to evidence in the world. But that evidence is inevitably terrible. Pointing to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document, for instance… when it so blatantly is nothing of the kind. Or pointing to the fine-tuning of the Universe for life… even though this supposedly perfect fine-tuning is actually pretty crappy, and the conditions that allow for life on Earth have only existed for the tiniest fragment of the Universe’s existence and are going to be boiled away by the Sun in about a billion years. Or pointing to the complexity of life and the world and insisting that it must have been designed… when the sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what seems, at first glance, like design.

As to the argument that “We don’t have to show you any reason or evidence, it’s unreasonable and intolerant for you to even expect that”… that’s conceding the game before you’ve even begun. It’s like saying, “I know I can’t make my case — therefore I’m going to concentrate my arguments on why I don’t have to make my case in the first place.” It’s like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, so they try to get the case thrown out on a technicality.

Ditto with the “redefining God out of existence” argument. If what you believe in isn’t a supernatural being or substance that has, or at one time had, some sort of effect on the world… well, your philosophy might be an interesting one, but it is not, by any useful definition of the word, religion.

Again: If I tried to argue, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves — and the height and color of trees is a question that is best answered with personal faith and feeling, not with reason or evidence”… or, “I know this is true because I am defining ‘500 feet tall and hot pink’ as the essential nature of tree-ness, regardless of its outward appearance”… would you take me seriously?

4: The increasing diminishment of God.

This is closely related to #1 (the consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones). But it’s different enough to deserve its own section.

When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God has been diminishing. As our understanding of the physical world has increased — and as our ability to test theories and claims has improved — the domain of God’s miracles and interventions, or other supposed supernatural phenomena, has consistently shrunk.

Examples: We stopped needing God to explain floods… but we still needed him to explain sickness and health. Then we didn’t need him to explain sickness and health… but we still needed him to explain consciousness. Now we’re beginning to get a grip on consciousness, so we’ll soon need God to explain… what?

Or, as writer and blogger Adam Lee so eloquently put it in his Ebon Musings website, “Where the Bible tells us God once shaped worlds out of the void and parted great seas with the power of his word, today his most impressive acts seem to be shaping sticky buns into the likenesses of saints and conferring vaguely-defined warm feelings on his believers’ hearts when they attend church.”

This is what atheists call the “god of the gaps.” Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is supposedly responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that’s what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God.

But the blue crayon is worn down to a nub. And it’s never turned out to be the right color. And over and over again, throughout history, we’ve had to go to great trouble to scrape the blue crayon out of people’s minds and replace it with the right color. Given this pattern, doesn’t it seem that we should stop reaching for the blue crayon every time we see an empty space in the coloring book?

5: The fact that religion runs in families.

The single strongest factor in determining what religion a person is? It’s what religion they were brought up with. By far. Very few people carefully examine all the available religious beliefs — or even some of those beliefs — and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.

Now, we don’t do this with, for instance, science. We don’t hold on to the Steady State theory of the Universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it’s what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, our understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it’s a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong…)

Even political opinions don’t run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each new generation. Political beliefs learned from youth can, and do, break down in the face of the reality that people see every day. And scientific theories do this, all the time, on a regular basis.

This is emphatically not the case with religion.

Which leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn’t just believe whatever religion they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of a real phenomenon. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure — and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.

6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are in their infancy. But they are advancing by astonishing leaps and bounds, even as we speak. And what they are finding — consistently, thoroughly, across the board — is that, whatever consciousness isit is inextricably linked to the brain.

Everything we think of as the soul — consciousness, identity, character, free will — all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Changes in the brain result in changes in consciousness… sometimes so drastically, they make a personality unrecognizable. Changes in consciousness can be seen, with magnetic resonance imagery, as changes in the brain. Illness, injury, drugs and medicines, sleep deprivation, etc…. all of these can make changes to the supposed “soul,” both subtle and dramatic. And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person’s personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.

So the obvious conclusion is that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are products of the brain and the body. They’re biological processes, governed by laws of physical cause and effect. With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the “soul” be any different?

What’s more, the evidence supporting this conclusion comes from rigorously-gathered, carefully-tested, thoroughly cross-checked, double-blinded, placebo- controlled, replicated, peer-reviewed research. The evidence has been gathered, and continues to be gathered, using the gold standard of scientific evidence: methods specifically designed to filter out biases and cognitive errors as much as humanly possible. And it’s not just a little research. It’s an enormous mountain of research… a mountain that’s growing more mountainous every day.

The hypothesis of the soul, on the other hand, has not once in all of human history been supported by good, solid scientific evidence. That’s pretty surprising when you think about it. For decades, and indeed centuries, most scientists had some sort of religious beliefs, and most of them believed in the soul. So a great deal of early science was dedicated to proving the soul’s existence, and discovering and exploring its nature. It wasn’t until after decades upon decades of fruitless research in this area that scientists finally gave it up as a bad job, and concluded, almost unanimously, that the reason they hadn’t found a soul was that there was no such thing.

Are there unanswered questions about consciousness? Absolutely. Tons of them. No reputable neurologist or neuropsychologist would say otherwise. But think again about how the history of human knowledge is the history of supernatural explanations being replaced by natural ones… with relentless consistency, again, and again, and again. There hasn’t been a single exception to this pattern. Why would we assume that the soul is going to be that exception? Why would we assume that this gap in our knowledge, alone among all the others, is eventually going to be filled with a supernatural explanation? The historical pattern doesn’t support it. And the evidence doesn’t support it. The increasingly clear conclusion of the science is that consciousness is a product of the brain. Period.

7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.

Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. But some of them do. And in the face of actual testing, every one of those claims falls apart like Kleenex in a hurricane.

Whether it’s the power of prayer, or faith healing, or astrology, or life after death: the same pattern is seen. Whenever religious and supernatural beliefs have made testable claims, and those claims have been tested — not half-assedly tested, but really tested, using careful, rigorous, double-blind, placebo-controlled, replicated, etc. etc. etc. testing methods — the claims have consistently fallen apart. Occasionally a scientific study has appeared that claimed to support something supernatural… but more thorough studies have always refuted them. Every time.

I’m not going to cite each one of these tests, or even most of them. This chapter is already long as it is. Instead, I’ll encourage you to spend a little time on theCommittee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer websites. You’ll see a pattern so consistent it boggles the mind: Claimants insist that Supernatural Claim X is real. Supernatural Claim X is subjected to careful testing, applying the standard scientific methods used in research to screen out bias and fraud. Supernatural Claim X is found to hold about as much water as a sieve. (And claimants, having agreed beforehand that the testing method is valid, afterwards insist that it wasn’t fair.)

And don’t say, “Oh, the testers were biased.” That’s the great thing about the scientific method. It’s designed to screen out bias, as much as is humanly possible. When done right, it will give you the right answer, regardless of the bias of the people doing the testing.

And I want to repeat an important point about the supposed anti-religion bias in science. In the early days of science and the scientific method, most scientists did believe in God, and the soul, and the metaphysical. In fact, many early science experiments were attempts to prove the existence of these things, and discover their true natures, and resolve the squabbles about them once and for all. It was only after decades of these experiments failing to turn up anything at all that the scientific community began — gradually, and very reluctantly — to give up on the idea.

Supernatural claims only hold up under careless, casual examination. They are supported by wishful thinking, and confirmation bias (i.e., our tendency to overemphasize evidence that supports what we believe and to discard evidence that contradicts it), and our poor understanding and instincts when it comes to probability, and our tendency to see pattern and intention even when none exists, and a dozen other forms of cognitive bias and weird human brain wiring. When studied carefully, under conditions specifically designed to screen these things out, the claims vanish like the insubstantial imaginings they are.

