Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wikipedia Hopelessly Biased; Conservapedia to the Rescue!

Via Ed Brayton, the Conservapedia.

From Conservapedia's front page:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia

Because not saying, "In the year of our Lord" (Anno Domini) is anti-Christian. Oh those poor, persecuted Christians. By that logic, not using Jewish years makes them antisemitic. It's 5767, you Nazis!

I wouldn't be surprised if wikipedia does have a slight liberal/libertarian bias, depending on the topic, but Conservapedia is just hilarious. They also don't have much content as of yet.

Some of the comments at Dispatches put Conservapedia into context:

Raging Bee:
This sounds like it could grow into a viable strategy for extremists who want to keep their followers isolated from reality: simply create their own "reality," with its own encyclopedias and other authoritative-looking backups, so people won't have to -- or think they have to -- look outside their own bubble-verse for any answer to any question that might pop up in their minds.

This is just what these folks have been doing for a long time. One of my friend's from church (from when I was a teen) was homeschooled. His dad said, on more than one occasion, that the reason a woman should go to college, is to make her qualified to teach her children at home.

All of their text books came, either from a Christian publishing house, or off the list of approved texts from the same publisher (sorry, I don't recall the name of the publisher). They also had a set of encyclopidia's from the same publisher.


David said...

Actually, it's 5768... but who's counting?

We don't count, apparently, since we don't put letters after our years.

Mis-nagid said...

JA, Don't underestimate how dangerous this development is.

david, it's 5843.

Mis-nagid said...

Just to be clear, I'm sure conservapedia will fail. It's the overall shift to creating a comprehensive alternate reality that's a bad omen. The rise of homeschooling is another troubling symptom.

beepbeepitsme said...

Conservapedia sounds like the brainchild of Fox News. - unfair and unbalanced.

I wonder if I can edit articles there? (grin)

beepbeepitsme said...

I just checked it out. I did a search on myth to see what would show up. I then chose "Minoan Civilization" and did the same in wikipedia.

Here are the results.

wikipedia -

conservapedia -


You be the judge.

Scott said...

The rise of homeschooling is another troubling symptom.

Yeah, because if you don't send your kids to the government holding tanks they might not get indoctrinated properly. Can't have those free thinkers running around amok.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE scott

Homeschooling just means that the only colleges that theses students will be able to gain admission to with be places like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

And I am sure that it is a veritable haven of freethought...

Skcorefil said...

That didn't last long. It looks like conservapedia isn't up anymore.

You're being kind of ignorant to talk about homeschooling as if it is a subpar education. The homeschoolers I have known have all made it into good colleges where they did well.

JDHURF said...

scott and beepbeepitsme:

I've known three kids who were home schooled, not a one of them now attends college; that’s simply my personal experience, I’m not going to use that limited amount of information to generalize. However, if you actually look at the studies done, it does tend to generalize.

Home schooling is not just negative regarding the education received, but, it is negative - and this had been documented - in that during the most formative social years, when children develop social awareness and learn how to appropriately interact with others, especially those who are different, home schooling effectively retards this development substantially; even when the home schooled child engages in various other social programs outside of either public or private school.

Luna Santin said...

Hm... for the record, I happen to be an administrator at Wikipedia. We've seen a huge number of forks, like this -- some white power group made one, at some point.

It's surprisingly easy to make a fork. The database is a free download, and once you get MediaWiki installed and hosted, you're all set.

The trick, as most of these fork project discover, is not in making the fork, but in getting a mass of people to come with you. ;)

Personally, I'm far more curious about Citizendium. If they do well, and keep under GFDL, it may mutually benefit both projects.

Scott said...

Um.... wow. Totally off-topic rant time. Maybe I should preface this by saying something on topic. Hmmm, Conservapedia r stoopid! Irrelevant, but stupid. There.

I've known three kids who were home schooled, not a one of them now attends college; that’s simply my personal experience, I’m not going to use that limited amount of information to generalize. However, if you actually look at the studies done, it does tend to generalize.

Home schooling is not just negative regarding the education received, but, it is negative - and this had been documented - in that during the most formative social years, when children develop social awareness and learn how to appropriately interact with others, especially those who are different, home schooling effectively retards this development substantially; even when the home schooled child engages in various other social programs outside of either public or private school.

I know two kids that are home-schooled. Actually I know many more than two but I'll just focus on those two since they are my kids and I have a pretty good idea of what they are like. I don't know what you use to qualify your statement about social awareness being retarded, but I can tell you that we constantly have people go out of their way to tell us how nice, polite, and well behaved our children are. Now I know that's only two kids so I'm not going to use that limited amount of information to generalize but I will use logic and reason to generalize.

To start, let's just make this simple statement of fact: kids are loud, selfish, inconsiderate morons. Sure, I know there are some really nice and fine kids out there, but the mere fact that you pointed out that kids need social development shows that they are relationally underdeveloped. These points may seem obvious, but I promise they relate to my overall point.

In my house we have a controlled environment in which children are closely monitored by adults for behavioral and social missteps. Acting out negatively toward other children is met with adult correction and encouragement. They also see the example set forth by the other adults in the house in a mature relationship. They see other adults interacting with other adults, including those who are "different" as you put it. They see these interactions and learn what correct social behavior is. After all, it is said that children catch more than they're taught.

Now let's look at the public school example. Kids are piled into cellblock style, forced confinement classrooms at a ratio of 30 rude, screaming, selfish, socially underdeveloped morons to every 1 relationally mature adult. Their examples to learn from are other emotionally and socially immature kids. They rarely see interactions between mature adults, or even more mature students as we've long since abolished the notion of mixing age groups. Their own interactions are largely unsupervised. They learn not from proper adult correction and encouragement, but from the ridicule and often unjust incitement from their peers. After all, most of us (who went through the 12 year indoctrination program) weren't congratulated by our friends for being nice to "different" people. We were egged on to marginalize them through jeers and laughing.

This, or course, says nothing of the actual education the kids receive which *obviously* is far better in the home-schooled environment. This simply speaks of the much lauded social aspect of public schooling.

Of course for every anecdotal account of the home school kid who just didn't quite fit in with the other kids (the tragedy!), I can post ten factual news articles about public school kids partaking in such socially acceptable and developed behaviors as date rape, assault, gang activity, or even mass murder *at* those very government holding tanks they were forced against their will to attend.

Sorry JA if this rant is a little off topic and unnecessary, but I went to a public school so I'm not quite as socially developed as I should be.

Jewish Atheist said...

luna: Thanks for your comments! Citizendium does sound interesting.

Re: the homeschooling discussion. There are at least two kinds of families who homeschool -- those with smart parents who think they can do better than schools can and those without discernible talent who simply want to indoctrinate their kids and keep them away from challenging ideas. I don't know enough to have an opinion on the social issues, but there's no doubt in my mind that a competent parent-teacher can give a much better education than most public schools can. I went to a decent private school and I know I could have learned everything I learned there in a third to half the time if I'd had what amounts to a personal teacher or even just someone to tell me what to read who would quiz me afterwards.

Laura said...

"Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American."

Um, why do they need their "own" wiki? I mean Wikipedia is a free site where anyone can edit the articles. If you *back yourself up properly* then you should have no problem.

Isn't it a self-fulfilling prophecy to create a Conservative wiki - so they can continue to point to Wikipedia as some Liberally slanted site, rather than try to integrate their views INTO Wikipedia and correct the "problem"? I mean, conservatives are obviously self-selecting themselves out of participation. That doesn't mean Wikipedia is left leaning, just that conservatives aren't using it. Maybe they can all afford to have the complete Encyclopedia Brittanica in their private libraries? ;)

On the homeschool issue - not all homeschooling parents are "indoctrinating" their kids. And actually, homeschool kids do *BETTER* on standardized admission tests, on average, than public school kids. So as for the college admission question - it's not just Liberty College they'll get into. You can't generalize the trend of religious indoctrination to all homeschoolers.

Jilly said...

I agree with Laura. This is the point of such media outlets like Fox News and Townhall.com. There is a perpetual assertion of media bias and the need to expose the "truth" by preaching to the choir without talking about conservative media bias or really examining the actual veracity of the claim around media bias. I don't know why it is assumed automatically because some random blogger, for instance, doesn't like a few articles in Wikipedia, that it must be slanted. He can make his own wiki all he wants but his accusations remain unanswered.

We often find that on things like Fox News where conservative bias is confused with "fair and balanced" because the original assertion that the mainstream media is liberally biased is never challenged.

It is fairly dangerous because it leads to pure partisanship and not to a sense that there is validity in being critical and aware of those in the government, regardless of their party affiliation.

Ezzie said...

Heehee. :)

I think it's more like 15,000,000ish...

beepbeepitsme said...

I went to a public school too, admittedly that was when dinosaurs ruled the earth, along with their human masters. (I added the last part just in case Kent Hovind has access to a computer from his jail cell.)

My concerns with home schooling would be that even though they may have social interactions with other peers, and out of home activities, that their life experiences are quite insular, as they will predominately socialize with people of the same political, economic, social and religious persuasion.

Now, I know that this is not true in some cases, but the reality is that it is primarily religious people who choose to home school their children, so these children are going to receive a very limited worldview.

I am also aware of the problems associated with public schools. The public system, or whatever you call it there, has to take whoever applies for enrolment; unlike private schools, which can pick and choose its candidates.

Home schooling seems to me at least, to be an attempt to limit the world of their children to a worldview which their parents approve of. Not so bad an idea at first revue, as all parents, hopefully wish the best for their children and their education. But, what is the best education? One where children are presented with learning experiences where they can assess and evaluate information, or one where they are instructed to have a specific worldview?

Myself, I am more of a fan of a liberal education, in the traditional sense of the word.

"The aim of liberal education is to create persons who have the ability and the disposition to try to reach agreements on matters of fact, theory, and actions through rational discussions."

