Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The United States of Almighty-God

For my fellow Americans deluded enough to believe that we live in a secular state with a free, objective press, take a sobering look at the cover of this week's Time Magazine, in which the editors--exploiting the religious fervor that continues to grip our nation--pose the question "Does God have a place in science class?"

Objection, Your Honor: the question assumes facts not in evidence. The question refers explicitly to God (presumably, the old, bearded white guy trying to poke the monkey), rather than referring to "God" in quotation marks or--more consistent with journalistic principles of detached objectivity--"the creator deity worshipped in monotheistic mythologies."

The bigger problem, though, is that by just asking the question, Time seemingly legitimizes the "school of thought" behind the "science" of intellectual design. This is precisely what churches love to see--Christian fable elevated to the same level of credibility as hard-earned scientifically proven theories.

Let's be clear. Science class is for science , defined as:

Reasoned investigation or study of nature, aimed at finding out the truth. Such an investigation is normally felt to be necessarily methodical, or according to scientific method – a process for evaluating empirical knowledge...scientific theories are objective, empirically testable, and "predictive" — they predict empirical results that can be checked and possibly contradicted. -- Wiki

This means that scientists must embark upon inquiry without any agenda other than finding the truth, whatever it may be. (What a coincidence, then, that intelligent design "research" is completely funded and staffed by Christian fundamentalists.) Further, theories are definitively NOT scientific unless they are conceivably falsifiable through observation. But superstitions that adapt to observation cannot be falsified no matter how false they are (e.g. "we are all brains in a vat" is not a scientific theory). Show me an empirical observation that can disprove intelligent design, and I'll show you a "test of Faith."

This isn't the first time this past year that our nation's esteemed pillars of journalism have stooped to exploiting mass ignorance in order to peddle more magazines and sell more ad pages. Here are some more evangelical cover stories from America's three major "news" magazines:

US News Dec 20, 2004: "The Power of Prayer"

US News, March 8, 2004: "The Real Jesus"

US News August 8, 2005: "God and Country"

Time, April 12, 2004: "Why did Jesus Have to Die?" Objection, Your Honor: assumes facts not in evidence--namely that there was a Jesus, and that he was the son of the creator deity in monotheistic mythologies, rather than a regular person who "has to die."

Time, Mar 21, 2005: "Hail, Mary"

Time, Dec 13, 2004: "Secrets of the Nativity"

Newsweek, Dec 24, 2004: "The Birth of Jesus"

Newsweek, March 28, 2005: "How Jesus Became Christ" (not even a pretense of journalistic integrity)

Apparently, at least one of Time's subscribers is on board with teaching intelligent design in the Kansas public school science classes: on August 2, our Chief Executive proclaimed that "both sides ought to be properly taught." (Aug 2, 2005) The President must not have heard that (according to the New York Times)...

Mr. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."

It is also quite stunning that Bush refers to Biblical Creationism as "the other side." What about giving equal time to other Creation theories, such as deeply held beliefs you should read about here that all was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

To appreciate the distinction between ID gobbledy-gook and clear thinking science, listen to this week's NPR debate on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design. You will hear George Gilder, ID advocate, throw out terms like "prodigality" and "codons," forecasting that the "theory of information will overthrow biology." You will also hear from my hero Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene and Devil's Chaplain). When a church-going caller challenges Dawkins to explain how he--such a complex individual--could have come from evolution, Dawkins responds in frustration: "All I can say is, Just go away and read a book... They are fascinating--you will love them." (Dawkins, a true scientist, then answers the question properly.)

I like to think that eventually education will prevail upon most human minds to exercise critical thought. So I was greatly heartened (and proud) to read this week that Harvard University is funding an ongoing study of the precise mechanisms behind evolution, clearly demonstrating the system by which stunning complexity arises from energy, carbon, and a morsel of luck.

Meanwhile, I've been crafting a plan to incubate a startup that sells subscriptions for fairy tales and immortality, but I'm finding the market to be both crowded and saturated.


  1. Anonymous12:16 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous1:15 AM

    I have to say that you have it pretty good. I grew up in Israel and am here now for a visit. You can see where I am going with this... At the least, in the US there is a pretense of church and state separation (and many times this separation is called upon to good use, I might add.) Here, it's the oppression of the minority religious fanatics over the secular (and near-secular) majority. This rant can go on forever...

    BTW, I do not share your optimism regarding education prevailing. There is no such evidence.

  3. Saar,

    You must be visiting a deep Blue State!

    Israel is arguably more secular than the US. Contrary to your anecdotal observations, we have a small secular minority (see http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=167) while last I looked (admittedly 10 years ago) only 10% of Israel's population supports the religious Shaas party. Our army is commanded by a blood-thirsty Christian Crusader, while your army is busy dismantling "Biblical" settlements, hoping to make peace!

    At least we have good Mexican food.


  4. Anonymous5:27 AM

    I was right... this can go on forever :)

    Actualy, the state now is orange (the color of disengagement opposition) mixed with blue (color of support.)
    Let's agree that there is no perfect place. The religious oppression here is much more apparent, IMHO (I lived in the US for 8 years, in CA, that matters, I know.)

    If you care to, we can take this off-line.

    BTW, support for Shas is not a good metric, because many seculars vote for them for reasons I can explain offline (I doubt your readers care.)


  5. Anonymous5:43 AM

    David - you must be "God" because you make declarative statements that intelligent design is mythology, fable, fairy tale, etc. You've essentially stated that intelligent design is patently false, a figment of our imagination. How can you prove it? You can't. So, at the very least, be intellectually fair and call it a "theory", but to automatically declare an absolute negative is to presume your omniscience. You're a good VC, but let's not take it too far.

    I do have a question for you. I've always felt that evolution and creation answer two distinct questions. Evolution focusing on how life changed and developed. The question that it answers is what happened once there was life on this planet. Creation focuses on how life got here to begin with. Science doesn't do too well with the latter question.

