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And a Happy George Day to All! November 26, 2011

Posted by Dindy in atheism, Christianity, Religion, Religious Right.
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The Thanksgiving leftovers haven’t even had time to get cold, and already the opening salvos have been fired in the annual war between those Christians who are outraged that people dare to celebrate the Yuletide season without reference to Christ and, well, everyone else. I see at least three posts a day from Facebook friends:

“I’m inviting all my Facebook family and friends to join me in returning to the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”!! If you agree with me, please re-post this message…..MERRY CHRISTMAS! We need Christ back into our lives GOD IS WELCOME IN MY HOUSE.”

This is actually one of the tamer of the Facebook posts floating around. Others are more emphatic, with one person shrilling, “People shouldn’t celebrate Christmas if they aren’t going to recognize Christ!”

Woof. Okay. So you don’t want anyone celebrating Christmas but Christians, but you want everyone to acknowledge and pay homage to YOUR celebration of Christmas. Gotcha!

Let me go on record here as saying I don’t really care what you call it. If someone wants to wish me a happy George Day instead of a Merry Christmas, I’m fine with that. I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Someone wants me to have a happy day. How nice. Not only that, but they want my cat, George, to have a nice day. I’m so glad they care about him, because he really is a very nice cat even if he does keep me awake at night when he does the monster mash on my chest.

I guess that’s where I just really don’t understand the Christians. Why is their happiness about the celebration of Christ’s birth dependent upon everybody else also celebrating that birth? Never mind the fact that Jesus is actually not the reason for the season, that the mid-winter festival was around for centuries before it was co-opted by the Christians who were trying to make their faith palatable to the pagans in northern Europe. For people who are supposed to be immersed in the joy of their savior’s birth, Christians seem to be mighty unhappy people. Instead of being glad that someone is giving them a pleasant greeting, they choose to grind their gears because they are not being wished a “Merry Christmas.”

As an atheist, I never used to mind it when people wished me a Merry Christmas. I admire many of the teachings of Jesus, and I don’t mind taking a day out to celebrate his birthday as a time of joy, love, peace and giving. However, I did think it was nice when merchants and other people started noticing that not all of their customers were Christian and started wishing people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Now, though, when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” I stop to wonder if they are doing so to make a statement about how their religion should be the only one to be acknowledged. What I used to think of as a pleasant little greeting has been robbed of any nice sentiment it may have had.

Christians lament the “good old days” when nobody complained about being told to have a “Merry Christmas.” Well, there were a lot of things that people never used to complain about—blacks never used to complain about having to drink from separate water fountains, and people never used to complain about eating in restaurants without smoking sections. The world has changed, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that our society here in the United States is made up of people of many different beliefs, or no beliefs. So what if people never used to complain about being subjected to the religious practices of another group? Now that people have complained, it is just plain rude to continue to ignore the fact that other people may not wish to listen repeatedly to exhortations to celebrate a Christian holiday.

There are actually many celebrations that occur during December. Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Bodhi, Al Hijra, Hogmanay, Omisoka, St. Lucia Day, and La Posada, among others. For any group to insist that their particular holiday be celebrated among all others is not only arrogant, but short-sighted for those merchants who want to convey the message that they value all of their customers, not just the Christian ones.

However, it really is no skin off my nose if you want to wish me a Merry Christmas. I need all the good wishes I can get, so Mele Kalikimaka and a Happy George Day to you too.

Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

Moral Outrage vs. Moral Good March 5, 2011

Posted by Bill in abortion, Christianity, Current Events, health, Politics, Religious Right, Uncategorized.
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The great state of Texas is about to pass more restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.  This restriction is in the form of requiring a sonogram test to be taken anywhere from 2 to 24 hours (still being worked on by our high minded representatives) before an abortion along with requiring the women to view the image, listen to the heartbeat, and listen to the doctor describe its development. 

Hoozah!!!

