Tag: religious right

How the Christian Right’s Sex Hangups Turn Zika Into a Bigger Crisis

Photo Credit: parinyabinsuk / Shutterstock
Photo Credit: parinyabinsuk / Shutterstock

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

Zika could have been an ordinary epidemic, like the ever-changing influenza that emerges each winter and spreads across the Northern Hemisphere with sad but rare complications. But the Religious Right’s antagonism to birth control and abortion—and honest conversation about sex in general—has transformed the Zika epidemic into a nightmare that will devastate lives for an entire generation.

In the absence of pregnancy, Zika usually isn’t a big deal. Only one in five people who contract Zika experience symptoms, and those who do mostly feel like they’ve gotten the flu. This is not to say Zika never does lasting harm to adults, just that, like the flu, those cases appear to be rare.

The difference, as most people now know, is that getting Zika while pregnant is really, really bad. The virus attacks the fetal nervous system, eating brain structures that have already developed and blocking development of others. Even babies who look normal may be damaged for life.

Unlike the flu, when it comes to Zika, pregnancy prevention or timing is everything.

Three Ways to Safeguard Families

Even if Zika spreads across its potential range of 41 states, a quick and targeted response could make lasting harm rare, at least within U.S. borders. The solution is simple and relatively cheap, but it consists of policies that the sex-obsessedpatriarchy-protecting Religious Right has been opposing for decades:

  • Information. Launch a huge public education campaign so all couples know how to prevent mistimed or unwanted pregnancy and can delay parenthood till the time is safe. Currently a third of pregnancies globally and almost half in the U.S. are accidents, with some of the highest rates where Zika-carrying mosquitos live.
  • Contraception. Make state-of-the-art birth control available to all free of charge, including the very best IUDs and implants, which drop the accidental pregnancy rate below 1 in 500. (With the Pill that’s 1 in 11; with condoms 1 in 6; with the rhythm method it’s closer to 1 in 4.)
  • Abortion. Ensure that couples who discover microcephaly and other fetal defects in utero can, if they prefer, abort a diseased pregnancy and start over. Millions of healthy children exist in this world only because their parents receive the mercy of a fresh start (like I did).Each of these steps is easier and cheaper than trying to eradicate mosquitos, prevent people from getting bitten, or develop and distribute a vaccine. With existing contraceptive knowledge and technologies, birth defects from Zika could drop to near zero. The problem is not a lack of means; it’s a lack of will brought on by religious teachings that generate resistance and controversy around anything that has to do with sex, gender roles or reproduction.You Reap What You Sow

    No matter what, tragic birth defects from Zika would have hit some families as the virus spreads out of Africa where it is endemic (and where most women appear to have immunity before they reach reproductive age). But without relentless promotion of ignorance and falsehood by priests and pastors—without anti-contraception campaigning by the Vatican in particular—birth defects from Zika would be a small fraction of what humanity now faces.

    Religious conservatives claim to love women and babies, especially unborn babies, but this claim is pure self-deception by biblical standards. The writer of Matthew warns of men who claim to speak for God but actually don’t. He says,

    “By their fruit ye shall know them.”

    What are the fruits of conservative Christian hostility toward judicious, planned, intentional parenthood? For generations, humanity has been battered by preventable harms from ill-timed and unwanted pregnancy: children bearing children in hopeless poverty, education foregone, abuse and neglect, family conflict triggered by stress, armed conflict triggered by population pressures and resource depletion; and starvation, illness and death.

    If the church hadn’t thrown its wealth and weight against family planning programs in the 1960s and every decade since, who knows how different life on Earth might be right now. Zika merely ups the ante.

    And the conservative Christian solution to it all? More prayer and less sex. If God’s self-proclaimed messengers actually loved women and children more than they love power and tradition, they would admit they have been wrong and would do what’s best for healthy families:

    • Stop using the political clout of the church to make birth control expensive and hard to get, especially for poor people and those at risk of Zika.
    • Stop goading conservative politicians to waste millions on bogus, indefensible anti-abortion laws, and work instead to make abortion less necessary.
    • Stop teaching young people that they should “let go and let God” determine how many kids they have (whether infected or starving or not). Start teaching that the ability to plan our families is a precious gift.
    • Stop pretending that vows of abstinence work for more than a few odd individuals. Start providing real information about healthy, respectful, responsible pleasure and intimacy.
    • Stop forcing doctors and nurses to follow anti-contraception, anti-abortion religious directives bordering on malpractice; and instead ensure that hospitals and clinics controlled by religious institutions provide model family planning care.The Zika wave will sweep over the Americas, and as immunity grows rates of infection will likely drop off. In that case, the suffering caused by church hostility to sexuality education and family planning will drop back to more familiar levels. But right now Zika presents a rare opportunity for religious leaders to show that they are not, as they often appear, so busy defending dogma that they have become morally bankrupt.

