A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.
Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.
This is from Galileo Unchained, an interesting and amusing site for atheists. We like this piece so much that we are taking the liberty of quoting it in full:
In the beginning … God walked in the Garden of Eden like an ordinary supernatural Joe. He dropped by Abraham’s for a cup of coffee and a chat. He didn’t know what was up in Sodom and Gomorrah and had to send out angelic scouts for reconnaissance: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me” (Gen. 18:20–21).
But, like Stalin gradually collecting titles, God has now become omniscient and omnipotent. He’s gone from needing six days to shape a world from Play-Doh and sprinkle tiny stars in the dome of heaven to creating 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars.
That’s 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg of universe.
And yet, oddly, his biblical demonstrations of power faded with time. From creating the universe, he’s weakened such that appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich is about as much as he can pull off today. He has the fiery reputation of the Wizard of Oz but is now just the man behind the curtain.
Even God’s punishments became wimpier. A global flood, with millions dead is pretty badass. Personally smiting Sodom and Gomorrah is impressive, though that’s a big step down in magnitude.
And it’s downhill from there — God simply orders the destruction of Canaanite cities, and to punish Israel and Judah, he allows Assyria and then Babylon to invade. As Jesus, he doesn’t kick much more butt than cursing a fig tree, and today he simply stands by to let bad things happen.
Maybe God’s power diminishes as the universe’s dark energy increases?
His only existence was in the superstitions of human beings.
Now even that dim identity is fading away.
We have watched the religious retreating until their backs are to the wall.
Once firm beliefs – in the name of which believers would put disbelievers to torture and death – have quietly been abandoned within the stretch of living memory.
It’s not long since Christians believed in a physical Heaven and Hell. After all, a bodily resurrected Jesus Christ has to have a physical dwelling place. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ was physically hauled up into Heaven – the hauling job by angels is called her Assumption – so there had to be some solid ground to put her on once they got her up there. And if sinners were to suffer in hell, they needed nerves and a brain to suffer pain from being burnt with actual fire.
What theologians speak of that now – or of the Trinity? Only simpletons do. Many among the laity do go on believing in an old bearded man named God, somewhere in the sky, dressed in a kind of nightshirt, with his son, a pretty young man – golden curly hair, blue eyes, also in nightwear – seated beside him on something-or-other, among billowing clouds in a rosy dawn. But that’s all for the commonalty in this twenty-first century since the chosen birthdate of the putative Savior Christ; not the great thinkers.
Science has done what it was bound to do: show up religious accounts of how the universe came into being, and how mankind arose, to be nonsense. Highly imaginative nonsense. In some aspects, highly ingenious nonsense. But nonsense all the same.
Theological defense of the existence of “God” has steadily dwindled. It came all the way down to the dogma of “intelligent design”. And that’s also manifest nonsense. Whom does it deceive (not counting the gulls and simpletons)? Our universe is so obviously not designed. A design is for a purpose, and the propounders of the idea can point to no purpose. And where is the evidence of intelligence, when life forms fail, hideous deformities occur, animal survives by devouring animal …. the list of natural events that are easily explained by evolution but not by the idea of intelligent design could be very long.
Proponents of “intelligent design” at least had the sense to drop the notion that the supernatural Designer was benevolent. It must finally come home to even a dull mind that the Designer, or god, who made (for example) Ebola, is not a source of unqualified benefit to humankind.
The defense is worn down to the wire. The result is utter confusion.
The Catholic Church cannot allow the “intelligent designer” to take God’s place; cannot have God reduced to an architect who could shout “Hey presto!” at his drawing board and have his design spring into existence. Or don a robe decorated with moons and stars and meteors, and a tall pointed hat, and take a wand in his hand, and wave it about in some medium of ultra-space and so fill an infinite void with galaxies – and prepare Jesus Christ to be born from the womb of a virgin on the little planet Earth.
But how then can it cope with the challenge of science?
To see its best effort, witness this crap, this stew of anachronistic notions thrown into the pot with gobs of scientific truth. It shows how Roman Catholicism does not know what to say, and can only dither vague denials and assertions that add up to nothing – like these, gabbled just the other day by Pope Francis, head of that once powerful and terrible, tyrannical and cruel institution, the Catholic Church (a relic of the darkest centuries of human history):
Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.
When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.
The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
In other words … God is more a clockmaker than a conjurer of miracles.
Could anything be less like a clock designed to work in a fixed unchanging manner for a particular purpose than this universe of ever-changing matter?*
Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.
A 2006 article in the Vatican’s main newspaper also distanced the Catholic Church from the idea of “intelligent design,” which it said should not be taught in schools as science. …
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, it said. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap”.
Francis’s more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, espoused this view and found the American debate between creationists and those who backed evolution “absurd’. He asked in 2007 why “those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God”. And then went on:
This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.
Skeptics and atheists, though, may agree with the importance of those questions. But they’re still looking for very different answers.
We sure are, bro!
The intellectually beleaguered theologians of the Catholic Church saw that some interpretation, some clarification of this garbage was needed. So they’ve come up with this, from the Catholic News Service, by John Thavis:
Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article
Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.