The march towards doing away with the moral acid (abortion) that has burned and stained our nation for so long continues!

Or does it?

For those who are anti-choice/pro-life and who are celebrating this seeming victory I have a question:

Are you more interested in reducing the number of abortions or in expressing moral outrage and becoming “morally pure”?

I ask because when looking at abortion rates around the world something becomes very clear very quickly.  Those countries with the lowest abortion rates have legal and liberal abortion laws.  Those countries with the highest rates of abortion either have very restrictive abortion laws or have made abortion totally illegal. 

Western Europe has the lowest rate of abortion in the world at 12 per 1,000 women between 15 and 44.    We, with our mix of abortion rights with restrictions come in at 21 per 1,000 women.  Of course this is still much better than the Latin American countries where it is not only restricted but also usually illegal.  Their abortion rate is 31 per 1,000 women. 

Now another item that I notice is that in many of these countries where abortion is legal, birth control is also available.  In fact Western Europe actively teaches about contraception and works to make sure that it is easily available. 

Personally I believe that it is this linkage with birth control that has helped bring down the abortion rate in countries that allow abortion, although I freely admit that I cannot find research showing this to be true.

However given the following facts:

 –         Countries with high abortion rates are those in which abortion is illegal or severely restricted. 

–         Countries with low abortion rates are those in which abortion is legal.

–         Countries with freer access to contraceptives have lower abortion rates.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people wish to make abortion illegal.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people usually do NOT support contraceptive education, nor do they support making it more easily accessible. 

I feel comfortable in stating that the anti-choice/pro-life people, in their efforts to promote morality and eliminate the killing of fetuses are instead working to actually increase it by creating the conditions for abortion rates to increase. 

Kind of ironic that. 

As for myself, I consider myself a pro-choice/pro-life person.  I believe the woman has a right to choose for herself.  However I would like our country to  create a setting in which choosing abortion would be rare or even non-existent.    Given what can be seen around the world that involves a setting in which abortion is legal and not surrounded by these roadblocks and a greater emphasis on contraceptive use. 

Now my choice is fairly easy.  I look at the evidence and go with it. 

However the anti-choice/pro-life  people have a harder decision.  They first have to decide what is more important to them – reducing abortions or being morally pure.

Better Late Than Never February 9, 2011

Posted by frrobins in atheism, Christianity, Memories, Personal, Religion, Schools.
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Like many people, I always think of the perfect comeback long after a discussion has subsided. I’ll usually be driving home, replaying the conversation in my head when the perfect response will come to me. Well, this one came about ten years too late. It’s such a good one that I felt the need to share.

Way back in high school, I was sitting in my physics class, waiting for the bell to ring to signal the start of class. Beside me, one of my peers was reading outloud from a Bible. From her self-righteous bearing I know she was just daring someone to tell her to stop. I didn’t take the bait.

Yet now it occurs to me I should have said, “Hey, can you read Gen 19:30 for me please? It is one of my favorites!”

A Creationist Myth About Science And Evolution May 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Creationists often point to the fact that science can change.  Using evolutionary science as an example they are always bringing up items such as finding what was thought to be an extinct species still living or finding that land plants existed in the Cambrian period when it had been thought none did or finding that evolution may have occurred in starts and stops instead of a smooth progression as evidence against evolution.   

 Somehow they feel that changes such as these and others show that science cannot be trusted.  That science keeps having to correct itself.   They are blind to the reason why this occurs and why, far from being a sign of weakness, it is one of science’s towering strengths. 

 The reason for this is human knowledge is always incomplete.  We do not know everything and to pretend that we do is both arrogant and foolish.  

 Lets use a logic word puzzle for an example. 

 Suppose that you know that there were four horses in a race and each was wearing a different color.  The question is what horse was wearing which color and in what order did they finish. 

 Given only the information above you couldn’t even begin to guess.  However say that you did some research and found out that the four horses were named Dare Devil, Bitter Twist, After Dinner, and Catch Me. 