    If you don't believe in creation as a rationale for the origin of life, then I think you have to believe in one of two things as it relates to how life got here:

    (1) That something that is not "alive" can somehow become "alive". (i.e. there was all this inanimate stuff, and it became living somehow.)


    (2) That there has always been life. In which case you don't logically believe that life ever needed a source.

    Either of the two - life emerging from that which is not alive, or life not having a source - are two stretches when it comes to a secular view of the origin of life. For someone who believes in "God", it's pretty simple. Yes, God has always existed and has always been alive. And, yes, God can give life to that which is not alive. How do you think life first found its way to this planet or do you think there's always been life?

    My only issue with teaching evolution and other subjects of this nature in science class is that they're not taught as "theories" anymore. They're basically taught as fact. Evolutionary theory is a great theory. I happen to believe a lot in evolution, though I believe in creation as the source of first life in this world. But, let's not skew our children's minds by teaching that which is theory as fact. I wouldn't even advocate teaching creation as fact in science class (even though I believe it), I'd only advocate teaching or even perhaps just mentioning it as a theory that is held by billions of people. We're living in theory land on this subject matter, so let's teach it that way.

  6. For my fellow Americans deluded enough to believe that we live in a secular state with a free, objective press,

    The organizations that own the press have to show a profit. To attract readers, the press publishes stories that will attract attention and readers.

    Your points about science and relgion aside, the press is free and objective, merely catering to a trend to increase market share.

  7. All hail Flying Spaghetti Monster!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Anonymous10:25 AM

    If you believe that the US is a secular state then your post started at the wrong premise. Religion and the belief of God runs rampant across America and was instrumental to the foundation of America.

    After reading your post, it sounds like you would prefer that the government dictate that Time Magazine retitle their magazine cover. Thats not very "free and objective." A truely "free and objective" press should have the freedom to write whatever they want to write (including biased opinions). Time magazine is not legally bound to the government to write "freely and objectively." (and btw, since when has Time Magazine (or any magazine for that matter) written anything without expressing or preferring an opinion?)

    Its naive to believe that a journalist can detach themselves from the 'heat of the moment,' like a computer or robot. As citizens, we don't want robots to feed us news and stories, we want people to explain it, detail it and even express an opinion. Thats why every news organization in America has at least one anchorperson reading the news to us on television. In our modern world, if the citizens wanted a robot to read the facts without the expression of emotions or opinions then we could pull this off. If this is truely the best way to present the news, then why isn't anyone doing it?

    One of the founding principles of the US was founded on the freedom to believe and practice any religion (including atheism, pantheism, agnositicism or any other -ism). Why is it so 'wrong' that a journalistic publication would present the two most prevalent arguments?

    I enjoy reading your blog (and will continue to in the future) but I'm disappointed that you would write on such a politically charged topic with the assumption that everyone of your readers (many of whom admire and appreciate your blog) are purely of the scientific order. As a VC you aren't claiming to be a journalist yourself, but your post does exactly what you accuse Time Magazine of doing.....presuming what your audience already believes a particular set of beliefs and assuming that you are absolutely correct in your view.

  9. The larger problem with your "argument" (If God should be referred to as a mere possibility, the same applies even more pertinently to your screed) is that it's as much pseudo-science as the non-secular America you decry. Read your Popper. Your declarative pejoratives are in the same league with the non-science you ridicule. Dogma. (Funny how the "non-religious" tend to be just as religious in their worldviews as the fascist religious right....)

    Btw, why do you care about what Time Magazine puts on its cover? You have plenty of other magazines to choose from, many of which have information of greater import than the mainstream-pandering Time. Why waste your time on a lightweight mag?

  10. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Time and Newsweek routinely run religion covers, especially around Easter and Christmas. The primary reason, as you might guess, is that they sell magazines. Many of their readers are middle-America readers, and these readers care about religion.

  11. Anonymous1:22 PM

    US is one of the few places in the world where people so thoroughly indocrinated with a particular brand of theism that they truly cannot understand how their point of view on the truth values of assertions pertaining to the news stories they write, can actually practise journalism. Here in Finland, for example, we have a official state church, but people who actually believe in that stuff are widely regarded as nuts or semi-nuts. Typical people of the street just never think about religion.

  12. Anonymous1:37 PM

    --- Anonymous said...
    --- "You're a good VC, but let's not take it too far. "

    Pray tell *why* is David talking it “too far”? Why are his opinions about God any less relevant than any of our world’s surfeit of preachers, priests, rabbis, mullahs, etc.? They certainly are better informed: much too often religious leaders seem as close-minded as Caliph Omar, ordering the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria --- "[the books] will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous."

    In fact, I've often wondered about the apparent ease with which one can become a religious leader. Just claim that you talk to God over breakfast toast (and of course, that He answers back) and if you manage to stay out of the looney bin, you will almost certainly find a following, at least until you get convicted of some fiscal or sexual malfeasance.

    In my book, being “a good VC”, with the (one hopes) concomitant IQ and scholarship, is a lot better credential for an opinion than hearing voices in your head.

  13. Anonymous1:53 PM

    David - we love you and worship you (and the flying spaghetti monster). Brad and Amy.

  14. Anonymous2:41 PM

    I'm working on a business plan to start a religion. We have a slightly loony but very charismatic front-man, just out of Univ. of Chicago's religious studies PHd program. He's an atheist, but hell, pretty much everyone who studies the remarkable breadth of religious belief on our planet ends up an atheist, since they quickly realize its silly to believe one dogma amongst tens of thousands. We have a creation myth and promises of [insert your preference] in the afterlife. We have a business model that involves progressively larger donations by our members as they get closer to "enlightenment", which are all tax-free thank Yahweh. We have some pretty baubles to give people when they achieve each step in the program. The only thing missing is a better articulation of our differentiation, since pretty much every religion on the planet fits the above description.

    Perhaps David would like to fund us?