The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.
At the same time, scientists should recognize that evolutionary theory does not exclude an overall purpose in creation – a “superior design” that may be realized through secondary causes like natural selection, it said.
What overall purpose?
The article, published in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, was written by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy.
The article noted that the debate over intelligent design – the idea that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than adaptive evolution – has spread from the United States to Europe.
The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a “superior cause” – understood though not necessarily named as God – to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the article said.
If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science.
The article said a Pennsylvania judge had acted properly when he ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in schools. [The judge said:]
Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation.
From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.
God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction.
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes .. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap’ …
The article said that, unfortunately, what has helped fuel the intelligent design debate is a tendency among some Darwinian scientists to view evolution in absolute and ideological terms, as if everything — including first causes — can be attributed to chance.
Science as such, with its methods, can neither demonstrate nor exclude that a superior design has been carried out.
From a religious viewpoint, it said, there is no doubt that the human story “has a sense and a direction that is marked by a superior design”.
What direction? Going where? Why?
So if God may not be boiled down to an “intelligent designer”, then what is he? What is this new orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? He’s still “the creator of all things from nothing”. But he didn’t create things exactly as we know them at this passing moment. He launched evolution. By a special “willful” act he had humankind “emerge”. (Whether from earlier ape-like Hominoidea or not is left an open question.) Man’s unique “spiritual element” could not have developed through evolution. So it must have been put in him by God. Man’s spiritual element, it may be inferred, proves the existence of God.
God is a launcher of evolution, into which process he uniquely intervened to create humankind, to which he gave something new in the universe, a “spiritual element”.
This new Catholic God is not very different from the old Catholic God, but he seems to have shed his son and the Holy Ghost. At least neither the Professor of evolutionary biology nor the befuddled Pope says what’s happened to them.
So even the “intelligent designer” fades out. The old Creator is glimpsed as the launcher of a process through billions of years which finally did not result in the creation of humankind. That was a special new creation. For what purpose is still not said.
He is very frail, that being. Very thin, transparent, ghost-like. Going, going … almost gone.
* We do, however, accept Karl Popper’s splendidly explicated thesis that “all clouds are clocks and all clocks are clouds” in his lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”. In his sense only, having nothing to do with theological “intelligent design”, organic things may be said to be clock-like. You can find the lecture here, or in the collection of Popper’s essays titled Objective Knowledge.
Can you call yourself free if restrictions are put on your freedom?
We of The Atheist Conservative say that a person’s freedom should be limited by nothing but everyone else’s freedom.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seems to have a different idea of what freedom means.
He grants that with the first amendment the Constitution enshrines the principal of freedom of religion, but according to reports (see below) insists that “freedom of religion” does not include a right to “freedom from religion”.
So you are free to worship something or other, but not free to worship nothing.
How many ways can the idea be expressed? You are not free not to worship anything at all. You are not free not to worship. You have to worship something. It can be anything at all, but you must worship it. Hold it sacred. The thing. Or the person. Or any number of things or persons. You are Constitutionally obliged to consider it or him or her or them divine.
You are perfectly free to decide which it or him or her or them you consider divine. But you are not free to consider that nothing is divine.
You may choose (for instance) an abstraction, a dead Jew, a rock, a wooden or plaster or cloth or straw or polystyrene object, a devil, an ancestor. Or any number of the same. Or even a mixed bag of all of them – a Deity Allsorts.
That is right and proper and permitted by the Constitution of the United States. But you cannot deny that something or someone is, or a bunch of persons real or imaginary are, or at least that a state of mind can be achieved in which you understand that absolutely everything is, divine.
Not, anyway, according to the Constitution.
Which logically means that the Constitution forbids you to refrain from worshiping something. If you do, you may be in breach of Constitutional Law.
And it may follow that the thing you must worship must also be honored with the performance of rites. Simply believing it to be divine may not be enough. To be religious you must follow some ritual of worship. Otherwise you could just claim to worship your Aunt Sally and never do a thing about it. Even your Aunt Sally herself, if she’s alive on this earth and not moved on, or over, or through, or up to another (imaginary but Constitutionally-acknowledged) world, might not believe you are really sincere.
And this from a judge we have held in high esteem? Did he really say something that implied all that? What in fact did he actually say?
The Washington Times reports only these words of his:
I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion.
And MSN interprets his words like this:
Defending his strict adherence to the plain text of the Constitution, Scalia knocked secular qualms over the role of religion in the public sphere as “utterly absurd,” arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion – not freedom from it.
He probably meant nothing more, after all, than that religious groups may put up their shrines and symbols in public places, and publicly display mottoes with religious references, and that atheist protestors have no grounds in law for objecting.
Austin Cline, who is an atheist, agrees with this view in an essay titled What is Freedom From Religion? But he discusses much more than that issue.
Freedom of Religion Requires Freedom From Religion
Conservatives insist that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and argue against strict separation of church and state. Too often, though, conservatives seem to have a flawed understanding of what freedom from religion really entails and fail to realize that freedom from religion is crucial to religious liberty in general.
