Atheist Barbie

Found this to be somewhat amusing… it’s Atheist Barbie!

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Can Science And Religion Co-Exist?

For a long while now I have argued that science and religion are bound to inherent conflict simply due to their respective natures. There are, of course, several scientists–many accomplished scientists in fact–who identify themselves with a particular faith. As an example, I recently saw a two hour video recording of Ken Miller lecturing on (the collapse of) intelligent design at Case Western University in northern Ohio. It was a wonderful presentation on what evolution is, the history of the conflict between evolution and creationism, and how it pertains to education in Ohio. However, there was one aspect of Miller’s talk that I found to be more than a little bit disquieting, and that was his proclamation of Roman Catholicism. The lecture event even opened up with a Catholic priest leading a prayer. I can’t help but wonder how such an accomplished biologist and proponent of proper science education can internally reconcile these two things, science and Catholicism, in his own personal life. An audience member asked about this issue during the Q & A session, but Miller offered little to no reasoning to justify his position.

It’s a curious thing, taking such efforts to hold on to religious belief, despite knowing that its teachings and doctrines are false.

But then, I found the following open letter from biologist and author Jerry Coyne posted on his own WordPress site addressing why it is no only acceptable for scientists to criticize religion, but in many ways it is essential to do so:

Dear comrades:

Although we may diverge in our philosophies and actions toward religion, we share a common goal: the promulgation of good science education in Britain and America–indeed, throughout the world. Many of us, like myself and Richard Dawkins, spend a lot of time teaching evolution to the general public. There’s little doubt, in fact, that Dawkins is the preeminent teacher of evolution in the world. He has not only turned many people on to modern evolutionary biology, but has converted many evolution-deniers (most of them religious) to evolution-accepters.

Nevertheless, your employees, present and former, have chosen to spend much of their time battling not creationists, but evolutionists who happen to be atheists. This apparently comes from your idea that if evolutionists also espouse atheism, it will hurt the cause of science education and turn people away from evolution. I think this is misguided for several reasons, including a complete lack of evidence that your idea is true, but also your apparent failure to recognize that creationism is a symptom of religion (and not just fundamentalist religion), and will be with us until faith disappears. That is one reason–and, given the pernicious effect of religion, a minor one–for the fact that we choose to fight on both fronts.

The official policy of your organizations–certainly of the NCSE–is apparently to cozy up to religion. You have “faith projects,” you constantly tell us to shut up about religion, and you even espouse a kind of theology which claims that faith and science are compatible. Clearly you are going to continue with these activities, for you’ve done nothing to change them in the face of criticism. And your employees, past and present, will continue to heap invective on New Atheists and tar people like Richard Dawkins with undeserved opprobrium.

We will continue to answer the misguided attacks by people like Josh Rosenau, Roger Stanyard, and Nick Matzke so long as they keep mounting those attacks. I don’t expect them to abate, but I’d like your organizations to recognize this: you have lost many allies, including some prominent ones, in your attacks on atheism. And I doubt that those attacks have converted many Christians or Muslims to the cause of evolution. This is a shame, because we all recognize that the NCSE has done some great things in the past and, I hope, will–like the new BCSE–continue do great things in the future.

There is a double irony in this situation. First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

Sincerely,
Jerry Coyne

What a wonderful piece of writing this is! I think that it illustrates the point quite clearly.

What this issue really boils down to is the dichotomy of what religion has to offer in terms of understanding truth as opposed to science. I’ve heard several people make the argument that science and religion are simply two different methods of seeking out truth. If I were a less mature person, I’d be inclined to accept this seemingly peaceful explanation… but I’m not. In light of critical inquiry, I must challenge this idea.

How does science go about seeking truth? Through the scientific method. Hypotheses are formed, ideas are tested, data is collected, results are shared, tests are repeated, and the process repeats. The system that science utilizes is self-correcting in that ideas that don’t fit with data and observations are discarded without hesitation, even if they had previously been accepted. To be a good scientist is to live in strongly disciplined professional humility. Science is continually improving our understanding of reality. The knowledge and insight that science has provided humanity, even in merely the past 150 years or so, is nothing short of staggering.

Now, what does religion offer to the quest for truth? In a word, nothing. Religion offers explanations for why things are the way they are, but then leaves it alone. Another term for this type of rationality is ‘superstition’. Tests and experiments are not performed, and old ideas and practices are only set aside when they become socially unfavorable (i.e. witch burning, to cite one example). Rather than supporting their claims by empirical evidence, measurable observations and experimental data, religions instead focus on either apologetically attempting to justify these claims or simply ignoring the issue altogether under the banner of faith. Moreover, religions will use fear–the fear of an ever-watchful and judgmental god or eternal torment and despair in a mythical land called hell–to keep their followers in line. This should be plainly obvious to anyone who is brave enough to take a step back and see these institutions as they truly are. It is in this way that religion has served as a fantastically effective means of population control throughout the ages. This is in no way a means to discover truth. Religion is many things, but a tool to understand the nature of reality it is not.