8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.

Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more “saved if we do, saved if we don’t” quality. If things go the believer’s way, it’s a sign of God’s grace and intervention; if they don’t, then God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don’t understand, and it’s not up to us to question his will. No matter what happens, it can be twisted to prove that the belief is right.

That is a sure sign of a bad argument.

Here’s the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is useless. It has no power to explain what’s already happened, or to predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that those things won’t happen; if they do, the theories go poof. But if your theory of God’s existence holds up no matter what happens — whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns — then it’s a useless theory, with no power to predict or explain anything.

What’s more, when atheists challenge theists on their beliefs, the theists’ arguments shift and slip around in an annoying “moving the goalposts” way. Hard-line fundamentalists, for instance, will insist on the unchangeable perfect truth of the Bible; but when challenged on its specific historical or scientific errors, they insist that you’re not interpreting those passages correctly. (If the book needs interpreting, then how perfect can it be?)

And progressive ecumenical believers can be unbelievably slippery about what they do and don’t believe. Is God real, or a metaphor? Does God intervene in the world, or doesn’t he? Do they even believe in God, or do they just choose to act as if they believe because they find it useful? Debating with a progressive believer is like wrestling with a fish: the arguments aren’t very powerful, but they’re slippery, and they don’t give you anything firm to grab onto.

Once again, that’s a sure sign of a bad argument. If you can’t make your case and then stick by it, or modify it, or let it go… then you don’t have a good case. (And if you’re making any version of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument — arguing that it’s intolerant to question religious beliefs, or that letting go of doubts about faith makes you a better person, or that doubting faith will get you tortured in Hell, or any of the other classic arguments intended to quash debate rather than address it — that’s a sure sign that your argument is in the toilet.)

9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.

Over the years and decades and centuries, our understanding of the physical world has grown and clarified by a ridiculous amount. We understand things about the Universe that we couldn’t have imagined a thousand years ago, or a hundred, or even ten. Things that make your mouth gape with astonishment just to think about.

And the reason for this is that we came up with an incredibly good method for sorting out good ideas from bad ones. We came up with the scientific method, a self-correcting method for understanding the physical world: a method which — over time, and with the many fits and starts that accompany any human endeavor — has done an astonishingly good job of helping us perceive and understand the world, predict it and shape it, in ways we couldn’t have imagined in decades and centuries past. And the scientific method itself is self-correcting. Not only has our understanding of the natural world improved dramatically: our method for understanding it is improving as well.

Our understanding of the supernatural world? Not so much.

Our understanding of the supernatural world is in the same place it’s always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred texts and spiritual intuitions are the right ones. We haven’t come to any consensus about which religion best understands the supernatural world. We haven’t even come up with a method for making that decision. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.

All of which points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We’d have better prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to back up their belief.

10: The complete lack of solid evidence for God’s existence.

This is probably the best argument I have against God’s existence: There’s no evidence for it. No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn’t just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I’ve been talking about. No evidence that doesn’t fall apart upon close examination.

And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn’t have had to spend a month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don’t believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.

In a comment on my blog, arensb made a point on this topic that was so insightful, I’m still smacking myself on the head for not having thought of it myself. I was writing about how believers get upset at atheists when we reject religion after hearing 876,363 bad arguments for it, and how believers react to this by saying, “But you haven’t considered Argument #876,364! How can you be so close-minded?” And arensb said:

“If, in fact, it turns out that argument #876,364 is the one that will convince you, WTF didn’t the apologists put it in the top 10?”

Why, indeed?

If there’s an argument for religion that’s convincing — actually convincing, convincing by means of something other than authority, tradition, personal intuition, confirmation bias, fear and intimidation, wishful thinking, or some combination of the above — wouldn’t we all know about it?

Wouldn’t it have spread like wildfire? Wouldn’t it be the Meme of All Memes? I mean, we all saw that Simon’s Cat video within about two weeks of it hitting the Internet. Don’t you think that the Truly Excellent Argument for God’s Existence would have spread even faster, and wider, than some silly cartoon cat video?

If the arguments for religion are so wonderful, why are they so unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe?

And why does God need arguments, anyway? Why does God need people to make his arguments for him? Why can’t he just reveal his true self, clearly and unequivocally, and settle the question once and for all? If God existed, why wouldn’t it just be obvious?

It is not up to atheists to prove that God does not exist. It is up to believers to prove that he does. And in the absence of any good, solid evidence or arguments in favor of God’s existence — and in the presence of a whole lot of solid arguments against it — I will continue to be an atheist. God almost certainly does not exist, and it’s completely reasonable to act as if he doesn’t.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

Emphasis mine.

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/154774/the_top_10_reasons_i_don%27t_believe_in_god?page=entire

How We All Pay For the Huge Tax Privileges Granted to Religion — It’s Time to Tax the Church

From:Alternet

By: Adam Lee

Would the world be better off without religion? That was thetopic of a recent debate in the NYU Intelligence Squared series. One of the audience questions concerned the enormous wealth hoarded by churches, which Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza defended as follows:

I think in the case of the Vatican, the wealth of the Vatican is in priceless treasures, tapestries, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, art. Now, let’s remember… it was popes, the Medici popes and so on, who commissioned those paintings. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel.

This was the only line of the night that got boos from the audience. It’s easy to see why, since D’Souza was clearly trying hard to overlook the obvious reply: The reason it was the church that commissioned those artworks, and not some other buyer, is because the church had all the money! The great composers, painters and sculptors of the Renaissance worked for whomever could afford to pay them, which is why they often ended up working for the church even when they were notorious freethinkers, as in the case of Giuseppe Verdi. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we might not have the Sistine Chapel, but it’s a near-certainty that we’d have different artworks, equally majestic and famous, by the same artists. As Richard Dawkins has suggested, wouldn’t you love to hear Beethoven’s “Evolution Symphony”?

I bring this up because, thanks to the Occupy protests, inequality has come to dominate the American political conversation. Poverty and inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression, and there’s a growing clamor to raise taxes on the wealthy to provide more opportunity for the rest of us. I think this is an excellent idea, and I’d like to suggest that beside Wall Street bankers and stock traders, there’s another group of the mega-wealthy that’s often overlooked.

Why don’t we consider taxing the churches?

Not all churches or all ministers are rich, but some of them are very rich indeed. And that’s no surprise, because society subsidizes them through a constellation of generous tax breaks that aren’t available to any other institution, even non-profits. For example, religious organizations can opt out of Social Security and Medicare withholding. Religious employers are exempt from unemployment taxes, and in some states, from sales tax. Religious ministers — and no other profession; the law specifies that only “ministers of the gospel” are eligible for this benefit — can receive part of their salary as a “housing allowance” on which they pay no taxes. (Compounding the absurdity, they can then turn around and double-dip, deducting their mortgage interest from their taxes, even when their mortgage is being paid with tax-free money in the first place.) And, of course, churches are exempt from property tax and from federal income tax.

We’re all paying for the special privileges afforded to religion. Your taxes and mine have to be higher to make up the revenue shortfall that the government isn’t taking in because these huge, wealthy churches don’t pay their own way. By some estimates, the property tax exemption alone removes $100 billion in property from U.S. tax rolls. (And it’s not just the big churches where that exemption bites: According to authors like Sikivu Hutchinson, the proliferation of small storefront churches is a major contributor to poverty and societal dysfunction in poor communities, since these churches remove valuable commercial property from the tax base and ensure that local governments remain cash-strapped and unable to provide basic services.) Just about the only restriction that churches have to abide by in return is that they can’t endorse political candidates — and even this trivial, easily evaded prohibition is routinely and flagrantly violated by the religious right.