  15. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Anonymous said:

    "If you don't believe in creation as a rationale for the origin of life, then I think you have to believe in one of two things as it relates to how life got here:

    (1) That something that is not "alive" can somehow become "alive". (i.e. there was all this inanimate stuff, and it became living somehow.)


    (2) That there has always been life. In which case you don't logically believe that life ever needed a source. "

    Duh, dude. It's 1). I don't know about you, but in New freakin' York, we were taught that most likely a lightning bolt hit the primordial soup. Probably was even on the Regents exam. That this is somehow supposed to weird people into becoming monotheists is one of those "only in America" things, I guess. Cripes, even the Pope says evolution is, to paraphrase, "kosher".

  16. As a self described atheist your religious fanaticism is coming out in this post. (Since by definition God can not be proven or disproven it would be far more reasonable to at least be agnostic - thus any discussion about religion could be done in a reasonable fashion.)

    Asserting that we are far from a secular state is simply baseless. Saar's comments offer a lot of insight. In Israel you are Jewish only if the State declares it and thus determines under what circumstances you can get married, what religion your child is and how you may be buried. In the US you have almost boundless freedom to do just about anything you choose. Sure you can cite an example such as Bush not wanting to federally fund embryonic stem cell research - but any reasonable secular person can see the rationale for reaching this compromise on a topic that is deeply controversial for large segments of our population. (The government didn't ban stem cell research now did it?) The same can be said for other hot button issues such as abortion and gay marriage. A reasonable government will not let either side of such a deeply divisive issue run roughshod over the other. (Ooops - the last time we did we had a civil war.)

    You are completely right about ID being taught as science - but I hadn't heard anything about this being turned into a federal law (Bush in this respect is in line with our nations past leaders who voiced belief in creation and God given rights) - and our form of government allows local governments expressing the will of the local people to have quite a bit of leeway in their affairs.

    It seems many (most?) great scientists were deeply religious (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton was an amateur theologian with extensive writings) and providing proof that religious people can and do create great science. In fact the sponsorship of any endeavor by a church or religion does not invalidate (nor prove) its standing. Harvard was founded chiefly to train clergy... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard#History

    Your religious fervor is demonstrated by such patently false statements as "Our army is commanded by a blood-thirsty Christian Crusader". I offer this as a Jew, not some brainwashed [whatever you might tag me with]. If you took a 'scientific' approach to your statement you would find no reasonable support for it.

    Other commenters have adequately addressed the validity of the press to satisfy their audiences. For you the problem seems to be that these magazines are preaching a heresy.

    So relax my friend, no one is persecuting you.

  17. Oh - and you are right about the startup idea - plenty of folks like L. Ron Hubbard beat you there. ;)

  18. Anonymous2:49 AM

    It seems many (most?) great scientists were deeply religious...

    Yes, Gorg, the guy who invented the way how pieces of flint could be attached to pieces of wood, deeply venerated the Earth Goddess.

    As scientific exploration has gone on, most of the nooks and crannies of the area free of theistic claims has been checked, magic has its back to the corner, and theistic beliefs are not so easy to reconcile with one's research anymore.

    Also, check your terminology:
    Agnostic Theism: belief in a god without claiming to know for sure that the god exists.
    Gnostic Theism: belief in a god while being certain that this god exists.
    Agnostic Atheism: disbelief (or absence of belief in) in gods without claiming to know for sure that none exist.
    Gnostic Atheism: disbelief (or absence of belief in) in gods while being certain that none (can or do) exist.

  19. Oh, boy, here goes:

    1. On the extreme, radical nature of Atheism for Stuart Berman (who thinks ratinality demands agnosticism) and Anonymous, who wrote:

    David - you must be "God" because you make declarative statements that intelligent design is mythology, fable, fairy tale, etc. You've essentially stated that intelligent design is patently false, a figment of our imagination. How can you prove it? You can't. So, at the very least, be intellectually fair and call it a "theory", but to automatically declare an absolute negative is to presume your omniscience.

    I can't respond any more clearly than Douglas Adams did, when he responded to the following question:

    Mr. Adams, you have been described as a “radical Atheist.” Is this accurate?

    Adams: Yes. I think I use the term radical rather loosely, just for emphasis. If you describe yourself as “Atheist,” some people will say, “Don’t you mean ‘Agnostic’?” I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god - in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously. It’s funny how many people are genuinely surprised to hear a view expressed so strongly. In England we seem to have drifted from vague wishy-washy Anglicanism to vague wishy-washy Agnosticism - both of which I think betoken a desire not to have to think about things too much.

    People will then often say “But surely it’s better to remain an Agnostic just in case?” This, to me, suggests such a level of silliness and muddle that I usually edge out of the conversation rather than get sucked into it. (If it turns out that I’ve been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would chose not to worship him anyway.)

    Other people will ask how I can possibly claim to know? Isn’t belief-that-there-is-not-a-god as irrational, arrogant, etc., as belief-that-there-is-a-god? To which I say no for several reasons. First of all I do not believe-that-there-is-not-a-god. I don’t see what belief has got to do with it. I believe or don’t believe my four-year old daughter when she tells me that she didn’t make that mess on the floor. I believe in justice and fair play (though I don’t know exactly how we achieve them, other than by continually trying against all possible odds of success). I also believe that England should enter the European Monetary Union. I am not remotely enough of an economist to argue the issue vigorously with someone who is, but what little I do know, reinforced with a hefty dollop of gut feeling, strongly suggests to me that it’s the right course. I could very easily turn out to be wrong, and I know that. These seem to me to be legitimate uses for the word believe. As a carapace for the protection of irrational notions from legitimate questions, however, I think that the word has a lot of mischief to answer for. So, I do not believe-that-there-is-no-god. I am, however, convinced that there is no god, which is a totally different stance and takes me on to my second reason.

    I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid” - then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.