 You also found out in your research that the colors they were wearing were blue, red, green, and yellow. 

 We know more but not enough to answer the question with certainty.  We know the names of the horses and the colors that were worn.  We can now speculate on where each horse placed and what color they wore.  And then do the research to see if we were correct.

 Lets say that initially we thought that Catch Me was first and was wearing red.  Next was Bitter Twist wearing yellow, followed by Dare Devil wearing green and After Dinner wearing blue.  

 Now we do a bit more research, looking into newspaper articles, talking to people who were betting on the track that day, talking to jockeys, etc.  And we find out that Catch Me was last. 

 We were wrong on where Catch Me placed.  However does this negate that Catch Me was in the race? 

 No.

 Does this negate that the other three horses were in the race?

 No. 

 Does this negate that each was wearing one of the colors listed?

 No. 

 The basics are still true and are not affected by being wrong on the order.  In fact we are now closer to knowing for sure who place in which spot and what color they wore. 

 In fact our research did verify that Catch Me was indeed wearing red.  So that part was also correct.  We have increased out basic knowledge.  Our total knowledge of the race has increased, although we still do not know with certainty who won the first three spots nor what colors they wore. 

 Next we find a picture of the race taken on the home stretch.  It shows Bitter Twist and After Dinner going nose to nose with Bitter Twist having a very slight lead.  Right on their heels is Dare Devil. 

 Unfortunately the picture is a black and white one so we cannot really discern the colors they wore.  However we make our best guess based on how light and dark the colors were. 

 Based on this evidence we now believe that Bitter Twist won the race and was wearing Green.  Next was After Dinner who was wearing blue.  Third place was Dare Devil wearing yellow.  And of course we already know for sure that Catch Me wearing red came in last. 

 Now while we have some evidence for all of the above the evidence for the first three places is not as certain as that for last place.  And sure enough, after doing even more in depth research we find out that parts of our answer above is wrong. 

 We find out that Bitter Twist stumbled and as a result fell to third place.  We also find out that he was actually wearing blue instead of green. 

 We find out that Dare Devil surged at the very last minute and won the race.  We were correct though in that he wore yellow. 

 Finally we find out that After Dinner, wearing green, actually came in third. 

 Notice how finding out the truth about some of the more speculative parts (because of  current insufficiency of evidence) did not in any way negate those parts that had solid evidence. 

The fact that we were wrong initially on who won the race did not in any way negate the fact that a race occurred, that four horses were in it and that they were wearing different colors.

The fact that we were wrong on the first three places did not in any way negate the above nor did it negate the fact that we were correct on which horse came in last.  And we were correct on some of the colors worn by the horses.

 Science is just like this.  It has a bedrock of well established and amply evidenced theory and facts.  The fact that sometimes it is wrong on some of the speculations based on this bedrock does not negate the bedrock.  

The evidence for evolution occurring is still just as strong as it was before even though scientists believed at one time that there were no land plants during the Cambrian.  Just as being wrong on the order of who won the races did not negate the fact that a race had occurred run by four horses so too land plants in the Cambrian not negate the fact that evolution has and is occurring.

 Further this methodology does not pretend it knows everything and desperately ignore new evidence.  It accommodates it and uses it to increase the bedrock knowledge that science does posses. 

 That is why science keeps gaining in knowledge while those who are so arrogant and foolish as to believe that a book gives them all knowledge lose ground.

What Most Have Forgotten March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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The sight of gallows loaded with the bodies of men and women hanged and sometimes mutilated just for their beliefs. Men such as the Jesuit John Ogilvie who was sentenced to death by a Glasgow court and hanged and disemboweled on March 10, 1615.

The thousands of men and women deprived of their property due to being of the wrong religion with the definition of the wrong religion changing when the English rulers changed. First Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again.