Combined with a near-total lack of government scrutiny, the privileges granted to religion have enabled megachurch ministers to live fantastically luxurious lifestyles. An investigation by Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2009 gave a rare public glimpse of how powerful preachers spend the cash they rake in from their flocks: jewelry, luxury clothing, cosmetic surgery, offshore bank accounts, multimillion-dollar lakefront mansions, a fleet of private jets, flights to Hawaii and Fiji, and most famously in the case of Joyce Meyer, a $23,000 marble-topped commode. Meyer’s ministry alone is estimated to have an annual take of around $124 million.

Most of these Elmer Gantry-types preach a theology called the “prosperity gospel.” The basic idea of this is that God wants to shower you with riches, but only if you first “plant a seed of faith” by giving your church as much money as you possibly can, trusting that God will repay you tenfold. (The typical ask is for 10 percent of your annual income — gross, not net; people who tithe based on their net income hate the baby Jesus.) Naturally, this idea has made some churches very, very rich, while making a large number of poor, desperate people even poorer.

One might think this scam would only work for so long before people start to realize that giving all their money away isn’t making them rich. But the pastors who preach it have a very convenient and clever rationalization: when supernatural wealth fails to materialize, they tell their followers that it must be their own fault, that they’re harboring some secret sin that’s preventing God from fulfilling his promises.

But beyond the prosperity gospel, we’re now witnessing a new and even more brazen idea spreading among the American religious right: that the poor should accept their lot without complaint, and that calling for a stronger social safety net or advocating higher taxes on the rich is committing the sin of envy. For example, here’s Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who’s found a profitable after-prison career as a born-again right-wing pundit, denouncing the poor for wanting a better life for themselves:

Despite this, many people insist on soaking the well-off because… what they want is to see their better-off neighbors knocked down a peg. That’s how envy works.Thomas Aquinas defined envy as “sorrow for another’s good.” It is the opposite of pity. And it is one of the defining sins of our times.

(I would guess that by Colson’s standard, some of the authors of the Bible would also be committing the sin of envy with their denunciations of the rich.)

The right-wing Family Research Council has also joined in, calling for its followers to pray that God stifles the Occupy Wall Street protests; its president, Tony Perkins, has said that Jesus “endorses the principles of business and the free market”. And then there’s this billboard, which asserts that protesters’ demands for health insurance and higher corporate tax rates violate the biblical commandment against coveting. I would’ve thought this was a bizarre joke if not for the fact that so many powerful right-wing Christians are openly saying the same thing.

On its surface, Christianity seems like the least likely religion for this theology of the rich and powerful to take root. The Bible, after all, denounces wealth and praises poverty in no uncertain terms. In fact, Jesus unequivocally commands that Christians should sell all their possessions, give the money to the poor, and live as wandering mendicant evangelists. The famous analogy about a camel going through the eye of a needle was a parable intended to forcefully make the point that it’s almost impossible for a rich person to get into Heaven — and by the Bible’s standard, millions of modern Christians are very rich indeed:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”…Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

–Matthew 19:16-24

In another verse, Jesus tells his followers not to save money or store up possessions, but to travel constantly with no thought for the future, having faith that God will somehow feed and clothe them each day:

“And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind… But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

–Luke 12:22-31

The Bible goes so far as to say that the first community of Christians weren’t just socialists, but communists:

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”–Acts 2:44-45

By some accounts, this verse is what inspired Karl Marx’s dictum, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Irony of ironies: Communism was espoused in the pages of the Bible!

Of course, these commands are nearly impossible to follow, and that’s precisely the point. In the beginning, Christianity was a small, radical sect whose followerexpected the world to end within their own lifetimes. It’s no wonder that they saw no use for earthly possessions. But when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire and began to convert the powerful and the comfortable, this would no longer do. No large, organized religion could possibly thrive on precepts like this, and so they were left by the wayside in the pursuit of worldly riches and imperial grandeur.

This pattern happens over and over: Even when it begins among the poor and disenfranchised, religion almost always ends up being co-opted by the wealthy and powerful and used as a convenient excuse to justify inequality. Nothing is more effective at persuading the poor not to rebel or protest than the belief that, if they stay quiet and compliant, they’ll be rewarded after death. As the columnistEd Weathers wrote, “If you would have your slaves remain docile, teach them hymns.” And this idea isn’t just prominent in Christianity — we also see it in other religions, like Hinduism, which teaches that people’s social caste is the deserved result of the karma they accumulated in past lives. Obey the rich people in this life, and maybe you’ll be reborn as one of them next time!

The repeated exploitation of religion throughout history to further beat down the downtrodden isn’t just a coincidence. Any belief system which teaches people to fix their gazes on another life can by its nature be leveraged to excuse poverty, oppression, and injustice in this one. When we see wealthy preachers joining hands with wealthy bankers to urge the masses to stop protesting and quietly accept their lot, it shouldn’t be surprising — it’s a reminder of the natural order of things. Both groups are privileged elites whose highest concern, with a few rare and honorable exceptions, is hanging on to that privilege.

There’s a lesson here for the 99 percent of us: If we seek social justice, the only way we’ll ever truly attain it is to overthrow every ideology that promises pie in the sky by and by. As long as our effort is focused, even partially, on another world, it will always be divided and therefore less effective than it could be. (It’s not for nothing that John Lennon put “Imagine no religion” together with “No need for greed or hunger.”) We’ll have real equality and real opportunity when we learn to set aside fantasies of another existence and turn our attention fully to this life and the things of this world, which are the only real or important things.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/153448/how_we_all_pay_for_the_huge_tax_privileges_granted_to_religion_–_it%27s_time_to_tax_the_church?akid=8002.123424.QwAfd3&rd=1&t=12

10 Myths Many Religious People Hold About Atheists, Debunked

From Alternet, by Amanda Marcotte

“In a regular poll conducted by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell on American political attitudes, atheists recently lost their spot as as the most disliked group in America to the Tea Party. Still, number two is simply way too high in the unpopularity rankings for a group of people who just happen to spend Sunday mornings in bed instead of in church. Polling data shows that nearly half of Americans would disapprove if their child married an atheist and nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t see atheists as sharing their vision of American society, numbers that outstripped similar prejudices toward Muslims and African Americans.

Of course, the real reason atheists are so hated has little to do with jealousy for all their free time, but largely because most Americans are better acquainted with myths than with the realities of atheists’ lives. Unfortunately, atheists often have these myths tossed in their faces, usually by believers who would rather talk about what they heard atheists are like rather than uncomfortable subjects such as the lack of proof for any gods.

These myths do more than hurt atheists. They also harm the basic religious freedoms of all Americans, regardless of their beliefs. Religious freedom and tolerance don’t mean much if they can’t be expanded to include those without religion. With that in mind, here’s 10 of the ugliest myths about atheists, debunked:

1) There are no atheists in foxholes. There are many variations on this myth, but the basic idea behind it is that atheism is a luxury of the problem-free, and as soon as they feel fear or weakness, atheists will run straight into the arms of religion. This myth irritates atheists, because it tries to make a virtue out of preying on people’s weaknesses in order to sell them a lie. If you heard a marketer brag that he targets people who’ve been diagnosed with terminal illnesses because they’re easier targets, or a guy say he likes to cruise funerals because grieving women are easier to pick up, you’d think that person had no morals at all. But targeting people in moments of weakness to sell them religion is regarded as a normal and even virtuous strategy for proselytizing.