      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 valerietarico.com.


See: http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/how-christian-rights-sex-hangups-turn-zika-bigger-crisis?akid=14602.123424.-FNXmC&rd=1&src=newsletter1063152&t=6

4 Reasons the Christian Right’s Claims of Moral Superiority Over the Rest of Us Just Don’t Hold Water

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

When Bill O’Reilly recently tried to pin America’s spree of mass shootings on atheism rather than guns or mental illness, he hoped to tap a specific set of beliefs that is common among Bible believers— that morality derives from religion; that Born Again Christians are a light unto the world while atheists (who lack any basis for ethics or morality) spend their empty lives in pursuit of money and sex; that when Christians get raptured or otherwise lose the upper hand, America will descend into the orgy of sex, violence and anarchy depicted in the Left Behind books and movie.

This view feeds both righteous superiority and genuine anxiety among conservative Christians. Calvinists and other fundamentalists teach that humanity is “utterly depraved,” and that the only hope for our fallen world and for fallen individuals is the saving blood of Jesus. In the words of megachurch minister Mark Driscoll, “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had.”

In this view, the architects of America’s much lamented moral decay are godless atheists, and the growth of secularism means the growth of moral bankruptcy. Modernity is a grim slide into an end-times world where everybody lies, cheats, and takes whatever they can get. And here in America, this dark tide can be held back only by Christians in high places. 

But this common wisdom among right-wing Christians is being challenged by the public behavior of both the godly and the godless, by atheists who publicly embrace humanity’s moral core and spiritual quest; and by Christian leaders who keep getting caught, literally or metaphorically, with their pants down. The combination paints a picture that more than anything reveals our shared humanity—that the godless have their share of moral leaders and inspiring spiritual values, and the godly have their share of scoundrels. 

Atheists Bare Their Beliefs and Values 

Tired of being stigmatized and shunned, some atheists have set out to daylight the moral values they live by, and why. Some are specifically reclaiming words like morality and spirituality, which have long been owned by the religious sector. This summer, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson began screening A Better Life: Joy and Meaning in a World Without God. The movie follows a related coffee table book in which prominent atheists (and full disclosure: a few ordinary nonbelievers like me) discuss the values, loves, dreams and projects that give their lives purpose.

Small Sunday Assembly congregations around the world are continuing to experiment with building community around a three-part motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Blogger Neil Carter, a theology-trained former teacher, has amassed a following of thousands who read his wry, tender musings as he navigates being Godless in Dixie. Humanist chaplaincies like the Harvard Humanist Hub have been springing up on college campuses. Even the Satanic Temple (actually an atheist religion that eschews supernaturalism and embraces Satan as a literary rebel against tyranny a la Milton) has stepped into the public eye with a mission and a manifesto affirming broadly held humanistic values.    

Scandals Expose Hypocrisy, Rock Christianity 

Meanwhile, scandals have been hitting conservative Christianity, hard and fast. 

After Christian abortion foes launched a blood-and-guts media campaign based on staged entrapment interviews with Planned Parenthood staff, public opinion wavered. The campaign crumbled as forensic experts found 42 splicesincluding in “unedited” videos, rendering them useless as evidence. A seemingly unimpeachable witness, a disgruntled Planned Parenthood employee who claimed she had been forced to sell body parts, was impeached by past statements contradicting recent testimony, suggesting she was unreliable and a likely plant. Anti-abortion leaders found the moral high ground crumbling beneath their feet. 

Another Christian publicity stunt turned out to be fabricated by—to borrow a phrase from investigative journalist Chris Rodda—Liars for Jesus in the military. Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz has built his campaign around religious opposition to anti-discrimination laws, which some Christians claim violate their religious freedom and cause them to be persecuted. One ad features the story of Air Force Sergeant Phillip Monk who was fired by a lesbian superior for “expressing a traditional view of marriage”—except that he wasn’t. Oops. So much for the Bible’s prohibition against false witness. If Cruz had read some of the anti-Semitic, homo-slurring hate mail sent by military Evangelicals in the name of Jesus he might have been more wary.

