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?


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.