Beyond concerns about manipulation are the concerns about accuracy. Believers argue religion offers unique comforts to people in fear or pain, but what many atheists realize is that religion often provokes more anxiety and fear than it soothes. If we accept that God is all-powerful, as many religions claim, then it’s like being in an abusive relationship that can’t be escaped for eternity; a relationship with a God who will throw us into hell for not fearing him and who allows horrors like the Holocaust to happen. Many religious teachings aren’t actually that soothing at allif you take a step back and look at them clearly. For atheists, believing that evil is more an accident of nature than something imposed on us by an inscrutable supernatural being is the far greater comfort than any prayer could be.

2) Atheists are just angry with God. Atheists often point out the logical inconsistencies of many religious beliefs—such as the belief both that God is all-good and all-powerful, but he somehow also allows evil to exist—and believers use that to conclude that atheists are angry with God. We aren’t. You can’t be angry with a being that you don’t believe exists. I’m no angrier with God than I am angry with Zeus or the aliens that keep kidnapping drunks sleeping in their cars. Anger with religions for promoting false beliefs isn’t the same thing as being angry at the being that believers invented.

But I also have to quarrel with the very notion that a person’s arguments can be dismissed because of anger. Smugly accusing someone of anger doesn’t do anything to discount the content of the argument. I’d argue that people who see vile behavior in the name of religion and don’t get angry are the ones who have something wrong with them.

3) Atheists are aggressive and rude. This myth has been around in various forms for a long time, but it really took off after the rise of “New Atheism,” which focuses its energy on disproving religious claims instead of merely pleading for tolerance of atheists. This myth only persists because belief is unconsciously privileged over atheism, causing people to believe it’s somehow ruder for an atheist to say, “I don’t believe in God and here’s why” than for a believer to intrude in your personal space with pamphlets, attack people when they’re feeling low with religious claims, knock on your door to proselytize, or force your children to recite religious language in school. Objectively speaking, believers commit transgressions against good manners far more than atheists. But atheist arguments tend to disturb believers more than arguments for God disturb atheists, so atheists get an unfair reputation for being rude, even when they are merely outspoken or unapologetic.

4) Atheism is a white dude thing. It’s easy if atheism makes you uncomfortable to write off atheism as the hobbyhorse of a tiny minority of men with overly high opinions of their own intelligence. That men such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins get most of the media attention devoted to atheism only reinforces this myth. If you scratch the surface, however, you’ll see that the ranks of outspoken atheists have far more women that the media would let on. Atheist blogger Jen McCreight grew so tired of this myth that she compiled an extensive list of prominent female atheists such as Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Watson and Lori Lipman Brown. Greta Christina followed up with a list of prominent atheists of color, such as Debbie Goddard, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Hemant Mehta. Women are specially targeted for religious oppression around the world, so of course, many of us will be open to arguments against the legitimacy of religion.

5) Atheism is just a faith like any other. You occasionally see agnostics trot this one out, as well. The idea is that arguments for and against the existence of any gods have equal value, but it’s simply not true. The logical position toward an extraordinary, supernatural claim is skepticism until proof is offered, and so far none of the thousands of gods that have been claimed to exist throughout history have lifted a finger to prove themselves. In fact, most believers grasp this for themselves; they automatically disbelieve all religious claims except their own, barring actual proof that never produces itself. Atheists just do religious people one better, and make no exceptions for a religion because it happens to be the one we were raised in or convinced by friends to convert to.

I always flinch in embarrassment for the believer who trots out, “Atheism is just another kind of faith,” because it’s a tacit admission that taking claims on faith is a silly thing to do. When you’ve succumbed to arguing that the opposition is just as misguided as you are, it’s time to take a step back and rethink your attitudes.

6) Atheists don’t have a moral code. Atheist are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority.

If anything, atheism correlates to better behavior on average. Atheists are under-represented in prison, for instance, and more religious nations have higher rates of violent crime, teen pregnancy, early adult mortality and even abortion. But setting the numbers aside, we can see that even religious people generally believe that morality exists outside of religion. After all, most religious people condemn people who commit acts of evil in the name of religion. If religiosity were the measure of morality, terrorists who murder in the name of God would be more moral than atheists who pay their taxes and give to charity. You’ll find few believers agreeing that a murderous terrorist for God is a better person than a nonviolent atheist, showing that believers grasp that morality doesn’t come from religion, but that we can measure religious claims against our pre-existing understanding of morality.

7) Atheist lives are bleak and lack meaning. Those in the atheist activist community find this one particularly insipid, because we so often deal with people who suffered religious abuse and were only able to find peace by abandoning religion. There’s really no reason to believe that happiness and fulfillment come from a supernatural place, or else believers would have no need for fulfilling work, loving families, friends, and hobbies, since their spiritual beliefs would suffice. Most atheists actually find our lack of belief in a supernatural being makes it easier to fill our lives with meaning and joy. Since we don’t believe in an afterlife, many of us find ourselves more motivated to make the most out of the time we do have instead of looking to the next life to make us happy.

8) Atheists are hedonists who don’t understand the true meaning of love. As an open reproductive rights supporter, I’ve certainly faced my share of believers accusing me of being an atheist so I can simply indulge my sexual appetites and avoid some abstract true meaning of love. It is true that one of the benefits of being an atheist is that you’re no longer crippled by religious phobias that assume that sexual fulfillment and real love are mutually exclusive, but that certainly doesn’t mean atheists don’t feel genuine love. I suspect some Christians enjoy making high-minded claims about feeling deeper love because they know there’s no way to measure their claims. But the higher divorce rates in more religious states don’t bode well for claims that sexual purity and Christianity make love deeper and truer.

9) Atheists have no way to cope after losing loved ones without the belief in an afterlife. The belief that religion has sole ownership over death is so ingrained that it often causes believers to behave in inappropriate ways toward grieving atheists, using the occasion of a loved one’s death to try to coax us into taking up religion. Some believers who do this are openly predatory, but some mean well, and simply can’t imagine how atheists cope without telling ourselves pretty stories about an afterlife. Atheists have every right to be skeptical of the argument that belief in the afterlife quiets the pain of grief. After all, many religions teach that the dead person could be burning forever in hell, which can cause far more anxiety than relief.

I imagine the nothingness of death is much like the nothingness that existed before birth. Believing in the afterlife seems to have more to do with the egos of the living than concerns about the dead, and by letting go of the need to make the end of someone else’s life about your own fears of death, many atheists can focus on working through the grief in a healthy way. So please, believers, don’t use the death of loved ones as an opportunity to proselytize.

10) Atheists are out to destroy Christmas. It’s September and so this myth is relatively quiet, but it tends to come out every year after Halloween, to accompany Christmas decorations going up. For Fox News, ratcheting fears about a “war on Christmas” has replaced caroling as the annual holiday ritual. It’s all very silly. Atheists don’t oppose ritual or holidays. Most atheists in America tend to see Christmas as a mostly secular holiday celebrating family that can be turned into a completely secular holiday with a few minor tweaks. Even the few atheists who don’t celebrate Christmas at all certainly have no plan to make war on the holiday, beyond simply requesting that the government obey the First Amendment by not promoting Christianity above other beliefs, no matter what time of year.

