An official Darwin Day? Yes, please

Rep. Pete Stark of Fremont, California has put forth a fantastic bill that is destined to die.

Stark, D-Fremont, introduced H. Res. 81 on Wednesday. It praises Darwin’s theory of evolution and the “monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it,” which “provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on earth.”

The resolution goes on to state that “the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change,” and that “the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States’ education systems.”

The bill would make February 12 an officially recognized day of celebration of Charles Darwin’s birth and life. There should be no doubt that I think this is a wonderful idea. Darwin was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His insight was obviously spectacular, his predictions were amazing, and his humility was admirable. Humanity owes him one.

Stark went on to explain his goals in submitting this bill.

Stark on Thursday explained he’s “just trying to get people to understand that we’re trying to get our kids to be scientists, were pushing for green jobs and green development, and you can’t stick your head in the sand and not recognize that we’re in a modern age. To get there, it seems to me, we have to understand that science is all part of what we’re doing.

“I’m sure there are people out there who’d say I’m the devil’s advocate, but I’ll give the devil as much chance as any god that people choose to deal with,” he said. “To say some unknown god up there in the stratosphere directs all of our lives and our development is naive.”

This is naturally irritating to conservatives. But when we’re talking about a bunch of people who almost universally came to their conclusions before they even considered reason, that isn’t surprising. It’s just too bad the anti-science forces in the U.S. are so strong. We’re missing a chance to honor a great person.

The erosion of progress by fundamentalism

I found this great video with Neil deGrasse Tyson where he talks about the rise in intellectual accomplishments by those in the Middle East between the years 800-1100 and how everything went downhill shortly thereafter. The rise was brought forth through free thought and inclusiveness of ideas from all walks of life. Unfortunately, one influential fundamentalist Muslim convinced people that mathematics was the work of the devil around 1100. From there everything started to fall apart. To make his point, Tyson notes that there are well over a billion Muslims in the world while there are about 15 million Jews. And how many Muslims have won Nobel prizes? A couple. How many Jews? Probably close to a quarter. It isn’t because there’s something inherently superior in the intellect of Jews; it’s because fundamentalism erodes scientific (and social and moral) progress. We face the same problem with intelligent design creationism today. If as a society we were to follow the course of the Christians (and Muslims and sometimes Jews and others) who advocate for that sort of anti-scientific/anti-science position, we would find ourselves down a very worrying path indeed.

Two final points. One, my post title is different from the video title because Tyson is not talking about religion in general. Two, you’ve got to love what he says at the end:

I want to put on the table not why 85% of the National Academy [of Science] rejects God, I want to know why 15% don’t.

How well do you know Hitler?

Stephen Hawking states the obvious

Just like with Einstein, theists love to usurp the words Stephen Hawking to pretend as though he’s a believer. It’s long been obvious that that is not the case. Recent statements now make this more clear.

In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

This ought to be clear.

It’s unfortunate that literary devices are often abused. Recall when Hawking ended “A Brief History of the Universe” by referencing “the mind of God”. We have dozens of other statements from the man, including these most recent ones, which show that he rejects religion and silly superstition. But does this stop all the lying and/or ignorant theists? Of course not. Really, it’s sad that they think by having a prominent scientist on their side of belief that they’ve actually bolstered the case for God, but I’m more offended by the utter willingness to misrepresent a person’s views.

Again, this all should be clear – and it should have been clear almost 20 years ago.

Atheist lawsuit in Illinois

Rob Sherman has filed a lawsuit over $2.3 billion worth of grants that are being improperly given or may be improperly given to religious organizations in Illinois.

Most of the grants challenged by Sherman, Illinois’ leading atheist, go to religious organizations — houses of worship, parochial schools and religious ministries. Clear, unambiguous language in Article X, Section 3, of the Illinois Constitution says that no grant of money shall ever be made by the State to any church for any purpose. Article X, Section 3, also strictly prohibits public funds from ever being used to help support any parochial school. In addition, Article I, Section 3, of the Illinois Constitution provides that no person shall be required to support any ministry against his consent.

The article isn’t meant to be an objective A, B, and C happened sort of news article, so I feel it does the job of pointing out all that is wrong with these grants in Illinois. Do read it all.

I do, however, have one qualm. After listing a number of different religions involved in the grants, the writer says this:

As you can see, Sherman is not just picking on one faith.

So what if he was? It’s nice to see that no religion is getting a free pass, but if he wanted to pick on one over the others, why not? Christianity is a primary problem in the United States today, so it makes sense to focus on it here. And then there’s Islam; it’s currently going through a mini version of the phase through which Christianity went in the Dark Ages (and, indeed, Christianity caused the Dark Ages), so it is important to pick on that religion if one is in favor of better liberty, better social justice, and better quality of life. So I agree that it’s good that Sherman is hitting all the evidence-less ideologies, but if he had one particular concern over another, I wouldn’t blame him.

The irony

The atheist sign in Washington state is still causing discussion. Unfortunately, some of that discussion is ironic.

