God No!

Friday, November 28, 2008


No longer content to silently disavow religion, the so-called New Atheists are on the offensive. Borrowing tactics from the faithful, nonbelievers have taken to proselytizing in books and in the media. And yes, they’re even in foxholes.
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Comments [78]

Dana Morale from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

I must echo an earlier comment on this post that the general tone of the discussion here has been on a RELATIVELY higher plane, something one too often doesn't experience. Although the arguement of 'WHO STARTED IT?' will continue, only the so-called elite who appear on this post are apt to adhere to a cognitive higher plane. (Those reading this site posess a higher IQ and attempt to actually view the world and understand it.) A couple of writers here complained of atheists trying to 'push' god out of daily life and, paraphrasing; 'who are they to tell us there is no god?' Well, are atheists waking YOU up at 9:00 am on your day off to renounce YOUR belief? Where is the ATHEIST CHANNEL on my cable system? How many phone calls have you made where the person answered; "There is no god, get over it! How may I help you?" Why is it possible to have 27 denominations(with buildings)in a town of 7,326 here in Pennsylvania, but no atheist center? When have you ever had someone interrupt YOU on a train/plane/trolley or bus to TELL you "There is NO GOD!" ala "Christ/god loves you" out of the blue? As was mentioned we haven't taken or killed hostages and haven't flown into any tall towers. However we have removed your cancer, prepared your food, defended you in court, played in your hometown symphony. We teach your children, we repair your teeth, deliver your mail. We volunteer in the Red Cross, at hospitals, for the VA and DAV, soup kitchens and the voting booth. We clothe the naked AND feed the hungry AND try to right wrongs. We do it with out some fairytale impetus and without it written on our sleeve. My then-atheist wife and I have received written thanks for our efforts in the community, the letters ending with "thank you both for showing ...deep or wonderful christian love." In fact it was no such thing.

Dec. 21 2008 07:28 PM
Judi Phillips from Columbia Falls, MT

This is a copy of a comment I left on the recent responses to Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. Interesting I cannot find this story anywhere on the site now, so let's see what happens to this one, lol.

All religions are based on mythologies. All dreams are ethereal before they become realities. Mythologies are stories, and both can evoke and in themselves be beautiful forms of Art. Mythologies are not falsehoods or untruths, but metaphors, and stories about energies and forces we will strive to understand forever, but need to forgive ourselves for what we do not, and take responsibility what we do know in this world.
Spirituality is the inspiration for all or any expression of Spirit, with or without a religious institution as a format. Religions are codes, creating a cultural construct that supports it. Followers of the leading religion are therefore more likely to succeed. Most people don’t want to question this. But those who do often find themselves at odds with spirituality at its basis, not having other options. The key is knowledge, and taking the apple so to speak. Look, there is a world of spirituality out there, unfettered by only one set of words. It’s all the same thing, from one subatomic particle to the greatest spans of whatever the Universe consists of, ad infinitum. You, me, all of us. We are all of the same incredible Creative Forces of Life, by whatever name. We are all parts of a whole.

Ignorance is a lie, and it is not bliss, but foolishness. Debunking, however, the whole idea, faith or realization of the simple existence of the spirit in the beauty of the entire Universe is either ignorance itself, or cowardice. Acceptance is a good word to start with looking forward to happiness. All ideas are valid.

So go ahead, take a bite, there are lots of different apples from this tree of life, just as sweet; they’re bites of knowledge, indulge.

Dec. 09 2008 07:05 AM
William Hay from Omaha, NE

Certainly Dr. Edgell and Brook must have failed their statistics courses. Dr. Edgell says "Just do the numbers, right? If they're [atheists] only seven percent of the American population, odds are most people don't know one." Well that makes atheists only slightly less common then gays(~10% of the population), the group she says everyone knows someone from. Does this mean most Americans know less then 100 people? Even accepting that people tend to socialize with like individuals, there's a good chance at 7% most people know an atheist.

Dec. 07 2008 05:59 PM
Brad Allen from The Colony, TX

The story didn't mention agnosticism at all!

Maybe it's time for us agnostics to shrug off that humble posture, rise up, let their voice be known!

Death to all fanatics! ;-)

Dec. 04 2008 09:05 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

My exposure to the American Humanist brought me face to face to the wild postulations of Immanuel Velikovksy, whose work was fiercely being debated in those last issues of the magazine. While still criticized for similarities to the mode of thinking employed Creationists, I absolutely adored his idea of taking folk tales, myths and legends at more or less face value and weaving a story he seemed to believe was true, most shocking of which was that the planet Venus was a relatively new addition to the Solar system which, after being expelled from Jupiter, came so terrifyingly close to the Earth as to reduce the effects of gravity here as it found its place in the firmament.

In Marlowe’s Faustus’ final speech, which I had often used as an audition piece, I heard echoes of the Dark Ages’ rejection of Science in favor of Faith when the cataclysm appeared at hand. (Could Alchemy have been an attempt at fusion? Gold is merely one hydrogen atom away from lead.)

Since that exposure, I have found it impossible to simply ignore the assertion of Native Americans that they come from the Black Hills and I see no evidence of apes ever being there, so I await the discovery that there was more than one way to evolve from animals to humans, perhaps from bears? Plus, they seem like some mixture of cats and pigs, to me.

Dec. 04 2008 04:39 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I remember when, in about the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, the American Humanist magazine became American Atheist and when Isaac Asimov was the President of the Society and I was never prouder of America, even though the words “Secular Humanism” were then often bandied about as swears. Despite being of deep faith, I never felt cognitive dissonance about embracing what could be known as closely as what could not.
Since my faith is so unique to me, embracing elements from many traditions, I would never expect anyone else to follow it or even agree with it but agreement with the principles of valuing human welfare and human dignity inherent in Humanism, above and beyond even its commitment to furthering scientific knowledge, have always been consonant with my religious beliefs.
The mysteries of faith have never seemed to me to be in conflict with the utilization all of the tools of the human mind to plumb them nor seemed ever likely to resolve them all. Faith has always seemed far too subjective for that.
I enthusiastically welcome the contributions of atheists to the national debate.

Dec. 04 2008 04:36 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

F, if you insist on confirming the point made at [65] there isn't anything I can do to stop you.

Dec. 04 2008 01:00 PM
F. from NYC

"... does the phrase Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones. " Ooops, that was supposed to be "... does the phrase Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones ring a bell?"

Dec. 04 2008 10:39 AM
F. from NYC

Gee, atheists pushing for an idea? Apparently some people really do think things happen in a vacuum. "... but the smart thing to do would be not to try to encourage people to believe in something they don't. " As opposed to the last eight years of public policy?