In my experience, non-believers have some of the best Christmas celebrations around. You can get a tree and decorate it in punk rock style, or put up a pro-atheist sign in your yard surrounded by festive Christmas decorations. My family tends to prefer all-night poker games for Christmas instead of going to Christmas mass–all the family togetherness, but with less boredom. Or you can choose to have “Christmas” in July and save yourself the expense and headaches of holiday travel.

Debunking these myths about atheists in print can only do so much to quell believer fears about the supposed atheist menace. Even better would be for believers to find themselves an atheist, and instead of simply attacking them with these myths in an effort to frustrate them into submission, instead get to know them better. You might find they’re basically like everyone else, except more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/152395/10_myths_many_religious_people_hold_about_atheists%2C_debunked?page=entire

Dominion Theology, Christian Reconstructionism, and the New Apostolic Reformation

From Religion Dispatches, Post by JULIE INGERSOLL

(N.B.: Separation of Church/State, anyone?  Contact Au NorthEast Ohio Chapter on Facebook or at auneohio@gmail.com)

“In the current discussion about dominionism, and whether it is an invention of paranoid “leftists” or an actual theological system with political implications, worth understanding in its own right, there is a conflation of two groups that (while similar in some respects) are also quitedifferent from each other: Christian Reconstructionism and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). RD readers will be familiar with both groups, because both Sarah and I have written extensively about Reconstructionists and Sarah has written about the New Apostolic Reformation here and here. Moreover Sarah and Anthea Butler have just posted a terrific overview of the NAR, Pentecostalism, and dominionism in which they critique both the denialists who say that dominionism doesn’t exist, and alarmists who fail to properly contextualize dominionists‘ activities.

Christian Reconstructionism is the older of the two movements (though the NAR has its roots in Pentecostalism that pre-dates both). There are two of the core aspects of Christian Reconstructionism that are relevant here. First is the view that the Kingdom of God was established at the resurrection, that its establishment is progressive through history and Jesus will return at its culmination when Christianity has transformed the whole world (a view known as post-millennialism). Second, all knowledge is based in one of two sets of assumptions: the God of the Bible is the sovereign source of all authority or human reason is autonomous from God. Reconstructionists drew this dichotomous view, known as pre-suppositionalism, from reformed theology, and pushed it beyond being a merely philosophical critique to develop a thorough strategy in response. That strategy, broadly speaking, was to cast secular humanism and pluralism as being in conflict with Christianity,conferring a duty on Christians to transform earthly institutions in order to combat non-Christian influence. In other words, establishing the kingdom on earth to prepare for Christ’s return required Christians to transform the world, or take dominion, a view that became an article of faith for the religious right, which popularized versions of post-millennialism as dominion or “kingdom now” theology. The pre-suppositionalist view became the basis for attacks on secular humanism and pluralism, which positioned the “biblical worldview” as being on a collision course with the others. Despite recent comments by journalists, the term “dominionism” has a history within these movements and is indeed, areal thing—not the imaginings of some “leftists.”

The New Apostolic Reformation is one of many strands of neo-Pentecostalism that draws on dominion theology and the critique of humanism/pluralism. There was a good bit of cross-fertilization between representatives of Reconstructionism and Pentecostalism in the 1980s. Though Pat Robertson has said he doesn’t know what “dominionism” is, Rushdoony was, more than once, his guest on The 700 Club. People like Jack Hayford (of the Pentecostal Church on the Way-Foursquare) were reading Reconstructionists (for example, David Chilton’s Postmillennial Paradise Restored). Gary North was in conversation with several charismatic leaders, perhaps thinking that the energy and vitality of those movements made them a more promising vehicle for spreading Christian Reconstrutionism than the “frozen-chosen” Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). North even dedicated his book Unholy Spirits(Dominion Press, 1986) to Bob Mumford of the Shepherding Movementand 75 Bible Questions (Dominion Press, 1984 and 1986) to Bob and Rose Weiner, founders of Maranatha Campus Ministries.

The Pentecostals never really embraced post-millennialism but blended dominion theology with their pre-millennialism. Less explored, though, is the way that the critique of pluralism functions.  As I wrote last week, Reconstructionists “hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldviews are in a conflict for dominion,” a point that engendered some discussion among RD readers. This framing is derived from pre-suppositionalism. In Reconstruction, the original sin in the garden of Eden occurred when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of knowledge, substituting their own reason for obedience to what God had commanded. From then on all systems of thought (philosophies, religions, worldview, ideologies, etc.) not based in God’s word as revealed in the Bible were really just variations on the decision to claim autonomy for human reason
(“humanism” is defined as making “man” the measure of all things). For Reconstructionists, those two worldviews are inherently mutually exclusive, thus real pluralism is impossible (see for example, Gary North’s “Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism“). And in fact, in their view, the two sides are engaged in a battle for dominion. Throw in the militant spiritual warfare, Christians-versus-Satanic-forces rhetoric, and you see how the battle for “dominion” is, for those who believe they are engaged in such a battle, a cosmic showdown between good and evil.

For some in these movements that have cross-pollinated with one another, their opponents (i.e. the rest of us) literarlly are the spawn of Satan.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/julieingersoll/5037/dominion_theology%2C_christian_reconstructionism%2C_and_the_new_apostolic_reformation__/

Political Reporters Start Reading Religious Right Books

N.B.: This is why the First Clause of The First Amendment is more important than ever!

 

From RD, by Sarah Posner

“There’s a somewhat refreshing development taking place in political reporting. Not only reporters are noticing that Republican candidates coalesce with religious right leaders, but they are also discovering a crucial truth about the movement: that its followers aren’t just motivated by opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. They are motivated by something more fundamental, a reimagined “truth” about what America is (and isn’t) and how a “biblical worldview” should guide politics and policymaking.

This is a good thing, of course, because as Joanna argued this morning, candidates should be asked tough questions about how their beliefs would impact their governing. Michele Bachmann thinks that God is trying to send a message through earthquakes and hurricanes, and that message is not (in her mind) that Republicans should stop obsessing about energy efficient lightbulbs being “tyranny,” or talking about closing down the Environmental Protection Agency.

Twitter lit up this morning after Jonathan Martin’s piece in Politico (“Is Rick Perry Dumb?”) noted that he was reading Charles Stanley’s book, Turning the Tide. Stanley is pastor of megachurch First Baptist Church of Atlanta and one-time Southern Baptist Convention president whose broadcasts through his In Touch ministry are seen and heard on radio and television across the country. Stanley, although widely known, is not without controversy: after years of marital trouble, his wife divorced him in 2000. Despite longstanding SBC denunciation of divorce, Stanley remained as pastor of his church despite an unwritten SBC prohibition on divorced men serving as pastors (the SBC prohibits ordination of women, but this resolution is not binding on local churches, who can decide otherwise). At the time, a church spokesperson said, “God has positioned Dr. Stanley in a place where his personal pain has validated his ability to minister to all of us.”