Now I know how many Americans have a virtual apopolectic fit even if they see the word "liberal", let alone if they pronounce it, but a liberal education is one which teaches people not just what to think, but how to think.

Teaching people what to think is easy. Teaching people how to think takes skill, dedication and expertise.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

I just found this blog, and wanted to let you know as a Christian apologist, contributor to Wikipedia, and big fan of the home schooling and Classical Christian education movement, I am going to check out Conservapedia. I'll post a comment here to let you know if I think they are (a) unhinged (b)on the right track or (c) none of the above.

Dave :) said...

Hello. I am a frequent contributor to the Conservapedia website and part of the homeschool class that put it together. I have read through your comments ranging from Conservapedia to homeschooling and thought I should give a little input. :)

While there are some cases of social depravity within homeschooling, the class that took on this project was not one of those. We are a group that have taken multiple classes together. I have a close group of friends whom I hang out with on a regular basis. Those friends are also my teammates on a homeschool basketball team, a team consisting of several of kids enrolled in the class. Ironically, we have a homeschool basketball tournament tomorrow. We are a very talented team that has played some public and private school teams and won. I am very confident that we will be contenders in this tournament.

What type of social interaction would I receive in a public school setting? Does a typical public highschool have bullies, drugs, and alcohol? Is this the social interaction that I am missing out on?

As for colleges, many of them do accept homeschoolers, and, in some cases, they accept them over public schoolers. I am already enrolled in a few classes at my local community college even though I am only a junior in highscool. My community college offers a program in which I can do such. I have amounted over 15 credits towards the college I plan to go to. Hundreds of colleges have mailed and emailed me, based upon my test scores on the PSATs. I have completed many of the courses required to graduate from college. That enables me to focus on choosing my major. I could finish college before I am 21.

We are not "stoopid" at Conservapedia. We know the biases. We do not claim any bias on the article's page and we delete any that we find. We save our own bias for the article's talk page or a debate topic. We do not accept bias or vulgarity. We support American English. We support America, homeschooling, and Christianity. If that makes us "radicals" then so be it.

I know that I am probably not the "stereotypical homeschooler", but I also know its my location that helps me do as much as a homeschooler as I can do. I live in New Jersey, the state with the least regulation on homeschooling. If other states were like this, I am sure "social depravity" in homeschool would be a thing of the past.

P.S. I do not think the site is down. We have recently received an influx of new users, and our site is too crowded. I have not been able to get in for 2 days, but I hope to find out if we can increase our bandwidth or something.

evilbatman said...

Quick comment on the homeschooling issue - both my sister and I were homeschooled, and I've managed to use my education to work my way from a Western trailer park to a prestigious East Coast law school. My take on it? The personalized education you receive can be fantastic. But the social isolation? The religious indoctrination? That should be criminal, and there's no way in hell any kids I have will go through it.

As for the liberal arts education that teaches you how, rather than what, to think, I owe a massive debt of gratitude to my undergrad professors for helping develop my intellectual curiosity. Ultimately, however, like any 18 year old brain dead zombie, I had to make my own decision to challenge myself - and people will make that decision for themselves on way or the other regardless of whether it was public school or church camp that encouraged their ignorance.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

Congratulations to young Dave and his fellow home schoolers for taking the step to launch Conservapedia.

As a Wikipedia contributor and Christian apologist, I was interested in looking at the Conservapedia effort.

Here's my take on it:

It's a nice little effort started by a bunch of kids who want to make their mark. I checked out the entry on Charles Darwin, and it looks like the kind of 1 page paper a good high school student at a Christian school might submit if he wrote it in a hurry.

So, critics of Conservapedia, please take a breather here. Give the kids a chance to develop this thing. Remember, it's only been up for a few months. Think back to what Wikipedia was like a few months after inception.

As for the kids at Conservapedia, here are a couple suggestions:

1. You might want to consider changing your name. Conservapedia implies a particular political point of view. I think a better concept might be to build a Wikipedia alternative around a Christian World View. Take a look at Evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer and his L'Abri community for inspiration. Indeed, the entire Intelligent Design movement can be traced to Dr. Thaxton, who visited L'Abri in the 1970's and came away inspired to take his thoughts on evolution and intelligent design to the public.
2. You need to improve your editing, administrative, and quality control standards. Compare the Charles Darwin entry in Wikipedia with yours. No contest the Wikipedia entry is head and shoulders above yours in terms of quality, format, references, and readibility. The trick is to maintain your commitment to your particular world-view without being heavy handed in your treatment of those who may not share your world view. Wikipedia may lean left or libertarian on the margin, but that's more a function of who chooses to contribute. On balance, the Wikipedia editing process does a pretty good job of maintaining a "neutral" point of view. In addition, Wikipedia has a nicely structured mechanism for dispute resolution among competing entries. I would error on the side of letting anyone contribute, but perhaps adding some visual means of indicating the editors consider a particular part of an article to be counter to the prevailing Conservapedia world view.

Krystalline Apostate said...

I'd advise you dig somewhat deeper.
There's a ridiculous page on the Velociraptor that states it wasn't allowed on the Ark (we all know the Flood never happened). You may also want to check out the page on Quantum Mechanics. & some of the discussions on evolution are just idiotic.
Foam fucking dinosaurs.
The George Washington page is littered w/exclamation points. & littered w/ridiculous errors as well.
It's all good & fine to have people elucidate their POVs, but saying 'we're CHRISTIAN' doesn't give folks a right to revise history to suit their needs.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...


Thanks for the your update.

Obviously, they need to work on quality control, as you point out.
As with any publication, standards of accuracy need to be in place.

You're right also about point of view. If the goal is to reflect a Christian world view, then Conservapedia needs to understand that inaccuracy does not enhance the credibility of that world view.

The standard of intellectual honesty is one that should apply to all world views -- Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or any other.

Krystalline Apostate said...


The standard of intellectual honesty is one that should apply to all world views -- Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or any other.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Sadie Lou said...

What the heck?
The homeschool vs. private school is stillan issue that divides Christians and non-Christians? I thought there were non-Christians that homeschool too. There certainly were when I was in school.
My best friend got pulled out of public school because her parents could keep a better eye on her when she was at home instead of at school (smoking pot in the bathroom).
I'm not even going to validate that comment about homeschool kids not being able to have their pick of colleges, by going into a long diatribe about how stereotypes are hard to break through. People are just plain ignorant.
I will say that there is a very nice girl named Elisha who is 16 and currently enrolled at Pepperdine:
Pepperdine University
Graduated: N/A
Degree: In Progress
Major: Chemistry & Journalism

That's from her MySpace profile. She was homeschooled. Her family rocks! They go to the same church I do. Elisha's dad is a rocket scientist, literally. I will say that she is having difficulty with all the new male attention she's been getting! *laughing* Her brother can't decide if he wants to go to Pepperdine, which is where his sister is making a name for herself or Harvard--he has his pick of either. He's 15.

How are you doing, JA?

Jewish Atheist said...


How are you doing, JA?

Great, thanks. :-) Glad to have you back.

Skcorefil said...

Some of the entries in conservapedia stuff are just silly. But I can see how it would be useful as a more family friendly place. Wikipedia does have a lot of things that could be not real good for a kid to see. If I had kids, I wouldn't want them looking on wiki for info on Prince Albert and seeing the pic below.


Edward said...

As a former Jewish Atheist, currently a Buddhist engaged in Saving The World (literally; see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/User:Mokurai) and a regular Wikipedia contributor, I am intrigued by Conservapedia. I am thinking of writing some articles for them about actual conservatism, a movement which is quite counter to their apparently Fundamentalist Christian version.

Discuss: Christians should give up on getting the Ten Commandments posted in schools, and concentrate on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.

Under the First Amendment, they have to agree that it would be entirely proper for other religions (and atheists, too) to put up their favorite texts, like the Buddhist teachings, "The gift of Truth excels all gifts." or "Do not believe because someone tells you to or because a scripture says so, but believe what you have tried and found to work." There is an International Phonetic Alphabet letter that I can't reproduce here, but is entirely apposite. It represents "audible teeth gnashing". Unicode U+02AD. You can look at it in the IPA chart at Unicode.org.

Anonymous said...

Religions, Sects, Cults & Faiths

Indulge in hate preaching in modern day America
Full of Faith "Christian Talibans" ( The Big Story - Fox News TV)

Rejoice in the boundless beauty of lucidity & logic!
The following two web links are of illuminating, 'must-see" documentaries (BBC TV)

The God Delusion
The Virus of Faith

If clicking on a web addresses did not launch the documentary, copy the address and paste into the web browser address bar. Alternatively, you can go to Google Video at: http://video.google.com and search for the documentary.
For excellent, full page viewing, download Google movies to your computer and install the Google Video Player. The name of the file is: GoogleVideoPlayerSetup.exe.

Enjoy other enlightening videos on faith

Seriously funny
George Carlin on Religion

George Carlin - The Ten Commandments

Religion ala Eddie Izzard

Seriously Advocating Reason
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason - Critical philosopher Sam Harris

Sam Harris on CSPAN2 TV - Harris outlines much of the content of his bestseller, "The End of Faith."

An Interview of Richard Dawkins about the God Delusion

The link between religion and violence - Critical philosopher Sam Harris

Can religion and reason be reconciled - Debate between Sam Harris and Reza Aslan

Bill Maher on Scarborough Country -- Religion Debate

Sam Harris, The View from the End of the World, SALT talk

Beyond Belief #6 - - Richard Dawkins

Family Values: American evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, his Male Prostitute and Meth

Margaret Atwood on Religion Part2/3

Help Israelis live in a free country - closer to Europe than to Iran!