The thousands of Lutheran men, women, and children who starved and froze to death when, on October 31, 1731, 20,000 of them were expelled from their homes in Salzburger, Austria by the Archbishop Leopold von Firmian. They were given only eight days to leave their homes.

The drowning of Protestants by the Irish Catholics in 1641. After holding them as prisoners and torturing them, the Catholics then forced them to the bridge over the River Bann, forced them to strip, and then drove them into the water at sword point. Those that survived the plunge were then shot.

Our Founders remembered this and more. It is why there is no mention of Christianity, no mention of God, no mention of Jesus in the Constitution. Our Founders set up a secular state so that freedom of conscience would be guarded for all men.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris on August 24, 1572 when thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were butchered by Catholic mobs. This was just the worst of the many killings and riots that occurred during the 30 years of war between the French Protestants and Catholics that started in 1562.

The Huguenots disemboweling and burying alive priests. The killing of Catholic children. The torture of priests and Catholics during the same 30-year war.

John Rogers being burned alive at Smithfield England, the “first Protestant martyr” executed by England’s Catholic Queen Mary.

The smell of burning flesh as John Lambert was chained to a stake in 1537 at Smithfield, England and then burned. He had defended his conscience and faith after being summoned to an inquisition.

For not enshrining God and Christianity into its text the Constitution was heavily criticized. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.”

Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.”

Our Founders knew that, with most of the states having religious tests for citizenship and holding office, that pushing a thoroughly secular Constitution would be difficult. Yet they did push.

George Washington, John Adam, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others of our Founders considered the lack of religion in the Constitution important enough to weather the firestorm of criticism to get the Constitution ratified as it was – without God and without religion.

In fact, eventually all the states would follow the lead of the writers of the Constitution and erect their own wall of separation between church and state.

Anne Hutchison defending her beliefs and being banished by the Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. The same Puritans who were persecuted in England and sailed to the New World carried the Old World’s intolerance of dissent with them. Anne Hutchison, her servants, and 5 of her children were killed by Indians in New York in 1643.

Roger Williams’ defense of the separation of church and state in the mid 17th century. He believed that the state should not be involved in religion at all. He believed that all men — the Muslims, Jews, infidels, and atheists – should have freedom of conscience and for the state to be involved in any way with religion would infringe on this right. His books were banned and burned in England. In America he was banished by the Puritans.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging. Mary Dyer, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson were some among many who braved these punishments in order to speak their conscience. All three had been banished, endured flogging, and were eventually hanged.

Today we take the benefits of keeping church and state separate too much for granted. It has allowed us to avoid most of the religious violence that has embroiled much of the world despite our being the most religiously diverse nation on earth.

Even though we are home for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics we have avoided the strife that plagues India from the Hindus and Muslims, the wars that consume the Middle East between the Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, and Christians, and the violence between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

We take these so much for granted that many do not understand why the state cannot favor any religion; why the state shouldn’t fund or help religious groups and organizations.

In An Essay On Toleration Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.”

In his statement about why he refused to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer Andrew Jackson in 1832 said, “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

James Madison, the chief author of our Constitution, wrote in a letter objecting to the use of government land for churches in 1803, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

The Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, carried unanimously by the Senate reads, “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims) … it is declared.. that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”

In a letter John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

These and more statements from our founders, from George Washington to Thomas Paine, from Ethan Allen to Thomas Jefferson all attest to the fact that they set up a secular government in order to preserve the new country that they had created from being torn by religious wars. A country where all men, not just Christians, would be free to follow their conscience and express their beliefs.

During the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but instead it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. A foreshadowing of one of our recent President’s use of Jesus as his political mentor.

The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” with “Recognizing almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…” Shades of the Islamic constitution in Iraq.

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.

Now these and other histories have been forgotten. We have taken for granted the benefits of a secular government. Now a new mythology is being created that our founders would be appalled by. The myth that the United States of America was created as a Christian Nation. We no longer remember why that road is such a dangerous one. We no longer seem to understand why a secular government is necessary for the continued freedom of belief and conscience that we now so blithely enjoy.