    2. On reasonable expectations of the press for Brian Dunbar, Simson Garfinkel and Isaac Garcia: Yes, the press needs to make a profit and sell magazines, but if they wish to be considered journalists rather than preachers, entertainers, lobbyists or salesmen (none of whom should get privileges to white house press conferences or other special liberties designed to protect freedom of the press), then they are bound to follow well estanlished journalistic principles. Specifically, read what Columbia School of Journalism's affiliated standards body prescribes around The Hierarchy of Accuracy at http://www.journalism.org/resources/tools/reporting/accuracy/hierarchy.asp, Skeptical Editing at http://www.journalism.org/resources/tools/reporting/accuracy/skeptical.asp, and Developing Methods of Verification. Simply put, journalism clearly separates fact from both speculation and opinion.

    Also, blogs (at least this one) are not journalism, so spare me the accusations of hypocrisy.

    Isaac, you wrote: I enjoy reading your blog (and will continue to in the future) but I'm disappointed that you would write on such a politically charged topic with the assumption that everyone of your readers (many of whom admire and appreciate your blog) are purely of the scientific order.

    I never assumed that my readers agree with me on anything. As for politically charged topics, they are often the ones most worthy of discussion.

  20. Anonymous10:48 AM

    >>>>> Anonymous said...
    >>>>> I'd only advocate teaching or even perhaps just mentioning it as a theory that is held by billions of people.

    And, alas, here is the crux of the problem. You see, Science is **not** about beliefs. A theory is not made true because it “is held by billions of people”, nor false because it is held by only one (Galileo and his heliocentric model were pretty lonely for a long time, placed in literal and metaphorical house arrest by Catholic inquisitors).

    A theory’s longevity (e.g. heliocentric model, evolution) or demise (e.g. geocentric model, Lamarckianism) “depends on whether or not it can be verified, it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability” (as stated by, believe it or not, Pope John Paul II -- see http://www.cin.org/jp2evolu.html)

    None of these criteria are applicable to ID – you can’t *scientifically* explain the facts of the fossil record by saying “God put it there”, nor make accurate predictions (“Everyone will be born with a 3rd bonus ear soon, so we can all hear the Word of God better”) nor verify it.

    Ultimately, however, this debate is such a mirage. To oppose evolution on religious grounds, it seems to me, is to understand neither religion nor science. It is a false dichotomy to think that you can’t be both religious and accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution; a false dichotomy which is foisted upon us by some legally savvy religious extremists. In fact, religion and evolution can co-exist peacefully, as they do in (most of) Catholicism.

    Here is a reasonable view, to quote some more from John Paul II, who, from what I’ve heard, was a pretty religious guy:

    " In his Encyclical Humani generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points (cf. AAS 42 [1950], pp. 575-576).

    Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory.

    Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter [nonetheless] the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet"; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42 [1950], p. 575)"

    I don’t believe this myself, but can respect it as a consistent perspective (or at least one squarely Metaphysical, i.e., beyond Physics) and one that frees both science to do what it does (search for the objective, knowable Truth) and religion to do what it does (ranging, on the one hand, from helping the needy to, on the other, killing innocents in order to screw celestial virgins).

  21. 2. On reasonable expectations of the press for Brian Dunbar, Simson Garfinkel and Isaac Garcia: Yes, the press needs to make a profit and sell magazines, but if they wish to be considered journalists rather than preachers, entertainers, lobbyists or salesmen (none of whom should get privileges to white house press conferences or other special liberties designed to protect freedom of the press), then they are bound to follow well estanlished journalistic principles.

    Call me Brian, please.

    You have a valid point, David. Yet the God thing is a valid topic to cover in a story. It is possible that Time steps over the line - but they not only do that with the God stuff but many other topics as well.

    There should be a middle ground where journalism can be entertaining and readable while still adhereing to the standards you cite.

  22. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Stuart Berman said...
    >> You are completely right about ID being taught as science - but I hadn't heard
    >> anything about this being turned into a federal law
    >> So relax my friend, no one is persecuting you.

    Stuart, complacency is an unaffordable luxury when it comes to protecting Science.

    Below from FoxNews http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,160188,00.html:

    “The House Subcommittee on Basic Education (search) heard testimony Monday on a bill that would allow local school boards to mandate that science lessons include intelligent design, a concept that holds the universe must have been created by an unspecified guiding force because it is so complex.

    The legislation is sponsored by only a dozen lawmakers, and its prospects of passing the General Assembly are unclear as lawmakers try to meet a June 30 state budget deadline.

    But a federal judge will consider the issue this fall, when a lawsuit against the Dover Area School District is scheduled to go to trial. The suit alleges that the school board violated the constitutional separation of church and state when it voted in October to require ninth-grade students to hear about intelligent design during biology class.”

    Granted, this is a state bill, but there are *20* such bills around our 50 United States. More ominously, if you take a look at the “progress” of the evolution vs. creationism since the Scopes trial in 1925, I think you would conclude objectively that creationism has made staggering political inroads (really the only road open to it, as Science it’s got less supporting evidence than a Flat-Earth) http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050709/NEWS06/507090336/1023/NEWS06

    So persecution is going on, by people who would mutilate Science and yet daily benefit from it. For when a preacher wants to travel long distances, they don’t pray to God to move them there, ‘coz they know it ain’t going to work: they simply hop on a plane, powered by Science.

    From your post, you seem like a reasonable person. And as such, I tell you: beware contentment. If informed, open-minded people like you sit back in the cushy chair that “it’s only states and not a federal law”, we could find ourselves in a pretty dire situation.

    And I don’t know about you, but I am not holding my breath for Divine Intervention to illuminate our religious leaders – hasn’t worked in the ~4k years since Gilgamesh, won’t work now.

  23. Anonymous4:16 PM

    On a related note to the blog post check out:


  24. @David
    "Stuart, complacency is an unaffordable luxury when it comes to protecting Science.

    I have little fear that Science is that fragile (unless a piece of it is false and needs to be propped up as a religion - whether some of the former Jesuit claims or more recent environmentalism). And if the society is so stubborn to reject 'the truth' then we deserve what we get.

