Not Yet The Majority But No Longer Silent

Re-branding secularism: what it means to be a public atheist in American discourse today.

There are many more atheists and agnostics in the country than is generally recognized. For instance, we atheists and agnostics are as numerous as Southern Baptists, and we are also the fastest growing category–-faster even than the Mormons and the evangelicals.

Why, then, are we atheists in general so unnoticed, and why is this changing? Since atheists, in general, think there are much more important and interesting topics to discuss than whether or not God — which God? — exists, we seldom raise the issue.

But recent trends in America have suggested to many of us that this diplomatic reticence has been exploited by sectarian ideologues, evangelists, politicians, and others intent on maintaining the illusion that we are a negligible fringe community, so we are encouraging those who agree with us to come out of the closet .

I use the idiom advisedly. A few decades ago, homosexuality was looked upon as so shameful that few dared declare themselves, and as a result, most homosexuals had to lie their way through life, for fear of losing their jobs, their reputations, their friends and family.

How times have changed — and for the better! It is now possible for homosexuals to be elected to Congress, to star in television shows, to be honored for their accomplishments and treasured by their friends. Could an atheist be elected to Congress? Probably not now, but if we can just raise the consciousness of Americans to the fact that some of their best friends are atheists, this will change.

In July, 2003, I wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled “The Bright Stuff”, where I drew attention to a budding movement among atheists intent on copying an idea from the homosexuals’ excellent campaign: the hijacking of a perfectly good word with an established meaning, gay, and putting it to use with a new meaning, as a consciousness-raiser.

The term “bright” was chosen by two brights in Sacramento — Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell — who thought we freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, et al — needed a fresh name. In the aftermath of my op-ed piece, I’ve read quite a few articles and thousands of messages about the term “bright.”

Most people who bother writing don’t like the term — including many brights (as I persist in calling them). It’s rude, disrespectful, antagonizing, they say. In other words, it’s just like “gay” (hey, you heteros, how do you like the implication that you’re glum and gloomy?).

I am still not convinced that it was a mistake to go with bright. These things take time. Had Geisert and Futrell chosen some bland, mealymouthed term most would have forgotten it by now. The “in your face” quality of the term is, in my opinion, a piquant, but mild, antidote to the prevailing practice of hyper-deference paid to religions but to no other institution in the country. And I have reminded those who find the term objectionable that just as the antonym of gay isn’t glum, but straight — another happy word — they are free to choose a peppy antonym for bright. I recommend super, since, unlike us brights, they believe in the supernatural.

Of course when gay was first promoted in its current use, many in the gay community loathed the term, and some still do. But eventually it won, and it created a way of talking that was vivid and healthy. Gay pride. Gay rights. Gays were encouraged to come out of the closet, and the nation was amazed to discover how many of its favorite sons and daughters were gay. That changed everything. It’s probably impossible to gauge how big a role the term played in the benign revolution in American attitudes towards homosexuality, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Whether or not the term bright catches on over the years, I think the movement to encourage brights to identify themselves (in whatever terms they like) is on a roll. Young people and old people write to me about their joy and relief when they discover that they are not alone.

It is still too early, probably, to elect a bright to Congress. Candidates will continue to grit their teeth and tell their fibs about their “faith” in order to get elected, and many who see through this but recognize a good candidate when they see one will continue to button their lips and vote for these tellers of white lies — including many who are themselves deeply religious but don’t believe you have to be religious to be good!

It would be better if we could simply wade through all this hypocrisy and acknowledge that there is simply no truth at all in the standard myth that without religion a person cannot be a good and honest citizen. We have discovered that Catholics and Jews (and gays and lesbians) can be excellent guardians of the public trust, and in due course we will recognize that not only are brights electable but that we have already elected, and honored, many thousands of closeted brights to high office — including the Presidency — in our past.

In my op-ed piece, I included some advice:

“If you’re a bright, what can you do? First, we can be a powerful force in American political life if we simply identify ourselves. (The founding brights maintain a Web site on which you can stand up and be counted.) I appreciate, however, that while coming out of the closet was easy for an academic like me — or for my colleague Richard Dawkins, who has issued a similar call in England — in some parts of the country admitting you’re a bright could lead to social calamity. So please: no ‘outing.’ “

I do think this is very important. I have received many anguished messages from brights living in red states who believe (correctly, I surmise, but I don’t know) that if they were to come out of the closet, they would be driven out of business if not out of town. So we must be patient, and gentle, and let people keep their faith — or lack of it — to themselves.

In the meantime, can we public atheists have productive conversations with believers? Certainly. We can discuss every issue under the sun, and particularly the great questions of ethics and public policy, respecting each other as citizens with honest disagreements about fundamental matters that can be subjected to reasonable, open inquiry and mutual persuasion. As I said in my first posting to On Faith, we all need to agree to live by the principles of rational discourse. That, and common courtesy, is the only rule we need — just as in science.

As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine.

 

 

 

Lead image courtesy of Jeff Ruane.

Daniel C. Dennett
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  • Jordan

    AAAHHH yes the proverbial miscontrued and misrepresented part of the population. Are you sure this should not be under the comic section of a website or at least the satire section. All that brainpower adamantly fighting something that will always be a part of society and will always be more popular than what you are fighting for.This part of the article takes the cake.I am still not convinced that it was a mistake to go with bright. These things take time. Had Geisert and Futrell chosen some bland, mealymouthed term most would have forgotten it by now. The “in your face” quality of the term is, in my opinion, a piquant, but mild, antidote to the prevailing practice of hyper-deference paid to religions but to no other institution in the country.Look around it is forgotten everyone still calls you atheists and agnostics. Whatever term you try to use to shake off the negativity will never work. Sorry nice try

  • Deev

    brights and supers…So if you’re on the fence, does that make you bi-philosophical?

  • Jeffrey Green

    Jordan and deev. Pointless and pointlesser. “We the mighty religious poeple will make you fearful.We have megachurches, megabelievers and megamoney.” Because all “beleivers” are righteous dudes and dudettes, they can righteously declare that atheists are the old/new bad, bad people. How dare an ordinary person pick a positive word to describe themselves. How dare someone who doesn’t go along with the program, ask for civil discourse. The “rapture” has been predicted so many times the friggin’ christians should all be gone by now.

  • Deev

    JG: Hey, don’t associate me with that jerk. I was just trying to be funny.

  • Doug Rasmussen

    While I am unable to shake off the perception that there is a greater intelligence and a progenitor that started it all, I am more inclined to the position of an agnostic. I find the position taken by many religious dogmatics – that they are somehow imbued with infallibility and absolute moral goodness to be not only offensive but dangerous. I certainly think that history provides ancient and recent validation.It is not so much that I think this position is something I have to come out of the “closet” on; but that there is an imperative to confront bigotry in any form, especially that which is couched in moral superiority. Those that have hijacked the political and power bases under the guise of god granted moral superiority must be confronted.

  • Forrest MacGregor

    Great article, but my browser is either double rendering the content or you have a tiny faux pas on your hands….It’s critical when self-identifying as a ‘bright’ that you make sure the website is not in conflict with that label. On the topic covered, I am personally ecstatic that the American athiest is forcefully coming out of the closet. I am very encouraged for the future as we move away from magic, superstition, and religion. Thanks for the great article. (Both of them! ;) )

  • Rory

    I am also seeing parts of this article twice

  • Anonymous

    to ANN QFirst: I never said I was a scientist. I am not. I do like evidence, however.Second: I never said intelligence *causes* unbelief. I said they were negatively correlated. Any fool knows that correlation does not prove causation.Evidence does accumulate however, and it is a good thing to test hypotheses.

  • Greg

    No, Mr. Karg, that last paragraph is not the “entire raison d’etre of anyone who believes in a God.” You do paint with a broad brush, as many do. Most of the faithful live quite lives, struggling day to day as all humans, practicing their faith quietly, without professing any special insight or truth. Worshipping personally and communally. Doing good works for their own sake, caring for others in need — only believing in God and His Son. Why is that such a problem for so many? I suspect that the problem, for some, is a few loud believers tic them off, so all are painted with a big brush. I suspect for some, though not all, it is simply because the faithful have such unquestioning faith in something they cannot prove. No, sir, our reason to exist is not to be right. It is to serve, and be faithful. Ivoy towers — yeah, they exist if you look for them.

  • plunge

    I can’t agree with anti-religious atheists and those who run around calling every believer stupid. But I do think that believers need to realize that after spending millenia lying, condemning, slandering, and basically making non-believers the butt of all your jokes, and the bad guy in all your sermons, that you shouldn’t act all surprised that there are some atheists who have a lot of anger and resentment over that. I myself don’t, but I can understand how one could. Punching a guy in the face and then whining when he is rude to you and calls you stupid is pretty silly behavior, but that is what a lot of religious panelists do. Some don’t, and get unfair nasty attacks from some atheists anyway. I agree those atheists are arrogant jerks, but hey: they are just people. Some people are jerks.

  • Eugen VonWestphalian

    When you “Brights” have tax-exempt status let me know. Then I will take you seriously. Money, baby that’s the “G*D” these holy rollers believe in. Otherwise, they would mind their own business and leave the majority of us alone. Your taxes at work in all the “faith based initiatives” teaches a new generation that G*D needs your help and bucks. CIAO, EvW

  • To Greg

    Greg: The reason “believing in God and His Son” is such a problem for this non-Christian is simple: A significant number of Christians believe that non-Christians should be forced to routinely pay homage to the supposed superiority of Christianity. It’s actually very uncomfortable to learn – after you’ve already accepted a job – that part of the job involves praying for sick co-workers.It’s actually very uncomfortable to have to hear your child describe the pressure to conform and join the Bible group, or pray, because Christians cannot be content with equality but must insist on Christianity as the official religion taught in public schools. It is as uncomfortable to me to watch my child wearing a Protestant choir robe and singing Protestant hymns at public school functions as it would be for you to see your child forced to dress in Muslim garb to sing about how glad he has to have Allah, who is greater than any other god. It is uncomfortable to hear that yet another teacher has been teaching superstitious crap to the kiddies in what can only be viewed as a blatant effort to appropriate what should be a parents’ right to teach their own values to their child.Christians are the first to whine and blubber about how unfair it is that Christians in China, the Middle East, etc. are forced to take a backseat to horrible laws that repress their religious freedom. But Christians are the only group in the US that repress others’ religious freedoms, and argue for their unrestricted right to continue to do so and expand their efforts.

  • James

    AnnI do have trouble following your logic. Maybe it is me.I have no idea what you mean by “a scienctist also *looks for* evidence and not just one kind” in relation to my comment.My data gives us *some* evidence on correlation of intelligence and lack of belief. It is difficult to do a scientific experiment in this area: the problems of using human subjects, etc.However, some of us, as we see accumulating evidence on this relationship, and as we common-sensically observe that good science depends on *both* intelligence and ability to interpret evidence, whereas dogmatic religious belief depends on the ability to ignore or not require evidence, and is often interpreted by patently illogical people, conclude that maybe there is also some causal link. The smarter you are, the less you believe in virgin births or 6,000 year old earths or resurrections.

  • Michael Karg

    To GregYour statement of most believer’s “reason to be,” is OK with me. I was referring to those believers willing to enter into a discussion, leaving behind those things mentioned by the professor. How could they ever do that?You see, Greg, we already have experience of believers wanting our children in the public schools to be taught only believer-acceptable science. And the only discussion they accept is to be voted off the school board — sort of a broad brush.

  • Ashley

    Jordan:Atheist and atheism are terms I embrace. By using them frequently and openly, we deprive them of the negative power that the Pat Robertsons of the world try to associate with them.Regarding religion being always being more popular: history isn’t destiny. Any Christian with the tiniest knowledge of his faith’s past should know that.

  • James

    Though we love Dr Dennett and agree on the usefulness of a name, we don’t think “Bright” is right.It needs to sound more mellifluous. “Gay” sings, probably due to its closing open-sounding vowel. “Bright” cuts itself off too soon.Also, we would like a word that evokes, or refers more effectively to, the underlying idea/non-belief system.So we encourage more suggestions from you all here on this post. Bright is a good start: can we do better.

  • victoria

    well- why do agnostics and atheists always insist that they can dictate the terms of discussion to believers?if the conversation here is about faith- how can you demand such an unreasonable prerequisite?

  • James the Un-Beloved

    VictoriaWhen two parties are trying to come to a common solution on something, it is usually best for them to start by fixing the things they can agree on, and also not to start on the “non-negotiable” items.You and I probably agree that it is a good thing for our children not to steal from each other.We can have a discussion about the ways children learn this principle without your saying they have to believe in God or my saying that they don’t.I can’t believe that you don’t think evidence is in this category. If we are trying to tell when giraffes first appeared on earth, wouldn’t you look at fossil records with me, and other objective evidence? We wouldn’t need to bring in the creation story of Genesis.I am perfectly willing to discuss with you how reasonable/useful/behaviorally beneficial it is to believe in God. I just won’t be convinced if you tell me I should believe in him because you believe in him. I think that is what atheists are saying by and large.

  • DuckPhup

    I am not encouraged, yet. The following exchange took place at the Chicago airport between Robert I. Sherman of American Atheist Press and George Bush, on August 27 1987. Sherman is a fully accredited reporter, and was present by invitation as a member of the press corps. The Republican presidential nominee was there to announce federal disaster relief for Illinois. The discussion turned to the presidential primary:RS: “What will you do to win the votes of Americans who are atheists?”UPI reported on May 8, 1989, that various atheist organizations were still angry over the remarks.The exchange appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on Monday February 27, 1989. It can also be found in “Free Inquiry” magazine, Fall 1988 issue, Volume 8, Number 4, page 16.On October 29, 1988, Mr. Sherman had a confrontation with Ed Murnane, co-chairman of the Bush-Quayle ’88 Illinois campaign. This concerned a lawsuit Mr. Sherman had filed to stop the Community Consolidated School District 21 (Chicago, Illinois) from forcing his first-grade atheist son to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States as “one nation under God” (Bush’s phrase). The following conversation took place:RS: “American Atheists filed the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit yesterday. Does the Bush campaign have an official response to this filing?”After Bush’s election, American Atheists wrote to Bush asking him to retract his statement. On February 21st 1989, C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President, replied on White House stationery that Bush substantively stood by his original statement, and wrote:”As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government.”I have seen nothing that leads me to believe that the current President Bush is any more enlightened than his old man.

  • VICTORIA

    james the unbeloved-like if i wanted to clarify a point using a parable or Qur’anic statement or analogy i wouldnt want to be limited or controlled in how i choose to make that point-as we would respectfully agree to disagree on some points- it doesnt mean that they cant be elaborated on-for instance you might want to talk about evolution and giraffes and i might want to talk about mans inhumanity to man or something-i always look at everyones links even if theyre called http://www.boydoihatemuslims.com or spemthing so of course id look at those fossils- but id hope that if i felt inspired to share soemthing the same regard would be reciprocated–i always do this in public with my husband— did you ever see the holy grail from monty python when michael palin is in the fields with terry jones and theyre peasants and graham chapman gallops on by on his imaginary horse and tells them hes the king and theyre under his subjugation and they start to argue about that they thought the government is a collective o something or other i forget and when the kings minions grab michael palin by the scruff of his collar he is leaping around wildly and yelling HELP!! HELP!!! IM BEING SUPPRESSED! NOW WE SEE THE OPPRESSION INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM!!!well i like to jump up and yell that i wear a headscarf and my husband just rolls his eyes-so i dont want to be suppressed from any expression either

  • James

    Dear Anonymous Just AboveYes, I completely agree with you.As I also said, it’s pretty well established that high intelligence tends to mean lower religiosity and belief.You go further than I did in imputing causality, though again I completely agree with your reasoning and your conclusion.

  • James the Un Beloved

    Victoria:The big issue most of us heathens are upset about is when believers think public policy should be made based on Religious Beliefs: i.e. No Stem Cell Research because God wouldn’t like it, No evolution taught in schools because God created the world 6,000 years ago.I and many others think stem cell policy should be decided on evidence based, secular arguments, of course taking into account morality (atheists are just as moral as believers).You are perfectly free to believe in God, and I want to know you do in our private discussions. I just don’t want us making policy, or going to war, because God told us we should.

  • Greg

    Michael, sorry about your experience. Interesting side note — I am on the Board of Ed here in WV. I am in the Appalachian Mountains — very Bible belt. (I am a Catholic in a very not Catholic environment.) I have never once been asked by any of the many Christians I know to propose creationism as alternative education in our schools. Nor have I been asked to support organized prayer in schools — many Christians I know support the right of their children to pray in schools, but not organized prayer by “the state”. My personal experience is that the majority here acknowledge that school is for learnin’ and church is for preachin’.

  • victoria

    ANONYMOUS your conclusions seem somewhat divergent fromt he sites provided-1. Considering religion important lowers measured IQ (unlikely, since IQ is substantially geneticmost of the studies you cited usde the sat as its basis not general iq tests- many of the 40 tests cited had neutral and even inverse resultsthe paper of the study submitted was a small control group and the author admitted it did not represent a cross section of the usid love to see a test on muslims with their EMPHASIS on the importance of pursuing scientific thought and studywere you aware that muslim immigrants to america are the most highly educated group of immigrants ever? een surpassing on average the mean education level of americans themselvesi agree about the church- thats why it was islamic universities that the europeans sent their children to that led to them pulling themselves out of the dark ages – 1000 years agowhy do agnostics and atheists always think people of faith are somehow intellectually inferior?education does not equal intelligenceim a believer and yet im reading this site to try and foster growth and understanding peace

  • Warp10

    Mr. Dennett,I very much respect you and your reputation.And like you I am not religious,However, frankly I would not characterize a majority of either the Atheists OR non-Atheists I have encountered directly or indirectly as worthy of the label == “bright”.So in short, I find the person who made this suggestion == at least on this one subject matter == not to be very… “bright”.Yours,

  • Greg

    I believe, therefore I am stupid — is that the idea some are actually propounding here. I don’t need a study for that one folks. It is absurd on its face. Many well educated, well read people are believers. Many of the most talented, special people to ever walk this earth are believers. I am not the brightest person on this earth, but I do consider myself fairly well read, intelligent and a Christian. I know some really intelligent people, who are people of faith. I know some not so bright people who also believe. As for non-believers, the same is true — some are really smart, others not so. What does this all prove. Nothing.

  • Warp10

    Victoria,It has been my experience that most atheists understand that it is only a small fringe of Muslims that are ignorant fundies.In my personal experience, it has been my conservative Christian friends (but not my liberal Christian friends) who falsely think all Muslims are alike…. and are of the ignorant fundie variety.I hate the term “brights” because I hate labels (especially a smug one like this). I find they are divisive. We don’t need this!At least accept my apology for this.

  • victoria

    JAMES- do you really think that people of belief qualify their opening staements by relinquishing their own ability to think critically with such a statement as “i believe in god so…”you must have had soem really upsetting conversations with believers if they prefaced any statement like that.its like saying- i belong to the predictable herd that blindly follows the party line so i think what im told to think—i assure you that would never happen in any conversation id have-actually the conversation would be more like this-there is a passage in the Qur’an that states- do not blindly follow the ways of your parents but rather read what is contained herein and use your own intelligence and reason to DECIDE FOR YOURSELF IF THIS IS CORRECT!!there is no contradiction to pursuing stem cell research and the Qur’an- it is even stated that e are formed from male and female fluids and are formed from a clot of blood- it goes on to detail the development of the embryo in the womb and states that what is called the soul is not present until the 40th day- this was written 1400 years ago- and there was no way anyone oould have imagined the truth of it til modern history provided us with the means to prove its truth.we really do have to dialogue with some mutual respect- if i assert that all atheists are devoid of morality(which id never do) it would really not make you feel as if i respected you, would it?the same goes with blanket assertions that all beievers are “dim”

  • James the Un Beloved

    To Greg, Re Intelligence.Men are taller than women.80 studies have demonstrated a Negative Correlation between intelligence and belief.But that does not mean Every Believer is less intelligent than Every Atheist.It pretty clearly means that *the more intelligent you are as measured by IQ tests, the less likely you are to believe in a God who created the world and who has reason, intelligence, and motivation.Those really are facts. The next 70 studies MAY reverse the findings. I doubt it, but if they do I will look at them as openly as I look at the present data.

  • victoria

    well thank you warp10 i really appreciate knowing that and its sweet for you to apologize for something you didnt do but i appreciate the sentimentspeaking of dim and bright- would anyone mind if i posted apoem that i love?

  • victoria

    JAMES i counted 31 studies on the one site and one on the other which is 32- is there another site i missed? its possible i didnt click on every wikipedia link

  • Ann O.

    BEN tells us: Methods that reliably do arrive at accurate beliefs, such as scientific methods, do not arrive at theistic beliefs.Hi, Ben,You are assuming that science is reliable. Well, it all depends on how you define “reliable” and what you mean by science. ISTM that most would agree that given the current major meaning of “science”, science is dependent on math, and since the mid-19th century mathematicians have discovered more and more paradoxes (a cop-out word for contradictions) in math itself. So how reliable does that make science? We also know that there are paradigm shifts in the thinking of scientists, so where is the consistency of “science”? I say there is no one thing that is “science”, that what unity of meanings it has is an historical one, with elements coming and going so that what was first called “science” is not what is called “science” today, and the elements are not all consistent with each other.Why should I assume, therefore, that the current “science” has the reliability you claim for it?By the way, what do you mean by “science”? A look at the history of the word “science” shows that it has gone from Aristotle’s paradigm definition — “(logically( ordered, universal, necessary knowledge of the causes of things” — to the current “probable, logically ordered, hopefully universal knowledg of the causes of empirical phenomena”. Many scientists include scientific method in the definition, which, of course, generally includes math. HOwever, it does not have the consistency which is often a ssumed. The implication of this is that science is by its own current criteria only roughly true or hopefully true, or possibly true. Sigh. Ann O.

  • Anonymous

    To James the Unbeloved,I am an atheist. So I have no ideological reason for not debating you — except on the merits of the topic alone.Your statistics are based on such wide generalizations to be meaningless. Let me provide you an example to demonstrate: Orientals measure the highest IQ of all the races.Does that mean only Orientals deserve the label of “Bright”?Answer no: The variation between individuals in all races is so great for the overall averages to be meaningless. (Same as for male vs female).I think the great atheist wit, Mark Twain, had it right on the misuses of statistics.”Hierarchy of Lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and … Statistics.”

  • Warp10

    Oops.My last post went out under Anonymous.

  • Warp10

    Ann OScience does not promise 100% certainty of knowledge, (although it provides a systematic method for searching for truths, and discarding non-truths.)But before you use this as an excuse to rush to theology, please consider:Science has been MORE accurate in describing our PHYSICAL, NATURAL world than ANY of the ancient religious writings. (Care to see examples?)Now, religious adherents have the “hope” that their religion is more reliable and accurate in the SPIRITUAL realm (which has not been proven to really exist.)Since there are a large number of religions– which one possess the real truth in the details? There is something like just 20,000 different CHRISTIAN sects alone.here is a thought experiment I used in my search for truth (and found religion lacking):If a theological position were “true”, would not two people have independently “discovered” {divinely, etc) this truth across different cultures, geography and historical times? Instead what we find that the closer two religions are in theology — the more likely they were exposed to each other (geographically, in historical timeframes, etc). Just one more reason, religions appear to be a product of our human imagination, and not a “force” external to the human experience.