A John Oliver August expose of televangelists exposed so much corruption, from multi-million-dollar tax-exempt parsonages, to personal trips on private jets, to manipulative but unfulfilled promises of healing, that if religion wasn’t exempt from truth-in-advertising laws the ministries in question would have their butts sued off. The wide blanket of “religious freedom” may provide legal cover for preachers like Robert Tilton or Joel Olsteen but it can’t cover the up the fact that their ministries stink of moral rot. Oliver launched his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, with dollars (and seeds and beef jerky) that flowed in from eager viewers, challenging the IRS to investigate—and not just Oliver.

And then, of course, there’s the ongoing scandal surrounding Ashley Madison, the matchmaking site for would-be adulterers hacked by possible extortionists who released member names to the public. Early controversy focused on the membership of Christian patriarchy leader, Josh Duggar, whose teen pattern of molesting younger girls—and the family’s response—recently cost his parents their multi-million-dollar reality show. “Family values” politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, who flaunt their Christian credentials and lament how gays and feminists are destroying marriage appear to have lost their voices when it comes to adultery, a sin that—in contrast to gay marriage or abortion—the Bible unambiguously condemns.  

Moral Decay or More Transparency?

Have traditional Christianity’s claims of moral superiority always been mere conceit, now visible to all, or has something changed? Certainly the internet has made it harder to live a double life or hide hypocrisies, or to protect the faithful from outside information. I wrote about this in “Religion May Not Survive the Internet.” But there’s also reason to believe that Bible-believing Christianity once worked better than it does today as a guide for individual and community behavior:

  • Archaic sex and gender scripts drive hypocrisy. As gender roles and intimate relations become more flexible in modern society, the rigid Iron Age sex script gets harder and harder for Bible-believing Christians to impose, not only on society at large but even on themselves. Trying and failing, young Evangelicals vow abstinence until marriage but instead engage in impulsive, high-risk sex (because planning and protection would signal premeditation). Pastors, priests and patriarchal men—who often find the old script equally impossible—pay queer prostitutes, exploit their positions to fondle children and female parishioners, and fill the coffers of Internet porn providers, all the while loudly condemning the sexual obsessions of gays, women and youth.
  • Clinging to creationism drives rabbit hole reasoning. As evolutionary theory gets incorporated into computer science and the next wave of engineering and even manufacturing, creationists find themselves backed into a corner, needing to cast aspersions on the whole scientific enterprise(with a peculiar corollary emphasis on undermining climate science). More and more, the only way to preserve and protect a biblical world view is to engage in self-deceptive rabbit hole reasoning—a very bad habit for any individual or group that hopes to be a moral light in the midst of humanity’s darkness.
  • The quest for political power drives corruption. The fusion of conservative Christianity and conservative politics into the Religious Right has corroded Christian values and priorities in America and soiled Christianity’s good name. In the words of Sean Illing, “This unholy union of religion and politics has proven disastrous, particularly in the era of PACs, which allow economic libertarians to manipulate conservative Christians for political purposes.” Politics is a notoriously ruthless no-holds-barred affair in which power corrupts—sometimes absolutely. Right-wing candidates and politicians who tout their close relationship with God may baptize their own reputations, but they simultaneously foul the Church.
  • Bibliolatry drives moral stunting. As culture continues to evolve and moral consciousness deepens, the tribal, racistsexist worldview of the Bible writers appears ever more cruel and morally stunted. Bible literalists, who insist on treating ancient texts as if they were the literally perfect word of God, and their own interpretation of these texts as if it were the only one possible, end up coming across the same way. As their views become less appealing, young people motivated by an honest search for truth and compassion find the Church less and less appealing, leaving those with other priorities to wave the Christian flag.

In sum, conservative Christians are being Left Behind morally and spiritually; and they have responded by looking for love—and answers and power—in all the wrong places. If they find that Americans increasingly turn elsewhere for inspiration and moral values, maybe they should do a little soul searching instead of pointing the finger at atheists.

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.



The Medical Facts About Birth Control and Hobby Lobby—From an OB/GYN

Source: New Republic

Author: Jen Gunter

If you’ve read the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby or the reaction to it, then you know what sparked the lawsuit. The Affordable Care Act says that employer-provided insurance must include essential health benefits, including all medically authorized forms of contraception. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to this requirement, because they believe that four common forms of birth controltwo versions of the “morning-after pill” and two kinds of intrauterine devices (IUDs)are “abortifacients.” In other words, the owners of Hobby Lobby think these contraceptives end pregnancies rather than prevent them. And they believe that is tantamount to ending a life.