It is evident that a person misunderstands the concept of freedom from religion when they say that promotion of the idea is part of an effort to eliminate religion from the public square, to secularize America, or to deny religious believers a voice in politics. None of this follows from a belief that people have a right to be free from religion.
What Freedom From Religion is Not
Freedom from religion is not a demand that one never encounter religion, religious believers, or religious ideas at all. Freedom from religion is not freedom from seeing churches, encountering people handing out religious tracts on the street corner, seeing preachers on television, or listening to people discuss religion at work. Freedom from religion is not a demand that religious beliefs never be expressed, that religious believers never voice an opinion, or that religiously-inspired values never have any impact on laws, customs, or public policies.
Freedom from religion is thus not a social right to never encounter religion in public spaces. Freedom from religion has two relevant aspects: personal and political. On the personal level, a right to be free from religion means that a person has the freedom not to belong to any religion or religious organization. The right to be religious and to join religious organizations would be meaningless if there did not exist a parallel right not to join any at all. Religious liberty must simultaneously protect both the right to be religious and the right not to be religious at all - it cannot protect a right to be religious, just so long as you pick some religion.
What Freedom From Religion Is
When it comes to politics, the freedom from religion means being “free from” any government imposition of religion. Freedom from religion does not mean being free from seeing churches, but it does mean being free from churches getting governing financing; it doesn’t mean being free from encountering people handing out religious tracts on a street corner, but it does mean being free from government-sponsored religious tracts; it doesn’t mean being free from hearing religious discussions at work, but it does mean being free from religion being a condition of employment, hiring, firing, or one’s status in the political community.
Freedom from religion isn’t a demand that religious beliefs never be expressed, but rather that they not be endorsed by the government; it’s not a demand that religious believers never voice an opinion, but rather that they not have a privileged status in public debates; it’s not a demand that religious values never have any public impact, but rather that no laws be based on religious doctrines without the existence of a secular purpose and basis.
The political and the personal are closely related. A person cannot be “free from” religion in the personal sense of not having to belong to any religion if religion is made a factor in one’s status in the political community. Government agencies should not endorse, promote, or encourage religion in any way. Doing so suggests that those who accept the religious beliefs favored by the government will, by extension, be favored by the government – and thus a person’s political status becomes conditioned on their personal religious commitments.
What Religious Liberty Is
The claim that the Constitution only protects “freedom of religion” and not “freedom from religion” thus misses an important point. Religious liberty, if it is to mean anything, cannot merely mean that the state won’t use the police to stop or harass adherents of certain religious ideas. It must also mean that the state won’t use more subtle powers, like those of the pocketbook and the bully pulpit, to favor some religions over others, to endorse certain religious doctrines rather than others, or to take sides in theological disputes.
It would be wrong for the police to close synagogues; it is also wrong for police officers to tell Jewish drivers during a traffic stop that they should convert to Christianity. It would be wrong for politicians to pass a law banning Hinduism; it is also wrong for them to pass a law proclaiming that monotheism is preferable to polytheism. It would be wrong for a president to say that Catholicism is a cult and not really Christian; it is also wrong for a president to endorse theism and religion generally.
This is why freedom of religion and freedom from religion are two sides of the same coin. Attacks on one ultimately serve to undermine the other. The preservation of religious liberty requires that we ensure that the government not be handed any authority over religious matters.
Cline also sets out this for our enlightenment:
Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
In 1779 as a member of the General Assembly, James Madison supported Thomas Jefferson’s historic Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom; after Jefferson left for diplomatic duties in Europe in 1784, Madison became the bill’s prime sponsor. Enactment failed every year from June 1779 until it was finally adopted in January, 1786.
The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom was an important milestone in establishing religious liberty in America and disestablishing official churches.
The Act has questionable opening lines – but read beyond them.
The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom.
Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free;
that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;
that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time;
that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical;
that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind;
that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry;
that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right;
that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;
that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
“Errors cease to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”
“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship … but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions on matters of religion.”
Could freedom of speech be more plainly or strongly supported than by those statements?
They mean that we must be free not only to hold any opinions whatsoever on religion, but also to express them publicly whenever and however we choose.
The time may not be far off when humankind as a whole will be free from religion; when people will learn about the irrational beliefs their close ancestors held with passionate conviction and be amazed that in an age of science they could have swallowed such nonsense.
(Hat-tip Don L)
We dearly love an article we can enjoy examining critically. Best of all we like an opinion that we partly agree with and partly do not.
This article is by Star Parker, whose columns at Townhall on political issues we generally like. And here again we have no quarrel with her political views. It is her conviction that religion is necessary and good that sparks our opposition.
A new Pew Research Center survey of opinion about the importance of religion in American life shows an interesting picture.
Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically. In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence. In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence.
To us, of course, that’s good news.
However, while increasing numbers of Americans feel religion is losing influence, most feel this is a bad thing.
Fifty-six percent say that the waning influence of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing.