Oddly what's that old theologian quote? All that it takes for Evil to triumph is for Good Men to do Nothing? And I don't think that atheists would care what the adherents of ideas like White Men were Created by An Evil Scientist Who Circled the Planet Earth Five Thousand Years Ago and Enflamed Shrubberies That Speak would call them. After all, what could be said? Once you've been damned to Hell and nothing of the sort happened, does the phrase Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones. Which does point up that it ain't the names That People Who Don't Believe In the Tooth Fairy Either could have cause to be concerned about. It would be the Sticks and Stones employed in the name of the One True Faith that are worrisome.

Dec. 04 2008 10:38 AM
Allyson from Colorado

being completely unbiased, i think Southpark's look on this was the best. religion, non-religion, if you think about it its all the same!! here are atheists trying to "save" people from religion, and here is religion trying to "save" people from the world. im sorry, if God opposed gay marriage and even wanted to make people suffer for it, he wouldnt have created us in the first place. If God actually "hated" what we did, hated us for being gay, and even aborted babies because "he just wanted to", we wouldnt be alive. there is no reason God would make a beautiful child just for it to be taken away...he's good, never bad. God never changes; we're the dumb ones. i believe fully in freedom of speech, but if someone doesn't believe like you, there should be no reason to hate them; and that works both ways. If passion of christ can be released in theatres, then atheists can put up a billboard. that's just the way it works. it's not even about other people anymore, it's about making yourself feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Southpark made a good point; and that's quite sad to say; i guess it's more important to hate someone for being different than loving them for it. and that point right there totally contradicts what John Lennon is saying in that song.

Dec. 04 2008 10:27 AM
Nader Omar --- MCM 101

I am completely neutral toward the thought of a God. Though I guess that would technically make me an atheist.

Personally I don't see a problem with this at all. If those who believe in a God want to reach out to people why not those who are convinced that there isn't? And from the looks of it their more so doing it to "improve" lives much as Christians, Mormons, or Jehova Witnesses on their "missions" or pamphlet handing try to do.

I don't see a problem with this.

Dec. 04 2008 02:23 AM

I think that this is a matter not even worth the time spent on it. I think that the people who were trying so hard to get people to view atheism differently, were generalizing the mass of Christians too much. Not everyone thinks a certain way about atheists. They are portrayed on t.v. maybe there aren't a lot because there are only 7% people are atheist and the media will obviously try to appeal to the Mass' after all it is there job. We have free speech in this country and billboards can go up.. but the smart thing to do would be not to try to encourage people to believe in something they don't. Thats why people complained. Because too many people are religous and do not want someone trying to tell them not to be, just like how athiests don't want people to tell them to believe in god. It just a matter of majority rules plain and simple.

Dec. 04 2008 01:56 AM
Isaiah Riggs from Pueblo

I liked the show, and it was a good story; the thing I don’t get is, who really cares? Why do Atheists feel they can tell everyone that there is no God, when any other religion isn’t allowed to say anything about their religion because it might offend someone, such as "Merry Christmas" it's no longer politically correct to say Merry Christmas because you might offend someone that doesn’t believe in Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying there is or isn’t a God, as far as right now, I'm unaffiliated, I just don’t understand it, why would an Atheist get offend by saying, "There's no Atheists coming out of that fox hole"? I think it would be so much better if people would just shut up and not care what everyone else thinks, why should I really care how an Atheists feels about how they're treated, and the same goes for every other religion.
Isaiah Riggs MCCNM 11:00am

Dec. 03 2008 10:43 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

F - I assume not named for the antique symbolic notation that has fallen into disuse since my ancient course in foundations - Morris R. Cohen was an able writer on logic who I particularly like. I'd suggest the collection of his less rigorous articles collected in "A Preface to Logic".

I don't doubt he'd be able to point out that flinging detritus and refuse is hardly confined to "religionistas" (I wonder what the neo-atheist response would be to someone calling them "atheistas") but is endemic to systems builders of all kinds. I wonder what he'd make of the "ultimate 747" argument or Dennett's (and Dawkins') arguments about the applicability of natural selection to extraterrestrial species unknown. I've had blog atheists become apoplectic at having those and similar flotsam and jetsam of the big names of the "new atheism" questioned. The fear and attempts to pursuade others that it was an awesome display of science, some with an absolute lack of data and often full of logical and even definitional disconnects (Dennett on memes, as mentioned above, Dawkins and Dennett on the adaptive nature of religious belief, again on the basis of absolutely no data, as not yet mentioned above), in light of the pretenses of logical rigor and scientific empiricism, become entirely pertinent.

Dec. 03 2008 08:36 PM
F. from NYC

As a former student in the Philosophy Department of CCNY, I remember the somewhat famous anecdote about the teacher Morris Raphael Cohen. He conducted what I remember as an intro Philosophy class where he examined, analysed, and apparently demolished all of the supposedly great schools of Philosophical Thought. At the end of a class, a student asked of Cohen what were they supposed to believe. His response was something along the lines of "Isn't it enough for Hercules to have cleaned out the Augean Stables?"

When the Religionistas face the vacuum that is at the center of this controversy, must their response always be to chuck back in the detrietus and refuse? When they face the question in honesty rather than cower in Fear and then attempt to persuade others that it was in Awe, well, then half the matter will have become moot.

Dec. 03 2008 02:36 PM
B. from NYC

As regards the comment about Ben Stein's "documentary": While I admit that historically speaking Science has some relevance to the topic, it is more because it is about an examination of the Natural World, and the requirements of evidence and proofs. It bears some saying that NO MATTER the problem with Science, the issue is that there is nothing about any of the proofs of Religion that manages to rise above a threshold. I prefer to look at it as a matter of "How does your reasoning work such that I can trust that when I send you out for a dozen eggs that you won't drag my child off into a thicket and attempt to sacrifice him to your personal household demon?"

It always does amaze me how many of the pseudo-proofs would appear to result in a proof for Polytheism, and not for Monotheism. It is merely the expression of Preference that has people thinking that their particular and peculiar beliefs are privileged by these explanations of why the herd of Zebras that were scheduled didn not arrive as promised. Only a clatch of jackasses.

Dec. 03 2008 02:08 PM
Matt from Arlington, Virginia

The atheist-religious story of the year is not the efforts of the "new atheists". Instead it is Ben Stein's beautiful film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Purporting to rely on logic, reasoning and a Popperian Open Society a parade of atheists demonstrate a whole range of unscientific and unlogical reactions to the application of scientific methods to scientific theories that they do not theologically/ideologically agree with.