But upon further review, we also feel that some of those protesting the sign make a good point about the message. Rather than just being a statement for atheism or observing the Winter Solstice, it steps over the line and attacks religion. The sign sponsored by the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation calls religion “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

A key aspect of the message being sent out by humanists and atheists is that religion has a privileged position in our society and it is precisely unworthy of that position. To say this group was over the line is to undermine the notion of free and open discussion.

So, while we’ll defend the right of the atheist group to hold its views, we do think the message itself should have been monitored and disapproved. In this holiday season when people of certain religions are celebrating peace, as is their right, a mean-spirited message is out of place on public property.

So if a religious group puts out a message which says something to the effect of “May we defeat the evil that is Satan” then that is a “mean-spirited message [that] is out of place” during this season of celebrating peace, right?

The more pertinent point here, actually, is that certain religions aren’t actually celebrating peace. They’re celebrating their belief in myths and the sense of community these myths tend to harbor. That’s part of the reason the likes of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers have Christmas trees in their homes during the season. They obviously aren’t celebrating any myths, but they are celebrating their love of family and community.

As I’ve said in the past, religion clearly brings a sense of community with it and that can be a good thing (and may be a contributing reason to its existence in our evolutionary history). What this atheist group is doing is celebrating what brings them together – reason and rationality. That is, a lack of belief in devils and angels are other fabrications of the mind are one common thread which strings these people together. For that, we all, too, should embrace the unharmful, open discourse that threads us together as a nation based upon liberties and freedoms.

Oh, Billo

Washington State has recently granted permits for three displays in its Capitol building. One is a “holiday tree”, the other a nativity scene, and the third a sign from an atheist group which reads as follows:

At this season of
the Winter Solstice
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

Okay, fair enough. The state is allowing permits for displays which are privately funded. Assuming there isn’t profanity or pornography involved, there is little reason to deny a group a permit. Washington, being the generally progressive state it is, of course, allowed the display. We can all disagree and do it in harmony, no?

No.

Billo is a mook. Around 1:45, he goes on to say Christmas is a federal holiday honoring Jesus. Actually, Billo, Ganulin v. United States, 532 US 973 (2001) found that Christmas had been so sufficiently secularized that its status as a federal holiday was permissable. In other words, had they found the point of the federal holiday, in its modern form, to endorse Jesus, they would have taken away its holiday status.

Billo next goes on to rhetorically ask if it is necessary that a sign be placed next to the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr for people who disagree with his religious views. There’s a disconnect. We celebrate MLK’s civil rights movements, not his religion. The holiday is to honor his achievements, not his Christianity. Beside that, yes, if one group has a right to obtain a permit for a display on public property, so do other groups. This doesn’t mean they have the right to put their display where they please – the KKK cannot put a sign in front of a bust or portrait or whathaveyou of MLK. Just the same, no group would be allowed to do that.

Asked whether he was bothered by the atheist display next to his Nativity scene, Wesselius said, “I think the Nativity scene will speak for itself.” But he added, “I appreciate freedom of speech and freedom of access. That’s why they’re in there, and hey – you know, that’s great.”

This man, from the original article, has the correct attitude and outlook. We can disagree, but we can do it in harmony.

Be good for goodness’ sake.

Recently, an atheist bus campaign was brought to fruition in the UK. Its point was to convey a message that worrying about what happens after life really doesn’t do much to improve what’s happening during life. Now there is a new humanist campaign. This one takes place in the United States.

DENVER — Ads proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” will appear on Washington, D.C., buses starting next week and running through December, sponsored by The American Humanist Association.

“Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

While the religious who are utterly offended by the notion that morality can exist outside their world of make-believe will object to this message, they really shouldn’t. It does one of the few good things religion has going for it – it reaches for a sense of community. As one of the social animals, humans need the contact and closeness which religion has the ability to harness. Hopefully this humanist message can help to foster the community sense by appealing to the wide-spread desire to simply be a good person.

It’s too bad people like Bill Donahue are under the delusion that morality somehow comes from religion. See a video with the same general idea here.

Codes of morality, of course, have always been grounded in religion. For those of us in Western civilization, its tenets emanate from the Judeo-Christian ethos. By casting this heritage aside, and replacing it with nothing more than the conscience of lone individuals, we lay the groundwork for moral anarchy. And that is because there is nothing that cannot be justified if the only moral benchmark is what men and women posit to be right and wrong. Indeed, every monster in history has followed his conscience.

The man is blatantly wrong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he isn’t willing to stone a woman to death for adultery or any other absurd command that is in the Bible. It’s morally repugnant by today’s standards. But what makes Donahue not cast (physical) stones? It certainly isn’t the idea of morality in his religion or from his god. The very reason he (and all others) pick and choose from holy books and philosophers is that our sense of morality comes from somewhere outside these books.

Be good for goodness' sake.