The following two sites are all about what the religious parties are doing in Israel, and about what secular people can (and should) do. It contains links to organizations devoted to freedom of speech and opinion and to commercial bodies which should be boycotted for surrendering to religious demands.
In English

In Hebrew

As you may know, Israel was founded as a Jewish homeland. However, our declaration of independence vows to respect individual equality, regardless of religion, gender or race.

Unfortunately, certain groups in Israeli society are constantly trying to undermine these principles, taking advantage of the fact that Israel has no constitution and that there is no separation of Church and State.

The ultra-orthodox political parties have a pivotal role in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) despite having fewer than 20% of the seats, because they hold the balance of power no matter which of the major parties wins an election. This is because no party can get more than 50% of the seats. In many ways the ultra-orthodox parties are ideal partners for parties of both left and right because they do not have a political agenda regarding social or national security issues. However, in return for their support, the right and left transfer funds to the religious education system (which is not supervised by the State) and pass oppresive Jewish religious laws.


Albert Einstein , Time Magazine Person of the Century
Einstein was the pre-eminent scientist in a century dominated by science.
The touchstones of the era — the Bomb, the Big Bang, quantum physics and electronics — all bear his imprint

Einstein and 'God'

Albert Einstein was not a Christian. He had no concept of the God of the Bible or trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. His views on religion and 'God' were evolutionary and pantheistic.

He wrote, 'I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts.' 22

'The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. … The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events. … A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him … .' 23

'During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution human fantasy created gods in man's own image. … The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. … In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God … .' 24

Answering a Japanese scholar who asked him about 'scientific truth', Albert wrote, 'Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order. This firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as "pantheistic" (Spinoza).' 25

It is thus clear that when Albert mentioned 'God', e.g. 'God does not play dice with the universe', and 'The Lord God is subtle, but malicious he is not',26 he was referring to something like rationality in the universe. He is recorded as saying that a 'deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God'. 27 However, he certainly was not referring to anything like the God of the Bible, who is Creator, Lawgiver, Judge and Saviour.

Addressing Princeton Theological Seminary on May 19, 1939, Albert said, '[A] conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible.'25,28

Christian apologist Dr Hugh Ross claims that, despite not believing in the biblical God, ' Einstein held unswervingly, against enormous peer pressure, to belief in a Creator.'29 However, in the normal meaning of these terms, Einstein believed no such thing (see aside below on starlight and time). Thus, Christians who inappropriately invoke Einstein in their preaching, writing or witnessing do so to the detriment of their cause.

Note: As Einstein wrote his scientific papers and most of his correspondence in German, translations used above vary slightly among his biographers.
Einstein's belief in 'the divinity of nature'

Pantheists believe that everything is God. It means that 'God' just becomes another word for 'everything' and loses any real meaning—saying that everything is 'zinquth' is just as meaningful. Albert Einstein explicitly shared the pantheism of Spinoza, of whose views The Hutchinson Softback Encyclopedia, 1996, writes: 'Mind and matter are two modes of an infinite substance that [Spinoza] called God or Nature, good and evil being relative.' Like New Age and Eastern thought, this is a 'monistic' belief, which explicitly denies a Creator in the normal meaning of the word, i.e. one who pre-existed (and is thus independent of, or 'outside') that which was created.


Einstein: Becoming a Freethinker and a Scientist
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logical principles and not be comprised by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. The cognitive application of freethought is known as freethinking, and practitioners of freethought are known as freethinkers.

The following is an excerpt Albert Einstein's Autobiographical Notes,. These paragraphs appear on pp 3 & 5.

When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.

As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came - though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents - to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.

Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression.

Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.

It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the "merely personal," from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking.

The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost.

The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.

This document contains many of Einstein's personal thoughts on God, religion, mysticism, and spirituality. Hopefully it will allow the reader to get a deeper understanding of what Einstein believed and why he believed them. All to often Einstein's words have been misunderstood or misconstrued to represent a view that was not his own; though through honest inquiry, we see his views were very enigmatic and touching closest to the philosophy of pantheism.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 43.

"My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment."
Albert Einstein in a letter to M. Berkowitz, October 25, 1950; Einstein Archive 59-215; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 216.

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, Secaucus, New Jersy: The Citadel Press, 1999, p. 5.

"The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve."
Albert Einstein in a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952; Einstein Archive 59-797; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 217.

"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems."
Albert Einstein, 1947; from Banesh Hoffmann, Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel, New York: New American Library, 1972, p. 95.

"I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.… This is a somewhat new kind of religion."
Albert Einstein, in a letter to Hans Muehsam, March 30, 1954; Einstein Archive 38-434; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 218.

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."
Albert Einstein, upon being asked if he believed in God by Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue, New York, April 24, 1921, published in the New York Times, April 25, 1929; from Einstein: The Life and Times, Ronald W. Clark, New York: World Publishing Co., 1971, p. 413; also cited as a telegram to a Jewish newspaper, 1929, Einstein Archive 33-272, from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 204.

"I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it."
Albert Einstein, letter to a Baptist pastor in 1953; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 39.

"Why do you write to me 'God should punish the English'? I have no close connection to either one or the other. I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him."
Albert Einstein, letter to Edgar Meyer, a Swiss colleague, January 2, 1915; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 201.

"It is quite possible that we can do greater things than Jesus, for what is written in the Bible about him is poetically embellished."
Albert Einstein; quoted in W. I. Hermanns, "A Talk with Einstein," October 1943, Einstein Archive 55-285; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 215.

"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms."
Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Thoughts, New York: Ballantine Books, 1996, p. 134. )

"The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. To make this a living force and bring it to clear consciousness is perhaps the foremost task of education. The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action."
Albert Einstein, letter to a minister November 20, 1950; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 95.

"A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death. It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees."
Albert Einstein, "Religion and Science," in the New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930, pp. 3-4; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, pp. 205-206.

"The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere."
Albert Einstein, letter to a Rabbi in Chicago; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton University Press, 1981, pp. 69-70.

"I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism."
Albert Einstein, replying to a letter in 1954 or 1955; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 39.

"I do not believe that a man should be restrained in his daily actions by being afraid of punishment after death or that he should do things only because in this way he will be rewarded after he dies. This does not make sense. The proper guidance during the life of a man should be the weight that he puts upon ethics and the amount of consideration that he has for others."
Albert Einstein; from Peter A. Bucky, The Private Albert Einstein, Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel, 1992, p. 86.

"Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural Being."
Albert Einstein in responce to a child who had written him in 1936 and asked if scientists pray; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 32.

"I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiratation of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not for God."
Albert Einstein; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 66.

"The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenatrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself amoung profoundly religious men."

"The idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I am unable to take seriously."
Albert Einstein, letter to Hoffman and Dukas, 1946; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981.

"The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge."
Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy, and Religion, A 1934 Symposium published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941; from Einstein's Out of My Later Years, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970, pp. 29-30.

"I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos."
Albert Einstein on quantum mechanics, published in the London Observer, April 5, 1964; also quoted as "God does not play dice with the world." in Einstein: The Life and Times, Ronald W. Clark, New York: World Publishing Co., 1971, p. 19.

"I cannot accept any concept of God based on the fear of life or the fear of death or blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him I would be a liar."
Albert Einstein; from Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: World Publishing Company, 1971, p. 622.

"During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution human fantasy created gods in man's own image, who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate to influence, the phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the disposition of these gods in his own favor by means of magic and prayer. The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. Its anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their wishes.
"Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?
"The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. It is the aim of science to establish general rules which determine the reciprocal connection of objects and events in time and space. For these rules, or laws of nature, absolutely general validity is required—not proven. It is mainly a program, and faith in the possibility of its accomplishment in principle is only founded on partial successes. But hardly anyone could be found who would deny these partial successes and ascribe them to human self-deception. The fact that on the basis of such laws we are able to predict the temporal behavior of phenomena in certain domains with great precision and certainty is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the modern man, even though he may have grasped very little of the contents of those laws. He need only consider that planetary courses within the solar system may be calculated in advance with great exactitude on the basis of a limited number of simple laws. In a similar way, though not with the same precision, it is possible to calculate in advance the mode of operation of an electric motor, a transmission system, or of a wireless apparatus, even when dealing with a novel development.
"To be sure, when the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us. Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature.
"We have penetrated far less deeply into the regularities obtaining within the realm of living things, but deeply enough nevertheless to sense at least the rule of fixed necessity. One need only think of the systematic order in heredity, and in the effect of poisons, as for instance alcohol, on the behavior of organic beings. What is still lacking here is a grasp of connections of profound generality, but not a knowledge of order in itself.
"The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.
"But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress. In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task."
Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy, and Religion, A 1934 Symposium published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941; from Einstein's Out of My Later Years, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970, pp. 26-29.

"I cannot then believe in this concept of an anthropomorphic God who has the powers of interfering with these natural laws. As I said before, the most beautiful and most profound religious emotion that we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. And this mysticality is the power of all true science."
Albert Einstein; from Peter A. Bucky, The Private Albert Einstein, Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel, 1992, p. 86.

"The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning."
Albert Einstein, in a letter February 5, 1921; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 40.

"Mere unbelief in a personal God is no philosophy at all."
Albert Einstein, letter to V. T Aaltonen, May 7, 1952, Einstein Archive 59-059; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 216.

"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."
Albert Einstein, to Guy H. Raner Jr., September 28, 1949; from Michael R. Gilmore, "Einstein's God: Just What Did Einstein Believe About God?," Skeptic, 1997, 5(2):64.

"For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts."
Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970, p. 25.

"In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."
Albert Einstein, according to the testimony of Prince Hubertus of Lowenstein; as quoted by Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: World Publishing Company, 1971, p. 425.