The claim, which you can find on virtually any conservative website, has been making the rounds for a long time. It’s stuck because the science on how these particular drugs and devices work wasn’t that great. But recent advances in medical diagnostics and some ingenious studies have changed that. We know a lot more about how the contraceptives work. We can be very confident that three of the four contraceptives do not lead to abortion, even using the conservative definition of when life begins, and we can be almost (although not quite) as sure that the fourth does not, either.

There are essentially six ways to prevent pregnancy:

  1. Make the cervical mucus inhospitable (sperm can’t get to the egg)
  2. Inhibit ovulation (prevent the release of an egg)
  3. Affect fertilization (the ability of the sperm to meet up with and/or penetrate the egg).
  4. Affect the fertilized egg (prevent implantation)
  5. Create an inhospitable uterine environment (prevent implantation)
  6. Affect the implanted embryo

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As far as the medical establishment is concerned, pregnancy doesn’t begin until implantation. (In fact, 80 percent of fertilized eggs never implant.) So under this “medical” definition of pregnancy, only method #6that is, doing something to the implanted embryowould constitute a form of abortion. But religious conservatives hold that pregnancy and life itself begin at the moment an egg is fertilized. Under the “religious” definition of pregnancy, methods 4, 5 and 6 would all constitute forms of abortion.

What does that mean for the four types of contraception at issue in the Hobby Lobby case? Let’s consider each one.

Birth Control or "Abortifacient"?


Plan B, which is one form of the morning-after pill, clearly wouldn’t. It works by inhibiting ovulation when given during a specific 48 hour window of the cycle. It has no other method of action. This is undisputed scientific fact. (Plan B is one of the best studied of all the methods of contraception).

Ella (the manufacturer uses a lower case “e”) is another version of the morning-after pill. It too works by inhibiting ovulation, only it is better at it than Plan B. The 30 mg of ulipristal in ella has no effect on sperm quality, a fertilized egg, or the lining of the uterus. Higher doses affect the uterine lining, potentially creating a hostile environment that could stop a fertilized egg from implanting. But a 30 mg dose has the same impact on uterine lining as a placeboin other words, it has no effect. The only gray area is if a woman were to take ella not realizing that she is already a few weeks pregnant (an unrecognized pregnancy). The impact of ella in early pregnancy is currently unknown.

Mirena, one of the IUDs, changes cervical mucus. It also inhibits ovulation for a small percentage of women in the first year of use, but that is unlikely a major method of action. The Mirena IUD does thin the lining of the uterus, but there is no evidence to suggest this impacts implantation of a fertilized egg.

That leaves the ParaGard, which is a copper IUD. The copper in the device damages sperm and eggs, affects how the sperm and egg travel to meet, and may affect implantation. Some very complex studies suggest that a very small percentage of cycles with a copper IUD (around 1%) may result in a fertilized egg that fails to implant. But, as physician Aaron Carroll noted recently at The Upshot, that’s also the normal failure rate of the IUD. The bulk of the studies do not support a post-fertilization effect.

The only caveat is that if either IUD fails (and while rare, they do fail about 1 percent of the time) the resulting pregnancy has a higher risk of miscarriage.

The facts are summarized in the table above. There is no evidence that Plan B, Ella, or the Mirena cause abortion by any definition. The evidence that the ParaGard might affect implantation for a small percentage of women, thus leading to what some conservatives would call abortion, is thin. But we don’t have the information to discount it completely.

Is that a rational basis for refusing to pay for these contraceptivesand reducing the reach of a health care initiative that provides enormous benefits? Religious conservatives think so. And thanks to the Supreme Court, they will get their way.

Dr. Jen Gunter is an OB/GYN and a pain medicine physician based in California. She blogs at drjengunter.com and authored the book, The Preemie Primer, a guide for parents of premature babies.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118547/facts-about-birth-control-and-hobby-lobby-ob-gyn?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=TNR%20Daily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=TNR%20Daily%20Zephyr%20with%20LiveIntent%20-%20July%207%2C%202014

Lawrence Krauss Interview

Source:  about.physics.com

Author: Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I had the privilege of meeting with acclaimed cosmologist and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the evening of Monday, April 7, 2014. We met at Wexner Auditorium on the campus of Ohio State University, prior to a showing of his documentary The Unbelievers (in which he co-stars with famed atheist and zoologist Richard Dawkins). Our discussion, though brief – I was the only thing standing between Dr. Krauss and his dinner – covered a wide range of intriguing topics. A summary of the interview is also on the website, but here is the full text (with some edits of my own “ums” and “ahs” and filler rambling):

Andrew Jones: So, the Origins Project just literally had its fifth anniversary.