More importantly the film shows that the new atheists are not out to change society, but instead copt science itself for what is for atheists an ideological and for religious people a theoretical debate. The movie shows this in a stark light and would have been a great addition to your yearly check in with this topic. Maybe next year?

Dec. 03 2008 01:58 PM
M. from NYC

The idea that faith is under attack is really rather silly. It's the cottage industry that gets called Religion that is under attack.

To say that faith is under attack would imply by analogy that sex itself were under attack if one doubted the value of Pornography. Religion, rather like Pornography, is the industry that arose when some one part of the life of Humans was elevated above all other parts, and quite often to the detriment of all others. It's in its own way a form of bizarrely socialised OCD.

Dec. 03 2008 11:24 AM
Mike White from Westland, MI

Thank you so much for your piece. As a lifelong atheist, I've faced discrimination whenever I "'fess up" about my beliefs.

I have to admit that I've never thought of House as an atheist. I've been "tricked" too many times by atheist characters who get "redeemed" by disavowing their non-belief and finding god in some way. Take Maddie from "Moonlighting" or Jodie Foster's character from Contact for example. I can see House being shown up before the run of the show is done.

PS I've had better luck writing "Hail Satan!" for my religious beliefs on my facebook page than "Atheist" - one thing can be taken as a joke, the other is simply offensive to too many people.

Dec. 02 2008 08:31 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

"It's why people who assert their faith-based opinions as fact and pressure others to accept their faith-based opinions as reason, deserve to be ridiculed.
Nobody examines this topic better I think than Sam Harris"

Riley, would that include Harris' own vaguely Buddhist-Vedantist dabblings? Or just his assertion that it can be ethical to kill people for their beliefs? There are people who are very intolerant and bigoted based on religion but even many of those don't advocate the use of torture or killing people for their beliefs. Sam Harris is a demagogue preaching to bigots.

I confess that I'm strongly intolerant of people who advocate torture and murdering people for what they think.

Dec. 02 2008 05:56 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

You continue: "Suppose one could, hypothetically, show that one possibility for reporting visions of angels was, say, Persinger's left temporal lobe microseizures."

Conjecture isn't empirical evidence. Even if you could catch someone who was having a vision of an angel and just happened to have them monitored in the way required to confirm a micro seizure, that wouldn't prove that any other person having a similar "vision" would also be having a seizure when they were having it. It also wouldn't prove that the "vision" was an illusion, the seizure could be the result of a genuine vision. I'm not particularly troubled with people who believe they've had a vision of an angel, or the Blessed Virgin or anyone else so long as their subsequent behavior isn't harmful to other people or themselves. If they behave better as a result, that's just great.

I still don't think there is a difference in people who believe they've seen angels or who believe that they understand, not only the individual but the communal behavior of our ancient ancestors when there is absolutely no evidence to base that in, or who believe in memes with exactly the same amount of data. It's all believing in something that can't be verified or falsified. That one believer is religious and the other is a materialist is immaterial.

Dec. 02 2008 05:33 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

"Do you suppose one could, hypothetically, come up with a more useful successor to memes"

I doubt it, the idea of memes is superfluous. I took my own advice, went back and looked at some of the reviews by Orr. At the end of Orr's review of The God Delusion was this:

"Lewis Wolpert's reaction in his new book is typical: "Just what a meme is, and how it is distinguishable from beliefs, I find difficult.... There is no distinction made between memes relating to belief and knowledge. Moreover, no mechanism is proposed for the so-called replication of memes, or what they are selected for."

Dec. 02 2008 05:33 PM
Rev. Jennifer Yocum from Forest Grove, Oregon

I was disappointed that your piece equated being gay with being irreligious (in the transition to talking about atheism in Hollywood.) As a Christian pastor who is also gay, I recognize that people of faith who are also queer are something of a double minority, but the terms "gay" and "atheist" are by no means synonymous.

Dec. 02 2008 04:30 PM
James King from the midwest :(

It is interesting to see the equation of rationality with metaphysical nihilism. Is atheism, which pertains to the (non)existence of a mostly metaphysically supposed entity, supposed to be arrived at by reason, or is it something of a belief like that which we religious hold? The methodological naturalism requisite for contemporary science could not achieve the "rational" conclusion of atheism.
I'm all for the respect of atheists as a group that has often been denied a voice. However, the infiltration of schools, etc., as voiced by one atheist reminds me of tactics used by Evangelicals (e.g. in the 2004 election), methods that were criticized and that have been largely abandoned .

Dec. 02 2008 04:25 PM
Riley from Wisconsin

Mark Henn: "The role played by evidence is key in the qualitative difference between scientific belief and religious faith."

And this is the reason why faith-based opinions do not deserve our respect. It's why people who assert their faith-based opinions as fact and pressure others to accept their faith-based opinions as reason, deserve to be ridiculed.

Nobody examines this topic better I think than Sam Harris:


Dec. 02 2008 02:41 PM
Mark Henn from NH

Re: #46-- Thank you for illustrating my point. The role played by evidence is key in the qualitative difference between scientific belief and religious faith.

Dec. 02 2008 01:48 PM
Mark Henn from NH

Anthony-- Do you suppose one could, hypothetically, come up with a more useful successor to memes, and present it to Dennett, as the Einstein to Dennett's Newton, as a tool that explains all that his memes do and more (say, addresses Orr's objections)? Certainly he would not expect such a thing, but I honestly think he would (after quite a bit of critical examination) embrace it. Certainly many of the non-Dennett believers in memes would do so before Dennett himself, albeit after skepticism.

Suppose one could, hypothetically, show that one possibility for reporting visions of angels was, say, Persinger's left temporal lobe microseizures. (need I finish the question?)

I have seen Christian science journals, where the last step in their presentation of the scientific method was "check your conclusions against Biblical truth."

The function of these two types of belief within their communities is entirely different.

Dec. 02 2008 01:43 PM
F. from NYC

The statement that there are "no atheists in foxholes" could just as easily be translated as "people under pressure will cave and display cowardice in some areas, and not in others, and everyone finds this morally acceptable as long as it doesn't challenge their assumptions or require them to rise to meet the occasion. Or cost them anything." It won't be translated that way as it would annoy too many people. After all, one could suppose that if this God entity that I hear so much about created Man in his own image, well, he's a deeply flawed, sometimes coward with a great many bright ideas, but no capacity for follow through.