"I received your letter of June 10th. I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. Your counter-arguments seem to me very correct and could hardly be better formulated. It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere—childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world as far—as we can grasp it. And that is all."
Albert Einstein, to Guy H. Raner Jr., July 2, 1945, responding to a rumor that a Jesuit priest had caused Einstein to convert from atheism; from Michael R. Gilmore, "Einstein's God: Just What Did Einstein Believe About God?," Skeptic, 1997, 5(2):62.

"I am convinced that some political and social activities and practices of the Catholic organizations are detrimental and even dangerous for the community as a whole, here and everywhere. I mention here only the fight against birth control at a time when overpopulation in various countries has become a serious threat to the health of people and a grave obstacle to any attempt to organize peace on this planet."
Albert Einstein in a letter, 1954; from Paul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Greenwood Pub., 1984, p. 10.

"It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which [I] lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the 'merely personal,' from an existence which is dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings."
Albert Einstein; from Gerald Holton, Einstein: History, and Other Passions, Woodbury, NY: Perseus Press, 1996, p. 172.

"His [Einstein] was not a life of prayer and worship. Yet he lived by a deep faith — a faith not capabIe of rational foundation — that there are laws of Nature to be discovered. His lifelong pursuit was to discover them. His realism and his optimism are illuminated by his remark: 'Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not' ('Raffiniert ist der Herrgott aber boshaft ist er nicht.'). When asked by a colleague what he meant by that, he replied: 'Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse' ('Die Natur verbirgt ihr Geheimnis durch die Erhabenheit ihres Wesens, aber nicht durch List.')"
Abraham Pais, Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982.

"However, Einstein's God was not the God of most other men. When he wrote of religion, as he often did in middle and later life, he tended to adopt the belief of Alice's Red Queen that "words mean what you want them to mean," and to clothe with different names what to more ordinary mortals — and to most Jews — looked like a variant of simple agnosticism. Replying in 1929 to a cabled inquiry from Rabbi Goldstein of New York, he said that he believed "in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exist, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of men." And it is claimed that years later, asked by Ben-Gurion whether he believed in God, "even he, with his great formula about energy and mass, agreed that there must be something behind the energy." No doubt. But much of Einstein's writing gives the impression of belief in a God even more intangible and impersonal than a celestial machine minder, running the universe with indisputable authority and expert touch. Instead, Einstein's God appears as the physical world itself, with its infinitely marvelous structure operating at atomic level with the beauty of a craftsman's wristwatch, and at stellar level with the majesty of a massive cyclotron. This was belief enough. It grew early and rooted deep. Only later was it dignified by the title of cosmic religion, a phrase which gave plausible respectability to the views of a man who did not believe in a life after death and who felt that if virtue paid off in the earthly one, then this was the result of cause and effect rather than celestial reward. Einstein's God thus stood for an orderly system obeying rules which could be discovered by those who at the courage, imagination, and persistence to go on searching for them. It was to this past which he began to turn his mind soon after the age of twelve. The rest of his life everything else was to seem almost trivial by comparison."
Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: World Publishing, 1971, pp. 19-20.


Christians who inappropriately invoke Jefferson in their preaching, writing or witnessing do so to the detriment of their cause.


Compiled by Jim Walker

"Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong."

-Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782)

It spite of Christian right attempts to rewrite history to make Jefferson into a Christian, little about his philosophy resembles that of Christianity. Although Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God, there exists nothing in the Declaration about Christianity.

Although Jefferson believed in a Creator, his concept of it resembled that of the god of deism (the term "Nature's God" used by deists of the time). With his scientific bent, Jefferson sought to organize his thoughts on religion. He rejected the superstitions and mysticism of Christianity and even went so far as to edit the gospels, removing the miracles and mysticism of Jesus (see The Jefferson Bible) leaving only what he deemed the correct moral philosophy of Jesus.

Distortions of history occur in the minds of many Christians whenever they see the word "God" embossed in statue or memorial concrete. For example, those who visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington will read Jefferson's words engraved: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man." When they see the word "God" many Christians see this as "proof" of his Christianity without thinking that "God" can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson's God was not the personal god of Christianity? Those memorial words came from a letter written to Benjamin Rush in 1800 in response to Rush's warning about the Philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson (Jefferson was seen as an infidel by his enemies during his election for President). The complete statement reads as follows:

"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . ."

Jefferson aimed at laissez-faire liberalism in the name of individual freedom, He felt that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism consisted of tyranny. He thought that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.

If anything can clear of the misconceptions of Jeffersonian history, it can come best from the author himself. Although Jefferson had a complex view of religion, too vast for this presentation, the following quotes provide a glimpse of how Thomas Jefferson viewed the corruptions of Christianity and religion.

Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.

-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

What is it men cannot be made to believe!

-Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, April 22, 1786. (on the British regarding America, but quoted here for its universal appeal.)

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote "Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?")

I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789

They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.

-Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ...Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814

You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819

As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819

Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820

To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820

Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.

-Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825

All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826 (in the last letter he penned)

Bibliography (click on an underlined book title if you'd like to obtain it):

Merrill D. Peterson, ed, Thomas Jefferson Writings , (The Library of America,1984)

O.I.A. Roche, ed, The Jefferson Bible: with the Annotated Commentaries on Religion of Thomas Jefferson, (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1964)

Dickinson W. Adams, ed, et al, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series (Princeton University Press, 1983)

Lester J. Cappon, ed, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Vol. 2, (The University of North Carolina Press, 1959)

Alf J. Mapp, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity , (Madison Books, 1987)

Julian P. Boyd, ed, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson , (Princeton University Press 1950--)

A.A. Lipscomb, Albert E. Bergh, eds. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1903-1904)


For other quotes on the internet see: Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005
Darwin Victorious
TIME's Michael Lemonick assesses the theory of evolution after Intelligent Design is defeated in Pennsylvania

"Breathtaking inanity" is how U.S. District Judge John Jones characterized the Dover, PA school board's attempt to cast doubt on the theory of evolution—but in fairness, the recently ousted members of that board were relative unsophisticates, snookered by the intellectual scam that calls itself "intelligent design," or ID.

Where to begin? Well, first of all, proponents of ID point to what they insist are serious flaws in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The truth is that the theory is not only an overwhelmingly powerful explanation for how life on Earth manages to come in such a bewildering array of different types, but the only such theory in science. Like any scientific theory, it can't explain how every aspect of every organism came to be, but each time scientists find new evidence—fossils of dinosaurs bearing feathers; fossils of the mammals whose descendants are whales; the molecular structure DNA that carries traits from one generation to the next; the mutations that can alter DNA to introduce new traits—the case for Darwin's theory has gotten stronger.

Do any gaps remain? Sure. Shall we throw up our hands and say "Since we don't know all the details at this moment, God"—oops, I mean, "an Intelligent Designer must be invoked?" The Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank favors teaching the controversy over evolution, but that's the scam. There is no controversy, or at least, not the scientific controversy Discovery says there is..

That's not to say there isn't a tiny handful of actual scientists who back ID. Yes, evolution explains a lot, they say, but some things—the eye, for example, or the whiplike tails on some bacteria—are just too complex to have evolved. To which the vast majority of biologists say nonsense. We don't have remotely enough information to make such a statement. Moreover, if ID is a valid theory on its own, it has to make testable predictions. "It's too complex to explain" is not a prediction.

So ID isn't science, and by that measure alone the Dover school board's attempts to make it so were indeed inane. But beyond that the board insisted that by leaving out the G-word you remove the religious connotation from ID, thus evading a 1987 Supreme Court ban on religion in science classrooms. Again, the board bought the story of people like Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, an ID proponent, who says that ID doesn't assume the existence of God (although Behe admitted he thinks the Intelligent Designer is God). Judge Jones didn't buy that loophole (and for that matter the Discovery Institute stayed out of this case entirely, evidently realizing that it was a legal stinker).

Alas, ID isn't going away. The Kansas school board recently endorsed new educational standards that downplay evolution, and new assaults on Darwin's brilliant and unsettling idea are sure to continue. Meanwhile, there are still gaps in Einstein's theory of relativity and the germ theory of disease and the theory of plate tectonics. However, none of these contradict the sacred text of any religion—and so no school board is likely to be looking for some way to counter them.

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

Churches to mark Darwin's birthday
Hundreds to join ` Evolution Sunday,' organized by a Wisconsin academic

By Lisa Anderson
Tribune national correspondent

February 11, 2006

NEW YORK -- Nearly 450 Christian churches around the country plan to celebrate the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin on Sunday with programs and sermons intended to emphasize that his theory of biological evolution is compatible with faith and that Christians have no need to choose between religion and science.

"It's to demonstrate, by Christian leaders and members of the clergy, that you don't have to make that choice. You can have both," said Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who organized the event.

Darwin's theory holds that life on Earth, including humans, shares common ancestry and developed over millions of years through the mechanisms of natural selection and random mutation. The concept is repugnant to many conservative Christians because it conflicts with their belief that man was specially created in the image of God.

"Evolution Sunday" has drawn participation from a variety of denominational and non-denominational churches, including Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Baptist and a host of community churches, including at least 16 congregations in Illinois.

The event grew out of Zimmerman's The Clergy Letter Project, another effort to dispel the perception among many Christians that faith and evolution are mutually exclusive.

Clerics' affirmation

Since its inception in 2004, the project has drawn 10,000 Christian clerics to sign a letter that concludes, "We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

Zimmerman said the letter project and the Sunday event were designed to educate Americans about two things.

"The first part was to demonstrate to the American public that the shrill fundamentalist voices that were demanding that people had to choose between religion and science were simply wrong," he said.

"The second part was to demonstrate that those fundamentalist leaders that keep standing up and shouting that you can't accept modern science were not speaking for the majority of Christian leaders in this country." .

However, "Evolution Sunday" drew sharp criticism from the Discovery Institute. The Seattle-based think tank funds research into non-Darwinian concepts such as intelligent design, which posits that some complexities of life that are yet unexplained by evolution are best are attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligence.