  • Warp10

    Did it again. I could have sworn I put Warp10 on the name line.

  • Warp10

    Since I have proven forgetful in putting my alias name on the line…I will be happy to opine I am not very bright either,,,,Mr. Dennett, you will need to find another label for me!Cheers

  • Warp10

    Virginia,Thank you for your post,What proof do you have the Quran is accurate about the 250,000 prophets professing the same theology?Why even the Shiites and Sunnies cannot agree on basic Muslim principles of theology today == and are even destroying each others mosques in Iraq.Is your position that there was more divine inspiration in ancient times than today– in modern times?Respectfully yours,

  • victoria

    how about sparky warp10?

  • Warp10

    Just did a “find” query on Sparky and nothing came up but your post.Care to elaborate?

  • victoria

    that is particularly interesting that you called me virginia as that is my mothers nameand i always answer to it-because the sparky was a proposed name-we dont know when they appear- as far as proof no one wants to hear a discussion on the uncorrupted survival of the Quran in this forum im sure-its a common recent american misconception that the division between shia and sunni is theological- nothing is further from the truth- theologically they are in concert- the division is a historical and political one about who was the caliph to continue on with islam-ali (shia) or the sunni succession- there was a breaking off of the ali contingent- purely political amazingly though the theology is the same- both quran based- and as for the provability of the Quran- that is for more classicly trained minds than mine- this is the faith part- acceptance because it keeps proving trrue scientifically and satisfies so many questions for me personally i have to go get eggplnats at the store right now sparky is a good substitute for bright i thought

  • Amy

    I disagree with “bright” because it connotes higher intelligence than believers. The first person I met in mensa is a born-again Christian. I prefer “infidel” because it has been a term of derision, and rehabilitating it the way “yankee” has been (at least up north!) would be more fitting.

  • Ann O.

    WARP 10 writes: Science does not promise 100% certainty of knowledge, (although it provides a systematic method for searching for truths, and discarding non-truths.)Hi, Warp 10,Scientific method provides a method for searching for *empirical* truths and discarding what is not justified. Sadly, scientific method does not provide a method for searching for non-empirical truths. But just because I lack a fish hook for catching a trout, it doesn’t mean that the trout doesn’t exist and can’t be caught by other means.What I mainly have against what is sometimes called “scientism” (not science) is that it claims that there definitely are only empirical facts — the sort which our senses seem to grasp. But even that sort of science itself rests on the non-empirical insights of logic and math. And my own experience includes data that is *not* empirical — for instance, my experience of my own acts of choosing and (as the great logician Frege pointed out) we have understanding of the non-empirical meaning of the very word “not”. There are no “nots” out there in the empirical world to be weighed and measured, yet there are internal events which are *intellectual seeings* that a red thing is *not* a green one and that a thing canNOT be red and green all over. These are philosophical, not empirical matters, and they are knowable, and they are beyond what science does and even can consider. (That is true by definition if you define science as concerned only with the empirical.) Empirical data is simply not the only given. Scientific knowledge is not the only kind of knowleldge. If you can see that, if you can possibly take the phenomenological method (introspection) seriously, you might entertain the thought that there just possibly might be other sorts of data that simply are not accessible to science. And your world might be enriched for finding it. You might even find the fact of grace.ISTM that everytime someone says, as Carl Sagan once did on his TV series Cosmos that the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, then that person shows an extremely limited grasp of the sorts of things humans can know — they have *extremly* closed minds. “Science” in the best sense is open-minded, and open enough to see that it’s objects might not be the only sorts of realities. Some very fine scientists do see this. And I have every reason to think that too is a fact.This is not to say, of course, that phenomenological data is beyond the reach of logic. Of course not. Logic is a method common to both science and theology. That means that religious data is not beyond the reach of logic, though many religious people (such as Luther) would not agree, and their minds are also extremely closed. However, the rejection of reason is not typical of all religions. (Most medieval theologians — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — *LOVED* logic.) It is obviously true that, as in science, sometimes religious believers do find contradictions among their beliefs. But the thing to do then is to do further analysis of the data and to look for more evidence, and consider how language can lead us astray, and try to resolve the contradictions — just as the mathematicians try to eliminate their paradoxes, and just as the current physicists try to eliminate the contradictions between relativity and quantum theory.What I’m saying is that science is not the only sort of knowledge, and the problems in religious belief are not all that different in kind from the problems in science — both seem to involve contradictions. ISTM that all of us must be humble enough to see that, unless we are willing to give up on reason (and I’m not willing to do that any more than you are), we have to grant that our problems are in our understandings of the data, not the data themselves.Ann O.

  • plunge

    Someone left an italic tag open. :)

  • vcitroia

    BEN- respectfully sir- i think you acknowledged a point that Ann actually did not make-from what i ganrnered- she wasnt at all commenting on the physical nature of not being able to be everywhere at all times at all-but i believe she was talking about the mindsets of scientists that have undergone some fluid changes over the course of history changing what they agree to as a general consensus(paradigm) and that even the physical accuracy of even what were considered mathematical constants can be rediscovered to be incomplete or need “tweaking”. i think she was gently suggesting that perhaps the inflexible prove truths of today- may in a distant future light prove to be of a different nature- and that humility in the vast incredible phenomenon of this and other worlds might compel scientitismists to be more gentle and froesighted in their statements of absolutes-good advice in any paradigm-i really like listening to Ann shes so open mindedand she has nice mannersalso- while you certainly did not overtly call believers a name- your statement that you found it very difficult to have a discussion with them contains an implicit negative judgement-and i maintained at 18 that i would not want to have to lock myslef into any decision i made in my youth as even then i understood that i had much to learn-perhaps without emotional attachments its about time you re-examined conclusions you came to in oyur youth.

  • Mad Love

    “No Longer Silent” I think that’s the Crux of the Biscuit right there…It used to seem to be untoward to me to question peoples beliefs. Out of respect, I guess. Anymore it’s getting harder and harder to suffer fools gladly. Time to put the adults in control.

  • Ann O.

    PROF. DENNETT: As I said in my first posting to On Faith, we all need to agree to live by the principles of rational discourse. That, and common courtesy, is the only rule we need–-just as in science.Ann O.: Thanks, Professor, for a civil post. Now can you tell us believers how to hold a conversation with both believers and non-believers who seem to think that name-calling is evidence for their positions? I have been appalled by the number of insults per post on this blog. I’m old and I find it quite irritating to have waste my time slogging through the mud-slinging to get at the posts of value.Ann O.

  • Duff

    If you is dumb, you is also probably religious.

  • James Smith

    Dr DennettWhat a humane and thoughtful piece. Though I don’t know you, I have friends who do and say you are a lovely man, and this post underscores that.It becomes increasingly powerfully clear, in reading the comments on this site, that brights like you and many others are trying to understand our human engagement with ultimate questions and with society, and the dogmatic religionists are sadly vitriolic much of the time. Thus humaneness is more and more clearly “a breath of fresh air.”

  • Joe

    Didn’t see this mentioned above (and pardon if it slipped by me given the prior 30,000 words commented), but I do take a bit of offense of lumping atheists and agnostics together. Frankly, as an agnostic, I find both atheists and religious/spirtualist types to be clinging to the same thread. As someone trained in the sciences, I was taught that it’s always more difficult to prove something is impossible than to suggest its possibility. Maybe a higher being is improbable, perhaps wildly so, but to say definitely “No” is claiming a bit more knowledge than anyone on this rock has. Some people may label agnostics as wishy-washy or without conviction, but you can lead a moral life and contribute to society without taking sides in the divinity debate (and demeaning those who chose to believe or disbelieve). Does this make me bi-spiritual?

  • Ba’al

    Professor Dennett as usual hits the nail on the head when he points out that atheists usually don’t talk about this issue because there are other things — things that are real — that occupy are thoughts and energies. I figure this debate is simply not worth any time at all.But then I come across news items like this:Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This because modern science might disagree with somebody’s Iron Age “Sacred Scriptures” and we wouldn’t want to offend anybody, at least not any Good People who believe in God. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you offend atheists, after all, one of the earlier panelists noted that he never met an atheist that he liked.

  • Anonymous

    omigosh, or should i say omigod? Whatever. Depends on whether you are bright or dim, I suppose.Although you have a valid point and your article is both funny and bright (double entendre intended) it is also goofy and a waste of time in some respects. But then, so is this debate since neither side will convince the other, such being the nature of faith and such being the nature of non-belief while awaiting evidence for the belief.Actually, “bright” was a pretty dim idea — I’d say dimwitted, but then you’d accuse me of not having rational or respectful discourse, something both sides seem to wail about but not follow.The idea of using a new and different word that doesn’t mean what it meant but comes to mean what you want it to mean is, of course, one of the great PR tricks. Obviously, being called an atheist sounds like being “anti” something. So, anti-abortion gave way to pro-life and queer or fag gave way to “gay.”I thought about substitutes, like “right” instead of “bright” but then that has political overtones suggesting adherence to dogmas of various types. So we’ll have to scrap being right. If we go down one more step on that non-evolutionary scale and devolve to “ight” we might have something, and then tranforming “ight” to “might” to make a sort of “ight” and “might” society would unite the non-believers (oops, another negative term) with the agnostics. Ahh, we’re onto something – making progress.Having come this far, I have to reiterate that “bright” sounds “dim.”How about something like “prescients” which, of course, has the downside of projecting the same quality as “believers” in all their iterations coming across as if they have some special scope through which they can tell the truth — or should I say, “divine” the truth?As long as we are still thinking about “right” which we discarded in its political connotations, we must explore further its meaning of correctness or rectitude. So, perhaps a term like “truthsters” or “rectitudinals” (although that is too easy to distort with references to the derriere) might work. I sort of like “erects” since that connotes standing up for one’s positions, uprightness, and also brings into play the evolutionary concept of man growing from being on all fours to the two-footed homo sapiens.Actually, I like a more positive term like “Freethinkers” but that has all sorts of connotations. Maybe something totally confusing like “Karmalites” would work — then when people ask “NUN?” you could say “NO, NONE, NOT NUN.” There you go, that sums it all up. Problem solved and your Karma trumps their Dogma!What a waste of time!! — hehehe

  • Schuyler DuQuesne

    I would observe, once again, that the religious suffer from a fear peculiar to the small-minded. They fear that, without the over-arching protection of an agency (God) upon which to hang responsibility for their own creation and upon whose glory to hitch their destiny-wagon, they will have to fall back on their own inadequate devices to determine right from wrong. Surely, being mere humans (although claiming the apex of creation), we cannot possibly have any way to determine right from wrong without the omniscient guidance of a God – “Great Sky-Father” – who himself exhibits the manners and ethics of a spoiled child.”For whosoever quoteth scripture endlessly hath neither job nor hobby.” II Mumbleonians 4:19

  • Anonymous

    I rarely agree with what atheists have to say about the existence of God. I do agree with their silence. As an employer I was predjudice against many religions and for good reason. Having the option of hiring an atheist instead of a Mormon or equal fanatic I always hired the atheists. Why? Because my company was not a temple of God, a place to evangelsize my employees. Simply put, atheists rely on themselves to get what they want in life and never on supernatural beings. They are neither preaching or teaching anything inconsistent with getting the job done. Believe it or not, getting the job done and done right is what makes the world go round.

  • Greg

    I agree that we need to treat others with respect, and make our debate civil. What bothers me about the debate is that both “sides” seem to ignore such a simple concept, and attack, demean, and disparage. As a believer, two things come to mind. First, God, then Jesus told us it is about choice. No one is made to believe, only offered the opportunity. So, if you don’t believe, that is a choice you were given by the diety many follow. Second, Christians are reminded to “Judge not, lest yeah be judged.” To condemn or judge others who don’t believe is to ignore what we are taught. So I say to each of you, remember that we are all here, together, sharing this world and this time. We can harass each other for our own purposes, or we can share the time in peace and community. Why do we spend so much time and energy degrading each other when we could be building each other up, making our place and time better? I guess that is the nature of humankind, to fear those who believe differently, to try to convert them, and when all else fails, to treat the “others” as bad, and wrong. That is not what the Gospels preach, nor, in a secular sense, does it make for good relationships among human beings. Let us all work toward a better world, each with their own belief system, treating others as we would hope to be treated. Such a simple idea, so hard to practice.

  • james

    Re Duff’s Comment: Dumb etc.Less epigrammatically:Roughly 95% of our best scientists, members of the American Academy of arts and sciences, describe themselves as non-believers.Come to think of it, scientists tend to be over-reliant on evidence and rationality, don’t they?

  • Ann O.

    JAMES writes:Re Duff’s Comment: Dumb etc.Less epigrammatically:Roughly 95% of our best scientists, members of the American Academy of arts and sciences, describe themselves as non-believers.Come to think of it, scientists tend to be over-reliant on evidence and rationality, don’t they?ANN O. responds: Bad science, James. You’ve considered only one possible cause of the phenomenon and jumped to the conclusion that that’s one possible cause *is* the cause. As a scientist, shouldn’t you be asking yourself: why did I make such an egregious scientific error? What was the cause of my jumping to that conclusion?Have a good day :-)Ann O.

  • Michael Karg

    Early on, the professor wrote, “Since atheists, in general, think there are much more important and interesting topics to discuss than whether or not God — which God? — exists, we seldom raise the issue.”I agree, but I enjoy wasting time.Then, after all that boring “bright” business, he ended with, “As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no priviledge, no direct line to absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine.”How is that to happen? That last paragraph denotes the entire raison d’etre of anyone who believes in a God.Unless, of course, Ivory Towers really do exist.

  • George

    Atheists are easy to identify on my computer. They only write in italics.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Paul R Cooper Says :It’s a question of probability. Is it very probable that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God created the world?Mosquitos? Sickle Cell DNA mutations? Saddam Hussein? George Bush. World War II? The Holocaust?Ten minutes honest reflection shows that the probabilities are heavily weighted against the existence of such a God. So sure, there may be an all powerful force that created the universe, but it’s not good. Or there may be an all loving totally merciful entity that hasn’t got complete control of the universe, but then why call it God? However it is almost certain, if logic and the definition of words is to mean anything, that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God does not exist.

  • Charles Stewart

    I am an Ignostic (note, Ig not Ag.)

  • yoyo

    The 9/11 terrorists were religious believers.

  • Brian Coughlan

    I am finished with any ‘religion’ and anyone who strongly identifies exclusively with one. But I will never be an atheist.Heather, we are all atheists about every God but our own. You seem to agree that god is simply an unknown entity, but you are almost certainly an atheist about Zeus, Diana, Elvis and possibly the “big 3″ monotheistic gods too.You sound like an atheist in every respect but name ….. join …. ussss ….. join ussss Heather ….

  • Jose Mosqueira

    I’m not a believer. Neither I’m I an Anglophone, so excuse my writing.

  • rjr

    HeatherSorry to hear about your experience here in DC. I live and work on the outskirts of DC (PG County)and often get curious looks when I say I’m agnostic. The looks got even curiouser while I was reading a book on Byzantine theology. Some of these same people then go on to tell me that they don’t believe in the church and follow their own spiritual path.There is a lot of deep religious conviction here, as well as a lot of politicking. I just ignore it and move on. If it’s something that affects my career, for example, then I figure that I really don’t want to work there, anyway.So, take comfort in at least knowing there is one sympathetic soul in the area:)

  • Brian Coughlan

    To use the word “bright” to designate us – non believers-, as a group, seems a little presumptuous because it implies that we consider the rest of the people as less gifted: less brilliant or less intelligent than us. Being bright is a quality, unlike being gay which is an attitude.Jose it is presumptious, but it is also a very useful meme. Religion spreads because of powerful memes such as “Faith without evidence is good”, “Those who do not beleive will go to Hell and suffer eternally”, “Those who beleive will go to Heaven and enjoy eternal happiness”.This is powerful stuff to counteract, and it has millenia of cultural momentum behind it.The meme “Non-Beleivers are, on average, more intelligent than beleivers” is a good meme, and it also has the benefit of being true:-)

  • Greg

    Just got back from mass (fairy tale theatre to some of you). It was a particularly moving experience today. Perhaps because of the last few days of reading the thread here. During the mass, I heard no judgment of nonbelievers, saw no persecution of the unchurched (as we say here in the mountains), nor hatred or vitriol spewed forth at anyone. I heard a message of love, hope, and family. I worshipped freely, with my faith family, before the altar of our Lord. If that offends anyone, well, so be it. In the meantime, many around my community chose not to go to church, do not worship God, and live a life much like mine. OK. It is not my place to judge what they do. This is a free society, founded on principles involving a right to worship freely or not, to speak ones mind or not, to engage in public discourse with others about issues affecting us all or not.

  • jim

    This post is mainly for the agnostic/atheists here, and on why I do believe it is rational to move from agnosticism to outright atheism.I moved from agnostic to atheist, not because of any fundamentalism, or clear non-existence proof, but from a pure scepticism that any god-concept has anything to offer me in my life, or in my intellectual worldview. God has no duties left to fulfill, as I see it.First, I DO think one can disprove all the “gods” so far envisioned by humans. The Christian loving god concept is blown away by the existence of evil argument, just for starters. That’s as strong a dis-proof of an all powerful merciful loving god as I can imagine.Lots of the Christian beliefs are undermined for me simply by studying the origin of the bible (Hebrew and older folk tales gathered and selected by Constantinian-period human men, with more material added later by “copyists”.)But honestly, for me the main movement from agnostic to atheist came because I ran out of anything for God to do! All the traditional jobs and duties of any god are eliminated.1. I no longer believe in an afterlife, so god is not needed for running heaven/hell/purgatory/limbo etc. Plus, no after-death judging job is left for him either.2. I do not believe any god-concept created the universe or even one little thing in it. Nor will any god-being end the world, so those traditional duties of god are gone for me.3. I believe I am a biological being, made by my mother and father, one of a long line of creatures stretching back many millions of years, and there is no more reason to think I have a soul than any of them. I believe all thinking happens between the ears, with neurons and other similar cells. Perhaps some other organs play a role, but it’s all bio-soup for me, no epiphenomena, nor mystical thinking substance. Thus there no god duty of ensouling for me.4. Since reading Plato, I no longer think any god had anything to do with making the rules of morality. Are morals good because god made them, or did god make them because they are good? The point being, if god made them, then any arbitrary thing (like even torture) could have been made good by god. But that’s absurd, so if there’s any kind of good at all, it is prior to or independant of god’s will. So the god-concept has no ethical work to do.What’s left? I have no needs in my worldview for any god-concept to fill. So why wait around as an agnostic, open to the idea that a god-concept might enter my life. There’s no need for a god concept left to fulfill. No duties, so no need to hold open the possibility of god. Thus, my atheism.

  • edxmd

    A question for atheists (that is, no metaphysical answers please):Has matter/energy always been present or did it appear de novo at the time of the “big bang”? Matter/energy always being present is a concept difficult for me to grasp. If matter/energy presented itself at the time of the “big bang” how was it caused? Are scientific explanations or hypotheses given to explain the origin/or eternal presence of matter/energy? Do atheists accept the possibility of a non metaphysical “super intelligence(s)” as a causative agent?

  • rjr

    JimYour description of agnosticism as “waiting around” is a bit broad-stroked. I characterize myself as agnostic because the whole concept is meaningless to me. I don’t care if there is a god, or not. It has no relevance in how I live my life. I can’t say that there is or isn’t one and I’m fine with that. I’m not waiting for an answer, or feel the need to make a decision one way or the other.

  • Heather

    RJR / Brian M.RJR — Thanks. It has ruined my career. The only thing I am afraid of in this entire world is cults and I just ran into too much brainwashing/indoctrinated people in the intel community (perhaps administration too) who take religion and beliefs to the extreme making them worse than the terrorists themselves. If there is extremism that is justified it is extremist for moderation. This should be the “war” for the US. Brian — thanks for making me laugh.

  • Greg

    To John & E. Yes, it is vitriolic E Favorite. I haven’t reviewed the studies, don’t know what their definition of intelligence is, haven’t looked at the controls, nor the measures. How did they gather the study group. What were the controls? Not to mention what it is that IQ tests actually measure in the first place. I see alot of “studies” that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on — the vailidity of the studies you mention may stand up to scrutiny, and may not. I think that my point stands on its own — intelligent people are believers. Time and history prove it beyond doubt. Are more smart people nonbelievers. I don’t know. But why exactly does it matter?

  • Ben

    Edxmd said: Has matter/energy always been present or did it appear de novo at the time of the “big bang”? Matter/energy always being present is a concept difficult for me to grasp. If matter/energy presented itself at the time of the “big bang” how was it caused? Are scientific explanations or hypotheses given to explain the origin/or eternal presence of matter/energy? Do atheists accept the possibility of a non metaphysical “super intelligence(s)” as a causative agent?Matter energy may have always been present or it may have come into existence. I don’t know.There are a few scientific conjectures that attempt to explain the origin of our universe. One of the strongest is Guth’s Theory of Inflation:I accept the possibility of a ‘super intelligence.’ I also accept the possibility of a ‘super Keno machine’ generating fundamental constants for a new universe in the multiverse every so often. The possibilities are limitless.

  • Heather

    Brian Coughlan — thanks for making me laugh.

  • yoyo

    I find it impossible to believe in anything supernatural without feeling kinda silly.

  • C.Gray

    **Religions have carefully designed their theologies to make this [civil debate] impossible. The debate always starts out with “oh, you don’t believe, so you must be going to hell”**How odd. The Christians who instructed me as a child explicitly rejected the concept of Hell. In fact they did so repeatedly (complete with extended quotes from the Bible) until it became a particularly boring Sunday school subject. They must have missed the design committee meeting. (OTOH, they had little success convincing me of their theology, even as an impressionable kid).Seriously, I routinely hear as many dogmatic, mean-spirited and wildly inaccurate statements from self-proclaimed “brights” as I do from the most annoying bible-thumping fundie. And at least the fundie will always admit, if pushed, that Christians can be as sinful and wicked as other human beings (original sin and all that). Whereas many “brights” seem to be obsessed with convincing others that religious people are either all ignorant, malignant or both. On top of that, the fundie really believes he is doing me a personal favor by trying to convert me, while the “bright” is normally just venting wildly about the awfulness of the terrifying fundies.Getting back to Dennett’s main point, he’s absolutely right. If atheists remain “closeted” and refuse to publicly admit their beliefs, negative perceptions of atheists by believers WILL persist because they will go unchallenged. And those in public life who do so are, in fact, lying to their constituents, which cannot do anything good for the political process.

  • Some guy

    Greg, You do the same bashing that you criticize others for. This is insane, no?