Recently, an atheist bus campaign was brought to fruition in the UK. Its point was to convey a message that worrying about what happens after life really doesn’t do much to improve what’s happening during life. Now there is a new humanist campaign. This one takes place in the United States.

DENVER — Ads proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” will appear on Washington, D.C., buses starting next week and running through December, sponsored by The American Humanist Association.

“Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

While the religious who are utterly offended by the notion that morality can exist outside their world of make-believe will object to this message, they really shouldn’t. It does one of the few good things religion has going for it – it reaches for a sense of community. As one of the social animals, humans need the contact and closeness which religion has the ability to harness. Hopefully this humanist message can help to foster the community sense by appealing to the wide-spread desire to simply be a good person.

It’s too bad people like Bill Donahue are under the delusion that morality somehow comes from religion. See a video with the same general idea here.

Codes of morality, of course, have always been grounded in religion. For those of us in Western civilization, its tenets emanate from the Judeo-Christian ethos. By casting this heritage aside, and replacing it with nothing more than the conscience of lone individuals, we lay the groundwork for moral anarchy. And that is because there is nothing that cannot be justified if the only moral benchmark is what men and women posit to be right and wrong. Indeed, every monster in history has followed his conscience.

The man is blatantly wrong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he isn’t willing to stone a woman to death for adultery or any other absurd command that is in the Bible. It’s morally repugnant by today’s standards. But what makes Donahue not cast (physical) stones? It certainly isn’t the idea of morality in his religion or from his god. The very reason he (and all others) pick and choose from holy books and philosophers is that our sense of morality comes from somewhere outside these books.

Not attending church makes you an atheist

In an article from WorldNetDaily, Tom Flannery makes the claim that those who do not attend church are de facto atheists.

With the emergence of the New Atheist movement in recent years – led by the unholy trinity of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris – many have become convinced that religious faith is, as Dawkins puts it, “dangerously irrational.”

So, a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University, entitled “What Americans Really Believe” must have come as quite a shock to their systems. It turns out the empirical data show that atheists are the ones who are susceptible to irrational thought, much more so than traditional believers.

According to the study, 31 percent of people who never attend worship services expressed strong belief in such things as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, advanced civilizations like Atlantis, haunted houses and the possibility of communicating with the dead. Only 8 percent of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week shared those beliefs.

Does everyone see the disconnect? He’s calling the 31 percent of non-church attending people atheists. He offers no studies to back up such a claim. Conveniently, had he actually read the study, Tommy would have discovered that there are more statistics.

Is the atheist population in the United States rapidly increasing? Several books by atheists hit the bestseller list in 2006 and 2007, seemingly signaling a breakthrough for the Godless Revolution (Ch. 14, p. 116). ISR researchers did find an increasing number of Americans (11 percent) who claim no religious affiliation, but they also delved into the actual religiousness of those who report having no religion. The Baylor Survey shows that a majority of Americans who claim to be irreligious pray and are not atheists

11% of Americans in this survey claim no religious affiliation. A majority of these people do still believe in a god. In fact, of these people, a little more than a third are actually atheists.

During the past 63 years, polls show the percentage of atheists has not changed at all, holding steady at only 4 percent of Americans who say they do not believe in God.

What’s more, Tommy makes the claim that believing in Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster makes these atheists (who he estimates at existing nearly 800% more than they actually do) more susceptible to irrational belief than those who believe in god(s). Well isn’t that just begging? Tommy’s assumption that god is inherently rational begs the question all these atheist books have been raising.

And then there’s this.

Religious and mystical experiences are an overlooked aspect of our national religious life and are often neglected by researchers and ignored by theologians. The Baylor Religion Survey asked respondents about these experiences: hearing the voice of God, feeling called by God to do something, being protected by a guardian angel, witnessing and/or receiving a miraculous physical healing, and speaking or praying in tongues. The ISR researchers found that such experiences are central to American religion. Forty-five percent of Americans report having at least two religious encounters (Ch. 6, p. 59). Denomination matters, the researchers found. Conservative Protestants are more likely than liberal Protestants, Catholics or Jews to report religious or mystical experiences. However, these experiences are not limited to conservative Protestants. They occur with considerable frequency in nearly all religious groups. The survey also showed that women, African Americans and Republicans are more apt to have religious and mystical experiences.

It is actually the religious who believe they have been talking to and/or experiencing some invisible magic sky fairy. This is not a characteristic of atheists, “New” or old.

However, the ISR researchers found that conservative religious Americans are far less likely to believe in the occult and paranormal than are other Americans, with self-identified theological liberals and the irreligious far more likely than other Americans to believe (p. 130). The researchers say this shows that it is not religion in general that suppresses such beliefs, but conservative religion.

Religion doesn’t quash inane beliefs. It is the far right wing of the religious nuts that view their beliefs as being the only ones with any truth to them. While this incidentally works to their advantage in the case of rejecting belief in UFOs or Bigfoot, it puts them at a severe disadvantage when it comes to accepting the scientific fact of the underlying theme of all of biology – evolution.

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