Contradictory view

In a statement issued under the title "On Evolution Sunday It's Give Me That Old Time Darwinist Religion," Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman said, " Evolution Sunday is the height of hypocrisy."

"Our view is not that pastors should speak out against evolution," he added, "but that the Darwinists are hypocrites for claiming--falsely--that opposition to Darwinism is merely faith-based, and then turning around and trying to make the case that Darwinism itself is faith-based."

Zimmerman, a former biology professor, said, "Science is limited under what the scientific method allows you to do. I fear the Discovery Institute and these other fundamentalists have science envy. They want science to ratify their faith and beliefs and, by definition, you've got to take faith on faith."

Rev. Mike Southcombe, pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in semirural Brighton, Ill., near St. Louis, said he joined Zimmerman's campaign over concern about what he perceives as the growing conflict between religion and science.

"We have become a very divided culture in this country, and there are people out there who say people of faith should deny science. And I believe that, in the great tradition of the church, science is one more way that God reveals God's self and God's will for us. I think to ignore scientific findings and theories is simply unfaithful," said Southcombe.

"I find deep spirituality in the truths of evolution."

Rev. Brett McCleneghan, senior minister of the Park Ridge Community Church in Park Ridge, Ill., already has preached sermons on evolution and creationism, he said. He also noted that the adult education group at his church just completed a five-week series of lectures and discussions on evolution, creationism and intelligent design.

Although, he said, most of his members express no incompatibility between evolution and faith, he understands why many Christians find evolutionary theory threatening.

"I think it might be a part of the larger issue of how do we find certainty in the modern context, where all meaning is up for grabs," he said. "I think it's a brave effort by folks . . . a way of saying no to secularization."

- - -

Charles Darwin

Born: Feb. 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England

Died: April 19, 1882

Childhood: He grew up hearing the ideas of his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, a naturalist who had proposed a theory of evolution in the 1790s.

Education: Studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and theology at Cambridge University, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1831.

Career: In 1831 he joined a British scientific expedition aboard the HMS Beagle, studying plants and animals throughout the world. He returned to England in 1836 and spent the rest of his life studying nature and writing.

Books include:

"The Voyage of the Beagle," 1839

"The Origin of Species," 1859

"The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex," 1871

"The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," 1872

Sources: World Book encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica.



Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Posted on Sat, Feb. 11, 2006

Thank God for Darwin and evolution

By Patty Fisher
Mercury News

Tomorrow is Darwin Day, and I plan to observe it by thanking God for evolution. Without it, we'd all be living in caves.

The debate over Charles Darwin's theories pits scientists against fundamentalist Christians, who take the Bible's version of creation literally and equate evolution with atheism.

Where does that leave Christians like me, who have no trouble reconciling evolution with faith? Frustrated, and out of the game.

That's why I welcome Darwin Day. I hope it evolves into an international movement showcasing the common ground between science and religion in the 21st century.

Darwin and the courts

In 1968, the U.S . Supreme Court struck down the last state law forbidding the teaching of evolution. Since then, federal courts have consistently rejected attempts to teach creationist theology in science classes. Meanwhile, scientists have mapped the human genome and found genetic links to monkeys and other species. They have unearthed evidence of Homo sapiens dating back half a million years.

And yet, according to numerous polls, roughly half of Americans reject the notion that humans evolved from lower forms of life, preferring to believe the account in the first chapter of Genesis. Most favor adding creationism to the school curriculum.

And we wonder why our children are falling behind in science.

President Bush wants to double the amount we spend on basic research in the physical sciences. That's great. But he also favors teaching ``intelligent design'' -- an updated form of creationism -- in biology classes. In other words, he wants to promote science, but only science that fits in with certain religious beliefs.

It's no surprise that the Darwin Day phenomenon got its start in Silicon Valley. Robert Stephens, a retired SRI International biologist, formed a non-profit organization six years ago to promote it.

When the Rev. Richard Foster of the Episcopal Lutheran Campus Ministry at Stanford University heard about the movement, he was eager to get involved.

``The way we see it, the creation stories in Genesis were the statements of faith of an ancient people,'' he said. ``They were not science.''

The Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford, preached his Darwin sermon last month, after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design has no place in science classes.

Finding God in the gaps

Proponents of intelligent design don't deny that life evolved over billions of years. But they point to certain gaps in our understanding of evolution -- how, for example, something as complex as the human eye could evolve through natural selection alone -- as proof of a higher power's intervention.

McLennan doesn't buy it. In fact, his position is that intelligent design demeans God. It relegates God to the position of explainer of things science can't explain, a position that gets smaller and smaller as science uncovers more and more answers.

For the other side of the debate, I went to Pastor Dave Sefton of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose.

``Man did not evolve up through the animal kingdom,'' he said. ``To take God out of what we teach our children is in violation of what God tells us to do.''

In Silicon Valley, however, even a fundamentalist has to leave some room for Darwin.

``There may have been prehistoric manlike creatures before Adam and Eve,'' Sefton said. ``There are different theories about the universe, but they are just a smoke screen to get us away from what's really important, which is that God loves us.''

Perhaps. And perhaps intelligent design is just a smoke screen to undermine scientific inquiry. On Darwin Day, let the smoke clear and the debate flourish.
Contact Patty Fisher at pfisher@mercurynews.com or (650) 688-7510.
© 2006 MercuryNews.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Birthday Charlie: Darwin Celebrated With Cake, Fossils

By Jeffrey Tannenbaum

Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- At La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael, California, a ``Happy Birthday, Charlie'' cake will be served.

The day in question is Feb. 12, and the honoree is Charles Darwin, who would turn 197 this Sunday had he not succumbed in 1882 to the natural-selection process of the grim reaper.

Across the U.S. and around the world, Darwin admirers are honoring the British naturalist with hundreds of lectures, parties, films, concerts, sermons and museum exhibitions. Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, will devote Sunday to the Cambrian explosion, which brought forth a diversity of animals on Earth about half a billion years ago -- and a slew of fossil records.

Shrewsbury, England, the scientist's birthplace, has assembled a chorus of 30 children, three adults and a chamber ensemble to perform ``Darwin's Dream'' by conductor-composer Graham Treacher, the musical highlight of a monthlong festival.

In Scientists' Corner in Westminster Abbey, Darwin is probably resting peacefully of late. Since the beginning of last year, at least two U.S. court cases and the settlement in a third have favored the inquisitive scientist who released ``On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life'' in 1859, more than two decades after exploring the world on the H.M.S. Beagle.

Court Cases

In December, U.S. District Judge John Jones barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching the ideas of ``intelligent design'' in science classes alongside Darwinian evolution. In January 2005, another federal court ordered the Cobb County, Georgia, school district to remove disclaimer stickers from science textbooks. Just this month, a legislator in Wisconsin promised to introduce a bill to outlaw ``pseudoscience'' in science classes.

And in New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, some 140,000 people have visited the ``Darwin'' exhibition since Nov. 19. That's one-third more than an Albert Einstein show attracted in a comparable period.

``Most of the conversations in the exhibition are hushed, almost reverent,'' says museum spokesman Michael Walker. There haven't been any nasty protests, he says.

Using specimens that Darwin collected, fossils and letters that he wrote, the curators document Darwin's theory: that humans and other life forms descended from a common ancestor, and that the variety and complexity of life on Earth reflect an evolutionary process of ``natural selection,'' in which species adapted to changes in the environment over millions of years.

Too Complicated

Many creationists shorten that span to some 6,000 years during which God created the planet's flora and fauna pretty much as they are today. Proponents of intelligent design, an outgrowth of creationism, hold that some organisms are too complicated to be explained by natural selection. They look hopefully to their friends in state legislatures. Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah all have introduced ``anti- evolution'' bills.

But the bills may proceed slower than the Galapagos tortoises that greeted Darwin. Glenn Branch, 37-year-old deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that defends the teaching of Darwin, detects a change of pace. In light of the Pennsylvania ruling, ``we are going to see fewer and fewer legislators willing to call for intelligent design,'' Branch predicts.

Floating Specimen

Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln. At least 600 birthday events will be held, twice as many as last year, says Robert Stephens, a 74-year-old biologist who heads Darwin Day Celebration, a Redwood City, California-based nonprofit that promotes science. The globe-spanning celebrations can be sampled on the special Web site, http://www.darwinday.org .

Londoners may take advantage of special tours through the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road that will show off zoological specimen that floated home aboard the Beagle. An ocean and a continent away, the University of California at Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology is offering a display of Galapagos finches, a species studied by Darwin.

One man who says he isn't planning to join in the fun on Darwin Day is Michael Behe, the 54-year-old author of ``Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,'' a critique whose 10th anniversary edition will be published in March by Simon & Schuster's Free Press division. Molecular biology is ``irreducibly complex,'' confounding Darwinism, according to the author.


``I probably won't attend'' any Darwin Day event anywhere, says Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. ``It's not simply meant to celebrate science or Darwin. It's an in-your-face exhibition, saying, `Look what we have on our side, and you guys who aren't with us are a bunch of dopes.'''

A talk on the compatibility between evolution and religious faith is promised at Christ Episcopal Church in Macon, Georgia. ``The Bible wasn't designed to be a textbook, certainly not a science book,'' says Wesley Smith, 52-year-old rector of the Macon church. ``You can espouse Darwin's theories and still believe in a loving Creator.''

The First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego plans a Darwin reception at 8 a.m. on Feb. 12, followed by a concert in the afternoon. Organizer Vicky Newman says the music will be from a genre called ``scientific gospel,'' which aims in part to promote the theory of evolution.

Scopes Monkey Trial

``Darwin was a religious person,'' says Newman, 60, a research dietitian. ``We want to celebrate that he was a religious person as well as a scientist.''

