Should Scientists Take Money from the Templeton Foundation?

See John Horgan’s, “The Templeton Foundation: a Skeptic’s Take”.

Excerpt:

My ambivalence about the foundation came to a head during my fellowship in Cambridge last summer. The British biologist Richard Dawkins, whose participation in the meeting helped convince me and other fellows of its legitimacy, was the only speaker who denounced religious beliefs as incompatible with science, irrational, and harmful. The other speakers~— three agnostics, one Jew, a deist, and 12 Christians (a Muslim philosopher canceled at the last minute)~— offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity.

Some of the Christian speakers’ views struck me as inconsistent, to say the least. None of them supported intelligent design, the notion that life is in certain respects irreducibly complex and hence must have a divine origin, and several of them denounced it. Simon Conway Morris, a biologist at Cambridge and an adviser to the Templeton Foundation, ridiculed intelligent design as nonsense that no respectable biologist could accept. That stance echoes the view of the foundation, which over the last year has taken pains to distance itself from the American intelligent-design movement. And yet Morris, a Catholic, revealed in response to questions that he believes Christ was a supernatural figure who performed miracles and was resurrected after his death. Other Templeton speakers also rejected intelligent design while espousing beliefs at least as lacking in scientific substance.

The Templeton prize-winners John Polkinghorne and John Barrow argued that the laws of physics seem fine-tuned to allow for the existence of human beings, which is the physics version of intelligent design. The physicist F. Russell Stannard, a member of the Templeton Foundation Board of Trustees, contended that prayers can heal the sick~— not through the placebo effect, which is an established fact, but through the intercession of God. In fact the foundation has supported studies of the effectiveness of so-called intercessory prayer, which have been inconclusive.

One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation’s expectations of us fellows. She told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion. But when I told her one evening at dinner that~— given all the problems caused by religion throughout human history~— I didn’t want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion, she replied that she didn’t think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship. So much for an open exchange of views.

Hey Templeton Foundation. Here is what the Bible says:

1. We possess an immaterial soul.
2. All humans are sinful and deserve to go to Hell.
3. Jesus of Nazareth paid for our sins on the cross.
4. Jesus of Nazareth was an immortal child of God.
5. Jesus, Mary, and Mary M. all rose directly into Heaven, leaving no corpses.
6. The teachings of JC are the only way to be “saved” and go to Heaven after death.
7. There is life after death.
8. There is a realm we go after death that is very happy, called Heaven. There may or may not be angels, choirs, lyres, clouds, etc., in this place. Whatever it is, it’s good.
9. We ritualistically consume the blood and body of Christ every Sunday to be closer to him.
10. A supernatural God actually exists and watches us, and we know this because the text of the Bible is sufficient evidence for doing so.
11. We should not suffer a witch to live.
12. A man should not lie with another man, the penalty being death.
13. Man shall not lie with beast, the penalty being death.
14. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.
15. If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
16. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.
17. Etc… (pick up a Bible and take it at face value.)

People actually believe this stuff. (What percentage I don’t know, but according to one poll, 60% of American adults believe that Bible stories, such as Noah’s Ark and Moses parting the Red Sea, are literally true. This is appalling.)

Liberal Christians that dismiss these ideas are forced to directly reject what the Bible says, and probably would be excommunciated by priests who actually take the text seriously, rather than as a metaphor. Yes, I know that Presbyterians (whose church I was a part of for several years as a pre-teen, mainly because I had friends in it) like the 95-year-old Sir John Templeton are especially liberal, (wealthy), and forward-thinking Christians. But mainstream Christians, the majority, condemn you in private for your liberal interpretation of the Bible, sometimes in direct contradiction of biblical statements. Notably, in the Orthodox church, where I grew up. You don’t even want to know what they think about Mormons. (I am just speaking from personal experience, maybe those who obey the Bible think nothing negative of those who reject select statements from it, but I highly doubt it.)

I know for a fact that some of my friends and acquaintances are depositing checks from the Templeton Foundation. Hey, friends. For every strings-attached dollar you take from the Templeton Foundation you are helping them in their mission of blurring the distinction between Bronze Age theological literature and modern day scientific inquiry. Why not stop?

Unfortunately for the Templeton Foundation, scientific respectability cannot be bought.

As John McCain said to Mitt Romney about his huge expenditure on attack ads (no McCain endorsement here, just quoting him),

“A lot of it is your own money. You’re free to do with what you want to. You can spend it all.”

Spend it all, please. It will do nothing to stop the meteoric rise of secularism in our society. Especially among young people, who commonly laugh at religion the second their parents turn their backs.

Your children are becoming atheists, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Comments

  1. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    Some straight thinking rationalist multimillionaire/billionaire should support those scientists who don’t want T’s supernaturalist money. Let the exodus begin. ;-)

    I would if I could.

    religion(at)brain.bad

  2. Ben

    Michael,

    I am constantly puzzled when non Christians try to dictate what qualifies as ‘true christianity’ to others, especially in the context of the science/faith conversation. I can say nothing of the foundation or its efforts, but if I may, a thought on your willingness to characterise christianity in the way you have, and the extent to which I feel this betrays an unfortunate bias.

    Religious beliefs evolve. They are diverse. One group of Christians may follow the bible to the letter more often than the other, but so what? There is not one denomination or sect that is ‘the most Christian’. There is no monopoly on this stuff. They are all just offshoots of a particular first century belief system, which was itself an offshoot and evolution from first century Judaism.

    And so when I see thinking people attempt to diminish the whole of religion by generalising and pointing the finger at one corner of the culture, I am very discouraged. It’s simply not adequate, when confronted with the argument ‘but what about liberal christianity?’, to merely dismiss it as ‘not the real thing’. It’s an avoidance technique, employed to keep things nice and simple. But they’re not.

    It is good that christianity can evolve. It is to my mind a partial endorsement of it, not as necessarily ‘true’ but as valuable, that it is in fact so diverse. It is an indication that people have gotten involved. They have thought about what they’re being taught and critiqued it. They have amended what they thought needed amending… disagreed with the parts they disagreed with.

    Good for them.

    …The alternative is dogma. Why would we want that? It’s almost as though some people in the scientific community would prefer if all Christians WERE rigid and stupid and against scientific endeavour and discovery. Why on earth else would we seek to discredit those christian people among us who might be on our side, accusing them of somehow being self deceiving frauds and ‘not real Christians?’ Is this not the greatest of cynicism? Is it not perhaps the least bit patronising, and unworthy of us?

    I think it is.

    I see something in the atheist movement that I don’t like. Something contradictory. At its best atheism is an affirmation. It is wholly rational and totally justified. And yet so many of the atheists that I have recently encountered in conversation and online are prepared to settle for irrationality and meaningless bluster in their arguments, and I sense an unwholesome hostility and bigotry, as well as plain ignorance of subject matter, in much of what I hear and read.

    What this tells me is that the problems of religion are problems common to all people. Religion is not their cause, though at its worst it is their enabler. As it continues to develop into a contemporary movement, atheism may share the same fate. Like religion, atheism is a mere instrument. Also like religion, it makes a horrible noise when played out of tune.

  3. The “evolution” of liberal Christianity consists of a progressive rejection of the Bible and the adoption of modern common-sense beliefs.

    The vast majority of Christians and mainstream Christianity is what you would call “dogmatic”: they simply follow the teachings of the Bible. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” is absolutely clear. There’s no ambiguity involved.

    Why should I point to a fringe group of religionists when all I need to do is point directly to hundreds of examples of actual text from the Bible? If you deny any of my listed beliefs, why not say so?

    Forget whether I think they’re “real Christians” or not, actual Christians that follow the Bible believe that those who don’t are not real Christians. I know because I was part of such a Christian group .

    Ben, regardless of how you finesse it, all Christians feel under attack when their religion is criticized. No possible combination of words with atheist intent could possibly avoid drawing condemnation from theists.

    Any atheist thing I say will be construed by theists as patronizing, unfair, or irrational. This is because religion and belief in God is taught to children from a young age as being self-evident.

    “The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” How can anyone argue with that?

    But at the risk of repeating myself, your children, if you have them, or plan to, are very likely to become atheists. Wait and see.

  4. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “It is good that christianity can evolve.”

    No religion can evolve beyond its supernaturalist irrationalist core. It is bound to stay degenerate and crippling and warping the thought process.