Even such seemingly laudable actions such as giving government money to religious charities creates problems and raises troubling questions.

When the government gives money, as in the faith based charity programs, it decides which religions get money and which do not. Is it really any surprise that during President Bush’s Presidency the vast majority of the money is given to evangelical organizations that supported him.  Is it any surprise that only they, out of all the organizations that our government supports with our money, are allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion with that money.

And how will you react when Moslems charities start receiving money? How about Scientology? Wiccan charities? Secular Humanist charities? Or would you rather that our government start picking and choosing what religions are “worthy” of receiving money and government approval and which are “unworthy?”

Despite all the talk about original intent we are moving away from what our founders intended.

Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most were not. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

ACLJ In Africa February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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Just found out that both Kenya and Zimbabwe are drafting new constitutions. From what I have read this is not necessarily a bad thing. However what concerns me is that the American Center For Law and Justice (ACLJ) is apparently going to help both countries out in drafting their new constitutions.

For those who may not know who the ACLJ is, they are a Christian right wing group that loves to take cases challenging the separation of church and state and also suits supporting challenges to evolution. They love all right wing causes from defending torture to stopping healthcare reform. They are exactly the wrong sort of group to provide information on how to write a constitution.

While much of their work may be good – for example their stand against making Sharia Courts a part of the Kenya Constitution – I am afraid that they will write in protections for Christian churches and in particular churches that follow most closely what they believe.   Or at the very least write in protections for views they support. 

At this stage this is more of a strong concern due to their track record on constitutional issues here in America and their strong ties to the Christian right wing. I have not been able to find any specifics on what their exact suggestions in regards to the Constitutions of both countries. I hope my concerns or misplaced but fear they are not.

What would be especially ironic in the case of Kenya would be if the ACLJ helped create a constitution that would allow fundamentalists churches and thoughts to have a greater say in the government. Can you imagine creationists in charge of the museums and science in one of the countries that has provided our clearest fossil evidence of hominid evolution?

I also am concerned about such things as reproductive rights (that includes birth control and is not just a code name for abortion people), gay rights, and religious rights.

As I said I do not have any information on exactly what they are suggesting for the Kenya and Zimbabwe constitutions. And to be honest, given the problems these countries have, the new constitution may still wind up better than what they have despite the ACLJ input.

I do know though that our Constitution was founded without help from Christian organizations or any religious organizations. I know that many of them were against our Constitution at the time of its ratification. And I know why the separation of church and state was instituted in our country.

Given the religious conflicts in Africa between Muslim and Christian that same sort of concern and sensitivity should be present in any attempt to create a new constitution. The ACLJ does not have that sensitivity.

Given the tremendous devastation that AIDS is wreaking in Africa government policies in regards to health and sex need to avoid being limited because of the beliefs of one religion.

The ACLJ does not have that expansive a view.

I only hope that my concerns are misplaced or that their role is limited and that other groups, more moderate, sensitive, and expansive, play a greater role.

Turning Science Into NonScience February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Currently a hot tactic for creationists to use is to attack the assumption of naturalism that scientists have to make.  In fact that is the basis of the whole Intelligent Design movement, especially as popularized by the lawyer Phillip Johnson. 

Their argument goes that science assumes that there must be a natural explanation for how the world works.  Because of that science is blinding itself to the possibility that God is working directly in the world. 

 However is this assumption of naturalism really a self-perpetuated blindness on the part of scientists or is it a clear-sighted necessity for science to work? 

 Naturalism is basically the idea that there is a non-supernatural explanation for natural phenomena.  In other words any questions we ask about the world has to have a natural explanation.  Saying God did it is forbidden in scientific research.