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, whose piece on Michele Bachmann brought dominionism to the forefront of the political conversation (even though reporters who cover the religious right have reported on it for years), started tweeting quotes from Stanley’s book, such as “Pray to help leaders ‘reaffirm our Christian heritage and reestablish Your biblical precepts as the basis of American society and law.'” He also observed, “Can’t remember another campaign bragging that candidate was reading a book that asked people to pray for conversion of all Jews and Muslims.”Perhaps Lizza can’t remember, and perhaps a campaign didn’t explicitly brag about reading a particular book, but considering that conversion of non-believers is a standard evangelical imperative, it shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that an evangelical candidate would brag about reading a book that contained such an exhortation. And as I’ve argued before, creating candidates like Perry (or Bachmann) has been years in the making. Doug Wead, in his 1985 memo to George H.W. Bush, named Stanley as one of the leading religious leaders in America whose support the candidate should cultivate. Stanley, then the president of the SBC, “is said to be ‘intrigued’ by the [Pat] Robertson candidacy but ‘leaning to George Bush.'” Oh, yeah, that guy, Pat Robertson! Remember when he ran for president?Wead continued: Dr. Stanley is the key to building relationships with the seven or eight pastors of the largest SBC churches. Like Stanley, these pastors will probably endorse someone for president. They will influence others through the use of their mailing lists, radio and television programs, and printed materials which get across their message without violating their government awarded 501 c3 status. They will even have voter registration booths in their church lobbies which will be open after a rather pointed sermon, “I don’t want to influence how you vote but . . . .” Let’s not forget how a mere four years ago Mike Huckabee (himself an SBC pastor considered a moderate by some in his denomination!) gave a Christmas sermon at John Hagee‘s church,said that the Constitution should be amended to conform with “God’s standards,” said that allowing “seculars” to govern America would lead to Nazism, rallied a church in New Hampshire to enlist in “God’s army” to be “soldiers for Christ,” appeared to be the anointed one of some religious right godfathers, and drew the wrath of the late Robert Novak, no less, because of his ties to Christian Reconstructionism. Or that John McCain wrapped his arms around Rod Parsley and Hagee, or that even Rudy Giuliani sought and gained Robertson’s blessing. And that was just ’08; it’s all been going on much longer than that.  While GOP candidates’ cultivation of conservative evangelicals is not a surprise, it is a good thing that it’s being discussed more. Perhaps, if nothing else, it will put the lid on the inevitable “is the religious right dead?” piece.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/5028/

What’s a Higgs Boson among friends.

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) – Scientists chasing a particle they believe may have played a vital role in creation of the universe indicated Monday they were coming to accept it might not exist after all.

But they stressed that if the so-called Higgs boson turns out to have been a mirage, the way would be open for advances into territory dubbed “new physics” to try to answer one of the great mysteries of the cosmos.

The CERN research centre, whose giant Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been the focus of the search, said it had reported to a conference in Mumbai that possible signs of the Higgs noted last month were now seen as less significant.

A number of scientists from the centre went on to make comments that raised the possibility that the mystery particle might not exist.

“Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics,” Guido Tonelli, from one of the two LHC detectors chasing the Higgs, said as the new observations were announced.

CERN’s statement said new results, which updated findings that caused excitement at another scientific gathering in Grenoble last month, “show that the elusive Higgs particle, if it exists, is running out of places to hide.”

NEW PHYSICS

The centre’s research director Sergio Bertolucci told the conference, at the Indian city’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, that if the Higgs did not exist “its absence will point the way to new physics.”

Under what is known as the Standard Model of physics, the boson, which was named after British physicist Peter Higgs, is posited as having been the agent that gave mass and energy to matter just after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

As a result, flying debris from that primeval explosion could come together as stars, planets and galaxies.

In the subterranean LHC, which began operating at the end of March 2010, CERN engineers and physicists have created billions of miniature versions of the Big Bang by smashing particles together at just a fraction under the speed of light.

The results of those collisions are monitored by hundreds of physicists not just at CERN but in linked laboratories around the world which sift through the vast volumes of information generated by the LHC.

Scientists at the U.S. Fermilab near Chicago have been in a parallel search in their Tevatron collider for nearly 30 years. Last month they said they hoped to establish if the Higgs exists by the end of September, when the Tevatron closes down.

For some scientists, the Higgs remains the simplest explanation of how matter got mass. It remains unclear what could replace it as an explanation. “We know something is missing, we simply don’t quite know what this new something might be,” wrote CERN blogger Pauline Gagnon.

“There are many models out there; we simply need to be nudged in the right direction,” added Gagnon, an experimental physicist.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

From http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE77L5L420110822?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true

Emphasis Mine

From “Faith No More” Why I am an Atheist

Earlier this year, Andrew Zak Williams asked public figures why they believe in God. Now it’s the turn of the atheists – from A C Grayling to P Z Myers – to explain why they don’t.

Maryam Namazie

Human rights activist
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped believing in God. Having been raised in a fairly open-minded family in Iran, I had no encounter with Islam that mattered until the Islamic movement took power on the back of a defeated revolution in Iran. I was 12 at the time.

I suppose people can go through an entire lifetime without questioning God and a religion that they were born into (out of no choice of their own), especially if it doesn’t have much of a say in their lives. If you live in France or Britain, there may never be a need to renounce God actively or come out as an atheist.

But when the state sends a “Hezbollah” (the generic term for Islamist) to your school to ensure that you don’t mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, deems males and females separate and unequal, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends from those read by boys, denies certain fields of study to you because you are female, and starts killing in­discriminately, then you have no choice but to question, discredit and confront it – all of it. And that is what I did.

Philip Pullman
Author

The main reason I don’t believe in God is the missing evidence. There could logically be no evidence that he doesn’t exist, so I can only go by the fact that, so far, I’ve discovered no evidence that he does: I have had no personal experience of being spoken to by God and I see nothing in the world around me, wherever I look in history or science or art or anywhere else, to persuade me that it was the work of God rather than
of nature.

To that extent, I’m an atheist. I would have to agree, though, that God might exist but be in hiding (and I can understand why – with his record, so would I be). If I knew more, I’d be able to make an informed guess about that. But the amount of things I do know is the merest tiny flicker of a solitary spark in the vast encircling darkness that represents all the things I don’t know, so he might well be out there in the dark. As I can’t say for certain that he isn’t, I’d have to say I am an agnostic.

Kenan Malik
Neurobiologist, writer and broadcaster

I am an atheist because I see no need for God. Without God, it is said, we cannot explain the creation of the cosmos, anchor our moral values or infuse our lives with meaning and purpose. I disagree.

Invoking God at best highlights what we cannot yet explain about the physical universe, and at worst exploits that ignorance to mystify. Moral values do not come prepackaged from God, but have to be worked out by human beings through a combination of empathy, reasoning and dialogue.
This is true of believers, too: they, after all, have to decide for themselves which values in their holy books they accept and which ones they reject.
And it is not God that gives meaning to our lives, but our relationships with fellow human beings and the goals and obligations that derive from them. God is at best redundant, at worst an obstruction. Why do I need him?

Susan Blackmore
Psychologist and author
What reason for belief could I possibly have? To explain suffering? He doesn’t. Unless, that is, you buy in to his giving us free will, which conflicts with all we know about human decision-making.

To give me hope of an afterlife? My 30 years of parapsychological research threw that hope out. To explain the mystical, spiritual and out-of-body experiences I have had? No: our rapidly improving knowledge of the brain is providing much better explanations than religious reasoning. To explain the existence and complexity of the wonderful world I see around me? No – and this is really the main one.

God is supposed (at least in some versions of the story) to have created us all. Yet the Creator (any creator) is simply redundant. Every living thing on this planet evolved by processes that require no designer, no plans, no guidance and no foresight. We need no God to do this work. Where would he fit in? What would he do? And why? If he did have any role in our creation, he would have to be immensely devious, finickity, deceitful and mind-bogglingly cruel, which would be a very odd kind of God to believe in. So I don’t.

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist
I don’t believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity. For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them, and the burden of proof rests with those who wish to believe.