Having been raised a member of a religion, I am generally the sort of atheist, if that's what I am, that sees that Faithists merely got the Atheists that they pushed for, that they demanded be brought forth. Rather like the way that after a four hundred years of inventing and perpetuating Satanism, the Catholic Church actually got a few people who declared themselves Satanists. After all, after twenty years of this ravening hunger for the Floating Target sometimes called God, and a pronounced failure to defend Society from the demands of Religious Zealotry, Aethists, or as I prefer to call them, People Who Don't Believe In The Tooth Fairy Either produced maybe a handful of Militant Atheists. Compare that total to the Faithists' total. And I personally am less interested in Galileo than I am in Giordano Bruno. Burned at the stake after all.

Dec. 02 2008 12:53 PM
Riley from Wisconsin

Lara Scott,

Criticism is not being directed at the person who is religious , rather, the criticism is directed at the irrational *claims* made by people. We are all irrational in much of what we do (though some surely more than others) and we all suffer from delusions from time to time; it is an inescapable part of human nature (Isaac Newton, for example, was a famously intelligent and rational person, who was also plagued by irrational superstitions and demonstrably delusional beliefs).

So, is it a rational or reasonable *claim* to purport to know God and to speak for God? No. Maybe there is a place for un-reason in our lives, but certainly not as a general practice, and certainly your un-reason should not be promoted by our shared government resources. right?

Religion has no reliable process by which claims can be defended. Religious belief changes and evolves over time at the whim of popular movements and charismatic leaders - not reason or evidence (supernatural or otherwise (is supernatural evidence exists, how does one use it to resolve a disagreement?)).

Dec. 02 2008 11:46 AM

I feel it was intellectually dishonest for the piece to imply that Stephen Colbert is atheist when he is in fact Catholic.

Dec. 02 2008 12:36 AM
Michael McClure from outside of a foxhole

To Kent re:post 26-
Amazing and beautifuly stated point! You will be quoted for years to come whenever someone says this in my presence.

Dec. 01 2008 09:31 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Galileo was "apologized" to for the injustice of his trial and confinement. You do realize that he was a Catholic who maintained a daughter in a convent, etc. Apparently he didn't have much of a problem with being a religious believer and being a scientist as any number of other scientists haven't. His near contemporary, Nicholas Steno, was a bishop and beatified in recent years.

I don't find your assertion that to believe in angels or memes is fundamentally different convincing. Since neither of them is believed on the basis of empirical data and both have reasonable detractors, I think both are believed on the same kind of faith in either the idea or, more typically, the desire to believe the person promoting the idea. You might want to read the various exchanges between H. Allen Orr and Daniel Dennett. Orr's comparison between memes and genes is particularly entertaining and enlightening. I think you can find them on line.

Dec. 01 2008 06:17 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

"The notion that faith healing "wouldn't be expected to show up in statistical analysis" flies in the face of the claims of actual faith healers."

Are you surprised if some of them make invalid claims, not understainding the requirements for conducting scientific research? That part of the a says b says studies didn't surprise me. It was when the "science" side tried to research the effects of prayer for a large number of reasons. Any specific claim for a cure might be studied with science - you could see if there had been evidence of illness and of a spontaneous remission - to try to come up with statistical data to come to some conclusion about the general effectiveness of an unknown range of behaviors lumped together as "prayer" is clearly bad research. You couldn't possibly verify the presence of "prayer" in any of the trial runs. You couldn't define what kind of "prayer" you were studying. You would have to rely on the testimony of the "prayers" that they were doing the same thing twice in a row when they couldn't possibly know that.

As to, I'd imagine the Roman Catholic church, apologizing to Darwin, the RC didn't do anything to him during his lifetime that I'm aware of or after his death. I believe he was officially an Anglican. Catholics have accepted the science of evolution for decades, I was raised a Catholic and we discussed evolution as a fact in Catechism class taught by nuns back in the 1950s.

Dec. 01 2008 06:15 PM

I am confused by your piece. Have you confused the terms "religiousness" and "spirituality"? To my mind Religion is a set of beliefs and practices a group of people embrace in acknowledging a "higher power(s)". You do not need to belong to a particular "Religion" to believe in a higher power, nor does a lack of belief in a higher power create a new "religion". Just as one could posit that all Catholics are Christian but all Christians are not necessarily Catholic, one may state that all Atheists are non-Religious, but not all non-Religious are Atheists. One can believe in a higher power and not adopt the trappings and tenets of a particular religion.
I wonder if the intolerance of others' beliefs, or lack of, has turned off many who are "spiritual" from being "religious".

Dec. 01 2008 04:55 PM

I have seen a test of faith helears on a tv show. I'm not sure how valid it was but essentially they had a group of faith healers and a group of actors pretending to heal. All subjects being healed were unaware that actors where involved. the results showed that the real thing was no more effective than the actors. infact the person with the most positive feedback was one of the actors.
Not the greatest test but at least interesting.

Dec. 01 2008 04:48 PM
Mark Henn from NH

Regarding belief in memes and belief in angels: Memes are a hypothetical construct, a pragmatic device used to illustrate and potentially explain cultural variation. Skinner's writing on cultural evolution predates memes by decades, but makes the same point. If the concept of memes does not serve a purpose, or is supplanted by a more useful construct, no one's faith will be disturbed. If memes do prove useful, it is likely that the concept will evolve as it replicates.

Angels... As you have suggested, to look for evidence of angels is folly (and yet Sylvia Brown will name your guardian angel for a price--again a difference between a logical analysis and what is actually claimed). Angels are not a logical element describing observations... unless you wish to claim that when they urinate, it rains.

Belief in angels is so qualitatively different from belief in memes that they really deserve different verbs. I suggest Faith for the angels, but not for memes. To state that "there is no difference" is quite simply wrong.

Dec. 01 2008 02:39 PM
Mark Henn from NH

The notion that faith healing "wouldn't be expected to show up in statistical analysis" flies in the face of the claims of actual faith healers. Why is it that only when they are being tested with adequate controls do their abilities fall to a level indistinguishable from chance?

My view of science is actually pretty accurate; it *is* the case that there are unsupported beliefs that hang on for decades (Freud?), but compared to the glacial pace of self-correction in religion, where beliefs actually *are* held on faith, science is quite speedy. (Earlier this year, the Catholic Church considered and rejected an apology to Darwin--a speedy trial (with unfortunate result) when compared to their apologies to Galileo or Copernicus.)

Individual scientists may be as pig-headed as anyone else; it is the collective self-correcting action of the scientific *community* which separates it from religion.

Dec. 01 2008 02:27 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Faith healing is an interesting case because of those very flawed studies funded by the Templeton Foundation and the equally flawed studies that came to an opposite conclusion. I haven't studied them in depth but since any instance of healing that is the result of prayer would, by definition, be outside the normal natural order, you wouldn't expect them to show up in statistical analysis since statistical analysis is used to detect phenomena that happen within the natural order.