In a survey done by Pew in 2012, 58 percent of Americans said religion is “very important” and only 18 percent said it is not “too important” or “not important at all”.
This raises some interesting questions.
One clear one is why, when Americans think religion is very important, has the percentage of Americans who think religion is losing influence in American life increased almost 40 percent over the last 14 years?
Another one is what are the political implications? Certainly, in the Republican Party, there is an increasingly vocal libertarian leaning faction that sees religion as costly political baggage.
Yes – and that is one of the libertarian views with which we are in strong sympathy.
I attribute why almost three fourths of Americans feel that religion is losing influence in American life, while most feel this is a bad thing, to the law of unintended consequences.
She goes on to describe the disaster of welfare policies. We too think they have been – and continue to be – disastrous.
Many Americans have been unwittingly supporting policies for more than a half-century that they thought were good ideas and consistent with their values which have been neither. Now more Americans are beginning to appreciate the damage that has been done and how far the nation has strayed from their own sense of right and wrong.
Take the example of welfare.
When Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was dramatically expanded in the 1960s, it seemed morally correct for government to get more aggressive in the lives of the poor, particularly poor black women. … Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty.
Right. Those have been and are the causes of “intergenerational poverty”.
But we omitted a sentence. It was this:
Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out poverty?
It may well have been the case that Church-taught values contributed to a belief that children should be born to married parents. Many held that belief also because it is plainly best for children to be raised by a mother and a father. The principle is good whether endorsed or not by a religion.
We contend that it is because the state took over the responsibility of providing for children that men could so easily opt out of the traditional role of bread-winner to their families. It was government incursion into private life that did the damage to believers and non-believers alike. Their religion or lack of it had nothing to do with the “unintended consequences” of welfarism.
Now it’s happening in the whole country. As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced family.
Some say today we have competing views about the role of government.
Conservatives and progressives do have different views about the role of government. That is not a matter of opinion, but a fact.
I would say we have competing views about what life is about.
Yes. We think life can be “about” anything that free individuals want to make it. Star Parker thinks that life was created, and the creator had a purpose, and that purpose, though impossible to define, is somehow helped along by this or that set of religious doctrines. About which set of doctrines in particular, there are “competing views” among the multitude of religions, each of which claims to teach “the truth”.
One view – a decidedly secular, materialistic view – sees no mystery in life.
We have a decidedly secular view – materialistic too in that we see the need to sustain our physical existence as well and as pleasantly as we possibly can. But we do not think there is no mystery. On the contrary, we are aware that humankind knows very little. To learn more, to explore what we do not know about our universe and ourselves is the most exciting adventure of our conscious lives, and discovery is the engine of all progress.
Pretending to know that there is a purpose to life known only to a supernatural being who created it but chooses to keep his purpose secret, is to opt out of the great adventure.
The left wing version, which dominates the Democratic Party, says government can solve all of life’s problems.
Or most of them. And it’s a wrong and dangerous belief.
The hard-core libertarian version, found among some Republicans — says just leave everybody alone — you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you — and everything will work out for the best.
That is an absurd encapsulation of the libertarian view. No intelligent libertarian thinks that if people are left to make their own choices, if they are self-reliant, “everything will work out for the best”. Every individual will make his own successes and failures – and take responsibility for them. He knows that government cannot solve “all life’s problems” – and, what’s more, does a pretty poor job of solving the one problem it exists to solve: how best to protect liberty.
The other view maintains that you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society.
A free society starts off with the virtue of being a free society. Freedom needs to be protected by law, and, if it is, crime will be punished, foreign enemies will be kept away, and the people can prosper. How good they are in their private lives remains forever dependent on individual character and choice.
It was what George Washington meant when he said in his farewell address that “of all the dispensations and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.
We are sorry we can only partially agree with George Washington on this. Morality, yes. Religion? What religion has a history that can withstand moral criticism? Some – Christianity and Islam in particular – have a history of carnage and cruelty. That Christianity preaches against both make its actual record all the worse.
It is my sense that more Americans are beginning to wake up to the unintended, damaging consequences of the often well-intended government policies they have been supporting for many years.
More Americans are beginning to appreciate that we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems and that if we want to recapture our freedom and prosperity, we must recapture our virtue.
Certainly. But we won’t do that by returning into the mental darkness of religion. We can do it by limiting the powers of government and recovering the idea of liberty as the highest value. That is political and moral virtue.
The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had a simple comparison for the similarities between Muslims and Lutherans when she spoke at the opening session of the Islamic Society of North America’s convention Friday.
I realized, looking at some of the lectures that you have scheduled, that if we were just to exchange “church” for “mosque” I would see I was in the same place with typical Lutherans.
… About 300 people attended the opening meeting at the Cobo Center. … More than 10,000 are expected before the 51st annual convention concludes Monday.
… The convention’s keynote speech by former President Jimmy Carter is today [Monday, September 1, 2014].
What Jimmy Carter said to the convention is summed up in a few words at the end of this provoking video clip:
But what is this organization with which Lutheran Bishop Elizabeth Eaton finds she has much in common, and ex-President Jimmy Carter is happy to be associated with?