 Before going further let me just say that just because a scientist assumes naturalism in his work (known as methodological naturalism) as a scientist does not mean that he or she assumes it in their total lives (naturalism).  They can be religious and still be a scientist. 

In fact a group of thousands of clergy from various religions such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and many others got together and did up a statement in support of evolution.   There are also thousands of scientists doing good research in evolution – paleontologists, archeologists, geologists, biologists – who are also Christian.  Two good books written about evolution from a Christian perspective are Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J. Godrey and Christopher R. Smith and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller.  Both are good books by Christian believers explaining why they support and do research into evolution and why they do not find it a conflict with their faith.

Going back to the main subject now, why is it that this naturalistic assumption is necessary for science to work?  The short answer as to why this is so is that “God did it” is a showstopper.  It stops us from looking further and deeper.

There is a Sydney Harris cartoon with two scientists watching a third writing a complicated mathematical formula on a blackboard. Between the two halves of the formula on the blackboard though are the words “And a Miracle Occurred”.    One on the watching scientist says to the other “I think he needs to be a little more explicit on that second step”

The Creationists(and this includes the Intelligent Design people since ID is nothing but a subset of creationism)  are like that scientist writing on the blackboard. 

When asked about how something occurs in the world there is a natural tendency to say that this is so complicated and we currently have no clue to how it occurred that therefore God must have done it.  However ignorance is proof of nothing but ignorance.  To be able to really make that argument work you would have to show how we can distinguish between these four possibilities when faced with a difficult question:

1)There is a natural explanation but we have not come up with the evidence needed to show us how to answer it or come up with the right way to look at the problem to solve it.  Some examples would be Plate Tectonics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

2) There is a natural explanation but we do not have the tools needed to solve it.  Examples are the Germ Theory of Disease (microscope) and most of Astronomy (telescope).

3)  There is a natural explanation but we will never be able to solve it because we just do not have the intelligence to do so.  For example imagine one of our early ancestors – possibly Homo Erectus – sitting on the shores of the ocean.  She notices the tides and wonders what causes them.  However her intelligence is too limited for her to ever understand how the gravitational effects of the moon and sun cause the tides.  Because of this she might conclude a god caused the tides when taking baths even though there is a natural explanation.

4)  God did it.

Until we come with a way to reliable way distinguish between these four possible hypotheses then assuming that God did it stops our questioning too soon.  If we had stopped with God causes disease to strike as punishment we would never have developed modern medicine.  If we had stopped with God causes the lightning we would never have learned about electricity and developed lightning rods among many other useful benefits.

 For people of faith, using an unknown as evidence that God did it not only stops us from looking for answers too soon but also puts the idea of God at risk.  What will the effect be on a person’s belief in God if part of that belief rested on ignorance and then we found a natural explanation?  Does it put his faith at risk then?  Ignorance is shaky ground to base a belief in God on.  Or any other belief for that matter. 

 I have gone on at probably too great a length because creationists love to use this naturalistic assumption as proof that scientists are atheists and that evolution is a theory driven by atheists.  Neither is correct. 

One of the interesting things about this is that the evidence for evolution and the stage was set for evolution by the creationist scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Their discoveries in biology and geology led to questions and answers that eventually resulted in evolution.  For a detailed look at that history Peter J. Bower’s Evolution The History of an Idea.  For a quicker but still good look at this try Edward J. Larson’s Evolution The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.

Since these arguments are being used most often in the context of evolution I have continued with that emphasis.  However make no mistake, were creationists to be successful in eliminating naturalism from science not only would evolution be destroyed but so too would all of science – from physics through chemistry, from Plate Tectonics to Relativity.   This can be very clearly seen in the other scientific theories and findings that creationist attack – age of the earth, radio-metric dating, Big Bang theory, etc. 

To sum up then, scientists have to assume that there are natural explanations for whatever questions about the natural world they are studying.  To do otherwise leaves them at great risk of missing out on a new discovery that will change the world – such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  To do otherwise would destroy science.