    “They have amended what they thought needed amending.”

    They amended the thoughts of the supposed creator and ruler of the universe? They thought it didn’t get it right?

    “The alternative is dogma. Why would we want that?”

    There is no alternative to dogma. The supposed creator and ruler of the universe has supposedly expressed its views.

    “Why on earth else would we seek to discredit those christian people among us who might be on our side, accusing them of somehow being self deceiving frauds and ‘not real Christians?’”

    Because they’re not real if they do not obey the rules. If I claimed I was a rationalist and I believed even a little I would not be a real rationalist any more. There is no gray area.

    “I see something in the atheist movement that I don’t like.”

    There is no atheist movement. It’s merely thinking straight and telling it like it is.

    “Like religion, atheism is a mere instrument. Also like religion, it makes a horrible noise when played out of tune.”

    Religion is a contagious memeplex illness of the mind. Nothing more. Atheism is the state of a healthy brain functioning normally. Atheism doesn’t make horrible noise any more than rational smart thinking does; bad thinkers, i.e. stupid people do.

  5. Ben

    Okay I’ll try to address some of these in turn… Sorry to do the whole obnoxious quote then comment thing. It’s late, and I’m tired.

    “They amended the thoughts of the supposed creator and ruler of the universe? They thought it didn’t get it right?”

    “The supposed creator and ruler of the universe has supposedly expressed its views.”

    This is a good example of what I’m talking about. You are starting out from a point where you are dictating to these people what they believe then not allowing for divergent possibilities. Ask yourself, ‘Where do I get my information?’ Because God didn’t write the bible. Numerous authors with varying motivations and opinions wrote the books and letters which eventually became the bible. I don’t doubt you would be able to find some Christians who don’t see it that way, but there are also a great many who do. I think the later portion are correct. No christian need defy God (and again, what’s your definition of God and where did you acquire it?) by disagreeing with the bible. Hell, the biblical authors disagree with each other on a number of topics.

    There is however a common school of thought which states that the biblical authors were inspired by the divine, but that’s a long drawn out theological conversation that I suspect neither one of us is interested in having. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of room for how we might wanna interpret that one.

    “There is no atheist movement.”

    Of course there is. And more power to it.

    “Religion is a contagious memeplex illness of the mind. Nothing more.”

    Given the poor understanding of theology you demonstrated above I am not sure how you could consider yourself qualified to form such an opinion, but fair enough. Your experience of christianity appears to be pretty narrow, but I don’t doubt you’ve encountered some wackos. I suggest open mindedness.

    —–

    “The vast majority of Christians and mainstream Christianity is what you would call “dogmatic”: they simply follow the teachings of the Bible.”

    In my experience the vast majority of Christians don’t even know what the teachings of the bible are.

    “Why should I point to a fringe group of religionists when all I need to do is point directly to hundreds of examples of actual text from the Bible? If you deny any of my listed beliefs, why not say so?”

    I get the impression from the above that you have assumed I must be a christian. …I gave no indication that this was so. If I were however I would have no problem whatsoever disagreeing with anything at all in the bible. I cannot imagine why being a follower of Jesus should entail forfeiting ones ability to criticise and think for oneself.

    “actual Christians that follow the Bible believe that those who don’t are not real Christians.”

    So… why are they the authority all of a sudden? Maybe the Christians who they think aren’t the real McCoy think those guys are a bunch of lunatics drooling on their shoes.

    “I know because I was part of such a Christian group.”

    When you were a preteen, right? What valuable insights into the christian mind you must possess!

    “Ben, regardless of how you finesse it, all Christians feel under attack when their religion is criticized.”

    This is where you lose me. I’m sorry Michael. But that’s a bigoted remark. All Christians? Really?

    “But at the risk of repeating myself, your children, if you have them, or plan to, are very likely to become atheists. Wait and see.”

    Good for them. I have a great many hopes for my children, not the least of which is that they think for themselves. More than that however, I hope that whatever they believe they will be tolerant, patient and appreciative of the complexity of other peoples values and ideas, and will not pigeonhole those they disagree with merely because it suits them. The rationalist atheist cultural push of late, which I have stated my support for, runs the risk of making the same mistake much of religious culture has failed to learn over the last several thousand years, just so long as it ignores that lesson.

  6. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    Your continuous equating of religion with atheism in some ways is like comparing baldness to hairstyles and makes equally much sense.

    “I cannot imagine why being a follower of Jesus should entail forfeiting ones ability to criticise and think for oneself.”

    You cannot? Here’s one: you cannot believe any made-up story without evidence if you criticize and think for yourself. You really cannot. I’ve tried it. Hard. Never got even close to believing anything. Not one shred. My mind would have to cease functioning properly. It would be in a state of insanity to believe something not backed by empirical evidence. There is no USE in believing, unless you like lies. We already know better, thanks to science, therefore those people who tell made-up stories as the truth are simply liars or mad or both.

    ONLY when you DO forfeit your ability to criticize and think for yourself, becomes belief, in whatever your story of choice or more likely accident of circumstances (born into a family) is, possible.

    ““Religion is a contagious memeplex illness of the mind. Nothing more.”

    Given the poor understanding of theology you demonstrated above I am not sure how you could consider yourself qualified to form such an opinion, but fair enough. Your experience of christianity appears to be pretty narrow, but I don’t doubt you’ve encountered some wackos. I suggest open mindedness.”

    You can call it whateverology: fictionology, madeupstoryology, fairytaleology, intellectualdishonestyology, wishfulthinkingology. I admit my understanding of anything fictional is poor, though I have a Ph.D. in Sciencefictionology. Try sci-fi. It’s a made-up story genre much more interesting and intellectually satisfying and usually not so bloody and vicious.
    A fictional story is a fictional story however you dress it up.

  7. Michael, some of the things on your list of Christian beliefs aren’t really things most Christians believe. Especially, they tend to believe that Jesus brought a “New Covenant” which either swept away some of the old rules in the Hebrew Bible, or at least abolished the harshest punishments.

    (Though it’s perhaps unfortunate that the strongest statement to this effect, John 7:53-8:11, turns out to be a later forgery…)

  8. “This is where you lose me. I’m sorry Michael. But that’s a bigoted remark. All Christians? Really?”

    99%

  9. 1. We possess an immaterial soul.

    The Bible does not teach this, and Mormonism explicitly rejects it.

    2. All humans are sinful and deserve to go to Hell.

    Whether the Bible teaches this depends heavily on interpretation. Mormonism explicitly rejects such interpretations.

    3. Jesus of Nazareth paid for our sins on the cross.

    The Bible does teach this, but you are leaving out an important part of the doctrine, also taught in the Bible, in the writings of Paul: the great mystery is Christ in you. We, as a community, must atone with each other.

    4. Jesus of Nazareth was an immortal child of God.

    The Bible does teach this, both about Jesus and about you as you should become.

    5. Jesus, Mary, and Mary M. all rose directly into Heaven, leaving no corpses.

    The Bible does not teach this, except in the case of Jesus. For him, we have no evidence to the contrary, except our trust in uniformity. Regardless, the value of Jesus’ message does not depend merely on the timing of the resurrection.

    6. The teachings of JC are the only way to be “saved” and go to Heaven after death.

    The Bible does teach this, but the implication of your interpretation is unnecessarily narrow.

    7. There is life after death.

    The Bible does teach this, and we have no evidence to the contrary. So far as I am concerned, subsequent to dealing with the engineering problem of aging, we ought to tackle the engineering problem of restoring dead persons to life. Surely you’re creative enough to consent that much we now consider incredible may some day prove feasible. For some of us, it’s a hypothesis worth long and determined consideration.

    8. There is a realm we go after death that is very happy, called Heaven. There may or may not be angels, choirs, lyres, clouds, etc., in this place. Whatever it is, it’s good.

    The Bible teaches something like this, but interpretations are wide ranging among Christians. From a Mormon perspective, heaven is what we should make of this world, and is the place we go after transfiguration or resurrection — not the place we go after death.

    9. We ritualistically consume the blood and body of Christ every Sunday to be closer to him.

    The Bible does teach this, and the symbol is one of communal atonement — coming together in unity to work out and transcend the conflict among our desires, wills and laws.

    10. A supernatural God actually exists and watches us, and we know this because the text of the Bible is sufficient evidence for doing so.