You also couldn't possibly know if any two people who were "praying" were doing the same thing, you couldn't know if they were doing it "correctly" you couldn't know anything except the assertion of anyone that they were "praying". I don't think you can study any aspect of "prayer" with science. As with the example of the virgin birth, you don't have to believe either way but you can't study phenomena unless you can determine its presence.

I think your view of science is quite romantic and unrealistic. It's corrections aren't a sure thing and many contingencies are accepted as if they are established fact and taught as such for generations. In the behavioral sciences, where an impressive number of the most vocal "new atheists" seem to come from, the situation often goes into the completely absurd.

As for what you said about ESP, I'm not especially interested in it but I think you might want to look at the work of the eminent statistician Jessica Utts has published on the subject.

Dec. 01 2008 12:35 PM
Jack Kennedy

As a math guy, I frequently notice logical errors made by guests of the program when they attempt to employ math or statistics to make their point. This week, there was a particularly silly one by Penny Edgell, a sociologist from UM, while discussing the scarcity of atheists:

"Just do the numbers, right? If they're only 7% of the American population, odds are most people don't know one."

The mistake was made worse by the "just do the numbers" lead-in.

Assuming the 7% statistic is correct, if you know 100 people, and those people are independent of one another as far as atheism goes, then there is better than a 99.9% chance you know an atheist. Now, clearly in real life, a group's religious beliefs are not independent of one another, but I would also guess that, in fact, most people know more than 100 others. There's just no way Ms. Edgell's claim is accurate.

Dec. 01 2008 12:28 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

The provocative nature of my using "faith" isn't based in its meaning it's based in the refusal of many people to admit that they believe many things based on their preference, their admiration for the person asserting something, their dislike of the opposite viewpoint and the people holding the opposite viewpoint. That there are people who are dishonest about the nature of their far less than empirically based belief is not my responsibility. I used the word to force the issue. Trying to restrict language is a habit of fundamentalists, atheist fundamentalists are as addicted to that as religious fundamentalists. There is no difference in the actions of those who believe in things like "memes" and those who believe in angels, neither can be verified empirically. Since memes can't be verified those who believe in them do so on the basis of faith, quite often based in their admiration for the inventor of that idea and Daniel Dennett, his version of Thomas Huxley.

Dec. 01 2008 12:25 PM
Daniel from Rochester, MN

The "militant" atheist community has a reason for being so.
The reason is not that they're interested in converting or killing everyone not of their faith. There exists a religion like that, but it is not atheism.
The reason is not that they want to be in control or to force other people into a narrow range of behavior. There are religions like that, but they are not atheism.
The reason is not that they want to create special privileges for their own "in" group, and limit the rights of others - the "out" group, in order to encourage others to join them or to make themselves feel special. There exist cults that use those kinds of tactics, but they are not atheist cults.

The "new" atheists, if you should bother to listen to them, will tell you that they are "militant" because that is how you get heard amidst all the noise all the other groups are making.

They are simply trying to get their message across, and the message is not about intolerance. The message is simple: that the evidence provided by humanity's religions to justify their existence is not convincing - to the atheists.

And they'd like to tell you why.

That's a terrible weapon to try to wield against people, isn't it? Those nasty, terrible atheists!

Dec. 01 2008 12:05 PM
Mark Henn from NH

You quite properly note that science can only answer empirical questions. I will quibble a tiny bit about studying supernatural claims; we cannot, of course, study supernatural phenomena (like the Virgin Birth, existence of a god or gods, or many other paranormal phenomena), but we can evaluate the evidence when they do make testable claims (faith healing, ESP, etc.), and we can certainly study the psychology and physiology of sensation, perception, memory, cognition and belief. That is, we can carve away at the gaps in our supernaturality-of-the-gaps argument, and show non-supernatural explanations that *might* explain a given phenomenon. This does not explain that phenomenon outright--for the Virgin Birth, of course, that would be impossible, barring a time machine--but it reminds us where the burden of proof lies.

(My apologies for being long-winded, especially with a 1500 character limit!)

Dec. 01 2008 12:01 PM
Mark Henn from NH

You write "Many researchers create this kind of "science" which is accepted for a time, then is disposed of. In the mean time, acceptance of it is a matter of faith." As I wrote earlier, *all* scientific belief is tentative and subject to revision. A provisionally-held belief is not faith; it takes no faith whatsoever to accept something pragmatically, with a willingness to abandon it when it is disconfirmed. This is not faith. Memes, which are an excellent example, are not universally accepted, nor are they an article of faith for those who do accept them. They are a pragmatic concept which has utility in explaining some observed phenomena. As the scientific community subjects the concept to greater scrutiny, it may become widely accepted (as, say, evolution) or dismissed (as, say, phlogiston). There are no high priests shepherding this belief, protecting it from the wolves of competing dogmas.

Dec. 01 2008 12:00 PM
Mark Henn from NH

Two brief comments, Anthony, before I have to run; I hope I can comment later.

First, you admit that your use of "faith" was provocative, yet still is synonymous with "belief". As is often the case, the use of a word in science is much more specific than its use in the general population; I would argue that you have conflated three distinctly different meanings. We can believe something because of evidence and/or logic, we can believe something independently of evidence and/or logic, and we can believe something in spite of evidence and/or logic to the contrary. The first category has no business being called "faith."

Dec. 01 2008 12:00 PM

To call those who believe in God irrational is getting it backwards: traditionally those who argue against God (Nietzsche) are called irrationalists, because to believe in God is rational, to not believe is irrational.

That would have to be one of the most irrational statments I have read.
Essentially saying to think rationally in irrational but to base your opinion on faith alone makes perfect sense.

"Voltaire who said he wouldn't be so stupid to argue with religion, he would just ridicule it."

it is impossible to agrue with someone who is 100% sure they are correct.

I have yet to meet an athiest who would not instantly change their mind about god if they were given actuall proof, like it turning up and saying
hi im god look at all this cool stuff i can do

I hope one day you rcan see how foolish you have been

Dec. 01 2008 05:56 AM

This article is in error.

Ellen Johnson has not been the president of American Atheists for almost a year now. Ed Buckner is the current president.

Also, the number of atheists in the US is not 7%. The latest reputable surveys put the number between 12% and 18%, and is now the fastest growing [non-]religious segment of society.

Dec. 01 2008 12:11 AM
John P from Champaign

The comment by professor Edgell is innumerate. If 7 % of the general population is atheist, the odds are that most of us do know one. It's easy to estimate this using the probability of Bernoulli trials. But no math is necessary to see a problem here. Suppose 7 % of the population was gay (this is in the ballpark). Would anyone claim with a straight face that most of us do not know a gay person?