Because he pondered the origin of life, Darwin looms large for theologians as well as scientists. ``In the U.S., there's a widespread belief that some conflict has to take place between Darwinism and Christianity. But that's not the case,'' says David Lampe, 42, a biologist at Duquesne, a Catholic university.

Religious zealots in the U.S. have long tried to influence the teaching of science. In the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, John Scopes in 1925 was found guilty of breaking a state law by teaching evolution. Lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan -- the subject of ``A Godly Hero,'' a new biography by Michael Kazin that Knopf published this month -- faced off at the trial.

``Every time evolution or the theory of natural selection gets `challenged' by schools or courts or politicians, it prompts more people to learn about Darwin's actual life and work,'' says Ann Weber, a 53-year-old professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Weber, who teaches how Darwinian and other theories influenced schools of psychology, plans to mark Darwin's birthday by showing Stanley Kramer's 1960 film ``Inherit the Wind,'' based on the Scopes trial.

Back at the natural history museum in New York, staff scientists will be welcoming visitors bearing fossils and other mysterious objects for them to identify on Darwin Day. Everyone is welcome. As Walker sees it, ``Darwin, with his insatiable curiosity of the natural world, would be pleased.''


Federal judge rules 'intelligent design' can't be taught in schools

HARRISBURG, Pa. - In one of the biggest courtroom clashes between faith and evolution since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district Tuesday from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class, saying the concept is creationism in disguise.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones delivered a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board, saying its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert intelligent design into the science curriculum violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The ruling was a major setback to the intelligent design movement, which is also waging battles in Georgia and Kansas. Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.

Jones decried the "breathtaking inanity" of the Dover policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion.

A six-week trial over the issue yielded "overwhelming evidence" establishing that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," said Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench three years ago.

The school system said it will probably not appeal the ruling, because several members who backed intelligent design were ousted in November's elections and replaced with a new slate opposed to the policy.

During the trial, the board argued that it was trying improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection.

The policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade lessons on evolution. The statement said Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It referred students to an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People."

But the judge said: "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom."

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.

Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which represented the school district and describes its mission as defending the religious freedom of Christians, said the ruling appeared to be "an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God."

It was the latest chapter in a debate over the teaching of evolution dating back to the Scopes trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law against teaching evolution.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Georgia heard arguments over whether a suburban Atlanta school district had the right to put stickers on biology textbooks describing evolution as a theory, not fact. A federal judge last January ordered the stickers removed.

In November, state education officials in Kansas adopted new classroom science standards that call the theory of evolution into question.

President Bush also weighed in on the issue of intelligent design recently, saying schools should present the concept when teaching about the origins of life.

In his ruling, Jones said that while intelligent design, or ID, arguments "may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science." Among other things, the judge said intelligent design "violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation"; it relies on "flawed and illogical" arguments; and its attacks on evolution "have been refuted by the scientific community."

"The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources," he wrote.

The judge also said: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

Former school board member William Buckingham, who advanced the policy, said from his new home in Mount Airy, N.C., that he still feels the board did the right thing.

"I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state," he said. "We didn't lose; we were robbed."

The controversy divided Dover and surrounding Dover Township, a rural area of nearly 20,000 residents about 20 miles south of Harrisburg. It galvanized voters in the Nov. 8 school board election to oust several members who supported the policy.

The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board intends to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum and place it in an elective social studies class. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.

Tammy Kitzmiller (left) and Christy Rhem express their happiness during a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg, Pa., after hearing the verdict from U.S District Judge John E. Jones. (AP)

Religious Decline in U.S. Follows Europe
Jan. 24, 2007

Is the U.S. following Europe in becoming less religious and more humanist?
This is the tantalizing prospect held out by some recent surveys.

Matt Cherry, IHS Executive Director

A new survey in the U.S. shows that the number of 18-25 year olds who are atheist, agnostic or nonreligious has increased from 11 percent in 1986 to 20 percent today. Meanwhile a survey of the United States and the five largest countries in Western Europe reveals that religious belief continues to plummet in Europe, with Italy being the only country with a majority believing in any form of God or supreme being. And even in these overwhelmingly godless countries, the young are still significantly less religious than their elders.

A survey of young people ages 18-25 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press includes encouraging news about the growth of humanist beliefs among the so-called "Generation Next." Among the findings:

* One-in-five members of "Generation Next" say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s.
* Nexters are among the least likely to attend church regularly: 32 percent attend at least once a week compared with 40 percent of those over age 25.
* Nearly two-thirds of Nexters (63 percent) believe humans and other living things evolved over time. By contrast, Americans over the age of 40 favor Creationist accounts over evolutionary theory.
* Nexters are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.
* Nexters are among the most likely to say the will of the American people, not the Bible, should be a more important influence on U.S. laws.
* And just 4 percent of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

Late last year, a Harris Poll, for the Financial Times, conducted a large survey on religious beliefs in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and the U.S. The U.S. was the most religious country, with 73 percent of respondents describing themselves as believers in "any form of God or any type of supreme being." (This figure is lower than many other surveys, but the totals include 6 percent who prefer not to say and 3 percent who don't know -- categories that other surveys often drop from their results.)

Italy wasn't far behind the U.S., with 62 percent believing in a god. In the other countries, believers in God are the minority: 48 percent of Spaniards, 41 percent of Germans, 35 percent of Britons and just 27 percent of the French believe in any form of a supreme being.

Looking at similar surveys over the past few decades, religious belief is in decline and humanist values are on the rise in all Western nations. The general pattern is that there is a small decline in religious adherence as people age, but that skepticism about religion -- and other humanist values -- increases markedly with each rising generation. In other words, the big changes in religious belief do not come from people changing their beliefs as they age, they come from new generations having different beliefs.

As the Pew Forum notes, in its 1986 survey on religion and belief, 11 percent of 18-25 year olds gave their religious preference as "no religion/atheist/agnostic" and 8 percent of American over 25 said the same. Moving forward two decades, 20 percent of 18-25 year olds had no religion as did 11 percent of those over 25.

Digging deeper into the Harris research data, we see that religion is declining in almost every generation in every country (an interesting exception is France where 38% of those over 55 believe in God, but every other generation has between 22 and 26% believing – however, the younger generations increase the proportion of atheists to agnostics!) In the US, 64% of 16 to 24 believe in a god, with 18% agnostic and 8% atheist, and then each older generation increases in religiosity, with 55+ showing 78% believing in God. Britain is fairly typical of the European pattern, with 40% of those 45 and over believing in God, but with each younger generation reporting lower levels of belief, with just 23% of 16 to 24 year olds believing in any form of Supreme Being.

Overall, the US looks a lot like Western Europe 30 or 40 years ago. At that time most Europeans still believed in a god, but younger generations were more atheist and agnostic than their elders. That trend has continued with religion steadily declining, generation by generation.

While a current snap shot of religious belief makes the two continents look very different, the long-term trend appears remarkably similar. Young people are growing up less religious and the most religious generations are dying out. At the same time, support for secular government and greater tolerance is rising with each new generation. Or to put it another way: the future looks bright for humanism.

Connecting with GenNext

Generation Nexters have also been called the "DotNet" generation, because they grew up with the Internet. Virtually all college graduates in this generation use the Internet and overall 86 percent of 18-25 year olds use the internet at least occasionally. In this regard they are no different from Gen Xers, 91 percent of whom say they use the Internet. Roughly three quarters of Boomers (73 percent) use the Internet, but only 46 percent of Seniors do.

The Internet permeates the life of Gen Next more than any other generation. They are not passive viewers of Internet content: they generate their own content and make social connections through the Net. For example, social networking sites like MySpace play an important role in the lives of Gen Nexters. More than half of Gen Nexters (54 percent) have used one or more of these social networking sites, and 44 percent have created a profile for themselves. Among those Gen Nexters who use social networking sites, 38 percent say they do so at least once a day, 38 percent use them at least once a week, and 24 percent use them every few weeks or less often.

The Institute for Humanist Studies has found its MySpace page to be a great way to connect with teenage freethinkers. But we also reach a lot of GenNexters through the HNN podcast. And this audience is growing rapidly. A Pew Forum survey in August last year showed 12 percent of 18 to 30 year olds had downloaded a podcast, up from 8 percent in the February to April 2006 survey.

The flipside of the GenNext reliance on the Internet is that they are far less likely to read newspapers or watch TV news than older generations. Only 23 percent of GenNexters reported that they had read a newspaper "yesterday", well below half of the 56 percent of Seniors who did. A similar pattern can be seen on TV news viewership. However young people get more news online than older generations. A quarter of GenNexters say they got news online yesterday. This is lower than the 30 percent of Gen Xers and the same as the proportion of Boomers, but more than double the 11 percent of Seniors who said they went online for news yesterday.


FT/Harris Poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive(R) among a total of 12,507 adults (aged 16 and over), within France (2,134); Germany (2,127); Great Britain (2,090); Spain (1,991); the United States (2,078), and 2,087 adults (aged 18 and over) in Italy, between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15, 2006. Click here to read the full survey results .

Pew Forum survey interview were conducted by phone Sept. 6 to Oct. 2, 2006 among a 1,501 adults ages 18 and older, including an oversample of members of Generation Next (ages 18-25). The total sample size for those 18-25 was 579. Click here to read the full survey results .

Matt Cherry is the executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. He is the author of Introduction to Humanism at the Continuum of Humanist Education, the online school of the Institute for Humanist Studies.



Either Jesus had a father or he didn't. The question is a scientific one, and scientific evidence, if any were available, would be used to settle it. The same is true of any miracle — and the deliberate and intentional creation of the universe would have to have been the mother and father of all miracles. Either it happened or it didn't. It is a fact, one way or the other, and in our state of uncertainty we can put a probability on it — an estimate that may change as more information comes in. Humanity's best estimate of the probability of divine creation dropped steeply in 1859 when The Origin of Species was published, and it has declined steadily during the subsequent decades, as evolution consolidated itself from plausible theory in the nineteenth century to established fact today.