    The Bible does not teach that God is supernatural. Mormonism explicitly rejects that.

    11. We should not suffer a witch to live.

    The Bible does teach this, but no Christian I know personally actually agrees. Mormonnism explicitly rejects the inerrency of any text or person, including the Bible.

    12. A man should not lie with another man, the penalty being death.

    The Bible does teach this. It also promotes slavery. I personally reject both, as do other Christians with whom I am acquainted.

    13. Man shall not lie with beast, the penalty being death.

    The Bible does teach this, and no Christian I know personally actually agrees that such an act merits such a penalty.

    14. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.

    The Bible does teach this, but no Christian I know personally thinks that such an act merits such a penalty. That aside, there is good evidence that humans benefit from regular breaks from work, and I see value in communities’ desires to formalize this, so long as they do not attempt to impose it dogmatically on others.

    15. If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

    The Bible does teach this, and all Christians I know personally reject it.

    16. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.

    The Bible does teach this, and no Christian I know personally thinks such an act merits such a penalty. We value respect for each other, but the text takes it way too far.

    17. Etc… (pick up a Bible and take it at face value.)

    Michael, in this case it is you, not any Christians I know personally, that impose a heavy dose of dogmatism in your interpretation of the Bible. Certainly, as is the gist of your post, there are Christians who are too dogmatic about the Bible. Your reaction, however, is no better, in my estimation. A good number of us see the Bible as an illustration of the progressive revelation of the relation between the divine and the human. A good number of us do not agree with everything in the text, yet value it for the ways in which the general text has proven transformative in our lives. Your criticism of the Bible will probably be more persuasive if you first present it in a way that persons who value it would identify as an accurate presentation. Otherwise, you are attacking a straw man, which always makes our criticisms less effective, except perhaps toward persons of poor education.

  10. No religion can evolve beyond its supernaturalist irrationalist core. It is bound to stay degenerate and crippling and warping the thought process.

    There are atheist, non-supernaturalist, sects of Buddhism. Be careful what you speak of. (One good example is any serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism; there is no assumed reality beyond the one we all share: though even that is conjectured to be a deception insofar as the personal involvement in it is concerned. Zen Buddhists don’t even necessarily accept the idea of reincarnation — it’s not inherent to the belief.)

    Moving on. Rather than argue in circles, why don’t we document a few things? Here’s the core of Catholic beliefs, many of which are shared by evangelicals and are //acknowledged// by protestants as valid christian beliefs. More broadly, we have a couple of interpretations for “Christian” beliefs separate from Catholic interpretations. Here’s one source; and here’s another.

    There’s a few plain universals.

    1) The Bible is, at some point, the word of god. Perhaps it is merely “inspired” by god; perhaps it is the literal word of god… but the Bible is a divine book.

    2) Jesus is god. Not much getting around this one. It also makes Christianity the forth longest-lasting cult of personality to have ever existed. (Legalism, Confucianism, and Taoism all precede it. Buddhism, while also older, is not focused on Gautama sufficiently and else-wise could probably replace Taoism as a cult of personality.)

    3) There is sin.

    4) There is a supernatural world and we derive all hope from a supernatural father-figure.

    I could go on, but these are good enough. Please, gentlemen — I invite //both// of you to use the links I provided if you’re going to turn the conversation around from a “he-said/he-said” into a productive conversation (if that’s at all possible!)

    Sorry, Michael, for being presumptuous on your blod. :)

  11. jim moore

    I think that many so called Christians are actually bibliolators(bible worshipers) many others try to live Christ’s two commandments: (Love God with your whole mind heart and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.) Focus on the latter they are far more reasoable.

  12. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    Atheists love the religionists so much they want to free them of the crippling memes and free themselves of the repression those memes “want to” impose on everyone.

    A religion without the supernatural is mere philosophy. Remember that ALL religious concepts, sins, gods, atonements, are bogus, all made-up arbirary, absurd, brutal fiction.

    Use you mind for something useful, don’t waste it on fairytales. These memes rob you of your lifetime. They’ve robbed enough of mine.

  13. Nick Tarleton

    “These are the beliefs of most Christians”? False. I believe you’ve been called on this before.

    Agreed that the Templeton foundation sucks, though.

  14. Nick Tarleton

    I should clarify: even if most Americans believe specific stories to be true, this doesn’t mean they believe every line to be true – apparently, this is a minority belief even among evangelicals. Even the literalists can’t honestly be said to believe lines they’ve never heard of; most probably haven’t heard of #15 or #16 in your list and would disclaim them if asked without telling them the Bible said it. (People are shockingly ignorant of the Bible.) Some of the literalists might also protest that the Old Testament law is no longer relevant (IIRC the NT is actually inconsistent on this point). And in any case, >50% of Christians worldwide are Catholic, and Catholicism is officially non-literalist.

  15. Well, sorry for going soooo far out on a limb that I believe that Christians actually believe and are aware of the Christian Bible. Until recently, this seemed to be the case.

    Almost every Christian I know believes the first 10.

    Am I really so far off as saying these are the beliefs of most Christians, if I only include the first 10? As a Christian child, I was aware of them all, but it’s considering statements like the latter few that caused me to go ballistic.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, I agree with Steven’s position as presented in his post.

  16. An observation: If someone from 2000 years ago saw a special performance of David Copperfield, would he conclude that David Copperfield was the son of God or a prophet?

    Walking on water
    Disappearing a body from a locked room “guarded by a few Roman soldiers”.
    Reappearing a few days after appearing to be killed as a floating image.
    Changing water to wine.

    Talking and hearing voices from a burning bush.

    ==
    If I was a security guard at a morgue and a body disappeared. If the claim was that it was divine removal of the body, would that be accepted or would I be fired for sleeping on the job and incompetence.

    ==some of these things one would not even need a top caliber magician to achieve the ability to fool people from 2000 years ago.

    If I was in a space craft and I personally observed the six day conversion of a lifeless planet – say Venus into a habitable world, I would not believe that the those claiming responsibility had anything to do with the creation of the Universe. Even the creation of star and solar system with one planet with fully evolved life, would not demonstrate a connection to the creation of the Universe.

    My response would be : “Oh you are good and advanced (assuming you did it). Not a god or the god. But I am impressed with whoever did this”.

    Just as producing a sliver of wood does not demonstrate the origination of an ecosystem.

  17. Perhaps it would be more productive instead of bashing religion to instead discuss an ‘accelerating future’. If you have reliable numbers to suggest that ‘accelerating future’ has as one of its key components an ‘accelerating of atheism’, those numbers might be interesting to see. At the moment I fail to see why religion and futurism are required to be mutually exclusive. If a practicing Jew, Christian, Muslim, etc, invented a cure for cancer or a flying car or indefinite life extension, would you not use them? Perhaps we should focus on individual results rather than painting with such broad brushes.

  18. Same conclusion even if any parting of the Red Sea, turning people in a city to salt or the plagues upon Egypt to let the jews go with Moses were real events, as with any 40 day flood.

    note: Any 40 day flood could not have submerged all land masses world wide (not enough water would be delivered.) For those who believe current theories about Noah are about localized flooding.

  19. Nick Tarleton

    Christians, in fact, generally aren’t aware of the Bible. Shocking, I know. I’d say it’s more a matter of social identification – belief in belief, belief as attire – for most. Nerds really are nuts, and no I don’t think this is just correspondence bias.

    I don’t know even about the first 10 statements. This poll says only 12-21% of Americans believe #6.

    I disagree with Steven, per Steve’s comments in that thread, e.g.:

    [I]n the milieu of the ancient middle east, people would have been aware that the first chapters of Genesis are a mythic, quasi-poetic document which contains truths (and by its stylised nature facilitates the oral transmission of such truths), but is not to be taken literally.
    It’s only when Protestantism develops that people start making the hermeneutic mistake of reading it as a modern historic document.

  20. Nick Tarleton

    Although the argument on BBB is more about factual claims (Genesis) than laws, so it’s not terribly relevant here. I still agree with Steve about Genesis, but I doubt the early Jews ever thought the Law was to be taken metaphorically.

  21. Nick Tarleton

    OK, change that percentage to 12-60%, I only skimmed the page. Still a small majority at best, and note that the 60% only agreed that faith is the only assurance, i.e. they may be agnostic about its genuine necessity.