Nov. 30 2008 11:25 PM
Ross from Fargo, ND

I think it is really interesting how some Atheists are against organized religion but yet they want to organize. According to Webster religion is defined this way: "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices". With that definition Atheism is a religion. People base their life decisions on the belief that a supernatural being does not exist. That is a faith commitment.

Nov. 30 2008 10:31 PM
R. Holbrook from WA

While we can interpret the meaning of the line "there are no atheists in foxholes" as meaning when times are tough even atheists can get religious. Another way to think about it is thinking about conscientious objectors, who refuse to handle a weapon because they say combat is against their religion. So atheists wouldn't have the same excuse.

Nov. 30 2008 09:41 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Mark, I forgot, I've written quite a bit about the attempts of the "intelligent design" industry to claim the reputability of science to promote their religious ideas. As science is made to only deal with those physical phenomena which can be studied within its requirements, no part of any supernatural realm can be studied with science. It's too bad they refuse to accept that truth. It's just as unfortunate when scientists and those who wannabe scientists claim to be able to do the same thing for the opposite reasons. Nothing that falls outside of sciences ability to study it with the methods and tools of science can be analyzed by science. Evolution can be, the virgin birth (claimed to be unique and outside of the normal order of nature, leaving us no physical data of the event) cannot be. You don't have to believe it, I don't happen to, but you cannot falsify the virgin birth with science.

Nov. 30 2008 09:09 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Sorry, this got cut off for some reason:

Reputations of researchers is often a matter of faith. Much in the behavioral sciences can't live up to your claim. Richard Dawkins' memes can't, yet their existence is an article of faith among many based on their regard for him. They can't be verified and many scientists think the idea is fundamentally wrong. His "evolutionary psychology" makes widely accepted claims about behavior in the Paleolithic era which are self-serving myth without any empirical data at all. Yet many of his and Daniel Dennett's fans accept them on faith. Many researchers create this kind of "science" which is accepted for a time, then is disposed of. In the mean time, acceptance of it is a matter of faith.

Nov. 30 2008 08:59 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Mark, the claim was " I have no dogma but empirical data", this can only be true if the person making the claim has verified every piece of data they accept as true. No one can possibly do that unless they believe very, very little. Relatively few areas of life are open to the precise observation, quantification and objective analysis required for empirical evidence.

My admittedly provocative use of "faith" falls within the meaning of the word in every source I've looked at. Faith is. objectively, a synonym for "belief". The statement in question is a matter of faith.

"religious faith may (depending on sect--as I said above, believers are quite varied) be quite certain, and unchanging in the face of disconfirming evidence." This is as true about some atheists. It's a personal character flaw many people have. Much of liberal religion accepts the changing perception of truth, they have no problem with science or change. And some reputable scientists resist evidence they don't like despite its quality.

Nov. 30 2008 08:58 PM
Kent Slinker from TUCSON

I have always felt the statement, "There are no atheists in foxholes" says far more about religion than it does atheism.

Hopefully, I need not also explain why.

Nov. 30 2008 08:06 PM
David Werdegar from Naperville, IL

What's ironic about the conventional wisdom that there are no atheists in foxholes is that many soldiers became atheists in foxholes under the pressure of intense combat. There were guys in Korea who lost their faith in a god who couldn't protect them when they were supposed to be doing His good work by "killing a Commie for Christ". My guess is that a similar conversion took place in the WW II German army whose soldiers wore a belt buckle saying "God is with us".

Nov. 30 2008 07:08 PM
David Bednar from Savannah, GA

I'd just like to add to the debate-- a popular argument for the abolition of religion is "Look at all the harm it does! Look at all the wars fought in the name of God! Look at all the men slaughtered for dogma!"

Perhaps so, but we must not forget the tens of millions killed under Stalin's rule in the USSR, the eugenic madness of the Holocaust, and the ancient multitudes killed not in Crusade, but merely for land and resources.

Religion can, at it's very worst, only be an enabler, a means to an end to already cruel men.

Nov. 30 2008 05:13 PM
Lauri Svedberg from Minneapolis

What a joy to read cogent comments here, in contrast to the hysteria posted on CNN and other sites during the election. I appreciate reading everyone's viewpoints---whether or not they resonate with me. It's a shame that you thoughtful folks aren't the norm in your respective "camps" (theists/atheists.)
I am an awestruck agnostic who rejoices in not knowing.
I don't KNOW, cannot KNOW, and therefore will not subscribe to either platform. Even the devout Christian philosopher Kierkegaard acknowledged that belief in God required a "leap of faith" CHOSEN by the individual. I choose not to take any leaps that require me to either affirm or deny the existence of some sort of god. Instead I'll continue to marvel in the mystery that is our universe.

Nov. 30 2008 05:12 PM
Jennifer from Queens

I had to respond to the comment that most people don't know any atheists. I have never heard of a more preposterous assertion. I was born in Alabama, raised in Texas, and live in New York. Many of my family members are deeply religious, others are not (including those who live in the South). All of them know and interact daily with atheists. Most of my friends I here in New York, as well as my children and my children's friends, are atheists. Where on Earth are you getting your information?!?!

Nov. 30 2008 03:36 PM
ChrisM70 from Kansas

I was happy to see a story mentioning the ever-growing voice of atheism in America and examining why Americans seem to be so afraid of the idea.

However, I thought it was odd that this piece was aired this particular week. Why? Well, consider the stories surrounding it. Every other story broadcast this week were of the "Questionable behavior" variety:
Term Paper Cheating
Pharmaceutical Payouts
Doctoring Photos

The final story was a interesting but light piece debating "is" versus "are", and even in that one you decided that you didn't agree with your guests argument.

My point: Your Atheism story was lumped in with stories that were all considered negative behavior. It's hard not to think that OTM was making some kind of judgement about atheism when placed in this context. Perhaps this was just coincidence, but it struck me as being subconscious commentary.

Nov. 30 2008 02:00 PM
Mark from NH

Anthony @#15--

Your use of "faith" blurs the meaning of the word. Certainly scientists must rely on the research of others, but this is not "faith" in the same sense as religious faith. Researchers earn their reputations; when others cannot replicate a laboratory's results, science does not simply take the word of the original investigators "on faith".

Scientific belief is always tentative, and always subject to empirical evaluation; religious faith may (depending on sect--as I said above, believers are quite varied) be quite certain, and unchanging in the face of disconfirming evidence. (Mathematics is a different case, in which the "foundational ideas" are axiomatically asserted, a self-contained artificial system; faith is not involved.)