    Do we need to protect math from the heretics? Will non-Euclidian forces triumph?

    ID and creationism aren't about to overtake Physics - the further these beliefs gain the less seriously they will be taken. I see this movement as a reaction against those who demand that science can't co-exist with religion.

    Evolution on the other hand is a scientific theory - perhaps the nervousness of Atheists is that there is nothing stronger to replace it. Yawn.

    Perhaps Douglas Adams will return to Earth in a spaceship and prove that extraterrestrials created mankind by blowing us out of their nose. Then where would evolution be?

    And I know better not to try to change the minds of religious leaders. ;)

  25. Anonymous3:21 AM

    I have little fear that Science is that fragile...

    Science is a process. What is fragile is people. Some ideologues have temporarily succeeded in subverting people to follow a non-scientific process while calling it science, but the end results are always been a travesty for the society in which this has happened. What people mean by protecting science is not letting dishonest people call science something that is not. I'm sure that these people are well meaning, but thinking that their ends justify the means is not morally sound in an individualist society.

  26. The one truth Flying Spaghetti Monster. Keep up the good blogging.

  27. In terms of intelligent design, it is a justiable arugment to say that the odds of life simply manifesting in the universe is improbable if you consider what we now understand as science. In addition anyone who has a spiritual belief basically agrees with intelligent design regardless of whether they are christian or not. So I think what you overlook in that article is the media misrepresents the idea of a spiritual origin to the universe in framing the debate between neo-darwinistic defenders of the faith of secularism and fundamentalist bible thumpers. This is a very simplistic understanding of this complex debate. Indeed the Gaia hypothesis triggered a huge debate in the scientific community and not a peep is heard about this although many of the arguments related to the idea of the convergence between spirituality and science.

    Morphic resonance implies that systems interact in a way that traditional science cannot measure and is unwilling to even consider due to their belief system and social conventions in mainstream society that prevent open minded discussions of the paranormal. Hence patterns of behavior that are not connected or explained by conventional science such as synconicity, intuition, telepathy and remote sensing are all taboo, all the while the fundamentalists gain ground politically and socially with their antiquated, patriarchal, old testament religious beliefs about the notions of the universe, earth and God. The idea of paranormal is very debatable, but lets promote open scientific research on this so that we can find out!

    What's even more explosive is the idea that scientific materialism helped defend the status quo of the current socio economic system and its preoccupation with defining success almost completely in quantitative terms in relation to how much people have accumulated or consumed rather than the quality of the experience that they dervive from living life. I think this is the real but of course overlooked issue in this debate.

  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  29. ...reminds me of a lunch I had with Dawkins after his TED talk (Here is a blog paraphrase of his comments):

    "Dawkins contends that US biologists are in a state of war with creationists (many of whom call now call creationism "Intelligent Design"). While there are 30 million atheists in the US (many time the size of the Jewish vote, he points out), they remain in political oblivion—and in fact are political targets (George H.W. Bush has said that atheists aren't citizens or patriots!) and pariahs. Since at a practical level you need to be religious to hold political office in America, the only option for those in the 30 million with political ambition is to lie or not run for office. Hence, Dawkins declared, political opportunities are barred from those who are atheists and honest.

    And those 30 million may have something to add to government. Scientists in US are overwhelmingly atheists and, according to Dawkins, studies show a negative correlation between intelligence and religion.

    Dawkins rejects the idea that creationism and evolution can co-exist harmoniously. Religion is corrosive of science since it teaches people to accept the simple answers and ignore the real ones; and because creationists can't attack evolutionary science, according to Dawkins, they attack evolutionists as atheists bent on undermining religion. And they are right: evolution IS truly undermining of religion. Darwinism IS corrosive to religious faith.

    So, to achieve peaceful co-existence, evolution lobbies, such as the National Center for Science Education, are too polite. But Dawkins feels that the way to attack creationism is to attack religion itself: militant atheism.

    He points out that the standard creationist arguments all boil down to the idea that living creatures are too complex to have happened by chance is flawed because a designer must me even more complex. He also points out that most people are atheists when it comes to the thousands of gods that mankind has believed in in the past (how many of us believe in Zeus?). Modern day atheists just add one more god to the list.

    Dawkins calls himself an atheist—though he realizes that to reject something that you cannot absolutely disprove requires a sort of faith in and of itself. But “agnostic” is too weak of a term for him, since he “despises religion,” as it gives equal weight to the chance that God exists as to the chance that he does not. Others who share this hesitancy about the “agnostic” label, but reject the absolutism of “atheist,” call themselves “tooth fairy agnostics.” The idea is that they believe God could exist—but for that matter so could the tooth fairy, and the likelihood is about as great. As Bertrand Russell wrote about the possibility of a teapot orbiting Mars—you can't disprove it, but it isn't very likely. Other labels are "humanist," "naturalist," and "non-theist," but Dawkins prefers the taboo and zing of “atheist.”

    Dawkins wants a coming out party for atheists and believes that the scientific world view is so much more exciting, poetic, and beautiful than the religious view of the world. Dawkins makes this case wonderfully in his book “Unweaving the Rainbow,” something I highly recommend to all readers. Is the rainbow more or less beautiful once we understand how it works? Is the wonder to be found in ignorance or knowledge?

    Dawkins goes further. It is not just that science is more beautiful than religion, but religion is dangerous. Many religious folk ask how those who do not believe in god can have a moral framework and don’t just walk around shooting people. But of course we have punishment here on earth for that activity. Dawkins turns the question around: look at the danger that happens when “religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.”

    P.S. AID is clearly the answer...

  30. Steve: I have only one word to say to your comments... Amen!
    (and next time can you introduce me to Richie?)srbzgtra

  31. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Great post -- we actually cancelled our Time magazine subscription after that series of issues you pointed out arrived in our mailbox.