  • Darkie

    >Greg wrote:Ah, but there’s the rub. In the U.S. of A. there is another branch of governance called the Judicial. Their purpose is to protect the rights of the INDIVIDUAL by listening just to their situation and determining if that single person (or minority group) is due some extra process to give them equality. Hence the attacks by the Right on “activist” judges. The Christianists are working hard and overtime to remove this fundamental protection for the minority so they can enforce their views (10 commandments (which they can’t even list themselves) in public spaces, creches on public squares, restrictions on health care for woman, gutting of science, and boy, I could go on and on here…) That is why it is important for those who support the constitutional right to having religion kept out of secular law to pay attention to the erosion of our rights. Atheists have a special interest in this, as you might imagine. No one thinks you shouldn’t have a good time at church on Sunday, just don’t expect anyone else to think more of you for it. I had a great time at the last football game I went to but I don’t think I should go door to door telling people to buy season tickets. I don’t think I should be trapped in an office with someone asking me if I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior (although I shut the last one up by saying: “No, but I can see you’ll be making my life hell, so who does that make you?”) Your church may be a place of peace and social binding. That’s great. But our politicians have taken that exact rhetoric and, with far too little criticism from the supposed peace-Jesus-loving Christians who live by those words, led a crusade against a foreign country and have killed now somewhere between 150,000 and 600,000 innocents. So, your oasis is great but when the doors open and the people spill out, it’d be better if those people could act on even a modicum of that belief. From where a lot of us sit, they just use the words as weapon against criticism and make a power grab that costs us all dearly in money and moral credibility.Next time someone knocks on my door or stands in a fancy suit on one of the pedestrian malls handing out bibles or yells at the shop clerk for not saying “Merry Christmas” or complains because I use the original words to the pledge, can I give them your email and say “Greg promised this never happens, so please talk to him”?

  • Brian Coughlan

    Heather …. glad to help:-)C.Gray Says :Sure, people are people. However the point the other poster made is valid. Monotheistic religions are dogmatically mutually exclusive, in fact, they even fragment into mutually exclusive camps WITHIN the various major religions. So the poster is right, you are screwed from the outset where one of the parties has an absolute position which is not based on evidence.Religion has to be faced down, and repeatedly highlighted as the dangerous arrant nonsense that it is.It never fails to amaze me that atheists are considered arrogant because we won’t to subscribe to someone’s pet mythology. To the religious that claim I’m arrogant, I say, “show me the evidence and I’ll beleive it, what’s your excuse?”.

  • SqueakyRat

    Yeah, Parker, Allan Bloom thought freedom makes it impossible for us to be human. Thanks for bringing that up.

  • Darkie

    C. Gray:>How odd. The Christians who instructed me as a child explicitly rejected the concept of Hell.You are the very first Christian I’ve met who doesn’t believe in Hell, or at the very least utilizes the Devil as the reason for the existence of evil. How does one explain evil or the Book of Job in that case? Nevermind, not critical. Any God who could be provoked into tormenting one of his most faithful is a God I’d personally avoid garnering the attention of but to each their own. Not believing in Hell does take the stick out of the carrot and stick of Christianity. Very interesting, but I think, very rare. Perhaps I have taken “If you don’t accept Jesus as your personal savior you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” as an implicit threat that hell is the other option. Silly me.>Seriously, I routinely hear as many dogmatic, mean-spirited and wildly inaccurate statements from self-proclaimed “brights” as I do from the most annoying bible-thumping fundie.Ah, so people are all the same, no matter their religion or lack thereof. What a nice idea. If one could get everyone (religions included) to acknowledge that enmasse the world would be a much nicer place.You probably also aren’t one of those confused people who gets angry at the use of “X”-mas, but then sticks a fish on your car. Hint: they are the same thing, the X and the fish.)

  • Anonymous

    You have only two logical alternatives: Either you believe in a completely deterministic universe with no place for free will or you believe in at least one god. If you think you have free will then you cannot be an atheist. You may not believe in any god but yourself, but you certainly believe you are a god. That is, you believe that your actions are not determined by a chain of physical causes and effects that go back to the beginning of time. And, sorry, quantum level uncertainty won’t fill in for free will that works to achieve specific ends. We may see what appears to be true randomness at subatomic levels, but there is no logical way to accrete those bits of randomness into directed free will. These ideas may be old hat to many atheists – oh, sorry, I mean brights – but I bet many are not thinking through the implications of their beliefs.

  • Greg

    Yes, Some Guy, as my family would tell you, I am insane. No bashing intended, simply good, honest debate. Don’t think I’ve called anyone stupid, or a fool here — yet have been subjected to it. If trying to debate honestly is bashing — guilty as charged. If defending ones beliefs system is bashing — guilty as charged. If getting miffed at being called a fool who believes in fairy tales is insane — then call me crazy. I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack (pun intended) but I think even in my state of mental instability, I can express a little upset for being called stupid. No?

  • James

    Thanks for the thoughtful article, Professor Dennett. While I do or don’t believe in “god” depending on the day of the week, I applaud the notion that atheists and agnostics need to come out of the closet. The literal minded Christians who are threatened by this will just have to get used to it — although I’m sure we will have to listen to them screech and quote bible passages for some time to come.Regarding the term “bright,” though, whoever chose that label wasn’t real bright IMHO. It’s antagonistic right from the get go. I like freethinker better. Marketing is important. Just ask the “pro-choice” folks.Best wishes for a happy New Year.

  • David Ehrenstein

    “You may not believe in any god but yourself, but you certainly believe you are a god.”What a bunch of Hooey!The “religious” are the most arrogant and stupid creatures who walk the earth. Their only desire is to murder those who decline to believe in the Big Invisible Daddy in the Sky. they claim rules all things.

  • Max

    What about “freethinker”? It has a long history (300+ years) and it’s broad enough to cover atheists, agnostics, and non-dogmatic believers.

  • martooni

    An agnostic is neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but rather a person who is unwilling to make a “leap of faith” in either direction (which, in the absence of any conclusive and definitive evidence from either side, seems to me a very big leap — not that there’s anything wrong with that).Agnostics may be called “wishy-washy”, but we can never be accused of “blind faith”, which is a requirement for both atheists and theists in order to make their “jump” to either side of this argument. “Blind faith” requires one to reject any possibility that one may be wrong in his/her assumptions/reasoning, and therefore must reject any arguments contrary to one’s position — otherwise the house of cards falls down, children touch themselves inappropriately, and kittens die.So the atheists believe in the empirical method, the theists try to discredit the value of empirical methodology, and agnostics like me are left scratching our heads wondering why both parties just don’t shut the hell up and buy the next round.Nobody can prove that “God” exists.Nobody can prove that “He” (or “She”) doesn’t.So shut up already…Toe-may-toes, toe-mah-toes, I say we call the whole thing off and enjoy a few nips of the “nectar of the gods/un-gods” and sort out the underpants tomorrow morning.

  • Brian Coughlan

    You have only two logical alternatives: Either you believe in a completely deterministic universe with no place for free will or you believe in at least one god. If you think you have free will then you cannot be an atheist.Wow! I think you just invalidated several millenia of philosophy. Not.I happen to subscribe to the idea that everything could be predicted if we had absolute knowledge of all inputs …. we don’t of course, which means, in every practical day to day sense, we have free will. However, what this train of thought does mean, is that God is a total monster. Notwithstanding his complete knowledge of all inputs, he allowed creation to play out in the catastrophic way outlined in major christian theology. Had he simply bounced a few atoms in another direction, Adam and Eve would have made different “free will” decisions and we wouldn’t be in this fix.Of course the universe is completely deterministic:-) But we don’t see the whole picture, thus cannot possibly predict the outcomes, and thats what makes it fun:-)

  • Jon Adam

    I didn’t realize there was even an issue on the subject until reading these last few opinion pieces in the WP lately. I don’t really care whether or not some one believes in a god or not as long as those folks don’t try to force me to believe one way or the other. I am a bright though I often think about the existence of a higher purpose. I do believe in a higher purpose or meaning to life. The highest purpose in life is to serve your community and help others and have chosen two career paths that confirm my highest purpose; teaching and evironmental consulting. I don’t need spirituality or religion to realize the importance of serving the community. I also think that nature makes a perfect temple and that I’d rather go hiking in the woods in the fresh air on a nice sunny Sunday morning than sit in a church. Though I do love stained glass and the candles. Pipe organs are also very inspirational and they sound cool too. The Bible is definately a good collection of stories that deal with the problems of the human condition. I believe that a good man named Jesus exisited who had a lot of compassion for those who suffered under oppression. Like Ghandi, the Dhali Lhama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teressa, Jimmy Carter just to name a few other great people with a high capacity for compassion. Enjoy your belief(s).

  • Brian Coughlan

    Nobody can prove that “God” exists.Nobody can prove that “He” (or “She”) doesn’t.I must take issue with this carnard. It is NOT up to the atheist to disprove God, rather it is up to the Theist to stump up the evidence for their completely irrational belief.If a person insists that invisible pink unicorns that fart yellow gas will torture me for eternity unless I strap a foxes testicles to my head, Am I really under any obligation to disprove their assertion? Would the theists among you consider yourselves beholden to run around researching this particular Deity, and associated rituals?Thats exactly how I feel about Jesus, salvation and that wispy bastard, the Holy Ghost. It’s all bollocks, and I’ll happily retract if someone can produce the evidence.

  • Ben

    To Martooni: Do you point out this ‘leap of faith’ people make when they talk about the Tooth Fairy being a human invention ? The fact that many parents take the tooth and replace it with money does not mean ALL of them do. There is a logical possibility that some of the teeth may indeed have been taken by a tooth fairy. Therefore, one must remain agnostic and cannot claim to disbelieve in the existence of the tooth fairy.

  • Josephine

    Great article, Prof. Dennett!I think “bright” is a fitting and wonderful word. I’ve never heard of its use before and I will now adopt it.It is so nice to know one isn’t alone in holding (or not holding) a belief. It seems like “believers” simply cannot understand this feeling in a religious context. And, thus, have no right to pass judgment. (The homosexual analogy works so well!)Why do some “believers” get offended by atheist/agnostic opinion or discussion of rights?… is it because they see it as threatening? What other reason would there be? That is certainly the case in encountering anti-homosexual sentiment, oftimes.I’m a law-abiding citizen. I consider myself moral. I am an atheist. We grapple… the “fight” continues, as much as I wish it didn’t…Again, nice article.

  • Jon Adam

    Although there is one thing that I will not tolerate as a middle school science teacher and that is some in the religious community trying to make me teach Intelligent Design or some form of Creationism in my science classes. I will not ever teach ID and will fight that fight tooth and nail if I ever have to. Hopefully it won’t get to that point as life in our country would become unliveable.

  • victoria

    see? i told you ann would be too kind to expose all my probably evident to her fallacious reasoningsanne rocks

  • vcitoria

    GREG you really are a patient and special fellow peace

  • Bill

    Congratulations again, Professor Dennett! I am former Catholic priest with an MSW and JD. I am thrilled to be either agnostic nontheist (Michael Shermer’s term, an agnostic/practical atheist (Steve Uhl’s term) or a good old plain atheist. It really matters very little. There is very little that one knows for absolute certainity (Newton and Eistein found that out)and only takes evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” for the state to execute someone. We certainly have more than amble “beyond the reasonable doubt evidence” that there is no god, only nature.

  • Michael Karg

    To Darkie,Ah, your mention of Job, and evil. You might be interested in C. G. Jung’s take on both. A nice little capsule version of Jung’s thinking can be found in his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections.”Interesting, to my knowledge, no atheist, Christian, Jew, or anyone else, has ever named their son “Job.”————————————————Greg, thank you for your good wishes. More than anything else, I like being an American, and I think you do too.

  • MichaelK

    For me, Doug Rasmussen’s post says it all. I acknowledge my sense that there is more than meets the eye to this wonderful and awful universe, yet I am uncertain at who or what it is. Given the evil of nature and of man, I cannot believe in a benevolent deity. But I would feel arrogant in stating that there is no “god”. Live and let live, but I agree that dogmatists are very, very dangerous.

  • NH Yankee

    And all the while as George Bush, the presumed national Christian, continues his vacation in Texas, the armpit of the nation, he tries to think of a new course to *fix* one of the three countries that he has broken, Iraq, while in this country ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s words, *Those who would sacrifice their civil liberties for the sake of national security will get neither and deserve neither.*

  • NH Yankee

    And all the while as George Bush, the presumed national Christian, continues his vacation in Texas, the armpit of the nation, he tries to think of a new course to *fix* one of the three countries that he has broken, Iraq, while in this country ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s words, *Those who would sacrifice their civil liberties for the sake of national security will get neither and deserve neither.*

  • Joe Lapsley

    Paradigms (in the Kuhnian sense) involve not just evidence, but probability, as one writer above noted. The paradigm with no supernatural elements, first causes, etc., fits the evidence much better than the teleological, supernatural origin paradigm. Much better. It needn’t be fullproof, merely more probable. If one drops the idea that simple things must have come from, or were “created” by, something more complex, than the choice of the atheistic paradigm is not intellectually difficult. Emotionally, of course, may be another story.

  • AM, Vienna, VA

    Anonymous @ December 30, 2006 12:36 PMYou posted “As an employer I was predjudice against many religions and for good reason.”How and Why did you know an applicant’s religion? To begin with, it’s illegal, unless the applicant volunteers it. It is my experience that noone does.Correct me if I am wrong, but it appears to me that you are merely stating a personal prejudice; you are not conveying experience.

  • Darkie

    Anonymous said:That is the most bizarre thing in the world and I’ve heard it expoused before and had time to think about it and can’t put it down to anything but religious propaganda/soundbite-itis. I for one do not believe I am a God. I believe I have control over my own life but I’m assuming that isn’t sufficient to constitute Diety-hood in your mind. If it is, then I feel very sorry for you and your out-of-control, random life and I dearly hope it improves. I DO believe I have a responsibility to contribute to a just, fair, and progressive society so that my country and city can outlive me and the world will be a better place when I exit than when I entered. I guess that means I believe I have some control of the world I live in, but no more than anyone else does, and frankly a lot less than possible when I see amazing people like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mendela. They do make me feel pretty underpowered in the world control department. I don’t think of them as Gods, so you can’t imagine I think of myself, with far less influence, to be one.Let me pull up a dictionary: God — a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes.Well, I can assure you that no one worships me, or if they do I wish they would email more often so I can keep track of their whereabouts. I don’t even worship myself, not that that would qualify me as a God by itself by definition.Really, what in the world leads you to the conclusion that atheists believe they ARE God. I really honestly want to know the reasoning since it is so impossible to grasp.

  • Michael Karg

    Hey Greg,You and I are kindred “somethings.” I was raised Catholic, even went to a seminary for a short time. Nothing bad ever happened to me, because of Catholocism — it just made me think.I feel your pain at the vitriol, from all sides. But, if it’s too hot near the stove….Yeah, Catholocism set me off on a life of discovery. I think any other “ism” would have. It’s been fun, especially as I was able to earn a good living, while intensely “in the pursuit.” Consequently, I’ve read, and studied, too much to take anyone posting here too seriously, beginning with the panel.However, I have learned something from attending this website. I have learned not to be so “snarky,” a word invented, I think, by the Slate Magazine crowd. And, before I was snarky, I was just snotty. I now find being an atheist more comfortable than being a snotty, or snarky, atheist.Some of your words here have made this change in me even more worthwhile. Thanks, good luck, and Happy New Year!

  • AM, Vienna, VA

    I understand that one of the theses of this blog is that I am not terribly intelligent. (it is good to know that we do not resort to name calling — correct me if I am wrong, but apparently the need for name-calling, against me, was eliminated by making it an assumption).I have also followed the discussion by the poster who has all the studies that prove that atheists are more (on average) intelligent. Setting aside a discussion on statistics, can the ‘bright’ ones provide me the definition of intelligence?PS: I am a scientist; I hold post-graduate degrees; I have consistently scored very high on the SAT’s and IQ tests.PPS: I, empirically, do not correlate scoring well on a test with intelligence.

  • Scumps

    (I made the anonymous post about free will and atheism.)Darkie, by “god” I don’t mean a creator that is worshipped. I simply mean an entity behaving outside of the realm of physical causality. Maybe “god” is not the best term, but it doesn’t matter. Such an entity is supernatural by definition and believing in the supernatural is a major problem for an atheist. If you think you have the supernatural power of free will, how can you criticize, say, a Baptist for believing that the Holy Trinity is the origin and controller of all things? Supernatural is supernatural. As Willim James said in his discussion of consciousness, you can’t be just a little bit pregnant.If you read Dennet’s books, you will see that free will – and all “intentional” design – dissolves into an absurdity when you take a completely rational approach to these matters, just as the concept of God the Creator does so in a rationalist’s approach to the origin of species. You end up having to accept that your every thought and action derives from a kind of evolutionary process of competing neural activities. (This basic evolutionary concept of behavior was offered earlier by B. F. Skinner who emphasized the role of one’s history with the environment in the process.) Free will becomes as much an illusion as is creationism.

  • martooni

    Brian… you’ve apparently missed my point that agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve. That was it. Atheists believe that there is no God/gods/whatever, and theists believe the contrary — which is all find by me. To each his own. I was only trying to point out the difference between “not knowing” and THINKING you know.What do you know, Brian? You got all the answers?ALL of them? Every single one? Please share.I sure as hell don’t. And if there is any one thing I know, it’s that I know that nobody knows — or can’t provide the “bloody glove”, in any case.I did try to inject a little common sense (and maybe some bad humor) into the discourse, but I did not imply that either atheists nor theists NEED to prove anything, because in my humble opinion, neither side possibly CAN.In other words, God may have an unlisted telephone number or he may just not have a telephone — or not be answering it. Or…. “Hello… this is God… I’m very busy managing the Universe. Please leave your prayers for Earth and its inhabitants at the beep…”And Ben… please don’t try to inject the freaking “tooth fairy” into this. It takes as much mental energy to deny theism as it does to embrace it, and maybe even more energy to straddle the fence. But to toss the “tooth fairy” into the conversation is simply disingenuous and not worth the energy to consider. In fact, it smells like troll poop.I will say again… I am an agnostic, not an atheist… the main reason I am the way that I am is because I have not seen any convincing evidence from either side to make me 100% sure that either side is right, or can even possibly BE right. In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who thinks they “know” for sure, one way or the other, has either met God in person and got His autograph and a commemorative t-shirt and 100K “enlightenment points” on their karma card, or they’ve managed to unravel all the mysteries of our universe and have PowerPoint presentations to prove and explain it. That, or they’re just a great big wind bag that stinks of troll poop and cheap whiskey.

  • Brian Coughlan

    PS: I am a scientist; I hold post-graduate degrees; I have consistently scored very high on the SAT’s and IQ tests.I’m sure compartmentalisation makes all of that possible. Its absolutely feasible that individual religious people are highly intelligent, look at Francis Collins. However, on average the probability is, given a random atheist and a random religite, the atheist will be that bit “brighter”:-)That said, having to spell this out for you doesn’t suggest your as “bright” as all that … :-)

  • John S. Yarbrough

    It seems to me that it’s just as difficult to not believe as it is to believe. The first obstacle one has to overcome is the belief that any individual human being can know everything there is to know about the existence of God. You can’t KNOW, you can only accept on faith that God doesn’t exist. To deny the possibility that God exists is to assume that man can know everything. If we know everything, then we don’t need scientists to discover what we don’t yet know. Yet as every day passes more and more is revealed to us through scientists, philosophers, and others not involved in academia. I’m alive today because of a drug that was unavailble just five years ago. Is this miracle drug the result of divine inspriration or mere;y of the intellectual abilities of a group of people. I don’t “know,” but I have faith that God had a hand in providing this good thing to his people. That faith requires little more effort than the faith that God was not involved does, and I sleep better.

  • Brian Coughlan

    What do you know, Brian? You got all the answers?ALL of them? Every single one? Please shareAll right Martooni, all right. In principle you are correct. The existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven. However, thats not the whole story.The proposition is not a 50/50 deal. I’m not sure what it is for a generic creator of the universe, but the more detail you (ok not YOU) layer onto your Deity, the lower the probability of it existing. Hence my pink unicorn analogy, lets face it, thats pretty unlikely … yet is an all loving, all powerful triune, son sacrificing, virgin born, risen from the dead “one” God that much likelier? Thats all I’m saying.

  • Jerry

    I suspect that someone who insists loud and long that all must believe as he does or be damned (or persecuted, or burned at the stake)is not so sure of his own faith as he claims. And I suspect also that the religious fanatics who are making so much noise believe more in the Devil and his power than in any version of a benevolent, loving God. Certainly, they see him (Satan) everywhere and seemingly do not trust that God has the power to deal with him without their vociferous assistance. On a more positive note, I recommend that all read “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer, an approach to religion from the perspectives of cognitive science and anthropology, much like the type of investigation described by Dr. Dennett in “Breaking the Spell”.

  • Graham

    “As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine.” Daniel C. DennettThis is the critical point. I regularly attend a Philosophy Cafe and I’ve noticed that it is only those with an open mind, both supers and brights who continue to go month after month. Those with strong doctrinal commitments tend to flare up during their first one or two meetings and are then never seen again.The type of philosophical and respectful discussion that I enjoy with open minded supers who simply interpret their experience in a different way to me is quite different to the dogmatic beliefs adopted by most denominations, and within the Christian tradition the evangelical churches in particular. While as a philosophical concept I do not accept that “faith” even in its watered-down esoteric form is a path to genuine knowledge, I am able to enter into a dialogue with those who do not build a impenatrable wall around their own brand of doctrine. I would like to see an alliance of all free thinkers whether they are atheists, agnostics, deists or for my want of language, what I will call non-dogmatic theists.Fundamentalists I oppose on a political level, non-dogmatic theists I only debate on a philosophical level. I welcome the election of non-dogmatic theists and atheists alike. However, nothing would please me more than to see the current situation reversed so that one day “fundamentalists” will be given so little respect by the population as a whole that they will find it as difficult to gather as many votes together as others of such irrational and dogmatic extreme faith such as communists or facists.

  • Mohamed MALLECK

    deev,I don’t think that you were just trying to be funny — I think you were much brighter than all the ‘brights’, of which I am a registered one, although I consider myself a Muslim, borderline agnostic. In other words I am also a ‘bi’.However, you will notice that, in the final analysis, what ‘religious people’, atheists, and agnostics all want is power.I am ‘straight’ but even in sex, I start being ‘dominant’ but always end up being ‘dominated’. I have often wondered what it would be like in ‘bi’ relationships.

  • Scott Petersen

    The author claims that his group is one of the endless list of victimized groups. Has he been in a college classroom in the last 30 years? As William Buckley pointed out as early as the 50′s, the typical college professor is preaching the “atheist’s gospel” and not belief in God. A second question: What defines your group? Answer: They are defined by what they don’t believe. What do you believe in? I doubt there are any coherent beliefs other than hostility to belief in God!

  • Greg

    Good day Darkie. Did you read everything I wrote, or just that one line? I fully acknowledged the flaws of democracy, as well as majority rule. I think I said so. I think I specifically referenced Iraq which I opposed from day one. I went back to read it to make sure of what I wrote. I said:So, you are unfair in your characterization of my point. I don’t think I promised anything. I think I said democracy does not always work well, or fairly, or justly. At times, the minority viewpoint is diminished.