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, on Saturday [April 5, 2014].

AJ: I’ve seen some of the videos from it. You guys (sic)  host the Great Debates.

LK: Yes, we just had a Great Debate with 3,000 people on Saturday.

AJ: What I really like about the work I see coming out of there is that it’s a very interdisciplinary look at origins.

LK: Everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of consciousness, so it’s about as interdisciplinary as you can get. We call it transdisciplinary. That’s the buzzword at ASU [Arizona State University]. But we try to bring together people from vastly different fields to look at forefront questions and look at them in different ways and see which questions we can make progress in. And these questions, since they’re foundational, are often of interest to the public, so we often have a public event associated with them.

AJ:  Obviously, you got into that through cosmology and the origins of the universe, but what made you decide you wanted to make that the origins of everything?

LK: Well, actually, I began to think about this back when I lived here in this state of Ohio, but as I was thinking of ways to get people interested in the subject, I realized that cosmology, as exciting as it is, alone is just part of the question and that one could bring together lots of different fields and when I started to think about it, I realized that origins questions are really at the heart of the forefront of science. And, as you may or may not know, I have a broad interest in science, well beyond physics, and so I just thought: Well, since origins questions are at the forefront of science, and they are also at the forefront of the public’s interest, it would be a wonderful handle to allow us to look at really interesting questions anywhere, they all fit in an origins framework. And it would allow us to do just what we’ve done, to bring together people from different fields and it’s been incredibly successful. It was ambitious and I think a lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it did.

AJ: Yes, I wish something like that had been in place when I’d graduated. I have an undergraduate degree in physics. And, in addition to just being kind of tired of 16 years of college [I meant school], I also kind of got the sense there wasn’t much left to do, because at the time they were writing books like The End of Physics and so on.

LK: Yeah, I know, and that’s an unfortunate thing.

AJ: So if something like this had been there to make it clear how many good, rich questions there were still.

LK: Exactly! We tend to treat physics for kids as if it was done 200 years ago by dead, white men, but that’s just not it, though. The questions are vibrant and they’re of interest and they’re accessible to people, which is one of the reasons that I write and speak about them. Yeah, it’s unfortunate the way that we turn people off by doing that. And ASU, when the President of the university invited me to come, they were particularly attracted by this idea of interdisciplinary. I am part of a school of Earth and Space Exploration that has astronomers, astrophysics, geophysicists, planetary scientists, engineers, all in one place looking at these things. An example of the kind of interdisciplinary work we’re doing.

AJ: So, to get back to cosmology. Of course, your last book [A Universe From Nothing] was on the origins of …

LK: … the universe.

AJ: … of everything. And one thing I know you’ve answered in previous interviews, and I think in The Atlantic interview you really clarified this point, but so just since I have you here, I’ll just double check that my understanding is correct. The book, as I read it, is not saying that this is definitely what happened, it’s saying that we have an explanation of what could have happened. Is that a fair statement?

LK: We have a plausible explanation of what could have happened. More importantly, if you asked “What would be the characteristics of a universe created by nothing ... created from nothing by known laws of physics?” our universe has precisely those characteristics. Now does that prove it happened? No, because we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity, but it’s plausible. It’s become a lot more plausible in the last few weeks, with the discoveries from the cosmic microwave background and the gravitational radiation, which in principle take us back and directly allow us to measure what happened in the first 10-35 seconds of the big bang. But it was just that: This is plausible. And just having a plausible explanation is remarkable. Just like when Darwin developed the theory of evolution, he was plausible. He didn’t have all the data. He had fossil ideas and he had data suggesting this idea worked, and actually compellingly suggesting that it worked, but he didn’t know about DNA or the genetic basis of life and now we do, but at the time it was a plausible argument.

AJ: One of the things that I really like about things you’ve said repeatedly about science is about being honest about how we look at questions and not assuming we have the answer before we start.

LK: No, I think that’s … I mean, we teach kids as if the answers are important. It’s the questions that are important. And I think that not knowing is a wonderful thing and more parents and more teachers should be willing to say that. “I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure out how we might learn what the answer is.” Because that’s what we’re trying to teach in schools. It’s a process. Science is a process of trying to take this complicated world and figure things out and that means not knowing things and try to figure out how to get the answer. And not knowing is what I do for a living.

AJ: In research for this, I read your article on the recent inflation results … the gravity wave article. And I loved that you said, “I did this thing a few years ago. Now that didn’t turn out to be right.” You would never hear a theologist …

LK: Yeah, they know they’re right, which means they don’t know anything.