We quote from Discover the Networks’ entry on ISNA:
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was established in July 1981 by U.S-based members of the Muslim Brotherhood …
Today ISNA is the largest Muslim organization on the continent. Its annual conferences routinely draw 30,000 to 40,000 attendees, and its website receives some 2.6 million hits per month. …
ISNA leaders view Islam as being superior to all other faiths and destined to replace them. …
Based on a mid-1980s investigation, the FBI concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood members who founded U.S.-based groups had risen to “leadership roles within NAIT [North American Islamic Trust] and its related organizations”, including ISNA, “which means they are in a position to direct the activities and support of Muslims in the U.S. for the Islamic Revolution”.
Expanding on this, a late-’80s FBI memo said:
Within the organizational structure of NAIT, there have been numerous groups and individuals identified as being a part of a covert network of revolutionaries who have clearly indicated there (sic) support for the Islamic Revolution as advocated by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his government as well as other fanatical Islamic Shiite fundamentalist leaders in the Middle East. This faction of Muslims have declared war on the United States, Israel and any other country they deem as an enemy of Islam. The common bond between these various organizations is both religious and political with the underlying common goal being to further the holy war (Islamic Jihad).
Declassified FBI memos indicate that ISNA was identified as a Muslim Brotherhood front as early as 1987. “The entire organization is structured, controlled and funded by followers and supporters of the Islamic Revolution as advocated by the founders” of the Brotherhood in Egypt, said one source. … And a 1988 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood document bluntly identified ISNA as part of the “apparatus of the Brotherhood”. …
In the summer of 2007, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was based within ISNA’s headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, was tried on charges that it had engaged in fundraising on behalf of Hamas. During the court proceedings, the U.S. government released a list of approximately 300 of HLF’s “unindicted co-conspirators” and “joint venturers”. Among them were … ISNA [and] the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] …
In a June 2008 brief filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, ISNA and its related financial arm, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), petitioned U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis to order that their names be removed from the list of co-conspirators in the HLF trial. The prosecutors, in turn, cited nearly two dozen exhibits establishing “both ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case”.
In July 2008, ISNA’s lawyers conceded that their organization, through its affiliate NAIT, had given financial support to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook. …
On July 1, 2009, Judge Solis upheld ISNA’s designation as an unindicted co-conspirator, ruling that the government had “produced ample evidence” linking the group to Hamas and thereby justifying the designation. …
The International Assessment and Strategy Center arrives at this conclusion:
From Al-Arian, to KindHearts, to terrorism itself, ISNA has publicly distanced itself from extremists only when there was no other choice. As one of the largest Muslim American organizations in the United States, its failure to strongly oppose terrorism is inexcusable, but not particularly surprising when one considers the organization in greater depth. ISNA’s history and past and present leadership are characterized by a long-standing relationship and connection with extremist groups and fundamentalist ideology. It has taken no decisive actions toward reform, such as purging its leadership of those members who have been most clearly linked with extremist views. Ultimately, the weight of evidence pointing toward ISNA’s extremist nature is too great to be explained away by coincidence, circumstance, or ignorance. It must be held accountable for its harmful influence, and certainly does not merit its status as a “moderate” partner of the State Department on the increasingly crucial area of relations with the Muslim community.
And yet –
In September 2013, President Barack Obama praised ISNA for having long “upheld the proud legacy of American Muslims’ contributions to our national fabric” …
The contributions ISNA made to Hamas, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood – which is dedicated to the destruction of the United States – the president did not mention.
What does a conservative in the US most want to conserve? We would say: A commitment to liberty, the founding principle of his country. American conservatives may differ from each other on questions of religion, foreign affairs, entitlements and the economic “safety-net”, homosexual marriage and abortion, even on defense, but if they are not loyal to the Constitution and the idea of individual freedom that it enshrines, they are not true conservatives.
In Britain too, conservatives are dedicated to the defense of the traditional and hard-won liberties of the people.
In Russia, being a conservative means something different. The very opposite. What Russian conservatives want to conserve is their long and almost completely unbroken tradition of tyranny. The quarrel within their ranks would now, in post-Soviet times, be chiefly over whether they want a return to the Red Tyranny of Bolshevism, or the older tradition of Tsarist oppression, where cause for national pride may more confidently be found.
Owen Matthews, author of Stalin’s Children, writes in the Spectator (UK) about a conservative Russian military leader:
Strange times throw up strange heroes — and in Russia’s proxy war with Ukraine, none is more enigmatic than the Donetsk rebel leader Igor Girkin, better known by his nom de guerre of Igor Strelkov.
In a few short months, Strelkov has gone from being an obscure military re-enactor to the highest-profile rebel leader in eastern Ukraine. But at the same time Strelkov’s fame and outspoken criticism of Vladimir Putin for failing to sufficiently support the rebels has earned him the enmity of the Kremlin. Moreover, Strelkov’s brand of sentimental ultra-nationalism, extreme Orthodoxy and Russian Imperial nostalgia offer a frightening glimpse into one of Russia’s possible futures.