Chuck is willing to test and modify his beliefs, it would appear. Unless he maintains those beliefs in the face of disconfirming evidence, I don't think you can fairly describe him as acting on "faith" in any religious sense.

Science has been described as "faith in reason"; it is telling that the success of science has made it the gold standard, the "look, even *science* relies on faith" example attempting to redeem the defining quality of religion.

Nov. 30 2008 01:25 PM
Alan from Brooklyn

This piece once again justified my subscription to WNYC. Keep up the thought provoking journalism

Nov. 30 2008 12:03 PM
Alan B. from austin, tx

I am an irrational atheist. "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself, . . ." I am an artist who does not believe in god(s); rarely do I bother thinking about god and religion until others point out my singular shortcoming. I'm a human being, and I hate having to define myself by the first sentence that I posted here.

Thank you for yet another fantastic production. "On the Media" is the best show on radio or TV, which is a fact that sometimes gives me pause.

Nov. 30 2008 10:56 AM
Robert from NYC

The Vatican this week claims that Gramsci had renounced communism on his deathbed claiming he asked for last rites and holy communion and expressing his belief in God. Baloney or should that be Bologna, whatever, two days later that nonsense was proven to not be true. Are we surprised that the Vatican makes up stuff!

Nov. 30 2008 10:38 AM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Pat, I believe in God, I do not fear or think atheists are "immoral" on the basis of anything but their actions and words of individuals. Some atheists are moral, some aren't, some are broadminded and polite some are as bigoted and rude as the most bigoted religious fundamentalists. These "new atheists" of the type in the story are what I've called elsewhere atheist fundamentalists because that's what they are. In the case of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, they come very close to being just the flip side of the same record.

I don't think "new atheists" are going to find greater acceptance on the basis of rudeness and their own brand of bigotry, not even with their very superficial insistence on their scientific bona fides. Those I've read and have been exposed to are just about a sure bet to fail politically in the wider population. I think the increasing success of "creationists" in the wider population has accelerated during the ascendency of Richard Dawkins and others who have associated the science of evolution with just this kind of atheist fundamentalism. That leads me to believe that despite the belief (based on no empirical evidence, by the way) that being a jerk will win you influence and friends is wrong.

Nov. 30 2008 08:04 AM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Chuck Thompson, you say, " I have no dogma but empirical data". How do you know? Have you done a rigorous analysis of literally everything you believe to be true? The conceit that many - please notice the use of "many" here, it's quite important- the conceit of many atheists is that their lives are guided only by empirical data when that is not true. Everyone accepts ideas based on their faith in someone or something. Faith in the integrity of researchers and their methods is the basis of literally all of science. No one can even read and analyze every bit of data presented as reliable, not even in their own field of expertise. The necessity of accepting foundational ideas is true of every area of life. We know that is true for math and it doesn't get much more basic than that.

Nov. 30 2008 08:04 AM

People who believe in God often see that belief as the foundation of their ethical and moral behavior. As a result, they fear and condemn atheists as “immoral” because they can’t imagine that atheists will do the right thing because we have a sense of ethics that is independent of religion. We help others out of charity; we fight for equality out of a sense of justice. Adherence to “the Golden Rule” (aka “the social contract’) does not require a belief in a higher power, much less in a God that will reward or punish our behavior.

By the way, when the NPR reporter referred to being “spammed” by atheists, did he mean that a few individuals had set up automatic mailings to overwhelm his inbox, or is this just a disparaging way of saying a lot of individuals wrote to express opinions he did not like

Nov. 30 2008 07:38 AM
chuck thompson from Anchorage, AK

When this segment first aired in December 2006, I had just finished writing a blog entitled "Is intolerance of intolerance, intolerance?"


Some among your first respondents to this airing seem to suggest that atheists -- of which I am apparently among that tiny 7% minority who admit to it -- have turned lack of religion into a religion, that we are being dogmatic about opposition to dogma.

It's tempting to query if the Karl Rove School of Orwellian "New Speak" has pervaded the ranks of the indoctrinated "faithful" (that term alone merits some discussion) or if it's simply a case of their best defense is calling the kettle black.

Frankly, I'm still inclined -- nearly two years later -- to NOT call intolerance of intolerance, intolerance. Likewise, my lack of religion is not, itself, a religion.

I have no dogma but empirical data.
Can religio-apologists say the same?

Nov. 30 2008 03:52 AM

I wish that the media would check mathematical statements as they check any other factual assertion. If atheists are 7% of the US population, then almost everyone knows one. If you know 100 randomly selected people, for instance (and most people know much more than that), there is a 1-.93^100=99.93% chance that you know an atheist.

Nov. 29 2008 07:05 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

Skutch, do you imagine all the armaments around the world just came about by chance? No, modern weapons are the product of science, developed by scientists. The geologists who are working on finding even more oil and other fossil fuels with which to increase the Earth's temperature are scientists, etc.

Not a single scientist who does evil things is to blame for those who do, not unless they support them and their work. In exactly the same way, religious believers often condemn and resist religious believers who commit violent acts in the name of THEIR religion.

The "new atheists" who make your argument are bigots who are either lazy stereotypers or they are bigots who just hate religious believers and want them to all to take blame that isn't theirs. Sort of like religious bigots who want all atheists to be answerable for people like Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens, neither of whom are exactly pacifists.

Nov. 29 2008 06:59 PM
Skutch from Arlington, VA

Anyone who looks at the news today will see that there are hundreds of people who were slaughtered in Mumbai because of violent religious sociopaths. There are hundreds of people who have been slaughtered in Nigeria because of violent religious sociopaths. One cannot separate the word "religious" from the phrase used above, because these acts of sociopathic violence were committed in the name of religion. At some point, the media need to put more pressure on the leaders of these religions to speak out forcefully in the name of nonviolence or else be held responsible for the horrific acts of violence being committed in the name of the religious doctrines they espouse. Indeed, not all members of monotheistic religions commit attrocities. But one could just as easily argue that not all Nazis in Hitler's Germany committed atrocities. Because of the number of atrocities committed in the name of faith that have occurred in recent years and are ripping apart the fabric of societies throughout the world, the burden must be on religious groups to clean up their acts.

Nov. 29 2008 06:42 PM
Anthony McCarthy from ME

I thought the broadcast segment was pretty superficial. To begin with, Steve Colbert is a practicing Catholic, though you'd never know from what was said. Sam Harris believes in a number of vaguely Eastern kinds of things that have no more empirical basis than traditional Western religious ideas, He's taken quite a bit of heat from other "new" atheists over it. He has made some pretty bigoted statements about religion, at one point advocating the morality of killing people just for holding some ideas.

