Science, Religion, and Culture in light of Paris and Charlie Hebdo Read more at

Source: Smith and Franklin

Author: Lawrence Krauss

Emphasis Mine

I am terribly discouraged, not just by the senseless violence in Paris, but by the response worldwide to both the publication of content by Charlie Hebdo before the killings and by the mass protests throughout the Islamic world to the bittersweet cover published the week following that tragedy.

As a scientist who has spoken out and written about the incompatibility between the world’s major organized religions and the empirical evidence about the universe that science has provided over the past four centuries, I receive many emails from the faithful, from a variety of religious backgrounds. While fanatical fundamentalists have responses that are relatively similar, what is striking to me is the number of letters I get from well-meaning followers of Islam who somehow are convinced that the actual words of the Qur’an actually scientifically anticipated the description of the world that science has produced in the fifteen centuries or so since the book was written. This derives from the notion, which also has been conveyed to me by many, that the book is ‘perfect’, every word the direct speech of God, and therefore it not only could not have been written by an ordinary mortal, but it can also not be in error in any way.

Perhaps because the Judeo-Christian scriptures are so much older, there has been much more time for theologians in these sects to sensibly acknowledge the facts that the words contained therein must be interpreted as products of the humans who wrote them, and of the time in which they were written. While some zealots still maintain the ludicrous notion that the Earth is 6000 years old, this is not the official doctrine of the leaders of these religions. While they nevertheless maintain the sacred nature of the inspiration for the bible, very few assert the Bible itself is so sacred that it cannot even be discussed intelligently and skeptically by people who would like to better understand that document and their own place in the cosmos.

However, this does not seem to be the case in the Islamic world, and this is what makes the current dilemma so urgent, and what implies that Charlie Hebdo, and other publications that ridicule politicians, sex, and religion with equal force are so important.

Hate speech involves people, not ideas. No idea should be sacred in the modern world. Instead, in order for us to progress as a species, every claim, every idea should be subject to debate, intelligent discussion, and when necessary ridicule. Satire is perhaps one of the most important gifts we have to inspire us to re-examine our own lives and our own ideologies. If every other area of human endeavor is open to ridicule, then certainly so should religion. The notion that a cartoon, which presents an image of a historical figure, is so blasphemous to provoke violence is repugnant to anyone who believes that free and intelligent discourse is the basis of a civilized world.

This means that we need to encourage even ridicule of the sacred Qur’an in the public media. The more frequently and openly this appears, the less threatening it will seem, and the more acceptable it will be for believers to actually intellectually engage rather than emotionally and violently act.

The biggest threat to the peaceful and sustainable progress of human civilization in the 21st century, with challenges ranging from global climate change, to energy and water shortages, and the oppression of women throughout the world, is a refusal to accept the empirical evidence of reality as a basis for action. Those who feel they know the truth in advance, and therefore cannot even listen to alternative arguments, are not just part of the problem, they are the problem. 

This is the reason that religion is, in my opinion, on the whole a negative force in the world. In spite of the charity and empathy it may generate among many, because it asserts as true notions that clearly are incompatible with the evidence of reality, it inevitably engenders actions that are irrational. These range from the innocuous to the deadly.

Science has taught us to revel in the idea that we do not understand all there is to know, that cherished notions may in fact be wrong. It teaches us that claiming to know the answers to questions before they have even been asked or explored is folly.

Some have argued that because ridiculing sacred notions is offensive to believers, it is inappropriate for such ridicule to be carried out in the public sphere. However, we choose whether to be offended. An appropriate response is not to condemn the offender but rather to generate intelligent arguments that demonstrate they are wrong. If we shy away from such dialogue for fear of offense, we will never allow those who are offended the opportunity to examine and defend their beliefs. If we shy away from dialogue for fear of reprisal by those who would rather their children not learn about the world out of fear that knowledge will undermine their faith, we have given in to ignorance and repression. That should offend us all.

Long live Charlie Hebdo. Long live ridicule. Long live satire. Our culture and our world are the better for them.

The views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Science, Religion, and Culture or its staff.





FFRF anti-church electioneering victory is final



The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won a major victory: compelling the Internal Revenue Service to resume doing its job by policing tax-exempt churches that engage in illegal electioneering.


U.S. District Judge Lynn S. Adelman, Milwaukee, this week issued an order approving the joint motion for dismissal between between FFRF and the IRS. FFRF agreed to voluntarily dismiss its closely-watched federal lawsuit against the IRS after being given evidence that the IRS has authorized procedures and “signature authority” to resume initiating church tax investigations and examinations.