In the West, we are used to seeing Putin cast as a dangerous adventurer and nationalist. But to Strelkov, and to the millions of Russians who have come to admire him, Putin isn’t nearly nationalist enough.
Within weeks of his arrival in eastern Ukraine in May this year, apparently on his own initiative, Strelkov quickly became the highest-profile rebel leader thanks to his discipline and military bearing. A veteran of wars in Bosnia, Transnistria and Chechnya, Strelkov is a reserve colonel in the Russian army and a former (and possibly current) officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. With his clipped moustache, pressed fatigues and careful charm, Strelkov styles himself on a pre–revolutionary Tsarist officer. In May he mustered a 2,000-strong local defence force in Slavyansk, banned his troops from swearing and ordered two of his own men to be summarily executed for looting.
He wrote a manifesto calling his troops “an Orthodox army who are proud that we serve not the golden calf but our Lord Jesus Christ” and declared that “swearing is blasphemy, and a Russian warrior cannot use the language of the enemy. It demeans us spiritually, and will lead the army to defeat”.
Russian state television built Strelkov up as a hero. The nationalist writer Egor Prosvirnin praised him as the “Russian God of War” who “rinks the blood of foreign mercenaries to the last drop, and then asks for more”. …
And then, in mid-August, Strelkov mysteriously resigned his post as “defence minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic — along with two other Russian citizens who had been the civilian heads of the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. All three rebel leaders were replaced by Ukrainian citizens.
The most obvious explanation for the reshuffle is that Moscow is preparing a negotiated settlement where the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine — or Novo-Rossiya, “New Russia”, in Russian nationalist parlance — will be given some degree of autonomy within Ukraine. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — from young soldiers’ Instagram selfies tagged to locations inside Ukraine to the Russian regular soldiers taken prisoners of war on Monday by Kiev’s troops — Moscow has also continued to insist that it is not a combatant in Ukraine. Clearly, having Russian citizens at the helm of supposedly autonomous rebel republics and their armed forces was a diplomatic inconvenience to the Kremlin which needed to be fixed — and pressure was put on Strelkov and his cronies to quit.
But there’s another, deeper meaning to Strelkov’s fall from favour. Though he’s often portrayed as a stooge of Moscow, Strelkov has in fact been consistently critical of the Kremlin’s failure to act decisively to annex eastern Ukraine as it annexed Crimea in spring. “Having taken Crimea, Putin began a revolution from the top,” Strelkov wrote in June. “But if we do not support [this revolution] now, its failure will sweep aside both him and the country.”
Strelkov’s close associate Igor Ivanov, the head of the rebel army’s political department, has also furiously denounced the “Chekist-oligarchic regime” of Vladimir Putin and has also predicted that Putin will soon fall, leaving only the army and the church to save Russia from chaos.
This mix of militarism, religion and a mystical faith in Holy Russia’s imperial destiny to rule over lesser nations has deep roots. Ivanov was until recently head of the Russian All-Military Union, or ROVS, an organisation originally founded by the White Russian General Baron Pyotr Wrangel in 1924 after the victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war. Its guiding motive was to preserve the Tsarist ideals of God, Tsar and Fatherland. For much of the 20th century, ROVS was the preserve of elderly emigré fantasists — before a new generation of post-Soviet nationalists like Ivanov breathed new life into the organisation as a home for Russian ultra-nationalists who hate Putin’s brand of crony capitalism.
A similar outfit is the Narodny Sobor, or People’s Assembly, which describes itself as an “Orthodox-Patriotic organisation devoted to fighting ‘liberasts’ and western values, to promoting Orthodoxy, and to preserving the traditional family”, according to a recent study by Professor Paul Robinson of the University of Ottawa. In Russia, the Narodny Sobor has, along with the Russian Orthodox church, successfully campaigned for a tsunami of conservative legislation to be passed by the Duma, from banning swearing on television and in films to prohibiting the spreading of “homosexual propaganda”. The head of the Narodny Sobor’s Ukrainian branch is Igor Druz — a senior political advisor to Strelkov who has denounced the Kiev government as “pederasts and drug addicts”.
On the face of it, Strelkov and his ilk and Putin should be on the same side. They share a nostalgia for a lost Russian greatness — indeed Strelkov has a degree in history and was until recently an enthusiastic military re-enactor, playing White Guard and second world war officers. And this year, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin has abandoned years of hard-edged pragmatism and economic prudence and moved towards the kind of mystical, Orthodox nationalism so beloved of the ROVS and Narodny Sobor crowd.
Yet as Putin prepares to sign off on some kind of compromise peace deal with the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, there will be millions of Russians brainwashed by months of state television’s patriotic propaganda who will agree with Strelkov that Moscow is selling the rebels down the river.
Strelkov himself has little chance of becoming a serious opposition figure to Putin; he is too stiff and too weird for public politics. But Putin’s main challenger, when he comes, will be someone of Strelkov’s stamp.