    (Sorry to be making so many posts. Feel free to merge them.)

  22. Indoctrination of young children is the biggest problem, IMO. It probably helps that kids are going on the net at younger and younger ages and can be exposed to different viewpoints from the authority figures in their lives.

    I totally agree with Dawkins that there’s no such things as a “christian child” or a “jewish child” or whatever when we’re talking about young children. People wouldn’t call a 5 years old a “republican child” or a “marxist child” because that’s what their parents believe, so why do it with religion?

  23. “Am I really so far off as saying these are the beliefs of most Christians, if I only include the first 10?”

    Your first 10 look like mainstream Christian beliefs to me, with the exception of #5. I’m not aware of anything in the Bible about Mary or Mary Magdalene ascending straight to heaven in that manner (but is this some Orthodox or Catholic doctrine?)

  24. people would have been aware that the first chapters of Genesis are a mythic, quasi-poetic document which contains truths (and by its stylised nature facilitates the oral transmission of such truths), but is not to be taken literally

    This still sounds implausible to me. Are there references from back then that says things like “OK, so God is pretending for pedagogical purposes that he created the world in 7 days, but now let’s find out what *really* happened”? The point of the post was that a small amount of doubt about literalness should cause a positive feedback effect: the question why God didn’t resolve that bit of doubt (as good cooperative conversational practice requires) creates more doubt, which creates more doubt, and so on. I probably didn’t make that very clear.

  25. Warren Bonesteel

    So…people…does the whole Tranhsumanist “Yer with us or yer against us” meme make you a Bushbot? A religious nutcase, mebbe? Heh.

    i.e. Ya can’t rationally complain about the other feller if yer doin’ the exact same thing he is. (After that little rant, Michael, the next time Amor Mundi has a go at ya, you don’t have much to complain about. Same argument, different topic. Basically, you attacked these people just because ya could. That may not be what you intended, but that’s what you did.)

    A lot of groups and individuals, whether evolutionist, identity activist, atheist or Big Three, talk about peace…but then use violent words to divide themselves from themselves…and then wonder why the world’s in the mess it’s in. Gee! Some of you folks can’t figger that one out, huh? How about that…

    Sticks and stones can break yer bones…but words – memes, narratives, propaganda, etc – can destroy the world.

    Michael, you may want to re-work that little argument…from the ground up. Not that I disagree with yer premise so much, but the confrontational, full-frontal-attack approach may not be a long-term ‘winning’ strategy, here. (Plus, ya don’t know nearly as much about Western Religion as you think you do. Not nearly…)

    My own views on this topic are even more controversial than your own, Michael.* Concerted and continuous full frontal attacks, however, only lead to scorched earth and toxicity.

    Oh, btw. If you’re going to attack what others believe in such a fashion? Give up that whole Transhumanist- Libertarian thing, will ya? When the other guy is no longer allowed to think or say or believe whatever he wants – long as he’s not physically hurtin’ anyone – you’ve kinda given up on liberty, there.

    ‘Course, it’s your blog. You can say whatever ya wanna. Just don’t make any more claims to being open minded, objective or un-biased. That ain’t bein’ honest, let alone rational.

    *Evolution is a pure tautology – ‘it is because it is’ – and it’s built epicycle upon epicycle – while dating methods are still unreliable, at best. (Yeah, they talk a good fight, but there’s some real serious holes in the methodologies and ‘interpretations.’)

    *Meanwhile, most religious texts were either mistranslated on purpose or by accident…when they weren’t made up out of whole cloth, to begin with. Atheism itself is something of a tautology. Contrarian, really. They’re against it because someone else is for it. i.e. Violent words and scorched earth and toxic memes. Toxic memes always lead to death, devastation and destruction.

    Is that what you’re promoting here? Whether intended or not, that’s what you’re doing.

  26. Ben

    “99%”

    Still bigoted Michael. The mere diversity in this thread should make as much plain. As with your list, you just get it wrong. The poster above who pointed out that in fact it is you being dogmatic and restrictive made an excellent point. I don’t know with what manner of Christian you were associated in your youth, but it certainly seems to have colored your thinking in such a way that you think your experience universal.

    ——-

    “You cannot? Here’s one: you cannot believe any made-up story without evidence if you criticize and think for yourself.”

    You’re still doing it. Your dictating what Christians believe. I’m sorry, but as you are ignorant of the mere basics of christianity, how could you possibly know? I know this may seem odd to say, but some Christians don’t believe any of the things you seem to imagine they do. Hell, some don’t believe any of it. It’s more sophisticated than that. For many religion is something to be wrestled with and negotiated and explored – not necessarily believed. It’s pure folly to dismiss all religious persons as believers in fairy tales. It’s asinine.

    How can you justify having a grievance with something when you don’t even know what it is? Your beef seems to be with fundamentalist literalist Christianity. If that’s the case, be more specific in your criticism, because until you actually know what you’re talking about, every argument that generalises christianity will be a straw man.

    “Your continuous equating of religion with atheism in some ways is like comparing baldness to hairstyles and makes equally much sense.”

    Like it or not they are both cultural movements. Not believing in God isn’t, but the current state of much of atheism is. As with all cultural movements, inclusive of religion, many of its followers cocoon themselves in ignorance, to their discredit. Also like religion it has a lot to offer at it’s best.

    ———

    Finally Brian, your points are all well and good, but again you are concerning yourself with beliefs many Christians reject – things like the six day creation of the world, Noah’s flood and the parting of the red sea. These ideas may have some vocal support from certain factions of the religious community, but in my own personal experience I have never met a single Christian who believes that stuff.

  27. It might be worth considering one of the specific problems with some theists, i.e., creationists.

    The version of evolution rejected by most creationists is not something they made up. It’s based on what might be called the “comic-book” version of evolution. A typical creationist decided in junior high school that he/she already knew enough to determine whether or not evolution makes sense. He/she can then buttress it by finding isolated examples of similar nonsense currently believed by people who consider themselves to secular and combine that with obsolete theories of evolution. You can think of creationism as a special case of the “I know enough!” fallacy.

    What a moment… This sounds familiar…

  28. So do any parts of the “miracle” aspect of the bible matter ? I thought at least Christ rising after crucifixion was the core of most of the modern beliefs. I have been to bible study groups and church services where the part about Christ rising was very important. The details about the body disappearing in spite of being guarded by Roman soldiers was made to be a big deal.

    note: I have some relatives and friends who are quite strong believers. It does not matter to me and I don’t bring it up. I believe people who believe in Christianity or other religions are in no way any less respect worthy on other topics or even that topic. I also do not argue (very much, especially if it is not exceeding certain financial bounds) with relatives who buy lottery tickets or go to the casino a lot.

    In general, I agree that faith, philosophy tends to get compartmentalized by the majority. Although there is clearly a not insignificant minority that are pushing for faith based policy. (Ben Stein and others for changing the teaching curriculum.)

    On radio, you can hear moderately popular people (like Jerry Doyle) attacking athiests and linking lack of faith with committers of mass near genocides. (like Stalin, Hitler etc…) I also hear the common argument that those of the muslim faith should bear more responsibility for curbing extremists of their faith. What is the responsibility of moderate Christians in regards to those many outspoken “extremists” who do not represent their views ?

    I suppose I have to actually read what Dawkins writes and decide if I am for it or against it and make a public statement if it needs “curbing”. I can at least say that there are not many outspoken athiests to keep track of. Religion has a lot more and it would be time consuming and more than a fulltime job to comment everytime so many people said or did something wrong.

  29. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    Religions are simply memetic diseases of the mind. What can you say to that? “No they aren’t?”

    “Your dictating what Christians believe.”

    I’m not talking specifically about any religion. If you’re convinced there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day, I’m cool with that. But check this out will ya: I’m SURE this is the answer to all your questions, because they have proof! http://www.venganza.org/ You can’t deny the truth.

    “It’s more sophisticated than that. For many religion is something to be wrestled with and negotiated and explored – not necessarily believed. It’s pure folly to dismiss all religious persons as believers in fairy tales. It’s asinine.”

    I’m a HUGE believer in FSM, the most sophisticated, wrestleable, negotiable and explorable of them all (but I won’t go all memeoid on your asses, so don’t worry). If you dismiss me as a believer in fairy tales, well, it’s your asininity, not mine. I’m convinced and bask in the light of the FSM, but you’re in trouble because you aren’t.