FFRF and the IRS filed an agreement on July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, following communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. Adelman’s decision and order agreed that FFRF may voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.


This hands a firm defeat to an obscure Milwaukee-area church, Holy Cross Anglican Church, which was intervening in the case with the help of the Becket Fund, insisting it had a “free speech” right to engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit without losing its tax exempt status. The judge explicitly denied the church’s motion to dismiss the case “with prejudice,” meaning FFRF would have been handicapped in refiling the case, should policies change.


“Our victory ensures that churches are not being singled out for preferential treatment as they were — with the IRS turning a blind eye to such events as the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.


The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group, is behind that campaign to encourage churches to violate the law. ADF has called again on churches and their ministers this year to endorse from the pulpit on Oct. 5, in defiance of IRS provisions that bar any 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, not just churches, from politicking.


Contrary to the hysterical disinformation machine that is Fox News Network, and the scaremongering claims of religious zealots such as Tony Perkins and ADF, churches are not, as a result of our settlement, being selectively targeted by the IRS for investigations. The opposite was true, as our lawsuit showed. The IRS was selectively not enforcing the law when it came to churches, and now the IRS will go back to enforcing the law even-handedly.”


Added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “Our legal action has ensured that churches cannot act as unaccountable Political Action Committees using tax-exempt dollars to influence the outcome of elections.”


Currently, the Congressional probe of the IRS has put all investigations on hold, but FFRF could refile the suit if IRS provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.


FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest freethought association, now topping 21,000 members, is also suing the IRS over the housing allowance exclusion uniquely benefiting ministers of the gospel, with oral arguments set for early September before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Read more about that case here. FFRF also has a case in federal district court challenging the exclusion of churches from the same transparent reporting requirements all other 501(c)(3) groups must follow to retain tax exemption.


View FFRF’s July 31 press update for details and links to all other relevant documents.

 Emphasis Mine


Quaking over Free speech in the Quaker state…

Does the First Amendment protect against against ‘blasphemy’, which is clearly a term only of sectarian religion?  

“… in a nation without a state religion and with a formal separation of church and state, a nation with a panoply of faiths and a growing proportion of nonbelievers, blasphemy is defined by religious, often overtly Christian, terms.”

“When you read the First Amendment, this is something you can be proud of,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, then you care about the First Amendment.”

Samuel G. Freedman writes in today’s (NY) Times:”Back in the fall of 2007, with only the most practical motives in mind, George Kalman took his pen to the standard form for creating a limited liability company in Pennsylvania…The first line on the document asked Mr. Kalman to supply his chosen corporate name, and he printed it in: I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. In a personal bit of existentialism, Mr. Kalman believed that, even if life was often hellish, it was better than suicide.

A week later, the daily mail to Mr. Kalman’s home in the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown brought a form letter from the Pennsylvania Department of State. His corporate filing had been rejected, the letter explained, because a business name “may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.”

Mr. Kalman felt quite certain, he recalled here the other day, that the letter was some kind of prank….After a couple more readings, though, Mr. Kalman realized that the rejection was genuine. Pennsylvania, it turned out, indeed had a law against blasphemy. In the short term, Mr. Kalman successfully filed for incorporation as ICH Productions, LLC. In the longer run, he put in a call to the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and set in motion a challenge to the state law.

“They’re actually imposing their religious beliefs on me,” said Mr. Kalman, 49. “They’re saying that you either believe what we believe or we won’t let you live your life.”  

“Narrowly speaking, the suit filed last month in Federal District Court in Philadelphia — George Kalman v. Pedro A. Cortés, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state — seeks to have the state law struck down as unconstitutional. More broadly and more interestingly, the litigation has lifted the rock off an obscure remnant of American jurisprudence: the continuing existence of blasphemy laws…The problem, at least for opponents of these laws, is that in a nation without a state religion and with a formal separation of church and state, a nation with a panoply of faiths and a growing proportion of nonbelievers, blasphemy is defined by religious, often overtly Christian, terms. Several of the state statutes explicitly outlaw verbal attacks on God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost and “Scripture.”

What mystifies Mr. Kalman … is that he had not even intended such an attack. He said he counted both atheists and born-again Christians among his friends and described his own attitude about God as “don’t know.”

His views on the Constitution, however, are plenty clear.

“When you read the First Amendment, this is something you can be proud of,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, then you care about the First Amendment.”

Would anti-islamic cartoons have violated the state’s laws?