Even given no evidence for specific gods, could we make a case for some unspecified “intelligent designer” or “prime mover” or begetter of “something rather than nothing”? By far the most appealing version of this argument is the biological one – living things do present a powerful illusion of design. But that is the very version that Darwin destroyed. Any theist who appeals to “design” of living creatures simply betrays his ignorance of biology. Go away and read a book. And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.

As for the cosmological argument, whose God goes under names such as Prime Mover or First Cause, the physicists are closing in, with spellbinding results. Even if there remain unanswered questions – where do the fundamental laws and constants of physics come from? – obviously it cannot help to postulate a designer whose existence poses bigger questions than he purports to solve. If science fails, our best hope is to build a better science. The answer will lie neither in theology nor – its exact equivalent – reading tea leaves.

In any case, it is a fatuously illogical jump from deistic Unmoved Mover to Christian Trinity, with the Son being tortured and murdered because the Father, for all his omniscience and omnipotence, couldn’t think of a better way to forgive “sin”.

Equally unconvincing are those who believe because it comforts them (why should truth be consoling?) or because it “feels right”. Cherie Blair [“I’m a believer”, New Statesman, 18 April] may stand for the “feels right” brigade. She bases her belief on “an understanding of something that my head cannot explain but my heart knows to be true”. She aspires to be a judge. M’lud, I cannot provide the evidence you require. My head cannot explain why, but my heart knows it to be true.

Why is religion immune from the critical standards that we apply not just in courts of law, but in every other sphere of life?

Paula Kirby
Writer

I stopped being a believer when it became clear to me that the various versions of Christianity were mutually contradictory and that none had empirical evidence to support it. From the recognition that “knowing in my heart” was an unreliable guide to reality, I began to explore other types of explanation for life, the universe and everything, and discovered in science – biology, chemistry, physics, cosmology, geology, psychology – answers that genuinely explain, as opposed to those of religion, whose aim is to shroud their lack of substance in a cloak of mystery and metaphor.

All-importantly, these scientific answers, even when tentative, are supported by evidence. That they are also far more thrilling, far more awe-inspiring, than anything religion can offer, and that I find life fuller, richer and more satisfying when it’s looked firmly in the eye and wholeheartedly embraced for the transient and finite wonder that it is, is a happy bonus.

Sam Harris
Neuroscientist

The most common impediment to clear thinking that a non-believer must confront is the idea that the burden of proof can be fairly placed on his shoulders: “How do you know there is no God? Can you prove it? You atheists are just as dogmatic as the fundamentalists you criticise.” This is nonsense: even the devout tacitly reject thousands of gods, along with the cherished doctrines of every religion but their own. Every Christian can confidently judge the God of Zoroaster to be a creature of fiction, without first scouring the universe for evidence of his absence. Absence of evidence is all one ever needs to banish false knowledge. And bad evidence, proffered in a swoon of wishful thinking, is just as damning.

But honest reasoning can lead us further into the fields of unbelief, for we can prove that books such as the Bible and the Quran bear no trace of divine authorship. We know far too much about the history of these texts to accept what they say about their own origins. And just imagine how good a book would be if it had been written by an omniscient Being.

The moment one views the contents of scripture in this light, one can reject the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam definitively. The true authors of God’s eternal Word knew nothing about the origins of life, the relationship between mind and brain, the causes of illness, or how best to create a viable, global civilisation in the 21st century. That alone should resolve every conflict between religion and science in the latter’s favour, until the end of the world.

In fact, the notion that any ancient book could be an infallible guide to living in the present gets my vote for being the most dangerously stupid idea on earth.

What remains for us to discover, now and always, are those truths about our world that will allow us to survive and fully flourish. For this, we need only well-intentioned and honest inquiry – love and reason. Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.

Daniel Dennett
Philosopher

The concept of God has gradually retreated from the concept of an anthropomorphic creator figure, judge and overseer to a mystery-shrouded Wonderful Something-or-Other utterly beyond human ken. It is impossible for me to believe in any of the anthropomorphic gods, because they are simply ridiculous, and so obviously the fantasy-projections of scientifically ignorant minds trying to understand the world. It is impossible for me to believe in the laundered versions, because they are systematically incomprehensible. It would be like trying to believe in the existence of wodgifoop – what’s that? Don’t ask; it’s beyond saying.

But why try anyway? There is no obligation to try to believe in God; that’s a particularly pernicious myth left over from the days when organised religions created the belief in belief. One can be good without God, obviously.

Many people feel very strongly that one should try to believe in God, so as not to upset Granny, or so as to encourage others to do likewise, or because it makes you nicer or nobler. So they go through the motions. Usually it doesn’t work.

I am in awe of the universe itself, and very grateful to be a part of it. That is enough.

A C Grayling
Philosopher

I do not believe that there are any such things as gods and goddesses, for exactly the same reasons as I do not believe there are fairies, goblins or sprites, and these reasons should be obvious to anyone over the age of ten.

Steven Weinberg
Nobel laureate in physics
I do not believe in God – an intelligent, all-powerful being who cares about human beings – because the idea seems to me to be silly. The positive arguments that have been given for belief in God all appear to me as silly as the proposition they are intended to prove. Fortunately, in some parts of the world, religious belief has weakened enough so that people no longer kill each other over differences in this silliness.

It is past time that the human race should grow up, enjoying what is good in life, including the pleasure of learning how the world works, and freeing ourselves altogether from supernatural silliness in facing the real problems and tragedies of our lives.

Peter Atkins
Chemist

In part because there is no evidence for a God (sentimental longing, desperation, ignorance and angst are not evidence) and in part because science is showing that it is capable of answering all the questions that the religious have argued, without any evidence, require the activities of a God, I dismiss holy scripture as evidence. I also discount the argument that a majority of people in the world claim to be believers, because truth is not decided by majority vote.

I acknowledge the power of cultural conditioning, especially when it is larded on to the young and impressionable, and can even accept that there might be an evolutionary advantage in believing; but neither is an argument for the truth of the existence of a God. Moreover, the horrors of the world, both personal and societal, do not convince me that the creation is an act of infinite benevolence.

Jim al-Khalili
Theoretical physicist
It is often said that religious faith is about mankind’s search for a deeper meaning to existence. But just because we search for it does not mean it is there. My faith is in humanity itself, without attaching any metaphysical baggage.

Sir Roger Penrose
Physicist

I don’t believe in the dogmas of any religion (or any that I have ever heard of), because the associated myths sound far too fanciful and arbitrary for them to have any credibility, in my opinion. If you ask me about a belief in some more abstract notion of “God”, I would, of course, have to know what you mean by such a term.

I suppose the closest I could get to anything that bears any relation to the kind of notion that the term “God” might be used for would be something along the lines of Platonist ideals. These could include some sort of objective moral standpoint that is independent of ourselves, and not simply definable in terms of what might be of benefit to human society. This would imply, for instance, that conscious beings such as elephants would have rights, in addition to those of humans.

I am also prepared to accept that there might be objective (“Platonic”) elements involved in artistic achievement, and certainly I assign a Platonic objectivity to truth (especially unambiguous mathematical truth). But I am not at all sure that it is helpful to attach the term “God” to any of this. Moreover, thinking of God as a benevolent creator is particularly misleading, as is made clear, in my opinion, by the problem of the existence of evil – or natural, indiscriminate calamity.

If “God” is to be a sentient being of some sort, I also find that incredible. A conscious being would have to be one that I could just about imagine myself being. I certainly cannot imagine myself being “God”!