We tend to think of Vladimir Putin as being most politically vulnerable from the left — from the liberal, western-orientated professionals who came out in their hundreds of thousands on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg three years ago to protest at Putin’s third term. But in truth Putin’s real vulnerability is from the right — from the racist football fans who rioted unchecked through central Moscow in 2010; from prophets of a Russian-led Eurasian empire such as Alexander Dugin, who was in the radical nationalist opposition to Putin before falling temporarily into step with the Kremlin in the wake of the Crimea campaign; and from militaristic ultra-conservatives on the Russian religious right.
So for the countries of Eastern Europe emancipated from Russian servitude barely a quarter of a century ago, there is not only the growing threat of re-subjugation, but the probability that it will be applied according to the whims of a madman, a religious fanatic living out fantasies of Tsardom and limitless imperial expansion by military means.
A selection of video-recorded statements by Christopher Hitchens on religion.
He is blunt and accurate, and entertaining as he always was (which we appreciated, even when – on political issues – we disagreed with him).
(Hat-tip to our reader Marnee)
A writer by the name of Enza Ferreri has written an article against Reason. She probably doesn’t see that that is what she’s done. But that is what she’s done. She writes:
It’s all very simple. We can’t fight Islam in the West without fighting the enablers of Islam in the West, namely the Leftists.
So far, so good.
And, since the Left has many different and separate aspects, we have to fight against each one of them. Secularism, environmentalism, global warming alarmism, homosexualism, militant feminism, sexual relativism, multiculturalism, anti-Christianity, Islamophilia, post-nationalism, internationalism are just as important targets to attack as Marxist economics, the expropriation of the capitalist class (or, in its modern reincarnation, redistribution of wealth), and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The words we have put in bold mark the issues we dispute with Enza Ferreri.
We don’t know what “homosexualism” is, or “sexual relativism”.
We consider sexual choices to be private matters (unless they involve children). They are certainly not dangerous threats to the survival of the West.
But while we agree with the author on her other “targets”, we emphatically disagree with her when it comes to secularism and anti-Christianity.
Secularism is not the same as Leftism. Between the founding of the United States of America and the dawning in the 1960s of this Leftist age, there was a very long stretch of secularism, liberty, and prosperity.
But in those times and those countries where a church (in the widest sense) has been the ruling power, there has always been tyranny. What greater tyranny can there be than the imposition of an orthodoxy on every mind?
Communism and Nazism also impose orthodoxy, and punish dissent as cruelly as a theocracy. That is one of the reasons why we class these ideologies as religions. Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China were not secular states; they were orthodoxies, as tyrannous as the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, or the newly declared Islamic State now.
The secular state, and only the secular state, is a free state. Secularism is freedom. Freedom is only possible in the secular state.
In a free, secular society, people are free to be Christians. But people are equally free to criticize Christianity.
Neglecting any of these fronts is like fighting a war leaving a battleground to the enemy, like fighting on the Western front and leaving totally undefended the Eastern one.
Secularism and atheism are certainly the first lines of important wars.
So she contends that the prime enemy in her war is freedom. That being so, she has no case to make against Islam or Marxism.
For all that she seems to be speaking for tolerance (being against Islamophilia) and reason (being against environmentalism, global warming alarmism, “militant feminism”); and against Islam (aka multiculturalism) and Marxism (redistribution etc.), she is actually speaking for her own choice of intolerant, irrational, orthodox tyranny.
A secularist West will always lose to Islam, because it will have enough compassion, tolerance and self-restraint from violence that are the remnants of its Christian heritage, but it will have lost the ideals, the passion and certainty of fighting for a just cause that were once part of Christianity and have disappeared with its erosion.
Her assumptions are arrogant to an extreme. Compassion, tolerance and self-restraint from violence are not the legacies of “a Christian heritage” but of enlightened reason.
It is pointless to try and fight one irrational belief, such as Islam or Marxism, by setting up another irrational belief, such as Christianity, in opposition to it. There is no better reason to believe in the Trinity than in Allah or the inevitability of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Two quotes here serve as epigrams. Robert Spencer wrote in his great work Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t: “People who are ashamed of their own culture will not defend it.” And Dennis Prager said during one of his radio broadcasts, “Only good religion can counter bad religion.”
We admire much that Robert Spencer and Denis Prager write. And we think Spencer makes a point here worth thinking about. But to Prager’s assertion we say, nonsense!
Some people claim that there won’t be a religious revival in Europe because we are past believing in God. That this is not true can be seen by the high – and increasing – number of Westerners who convert to Islam. Many of them give as a reason for their conversion the need for absolutes, boundaries and well-defined status. A journalist writing for The Spectator on this subject explained why she is Catholic:
But above all, I like the moral certainties. I don’t mind the dogma one bit. I would rather dogma and impossible ideals than confusion and compromise. In that sense, I do identify with those who choose Islam over the way of no faith, or a seemingly uncertain faith, like the woolly old C of E.