  • Poch Suzara

    Dear Mr. DennettFor: Paul Kurtz and Richard DawkinsGentlemen: I hardly see any value in identifying myself as a “skeptic” or a “bright.” Why hide inside a dark closet? What value is there for more inquiry after having already discovered the truth? Each and every one of us was born free from religion. Even before sacred books were written by inspired authors of God – babies were already coming out of their mother’s womb not as a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, but as atheists. In fact, we are all born atheists, not sinners; we are made sinners by religious education. If I am against slave trading and say that slavery should be abolished and the slave traders accuse me of being negative, then so be it. But do I really need to use more proper terms so as not to offend such a gang of criminals – the slave traders? In our world today, the religious traders are the criminals. For the sake of faith peddling, they continue to cut each other’s throats. With weapons of mass destruction today, they are even ready and willing to reduce our planet earth into a lunar landscape! In the meantime, the reinforcement of religion exists everywhere. In schools, colleges, universities, radios, newspapers, magazines, movies, television, billboards, marquees, and currencies, etc. Indeed, the communion of saints integrating, while the communion of atheists disintegrating. Down through the centuries, the religious traders have done much to convert every one to live in guilt, in fear, and in hate of each other. Indeed, from infancy to senility, to promote the belief that evil comes only from those who do not believe in God. It seems to me clear that with the power of knowledge behind us – the superstitious should be the ones retreating, and the atheists not the ones flinching away trying only to find more polite ways of identifying themselves in public. Bertrand Russell wrote: “If we must die, let us die sober, and not drunk with lies.” One such horrible lie is that reason can bow before faith; or, that knowledge can retreat before superstition. Sacred lies and other ecclesiastical falsehoods are over. Thanks to the atheists who walked out of their dark closets. In the meantime, there is nothing at all negative about Atheism other than it deprives the religious traders and faith peddlers of their vast sources of tax-free revenues. As atheists, we have more crucial roles to play in this world. With courage, we must continue to show the way for the minds of men, hearts of women, and the lives of children to learn to live under the direction always towards truthfulness. If this were not the case, it nevertheless remains our task to bring more light into a world of darkness.

  • Anonymous

    First, let me say I’m an athiest. Second, I should mention that I was raised Catholic, and although I disagree with the belief of God, I think we should all be accepting and respectful of each other, and not denigrate each other based on our religious beliefs.Using the word “bright” to describe athiests is disrespectful to those who believe in religion. It sends the message that athiest think they know better than religious people, and that those who are religious are dimm/stupid/etc because of their belief.Using the word bright to describe athiests will never lead to athiest being accepted by religious people. You are essentially saying you are better/more intelligent than them, and it will only lead to them hating/rejecting athiests more than they already do (and that includes politicians, who will be more eager to distance themselves from athiests).

  • Duff

    There are three categories of religious people:

  • harikumar

    get organized and get united. there is nothing to lose for the athiests and agnostics.for globalisation for re-making the present set up, which is absolutely stupid, it is absolutely essential that we ahiests and agnostics unite. not only in the united states but all over the world. the earlier it is done the better for the future of humanity.interested individuals can contact the writer at his e mail mkharikumar @ yahho.co.ukbest of luckharikumar

  • guez

    This section of the Washington Post website is absolutely worthless. The (lack of) quality of intellectual debate here is proof either that:1) The person of the year (“you”) is an idiot.OR2) Most people are incapable of having a civil, intelligent debate about belief and disbelief.

  • Tom McMahan

    I think remembering that the questions here are:1) Why is atheism enjoying a certain vogue right now? ANSWER: There’s been several books out recently highlighting this viewpoint, including Professor Dennett’s. But also, there’s a backlash taking place against the “faith-based” “truthiness” approach of the Bush Administration and others, due mainly to the increasingly obvious failure of their approach to be able to do anything right (Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans, Social Security re(de?)form, deficits, opposing stem-cell research, ethics violations, ad nauseum). Of course, there are many religious people who would make excellent officials and representatives, just as there are many non-religious people who wouldn’t, but this notion that we can simply believe our way into a better world is a childish, simplistic view. We also have to think and reason our way, and its the attachment to reason that non-religion has going for it right now.2) Can a productive dialogue be achieved between believers and non-believers? ANSWER: I certainly think so, but it is difficult. There are dogmatists on both sides of the issue, but speaking as one of those “red-state” agnostics Professor Dennett mentions (one who doesn’t keep himself in the closet), I find that the main stumbling block to a healthy dialogue is mostly on the religious side of the equation. There are so many prejudices ingrained into the minds of especially the evangelical Christian community that the moment you identify yourself as an agnostic or atheist or non-believer (or Bright…whatever, don’t care much about getting hung up on labels) the believers no longer see you as a thinking person but as the latest project for “salvation.” There’s little or no respect for agnostics and atheists in the evangelical community, and until they stop seeing us either as agents of darkness or the living embodiment of their own doubts that they dare not speak of and resent us for making them feel, prospects for dialogue remain limited.3) What kinds of subjects can we talk about? ANSWER: In theory, any, but because of the limitations mentioned in number 2, with little effect currently. I think the criticism by many non-religious people on the opposition to stem-cell research by many in the religious right is having an impact and a positive one, but it is necessarily a critical dialogue. I would prefer to see a more balanced dialogue on all sides, but that doesn’t seem possible at this time. It also doesn’t help that the hyper-sensitivity most people have concerning any criticism of religion or religious belief makes dialogue very difficult. Whenever anyone like Professor Dennett comes out and explains his (non-religious) view, we get not only the religious right screaming about atheist bigotry but we also get moderates and liberals such as a certain editorialist for the NY Times who jump down their throat also. Having an atheist or agnostic explain their point-of-view isn’t a sign of bigotry, anymore than having a religious person explain their’s is in reverse. If someone wants to explain their views of the world as a product in their faith in Jesus (or Allah, Vishnu, etc) then I don’t see that as a personal affront to me. We can disagree as long as there is respect.

  • Lee

    Dear ProfessorI read most of the above comments and I agree that “Bright” ain’t gonna fly. My suggestion is “Visual”, meaning, of course, one who tends to believe what he sees, except for the stuff magicians do. I see that getting along is better than fighting, bloody noses take longer to get over than the microscopic amount of skin lose due to a hand shake. But as a “visual” I see that occasionally a fight is unavoidable. I don’t need a god to tell me that following the Golden Rule and obeying the law is good practice, simply by applying the modicum of intelligence I’ve acquired in my relatively long life I can see that its better. I’m a visual.

  • Ted Swart

    Poch Suzara say that “it remains our task (of atheists,agnostics et al) to bring more light into the world of darkness.”Just reading these words suggests to me that those who chose the word “brights” would have been far better of to chose the word “lights”. It is indeed the task of atheists and agnostics to bring more light into the world and free those enslaved by the dark cloud of formal religion. I am glad I am not alone in thinking the choice of the word brights is most unfortunate. To suggest that those who are not brights might like to call themselves are “supers” wouldn’t really help. The damage is already done since the word bright does disparage those who are not yet non-believers.

  • Anonymous

    It’s astonishing how hysterically wrong the so-called brights/atheists are when it comes to characterizing and denouncing what they imagine other people believe. Most are wildly misinformed and evince a reckless disregard for the truth. Their bizarre, hateful caricatures have not the slightest relationship with reality.

  • Peter Jackson

    On Faith… Not Yet The Majority But No Longer Silent. DANIEL C DENNETT…more atheists and agnostics in the country than is generally recognized….In scanning the comments up to here most acknowledged atheists seem to believe in science, the intelect, and intelligence at the expense of other faculties of our human and Spiritual nature. They stressed physical, material things and forces that can be seen, measured and counted. They say non-material things do not exist or a matter of opinion and are not worthy of consideration.

  • P White

    The offering here of Daniel Dennett and some of the postings thereafter have not done much to highlight the intelligence of Athiests. Don’t include me in this idiotic ‘bright’ movement and don’t force the term on society. I’m an Athiest and I feel strongly enough about it and solid enough in my beliefs to stand up with that label in society. It’s bad enough we get disrespected by society in general but now we have a movement within our own ranks to paint us as fools. There are many serious and thoughtful Athiests who could have contributed and could have responded today. Daniel Dennett was an unfortunate choice.

  • james

    Re Peter Jackson’s PostPeter, you are living in your own mind.A lot of the most spiritual people i know are atheists. There is more discussion of the science/evidence aspects here because this discussion is about whether God exists, and what kind of God it is.Religion is either neutral or deleterious to high spiritual values. Those include connection to nature, wonder at the beauty of the universe, sympathy for the suffering of other humans, appreciation of beauty.Atheists are demonstrably as moral as believers and societies with high religious belief are also less healthy in terms of homicide, abortion!!yes, STDS and many other measures.your opinions have little to do with observable facts.

  • yoyo

    to anonymous

  • martooni

    I didn’t come here looking for a p!ssing match, really.Just wanted to clarify that agnostics are not atheists and that in my book (which is secular one), if you are an atheist or theist, you must have faith to be either — faith in yourself and your knowledge of the universe, or faith in a higher power. Because nobody from either camp can provide proof to refute the other side. If you have the proof — real proof for either case — you have every right to shout it from the rooftops. All I’m asking is that if you don’t, please quit acting as if you do. I’m not an agnostic because I was born that way (was born Catholic, actually). I’m an agnostic because I was encouraged to question the status quo and when I did, found it lacking satisfactory answers. I really could care less who or what (or whether) you believe in. You are free to do so (or not) and I am free to sit on the fence. None of us are any better or worse than the next for making those choices.And Brian… I sorta got your point, but 50.0001% is barely good enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. Until one gets into the higher percentiles (maybe the 80s, probably the 90s), I think it would be more appropriate to refer to them as agnostic. By definition, atheism and theism both require a very high confidence one way or the other about the existence of a higher power.Just like you can’t be a “little bit pregnant”, you can’t be an atheist and say that there’s a possibiliy there might be a God, and you can’t be a theist and believe there’s a chance the opposite might be true. That’s where agnostics come in. We can get away with being a little bit pregnant, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

  • frank logan

    In counting athiests, it would be interesting to count “believers” whose belief in God is so metaphorical as to be indistinguishable from athiesm. Many Neocons, for example, hue to religion because they think is is necessary for social order. Many educated Catholics I have met meet that definition.When you get to these fringes of parsing beliefs, I’m left thinking the differences are often linguistic and cultural and we would be better off looking ways to see how we agree than looking for small differences to separate ourselves from another.

  • alan

    I wanted to second Martooni. As an agnostic myself, I dislike being lumped in the same category as atheists. Atheists can be every bit as strident and narrow-minded as theists. If there were such a thing as a “bright” agenda, I would probably disagree with most of it. Although religion isn’t for me, I can see the important role it plays in certain people’s lives and I’m not really interested in challenging anyone’s beliefs as long as they leave me alone with mine.

  • GUY FOX

    UNLIKE THE KRISTIANS AND OTHERS POISONED BY RELIGION, I’D RATHER GO TO THE DEMOCRACY OF HEAVEN… AS OPPOSED TO THE KINGDOM (THE DICTATORSHIP) OF HEAVEN.

  • Anonymous

    James criticizes those whose “opinions have little to do with observable facts.” However, he sounds a bit empirically-challenged himself.He claims that “atheists are demonstrably as moral as believers”. I wonder precisely how you go about demonstrating that (ostensibly demonstrable) hypothesis? What is the control group? The test group? How do you unambiguously define the categories “atheist” and “believer”? How do you reliably classify individuals as exclusively one or the other? By what means do you quantify an individual’s “moral”? How do you control for the many, many other variables among individuals of the human species? And please don’t reply with pseudo-scientific sociology mumbo-jumbo. According to James it’s a matter of hard science.James further claims that “societies with high religious belief are also less healthy in terms of homicide, abortion, STDS and many other measures.” Presumably James wants us to fill in the blank and leap to a conclusion that some kind of causation is at play. No can do, James. We base our opinions strictly upon observable facts. What are the facts and evidence conclusively establishing and explaining such causation? You are not forming your own opinions out of thin air….are you?

  • J. Hamblen

    Perhaps the problem with theism is the “business” of religion. Each church, or sect, seem to be trying to sell a way to this mythical,utopian heaven and,obviously, a lot of peaple are buying it.

  • jim

    Martooni and others keep saying, “Because nobody from either camp can provide proof to refute the other side. If you have the proof — real proof for either case — you have every right to shout it from the rooftops.”I’m surprised you keep saying this; you must not be carefully reading the comments. Several posters have offered refutations of the existence of god, but you keep ignoring their arguments, and claiming that neither side can prove their point.Possibly you want to believe neither side can prove the point, rather than giving critical analysis.Scanning above I see the following:2. The problem of evil shows that one popular view of god (all powerful and good) can not exist (incompatible with evil).3. Alleged objects with contradictory descriptions do not exist. Examples include the 4 sided triangle. God’s alleged nature is contradictory, therefore he doesn’t exist.4. All of the historic roles of god are now better explained in other ways (thunder for example is explained in meteorology). The god-concept is useless, thus by Occham’s razor, god does not exist.I’m not claiming these are good arguments, but you don’t even examine them. You just baldly claim no one can prove or disprove god. You’ve not even taken the field, yet.

  • Atheista
  • Richard Ryckoff

    Peter Jackson, in the above post, illustrates the ignorance of most religionists, i.e., those who believe in myth, magic and superstition. The idea that it is EITHER other-worldly hocus-pocus or materialism is the false dichotomy that Christians, etc. have to rely on to maintain their patently ridiculous beliefs.

  • Jack

    Anonymous,Cheers, Jack

  • Anonymous

    Frank Logan makes an excellent point. The plain fact is that the Pope does not believe in the God that people like Richard Dawkins decry.

  • yoyo

    Alan

  • Alan

    Yoyo:What exactly are you attempting to clear up? Did you think I was unclear about the difference between atheism and agnosticism?

  • Sabawoon Afghan

    1. I do call to witness the Resurrection Day; 2. And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (Eschew Evil). 3. Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? 4. Nay, We are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers. 5. But man wishes to do wrong (even) in the time in front of him. 6. He questions: “When is the Day of Resurrection?” 7. At length, when the sight is dazed, 8. And the moon is buried in darkness. 9. And the sun and moon are joined together,- 10. That Day will Man say: “Where is the refuge?” 11. By no means! No place of safety! 12. Before thy Lord (alone), that Day will be the place of rest. 13. That Day will Man be told (all) that he put forward, and all that he put back. 14. Nay, man will be evidence against himself, 15. Even though he were to put up his excuses. 16. Move not thy tongue concerning the (Qur’an) to make haste therewith. 17. It is for Us to collect it and to promulgate it: 18. But when We have promulgated it, follow thou its recital (as promulgated): 19. Nay more, it is for Us to explain it (and make it clear): 20. Nay, (ye men!) but ye love the fleeting life, 21. And leave alone the Hereafter. 22. Some faces, that Day, will beam (in brightness and beauty);- 23. Looking towards their Lord; 24. And some faces, that Day, will be sad and dismal, 25. In the thought that some back-breaking calamity was about to be inflicted on them; 26. Yea, when (the soul) reaches to the collar-bone (in its exit), 27. And there will be a cry, “Who is a magician (to restore him)?” 28. And he will conclude that it was (the Time) of Parting; 29. And one leg will be joined with another: 30. That Day the Drive will be (all) to thy Lord! 31. So he gave nothing in charity, nor did he pray!- 32. But on the contrary, he rejected Truth and turned away! 33. Then did he stalk to his family in full conceit! 34. Woe to thee, (O men!), yea, woe! 35. Again, Woe to thee, (O men!), yea, woe! 36. Does man think that he will be left uncontrolled, (without purpose)? 37. Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)? 38. Then did he become a leech-like clot; then did ((Allah)) make and fashion (him) in due proportion. 39. And of him He made two sexes, male and female. 40. Has not He, (the same), the power to give life to the dead? Quran Chapter: 75

  • Alan

    Sabawoon Afghan:What is your point? Is this recital meant to end all debate because the Koran is the source of all truth?

  • Darkie

    >Scumps said:Ah, thank you for explaining. Now I understand where you are coming from. I don’t agree, but I am not in a position to argue in the deeper realm of philosophy you in, having just now heard of the notion and never having read Dennett’s book. I had always assumed that predetermination was a strictly Christian thing (having known three devote Christians who believed in it) and I didn’t imagine that you were turning it on its head and saying not believing in God meant you had to believe in predetermination. Predetermination=God for me previously. There is either a Master Plan of God’s or there isn’t had been my thinking. I hadn’t imagined a Master Not-a-Plan thing.But at least you cleared the mystery up for me. I do think you are redefining “God” out of scope of any dictionary to use it in that manner and I assume were just trolling by doing it. I suspect the caller to the radio talk show I overheard had no clue what she meant and was parroting but I could be wrong. She said it with too much vitriol for it to be so deeply rooted in philosophy of being.I guess I’d say if you think free will is supernatural then, yes, I guess I believe I’m supernatural. If that’s my only choice. I think though that you are just equating intelligence with the supernatural and intelligence is pretty cool, so I can go there too if necessary. But all of this stuff is all well out of the world of useful, everyday thinking and doesn’t get the cows milked as we say.But, you know, I think even my cat (who just now chose to jump up on the chair) has free will and she doesn’t strike me as supernatural, even though I’m a biased observer and may be inclined to elevate her there. Her choices are limited to “napping more”, “begging to be played with”, “asking to go outside” ,”seeing if the food dish has anything more interesting than last time checked” , and “patrolling the perimeter of the walls for mice if not” but still she certainly seems to take a moment to ponder which is next (usually while adorably licking her foot). Oh, on that note, since she also scolded me for the weather being cold, I fear she may worship me since that implies she believes I control the weather and therefore nature. So, I may have been mistaken when I insisted I was not worshiped. I’ll try to be a benevolent deity in that case. I think I am.But since I was predetermined to write these words… I guess I’m predetermined to stop right now.Oops, guess not. Didn’t answer your other point… I don’t care if Baptists believe in the Trinity or even that they cannibalize Christ on occasion. I draw the line (and I think it important for other nonbelievers to draw the line) at religious laws that hurt people, especially the vulnerable. For example: laws against easy access to contraceptives and honest sex advice harm young people by making them parents way too early. Their early children run a high risk of being imprisoned and would be much better off born when mom and dad are old enough to raise them more skillfully. Why should society and these kids suffer because Christians were told by their religion that sex is evil and insist that we as a state just blame teens for being teens rather than solving the problem? This is just one little example. Realize for us how incredibly aggravating it gets to have to work around these psychosis religion gives people about certain topics just to accomplish the simplest things. That’s where our attitude comes from. It’s pure frustration. Baptists can believe whatever they want, but if they want to take those random beliefs and use them against other people in the public realm… totally different thing.

  • Alan

    One part of the “bright” agenda that I definitely have a problem with is a certain hostility I sense toward Christianity. Sure some Christians can be narrow-minded and may even try to make unwelcome efforts to convert you. However, unlike Muslims, Christians aren’t generally out to kill anyone who disagrees with them. I think the “brights” need to put aside their anti-Christian animus and wake up to where the true threat to their freedoms is coming from.

  • james

    Re Anonymous and Moral AtheistsMr A says that I am “empirically challenged” in saying that atheists are demonstrabley as moral as believers. There are about 40 books at the Harvard Book Store about the human origins of morality. Google some: a couple of good ones are the one by Marc Hauser, harvard prof of biology, and Peter Singer, our most prominent ethicist. But again, google the topic and do your own research *the science of good and evil( is another good source. all well reviewed books (admittedly inthe liberal press) with plenty of scientifc research and reasoning.the UN report and other sources show that in countries like Holland and Norway and Japan, where the percent of people who say they believe in god is about 15, homicide, abortion, STDS, and many other measures are significantly better than in the US, which has the same wealth profile and where 86 percent say they believe in God.Mr A, if you can claim a more valid scientific method than these three and many others, demonstate it to us. Regarding healthy societies: two sources.If your actual research, rather than your beliefs, shows something different, report back to us.I have done a lot of research and believe me this is what I find.IMO, Hauser’s scientific thinking is more convincing than yours.

  • Anonymous

    Richard Ryckoff: Speak for yourself, but people like Dawkins absolutely are materialists.

  • martooni

    Jim… “You just baldly claim no one can prove or disprove god. You’ve not even taken the field, yet.”I would say you’re still stuck in the stables yourself. I know where the track is. I just don’t like to run in circles.I am also assuming that you are trying to make a point by actively ignoring mine.I’ve already stated that as an agnostic, I’ve chosen not to make any conclusions on things I cannot prove or disprove, because any conclusions drawn from what can’t be known can’t be trusted. Now… if you have some secret knowledge that definitively proves or disproves the existence of some higher power that may or may not be responsible for creating or managing or otherwise interfering with our universe…PLEASE… tell us. What do you know that we don’t? If YOU are so freaking smart, tell us what the proofs should be to determine the existence or non-existence of God and we’ll try them out.It’s not like philosophers and theologians haven’t been wrestling with this very same conundrum forever. As far as I know, not a one of them has ever come up with a conclusive test that would put this question to bed once and for all.So get to it, Jim.Where’s the test?I’ll do the work… you just tell me what we gotta do.C’mon genius… I’m waiting….

  • DK

    First, on the “reliability” of science as questioned by Anna O., there may be paradoxes in science, but the reliability of science is so omnipresent (no pun intended) that we almost don’t see it. The alarm clock to which we wake up, the lights that let us see early morning this time of the year, the computer we blog on, the iodized salt we season our food with, the stove that we cook on, the car we drive to work, the microwave, the radio, the TV, the plastic tupperware…we are surrounded every waking and asleep moment by reliable science around us. As far as the question of contradictions, i.e., things science has a hard-time proving based on current known science, someday science will prove them or current known science will be upended for other more plausible theories that may lead to the resolution of contradictions. It is not true that science and religion are different ways of knowing. Science is the only way of knowing. Religion is a way of believing, against all odds. That is the attraction of faith…that it easily gives hope in one’s most difficult times-hope that would be hard to conjure up rationally. However, because of the difference in what they are faith will never be able to prove itself superior to science in knowledge and science with never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God.

  • james

    RE Moral Atheists: addendumthe “UN report referenced above is the 2005 Human Development Report.I also invite you to google Gregory Paul, Journal of Religion and Society, where MR Paul gives you plenty of data on homicide, abortion and other measures of a healthy society

  • rjr

    HeatherI’m really sorry to hear that. I hope youve been able to land on your feet somewhere else. The situation you describe,especially since it’s the govt, is a very scary thought. Given all the other things that have gone on in the federal govt, I shouldnt be surprised, I suppose.Good luck to yourjr

  • Ben

    OCD: Above should be ‘fit perfectly well’ not ‘fir perfectly well.’ Sigh.

  • jim

    boy Martooni, that was really uncalled for. What did I say to so rile you?Surely you know if you make the same unsupported claim several times, someone will call you on it.Did you note my post contained four numbered argument summaries which I suggested to you to consider, which had been drawn from my and others’ posts above? It is okay if you say those were each too brief a summary to be worthwhile analysing. Maybe that is what you are saying. And that’s fine, I’m not putting any extended argument into these posts. Just trying to suggest areas for further discussion, and not impolitely post a too-long post.Sorry to get that far under your skin.