    “Your beef seems to be with fundamentalist literalist Christianity. ”

    I have no beef with readers of any particular fairytale books. They’re yet to mature to the true belief, the FSM that is. You can’t have beef with that can you? Unless they go memeoid on your ass, that is. Then you go to War, As Seen On TV. Another bloody war triggered by religion.

    Diseases are bad for you, uhmkay?

  30. Ben

    Ugh… quality of debate diminishing… feel myself being sucked into… abyss…

    Sigh… I guess I’ll do my best.

    Are you actually bringing out the flying spaghetti monster? Yes it’s funny. But again it can only successfully satirize the most base fundamentalism.

    “If you’re convinced there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day, I’m cool with that.”

    I actually think maybe you’re not even listening to me. It’s like you’ve practiced your arguments against Christians so much you don’t even read what’s in front of you. You continue to think you know what christianity is, even though you continually misrepresent it. One more time.

    1) I don’t believe in God, so your patronising attempts to belittle me with such remarks carry no water.

    2) Your remarks about religion are, as pointed out above, comparable in their sophistication to creationists saying evolutionists believe their grandfather was a monkey. You are kindred spirit with this people. I know you’ve got a whole portion of your identity caught up in this thing, but still… are you not even gonna inform yourself about what you don’t support? It can be fun to think everyone else is stupid and you’re really smart, I guess. Oh well… Whatever avoidant psychological crutch you feel suits you best. There are many on offer.

    3) This one may blow your mind… or you’ll just ignore it… but did you know there are actually Christians who don’t subscribe to a belief in God at all? Once again, your invisible man thesis makes you sound kinda silly.

    4) If you respond to this with more talk of Flying Spaghetti Monsters that will be a complete cop out on your part. But by all means, go ahead.

  31. Ben

    Brian,

    At the very least the resurrection is symbolically important. Whether it actually happened? Depends who you ask.

    And yes, there are plenty of christian people making the world worse. I tend to view this as being on account of them being imbeciles, as opposed to being Christians. Like I said earlier though, religion is an instrument of human beings. Some people are just terrible musicians, you know? …Others are Hendrix. It’s not the guitars fault.

  32. Steve

    Where on earth did you get some of your ideas about Christianity? You haven’t backpeddled far enough, either. You changed that line from ‘most Christians believe’ to ‘the Bible says’, but how many of those doctrines can you point to in the Bible, even taken at face value.

  33. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “But again it can only successfully satirize the most base fundamentalism.”

    You’re calling MY Religion satire? Try that with some other religions and you’ll get your head turned into a meatball.
    I’m not sure of my co-religionists, but I hear them chanting “FSM is great, FSM is great…, need to turn heads into meatballs, FSM is great…” already.

    “2) Your remarks about religion are, as pointed out above, comparable in their sophistication to creationists saying evolutionists believe their grandfather was a monkey.”

    As an evolutionist I believe my grandfather was indeed, a monkey, a particularly hairy and short one, and before that some lesser critter all the way to random collisions of atoms in interstellar molecular clouds.

    “I know you’ve got a whole portion of your identity caught up in this thing, but still…”

    You’re right, I’ve got my identity pretty badly caught up in rational thinking. Can’t get rid of it. I’ve tried all available religions, had several spiritual advisers and been to camps and retreats, but no, it won’t budge.

    “did you know there are actually Christians who don’t subscribe to a belief in God at all?”

    That’s a start.

    “It can be fun to think everyone else is stupid and you’re really smart, I guess.”

    Who’s smart, who’s not? It’s measurable. What are the results of thousands of years of religion? What are the results of only a few hundreds of years of rational thinking, aka empirical science? What’s the average IQ of rational people vs religious? You all know the answer.

    It’s FSM. ;-)

  34. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “Like I said earlier though, religion is an instrument of human beings.”

    Human beings are instruments of religions, which are memetic diseases of the mind. We are disease vectors and hosts of memeplexes. They emerged because they could, just like viruses in physical bodies emerged because there was a system supporting them. We don’t use any religions. They use us. Of course there’s no cognizant “they”; it’s just the mind turning against itself via stupid tricks aided by biases and irrational, sloppy thinking. They are parasites, viruses of the mind, resulting in a dysfunctional, delusional mind, an engine that’s running on less than all cylinders, the free CPU % isn’t 100%.

  35. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    One question is how do we keep an AGI from developing religious tendencies? It seems possible that a juvenile AGI might start to make up all kinds of explanations when it notices it doesn’t know the reason for its maker’s existence. It’s like us knowing that the invisible guy in the sky made us, but who made him? There must be another god, and another one …all the way down, as they say of turtles. Reality is big, probably infinite, so there’s lots of room for that to be true.

    Reality is both infinitely large and infinitely small. We have both ends of infinities. We also have infinite past and infinite future. And we’re all in the middle of it.

    Cool. Praise FSM.

  36. Matt

    Whoa…this is quite a thread you have going here. I just popped over from NextBigFuture to see what this site was all about. Not sure that I’ll stick around if this is representative of the level of maturity in dealing with other peoples belief systems.

    I don’t think the conversation is particularly constructive and it is quite obvious that none of you are going to convince the other(s) to change their point of view. So how about laying off?

    Why don’t we look at the title of the article and try again? Should a scientist take money from the Templeton Foundation?

    I read John Horgan’s article and I confess I don’t see much integrity in his approach. He told the lady “I didn’t want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion”

    She replied that she didn’t think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship and I would have to agree with her. Why should Hogan accept a Fellowship with an organization whose Core Themes (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/core_themes/) are in direct conflict with his own views? Oh yeah…the money…hhhmmm. Of course Hogan isn’t a scientist anyway, he’s a journalist.

    And who is this Michael Anissimov anyway? Oh…another journalist. So he’s not a scientist either. No wonder he’s on the same bandwagon.

    I see nothing wrong with a “scientist” taking money from the foundation if they are in concert with the foundations mission statement and have the ability to do something constructive.

  37. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “So how about laying off?”
    I agree. Talking about religions as something else than diseases isn’t constructive.

    The people infected with the religion memes lost, have always lost and will always lose. Actually, there is no competition. There is no debate to be had. It’s health and rationality vs disease and madness.

  38. Nick Tarleton

    Michael, IMO, the post is much improved by the changes.

    One question is how do we keep an AGI from developing religious tendencies? It seems possible that a juvenile AGI might start to make up all kinds of explanations when it notices it doesn’t know the reason for its maker’s existence.

    It would lack, however, the emotional biases that make people cling to these explanations. No problem.

  39. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “It would lack, however, the emotional biases that make people cling to these explanations. No problem.”

    Phew.

    By the way, how do you quote here?

  40. Why do so many theists look at this blog anyway?

    Who needs life extension if you’re going to Heaven?

    How can the mind be improved technologically if we were created in God’s image?

    Why discover more knowledge if it continuously and explicitly disproves and contradicts statements from the Bible?

    Christians and almost all other religionists believe their religion is the truth and the only way to true understanding. How come I sit and take it when billions of people worldwide profess this view, but all theists do is moan and complain when I say that atheism is the truth and the path to understanding?

    It’s totally asymmetrical.

    “religions are bad”, why don’t you use a real alias, and the way you quote is with < blockquote > tags.

    And everyone, why can’t you pay more attention to my other posts on the Singularity? I spent so much effort to write them, way more than this piece, which I just banged out in 10 minutes. Why don’t you go respond to those?

  41. “Why do so many theists look at this blog anyway?”

    Selection effect? They probably don’t, but the few who do are strongly motivated to reply.

  42. Ben

    Michael,

    With all due respect, it’s because it was obvious you only spent ten minutes on this one. We simply read the other posts and find them interesting – normally we have nothing to add.

    You raised some cool questions in that last post though. For what it’s worth, my two cents.

    “Why do so many theists look at this blog anyway?”

    Why wouldn’t they? It’s interesting.

    “Who needs life extension if you’re going to Heaven?”

    The common conception of heaven as an afterlife is actually not especially biblical. There are a few allusions, yes, but they’re especially vague and largely metaphorical. When the kingdom of heaven is referred to in the gospels for example it is as an allegory for a specific value system. The heaven and hell myths widely espoused today have more to do with Milton and Dante than the scriptures. And there’s many a christian who’ll tell you so.