The self-identified "free thinkers" tend to be quite doctrinaire themselves, and more than a bit pretentious. I've looked a lot at the "Humanists" and the various groups associated with Corliss Lamont and Paul Kurtz, they tend to be about as closed minded a bunch as your typical fundamentalist sect, matching them in arrogance.

I like the John Mortimer kind of atheist, who aren't prone to being rude bigots. I miss the old style atheists who at least had read the other side. I am a wall of separation absolutist, a supporter of secular public institutions and oppose the teaching of religion in public school biology classes. I see the "new atheists" as being the best friend of the "christian" fundamentalists, as some have said of Richard Dawkins, a great help in their propaganda and promotion.

Nov. 29 2008 06:42 PM
Bruce from NYC

Just as the Catholic Church defined the beliefs of a religion that they christend Satanism, the "Faithful" seek to define Atheists. Again the memo was not received. Nor permission granted.

Fact of the matter, most of the things that the "Faithful" say about the Atheists are wrong. They are weaknesses betrayed mostly. But then they are always in the business of inventing and hosting up Straw Men. The better to burn them, I guess.

Nov. 29 2008 04:28 PM
Bruce from NYC

"... Blaming a faith in God for the acts of some of the faithful is a bit like blaming gun manufacturers for violent crimes, or McDonald's for poor eating habits. "

Unfortunately for its poster this statement would be lunacy. What's the usual retort? Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Why? Because they believe they should do that. Clearly it's an act of faith. You just chose to disregard all of the things that you would not have done, that you shy away from in the name of Faith. And you do so in the name of Faith?

I guess God told you that you could do that. Sorry, I didn't get that memo.

Nov. 29 2008 04:17 PM
Mark from NH

The thing about atheism is, it is a privative category--negatively defined as "none of the above" in answer to "which god do you believe in?" Knowing that someone is an unbeliever in any god or gods tells you next to nothing about what they *do* believe. Just as knowing that someone is "a believer" does not mean that they believe in every single one of the thousands of gods people have historically believed in.

There are angry atheists, there are grumpy atheists, there are fun atheists, poetic atheists, musical atheists, politically active atheists, apathetic atheists, and atheists covering pretty much every other tile in the mosaic of humanity. They need share nothing in common, other than the *absence* of something that is not a necessary part of being human. Most, unlike the "angry atheist" writers, are relatively anonymous, regular people like... oh... me.

The more atheists make it to media awareness, the less likely we will be seen as satan-worshippers (as my daughter has been accused by a classmate) or heathens (as I have overheard from colleagues who did not know my beliefs), the less likely we are to be blamed for the Financial Crisis (recent Wall Street Journal editorial), Hurricanes, or 9/11. Maybe some day we can look forward to being seen simply as people.

In that vein, let me point you to a favorite non-angry atheist author of mine...


Nov. 29 2008 04:15 PM
Kevin McKague from Davison, Michigan

Amen, Doug Wood.

As a liberal Democrat, I cringe when I see people try to legislate religious dogma. As a scientist, I will resist any attempts of those who will try to introduce religion into science classes. As a Christian, however, I find my faith strengthened whenever I hear a well reasoned intellectual argument for atheism.

Blaming a faith in God for the acts of some of the faithful is a bit like blaming gun manufacturers for violent crimes, or McDonald's for poor eating habits.

I can't explain my faith, and that is exactly why it is called "faith". As long as the athiests keep their dogma out of the laws and out of my life, I will do my best to keep mine out of theirs unless invited.

In the meantime, I always appreciate the debate.

Nov. 29 2008 02:51 PM
Bruce from NYC

I find it fascinating that the thing that several of these proponents of a religious view have in common is the fact that what disturbs them is that it gets called "irrational." Seems to me that every time anyone refers to "God's grace" that they are saying that you should not try to figure out the justification for a thing, not try to figure out a reason for it either, it's just God's Grace. Which means it's irrational. It lacks discernible cause and effect relationships. Who exactly is making the claims for rationality? I thought the arguments were based on belief and faith? Why are you so concerned with "irrationality"?

Militant atheists seem to worry you also. Like that's ever been the world's real problem. Did militant atheists seize hotels and hostages of late? I think not? I failed to see a headline about a militant atheist seizing hostages in a Unitarian Church and seven people were killed?

God apparently leaves you with too much time on your hands.

Nov. 29 2008 12:05 PM
Lara Scott from Brighton, MA

I think it's important to make the distinction between being an atheist and being anti-religious. I am a Christian, and an artist, and what bothers me about the identification of religion with irrationality and the equating of rationality with absolute atheism and anti-religious sentiment is how ahistorical, illiterate, and limited that view is. It does seem to put scientific method on a pedestal, and dismiss or ignore any anthropological or sociological perspective on the role of religion and faith in human society. (It also seems to devalue any human experience or effort that is "irrational" -- music? theater? art?) I am also appalled by the actions and hate speech of a variety of religious fundamentalists; they do need to be contained and combatted. But basically implying that any person of faith (Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Jimmy Carter) is irrational, strikes me as a bit of an overreaction. Is Sam Harris implying that anyone who manages to do good in the world while being a person of faith is delusional about the connection between their faith and their actions? Seems a little presumptuous, and an oddly parochial view of human behavior and human history. And unnecessary. Yes, protest the teaching of 6 day creation as science -- it isn't. It seems like the separation or relationship between science and religion, (or science and mythology, or science and society, etc.) is what needs elucidation.

Nov. 29 2008 11:49 AM
Edward Helmrich from Larchmont, NY

As Fr. Benedict Groeschel says of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc., these people give a bad name to atheism: they do no present an intellectual defense of atheism. They just mock religion and religious belief, I think in a sophomoric manner.
I'm reminded of Voltaire who said he wouldn't be so stupid to argue with religion, he would just ridicule it.
And these militant atheists surely have this as their religion, and they try to make converts.
To call those who believe in God irrational is getting it backwards: traditionally those who argue against God (Nietzsche) are called irrationalists, because to believe in God is rational, to not believe is irrational.

Nov. 29 2008 09:29 AM
Doug Wood from Michigan

Thank you for your story on the new efforts of atheists to get their point of view to the masses. I am a Christian who is neither offended nor threatened by these efforts. I am more afraid of those who refuse to allow these expressions as in the sign that was forced to be removed. The God I worship teaches that I should ask questions and the answers only strengthens my faith. I am skeptical of anyone who is certain they are right - no matter their religion - or lack thereof.

Nov. 29 2008 08:40 AM

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