  • Anonymous

    James, I sincerely appreciate the response and the citations. How confident should I be that these sources will satisfy (or at least directly address) the specific questions I posed?You ask me to have faith in your assurances on account of your claim to have researched the matter. I hope you’ll forgive just a tiny bit of skepticism on my part — in the interest of science.

  • Anonymous

    James, I’m sure I don’t have to repeat that data like the UN report you cite don’t show anything remotely resembling causality.

  • Anonymous

    I am a this. I am a that.What exhausts me most about theological debate is how much effort is spent informing one’s opposite what they think. Agnosticism comes in handy there. I don’t know what you think or what your life has taught you until I listen to you. In my experience, knowing how you FEEL and what you have LIVED through ultimately trumps belief statements by a mile. So I listen for that.I (agnostic Unitarian Universalist) participate on a forum where a Christian (Word of Faith) was being ganged up on. She was talking about being delivered from demons. I experienced her as sincere and vulnerable. I remembered my loving, good Nazarene relatives. They were utterly intolerant doctrinally, and spent EVERY Saturday night for more than a decade sitting with abandoned people at poor nursing homes, singing old hymns. I could volunteer for the rest of my life and not come within a mustard seed’s-width of their kindness. So anyway, I defended her right to express herself, to voice her faith and feelings any way she wanted. It harmed no one, but it brought out a lot of anger. We forum participants needed each other more than we needed to “win”, however, so we just kept going. Kept listening, talking, trying to understand each other. Recently when someone new took potshots at our demon-believing member, the group rallied to embrace and defend her.Hating and labeling (any label, scholarly or popular) yielded to the experience of love.I know that love is the point of life. The motivation or explanation for it is secondary to doing it.

  • Anonymous

    Holland and Norway are tiny countries, and Japan is a radically different society and culture that not long ago deified its emperor. The idea that a comparison with the U.S. means anything, much less the sweeping conclusion you draw, is absurd.

  • James

    Re: Atheist MoralityAnonymous writes: “How confident should I be that these sources will satisfy (or at least directly address) the specific questions I posed?”The reason I gave you the citations I did was so you could check for yourself. You would be a fool to believe me.Again, if you google “morality atheism religion” you will get about 100,000 references to the topic so you can even research further. Again, don’t trust me. Trust yourself. Google.Everyone knows that correlation doesn’t prove causality. Even me. However…The prevalent thesis about morality is that if a society stops believing in God, the society goes to Hell. These reports AT THE LEAST show that countries that have stopped believing in God DO NOT go to Hell, but in fact they in general are more healthy than highly believing societies.To many logical people, that tends to cast doubt on the necessity of belief in order to have moral and healthy behavior.

  • victoria

    Well ben- isnt it obvious? im here arent i?a salaamu alaikum

  • james

    Re Atheist CountriesAnonymous: Those were just 3 of the Many countries the UN Report and Gregory Paul researched. As I remember, he compared the US to 10-11 Developed European Countries, and with many others.There is clearly alot more research to do on this topic. Paul stipulates that. But the early research casts doubt on the long held thesis that There is also plenty of research on individual morality. You wouldn’t trust my citations, so I invite you to look into it yourself.

  • Darkie

    >Greg said:I read the whole post and then proceeded to read a bunch more posts below it and then probably above it and then I replied. My initial response was to you, but after that it got generalized intermingled with specific again. Mea Culpa. I see that you probably didn’t support the Iraq war. You made that clear and I drew it into the discussion, thereby muddying things hopelessly. I apologize for ranting about Iraq in your direction. In essence I was responding to your implication that your Sunday experiences in no way reflected the complaints that you were reading here and therefore they seemed invalid (I may be stretching here, but I think I’m okay with that summary of your earlier post. That’s how I read it). I was pointing out that my experience frequently was of the annoying variety and that inside and outside the church doors didn’t match well enough in the public sphere. As to expecting something for being Christian, our politicians who use it as a bludgeon certainly expect something.As to your last point, why does it make me angry? It mostly annoys me greatly. Anger I save for when I really need it because it is hard on the body. But the answer is many reasons. And yes we are all faced with opinions every day that we don’t agree with. It’d be a pretty eerie day if that didn’t happen, frankly. It’d be like some kind of horror flick. And yes the constitution applies only to the state, but it extends into the private realm, hence laws about non-discrimination in hiring and renting and real estate sales which are all in the private domain. But is it within the rights of a shopper to publicly berate a shop clerk so she can play her role as a soldier in the “war on Christmas”? Technically, yes, but it isn’t civil or helpful to society. Especially given that the Christmas holiday was carefully layered over a pagan one to destroy the original Winter Solstice version of it and somehow that gives Christians the exclusive license on it. Sorry, that’s just annoying. Chalk annoying lack of historical knowledge and trumped up fake threat/martrdom crusade thing for my raised neck hairs on that one. Yes, the speech is protected and if the person just said off the top of their head that they would prefer Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays, it’d be fine. Social pressure is way more powerful than the government in controlling individuals. That’s why it matters that there is organized rhetoric behind it. Ignorant rhetoric on top of it. We celebrate Christmas. We hang the Celtic wreath and the Celtic Holly with their green promise of spring and the endless cycle of the seasons and give gifts like the Romans used to :-) As a holiday it way predates Christianity, the people in charge just keep changing the name.As to knocking on my door, that’s my castle and the only person I want doing that is the tinker who sharpens my knives. I get equally bristly with telemarketers, just for the record. And I was really very nice to the pair of Mormon nuns who came last time. We were all very polite and they confessed that University neighborhood was a tough one and I agreed that it probably was and they moved on. The ones that insist on arguing because they fear that THEIR soul is on the line in this transaction…look out.You know, about the guy who hands out the bibles…I have to honestly say I don’t know why he gets to me. He really does though. He wears this really nice designer suit and he is standing on campus surrounded by jeans and sweats so he really stands out. Maybe he seems corporate or something. He just gives me the willies and I actually freeze when I’m walking along and look up and see him. I’ll have to think more on why. I certainly own several bibles, they don’t bother me at all sitting there, so it isn’t that. Christianity is a religion of the poor. Perhaps the contrast, the theft by the wealthy? Hm, if i were a Hindu, I’d have to claim I knew him in another life.As to the pledge, well, that IS the State. It didn’t have the word God in it originally. It was “one nation indivisible”. Everything that was changed during the McCarthy era should have been changed back just for good measure, and that would include the formalization of “in god we trust” on currency (it appeared sporadically before then, but wasn’t mandated.) Honestly though, for the longest time as a child, I really, truly assumed those words meant money was our God. So because that still makes me laugh, I can live with that one. The pledge one gets to me more than it used to given that it seems some factions want to start a holy war (if not bring on the apocalypse) and drag the rest of us into it. That scares the crap out of me, so yeah, it makes me angry.

  • Alien Among You

    What unites all of you is that you all have FAITH. What separates you is that you have faith in different ideas. Are you more alike than different; or more different than alike? I suspect the former, and have faith that the answer to this question is fundamental to most others.

  • Gary Jackson

    It all seems so pointless since what we are arguing here can neither be proved nor disproved. For example, the entire edifice of the Mormon faith rests on the belief that Joseph Smith actually had an encounter with God and his son Jesus Christ in a forest in upstate New York. Everything else that Smith subsequently shows and tells his followers flows from that event and Smith’s telling of that event. It his his own personal, subjective interpretation of an event that may or may not have happened. There are many plausible alternative explantaions for what Smith says he saw and heard and they cannot be tested either.That is the problem with such questions. They have nothing to do with the physical world we live in. They rest on the concept of faith, or the wilingness to believe in something absent any empirical proof. Thus, it makes for an interesting way to pass an evening in conversation but at the end of the conversation we are left precisely where we were at the beginning.

  • Anonymous

    Last time I checked, the United States was not a f*&^ing theocracy!The use of religion to deny gay citizens equal access to all civil rights is precisely the type of situation that the Constitutional separation between church and state was designed to prevent. Does anyone honestly believe it will stop there?Perhaps we need to start viewing the US Taliban (radicalized evangelical christians) as the “enemy of The Constitution” that they are (as in: “…defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and DOMESTIC…) and start to act accordingly!

  • Richard

    Anonymous,

  • Anonymous

    Atheism: There’s no future in it.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with calling atheists “bright” is that while a very few are, most aren’t.

  • Brendan Ross

    The main problem with analyses like Dennett’s are that they completely discount for the reality that while science can explain the “what” and the “how” of reality, it cannot address the “why”. The latter question is not a proper question of scientific discourse, and it’s the main reason why people remain drawn to spirituality and religion. Science can tell me about the big bang and evolution, but it can’t tell me “why” I exist, what I exist for, in any sense other than the most physical … which for many of us is simply not satisfying because it does not reflect the reality we experience in our daily lives. So while atheists are getting more vocal, the arguments are not massively convincing to people who are not already atheists, and if there is an expectation that suddenly millions of atheists are going to be coming out of the closet any time soon, to me this is a pipe-dream of collosal proportions.

  • Anonymous

    The reason most people reject unbelief is simple: The most profound question in the human heart is “Why?”, and atheism has nothing to say.

  • Barb

    God to my family is kind of like Santa Clause. A very nice story. We seldom talk about Santa Clause and we hardly ever talk about God. It just isn’t part of our every day life. I also do not want to be labeled an athiest, agnostic or “bright”. I am a nice person with a nice family who has nice neighbors and friends. That’s it. If everyone would be like that for all beliefs (keep it to yourself and just treat everyone using the Golden Rule) the world would be a much better place to live.

  • E. Favorite

    Bright — Freethinker — Atheist.Whatever happened to the term “humanist?”

  • chris

    We are still a blind, ignorant race of beings who don’t have any idea what lies beyond our small experience of existence as dust mites. All this bantering about believing this or that or not believing this or that is largely jockeying for tribal dominance. If a more highly developed being from an unimaginably more complex experience were to encounter you, asking them what they “believed in” would be ludicrous, no? We have a lot more growing up to do, let’s hope we have a chance to do so. We still live under nature’s laws, not our religion’s laws. Nature’s brutality compels us to grasp for metaphysical power in response. Understanding (and I don’t mean knowledge manipulation for gain) and the imagination are the only things of value. And they must used together.

  • WhoCares?

    In my humble opinion, you cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God. You will find out later.Athiests don’t have to discuss God with believers, unless they want to.Science is not all powerful. Witness the confusion and contradictions in medical science.Despite the current government, I do think you are not very bright if you make obsessing with trying to prove God doesn’t exist a major part of you life.

  • Bob

    I dont’ understand why these WaPo columnists insist on torturing us with their spiritual-philosophical opinions. “Brights”? Those are what I flash when I want to warn oncoming traffic that there’s a cop hidden up ahead.Why do the media-soapbox divas then get to determine how I appear to others with childish little nicknames? This puerile attempt at categorization also is a swipe at the columnist’s “foes” which is unnecessary and counterproductive.It seems the urge to categorize overwhelms them. For people like me, to whom religious questions are totally moot – it doesn’t matter if you call me atheist or agnostic or whatever because it is simply not important to me. Call me bright or dull or whatever… I am what I am.

  • Anonymous

    GREG:

  • Anonymous

    Again, I appreciate the citations. I was simply asking for an indication of good faith that one of the forty books to which you referred me actually would address my questions.On the basis of the actual evidence you’ve deigned to share, it’s a bit rich for you to ridicule others for opinions that “have little to do with observable facts”.You made three assertions:- There is a negative correlation between intelligence and belief in God.- It can be demonstrated that atheists and believers are equally moral.- There is a negative correlation between societal health indicators and prevalence of belief in God.You then leapt to breathtaking conclusions (before backpedaling when challenged). The fact that all three assertions tend to flatter your own prejudices is indeed grounds for healthy skepticism. But the real issue in all three cases is that it’s nigh impossible to fathom anyone reaching valid and meaningful conclusions for such nebulous hypotheses.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous: “(No, I don’t have the reference and methods…But, don’t you agree that he cultivates that group?)”So much for being fact-based!!

  • Anonymous

    Barb: “I am a nice person with a nice family who has nice neighbors and friends. That’s it.”Sorry, Barb, but for a person of any intelligence, an unexamined life is not worth living.

  • Michael Turton

    ++++C’mon, Dr. D. You’re being disingenuous. “Bright” contains an implicit slap at believers since it implies intellectual inferiority, while “gay” does not contain a similar implicit slap at straights. Speaking as a lifelong atheist, it’s a stupid idea and I hope it dies a short and unnoticed death ASAP. Please continue with the attacks on the supernatural from philosophical and cognitive science standpoints, and leave the activism to others who have PR exertise. Michael

  • Anonymous

    Mr. de Koster, with respect, it does not sound like you have broken the shackles of ignorance, superstition and bigotry, but merely substituted one set for another.

  • Paul Silver

    “there are much more important and interesting topics to discuss than whether or not God — which God? — exists, we seldom raise the issue.”True for me unless religion interferes with, or tries to trump, secular consensus.The age of the Grand Canyon? Come on…

  • rjr

    This has been a very interesting discussion. I appreciate the level of civility and intelligence.First of all, I’m Agnostic because I believe human intelligence has not progressed to the point that we can answer the question about the existence or non-existence in any god and, in my opinion, it isn’t relevant to my existence. Someone said earlier that we should all strive to be better people, regardless of belief. That’s relevant.As far as creating labels to cleanse the stench of bigotry, I think it’s appropriate to quote James Brown… “I’m Black and I’m Proud!!”. Let’s stop using politically correct labels as crutch to help us stand up for ourselves.Thank you all again for such a thought-provoking discussion.Happy New Year

  • vix

    atheism, capitalism, socialism, marxism-leninism, league of militant godless, camps, fascism, ss, camps, extermination, rivers of blood. more to come. no change.

  • Crosseyed

    What? Another tag? I’m having a terribly hard time keeping my tag list updated.

  • Anonymous

    Richard,I honestly think it should have been clear that the whole purpose of my post was to point out that your position differs from Dawkins’s — not to suggest the opposite.I’m not sure what other response you expected, but I won’t bother to try to persuade you of my own “patently ridiculous beliefs”. I don’t subscribe to your trash-talking of religion, but I’m glad to see that — unlike somebody like Dawkins — you at least acknowledge the truth that human reality encompasses more than just the biochemical processes going on between our ears.Contrary to your assertion, most Christians do not insist on the false dichotomy that you rightly criticize. Ironically, it is materialists like Dawkins who do insist on it.

  • Gene Venable

    Bright is dim.There was no decision to “go with” bright as a term that I accept. It is just a marketing idea that some atheists or agnostics went with. I’m glad to see unbelievers fighting for their unbeliefs, though.But it’s ok with me if you religious folks adopt a belief in god as a sort of working hypothesis — if it gives you a point of view to look at data from, that’s fine. I often find it helpful to have even an incorrect working hypothesis; it helps organize the data…

  • Graciela Blaum

    Hi everybody, I do not have time to read all the opinions, but I want to post mine… I decided some 2 or 3 years ago to “come out of the closet” as an atheist. I was never embarrased, don’t get me wrong, but for many years I tried to avoid talking about religion – until the time I decided enough is enough.Personally I do not like the term “bright” to label atheists, I rather call myself a freethinker or a secular humanist … or an atheist. Happy New Year to all!!

  • jim

    One reason athiests like me cannot seem to have productive conversations with believers is because the believers keep bringing up propositions that they believe in, which have no proof from my point of view (science/logical empiricism).When the believer mentions propositions like “Gays are an abomination,” or “Yahweh created the sun,” or “No human ought to eat pork, lobsters, clams, etc,” my view is that none of these claims have any basis in science. However, the believer answers, “God said so, just read Leviticus.” All I can answer is, “Why do you believe that old book? It is filled with claims that either cannot be tested, or have been tested and found false.” And the believer says, “God wrote the book, God says so, I feel it in my heart.” And what can I say, except, “I don’t believe you, show me the evidence.” And by that, I don’t mean for you to open a book and point at words, I mean show me the evidence that your view has some basis that I can accept (eyes, ears, logic, etc).When we do not accept the same foundations for knowledge, it is no wonder we cannot agree on many things. So be it. I will persist in my believing based on empirical evidence and the law of non-contradiction, and you will persist in your belief by pointing to a book, or a feeling in your heart (or gut?)When words in an old book, or a feeling in your heart is your basis for belief in some proposition, don’t be surprised that we cannot agree. We cannot even agree on a basis for agreement.

  • James

    C’mon Anonymous:Hypothesis: Religious Societies, where belief and religiosity is high, are more healthy than societies where a great majority of the population do not believe.How would you test that? Look at societies where belief is low, and see if they have fallen apart.If they have not fallen apart, your hypothesis is shaky if not disproved.Both the UN report and Paul’s research (and a number of other sources you can find easily on Google if you care to) show that far from falling apart, there is a pretty strong NEGATIVE CORRELATION between Belief and Societal Health. That doesn’t prove atheism makes you healthy, but it casts great doubt on the hypothesis that religious societies are healthier. They just aren’t. If you find contradictory data when you do your own research, tell us about it. All you have done so far is criticize me for citing UN and Creighton U Journal findings and drawing logical conclusions from them.If you find a flaw with the logic about, lay it out and let us all judge.As far as individual morality, i have told you that many studies I myself have looked at, and many books by respected scholars, have presented lots of data showing atheists are just as moral as believers. NOTE: I did NOT say MORE moral than believers. there are Obviously many very moral believers. My brother for instance.You say i leap to “breathtaking conclusions.”You challenge these data-supported modest conclusions, which by the way go against conventional wisdom and therefore need to be said, without any evidence of your own, and without looking with all the evidence that is out there in the public domain.Google Hauser Harvard Moral.

  • james

    RE: Erik de koster’s comment from Belgium”The road to the freedom of the mind, breaking the shackles of ignorance, superstition and bigotry which are imposed by religions, is a long and difficult one, and it is a road one usually walks alone. I am very fortunate to live in a free country where I can say that I am an atheist without fear for my life, my health or my job. I hope your country may find the wisdom to free itself in the same way.”A wise thought, IMHO. And I think it is a requirement, if one wants to call oneself a thinking and aware person, to have some knowledge of how people in the rest of the world perceive the American religious debate.I think it is also a requirement for honest dialog that one step out of one’s own religious dogma and consider the range of world religions, the range of kinds of belief/unbelief in God (e.g. Buddhims does NOT believe in the Christian God, or any God), in order to consider oneself qualified to have an informed discussion with others.

  • rjr

    as far as the intelligence correlation issue goes, a similar study can be made of this particular debate. there seems to be a negative correlation between intelligence and nasty, partisan attacking posts. I see no value in any of the arguments made by those that feel the need to belittle others to make their point.

  • jim

    Hi Jim, it seems there are two of us Jim’s posting here, and maybe people will confuse the two of us. Although it does seem we are somewhat in agreement. This Jim doesn’t care for the term Bright, finding it condescending. I’ll stick with atheist, thank-you.

  • rjr

    JimI think the poll question is a bit misleading. Religion isn’t as important in DAILY life because there are so many more things to compete for our attention. We don’t vote daily, we don’t make the decision to got war daily, we don’t see our neighbors of a different faith daily. These are some of the the things where religious belief does play a part.I would think a more relevant question would be…”How important is your faith to you?”, along with a series of questions along those lines, which would include the question you cited.

  • tnowakowski

    Going *GOD-FREE*Since religion and atheism are learned behaviors, why not call the disbelief in a universal glue something less than a disavowal like a-theism or non-theism. Why not give the way of thinking a positive, marketable spin not unlike ‘going green’, ‘environmentally friendly’? Godless is too negative, but maybe God-free? Then we could sell all kinds of consumer related ways to help people stop worrying about God.

  • Warp10

    To Ann OYou said:>Sadly, scientific method does not provide a method for searching for non-empirical truths. But just because I lack a fish hook for catching a trout, it doesn’t mean that the trout doesn’t exist and can’t be caught by other means.>If you want to get technical: Because I lack a fish hook – this also doesn’t mean (or prove) that a trout exists or that I am even human and live on the Earth. So???I strongly disagree with your definition of empiricism. Empiricism has always included the entire realm of mathematics and logic for its tools– along with sensory information. Both scientists and the mystics (including theologicans) have always employed mathemtatics and logic….However, mathematics and logic only work when their are accurate INPUTS. The analogy is to a computer and the Garbage In-Garbage Out principle: Feed a perfectly working and logical computer bad inputs – and you will get garbage out. Which is why the Catholic Scholastics during the Dark Ages used great learning (employing mathematics and logic) to deduce what hell was like, that the earth was the Center of the universe, etc [and yes, brilliantly deducing this based on biblical verses...] The problem was their inputs, not their reasoning….Atheists are frequently accused of being simply closed minded. This is not true. I am open to the idea of divine or external “knowledge” that surpasses human experience. (In addition to a supernatural origin, for example, supernatural knowledge could arise from an alien race such as we see in the plot of Arthur Clark’s 2001.)However, even though I can accept a black box whose contents I do not understand, I must still be able to judge the outputs as spectacular and beyond explanation of natural laws.Meaning, there must be evidence that our reason tells us that either their are miracles, else a person (or groups) actions must demonstrate something very exceptional is going on.I see so much evidence of the opposite.I will give you just a few examples:Example 1: The Evangelical movement claims special knowledge from being imbued with the Holy Spirit to allow them to speak in tongues, handle poisonous snakes, and generally know God’s will. –REALITY: They words are typically gibberish (unless the member was already exposed to another language), and members frequently die of snake bites;As for God’s will: Despite all the Holy Rollers prayers and holy communion — it took a gay Prostitute to inform them that their head leader (and pastor of a megachurch) recently was gay and on drugs?Example 2: George Bush has insisted he is a “good” Christian (the Bible is his “favorite” book, etc.) But look at his works: He insisted he spoke to God about the invasion and finding WMD. Bush advocates (and lies about) torture and has no regrets that innocent people have been caught in his torture nets. Bush is a hypocrite about helping the poor, because his actions are opposite his words.More important — the majority of the most religious Christians have believed Bush’s lies (many still do.) All that was needed for them was for Bush to say he was a Christian and state he was against gays/abortions….Global warming didn’t matter; starting an immoral war was irrelevent; allowing corrupt megacorporations to control our agencies was irrelevent.But if you ask me if the Bible is a source for ALL wisdom, I will point to you many verses based on superstition or immorality: A tiny sample: The earth (created Day 1) was made before the sun, moon, and rest of the stars in the universe (Created on Day 4), the belief that all mental diseases are caused by demons that must be cast out, slavery and torture were never outlawed (or described as evil), etc etc.. But barring these tests – I am all open to hearing any evidence you have. So far, I have not seen any such evidence. You may list this now if you wish, and I will listen.

  • Parker

    I think Allan Bloom said it all, as is evident in the total suppresion of dissent regarding cosmology, despite ample evidence disproving orthodoxy. Bloom wrote:”Science, in freeing men, destroys the natural condition that makes them human. Hence, for the first time in history, there is the possibility of a tyranny grounded not on ignorance, but on science.”History has never seen such mean, petty, arrogant, pitiful tyrants, however.