  32. Anonymous9:21 PM

    I might not agree with the ID concept, but I do believe in religion. Interestingly in hinduism, the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu come in the following forms:
    1. Fish
    2. Tortoise
    3. Boar
    4. Man-Lion
    5. Dwarf
    6-9. Human

    Some hint on evolution there.. Darwin's theory concurs (in some form) with my religion.

  33. You may find this article and others like it at:


    Intelligent Design: Part One

    Look, I know the well-meaning, god fearing sect who went off about teaching biblical creation are elementary fundamentalists acting out an authoritarian view of social order, and that these souls are lost in a world where personal responsibility means your stand in life rather than something god told you, but there is a kernel of truth to their position that cannot be denied without denying something very relevant to your own existence. It is easy to describe yourself as an atheist, but much harder to explain what that means when as you believe there really is in fact no theist. In other words, are you really voting that there is no deity, or are you saying that those who are saying there is a deity are wrong. Unless it is possible to prove either assertion, they are really both belief systems. Moreover, the belief in scientific principle is every bit as superstitious a notion as the belief in divine creation. And, if you grant divine creation as the inspiration for the beginning of everything, it’s really splitting hairs to suggest that the fanciful myths of creation of any culture are, relatively speaking, any more or less a belief system than the notion that we are the consequential evolution of stardust based on the economic principle of the closest packing of spheres. Personally, I enjoy the elegance of scientific and mathematic models of the universe, however, I find the notion of intelligence and the spiritual essence of human existence to be more relevant to my life than science explains.

    If you disabuse the phrase “Intelligent Design” of its fundamentalist applications, the idea fits Einstein’s and Niels Bohr’s notions of the universe. The idea of designing requires a designer and an objective. Putting aside who or what is the actor doing the designing of the universe or if the universe itself is the designer, engineers thing of the design’s objectives as a set of “parameters” that describe what the design is intended by the designer to achieve. If you were going to design a house, there would be parameters of cost, of safety, of use, of effectiveness, of durability, of management of internal environment, and so on. The design parameters of a bridge would cover the span, height and the weight capacity. The design parameters of the observable universe are prima facie. They are the things that scientists measure.

    What are the design parameters of human being? That questions the superstition behind the philosophy of science. When do human beings achieve their design parameters? Have they done so? Looking at this from one measure, Britney Spears achieves some design parameters in our culture, but in other human cultures of this and other periods, Britney is not on the scale. Never the less, we still say that Britney is a design achievement in human being and the question is raised, not who did the design, but what was the intention? Clearly, the design parameters of human being must be broadly defined. They include Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and George Bush, for instance, along with John Lennon, Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Li Po, Genghis Kahn, Alberto Moravia, and Ché Guevarra and everything above, beyond, in between, and in this list, we haven’t even looked at the distaff side of the human invention—the Catherine the Greats and Mother Teresas in human history. Perhaps, that’s a useful clue.

    I imagine all the women in my life are sitting in the audience of my life, observing with fascination the workings of my mind. Except for some who have stepped out of the theater momentarily to meet a lover, smoke a cigarette, nurse a baby or something, and when they return they will say they have not missed a thing. What is it about them? The design parameters of the female human being differ significantly from the male. Ergo, the interlocutor tells me, the design parameters of human being must be where men and women of all cultures, periods and genetic derivation are in some sense the same. And it is only within those parameters that we differ from one another. Human being, in a sense, is the box that we come in. And, although we may think outside this box, we cannot exit the box and still be called, human beings. The good news is that the box is infinitely adjustable to fit whatever human beings come up with, i.e., the name of this box is, “possibility”. What that means is that we are each the designer of our own existence. Albeit, most people, throughout history have failed to understand this even though we have made great efforts to lionize those individuals who have proclaimed most clearly and cogently that this is the case. Like, Jesus Christ, for instance, but also, like Miguel de Cervantes, and so on. The bad news, which drives weak minds to take refuge in religious fundamentalism is that the design parameter for human being is, possibility. It takes courage to confront the idea that life is empty and meaningless, and then to make up the values and importance of your life as a commitment to life.

    Because there are no absolute values of right and wrong, good and bad, best and worst, moral and immoral, ethical unethical, loyalty disloyalty, honest dishonest, effective ineffective, dishonorable honorable, and so on. Every value must be made up by the individual and declared for the culture, along with ambiguities when one value conflicts with another. As when Golda Meir pointed out that there comes a time in any society when it is necessary to violate the principles of the culture, as in the killing of enemies by people who sanctify life, or the slaughter of cattle, fowl and fish for food. On one hand this justifies the acts of guerrilla fighters in defense of principle, which we now call, “terrorism.” and on the other hand, this also justifies the pogrom, which we now call, “ethnic cleansing”. The design parameters of human being are that we make it all up.

    We can take responsibility for our actions, but what are our values? Interesting, but only to people who think. Fundamentalism makes it unnecessary to think. You get a handful of principles, you apply the principles and its black or white—no thinking there. There is no choice in fundamentalism. Eric Fromm would have called fundamentalists by another name—he would have described this mentality as an escape from the freedom and consequences of responsibility. The followers of Adolph Hitler were fundamentalists. Stalinists were fundamentalists. Yesterday, I read in an interview with an artist whose work I deeply appreciate, a disappointing allegation. She said that the interlude she had as a Christian fundamentalist was analogous to what she supposed others have gone through in “doing drugs”. That seemed like a cheap shot until I realized that she was really saying that she owed no one any apologies. She took responsibility for her choices and she was saying that in this case, for her at least, being a Christian fundamentalist was a better choice than others have made when confronting the endless void of possibility by taking drugs and alcohol. Or, as in the case of Ché Guevarra, going to war, or as in my own case, withholding my vision from a human society that cannot abide the chaotic when the very nature of human being, called, possibility, delivers the freedom that gives rise to chaos. I distinctly remember someone telling me, “you’re not paid to think.” Right.
    Intelligent Design: Part Two