AJ: But, I loved the honesty about, “We tried this. It didn’t work.” And scientists embrace that, because it leads us forward.

LK: Yeah, well, absolutely. I think, um …

AJ: That wasn’t really a question.

LK: No, I think honesty is a key part of science. Honesty and full disclosure. I like to try and think I do that, take that beyond science. But being wrong is a central part of science and being willing to say you’re wrong. In fact, Woody Allen says in our movie, too, he talks about it. I think the point is that’s how we make progress. I have had, I think, many beautiful ideas and unfortunately nature wasn’t smart enough to adopt them.

AJ: So, I have a couple of questions that are related to again kind of the questions of origins. I was wondering of one thing. In the past, you have expressed … I’m not sure if skepticism is quite the right word, but not exactly being “on board” with string theory as enthusiastically as some people are. Is that still kind of a fair assessment? Or was that ever really fair? Because it’s hard to get a clear handle on it. Or does that fall in the “we don’t know” category?

LK: I wrote a book, called Hiding in the Mirror, which I called a “fair and balanced look at string theory,” in the non-FOX News sense. My point was that string theory is based on a lot of fascinating ideas. However, it has been the least successful great idea in science in the sense that it hasn’t yet made touch with observation in any way. We still don’t know if the ideas of string theory are right. They’re really well motivated; it’s not as if they aren’t well motivated. But it was strongly hyped. And I guess I was against the hype, not the theory. It’s not even a theory. It’s unfair to evolution to call string theory a theory. It’s not a theory. A theory is something that has been tested robustly by experiment and it’s unfair to evolution to call it a theory. I said that many years ago and Brian Greene used to get mad at me, but now he agrees with me. But I think the point is that it’s fascinating and we’re studying it, it just hasn’t had any great successes in terms of demonstrating that it can help us understand the universe. Maybe it will one day. And, as I say, some of my best students have become string theorists, I just wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. No, just kidding.

AJ: One question I had was about the Higgs boson. One thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve gotten mixed results from different people in the science community, so I’ll get your take on it. I’ve heard that the Higgs boson that’s seen is kind of the garden-variety Higgs. There’s no evidence of supersymmetry

LK: No, there’s no evidence at all, and it’s very disconcerting to many people, because … Actually, many of us thought, I thought – another example of being wrong – I thought supersymmetry would be seen before the Higgs. It was easier, in principle, to be seen at the Large Hadron Collider. So the fact that it hasn’t been seen is telling. Now, what happens when the Large Hadron Collider turns on again next year will be quite important. Now I’d say that there’s more evidence that supersymmetry might be correct after the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang, because the scale that’s picked out is the scale of grand unification which is picked out if supersymmetry is part of things. So, it gives me maybe a little more confidence that supersymmetry may be seen, but it’s kind of remarkable that it’s all working out at that scale. But if supersymmetry isn’t seen at the Large Hadron Collider, then we know that we’re missing something important. And it’s a nightmare scenario. If only the Higgs is seen, in some sense, it’s a nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t tell us what is happening.

AJ: Well, let’s discuss the film for a few minutes. One thing I’m curious about, and this is probably something you address in the film, but what motivated you to go from kind of the straight just “here’s the facts” science to really being an advocate for atheism, if that’s not overstating it.

LK: I’m not an advocate for atheism; I’m an advocate for science, and that I’ve always been, so there’s nothing new about that. What I am is … By being an advocate for science I’m asking people to be willing to accept the reality, the empirically reality of the universe, the evidence. Having their beliefs conform to evidence, rather than the other way around. And, naturally, that implies – since there is no evidence of purpose to the universe – that implies that the tenets of organized religion in the world are not consistent with science. And one should be willing and upfront to say that. I think that by pretending there are some things which are not subject to questioning, we do everyone a disservice. And so, I think the point, what really got me involved in it was, again, in Ohio, right here, in Columbus, where this movie is. I got involved in the Board of Education here in Ohio was trying to essentially get rid of the teaching of evolution in schools and the biologists weren’t speaking up and I had a public pulpit, so I spoke up, and it got me involved and I came here to a big even with the school board for 1,500 people, me and another scientist debating these two nudnicks from the Discovery Institute. And that kind of got me, just protecting science from religious dogmatism, that sort of established that. And once that happened, I’ve been fighting that fight. And I’m against religious dogmatism. It’s not as if I’m out to be an advocate for anything. Except, atheism is just open questioning. It’s not a belief system. It’s just saying you don’t accept things without evidence or good reason for accepting them and that you allow your beliefs to change. As you pointed out, being wrong is really a central part of science. It’s not a central part of religion, where you assume the answers before you ask the questions, and that does a disservice to thinking and action. And if you don’t base your public policy on sound empirical evidence, then the public policy is going to be irrational. And we can’t afford that in the modern world.