  • james

    Re: Intelligence, and RJR’s comment.Let me try to restate the facts, without belittling. As noted above, my brother is a believer and is at least as intelligent as I am.Ellite Scientist, members of the American Academy, were asked about their belief or non-belief. Over 90% said the did NOT believe in God. Scientific American did a similar study with similar results. There are many other such studies (Google the subject).Inescapable conclusion: the more intelligent one is,the less likely one is to belief in a personal god (and i expect, the less lilkely to believe in virgin births and 6,000 year old earths and resurrections).My *belief* is that it is not very intelligent to believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and the more intelligent and educated one is, the less likely one is to believe that.Of course, many very intelligent people have some unintelligent beliefs.And just as some women are taller than some men, some believers are more intelligent than unbelievers.But studies on thousands of subject indicate that the more intelligent one is, the less likely one is to believe. The data (evidence) seem to inescapably lead to that conclusion.Is it demeaning and belittling to others to cite the data? I would also ask: is it intelligent to believe in the resurrection? If one wants to disregard what is intelligent and operate on Faith in the religious sphere, it is a free country. When one opposes the teaching of evolution in the schools based on that belief however, than a vigorous public debate using intelligence is called for.

  • james

    Re: Intelligence, and RJR’s comment.Let me try to restate the facts, without belittling. As noted above, my brother is a believer and is at least as intelligent as I am.Ellite Scientist, members of the American Academy, were asked about their belief or non-belief. Over 90% said the did NOT believe in God. Scientific American did a similar study with similar results. There are many other such studies (Google the subject).Inescapable conclusion: the more intelligent one is,the less likely one is to belief in a personal god (and i expect, the less lilkely to believe in virgin births and 6,000 year old earths and resurrections).My *belief* is that it is not very intelligent to believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and the more intelligent and educated one is, the less likely one is to believe that.Of course, many very intelligent people have some unintelligent beliefs.And just as some women are taller than some men, some believers are more intelligent than unbelievers.But studies on thousands of subject indicate that the more intelligent one is, the less likely one is to believe. The data (evidence) seem to inescapably lead to that conclusion.Is it demeaning and belittling to others to cite the data? I would also ask: is it intelligent to believe in the resurrection? If one wants to disregard what is intelligent and operate on Faith in the religious sphere, it is a free country. When one opposes the teaching of evolution in the schools based on that belief however, than a vigorous public debate using intelligence is called for.

  • Anonymous

    James,I’m very happy to accept all of your conclusions.What do I do with that information?

  • OGTAY

    Should you also suggest to redifine the concept of the word “atheist” for the atheists under the word “bright”? For example, that should not be a bad idea for the atheists or brights to spend more time on fighting to keep science in the classrooms of America rather than worrying about getting red of the religion from our lives. As we all know that modern christianity in this country is far different than the christianity of the dark ages. Modern Christianity is more worried about helping to the helpless rather than converting others by force, and this is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    From the evidence in this discussion, one might leap to the conclusion that a lot of functional illiterates are quite prepared to congratulate themselves on their own intelligence.

  • Ashley

    Greg, regarding your comment that “Those who spread the Good News in a condemning, judgmental way have not read the same Bible I have.” Actually, they’ve read EXACTLY the same bible you have and have reached different conclusions (or, more likely, been indoctrinated with different conclusions). Christianity isn’t exactly one big happy family. All you have to do to hear voices of Christian hatred is tune to Fox News Channel for an hour or so.

  • Bill (Long Out of the Closet) Aldridge

    It is not a matter of “believing” in God. It is a matter of what entity enables the vast ignorant masses to create Gods and religious establishments.

  • yoyo

    Wonderful timely article…..Yes it’s time we nonbelievers spoke up,and keep speaking up.

  • Germanprof

    The simple fact is that it is impossible for the Christian God to exist. No all good, omnipotent, omniscient being would ever allow the kind of suffering we see around us every day.This is, alas, overwhelmingly obvious. The term “bright” may not apply to all atheists, but the term “dumb” surely applies to most believers.It is very sad that the main issue here seems to be whether or not atheists can be decent people. (Most of them are far more decent than their detractors.)The reason the whole thing comes up at all is, I think, the McCarthy era. That was when America needed to be mobilized against “godless Communism,” and the way to do that was around religion. The strategy succeeeded, which is why we don’t have any Mark Twains around today. Just when we need them the most!

  • rjr

    James, I apologize. I was borrowing your example, not criticizing you personally.While I do believe that there is a correlation between intelligence and the search for knowledge (as opposed to accepting things at face value), I also believe that there are other factors that determine at which conclusions intelligent people will arrive. Scientists are probably more likely to be atheists because they were drawn to scientific methods early in life, just as an intelligent theologians path would be guided towards further “proof” of their belief as they studied further.To me, this is no different than a political argument. Some very intelligent people are on opposite sides of more tangible issues than god and will not accept each other’s arguments. A better equation would be as acuteness of ideology increases intelligence decreases or maybe ideology X emotion = intelligence with emotion being a negative number.At any rate, I haven’t read the studies you speak of, I’m just opining based on anecdotal knowledge accumulated over 44 yrs.And again, I apologize if you mistook my earlier comment as being directed at you. I’ve actually enjoyed reading your posts.

  • smafdy

    I keep running into posts on this blog that ask why Atheists don’t respect the views of the “faithful”, thus making dialog impossible.There are several reasons for this.2. The vast majority of Atheists were weaned on religion (later realizing that there were rational, more easily digested alternatives), and understand what happens during the indoctrination process. We understand that part of the indoctrination process involves the elevation of the group (very tribal) over any and all other groups, and portrays other groups as morally and humanly inferior. Monotheistic religions cannot work without this “we’re better than them” attitude (check the Catholic creedo, for one example). From this foundation, we get shunning, pogroms, crusades, slavery, lynchings, stoning, and other variations of inhumane treatment of those outside the group – especially atheists.3. Having rejected our inherited religion allows us to honestly assess the basis for the belief in any “god”. The natural extension of honest objective analysis will inevitably lead to the rational conclusion that all religions are equally false.4. Religious god-believers (as opposed to the rare, non-religious god believer) have corrupted their minds to accept poorly constructed, Rube Goldbergesque explanations for the structure of the cosmos, moral foundations, and life (and how to live it) in the aggregate. This abandonment of “free will” and introspection/rational analysis by the nominal “believer” leaves the atheist to mistrust their motives, their honesty, and their intentions. Realize this: Atheism does not require adherence to dogma – only honesty and a rational basis for conversation. Atheists understand that any action or development in human knowledge – no matter how well grounded in rational thought – that does not conform to the creedo will be viewed as heresy, and as such, a crime against “god”.5. The belief in a god allows the “faithful” to commit all manner of injustice, injury, and disenfranchisement against he non-believer. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of historical and contemporary examples of this intolerance. Atheists understand that by stepping outside the circle of conformity, we open ourselves to this mistreatment by the group. (Background: at the height of the church’s power in Europe, when the popes challenged the kings over supremacy, excommunication of the non-believer left them open to every type of crime perpetrated by believers. In short, if someone killed an excommunicated person – even the king – and stole their possessions, the church did not treat the offense as a crime or a sin. Similar instances can be found in today’s theocracies). Quite simply – we don’t trust religion or the religious.6. Supporting the previous three points of this post, is the practically universal abandoment of the core philosophies of the ostensible dogmas of their particular faiths by the believers. In my opinion, you can’t be a believer in Jesus (as opposed to being a believer in the Bible) if your actions belie his instructions to you. You may not be wealthy. You may not support war. You may not defend yourself against an attack upon your person. Don’t like these constraints on your lifestyle? Fine – just don’t claim to be an adherent of the teachings of Jesus (again – this is a challenge to your personal integrity, honesty, and moral fiber). Claiming a faith while rejecting its underlying tenets cheapens the message as well as the messenger. In this light, the absolutely beautiful teachings of Jesus have been corrupted into nothing more than a harsh, authoritarian, political tool. (Of note: George Bush claims to be a follower of Jesus – who, according to legend, was a political prisoner, tortured and executed after having received due process under the law – yet he (Bush) has condoned the torture of political prisoners and has personally signed the death warrants of more than 150 people. In light of the fact that other, MORAL punishments were available to Bush and within his power to execute, why would he condemn these people to the same fate his alleged savior had experienced? Where is Jesus in all of that killing? Where is mercy?) The hipocracy and antithetical actions of the followers of religion is not a basis for respect.Please note that while this rant focused on Christianity, it is the religion into which I was originally indoctrinated, and it is the professed religion of the vast majority of my larger group (Americans). In no way am I singling out Christians as unique in my view, as I believe that all religions (as opposed to philosophies) are equally false and that their followers are guilty of of willful intellectual dishonesty.And finally: Something I keep posting here that gets very little, if any, comment. I think it is the most well-stated basis for atheism, and it comes from one of our founding fathers, Thomas Paine:”All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?”

  • Agnony Aunt

    It would be wonderful if writers would stop referring to “atheists and agnostics” in a lump.Agnostic means “I don’t know”. For me, it is a position of openness, even faith at times (at other times, not). To me being agnostic, a state of being/mind I’ve settled into more deeply over decades, means I hold a door OPEN, AJAR.I may spend my life teetering on the fence between possibilities, but there is joy and honesty in this tip-toes position. It’s not about negatives, so to speak. But in no way am I certain of something penultimate, as an atheist (or a theist) is.It muddies discussion when someone refers to “atheists and agnostics” in one breath and then spends the balance of their discourse on atheism.Please give agnostics their own space. Thanks,Agnony

  • Darkie

    >Greg said:Religions have carefully designed their theologies to make this impossible. The debate always starts out with “oh, you don’t believe, so you must be going to hell” and where in the world does an outsider go from that opening and remain civil? “No, I’m not, because your religion is actually a myth.” Both responses are already disparaging on a cosmic scale. It is easier to address the issue of organized religion (where most of the world’s issues seem to always arise) and leave off the notion of faith, which is a personal internal thing. Various bloggers have been using the suffix of “ism” and “ist” to differentiate these two notions for purposes of debate. An Islamist, or Christianist, is someone who takes their faith into their government and expect it to be enforced on all nonbelievers around them. That’s where I as an atheist raise my head up from living life and say “NO, THANK YOU” You want a holy war? Move to a country where that is part of the constitution; this one doesn’t have any room for it. Otherwise, I don’t seek out the topic of religion. Whenever I do (like when someone comes to the door) I find the person there is shockingly ignorant of their own religion. Pointing out to a Mormom the local Upstate NY history of Joseph Smith sends them away in a hurry. Pointing out to Christians that a little reading of Sumerian myth would make the Bible much clearer tends to send them off looking confused as if they never realized that there are older texts that theirs could be based on. Come on, I don’t even do this stuff so I definitely shouldn’t know more than you, the expert who has chosen to proselytize. Believe me, their confusion doesn’t sell their product well, and could just possibly lead an atheist to think perhaps they aren’t so smart, at least about matters of religion. An atheist may just then start to wonder if perhaps this is because learning too much about one’s religion might put their fragile faith at risk, which might just imply that it is too fragile to take much threat. This also might lead one to realize that this fear could explain the violent verbal and war-like reaction one witnesses when topics of faith come up between people of different faiths. There won’t be civil discussion until religion doesn’t mean anything to people anymore.

  • martooni

    As an agnostic, I’m with whoever it was way up this thread who asked to please not be lumped in with the atheists. There is a big difference between an open mind and a forgone conclusion.To me, the question of whether one should believe or not (or who/what to believe in, for that matter) is only answerable at the personal/individual level.What is the best color? Not your favorite color, but which color is best? If you say “blue” and I say “yellow”, who is wrong? Are either of us right? Can the question be answered?That is the difference between agnostics and atheists/theists. Agnostics accept the fact that a definitive answer to questions like this are beyond our grasp, whereas atheists and theists have made a leap of faith (or non-faith) and claim to know for sure.Trust me… I’d love to know for sure one way or the other — life would be much easier to deal with. But then again, I’d rather not spoil the ending of a very interesting book.

  • Evan Stewart

    “As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine.” I can agree that believers of any faith may go to far as to assume and demand that they have any privilege in society if the privilege be to civil leadership or even public respect of their beliefs. However, to ask that any person of any faith, especially a morally exclusive one, to leave at the door their beliefs that they have a “direct line to the absolute truth and moral insight” is unfair and dishonest to any rational discourse. Certainly, many claims along these distinctions will cause frustrations in any discussion in which mutual agreement in a matter is sought, but the believer would not be much of a believer if he or she compromised the very subject they believed in. As a Christian, I cannot honestly enter any discourse and leave my belief at the door that Jesus Christ has offered proof of God and proof that He is God by raising Himself from the dead and this consequentially offers the follower and student of God a direct line to many absolute truths and even great moral insight. However, I certainly cannot demand that my belief and conclusions based on my belief be heard and accepted without any rational or irrational opposition. The belief in the supernatural and self revelation of God, no matter how right or wrong each claim may be, will always be present as each new day comes. To deny this is to shut one’s eyes to reality and to try and exlcude the believing population from respectful public discourse of any kind is as dishonest and foolish as it is for the believing population to exclude and ridicule the unbelieving population who wish to enter public discourse with respect.

  • Ann O.

    BEN writes: Ann O said: Why should I assume, therefore, that the current “science” has the reliability you claim for it?There is no assumption necessary ! When you move a certain shape forward through a fluid, aerodynamic knowledge says a certain amount of lift will be developed. This gets tested every second, with thousands of airplanes flying around the world. The very heart of the method is to test, not assume.Ann responds: I don’t deny that there are areas of science which present no problems. But there are extremely serious problems in physics — just look at the conflict between relativity theory and quantum theory. And look at the contradictions in some math systems. It simply isn’t true that those theories are reliable, that is, the physical theories are not consistent with each other and in the case of some of the math systems, the systems are self-contradictory.BEN: All of our learning leads to tentative conclusions only.Ann: Not so. Propositional logic has been proven to be both complete and consistent, and there are other logical systems with have been shown to be complete and consistent. Including Aristotle’s class logic, by the wayBEN: What methods do you find superior ? How should I go about lessening my fundamental ignorance of reality ?ANN: There are no methods for empirical science besides scientific method which are superior for discovering empirical facts. At least, not that I know of. But if you want to discover some non-empirical facts I suppose you’d best start by simplyobserving differences, that is, by making distinctions among the sorts of data you find in your consciousness. (Very similar to the observational phase of scientific method.) The first difference you might look for is the difference between empirical data and logical/spiritual data. For instance, note the very *real meaning* of “not”. This is a logical, non-empirical datum, something that is neither colored, flavored, textured, a sound, etc, nor measurable. Then notice one of your own acts of choosing. It also will be neither colored, flavored, textured, etc, nor measurable. How to become aware of the meaning of “not”? Do some very abstract logical proof forms, and in the immortal words of Wittgenstein, “Look and see”. Or do some very concrete proofs, and notice what you find *inside* your consciousness as you judge that something is *not* this or that. The this and the that can be colored, measurable, etc., but what is given in the “not”is not. (Bit of self- reference there but I see no problem with it.) Sartre, the novelist-philosoher, gives a very good description of experiecing the absence of a friend (his not-being-there). I can try to find the passage if you’re interested. It might help you to find what I’m talking about in yourself. (I’ve forgotten just where it is in his works.) It’s the sort of phenomenological/introspective method that might be interesting to you. I must admit that I find much of the writing of some of the phenomenologists to be garbage (I”m thinking of Heidegger now). But some is quite cogent. The greatest of them, Husserl, was himself a mathematician, so you might find his standards of rationality quite high. Unfortunately he ended up a Platonist, but that’s another can of worms. Try his early work “Ideas”. It tries to account for the presence of ideas in consciousness. Anyway, there’s more to reality that that booming, buzzing universe out there that scientists, and most of the rest of us, are so fond of. Look and see. Ann O.

  • mommadona

    I loved the movie “Dogma”.Am I an Atheist?

  • Atheist in NYC

    The problem with atheism (I’m an atheist) isn’t theological but, rather, political. In an emerging era where Islamism poses an encroaching demographic threat to Euro-Western civilization, who is going to take up the fight? Christians will fight to defend Christianity. Atheists won’t fight to protect atheism. Atheism may be the domain of the rational, but it’s not a force that’s prepared to shed its blood in self-preservation.

  • Paul Boudreau

    As a self described agnostic I am extremely hesitant to embrace the idea of creating a new nomenclature to further differentiate those of us who question absolute belief, or in the case of pure atheists reject it, especially a term as controversially charged as “brights”. The negative corollary of “dims” thrust directly back upon um, well everyone else, seems unnecessarily harsh and derogatory in nature. It also seems to me, as someone who leaves open the possibility of a higher power, potentially insulting personally. If at some point in my personal search for meaning I decide to believe in something/someone, does that mean my “brightness” has gone? Have I been “dimmed”? While i certainly believe that atheists and agnostics need to become a more vocal part of the global conversation on religion, to put ourselves above those who believe in this manner merely serves to add to the poisonous nature of some of the discussion which has turned many of us away from religion in the first place. It also serves to confirm the antagonistic perception that believers have of non-believers, namely that we are condescending, unbending rejectionists who look down upon not just faith, but people of faith. I cannot see how that furthers the tolerant discourse so desperately needed in our world today.PSB

  • Paul R. Cooper

    I call myself agnostic because atheist is as absolutist as fundamentalist true believer–I cannot prove that God does not exist, but I am skeptical. I don’t like “bright” because it is both egotistic and often wrong about individuals. I prefer the old fashioned and somehow less inflammatory term “skeptic.” I lack nothing in my doubts of the relevance of god, but I don’t go around insisting with arrogant certainty that gods do not exist.

  • Darkie

    martooni and joe,I don’t think I’ve ever lumped agnostics and atheists together, but I will be very careful to avoid doing so. You are correct that there is a huge difference. I went from Catholic to agnostic and one day realized that I didn’t even qualify as that anymore.If I may hazard to hypothesize I think they they are lumped together for political categories: “People we can reach at their church/place of worship” and “People we can’t reach that way”. That’s my take, so putting them together in a discussion that starts from the perspective of atheism isn’t productive. Hey, we can have a civil discussion… just between the atheists and the agnostics. Well, it’s a start.You know I kind of miss being agnostic. I used to have these great conversations at parties like: Hey, have you looked into Hinduism? It has this great pantheon… and then an entire evening’s comparative discussion would ensue about the features of some interesting religion. I think what happened to me in the end was that I realized that all religions look great from the outside but their adherents always fall frighteningly far short of the optimum and they have been too programed to recognize it and end up more dangerous as a result.

  • dbc_golden

    It is interesting that the debate here has been kept more civil than some I’ve seen on the Washington post blog sphere. And I’ll keep in that spirit. I’m actually heartened by the term *brights* as it may give the atheists, like the gays, something to rally around that over time will resonate and not seem so foreign to their ears. Yes, the term gay does not mean glum, but it also implies (to me anyway) living in the moment, and gays that I have met do that better than many heteros I’ve met. In the same vein *brights* may be more about living this life in a positive fashion than worrying about what happens in the next one, or happened in some prior one. To be the opposite of bright does have negative connotations. In like fashion, while I’m not gay, I would not be offended to be described as such. Nor would I be offended to be described as bright. If, a heterosexual believer is offended by the terms gay and bright being used for what they perceive to be offending rationale, well, so be it. I am similarly offended by the use of faith (religious beliefs) to justify man’s acts. If we were all more gay and bright it would be an improvement over the current state of world affairs. Peace.

  • Anonymous

    I think of religion as “Groupthink”.

  • Victoria

    It must be a truism, based on what I have read in this piece, and what seems to be prevalent in daily life, that people who are religious (and oft conscious of their moral superiority as such), are only equaled by atheists proud of their non-belief, who believe they are more highly intelligent because of it.What our nation needs is not people of absolute certainty of their own superior capacities, but people of humility, who are merely conscious of their need to improve as human beings.

  • Cayambe

    I think Amy has it right, infidel is a perfectly acceptable name for this infidel. If you insist on opposing labels then I would go with unbelievers vs believers. That actually gets to the heart of what divides one group from the other.

  • Heather

    Religion actually ruined my life here in Washington, DC. I was happy with my belief system and very successful until people here in Washington, DC (govt) were so insistent that they deserved a clear understanding of what I believe, then people tried shoving their religion down my throat. It has all made me very sick and brought the whole purpose of religion–building a strong society–to its antithesis of dividing peoples and one group esteeming itself as “holier” than any others to the point that they become Nazis in their conviction that they have the G-d given right to harrass and bring down anyone outside of their small-minded idea of the Infinite. I am finished with any ‘religion’ and anyone who strongly identifies exclusively with one. But I will never be an atheist.

  • E. Favorite

    Greg:You say, “The problem I am having with other comments here is the expressed idea that those who believe are somehow ignorant, uneducated fools, who accept a fairy tale without cause, and who are idiots for believing. I don’t understand why my belief is subject to such vitriol…”Is it really vitriolic to suggest that it’s stupid to accept a fairy tale without cause?If you said you believed in the tooth fairy and the flying spaghetti monster, would it be odd for people to question your intelligence (assuming you’re more than 8 years old)?I don’t assume you’re stupid. I suspect you’re simply not accustomed to having your beliefs questioned.I think a little reflection on why you believe what you do, without any evidence, could be useful.

  • dbc_golden

    Momma Donna – I was an agnostic until I realized that is was a cop out and wishy washy. You may be an atheist but are struggling with the implications. Good luck on your search.Atheist in NYC. I’m willing to defend my right to not believe in God. That right is enshrined in our constitution in the 1st Amendment. Yes people are willing to defend a belief in “non-belief”. The secular British state (and I would guess Austrailia) have been our allies in the Iraq crusade that our president started because they believe other causes justified their participation. In other words, people will say they are fighting for one thing (their religious beliefs) when in reality they are often fighting for resources or other political gain under the cover of religion. At least that is my interpretation of history. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but that does not mean it is not mostly true.

  • Steve

    I’m now convinced that “Bright” is not a good choice. How about calling ourselves “Divided Quibblers”? While the “Bright” term does catch some of the correlation between intelligence and a naturalistic world view, the “Divided Quibblers” term better captures the stronger negative correlation of atheism with cohesion and agreement.

  • Alien Among You

    “Some people, homophobes, racists and sexists for example, ARE scum. Thats a perfectly sensible attitude, or do you disagree?”I disagree with the exclusivist mindset that includes homophobes, racists, and sexists, and a few other categories of -ists read in these postings. From that, alone, however, I cannot conclude that all these people are scum anymore than a deeply religious person–in the traditional sense–might conclude that you are scum based on your beliefs and comments.”Tell me, do you think the biblical position on homosexuality is correct?”I’m not sure what the true biblical position is; but if you mean is homosexuality somehow unnatural (i.e., not in accordance with nature), the answer is no, I don’t believe so. Note, however, that my answer to this question (which is irrelevant in this context and I provide it only to make the point) may make me more or less of a “scum” to you, but the opposite to someone else who might disagree with me. Since I cannot be both at one time, I am neither. Of course, labeling is always the first step taken by one faith in its natural progression towards dominating another. (I use the word natural with full deliberation.) And we are all guilty of it, naturally.Regarding the “brights” (an unfortunately telling term), don’t be surprised when we (yes, “we”) begin persecuting the non-brights as we have ourselves been persecuted. Actually, “begin” is the wrong word; the onslaught is in full progress; naturally!