    “How can the mind be improved technologically if we were created in God’s image?

    Well… in exactly the same ways that it would be improved if we weren’t I would think. Through reverse engineering the brain, augmenting biology, nanobots, etcetera. Created in God’s image doesn’t have to mean God has a human brain, does it?

    “Why discover more knowledge if it continuously and explicitly disproves and contradicts statements from the Bible?”

    Because some Christians have an interest in the truth, of course. Faith should be interrogated rigorously. The faith of a Christian who runs from knowledge doesn’t seem to me to be worth very much. Faith that you’re prepared to lose through testing on the other hand? Quality. Again this shows, I believe, a willingness to depict all Christians as truth avoiding fantasists incapable of rational critique. ..Not so.

    “How come I sit and take it when billions of people worldwide profess this view, but all theists do is moan and complain when I say that atheism is the truth and the path to understanding?”

    I don’t think anyone was criticising you for your atheism Michael. The criticism all seemed to be on account of your incorrect generalisations about what Christians think and what is in the bible, as well as your dismissal of more liberal Christians as somehow being ‘Diet Christians’, or something. That was the issue. You seem to know a bit about futurism. Christianity? Not so much.

    Anyway. Enough critique for one day. I enjoy the blog.

  43. Thanks for your response. Anyway, maybe you’re right, I don’t know too much about Christianity, except that I was a believing Christian until the age of 11, attended church frequently, and have read the Bible several times.

    I interrogated my faith rigorously. It died.

  44. Matt

    Michael: I haven’t read any of your other articles yet but I will. You might take a moment and consider…
    “Why do so many theists look at this blog anyway?”
    According to a Harris poll done in 2003 90% of Americans believe in God. Why would you think that an interest in future technology is limited to 10% of the population?

    “Who needs life extension if you’re going to Heaven?”
    I haven’t met anyone yet that wanted to hurry up and die so they could get to heaven.

    “How can the mind be improved technologically if we were created in God’s image?”
    Are you suggesting that God’s “technology” is static?

    “Why discover more knowledge if it continuously and explicitly disproves and contradicts statements from the Bible?”
    Having religious faith has never stopped theists from discovering knowledge. Most of the founders of modern scientific disciplines were Christians whose world-view was thoroughly integrated with their scientific practice. For example:

    - George Cuvier (1769-1832)–Great French naturalist, founded comparative anatomy
    - Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78)–Founder of modern taxonomy, the scientific classification of plants and animals
    - Blaise Pascal (1623-62)–The French mathematical prodigy, founded modern probability theory, advanced differential calculus and modern hydraulics, and invented of one of the first mechanical calculators.
    - Michael Faraday (1791-1867)–Discovered electromagnetic induction and developed the first dynamo
    - Gregor Mendel (1822-84)–Established the foundational tenets of modern genetics
    - Copernicus (1473-1543)–Laid the foundation of modern astronomy with heliocentric theory of planetary motion

    Science and Christianity at odds? That would have surprised these men, and a host of others including, by the way, Sir Isaac Newton.

    “Christians and almost all other religionists believe their religion is the truth and the only way to true understanding. How come I sit and take it when billions of people worldwide profess this view, but all theists do is moan and complain when I say that atheism is the truth and the path to understanding?”

    Probably because you are in the 10% minority. The burden of proof rests on you. If you want to advance your theory of atheism go for it, put forth your best constructive arguments. But being destructive and ridiculing the beliefs of the 90% isn’t going to accomplish anything but pissing people off and frankly reduces your credibility.

  45. Probably because you are in the 10% minority. The burden of proof rests on you.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Burden of proof lies on the individual making the claim that there is a supernatural component to the natural world.

    But being destructive and ridiculing the beliefs of the 90% isn’t going to accomplish anything but pissing people off and frankly reduces your credibility.

    Irrationality is immune to reasoned discourse. This course you suggest will no more work than it has worked for the last five thousand years since the earliest organized atheist beliefs came into existence.

    All we can do is hope and endure the stones and arrows of belief; that we speak out in the interest of preventing the phenomena of the European medieval period from arising again (And, yes, the religious extremism leading to beheading those who de-convert as is seen in theocratic-fundamentalist Islam today, or the roving gangs of Christians in southern Africa that ask individuals what religion they are — and, upon hearing the wrong answer, execute them. Many times they even wear muslim symbols when doing so, I have heard. I admit that could be pure conjecture, that last bit.)

    This is what we face. There is one absolute axiom, however: No one in the history of man has ever been killed in the name of reason nor in the name of atheism. (Do not mistake “the state” for atheism.) The same cannot be said of any religion which has existed for longer than a century.

  46. MCP2012

    I’m just an unrepentant non-religious, quasi-atheistic, scientific-minded, post-Enlightenment panentheist-mystic. The Orthodox Randians just shake their heads (at best) when they hear that. I just love ‘em right back, though… On the other hand, I love the works of Sam Harris, George Smith, Quentin Smith, Jeffrey Grupp, Michael Martin, et al. My (a)theology is a koan…

    Wonderful preceding comments. Would that I could comment on them all. IConrad is spot-on, of course, when he states that NO ONE has EVER been killed in the name of REASON or ATHEISM—and the “State” and/or the “People” ain’t atheism! We further note that R.J. Rummel’s splendid (if horrific) book is titled *Death By Government*—NOT *Death By Atheism* or *Death By Reason* (or Rationality…)

  47. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    “it’s because it was obvious you only spent ten minutes on this one.”

    That’s ten minutes too many. How many minutes do we spend on discussing ancient Mess o’ Potamian beliefs or some obscure tribe’s beliefs, even though they’re all equal to better known beliefs, because they’re just that: beliefs, not knowledge.

    Beliefs don’t help you navigate the world, knowledge does. Beliefs kill, knowledge keeps you alive. Beliefs cause conflict, knowledge unites.

    Beliefs are bad for you, knowledge is good for you, uhmkay?

    Religion: nonsense-memes sucking your time.

    Back to the sane stuff.

  48. Religions are bad for you, uhmkay?

    ““religions are bad”, why don’t you use a real alias”

    I felt the same way when I first saw these multi-word band names – “Why don’t they get a REAL name, that’s no band name!” Now I kinda enjoy them. I guess the meme ‘band names can be sentences’ has integrated.

    Everyone can be an expert in matters of belief: you just make stuff up and see how many believe you.

    Try that with science.

  49. Some links related to what is or is not true in the bible and when the bible was written and why:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_of_Jesus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_of_Jesus#Predominant_view

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_archaeology

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists

    I disgree with this state atheism article
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism

    this is a bit better
    http://atheism.about.com/od/isatheismdangerous/a/AtheismKilled.htm

    I would state that for China it was mainly agricultural incompetence
    and drought that caused a lot of the deaths and not an active
    campaign.

    Stalin was just a very bad person. Was it his mustache ?
    The Soviet enemies of the peoples list was long and varied.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enemies_of_the_people#Soviet_Union

    Gorbachev was an athiest too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_%28Politics_and_law%29

    Hitler – Roman Catholic and some Protestant
    Hitler often praised Christian heritage, German Christian culture, and
    professed a belief in Jesus Christ.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler#Religious_beliefs
    Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich, Nazi Conceptions of
    Christianity, 1919–1945. Kent State University, Ohio: Cambridge
    University Press. DOI:10.2277/0521823714. ISBN 0521823714.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_%28Science_and_technology%29
    the about.com site on atheism has some interesting stuff and some not.

    It is correct in that there is very little cohesion on the athiest
    side. There is not total groupness within the various religions, but
    atheists

    - never have weekly (sunday) meetings

    There is no more athiest movement than there is a don’t believe in the
    tooth fairy movements. Something is not reality, but then a lot of
    things are not. Plenty of customs and social things can be performed
    by others where it does not require opposition or action.

  50. Let them bash. Makes them feel mo’ betta’.

  51. No one in the history of man has ever been killed in the name of reason nor in the name of atheism. (Do not mistake “the state” for atheism.)

    No true Scotsman…

  52. John

    I’m just as confused by atheists who want to erect and demolish Christian straw men.

    I’m an agnostic (atheists are theists too, IMO), but it’s obvious to me that certain religions carry certain advantages, which probably outweigh their disadvantages.