    So, here we are, intelligently designed creatures, and the purpose for which we have been designed is the fulfillment of that which is possible. So what is possible? Einstein eliminated the impossible in theory through mathematic calculations. And although he was never able to prove his theorem, he was convinced that the design parameters of the universe could be defined, even if the design parameters of human being could not. Today, with hugely powerful tools for mathematic calculation, we can describe a physical universe that is mathematically provable. Ironically, it turns out that this is just a possible universe we live in now, rather than an impossible universe. Moreover, it is a universe that exists in dimensions that we do not know how to experience, and it is just one of a nearly infinite array of universes. But think of it this way—we have been devoting a lot of time and trouble to find other forms of “intelligent life” in the universe. Now we have a huge array of predictable universes that could harbor intelligent life. Are there life forms intelligently designed in these universes? If so, is their design aimed at possibility as well? Is the design parameter for intelligent being a design for possibility? This is a much bigger problem than merely resolving the conflict in the Middle East, and while no one seems to be paying attention to this, a breakthrough in discovering a new dimension of existence will have a huge impact on human existence. Even acknowledging this possibility would transform all political and economic conflicts.

    People live lives of quiet desperation and die without seeing the irony of this because this is too adult a conversation for them. Adults are of little value in a society that uses human beings in specialized ways. You don’t have to think to flip a burger, drive a bus, operate a software program or do any of the millions of repetitive motions that people are employed to perform in an industrial society. In non-industrial societies, like the Mayan and Moari, there is an emphasis on this other dimension of existence. In these cultures, that which is real is quite different in this way. And what should interest you is that even the highly conditioned specialist in your culture can experience this other plane of being and not only will you have no scientific explanation for your experience but also, any attempt at scientific explanation will occur for you like psycho-babble.

    In the industrial culture, you don’t have to think about dimensions of existence or human possibility to perform your service or to do anything; not to teach nuclear physics or to perform a brain surgery, nor to practice law or medicine, nor even to shake your body and warble in suggestive poses, and sing off-key. Thinking in the industrial society is an esoteric art and very different from the rational discourse that, for instance, permeates this article, leading inexorably from log to log. While rationalists believe that what they are thinking about makes sense, and is in some sense real, they miss the point. Thoughts are real but thinking is an esoteric process. No one can say what thinking is. We can even measure thoughts. They have “weight”. Thinking is “another matter”. Yet, there is no possibility without thinking. Thinking is a crucial aspect of the design of human being and yet we have no way of describing it. Rationalists have said that self-reflexive awareness, that is, being aware of yourself, is a quality of intelligence and is a hallmark of human being. This too misses the point. Self-awareness is irrelevant. Awareness distinguishes things, no matter how the self is defined. The point to rationalist thinking is justification: to rationalize the subjugation of non-industrial cultures, the damming of the Colorado River and destruction of the product of billions of years of evolution to produce tasteless lettuce and Las Vegas. Although it is useful, I have a problem with glorifying science. Genghis Kahn and Alexander the Great made such use of astrology.

    Thus I have reached the conclusion that the problem is not whether the science of evolution or biblical analogies are taught in public schools, but whether children are being taught to think about such things creatively. To the extent that education is an inquiry and not indoctrination there is no problem with teaching “Intelligent Design” as long as “Unintelligent Design” is also addressed. The big problem in America is that we have no teachers who are qualified because we train teachers to indoctrinate rather than to conduct Socratic inquiries, whether into evolution or into the design of human being.

    Michael Winn

  34. Anonymous5:23 PM

    It's curious that one is Jewish and atheist at the same time, but maybe what religion you are has little to do with God.
    Might I suggest that faith in God isn't about a religion rather it's a relationship?

  35. Anonymous6:27 AM

    Dude--Mr. Spaghetti. Smartest man on the evolved planet. Ask your supporters--not not those holding you up off the ground--where'd the lightning bolt come from? Evolution is unprovable. Science is a sham of subjective objectivity. (Who made the spaghetti? Where'd the noodles come from?) Cause and effect, test hypothesis, create circumstances of experiment. Never seen Jesus--don't believe he was god's son. Never seen atom, believe it is some kind of invisible foundation particle of material being? Are you kidding me. Your hero says "read a book." So much for rational responses. Christian says read "read the new testament." So much for rational responses. Rationality is untestable. It's is a constitutive game driven by the rules of it's own logic which can't be examined outside of its own rules. Thus, you say spaghetti. Spaghetti science, primordial soup, no answers from science.

  36. Interesting article. Coincidentally, I just wrote a similar one the other day from the other side of the fence. http://theydontspeakforme.blogspot.com/2005/12/im-not-buffoon-but-i-play-one-on-tv.html
    The reason Time Magazine has these cover stories from time to time is because Time Magazine is a business and they need to throw us backward simpletons a bone every now and then in order to maximise profits. Also, since athiests are so much smarter than religious "fanatics," you must know that if you don't keep us pacified, we might all riot and build another church or (Heaven forbid) a hospital in the name of our savior in YOUR hometown!!!!!! If God does not exist (which athiests are pretty darn sure of), then why give the concept a second thought? Take away the Deity and you are left with Judaio/Christian ethics, which boils down to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "love your neighbor as yourself." Now tell me, logically, what could possibly be so harmfull about this that it should absolutelly not be taught in our schools?

  37. SteveG,

    Coincidentally, "Devout Atheist" is EXACTLY how I describe myself, too. The label inserts just enough irony to deflate the akwardness of asserting a social stigma.

    Anonymous (523),

    I was born part of the Jewish nation--my beliefs don't change that. My family's history, customs, holidays, literature, and culture all spring from my national heritage. Furthermore, with a handful of exceptions (California, I think) Jews can't escape Anti-Semitism, which doesn't discriminate based on beliefs. Hitler murdered all the Jews he could--including atheists and even Christians with Jewish grandparents.

    Anonymous (627)

    I won't attempt to address or even decode everything you say, but... I acknowledged myself my original blog that Dawkins' retort to "Read a Book" was an emotional ad hominem response, and that a proper, scientific answer did in fact follow.