  • Leo

    It more importat to rescue the poor people brainwashed from birth by the Christian mythology. The Abrahamic religions are all pretty bleak, with the Muslems being the ones most able to transcend the Bibical mishmash. The Torah is one endless tail of peoples who fail their faith over nad over; but still believe that they are the choosen peoples of a mean vengeful cruel old man GOD. The Christians have such a deluded philsophical basis that the strongest case is it’s sheer ridiculus premises. That they could go from a vengeful GOD like Jehovah to eternal blessings by brutalizing murder of the SON of GOD is an amazing jingolistic feat! That the core story if from a man who persecued the followers of Jesus until he fell off his horse and hit his head; whose basis of faith is his defense of heresy from the closest followers of Jesus; combined with the rants of Peter and John who seem to have hated Jesus teachings on humility, women emancipation, and support of the non-Jewish peoples is an amazing feat as well.How could so many be so deluded for so long? The answer obviously has been its value in supporting the Ricj and the Powerful while keeping the poor and the desperate tamed and focused on the next life rather than the injustices of this real life.We must break this mindwasting crime, using the very techniques developed to keep the masses controlled!

  • Ted Swart

    Steve;What you say doesn’t wash. Those of us who are uncomfortable with the choice of the word “brights” cannot simply switch off our discomfort. No matter what anybody says the term carries with it the connotation that brights are bright and those who are not atheists,agnostics, pantheists et al are simply dumb. I am often appalled at the crude way in which atheists disparage believers and the use of the term brights simply speaks too loudly of this attitude for many of us to avoid being discomfited.I suggested in another post that “lights” would have been a much better choice since those who are non-believers have an obligation to throw light in dark places. There are many other possible choices which would have been better such as “taboo-breakers”. If you have read Sam harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett et al you will surely have noticed that they all draw attention to the manner in which discussing religion openly tends to be taboo. When you say: Fortunately the atheist/agnostic cause does not stand or fall on the success of the “brights” initiative.

  • Dave

    ON alternatives to the term ‘Bright’.How about ‘Realitarian’?

  • Anonymous

    The anti-religion posters in this discussion might be a whole lot more persuasive if any of them actually knew something about the subject.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Note, however, that my answer to this question (which is irrelevant in this context and I provide it only to make the point) may make me more or less of a “scum” to you, but the opposite to someone else who might disagree with me. Since I cannot be both at one time, I am neither. Of course, labeling is always the first step taken by one faith in its natural progression towards dominating another. (I use the word natural with full deliberation.) And we are all guilty of it, naturally.Absolutely, and as promised I DO apologise unreservedly. Your original post had a distinctly religious and homophobic flavour when read through my own unique filter. Hey, I’m only human.I don’t agree though, that the application of such a label to people who denigrate others for no other reason than difference, is irrelevant. It is, to poach a phrase, the whole of the law and the prophets for a genuinely secular global society. It is I would a hazard a critical criteria for our survival as a species.I reject and despise those who would harm or demonise others purely for their difference. People must be free to worship whatever they like, in whatever way they see fit as long as it harms no one else, thats my only creed.

  • Quince

    Anonymous wrote: “The variation between individuals in all races is so great for the overall averages to be meaningless.”That is total BS stemming from Lewontin’s work in the 70s, because it ignores the correlation between individual feature variations, which under statistical cluster analysis reveal that races are, in fact, genetic reality.The fallacy of the reasoning behind Anonymous’ claim is elaborated in this 2003 paper:A suggestion to Anonymous: next time do some research before exercising your Post-button-click-happy finger.

  • J

    Hi,I have to admit that I have not read through the entire string, but I read enough to make a few comments. Hopefully these were not addressed by other posters.1) I don’t like how the doctor puts ahteists and agnostics together and then shortens his usage to just atheists. On several occasions in my life I have been an atheist, and at other times an agnostic. They were not the same states of mind. I suggest that, as many other people have stated, being an atheist takes the same type of intuitive leap as one that espouses a belief in God, even if it be a “courageous” step for those to go against the norm of society. Not all people that believe in God do so because they are mentally sluggish or just go along with societal norms. So for all us once and future agnostics out there, please separate the doubters from the unbelievers. I’m not bright enough for your mixed usage.2) I do like the doctor’s admonition for open, rational discourse without name-calling. Kinda quaint, isn’t it?3) There were several postings on the statistical significance of a negative correlation between intelligence and the belief in God (which turned into religiosity, which I might add are not reflexive of each other). Setting aside the person who said that any “fool” knows that correlation does not necessarily mean causation (class act there), the statistics still require an intuitive leap–made by those who could be biased–to interpret the results of such studies as meaning there is no God. There are several implicit biases even in posing the question which one must factor into the results. First, one must believe that being smart equals being good. Second, one must also believe that these IQ tests have adequately captured such a good quality. Many new studies suggest that the traditional IQ test does not properly account for the multiple intelligences manifest in human beings. Third, the studies must be able to show that any of these findings are not somehow affected by outside events that may affect answers people provide. Fourth, the testers themselves would have to rid themselves of any perceived bias towards intelligence or their views of a God and ensure a reliable version of “double-blindness.” Now I am not saying that the studies did not try to address these issues, but I seriously doubt any of those that are using these results in this post to support their cause know whether or not they were addressed. In addition, I could easily say lower intelligence means lower belief in God if I include non-human beings and extremely limited functioning humans into the study. A belief in the divine is a human trait based on our very ability to critically think and comprehend.4) A Baconian approach to the scientific method involving pure empiricism is the only true way to stay within facts as we know them, as is my interpretation of espousing rationalism and empiricism. However, this approach is not how we move forward as humans, scientifically or otherwise. Intuition and looking outside of just what we see is fundamental to science as it is for religion. And until you get rid of people’s penchant to ask why and to hope (intuitive gestures for sure) and to see more or less than what is before you, you will never get rid of some people’s belief in the existence of a God or other people’s need to have a community centered around that belief. Religion is a metaphor that puts the experience of humanity (past, present, and future) and its relationship with the cosmos into perspective in a way that no scientific method can. Please don’t get me wrong. In conversations I have with believers about these topics, I identify myself as a scientist. Science is the centerpiece and fulchrum of human understanding of our physical universe. But there is no raison d’etre behind science. It just is. It is the human agent that gives science a sense of delight and wonder, just as it is the human agent to do so in religion.4) I think it is possible to believe in a God that might or might not affect our everyday lives and still believe that a human’s moral obligations rest solely on human reasoning and cultural imperatives. Moreso, I believe that it is possible that humans are ultimately responsible for their own actions and must be able to explain their motives and actions within a cultural context that does not include overt presuppositions of first causes. I fail to understand the reasoning the concludes that moral obligation to other humans and the environment has anything to do with the existence or non-existence of a God. Can someone explain in tiny words for me?

  • Rob

    Aarmin,I’m with you on the agnostic thing. That frustrates me too. But I think some kinds of agnostics are okay. Have you ever heard of the term teapot agnostic (just Google it if not)? I would include those people, though I think their qualification is rather pedantic. Certainly wouldn’t want to exclude Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins from the fold, would we?

  • Juan Bernal

    I suppose if the category of non-believers need a positive label, “Bright” is as good as the many others floating about. I was never comfortable with “atheist,” feeling it carried too much negative connotation with most people. “Agnostic” tends to be misleading. “Secularist” did not sound right; “humanist” was too general. For a time I thought “secular humanist” was good, but many thought it redundant. “Skeptic” and “Cynic” serve for some purposes. I don’t believe in any supernatural beings and long ago abandoned all religious doctrine. I’m not sure I need a banner to identify me, but “bright” will do as well as any other. Maybe, as Daniel Dennett says, it may take more time to catch on.

  • John Krehbiel

    On the terms atheist, agnostic, and bright, I considered myself an agnostic, since an atheist makes what seemed to me to be an untenable claim of the non-existance of something. Recently, though I decided that it is not irrationaly to say, for instance, that there are no unicorns, even though from a philosophical point of view I can’t prove that proposition. If the term “bright” sticks, it’s fine with me, and I am registered with the Brights.One of the biggest services such a movement can provide is to show that there are many others like us. Children, and adults too for that matter, should be aware that the stories they hear aren’t the only possible stories. It is always troubling to me to hear people who obviously have never talked to anyone they don’t agree with.A couple of the posters say that science can’t answer “Why?” To me this is typical of people who believe in made-up concepts. They attach great importance to the ability to answer meaningless questions. It’s like creationists saying that evolution can’t explain original sin. So what?The only drawback to being a materialist as far as I can see is that there is no vindication. You don’t get to say “See, I don’t exist afterall!”

  • Dr. Stephen Uhl

    Can you let a former Catholic priest-theologian-become-humanist-psychologist put in a dime’s worth? I used the Dr. handle, since I just noted another Steve reporting in; the handle does apply with my Ph.D. in psychology-don’t call me Bright.

  • Dr. Stephen Uhl

    Can you let a former Catholic priest-theologian-become-humanist-psychologist put in a dime’s worth? I used the Dr. handle, since I just noted another Steve reporting in; the handle does apply with my Ph.D. in psychology-don’t call me Bright.

  • Alien Among You

    Greg: BRAVO! A voice of true reason.One need look no further than to the despotic regiems throughout history of many athiests and many so-called religious leaders alike to realize they are cut from the very same cloth. What we need to beware of is “true believers” of any kind who look down upon and will grind their opponents into the dirt. Greg is right: it’s all about power.An individual’s belief or faith or lack thereof is merely one of multiple tribal characterists that allow or compel us to divide and conquer other tribes. God or nature (take your pick) make us that way. Our challenge as humans is to recognize it and not give in to it. There are better ways.

  • Alien Among You

    Brian: Is it possible that you missed my point–by miles? Perhaps, just perhaps, you are blinded by your own faith. Of course, you might not recognize your own beliefs as a form of faith (that concept having such negative connotations in enlightened circles), but what else are they? Regarding your calling another poster “scum,” you may have proved my point.

  • Richard

    Anonymous and others,

  • John Conolley

    Someone wanted to know why the “god-free” (much better than “brights;” thanks) are so hostile to the god-ridden.Here are some of my reasons:The priests that convinced me your loving god was standing by to send me to hell, thereby keeping me in a state of terror day and night.The “good, god-fearing” man that made my childhood a hell of violent abuse.The many loving Christians who threatened to beat me down for being an atheist.The many Christians who have tried to tell me what my beliefs are, because it’s impossible for me not to believe anything.The president who says atheists are not citizens or patriots.The previous president (Reagan) who disenfranchised me by saying he didn’t want the votes of atheists.The–But enough. I’m starting to feel hostile.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Of course, you might not recognize your own beliefs as a form of faith (that concept having such negative connotations in enlightened circles), but what else are they? Oh absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I may be completely subjective. Though,I’m at least aware of the possibility, which is more than one can say for most religious people. Oh I don’t think so. Some people, homophobes, racists and sexists for example, ARE scum. Thats a perfectly sensible attitude, or do you disagree? Tell me, do you think the biblical position on homosexuality is correct? If yes, then I think you are homophobic fascist scum. If not, I stand corrected and apologise unreservedly. Your move:-)

  • Brian Coughlan

    Anonymous: Like what? Do I need to know every detail of Buffy the Vampire Slayers universe to come to the conclusion it’s fiction? How is the bible any different?

  • victoria1

    ahhh well- i hope that the worst thing said about me is that i misspell my name- im also known for no caps – its my homage to archy the cockroachyours for rhyme, crime and reason

  • John Conolley

    “Of course, you might not recognize your own beliefs as a form of faith (that concept having such negative connotations in enlightened circles), but what else are they?”I’m pretty sure they’re not faith. Mark Twain quotes a schoolboy as saying, “Faith is believing in something you know ain’t so.”And while I don’t run everything I believe through a double-blind test, I do try very hard to keep my beliefs in line with reality.That’s not faith.

  • Anonymous

    We have people pontificating about science who have no idea what they’re talking about, and a whole lot of people pontificating about theology who have no idea what they’re talking about.Any chance of someone commenting who actually has a substantive academic background in both?

  • Hattie

    I confess that religion, the whole idea of it, bores me stiff. What I object to is paying for the beliefs of others with my tax money. We athiests, or brights, or what have you, should insist on keeping religion out of the schools and away from public life in general. It would be nice to see an end to property tax exemptions for churches and to the financing of “faith based initiatives.”. And no vouchers, such as they have been wanting, for those home schoolers, 95% of whom are religious fundamentalists.

  • Anonymous

    As far as I can tell Richard Dawkins has zero theological training — zero!!It’s like Bill Gates analyzing the works of Beethoven.

  • Tom

    -While I’m not enthused about the term “bright” mostly because it seems raher immodest, I have for the last 6 months been very open about my atheism. While I feel I must be guarded at work where all my colleagues are PhDs and scientists I have had quite an invigorating year. I have studied philosophy and theism for decades and now wonder what all the confusion was about. There is niothing to be defensive about if you can explain your point of view rationally, and patiently. I’ve two sibling that are ministers and they now stand up for atheists in their churches too. So to all of you brights out there take a vacation to a blue state this year and gain a different perspective. Go to Berkeley and buy a flying spaghetti monster bumper sticker. When I visited my nephew there last summer I felt that I was certainly in the majority- and of course I felt pretty smug and really wanted to be in your face about it to my annoying sister but that is just because she has no sense of fair play herself. In the end I’ve found myself feeling that knowing the superioity of rationality while striving for patience and civilty is the best course. Seriosly study cosmology, math, evolution and genetics and you’ll be annoying the believers without having to become caustic. Or do what I did, I bought 50 MYO fossils and gave them as gifts to my brothers.

  • James

    “Theological Training”Dear AnonymousMany intelligent people question whther Theology is a real field, with any scholarly content.Come to think of it, many believers question whether science is a real field that tells us anything about the world.choose your poison.Dawkins IS a scientist, a brilliant one. Scientists are trained to evaluate claims of truth and come up with the best way to test hypotheses.The question of the Existance of God is, among other things, a question like the existence of Quarks. Or String theory’s 11 dimensions. If there is no testability to the claim that God exists, God is meaningless.So Dawkins seems uniquely qualified to evaluate The God Hypothesis.Of course, he is not as learned or intelligent as you, nor are the rest of us on this site.

  • Alien Among You

    Mr. Conolley, I appreciate your reply:”I’m pretty sure they’re not faith. Mark Twain quotes a schoolboy as saying, ‘Faith is believing in something you know ain’t so.’ “Perhaps, but schoolboys are famously naive. Twain also said “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”;-)

  • david Viramontes

    Overall, these are great words from a very conscious mind.

  • Ann O.

    WARP 10: If you want to get technical: Because I lack a fish hook – this also doesn’t mean (or prove) that a trout exists or that I am even human and live on the Earth. So???I strongly disagree with your definition of empiricism. Empiricism has always included the entire realm of mathematics and logic for its tools– along with sensory information.Both scientists and the mystics (including theologicans) have always employed mathemtatics and logic….However, mathematics and logic only work when their are accurate INPUTS. The analogy is to a computer and the Garbage In-Garbage Out principle: Feed a perfectly working and logical computer bad inputs – and you will get garbage out. Which is why the Catholic Scholastics during the Dark Ages used great learning (employing mathematics and logic) to deduce what hell was like, that the earth was the Center of the universe, etc [and yes, brilliantly deducing this based on biblical verses...] The problem was their inputs, not their reasoning….ANN replies: I don’t disagree with any of this, except (1) not very many mystics give a hoot about logic though some did, apparently, (2) the medievals didn’t use math as a method — few were interested in induction, though by the end of the 13th century there were some, and (3) you out-of-date characterization of the Middle Ages as “the Dark Ages”is really passe. Historical studies are seeing more and more clearly the origin of Western science in some of the late 13th and later theologians. I also note that while it is true that much of their reasoning included biblical texts as data, certainly not all did, especially not the later ones like Aquinas, Scotus and Occam.Credit must also be given to the medieval Muslim and Jewish theologians for the appreciation of reason that came to be typical of later Christian theologians. The Muslims were really pioneers,at least in observing nature, and their scientific influence lasted for centuries. Avicenna, one of the greatest of metaphysicians ever, was also a doctor and his medical treatise was used in the West even past the medieval period. A truly extraordinary thinker.WARP 10: However, even though I can accept a black box whose contents I do not understand, I must still be able to judge the outputs as spectacular and beyond explanation of natural laws.Meaning, there must be evidence that our reason tells us that either their are miracles, else a person (or groups) actions must demonstrate something very exceptional is going on.ANN O.: ISTM that miracles, like every other object of our empirical experience (I mean, for instance, should a man with two broken legs start to walk) is contingent and can never be totally compelling because, as with scientific generalization, there might always be some other cause which is operating which we are not aware of.Yes, we do get into questions of “probability” when we talk about miracles (by definition they probably aren’t really miracles). But the meaning of “probability” itself is almost totally problematic to me. You know some philosophy of science — maybe you can help we with it. Sure, I know about the mathematical laws of probability as applied to data, but to me those really are just filled-in formula which happen to say how many instances of a certain kind will result in how many instances of another certain kind given a certain context. Or what? Help! In other words, there is no such thing or force as “probability”.Or what?As to the speaking in tongues, St. Paul himself didn’t think much of it. Said they should keep it to a minimum:-) Which brings us to the Bible. I’ve gotten interested in the Bible only in my old age, and have learned a great deal from the new scholarship — including that of N.T. Wright who is participating in the blog. He’s prodigiously informed and knows linguistic analysis which obviously helps him to interpret Scripture as pre-Wittgensteinians wouldn’t have. He is, of course, controversial.Being a Roman Catholic I was never burdened with the fundamentalist’s notion of any sort of literal interpretation of Scripture. It seems to me that that has done more harm than anything to the cause of religion in the West. There are, it is quite true, severe problems in interpreting Scripture in any coherent way — the worst to me being the image of Jahweh as thug in the early OT. But for me it remains a great source of wisdom, even the works by the primitive writers.And a very Happy New Year to you — and all the members of our feuding blog :-) (And thanks particularly to Sally Quinn.)ANN O.

  • Realist

    Cruel but fair.

  • Anonymous

    Aw shucks, thanks, James.BTW, if you’re going to start culling bogus academic programs, there are plenty of candidates ahead of theology.Anyway, you do have to admit it’s weird how people who are highly educated in their own specialized fields — but who lack any formal theological education beyond the fourth grade — have not the least compunction about pontificating on any and all topics within that realm. Are anthropologists that quick to pop off about physics, or music scholars about macroeconomics? Just curious.

  • Gene in Times Square

    No longer silent — except on TV, particularly the news divisiona and cable news, where Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are persona non grata, and Chris Hitchens is only wheeled out to blather about his beloved Right-wing politics or Clinton’s sex habits.

  • Rob

    I’m signed up as a bright, despite my reservations, because I respect Dan Dennett’s opinion about so many things, and I do think atheists need a more positive public image. I just don’t know why they didn’t use the equally positive and more accurate term, naturalist. The word naturalist describes the central feature that one is trying to get at, which is not belief or disbelief in any particular proposition, but rather a rejection of supernaturalistic explanations. Like bright, it also is a double entendre, whose more common meaning has positive connotations. Who doesn’t like a nature lover? Makes me think of Walden Pond–how comforting! Since it already means what we want it to mean, a little push would be all it would take to move the term into more common parlance. I guess the effort to make naturalist the new “gay” wouldn’t have generated as much publicity. One of the goals, I gather, was to bring the issue before the public eye. Still, I think it has probably been a net negative in terms of public perception of non-believers.Also, the whole idea of identifying oneself with a group by using a label makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It tends to make one think in terms of us versus them. This makes it more difficult to take an objective view of things. I prefer to state what I believe rather than who I identify with, or worse, who someone else would identify me with. “I do not believe God exists.” or “Supernatural explanations make no sense to me.” seems better to my ear than, “I am an atheist/bright/naturalst.”

  • Aarmin

    Though I registered with ‘The Brights’ it has more to do with expressing solidarity than being happy or approving of the term. In fact I am very comfortable and proud to be known as an atheist. It would not be wrong to think that in India the shear number of believers far outstrips us by margins not dreamed of Stateside. This has never prevented me since 1971 (the year I lost all faith) to state openly without any qualms that I am an atheist.I wish that instead of ‘bright’ the word could have been as close to, if not ‘atheist’ itself.I do not approve of ‘fence-sitters’ and hence would leave agnostics out of the perview as much as supers.

  • James

    Anonymous,Thanks for enlightening us once again. Good to have one fully informed and incredibly intelligent participant in these discussions.Please enlighten us once more:Which major arguments for the existence of God did Dawkins leave out of his book? (You did read his book, didn’t you)?Which theologians promulgated those arguments?And what are the flaws in Dawkins’ responses to the arguments he did deal with?C.mon. We all want to know. Enlighten us.

  • Steve

    Come on people, quite haggling over “Bright” and get with the program! It is a fine word with positive connotations and plenty or room to adapt another meaning. The new, distinct meaning will emerge thru usage, whatever the word. How about cooperating in the initiative instead of free-thinking of other, potentially more clever choices? Now, when you hear “gay” the homosexual connotation completely overshadows the former, “light-hearted” meaning. Let’s strive for similar success with “Bright”. You should be more concerned with pulling together to avoid a Christian Taliban than with squabbling in the ranks.

  • Anonymous

    James,As I pointed out above, the Pope doesn’t believe in the God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in. The God Dawkins aims to disprove is a fourth-grade God. Furthermore, Dawkins is a man for whom the concept of poetry is utterly incomprehensible.

  • huti

    How about “natural” as in “I’m (a) Natural”? Found at onelook.com: ‘adjective: existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world; neither supernatural nor magical (Example: “A perfectly natural explanation”)’I wonder if the ‘The Brights’ considered it.

  • Anonymous

    BTW, Dawkins explicitly has said that “if, by ‘God’, you mean love,” his argument doesn’t apply. Well, Christians in fact do mean by “God”, love, because the first Christian theologian, St. John the Evangelist, said precisely that — and said it is all you need to know.Again, Dawkins is just operating at a childish and uninformed level.

  • DZ

    I am 59 years old. I was raised as an atheist even though my mother was very religious. I am quite comfortable with the word ‘atheist’. ‘Bright’ is just arrogant. I prefer to be called the same thing now as I have been called every time I am discriminated against.All I want is to have the religious freedom we have been promised our entire lives but have never experienced.

  • James

    AnonymousThe next time you hear someone say atheists are immoral and a threat to society, and should not get elected President, challenge their assumptions.The next time you hear someone say that societies can’t get along without religion, challenge their assumptions.Prejudice against atheists is not as bad as prejudice against blacks or gays or women, perhaps, but it is still widespread, it is still pernicious, and we all have an obligation to take part in the public discourse and promote understanding rather than prejudices based on ignorance.

  • Willis Elliott

    To me, brights seem dim in what they profess to believe in. They weren’t bright enough to resist Hitler. They aren’t bright enough to engage in such humanitarian activities as believers support with their money and hours. And they exit the closet not so much to illumine the public as to ventilate their rage against the correlation of belief in God and success in persuading people to vote them into power. Historically, they seem unaware of rationalism’s poor showing in the competition to be good news to humanity.