    E.g., who’s winning the fertility battle between fundamentalists (say, fundie Christians, or Haredim) and “rational” atheists? What’s rational about surrendering posterity to someone else?

    Who’s going to win a fight, the nihilist or the true believer? Which is more conducive to victory, a mindset that includes paradise for the righteous, or one that promises nothingness?

    What fired the age of exploration? Existentialist ennui?

    Seems to me any rational person should be able to suss out lots of up sides to religion…unless he’s just another bigot acting out his received wisdom uncritically.

  53. John

    P.S., if atheist/religion-bashers don’t want to look like politically-correct metrosexual hypocrites, they might consider bashing Islam (Koran, not Bible) and Judaism (Talmud, not Bible) as regularly as they bash Christianity.

  54. John

    And to belabor the obvious, OF COURSE religion is a bunch of fairy tales, but to dismiss religion as irrational en toto is, well…irrational.

  55. “Religion” by definition is “stuff I evaluate by different standards than everything else”. I evaluate all ideas with the same standard. If you people were born on Mars and didn’t have religious texts, you’d either grow up atheists, or independently reinvent a religion that flatly contradicted your current one.

  56. P.S., if atheist/religion-bashers don’t want to look like politically-correct metrosexual hypocrites, they might consider bashing Islam (Koran, not Bible) and Judaism (Talmud, not Bible) as regularly as they bash Christianity.

    I don’t bash, with any real frequency at all. When I am denigrating I do so very frequently of religions across the board. My primary arguments against religion are centered on the god of Abraham; that being the Prime Mover against which the contra-cosmological, contra-ontological, and contra-teleological arguments are derived.

    And to belabor the obvious, OF COURSE religion is a bunch of fairy tales, but to dismiss religion as irrational en toto is, well…irrational.

    Follow with us, Buckaroo:

    1: The belief in fairy tales is irrational.
    – (A=C)
    2: Religion is “a bunch of fairy tales”.
    – (B=A)
    3: Belief in Religion is irrational.
    – (B=A=C)
    – (B==C)

  57. Matt:
    You may be interested in watching these two videos.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV1r4fxaZsE&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YotBtibsuh0&feature=related
    John:
    If the continued existence of an idea, whatever its content, depends on parents exploiting the dependence and emotional attachment of their children in order to make them think just like they do, it deserves extinction. The trend towards open distribution of information, especially the internet, has a mitigating effect on parents who try to do that, as Michael pointed out.

  58. Matt: I also wanted to mention in the last comment that I agree that holding theistic beliefs does not render someone unable to contribute to the scientific process.

  59. And everyone, why can’t you pay more attention to my other posts on the Singularity? I spent so much effort to write them, way more than this piece, which I just banged out in 10 minutes. Why don’t you go respond to those?

    I avoid a lot of this fun on my site by making politics and religion off-limits. There are plenty of other forums where these things get discussed ad nauseum — and to no end whatsoever. Still, these are meme-rich topics and people looove to go on and on about them.

    I often bemoan the fact that The Speculist rarely gets the big long comment threads that other blogs get. That is, I bemoan it until I start reading what goes on in those long threads. Then I don’t mind so much.

    As for why so many theists read your site, would you rather they didn’t?

  60. John

    Don’t call me Buckaroo, you ass.

    Beliefs that are themselves irrational can have rational outcomes. Ergo, belief in the irrational can be rational.

    Proofs, schmoofs. The proof is in the reproductive success.

    If the continued existence of an idea, whatever its content, depends on parents exploiting the dependence and emotional attachment of their children in order to make them think just like they do, it deserves extinction.

    Not if it results in rational outcomes, it doesn’t. Not if the alternatives are worse, it doesn’t.

    Say what you want, there’s no denying that religion works. Not without flaws, but on the whole it works. Ceteris paribus, the group that believes God’s going to reward it in everlasting paradise is going to own the group that believes in nothingness.

    Religion is adaptive, generally speaking (please don’t bother going too far with the semantics on that one).

    Matt: I also wanted to mention in the last comment that I agree that holding theistic beliefs does not render someone unable to contribute to the scientific process.

    Duh! You say that as if it’s not blindingly obvious. Believing God will reward you in Heaven is a hell of a good motivation for good science.

    The anti-scientific behavior of the “scientific” on the issue of religion is amusing to me.

  61. John

    I think the thing that galls me the most about the smug anti-Christian (let’s be honest) preaching so typical from the more-educated is that they don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the consequences.

    The masses aren’t like you. They aren’t as intelligent, or conscientious, or restrained. Ever stop and think maybe they need their fairy tales? That if you go ’round breaking their delusions, there will be no fixing them if you don’t like the consequences?

    No, because part of the identity, the self-worth of the same more-educated is tied up in status-mongering via finger-pointing (“I’m so much smarter and better than you!”).

  62. Warren Bonesteel

    …and thus and so…

    …the toxicity continues to spread.

    Of course, not one of them believes that he, himself, is responsible for spreading that toxicity…or the violence growing from it and associated with it.

  63. Leigh Mortensen

    Personally, I believe that if there is a God, that it created the world as an exercise in free will, as in free will to choose whether or not to believe in God, and therefore there can never be any proof, because that would take the choice out of the equation, at least for any rational person. So, the way I see it, the fact of whether or not God exists is moot as far as our current scientific paradigm is concerned, because there can not be, by definition, measurable evidence.

    Another thought. You can’t take people’s comforting illusions away from them. The only way to get them is to trade it for something better. So let’s just create something better than religion. How hard can that possibly be?

  64. I should have been more explicit. I disagree that in having a lower birth rate atheists are surrendering posterity to fundamentalists because memes are not reliably passed on in the same way as genes (and that the same would hold true in the case of any opposing ideas.) A modern person is simply exposed to too many viewpoints and social pressures for parents to use this strategy to consistently and sensitively shape their children’s thinking. It could also possibly be very divisive to a family. This was not the case in less developed societies because there was a narrower range of ideas to choose from, and were more strongly determined by random, local circumstances rather than any kind of deliberately constructed philosophical systems. In this sense memes were once more like genes, and this may have played a role in the development of language, but I digress. Getting back to atheism versus fundamentalism specifically, hardcore fundamentalism is not that common in the United States and lapsing towards more moderate beliefs over time (rates of violent crime have also been declining for the past several decades). In my view strict fundamentalism is the only form of religion more non-negligibly dangerous than other forms of irrationality. If there are atheists who would try to force any sort of extremism on their children, I would hope that they don’t have any either. I probably wouldn’t have even responded to this point if I hadn’t often been hearing that argument lately elsewhere, and I think it’s important that we value the development of children as independent thinkers more than it seems to imply. John raises a very valid point that concerns over status and personal identifiers often cloud peoples’ judgment. My apologies for the long comment.

  65. MZ

    Well, this thread has already satisfied Godwin’s Law. Isn’t there a law which states that over time, the probability of someone mentioning the Inquisition and Stalin in a debate about religion/atheism approaches 1? There should be. In a debate on religion/atheism, the conversation inevitably turns to who killed more people, as if that changes which one is true.

  66. I wasn’t going to respond to any of this; I just came back to it today. But then I saw this:

    Believing God will reward you in Heaven is a hell of a good motivation for good science.

    WhosajiggaWHA!? How do you answer such delusion?

    I’m being quite earnest here: Michael, MCP2012, hell; Tom McCabe… if you’re reading this; I ask you: how?

    The masses aren’t like you. They aren’t as intelligent, or conscientious, or restrained. Ever stop and think maybe they need their fairy tales? That if you go ’round breaking their delusions, there will be no fixing them if you don’t like the consequences?

    No, I never have. That’s because it’s patently false.

    And… I have got to learn to not need to get in the last word on a conversation, dammit.

  67. MCP2012

    OK, then I’ll have the last word: People need to be gently enlightened (or edified, if you will) as to the basic truth(es) of, e.g., Buddhism, mysticism, Hellenistic eudaimonism, AND, OF COURSE, the basic (meta)cognitive-intellectual (as well as socio-political/jurisprudential) truth(es) of the Enlightment (particularly the *Scottish* Enlightenment, but many aspects of the continental Enlightment [particularly the French and German branches], as well.