The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to 'sensible' religion, in order to present a united front against ('intelligent design') creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with 'moderate' religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.

By Richard Dawkins

RICHARD DAWKINS, an evolutionary biologist, is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the author of nine books, including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor's Tale and the recently published The God Delusion. To coincide with publication of the book, his Foundation for Reason and Science has also launched a website ( RichardDawkins.Net).


Richard Dawkins's Edge Bio Page


America, founded in secularism as a beacon of eighteenth century enlightenment, is becoming the victim of religious politics, a circumstance that would have horrified the Founding Fathers. The political ascendancy today values embryonic cells over adult people. It obsesses about gay marriage, ahead of genuinely important issues that actually make a difference to the world. It gains crucial electoral support from a religious constituency whose grip on reality is so tenuous that they expect to be 'raptured' up to heaven, leaving their clothes as empty as their minds. More extreme specimens actually long for a world war, which they identify as the 'Armageddon' that is to presage the Second Coming. Sam Harris, in his new short book, Letter to a Christian Nation, hits the bull's-eye as usual:

It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ . . .Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.

Does Bush check the Rapture Index daily, as Reagan did his stars? We don't know, but would anyone be surprised?

My scientific colleagues have additional reasons to declare emergency. Ignorant and absolutist attacks on stem cell research are just the tip of an iceberg. What we have here is nothing less than a global assault on rationality, and the Enlightenment values that inspired the founding of this first and greatest of secular republics. Science education — and hence the whole future of science in this country — is under threat. Temporarily beaten back in a Pennsylvania court, the 'breathtaking inanity' (Judge John Jones's immortal phrase) of 'intelligent design' continually flares up in local bush-fires. Dowsing them is a time-consuming but important responsibility, and scientists are finally being jolted out of their complacency. For years they quietly got on with their science, lamentably underestimating the creationists who, being neither competent nor interested in science, attended to the serious political business of subverting local school boards. Scientists, and intellectuals generally, are now waking up to the threat from the American Taliban.

Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain 'appeasement' school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease 'moderate' or 'sensible' religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. For them, bishops and theologians belong with creationists in the supernatural camp, and are not to be appeased.

The Chamberlain school accuses Churchillians of rocking the boat to the point of muddying the waters. The philosopher of science Michael Ruse wrote:

We who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend. Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies. This is especially true of secular evolutionists. Atheists spend more time running down sympathetic Christians than they do countering creationists. When John Paul II wrote a letter endorsing Darwinism, Richard Dawkins's response was simply that the pope was a hypocrite, that he could not be genuine about science and that Dawkins himself simply preferred an honest fundamentalist.

A recent article in the New York Times by Cornelia Dean quotes the astronomer Owen Gingerich as saying that, by simultaneously advocating evolution and atheism, 'Dr Dawkins "probably single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists".' This is not the first, not the second, not even the third time this plonkingly witless point has been made (and more than one reply has aptly cited Uncle Remus: "Oh please please Brer Fox, don't throw me in that awful briar patch").

Chamberlainites are apt to quote the late Stephen Jay Gould's 'NOMA' — 'non-overlapping magisteria'. Gould claimed that science and true religion never come into conflict because they exist in completely separate dimensions of discourse:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists.

This sounds terrific, right up until you give it a moment's thought. You then realize that the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more momentous hypothesis in all of science. A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference. God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science. Even the infamous Templeton Foundation recognized that God is a scientific hypothesis — by funding double-blind trials to test whether remote prayer would speed the recovery of heart patients. It didn't, of course, although a control group who knew they had been prayed for tended to get worse (how about a class action suit against the Templeton Foundation?) Despite such well-financed efforts, no evidence for God's existence has yet appeared.

To see the disingenuous hypocrisy of religious people who embrace NOMA, imagine that forensic archeologists, by some unlikely set of circumstances, discovered DNA evidence demonstrating that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and had no father. If NOMA enthusiasts were sincere, they should dismiss the archeologists' DNA out of hand: "Irrelevant. Scientific evidence has no bearing on theological questions. Wrong magisterium." Does anyone seriously imagine that they would say anything remotely like that? You can bet your boots that not just the fundamentalists but every professor of theology and every bishop in the land would trumpet the archeological evidence to the skies.

Either Jesus had a father or he didn't. The question is a scientific one, and scientific evidence, if any were available, would be used to settle it. The same is true of any miracle — and the deliberate and intentional creation of the universe would have to have been the mother and father of all miracles. Either it happened or it didn't. It is a fact, one way or the other, and in our state of uncertainty we can put a probability on it — an estimate that may change as more information comes in. Humanity's best estimate of the probability of divine creation dropped steeply in 1859 when The Origin of Species was published, and it has declined steadily during the subsequent decades, as evolution consolidated itself from plausible theory in the nineteenth century to established fact today.

The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to 'sensible' religion, in order to present a united front against ('intelligent design') creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with 'moderate' religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.

Of course, this all presupposes that the God we are talking about is a personal intelligence such as Yahweh, Allah, Baal, Wotan, Zeus or Lord Krishna. If, by 'God', you mean love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck's constant, none of the above applies. An American student asked her professor whether he had a view about me. 'Sure,' he replied. 'He's positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that is ¬religion!' Well, if that's what you choose to mean by religion, fine, that makes me a religious man. But if your God is a being who designs universes, listens to prayers, forgives sins, wreaks miracles, reads your thoughts, cares about your welfare and raises you from the dead, you are unlikely to be satisfied. As the distinguished American physicist Steven Weinberg said, "If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal." But don't expect congregations to flock to your church.

When Einstein said 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' he meant 'Could the universe have begun in more than one way?' 'God does not play dice' was Einstein's poetic way of doubting Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle. Einstein was famously irritated when theists misunderstood him to mean a personal God. But what did he expect? The hunger to misunderstand should have been palpable to him. 'Religious' physicists usually turn out to be so only in the Einsteinian sense: they are atheists of a poetic disposition. So am I. But, given the widespread yearning for that great misunderstanding, deliberately to confuse Einsteinian pantheism with supernatural religion is an act of intellectual high treason.

Accepting, then, that the God Hypothesis is a proper scientific hypothesis whose truth or falsehood is hidden from us only by lack of evidence, what should be our best estimate of the probability that God exists, given the evidence now available? Pretty low I think, and here's why.

First, most of the traditional arguments for God's existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself. To be sure, we do need some kind of explanation for the origin of all things. Physicists and cosmologists are hard at work on the problem. But whatever the answer — a random quantum fluctuation or a Hawking/Penrose singularity or whatever we end up calling it — it will be simple. Complex, statistically improbable things, by definition, don't just happen; they demand an explanation in their own right. They are impotent to terminate regresses, in a way that simple things are not. The first cause cannot have been an intelligence — let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.

Another of Aquinas' efforts, the Argument from Degree, is worth spelling out, for it epitomises the characteristic flabbiness of theological reasoning. We notice degrees of, say, goodness or temperature, and we measure them, Aquinas said, by reference to a maximum:

Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus, as fire, which is the maximum of heat, is the cause of all hot things . . . Therefore, there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

That's an argument? You might as well say that people vary in smelliness but we can make the judgment only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. That's theology.

The only one of the traditional arguments for God that is widely used today is the teleological argument, sometimes called the Argument from Design although — since the name begs the question of its validity — it should better be called the Argument for Design. It is the familiar 'watchmaker' argument, which is surely one of the most superficially plausible bad arguments ever discovered — and it is rediscovered by just about everybody until they are taught the logical fallacy and Darwin's brilliant alternative.

In the familiar world of human artifacts, complicated things that look designed are designed. To naïve observers, it seems to follow that similarly complicated things in the natural world that look designed — things like eyes and hearts — are designed too. It isn't just an argument by analogy. There is a semblance of statistical reasoning here too — fallacious, but carrying an illusion of plausibility. If you randomly scramble the fragments of an eye or a leg or a heart a million times, you'd be lucky to hit even one combination that could see, walk or pump. This demonstrates that such devices could not have been put together by chance. And of course, no sensible scientist ever said they could. Lamentably, the scientific education of most British and American students omits all mention of Darwinism, and therefore the only alternative to chance that most people can imagine is design.

Even before Darwin's time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born. What Hume didn't know was the supremely elegant alternative to both chance and design that Darwin was to give us. Natural selection is so stunningly powerful and elegant, it not only explains the whole of life, it raises our consciousness and boosts our confidence in science's future ability to explain everything else.

Natural selection is not just an alternative to chance. It is the only ultimate alternative ever suggested. Design is a workable explanation for organized complexity only in the short term. It is not an ultimate explanation, because designers themselves demand an explanation. If, as Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel once playfully speculated, life on this planet was deliberately seeded by a payload of bacteria in the nose cone of a rocket, we still need an explanation for the intelligent aliens who dispatched the rocket. Ultimately they must have evolved by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings. Only evolution, or some kind of gradualistic 'crane' (to use Daniel Dennett's neat term), is capable of terminating the regress. Natural selection is an anti-chance process, which gradually builds up complexity, step by tiny step. The end product of this ratcheting process is an eye, or a heart, or a brain — a device whose improbable complexity is utterly baffling until you spot the gentle ramp that leads up to it.

Whether my conjecture is right that evolution is the only explanation for life in the universe, there is no doubt that it is the explanation for life on this planet. Evolution is a fact, and it is among the more secure facts known to science. But it had to get started somehow. Natural selection cannot work its wonders until certain minimal conditions are in place, of which the most important is an accurate system of replication — DNA, or something that works like DNA.