AJ: What is your next project after this?

LK: Well, I have a lot of projects. I’m in the middle of scientific papers. I just wrote, what, 2 last week, because of these new discoveries. I’m writing a new book, but I won’t go into that yet, except that it will follow up on A Universe from Nothing, in a different sense, and address more of the question of why we’re here rather than could something come from nothing. Another fundamental question that in some sense is a religious one. And what I want to do, what I’ve done with these books is show that these fundamental questions that have been the basis of theology and philosophy, science is addressing in new ways. And it’s changing what we mean, but that’s okay. That’s okay. It’s called learning.

Emphasis Mine


The Growing Importance of the Atheist Community

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

“Like it or not, atheism has become more than a “lack of belief in gods.”

Sure, if you want to pull out a dictionary you can prove me wrong and say that is all atheism is. Yet doing so would be naive as to the world we live in and ignoring the movement that is happening all around the world.

Many people want to call this movement by many names, humanism, secularism, skepticism, or your choice of label that strategically avoids the word atheist, but when your movement is made up of at least 99% atheists, guess what, you have an atheist movement.

Perhaps though, a better term would be atheist community. Because we don’t have leaders, we don’t elect people to speak on everyone’s behalf, but the media does take to certain voices more than others and we use these outlets to our advantage. This community is a necessity to the lasting effect atheists can have in the political arena, and you cannot ignore that atheism is entrenched in politics.

Now it can be said that for many, the only thing atheists have in common is their rejection of god claims, because atheists can come from many different political and social backgrounds. Republican talking heads like S.E. Cupp claim to be atheist yet support the most theocratic political party in the US. Ayn Rand, another famous atheist was a staunch free-market libertarian who condoned pure selfishness as a part of human nature.

These atheists are rare, and for some like Cupp, I question her sincerity in either politics or atheism and wonder if one or the other is a good money making gimmick.

So maybe not all atheists agree on the same political ideologies, though I would ask anyone to show that the overwhelming majority is not liberal, leftwing based ideologists, instead of selfish or theocratic ones. If there is one thing all atheists have in common politically it is that we are not the religious right.

Atheists want the benefits of a secular society, but too many refuse to do the work. They are more concerned with a dictionary definition of atheism that they forget what is at stake.

Without atheists united in some form of community, the US would be lost overnight to a theocratic right. Ready to overturn whatever secular laws remain in the constitution. While some atheists are worried about definitions, the right is worried about overturning women’s rights, ending marriage equality and enforcing bad economic policies that drive more Americans into poverty.

While we are busy infighting claiming, “no one speaks for me”, the right is speaking and gathering followers. If we continue to run around unorganized, they will overtake this nation.

So there is, and should be a strong atheist movement, groups like American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Secular Coalition for America, Freedom From Religion, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and countless others are atheist based organizations all fighting to enforce secular laws in this country and around the world.

These are the groups who put the weight on their shoulders to make sure the theocratic right do not overtake the US and anyone who believes in upholding the secular history of this nation and the further secularization that rebuilds the wall that separates church and state that the right has spent decades taking apart. We should be thanking these groups and individuals in this fight, not chastising them for being “the face” of atheism as many have.

We may not elect atheist leaders, but many people shine through and stand up for all of us. We don’t have to claim to agree with what every group does or says all the time either. Just as each atheist is unique in many of their own ways, so are groups.

You can get behind the groups you like and ignore the ones you don’t. You never have to state that any particular person speaks for you, but you can allow those people to speak and make your world better, and if you disagree, then speak up. Ignoring it and simply saying it is not a movement means you will let others speak for you. Silence is an action, the action of inaction.

The community is forming whether you like it or not, you can either get on board and help in this struggle or you can simply opt out and watch change happen one way or the other and do nothing to help or stop it. The good news is, while some sit back and criticize the work of these community activists, these activists don’t stop working. They do the dirty work even when some in their own community refuse to thank them.”

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate residing in San Diego, CA. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.  Follow Dan on Twitter @danarel.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/growing-importance-atheist-community?akid=11534.123424.pVve_G&rd=1&src=newsletter961574&t=17

Religious Expressions Are Rooted in Fear-Based Politics

From Psychology Today, Our Humanity Naturally

By  Dave Niose

N.B.: Separation of Church/State is more important than ever.