    You may have been suggesting it tongue-in-cheek, but I happen to agree: "Take away the Deity and you are left with... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is exactly what I teach my children--the Golden Rule without the Deity. Logically, you just don't need gospel to teach common sense decency.

  38. Anonymous1:47 PM

    "Newsweek, March 28, 2005: "How Jesus Became Christ" (not even a pretense of journalistic integrity)"

    So journalists must ignore any kind of work related to Jesus Christ? We must ignore the historical figure as well? pretend it doesn't exist?

    reporting on a large portion of Americans (over 80%) beliefs and how the person they worship became that person and how that belief evolved over time does not sacrifice any journalistic integrity.

  39. Anonymous,

    I never suggested that we should ignore history or even religion, since it so impacts this nation. But there is an enormous difference between journalism and evangelism.

    The headline "How Jesus Became Christ" presumes that Jesus is in fact the Christ--the Divine Savior of Humanity. However, journalistic standards (according to Columbia School of Journalism) specifically prescribe that allegations and beliefs be so reported. A suitable headline would have been "Christian Mythology Explained".

    Imagine a serious headline titled "How Santa Lives Forever" or, more seriously, "Heavenly Pleasures That Await Suicide Bombers".

    I hope these examples demonstrate the importance of restricting headlines to facts, not widely varying religious notions.

  40. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Great post, but I think you've made a mistaken attribution.

    Clearly, the first illustration is not from TIME, but TIM Magazine, which as anyone knows stands for "Theology Imposed Monthly".

    (They always stick God in the upper right corner like that.)

  41. One thing is for certain, it can be entertaining to watch so-called religous leaders pontificating on panels, on talk shows, with such seeming self-assurrance concerning their explanations as to the truth and realities of their various claims, laughable though so many of them are.

    It's a different matter when professional journalists from such esteemed publications as Time and Newsweek join in on the debaucle. In fact, it's sad, and downright disheartening.

  42. Anonymous1:54 PM

    most believers in God have tried living a life without God in the center of it and have then subsequently moved on to believe in God. my take is that many atheists today won't give it a shot until all else is lost. i met a man you said "i don't believe in healing by some divine power" -- but i bet when he is on his death bed and the doctors are merely counting the remaining days of his life -- when he's tried everything else, *then* maybe his mind will be ready to receive healing anyway he can even if it's from a God he didn't believe in before.

    it is necessity that will drive others to God. the intellectuals and scientists who need to reason everything before believing would have had us believing that the world was flat in the science of yesteryear. the problem with information is that it changes while truth is ever present irrespective of ones beliefs. revelation is much more powerful than information. and if that revelation is God and it works even though it unravels a bit of your understanding -- why care? if doctors told you you'd never be able to walk, you'd have brain damage, you'd never have the liberty of your hands. yet by the power of God you were healed, would you care that the explanation eludes your reasoning faculty? if so that i would call you a fool. and for those who think something like that is being "fooled by randomness" this has been my life... science has failed me, but God has not -- the power of God is statistically significant. when the best doctors say you have a limited amount of time on earth with zero chance of recovery, you might explore any options you can.

    who are you that something cannot be true unless it can be reduce to bite sized chunks that your mind can comprehend. sure you're smart, maybe even the smartest. but i'd wager that if you aren't open enough to realize your limitations and give something a shot you'll cheat yourself out of the best things in life. like love. if you attacked love the way you attack religion you'd never have any real relationships. does love make sense? does it really? if it makes sense to you then maybe you'r enot in love -- i'd say at some point you'd throw out logic and say "love is something i want irrespective of the irrationality of it." many of us had to risk looking stupid and completely irrational in order to find what we'd call the love of our lives. but to make the same risk to experience God is too far? wimps!

    it's like being in a car with music you absolutely love, to the point of having to sing and dance without caring how stupid you look. well if you're in the car then everything makes a little sense and might be an amazing amount of fun. outside the car looking in, everyone in the car looks like a total idiot. being on the outside judging a system is easy and safe. it's easy and safe to say what doesn't make any sense and then totally dismiss is as some retarded act of irrationality. my claim however, is that if you don't make any effort to get into the car to see what the big deal is, you'll never have any understanding.

    believers have tried living lives on the atheist side... why not allow yourself to give it a shot -- take a chance to be stupid, irrational but wholeheartedly doing a half way job doesn't get you anything. otherwise, i think you're cheating yourself and all for the ego-trip thinking that the entire universe *needs* to be explanable to our finite faculties. *THAT'S* the real irrationality!!

  43. Anonymous10:29 AM

    All I can say is that I'll be praying for you David. If you put this much energy into defending your 'belief' - I'm sure you have time to truly research both 'theories'. The Truth is there - you just aren't looking hard enough.

  44. Pagan wants me to give it a shot, and Anonymous thinks I haven't looked hard enough for the Truth. (By the way, Anonymous, I really do appreciate the nice sentiment behind your prayers.) In fact I spent 12 years in religious day school, broken up only by summers in religious camps, so now I really have no more time for it.

  45. Anonymous10:33 AM

    Hi David,
    Your site looks very professional. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on God too. God is also fond of Richard Dawkins like your are. God told me that Richard is going to Heaven. This confused me a little at first, my friend told me that Atheists go to Hell. Maybe he's just superstitous and the Roman Catholic Church is really just a newly revised Pagan religion.

    Don't get me wrong, there is a God. He started talking to me in the Spring of 2006. He hasn't left me along since then.

    Back to God saying that Richard Dawkins, well known atheist goes to Heaven. God also said that Leona Helmsley goes to Hell. She was mean to people. She also knew about God, because he said that she asked him to forgive her on her death bed. God said it was the 11th hour, to late to say your sorry. She is now alone and in the dark.

    God also talked about Jerry Falwell. Jerry falls into a third catagory of people he does not want in Heaven and he doesn't want to torture him in Hell either. Jerry just vanishes or disappears.