    Yet,HOW, pray tell [one might respond...] does one go about achieving all that. Well, for one, Friedmanian, minimal-strings-attached, education VOUCHERS. The only “string(s)” would be some sort of certification that the “basics” (the “3 r’s” as we say) will be taught as well as basic critical thinking (such as to be found, e.g, in Michael Scriven’s classic, *Reasoning*). On vouchers, there’s no better discussion (or, at least, starting point) than the lamentably late, great Milton Friedman’s chapter “On Education” in *Capitalism & Freedom* (see also his discussion of education in the sequel, *Free to Choose*). A very good discussion of educational theory AND *reform* is Jerry Kirkpatrick’s *Montessori, Dewey & Capitalism*.

    And, as for how/why our education system(s) is so incredibly screwed-up, and why all of us are, at least to some extent, cognitively-intellectually-speaking, the walking-wounded, see the following:

    (1) Myron Lieberman, *Public Education: An Autopsy*
    (2) John Taylor Gatto, *The Underground History of American Education* (2001) AND *Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling* (2008, forthcoming)
    (3) Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt, *The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America: A Chronological Paper Trail*

    Honorable Mention (#4) would be: Peter Brimelow, *The Worm in the Apple : How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education*

    and Honorable Mention (#5) is Myron Lieberman (go, Myron!), *The Teacher Unions: How They Sabotage Educational Reform and Why*

    and for an anthology of more-or-less balanced (yeah, whatever…) discussion, see Tom Loveless (ed.), *Conflicting Missions?: Teachers Unions and Educational Reform* (Brookings Inst.)

    There are, of course, other important works, but these in particular are germinal (which is, btw, the gender-neutral synonym for “seminal”—every once in while I go ahead and strive to be gender-politically-corrected, especially when such readily-available lingusitic-substitutes are available.)

    And as for (so-called) higher education, see in particular:

    (1) Page Smith, *Killing the Spirit*. Page Smith is a superb historian as well as storyteller. The gist of this work’s subtitle is something to the effect of “Academia’s Free-fall From Intellectual Ideals (or Values)”…someithing like that. It is a passionate, yet straightforward, almost journalistic (in the BEST, mind you, spirit and meaning of that word) account of the historic evolution of “the university”, of the rise of academic fundamentalism, etc., etc., *ad nauseum*. Not to be missed.

    (2) James M Buchanan (yes, of course, the Nobel Laureate in Economics…) & Nicos E Devletoglou, *Academia in Anarchy*

    and

    (3) Richard Vedder, *Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much*

    So start by radically reforming education. One might also start with good parenting in the cognitive-intellectual developmental area: See Joan Beck, *How to Raise a Brighter Child*; John Mike, *Brilliant Babies, Powerful Adults: Awaken the Genius Within*, and many others. And I recommend virtually anything by and/or influenced-by MARIA MONTESSORI: The lady had it going on, bless her heart. You go, Maria!

    It starts with the kids (Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, *et al*, *ad nauseum*, KNEW THIS WELL.) Get ‘em while there young and cognitively-intellectually plastic and more-or-less defenseless—and indoctrinate and dumb-down the hell out of ‘em!! **OR** take the supreme and exalted responsibility of truly jump-starting a MIND and truly EDUCATE them: instill in them the ability to learn, to acquire knowledge and understanding and an active, inquiring, discern, discriminating mind and then Introduce them to history, culture, science and scientific method(s).

    For a history of how America screwed this up (big time) see also (in addition to all of the above-mentioned works): Murray Rothbard (yeah, good old Murray, rest-his-soul; I’m honored to say I knew him personally for yrs while at NYU), *Education: Free & Complusory*; and E.G. West, *Education and the Industrial Revolution* and *Education and the State* (both these latter available from LibertyPress http://www.libertyfund.org/results.asp)

    And, of course, finally: Ecumenism and true spirituality. Discover you own unique and irreplaceable self in this multiverse, metacosmos (See, btw, the late Robert Wesson absolutely superb *Cosmos & Metacosmos*).

    “The integral individual does not seek power over others but the discovery by others of their own unique power of personhood.” — David L. Norton (now unfortunately deceased), *Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism* (one the greatest, most magnificent treatises on social philosophy and moral psychology ever written [IMHO]).

    OK, kids, I’m outta here for now…love y’all…

    Ciao ;)

    P.S. Oh, and as for Buddhism, see: Steve Hagan, *Buddhism Plain & Simple*; Lama Surya Das, *Awakening the Buddha Within*; and two by the priceless Thubten Chodron, *Buddhism for Beginners* and *Open Heart, Clear Mind*. Fear not, any kid I were ever to be privileged to teach would also get my recommendation to read George Smith’s classic *Atheism*, Mike Martin’s *Atheism: A Philosophical Justification* and, of course, Sam Harris’ stuff.

    OK, now I’m outta here… ;) LOL FNORD!

  68. MCP2012

    Woops…(and you thought I was finally done…): I forgot to mention another wonderful **classic**: Paul Goodman, *Compulsory Mis-Education and the Community of Scholars*. Don’tcha just *love* that frickin’ title?!!? Paul Goodman—most if not all of his works—ROCKS!

    Ciao…

  69. Jimmy

    Is it not possible that there is a God and that he is so awesome that he can do anything?

  70. Jonathan

    There are a lot of rather tendentious views here. Some are mere details (the Bible does not say that Mary, let alone Mary Magdalene, ascended to heaven; I can’t think where you’ve got that idea from) but others are more important. For one thing, it is not true that the vast majority of Christians are Biblical literalists who think that liberals are going to hell. Perhaps that is the case in America but it certainly isn’t elsewhere. Just saying that you’ve been a member of such groups yourself doesn’t prove anything – how do you know that those groups were representative of Christians in general, worldwide? In fact they are not.

    Moreover, you seem hazy on what views are or are not compatible with science. For example, the passage you quote mocks Morris for believing that Jesus was a supernatural person who performed miracles. Well, that belief may be implausible for a variety of reasons, but I don’t see what makes it unscientific. If there *were* a God then I don’t see why he shouldn’t suspend the laws of nature on occasion when he wishes, and furthermore I don’t see how that would invalidate science. Science studies the laws of nature; it doesn’t pronounce upon whether they can be suspended or not. You might use the analogy of the study of law. A lawyer can tell you (for example) whether a certain action is legal or illegal under the legal system that he studies. But he can’t tell you whether that legal system may or may not be suspended. If some dictator chooses to suspend the legal system on occasion, the lawyer would still be right in his views about which acts are legal or illegal under that system.

    The argument seems to be that anyone who believes in anything supernatural must by definition be rejecting science, or at the very least distorting science. I think you’re going to have to do a lot of arguing to defend such a dubious principle. Please note that I’m not saying that the belief in the supernatural is rational, or defensible, or anything like that. That is a quite different issue and a contentious one. But I don’t think there’s any good reason to suppose that it is, in itself, contrary to science.

    It’s also pretty disingenuous to smear the likes of Polkinghorne as espousing “the physics version of ID”. “Intelligent Design” is anti-science because those who defend it must, as part of their defence, reject rather significant and established findings of mainstream science. In particular, it involves the belief that the world as we see it did not evolve under the operation of natural laws, but was set up as we currently see it (or in a very similar state) by God. By contrast, the notion that the physical laws of the universe have been set up by God to permit the evolution of the world as we see it makes no such claims. It does not involve the rejection of any well-established body of scientific opinion such as the theory of evolution by natural selection. Neither does it appeal to direct divine design as an alternative to the operation of natural laws. It argues that the nature of the natural laws themselves show the influence of divine design. Now here again we may think that the argument is weak, but that is not the point. The point is that, weak or not, this argument does not seem to challenge either the scientific method or the scientific consensus. The analogy of the lawyer might be relevant again. The lawyer’s task is to study and analyse the law. He may think the law was designed by a wise lawgiver; he may think the law is a hotch-potch that shows no rational design. But whichever opinion he holds will make no difference to his work as a lawyer; he can be a perfectly good lawyer with either belief or neither.

  71. Jonathan

    Wikipedia is not a reliable source, and just linking to a Wikipedia page is not an argument. In this case, however, you will note that Wikipedia correctly states that no Christian believed in the physical assumption of Mary before the fourth or fifth centuries (which would hardly be the case if it were stated in the Bible). It is not a biblical doctrine. John 14:3 is mentioned as a proof-text, but that is not a statement of the doctrine, merely a verse that some take to support it (very obliquely). That is not the same thing.

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