“Most historians trace the origins of the modern Religious Right to the late 1970s, when a surge of conservative religious political activism resulted in the creation of the Moral Majority. It’s true that Jerry Falwell and others on the Christian Right exploded onto the scene at that time, helping to put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980 and never looking back thereafter. But if we really want to trace the historical events that gave rise to the Religious Right, we would be remiss if we did not consider the decade that arguably resulted in more successful anti-secular efforts than any other: the 1950s.

Known for the Red Scare and fear-based politics, the 1950s were extremely anti-secular times. In the midst of the McCarthy era, when outward expressions of patriotism were expected and a mere accusation of communist sympathy could ruin a career, visible religiosity crept into all facets of American public life. The first major assault that decade against Jefferson’s wall of separation came in 1952, with passage of a bill that requires the president to declare a “National Day of Prayer” each year. Occasional days of prayer had been declared previously, but they were relatively rare and never an annual occurrence. With the rise of the Soviet Union as America’s chief rival in the post-war world, however, religion suddenly became an important means of distinguishing between America and the godless communism of the Soviet system. Atomic weaponry was now in the hands of both superpowers, and the role of fear in defining the atmosphere of the era is difficult to overstate. With schoolchildren being trained to dive for cover under desks in the event of a nuclear attack from evil communist adversaries, it wasn’t hard for religious interests to lobby successfully for governmental endorsement of religion.

Those religious interests, led by the Catholic fraternal group the Knights of Columbus, scored another huge victory two years later, when they convinced lawmakers to insert the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. No longer would America be “one nation indivisible,” because instead the Pledge would demand that the nation be seen as “under God.” That this version discriminates against non believers and others who do not accept the idea of the nation being under a God is beyond dispute, but in the hysteria of the McCarthy era such questions of equal rights mattered little.

Still not content, religious interests then turned their attention to the national motto. Since the founding era the de facto motto of the country had been E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “out of many, one.” This inclusive, pluralistic motto had served the nation well since the Revolutionary War, but to the God-fearing lobbyists and politicians of the 1950s it didn’t suffice, so in 1956 they passed legislation declaring the nation’s new motto to be In God We Trust. Little consideration was given to those good Americans who simply do not believe in a deity, let alone trust one.

The social psychology that allowed this string of hyper-religious governmental actions arose from a unique confluence of factors: the existence of a godless adversary, the invention of apocalyptic weaponry, recent memories of the horror of the Second World War and the Holocaust, misinformation campaigns that trained the public to associate secularity with totalitarian atrocities, assertive religious institutions determined to get their way, passive secular groups, and the general paranoid environment of the Cold War and McCarthyism. With this as the backdrop, it’s little wonder that religious conservatives found it easy to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state.

Today, over half a century later, we still live with the fallout from the hyper-religiosity of the 1950s, except that few remember the paranoia that gave rise to this mixture of religion and government.  Because Americans tend to be historical amnesiacs, few remember that the annual National Day of Prayer is a recent invention. And few know that “under God” was added to the Pledge in 1954, or that In God We Trusthas not always been the country’s motto.

Most Americans simply assume that it has always been that today’s governmental religiosity traces back to the founding, and therefore religious expressions are seen as proof that America has always been a very religious country. Because of this, a key goal of today’s secular groups and activists is to educate Americans that most governmental expressions of religiosity are not longstanding traditions at all, but recent inventions of religious activists exploiting a climate of fear.”

Emphasis Mine


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact

Richard Dawkins

Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?

A. There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Any other organization — a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society – -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.

What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells – each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity – all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something – in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.

Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea – natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life – creationism – is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains – everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.

There are many reasons to vote against Rick Perry. His fatuous stance on the teaching of evolution in schools is perhaps not the first reason that springs to mind. But maybe it is the most telling litmus test of the other reasons, and it seems to apply not just to him but, lamentably, to all the likely contenders for the Republican nomination. The ‘evolution question’ deserves a prominent place in the list of questions put to candidates in interviews and public debates during the course of the coming election.

Richard Dawkins wrote this response to Governor Perry forOn Faith, the Washington Post’s forum for news and opinion on religion and politics.

More On Faith and evolution:

Panel debate: On evolution, can religion evolve?

Under God: Perry says evolution a ‘theory’ with ‘gaps’

RICHARD DAWKINS  | AUG 23, 2011 7:25 AM”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/attention-governor-perry-evolution-is-a-fact/2011/08/23/gIQAuIFUYJ_blog.html