The origin of life on this planet — which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule — is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions from those with which we are familiar. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable — in the sense of unpredictable — event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion — that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible — would follow if it were the case that life is extremely rare in the universe. And indeed we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio — the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi's cry: "Where is everybody?"

Suppose life's origin on a planet took place through a hugely improbable stroke of luck, so improbable that it happens on only one in a billion planets. The National Science Foundation would laugh at any chemist whose proposed research had only a one in a hundred chance of succeeding, let alone one in a billion. Yet, given that there are at least a billion billion planets in the universe, even such absurdly low odds as these will yield life on a billion planets. And — this is where the famous anthropic principle comes in — Earth has to be one of them, because here we are.

If you set out in a spaceship to find the one planet in the galaxy that has life, the odds against your finding it would be so great that the task would be indistinguishable, in practice, from impossible. But if you are alive (as you manifestly are if you are about to step into a spaceship) you needn't bother to go looking for that one planet because, by definition, you are already standing on it. The anthropic principle really is rather elegant. By the way, I don't actually think the origin of life was as improbable as all that. I think the galaxy has plenty of islands of life dotted about, even if the islands are too spaced out for any one to hope for a meeting with any other. My point is only that, given the number of planets in the universe, the origin of life could in theory be as lucky as a blindfolded golfer scoring a hole in one. The beauty of the anthropic principle is that, even in the teeth of such stupefying odds against, it still gives us a perfectly satisfying explanation for life's presence on our own planet.

The anthropic principle is usually applied not to planets but to universes. Physicists have suggested that the laws and constants of physics are too good — as if the universe were set up to favour our eventual evolution. It is as though there were, say, half a dozen dials representing the major constants of physics. Each of the dials could in principle be tuned to any of a wide range of values. Almost all of these knob-twiddlings would yield a universe in which life would be impossible. Some universes would fizzle out within the first picosecond. Others would contain no elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. In yet others, matter would never condense into stars (and you need stars in order to forge the elements of chemistry and hence life). You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.

Again, the anthropic principle delivers its devastatingly neat solution. Physicists already have reason to suspect that our universe — everything we can see — is only one universe among perhaps billions. Some theorists postulate a multiverse of foam, where the universe we know is just one bubble. Each bubble has its own laws and constants. Our familiar laws of physics are parochial bylaws. Of all the universes in the foam, only a minority has what it takes to generate life. And, with anthropic hindsight, we obviously have to be sitting in a member of that minority, because, well, here we are, aren't we? As physicists have said, it is no accident that we see stars in our sky, for a universe without stars would also lack the chemical elements necessary for life. There may be universes whose skies have no stars: but they also have no inhabitants to notice the lack. Similarly, it is no accident that we see a rich diversity of living species: for an evolutionary process that is capable of yielding a species that can see things and reflect on them cannot help producing lots of other species at the same time. The reflective species must be surrounded by an ecosystem, as it must be surrounded by stars.

The anthropic principle entitles us to postulate a massive dose of luck in accounting for the existence of life on our planet. But there are limits. We are allowed one stroke of luck for the origin of evolution, and perhaps for a couple of other unique events like the origin of the eukaryotic cell and the origin of consciousness. But that's the end of our entitlement to large-scale luck. We emphatically cannot invoke major strokes of luck to account for the illusion of design that glows from each of the billion species of living creature that have ever lived on Earth. The evolution of life is a general and continuing process, producing essentially the same result in all species, however different the details.

Contrary to what is sometimes alleged, evolution is a predictive science. If you pick any hitherto unstudied species and subject it to minute scrutiny, any evolutionist will confidently predict that each individual will be observed to do everything in its power, in the particular way of the species — plant, herbivore, carnivore, nectivore or whatever it is — to survive and propagate the DNA that rides inside it. We won't be around long enough to test the prediction but we can say, with great confidence, that if a comet strikes Earth and wipes out the mammals, a new fauna will rise to fill their shoes, just as the mammals filled those of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. And the range of parts played by the new cast of life's drama will be similar in broad outline, though not in detail, to the roles played by the mammals, and the dinosaurs before them, and the mammal-like reptiles before the dinosaurs. The same rules are predictably being followed, in millions of species all over the globe, and for hundreds of millions of years. Such a general observation requires an entirely different explanatory principle from the anthropic principle that explains one-off events like the origin of life, or the origin of the universe, by luck. That entirely different principle is natural selection.

We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin's principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

[First published by Huffington Post, October 23, 2006.]

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher
contact: editor@edge.org
Copyright © 2006 By Edge Foundation, Inc
All Rights Reserved.

Ammunition for Freethinkers
By Jack Huberman, Nation Books
Posted on February 8, 2007, Printed on March 15, 2007

The following is an excerpt from Jack Huberman's new book, The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Nonbelievers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-Bound (Nation Books, 2007).

The world (not just America) is deeply divided.The main fault line is where the tectonic plates of religion and of reason/secularism/ modernity/science/Enlightenment meet and grind against each other,making an absolutely unbearable noise. It's sort of like ... forget it, I can't describe it.

My aim in compiling The Quotable Atheist was to heal our broken planet, essentially by eliminating the religious part. Not with nuclear weapons or lesser acts of mass murder, no -- that's the religious style, nowadays, in certain quarters -- but through argument, persuasion, and most of all (since I know perfectly well that argument is utterly useless against dumb, blind faith, and just wanted to pay it lip service), the steady application of powerfully abrasive ridicule which will slowly but surely erode away the offending continent. I'm serious. Do I really believe this book will convert believers and turn them from the path of self-righteousness to the path of righteousness? Yes. A few. Three, I estimate. Two for sure. But the point is this:

For years, millions of fine, upstanding American atheists and agnostics have watched and stewed as the religious right expanded its influence throughout public life, and as America closed its mind and opened its heart to angels, aliens, ghosts, psychics, Jesus, astrology, Kabbalah, Genesis, Revelation. ... As Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, "Unreason is now ascendant in the United States -- in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world."

Meanwhile, religion continues to be granted far too much respect and too little critical examination in our culture and mainstream media.We need to change the cultural climate so as to make supernatural, occult, and faith-based claptrap feel unwelcome and to make adults ashamed of the blithe surrender of their otherwise sound minds to idiocy.We need climate change. Bullshit levels are rising globally, threatening to submerge intellectually low-lying areas. Much of the United States is already inundated.Temperatures are rising; IQs are dropping. Four of the five stupidest years on record have occurred since 2000.

I would of course have preferred a declaration by the president of the United States -- purportedly God's messenger on earth -- stating that neither God nor WMDs ever existed and that most religious beliefs are untrue and harmful, and urging citizens to bring their minds back up at least to an eighteenth-century stage of development. (I have proposed this plan in a letter to George W. Bush, but haven't heard back yet. They must be hashing out the details.) Failing that, it is up to atheist/secularist groups and individuals to do what we can to stop global worming (people groveling like worms before nonexistent deities). That's where this book comes in.

As a number of these collected quotes say (far more wittily): Religion in general is based on falsehoods -- comforting beliefs in a heavenly parent or big brother; hopes of surviving death -- and on utility or expedience: socially cohesive tribal myths; politically useful codes of law and behavior; divine ordination of rulers (including certain presidents); attempts to explain, influence, or placate nature and the elements; the wish to raise ourselves above ( i.e., deny our place among) the animals. Religion may help people feel their lives have a loftier purpose than the mere satisfaction of material wants and sensual desires, but it does it with smoke and mirrors, at the cost of our respect for truth and of our integrity and dignity.

The following quotes are selected from The Quotable Atheist.

Richard Dawkins: Kenyan-born British zoologist and evolutionary theorist.

"Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? ... The afterlifeobsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile. ...Yet ... it is very very cheap. ...To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used." - 2001

"[A letter to a U.K. newspaper] says 'science provides an explanation of the mechanism of the [December 2004 Asian] tsunami but it cannot say why this occurred any more than religion can.' There, in one sentence, we have the religious mind displayed before us in all its absurdity. In what sense of the word 'why', does plate tectonics not provide the answer? Not only does science know why the tsunami happened, it can give precious hours of warning. If a small fraction of the tax breaks handed out to churches, mosques and synagogues had been diverted into an early warning system, tens of thousands of people, now dead, would have been moved to safety. Let's get up off our knees, stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering."

Phyllis Diller: (1917– ), American comedian.

"Religion is such a medieval idea. Don't get me started. ... Aahh, it's all about money..."

Phil Donahue: (1935-) American talk-show host.

From Donahue's 1985 book The Human Animal:

"Science may have come a long way, but as far as religion is concerned, we are first cousins to the !Kung tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert. Except for the garments, their deep religious trances might just as well be happening at a revival meeting or in the congregation of a fundamentalist TV preacher. ... As we move further from the life of ignorance and superstition in which religion has its roots, we seem to need it more and more. ... Why has religion become a force just when we'd have thought it would be losing ground to secularism?"

Frederick Douglass: (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist leader.

"I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

"The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. ... For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!"

"We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand."

Jerry Falwell: (1933- ), American evangelical pastor, televangelist, and leading excrescence.

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."

Thomas Jefferson: (1743-1826), third U.S. president.

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies."

"Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ... perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind ... a mere contrivance [for the clergy] to filch wealth and power to themselves."

"In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty, he is always in allegiance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own. ... History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. ... Political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves [of public ignorance] for their own purpose."

Michael Moore: (1954- ), American documentary filmmaker and author.

"There's a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. Religion is the best device used to mislead them."

Katha Pollitt: (1949- ), American poet and columnist for The Nation.

"For me, religion is serious business -- a farrago of authoritarian nonsense, misogyny and humble pie, the eternal enemy of human happiness and freedom."
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/47765/

Schrei said...

I just ran across this on Conservapedia.

It amused me, as it tacitly admits that a stochastic process can solve problems that would be intractable to analysis.

Somebody dropped the ball on this one.