Confusion and compromise is inescapable. How can dogma – which is to say being incurably wrong – and “impossible ideals” be better than admitting the truth of scio nescio: I know that I do not know? It is as if the culture on which such persons as the quoted Catholic and the author of the article have been raised was never affected by Socratean doubt, the Enlightenment, the assumption of ignorance upon which all true science proceeds.
William Kilpatrick, in Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West – a book I thoroughly recommend reading -, writes: Brian Young’s friends said he was troubled by the decadence of Western society. David Courtrailler’s lawyer said, “For David, Islam ordered his life.” These are the sorts of reasons ordinary converts to Islam give. A common refrain from converts is that Islam provides a complete plan for life in contrast to the ruleless and clueless life offered by secular society. As Mary Fallot, a young French convert, explains, “Islam demands a closeness to God. Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it’s easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behavior to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points.” If you look at the convert testimonials on Muslim websites, they echo this refrain: Islam brings “peace”, “order”, “discipline”, and a way of life that Christianity and other religions fail to offer.
Islam brings peace! He – and she – can say that with a straight face? While IS (ISIS, ISIL) is rampaging through Syria and Iraq mass-slaughtering, impaling, crucifying, decapitating, raping, enslaving; while Hamas is firing thousands of rockets into Israel; while civil war rages in Syria; while Yezidis, Kurds, Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, other Muslims are being daily killed and constantly persecuted by Muslims?
Astonishing that some women crave the “order” and “discipline” of subjugation; when the “discipline” is exerted by enslavement, beatings, whippings, stonings, legal discrimination.
Human beings will never be past the need for believing in something bigger than themselves, because that need is part of the human mind.
Where are there human beings who do not know that natural forces are “bigger than themselves”? Who among us does not know that we are mortal?
She continues in the same vein. We’ll not irritate our readers with all of it. She is a true believer. And what she believes is that Christianity is good and true.
We will skip to what she quotes as wisdom from a Catholic primate:
A clear direction was given by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy. As early as 30 September 2000, before 9/11, when very few in the West even thought of worrying about Islam, he delivered a very forward-looking speech, which included this premonition:
… Either Europe will become Christian again or it will become Muslim. What I see without future is the “culture of nothing”, of freedom without limits and without content, of skepticism boasted as intellectual achievement, which seems to be the attitude largely dominant among European peoples, all more or less rich of means and poor of truths. This “culture of nothingness” (sustained by hedonism and libertarian insatiability) will not be able to withstand the ideological onslaught of Islam, which will not be missing: only the rediscovery of the Christian event as the only salvation for man – and therefore only a strong resurrection of the ancient soul of Europe – will offer a different outcome to this inevitable confrontation.
The culture of reason is not a “culture of nothing”. It is a culture of rational humility; of admitting ignorance and trying to find the truth, even if one can never be certain one has found it. Skepticism is the only engine of discovery.
“Freedom without limits”? Freedom of action always has a limit. In a free society, everyone’s freedom is limited by everyone else’s under the rule of law. But indeed the freedom of the mind has no limits, nor should it have any.
Notice the snide swipe at riches and “hedonism”. Do you think that he, as a cardinal, pigs it in some hovel?
By “truths” he means the patent absurdities of Christian theological belief.
“Libertarian insatiability”. What the heck does that mean?
If the Western culture of reason, secularism, liberty, skepticism, science, cannot withstand the onslaught of Islam, it will be because that culture has been abandoned by people like Enza Ferreri.
She goes on to blame shrinking birthrates on secularism. Then she ends with this:
Militant atheists à la Richard Dawkins have not really given enough thought to the long-term consequences of their ideas, which we are beginning to see.
And of which we are reminded whenever, for example, we read in the news of doctors and missionaries who die of Ebola while assisting affected patients for Christian charities. Not many atheist charities are involved in that work.
How many cures for diseases have been found by scientists among whom atheists are in a huge majority? The medical researchers who eliminated smallpox; those who found how to detect the beginnings of cancer and treat it before it becomes lethal, and how to restore wholeness to lepers and replace a faulty heart or kidney …. the list could run on for hours … cure more people than all the martyrdom-seeking self-righteous preachy Christians out to save their imaginary souls by “assisting affected patients” have ever done or could do in a thousand years.
As a reminder to readers who have a strong stomach of what happened when the Christian Churches provided “order” and “discipline” to Europe and wherever else they could reach, we recommend The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual by Jonathan Kirsch, and our own post Calvin: a chapter in the terrible history of Christianity by Jillian Becker, April 25, 2010. (Put the title in our search slot.)
Nothing IS (ISIS, ISIL) is doing now in the name of Islam is worse in type or degree than what those Christians did in the name of Christianity.
The world needs saving from religion.
Sam Harris is an atheist. We like a lot of what he writes and says. Just recently one of our readers sent us this statement of his, which we acknowledge, sadly, to be most probably true:
For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way.
We have watched videos of him lecturing. We have read some articles of his. And all with appreciation. So when we were sent his new book for review, we expected to like it.
Do we like it?
To read Jillian Becker’s review of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris, click on its title in our margin, under Pages.