Ben Goldacre
Science writer

I think probably the main answer to your question is: I just don’t have any interest either way, but I wouldn’t want to understate how uninterested I am. There still hasn’t been a word invented for people like me, whose main ex­perience when presented with this issue is an overwhelming, mind-blowing, intergalactic sense of having more interesting things to think about. I’m not sure that’s accurately covered by words such as “atheist”, and definitely not by “agnostic”. I just don’t care.

Polly Toynbee
Journalist and president, British Humanist Association
The only time I am ever tempted, momentarily, to believe in a God is when I shake an angry fist at him for some monstrous suffering inflicted on the world for no reason whatever. The Greeks and Romans and other pagans probably produced the most convincing gods – petulant, childish, selfish – demanding sacrifices to their vanity and inflicting random furies. At least that’s a logical explanation. But an all-powerful God of goodness and love is evidently impossible. He would be a monster. Voltaire said so after the Lisbon earthquake.

Victor Stenger
Particle physicist

I not only do not believe in God, I am almost 100 per cent certain the God of Abraham worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims does not exist. This God supposedly plays such an important role in the universe that there should be evidence he exists. There is nothing in the realm of human knowledge that requires anything supernatural, anything beyond matter, to describe our observations.
Furthermore, religion is immoral. It is bad for individuals and bad for society.

Jerry Coyne
Biologist

There is simply no good data pointing to a supernatural being who either takes an interest in the world or actively affects it. Isn’t it curious that all the big miracles, resurrections and ascensions to heaven occurred in the distant past, documented by single, dubious books? Besides, the “truth claims” of the various faiths about prophets, virgin births, angels, heaven and the like are not only scientifically unbelievable, but conflicting, so that most or all of them must be wrong. To Christians, Jesus is absolutely the scion and substance of God; to Muslims, that’s blasphemy, punishable by execution.

The more science learns about the world, the less room there is for God. Natural selection dispelled the last biology-based argument for divinity – the “design” of plants and animals. Now physics is displacing other claims, showing how the universe could have begun from “nothing” without celestial help.

There’s not only an absence of evidence for God, but good evidence against him. To the open-minded, religions were clearly invented by human beings to support their fervent wishes for what they wanted to be true.

Our very world testifies constantly against God. Take natural selection, a process that is cruel, painful and wasteful. After Darwin’s idea displaced Genesis-based creationism, the theological sausage-grinder – designed to transform scientific necessities into religious virtues – rationalised why it was better for God to have used natural selection to produce human beings. Needless to say, that argument doesn’t fit with an all-loving God. Equally feeble are theological explanations for other suffering in the world. If there is a God, the evidence points to one who is apathetic – or even
a bit malicious.

To believers, testing the “God hypothesis” is not an option because they will accept no observations that disprove it. While I can imagine scientific evidence for God, even evidence that would make me a believer (a reappearing Jesus who instantly restores the limbs of amputees would do), there is no evidence – not even the Holocaust – which can dispel their faith in a good and loving God.

Stephen Hawking
Physicist

I am not claiming there is no God. The scientific account is complete, but it does not predict human behaviour, because there are too many equations to solve.One therefore uses a different model, which can include free will and God.

Michael Shermer
Publisher of Skeptic magazine
I do not believe in God for four reasons. First, there is not enough evidence for the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent being who created the universe and ourselves and hands down moral laws and offers us eternal life. Second, any such being that was supernatural would by definition be outside the purview of our knowledge of the natural world and would necessarily have to be part of the natural world if we did discover such an entity. This brings me to the third reason, Shermer’s Last Law, which is that any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God. (Because of Moore’s law [of increasing computer power] and Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns, we ourselves will be able to engineer life, solar systems and even universes, given enough time.) Fourth, there is overwhelming evidence from history, anthropology, sociology and psychology that human beings created God, not vice versa. In the past 10,000 years there have been roughly 10,000 religions and 1,000 different gods. What are the chances that one group of people discovered the One True God while everyone else believed in 9,999 false gods? A likelier explanation is that all gods and religion are socially and psychologically constructed. We created gods.

John Harris
Bioethicist

There is no good reason to believe that anything that could coherently be called God exists. A rational person does not waste time believing or even being agnostic about things that there are no good reasons to accept. Even if there was a more powerful being (or, more likely, society or planet of beings) than ourselves with a technology that could have created even our solar system and everything in it, that would not give us anything but prudential and scientific reasons to take any notice of them whatsoever – certainly no reason to worship them.

Bertrand Russell pointed out long ago that the moral character of the Judaeo-Christian God as revealed in the writings of his sycophants leaves much to be desired. The same seems to go for other gods as well. So God is not only non-existent, but also wicked and useless.

Jennifer Bardi
Editor of the Humanist
The short and easy answer is lack of evidence. I also see no value in believing in God, because if you’re thinking clearly and honestly you necessarily must face the issue of suffering, and the ensuing existential crisis wastes precious time and energy. Alleviating suffering is what we should pour our minds and hearts into.

Moreover, I simply don’t want to believe, because the notion of an all-knowing, all-seeing God who lets bad stuff happen really gives me the creeps.

Richard Wiseman
Psychologist

I do not believe in God because it seems both illogical and unnecessary. According to the believers, their God is an all-powerful and almighty force. However, despite this, their God allows for huge amounts of suffering and disease. Also, if I were to believe in God, logically speaking I would have to believe in a wide range of other entities for which there is no evidence, including pixies, goblins and gnomes, etc. It’s a long list and I don’t have room in my head for all of them. So, I am happy to believe that there is no God. We are just insignificant lumps of carbon flying through a tiny section of the universe. Our destiny is totally in our own hands, and it is up to each of us to make the best of our life. Let’s stop worrying about mythical entities and start living.

P Z Myers
Biologist

I am accustomed to the idea that truth claims ought to be justified with some reasonable evidence: if one is going to claim, for instance, that a Jewish carpenter was the son of a God, or that there is a place called heaven where some ineffable, magical part of you goes when you die, then there ought to be some credible reason to believe that. And that reason ought to be more substantial than that it says so in a big book.

Religious claims all seem to short-circuit the rational process of evidence-gathering and testing and the sad thing is that many people don’t see a problem with that, and even consider it a virtue. It is why I don’t just reject religion, but actively oppose it in all its forms – because it is fundamentally a poison for the mind that undermines our critical faculties.

Religious beliefs are lazy jokes with bad punchlines. Why do you have to chop off the skin at the end of your penis? Because God says so. Why should you abstain from pork, or shrimp, or mixing meat and dairy, or your science classes? Because they might taint your relationship with God. Why do you have to revere a bit of dry biscuit? Because it magically turns into a God when a priest mutters over it. Why do I have to be good? Because if you aren’t, a God will set you on fire for all eternity.

These are ridiculous propositions. The whole business of religion is clownshoes freakin’ moonshine, hallowed by nothing but unthinking tradition, fear and superstitious behaviour, and an establishment of con artists who have dedicated their lives to propping up a sense of self-importance by claiming to talk to an in­visible big kahuna.

It’s not just fact-free, it’s all nonsense.

Andrew Copson
Chief executive, British Humanist Association

I don’t believe in any gods or goddesses, because they are so obviously human inventions. Desert-dwellers have severe, austere and dry gods; suffering and oppressed people have loving and merciful gods; farmers have gods of rain and fruitfulness; and I have never met a liberal who believed in a conservative God or a conservative who believed in a liberal one. Every God I have ever heard of bears the indelible marks of human manufacture, and through history we can explain how and why we invented them.

Andrew Zak Williams has written for the Humanist, the Independent and Skeptic. His email address is: andrewbelief@gmail.com


Emphasis Mine.

see:http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2011/07/god-evidence-believe-world