‘One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.’ -Bertrand Russell, from Why I Am Not A Christian

Christopher Hitchens: Address to American Atheists

Renowned author and steadfast atheist Christopher Hitchens was recently forced to cancel his appearance at the American Atheists convention due to his esophageal cancer. He wrote to them the following letter, as was published on P.Z. Myers’ blog Pharyngula [link]:

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

    Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency. 

      That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private. 

    Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations. 

       As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.

    Sincerely

Christopher Hitchens

Incendiary

So he finally did it. Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville Florida has burned a Qu’ran. What was the consequence? Muslims in Afghanistan killed 14 people, 7 of which were U.N. staff. Some of these people were beheaded. Attacks and protests continued throughout the next couple days, killing at least 11 more people.

This leads to some important questions. In a nation that celebrates free speech such as the United States, should Mr. Jones face consequences for his actions? Was it Mr. Jones’ intention to entice anger in the Muslim world, or was it more to gain publicity? Who is responsible for the killings? What does this series of events tell us about the world in which we live?

First, I have to say that I would find it very hard to believe that Pastor Jones did not intend to prod the Muslim world, especially given the manner in which he carried out his actions. He soaked a Qu’ran in kerosine and then held a mock trial on the book in which it was found guilty of ‘crimes against humanity.’ He then set the book ablaze. How could this series of actions not be interpreted as intentionally provocative? Of course, Jones and the others at Dove World Outreach deny any responsibility for the retaliatory murders that happened immediately afterward. I have to wonder, how did he anticipate the Muslim community would react? Knowing that a culture would explode in anger over cartoon drawings of their prophet (see below), how might he have expected that same community to respond to a very public and clearly provocative destruction of their holy book?

In my mind, Jones very clearly intended to stir up the hornet’s nest. Was it to make a point? Or just to gain publicity? Probably both, although I suspect the scales are tipped in favor of the latter. In any case, what’s done is done and many people are calling for Jones to take accountability for his actions.

Now, I hope that it’s plainly obvious at this point that I feel no love for the Qu’ran, the Bible, the Torah or any other ‘holy’ scripture. I would not hesitate to desecrate any of these books on my own accord, given the proper circumstances. However, that is not to say that I am itching to do so. It is not my intention to prod people or to entice anger and violence. My agenda is very different from that of Mr Jones. The important question is, what good would desecrating these books do for humanity? What could I possibly hope to accomplish in doing so? I can’t picture anything good coming from it. Such acts only serve to fuel an already out of control fire. In an earlier post I discussed how I am intolerant to religions because at a fundamental level they propagate lies. It’s a very large and very complex problem, and there isn’t any simple solution. I do know, however, that performing aggressive acts such as burning books that millions of people consider the epitome of all that is sacred is no way to go about rectifying this dilemma. Jones thinks that Christianity is right and Islam is wrong, so he burned their book. I know that they’re both false, but you won’t find me doing anything like what he did. Why? Well, at the risk of sounding pompous, it could simply be that I know better.

I will say this: Pastor Terry Jones should feel nothing but shame and remorse for his choices and actions.

Shortly after these events took place, I found a wonderful piece of writing that Sam Harris posted on his website regarding the matter [link]. The point that I feel is the most important from this is how easy it is to miss the primary focus of what’s really going on with these events. Yes, an arrogant pastor made a very bad choice and people suffered and died from it, but that’s not the fulcrum of this situation. What I’m wondering is, why are we more shocked at Jones than at the Muslims who executed those people in Afghanistan? Why are we so appalled at a man who burned a book and not at the murderers who played the most horrible of roles in this story? I don’t even know what their names are. I couldn’t find that information published anywhere. I think Harris said it about as perfectly as could be:

‘The point is not (and will never be) that some free person spoke, or wrote, or illustrated in such a manner as to inflame the Muslim community. The point is that only the Muslim community is combustible in this way.’

I also found an interesting YouTube video from the ever-wonderful Thunderf00t that I want to share:

So what should we do? Here’s my suggestion: Mourn the dead. Learn what we can from both Jones’ stupidity and the violent tendencies of these sensitive Afghani Muslims. Re-evaluate our perspectives on the religions of the world and what their agendas truly are. Move on from there.

Ask An Atheist Day

Today, April 13, is ‘Ask An Atheist Day’. So please, I encourage you to ask me anything that you like regarding the absence of religious belief. Please feel free to post your inquiries in the comments of this entry and I will do my best to respond to them.

Ask away!