  • Greg

    Awe, the certainty of science. Now, wasn’t it scientists who posited that the proton, neutron and electron were the samllest particles of matter. For the longest time science had no idea that black holes even existed. Debate rages over what extinguished the dinosaurs. Why is Mars the way it is, when water apparently existed in liquid form in the past?

  • Brian Coughlan

    Alien Among You: No, this is persistent nonsense. The default position is NOT to beleive stuff until it’s proven. Hence all religions incorporate the ridiculous meme “Faith is good”. What could be more irrational and dubious than beleiving stuff, really important stuff, absent tangible proof? Yet this is lauded as positive and praiseworthy in religion. Why?James, nice post:-)You can add per capita murder and prison rates to those statistics : The US does orders of magnitude worse than the “Atheist” countries. What does it tell us? Thats a tough one, these correlations are always tough to fully source. However, it does rebut the idea that religious belief makes for a better society. Sorry.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Prejudice against atheists is not as bad as prejudice against blacks or gays or women, perhaps, but it is still widespread, it is still pernicious, and we all have an obligation to take part in the public discourse and promote understanding rather than prejudices based on ignorance.Actually it’s much worse. We need a parade.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Dennett’s “out of the closet” parallel with homosexuals as “gay” is enlightening. Parading homosexuals perverted a good word, applying it to a generally un-gay, unhappy demographic. And “bright” is equally perverse: it’s dim, not bright, to live in your head instead of in God’s world.Thanks for that balanced commentary Willis. I think we can pass on advice from gay bashing homo phobes though. I think Fred Phelps has a spot for scum like you, why not check his site out? I bet you’d love it.

  • James

    On FaithBelievers say, proudly,like that is a good thing.It is good to hope, certainly, within reasonable limits.But what brag about considering non-evidence to be evidence, and about believing what you have no evidence of. Unicorns are a relevent example here.If one wants to have faith, after examining its consequences for yourself and society, that is your right.But it makes little sense to me to Brag about basing fantastical and supernatural beliefs – like the resurrection, say – on faith.”I believe unbelievable things based on no evidence. Aren’t I admirable?”

  • james

    in para 3 above i meant of course”why brag”

  • Victoria

    Yikes, I only just noticed that another poster preceeded me, sharing the name of Victoria.This may be a little silly, but just to let everyone know that I am not that person.Even tipsy with champers, I would know how to spell Victoria correctly.Happy New Year, godless ones!

  • Stan Yoder

    I signed on with the “brights” movement early last year. Contemplating signing on with them gave me the courage to finally admit to myself and others that I really have no reason to believe in a god. Growing up as a fundamentalist preacher’s son, I had reason and ample opportunity to learn a bit about the bible and faith and belief. But too many things never made sense, though I tried to force them to make sense. For any who have not yet checked out The Brights site,

  • ernest reinhart

    I would like to see some one post the “principles of rational discourse” and site where and how they arose. Every time I mention the necessity of civility and the need for abiding to a set of principles in “argumentation” I am asked to provide one convenient source which I cannot do.

  • Greg

    Andy, are you suggesting parents don’t have the right to teach their children their belief system. Didn’t think so. You also assume alot about me and mine. So you know, I was raised a Catholic, and am a Catholic. I do live, and have always lived in an overwhelmingly protestant community. (Southern WV) The schools I went to were public, and religion was not taught in our schools. (I am now the Board of Ed president of that school system.) I have raised my children in my belief system, not only regarding faith, but also in the importance of education, of honor and intergrity, in treating everyone with dignity, in equality, in the value of hard work, etc. Are those OK with you?

  • Adam Pettway

    Attention all individuals adopting a naturalistic worldview (freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists, atheists, etc.): If you haven’t by now, please take a moment to read about the Brights movement at http://www.the-brights.net before posting comments (Supers and fence-sitters are encouraged to check it out as well!).I for one, am a teapot agnostic “flavored” Bright. And I view the path to truth as being cobbled with tentative explanations. These explanations are therefore always subject to revision as new evidence sees fit.Let the inquiry begin!

  • Brian Coughlan

    That is the belief system I hear in church on Sunday and the belief system that I teach my children. If more simply followed it, the world would be a better place, no? Sure, it would be a glorious utopia. Yet the most religious in the US are the exact same people keen to “kill all rag heads”. George Bush being exhibit number 1.As regards the indoctrination of children, insisting that they brush their teeth, or clean their room is not the same as telling them sacred lies. That you are certain that a specific kind of supernatural construct exists, when you cannot possibly be certain of any such thing. At one time a father could kill, rape or sell his progeny into slavery without fear of repercussion. Children (and women) were in a very real sense mere possessions, no different from a cart, or a cow or a pair of shoes.Throughout the last 300 years, in effect since the Enlightenment, this sense of ownership has been steadily eroded (in the teeth of resistance from the most persistently religious) to the point where children in some countries are rightly considered to be individuals with the same rights as any other person.With that in mind, perhaps there are grounds for more robust societal action? Would society allow parents to FORCE their children to smoke, drink alcohol or engage in any potentially harmful activity? Certainly sex below a certain age, and of course incest is already criminalised in all developed countries. Is religious indoctrination not worse for a 14 year old girl, than safe consensual sex with a 15 year old partner … ?If we really believe that religious indoctrination is dangerous, doesn’t it blur into the same category as enforced female curcumcision, or enforced marriage? Shouldn’t society at least have a helpline (along the lines of those currently available to report physical or sexual abuse) for children who reject parental religious indoctrination?

  • Anonymous

    Brian shares, “Yet the most religious in the US are the exact same people keen to ‘kill all rag heads’. George Bush being exhibit number 1.”Thank you, Brian, for elevating the level of discourse. Thank you so much for exemplifying reasoned, principled, fact-based argument as against ignorant prejudice and febrile hysteria.

  • James

    Brian’s post raises a fundamental and important issue. I hope your delicate psyche will survive Anon’s piercing rebuke.An amplification on Brian’s point:What is perhaps the Worst element of parental indoctrination of children is Instilling the Fear of Hell and Eternal Damnation in kids.I consider this a form of child abuse. Think about what such teaching contributes to the psychological health of a child!It is, I would surmise, also closely tied to the desire of many religious fanatics to kill, or at least brutally dehumanize, those Infidels who might challenge their chance of excaping this eternal torment.It is truly barbaric. Not quite as bad as selling your daughter into sexual slavery, but oidous none the less.

  • BeatitudeSputnik

    Well, the atheists and the religious seem to have been accounted for as far as the clever naming scheme goes, but what about me and mine? Those who believe in both science and God, and that believe that the idea that they are somehow contradictory premises is a simplistic and incorrect assumption, based on one side of the debate as a lack of imagination and on the other as a lack of reason. That all that exists was created by a loving God using the tools of infinite space, infinite time and complexity as an emergent property of less complex systems. You’re all jerks. Ha ha. Happy new years everyone.

  • Alan R

    Thank you for the comments Anon.”The orthodox (small-o) Christian definition of faith is freely-given assent to a revealed truth”I have problems with this formulation as well, mainly with the concept of revealed truth. Which revealed truth should you choose? Kabbalah? Quakerism? Zen Buddhism? Tibetan Buddhism? (perhaps some mish-mash of the above?)I think that the common answer to this is that you follow your own personal revelation. However, I have troubled squaring the fundamental ignorance of man with the truth of one of his revelations. If you want to prove to yourself that something feels right to believe, I think that you often can (especially if you are young), regardless of the truth of the proposition. A buddhist friend of mine in college (raised buddhist, not temple-going) believed in reincarnation. Why? Because he had meditated about it and through introspection had seen the truth of the proposition.I don’t have the citation for it, but I once read that most Born-Again Christians become Born-Again before they are 18. Are these children’s minds really independent enough for them to decide on the revelations of Jesus? OR is it more likely that they want to fit in: to please parents and friends. I of course support option 3. (option 4+: converting to other systems of belief, is nearly as much out of the question as 3 until the child grows up, and can change his surroundings). In short, I have severe reservations about whether or not “revealed” truths are in any significant way “true”.(on a different note)Where would you draw the line? Certainly many children ARE (in this sad barbaric land of ours) indoctrinated with a fear of hell. Although some may eventually to deal with it rationally (and others may never really think its true), it is a terrible burden to lay on any child. Lets take a practical example here: “If you masturbate, god will kill kittens.” Of course, that’s a joke, but the real version is worse: “If you masturbate, you will go to hell.” So when (most) children reach puberty, and the sexual urges start coming, another item tags along: shame and guilt. While some shame and guilt are necessary for a healthy life, it is my opinion that the extensive shame and guilt attached to such a trivial thing as masturbation is more than absurd, it is tragic.

  • Anonymous

    Re: Are More Intelligent People less Religious?James’ latest attempt to link “religiosity” (whatever that is) with intelligence is amusing.James cites as “evidence” a blog post that tries to correlate “national IQs” (country averages) with the results of a public opinion poll.In other words, these are not data for individuals at all, but rather averages for countries whose populations and demographic makeups diverge wildly (to say nothing of divergent concepts of religion). Some of the populations are huge. In some cases religious identity is inseparable from ethnic identity, with all the significance that entails. Needless to say, this exercise is incapable of yielding any valid statement at all with respect to James’ hypothesis.The post that James cites notes helpfully that “IQ data for each individual country needs to be taken with a grain of salt.” (Hey, no kidding.)The English version of the poll question was: “How important is religion in your life—very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?” Precisely what does that question mean to different individuals of different faiths in different cultures after being translated into 46 languages and 17 dialects? Nothing that means much.Beyond this dubious “analysis”, the bottom line is that any investigation that fails to control for the subjects’ competency — their depth of religious knowledge and education — is utterly useless for purposes of evaluating James’ hypothesis.At the risk of veering into ad hominem territory, it’s worth noting for our readers that this “study” was conducted three years ago by a guy who says he was “waiting for Christmas Eve deliveries at my girlfriend’s office, kind of bored”. As for impartiality, the name of the author to whose post James links directly is (you guessed it) “godless”.Aye, the godless are such freaks for hard data. (Not.)

  • Doubting Thomas

    Labeling is one of our problems.

  • james

    Intelligence and ReligionSince Mr. Anonymous doesn’t like the data point I cited, here are a couple more out of many many others, for those who, unlike Mr Anonymous, like to do their own research.1. the study cited by Dawkins and widely reported, of the Elite scientists who are members of the American Academy. I know IQ “doesn’t mean anything”, but many presume these elite scientists are more intelligent than Mr Anonymous.Over 90$ do not believe in a personal god.2. At this siteare given the results of research by Scientific American and by Nature Magazine with substantially the same results.Anonymous has no name and no data. He doesn’t like one data point and he ignores many others that reach the same conclusion. He is so all-knowing himself that he doesn’t need to concern himself with a breadth of data that is available to him and any moron who knows how to google.

  • Martin P Cohen

    Dr. Dennett:

  • James

    Anonymous HelpI just googled try it yourself.guess what: they all said Highly Religious People tend to be those of the Highest intelligence (just kidding again).One of my moron friends on this site suggested I try it.

  • Joey L

    All this hassle seems so funny for a Northern European. What, in U.S. atheists can’t be elected? (Yes, I’m referring to the original article, not the mud-slinging…). I think we have an atheist president here in Finland, but how could I know whether she really is bright or super (I don’t read gossip). To us it makes no difference because it makes no real difference anyway. Still, more than half of us Finns are members of some church. Their choice. Moral and ethics go with the community/legislation and with individuals. We don’t need churches and gods anymore to keep us on the track because we have the society. Whether a person prefers knowing to believing should not affect to his social status and possibilities.

  • Anonymous

    James,Oy, not this elite scientist thing again. The premise is that this group is an accurately representative proxy for the entire population of highly intelligent people (global? US?). Has the truth of that assumption been conclusively demonstrated through empirical means? Might there possibly be highly intelligent individuals in other fields who are not even eligible for this group?And, of course, asking people whether or not they believe in God is the most ridiculously unproductive activity I can imagine. It’s an unanswerable question — at least in a human lifetime, since that’s how long we’ll have to discuss our respective definitions for God before we can get anywhere. The idea that you just tally up yes/no responses is (frankly) idiocy.But the most important issue (per my earlier post) is whether the people you’re surveying have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. You (James) can test your hypothesis only by controlling for the degree of religious knowledge and education on the part of the subjects. Someone on a par with Stephen Hawking can be an utter ignoramus when it comes to, say, the IRS code — or theology.Anyway, I’m all-knowing?? First I heard of that, but thank you. I’m flattered, but I would be grateful to anyone kind enough to point out my errors in a civil way. If anybody can explain away the concerns I’ve expressed in this or the previous post, I’m all ears.

  • James

    Intelligence and AnonymousLet me get this straight:Are you a postmodernist?I feel like I need to lead you by the hand through those 40 million web sites I pointed you towards.If the “elite scientists” were the only sample, we would only be able to make conclusions about elite scientists, not intelligent people.But the 40 million web sites cover a much broader sample than that.We are supposed to trust your “research methods” (which we have never seen evidence of) more than the research methods of Scientific American and Nature and the 40 other studies cited at the second site i noted above.And once more (!!) there are 40 million sites, the sum of whose content says that if there is anything like intelligence, and anything like a belief that religion and god are very important, which any commonsensical person knows, they are negatively correlated.

  • AM, Vienna, VA

    Oh, well. I asked the ‘brights’ to define intelligence for me. No response. I suppose that they are either ignorant of the definition or too arrogant.

  • James

    Defining IntelligenceHoward Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education defines intelligence asthe ability to

  • Anonymous

    james,Huh? Forty million……Oh–okay, now I get it. I’ve been punk’d!!You and your friend really had me going! What a putz I am. Ha ha ha.

  • Greg

    Brian, the fact that you relate religion and belief to rape, slavery and the like, while using phrases like towel heads tells me all I need to know. You don’t want to enter into a civil discussion. I know you not, but you seem pretty angry. How you can lump people into categories in the manner that you have defies all logic and reason. Maybe you’re simply trying to stir things up, maybe you actually believe what you’ve said. Either way, your supposed solution is to let 10 to 14 year olds decide what they choose? You’re kidding, I hope. It seems that your choice is to force me to teach my children there is no God. Sorry, I live in a free society where that choice is given to me, not you. Teaching children about life, including faith, is my parental obligation. Once adults, they can choose freely where they go. At least in my household, it doesn’t seem to have created any monsters.

  • Anonymous

    To AM, Vienna, VA: I’m not sure we have the creme de la brights on this line.

  • James

    Flash:Having seen him show with great consistency how much more intelligent he is than all the other posters on this site,I think that he just might be, you know, that Ineffable Omniscient Being we have all been searching for.We can forgive his bailing out and making incomprehensible remarks when his positions have been demolished because, as has long been noted, Deities work in mysterious ways.BTWis that a rap song I should know?

  • James

    ReThe Anonymous Vs. Dawkins feud:Mr A: I expected enlightenment from you, as you and God promised.Instead I get an epithet – 4th grade mind and no poetry – directed at Mr Dawkins.You are much smarter than I am, but isn’t that called an ad hominum argument.There is no substance to your criticisms.You have shown no convincing evidence for your own poetry appreciation capabilities, BTW.Dawkins has often noted the importance of humanistic and aesthetic dimensions to human life.I would ask him for a poetry recommendation before I would ask Anonymous, great poet that you are.

  • Wykdchiba

    Well, I’ve read all the posts up to mine and I have to say this: As an atheist for nearly 53 years I never needed a label..not even atheist. I find “bright” to be somewhat arrogant sounding and unnecessary. We all, theists and non theists alike, can discuss the philosophical merits of each others “beliefs”, determinations, whatever you choose to call them until we are a mass of melted verbiage. In the end we are all human. Unless we all become little mirrors of one another in thought and deeds, we will always have differences…some will have religion and others will do well without it. What we all need to do is to cease the indoctrination from either side. I have never attempted to “sway” someone to atheism and I can never be “saved” for JC. I think that atheism can come to one without all the arrogance I’m beginning to see. I’ve already seen enough of it from the religious side ( please don’t read this as a gross generalization of all religions because it comes from personal experience) and would find it beyond distasteful were it to become a hallmark of a-theism.Wykdchiba, a decent human with no need for god/gods et.al.

  • Fabio

    Martin,If you go to The Brights’ Net website, you see clearly what we stand for:[[The Vision]]Persons who have a naturalistic worldview should not be culturally stifled or civically marginalized due to society’s extensive supernaturalism. Rather, they ought to be accepted as fellow citizens and full participants in the cultural and political landscape.————-And we’re also not defined by what we’re against, but what we DO believe in (“we have a naturalistic worldview”):[[What is a bright?]]* A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview————-Are you sure you’re really a member?!

  • Anonymous

    Alan, thanks for your thoughts. A quick reply to a couple of your points:Alan says, “The primary issue that I have with faith is that it is antithetical to doubt.”The orthodox (small-o) Christian definition of faith is freely-given assent to a revealed truth. By that definition, faith coexists with doubt. I cannot freely give assent to something that I know (i.e., have no doubt) to be true. Knowledge extinguishes doubt, but faith cannot. In this life there always will be doubt, but we are free to choose to have faith while doubting.Alan goes on to ask, “If you believe something without proof, how [does?] the evidence for/against your faith ever get worse?”A believer cannot in good “faith” and conscience give his assent to an assertion that either reason or empirical evidence conclusively demonstrates to be false. In that case, however, if the assertion is well established in tradition, and many who have gone before him found some truth in it, it would be foolish for him not to reflect on what that essential, perhaps underlying, truth may be. And I’m sure you agree he ought to treat any new information with skepticism.Concerning Dawkins and poetry: I should have clarified that I meant not lyrical language per se so much as the idea that truth can find expression in mythical, figurative, metaphorical or even fantastic language. Dawkins is a materialist absolutist who maintains that science explains everything. Anyone who has ever loved another person knows that is untrue. Perhaps science needs champions, but human ones would be more effective.You’re right to say that there is theological daylight between Ratzinger and Dawkins. However, there is less than some suppose. The pope certainly does not believe that God messes with the weather when the farmer prays for rain and beachgoers pray for sun. He does believe that contemplating who are created to be causes us to act differently than we would do otherwise, and in that sense God intervenes in our lives.

  • victoria

    of course atheists can be elected here joey- americans are so reactive against right wing conservatives right now that they even voted out very moderate republicans in the current congress which goes into session this week-all they need is the desire to serve- the political scene is ripe for them- whats the name of the post again?

  • Anonymous

    James,No, it’s not called “ad hominum”, actually, but you can look up the spelling at your convenience.In any case, since I’ve been the object of numerous personal barbs from your general direction, I figure it’s just fair play for your idol to take a few.

  • Brian Coughlan

    So, the discussion should focus on making our time and place better — not on denigrating others belief systems. … and there is the blind spot Greg. Religious belief systems are irrational, dangerous arrant nonsense for which you place the burden of disproof on others. Yet you and your fellow travellers appear utterly incapable of grasping this. You guys don’t like it when I call a spade a spade. I don’t like it when it you insist you have the absolute truth, THE VERY ESSENCE OF THE BIG THREE MONOTHEISTIC RELIGIONS, and acme of arrogance and hubris.I do not consider middle easterners “rag heads” but many of your religious fellow travellers do. This is your problem to resolve, retreating into denial about it does nothing for your credibility.Finally, many religious people are dogmatic, sexist, genocidal bigots. This is an inescapable truth, a cursory glance at the islamic world confirms this. Christians don’t get a free pass either, their “moderation” is a strictly recent, and largely involuntary, development. Many are not (dogmatic, sexist, genocidal bigots) of course, but your religious texts inevitably push you in this direction. As a secular humanist it’s my duty to combat the spread of such pernicious and posionous stuff. Sorry if that puts you out.

  • Anonymous

    James, I also feel the need to clarify, since you misquote me: I’m very happy to acknowledge Dawkins’ intellect and brilliance as a practioner and explicator of science. I was referring only to the level of theological understanding to which he addresses his anti-religious polemics.

  • Andy Flynn

    regarding comments from some of the christians that have posted on the site, especially Greg way up near the top of these notes.GREG states that people are NOT forced into christianity! I find that very difficult to understand, he like others were probably sent to a school where christianity was the faith taught at school, or sent to church by parents, or of course taught at home that there is indeed a god. Which bit of indoctranation does he not understand. When i was a child i did the sunday school bit as did many othr children. But as you got older and asked questions, you were told you had to have faith and beleive in the word of god!Well i have read some of ‘gods words’ over the years, what moses said in different situations alegedly. Well if having faith in god means you have to kill family members if they like allah a bit more than jesus, or wipe out the male population of a foe, and all the non virgins then you can keep your god and be done with you.then the argument from the christians is something like ‘these are different times now and we wouldnt do that!’. Well as i see it, if the word of god doesn’t matter now in some bits you don’t like very much or embarrasses you, why can you say the rest is true now? :o)

  • James

    re Anonymous and DawkinsDear Mr A: thanks for correcting my rusty latin.My request as a follow up was that i was asking:Also, a good deal of D’s book deals with questions like Intelligent Design, and the Argument from Design, which have clear overlaps with scientific understanding (and logic), perhaps even more scientific than theological in my little mind, so D is the perfect guy for those areas.I thought his refutation of the argument “the universe is so complicated it must have been designed by a God” was quite cogent. Didn’t you?

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I’ve checked (and then re-verified) all 40 million sites (actually, about 7% were either down or stale links).None of the studies established whether the interviewees actually knew what they were talking about.(P.S. I love the idea of simply asking science majors whether they believe in God and then drawing conclusions from that. You could just as well ask English majors to explain nanotechnology, and then conclude that nanotechnology does not exist. It’s just so utterly absurd I could scream — and in fact, I am screaming at this very moment.)

  • AM, Vienna, VA

    Anonymous @ January 2, 2007 9:29 PMYou mean they are rather dim?(Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  • AM, Vienna, VA

    James @Posted January 2, 2007 9:24 PMThank you for your response.Now if I can get consensus from the forum, in particular the ‘bright’ ones, that this is indeed the definition of intelligence, we can proceed and discuss any correlation between intelligence and atheism.Having a scientific background, I prefer to get the definitions and assumptions stated BEFORE the fact.

  • Ted Swart

    Hi Rick McGirr:Just wanted to say thanks for expressing your negative views on the term “brights” so clearly. No matter what anyone says it carries with it the connotation that those who are not atheists/agnostics/pantheists or what have you are dim. I agree with every word you say. ‘Tis a shame that the term has seen the light of day. One of the contributors to another discussion suggested that the term “godless” (nice internal play on the word) would have been much better and there are many other possibilities. Spoiling a good idea with a bad choice of label makes no sense and is not very bright. Why didn’t they hold a vote on different possibilities for a suitable name? I can see that they did not want to restrict support to atheists and wanted to include agnostics, pantheists and so on but “brights” simply does not do the trick.

  • James

    Re Brian, Anonymous, and HateBrian, my sympathies.I have been trying to get a rational, salient, responsive-to-the-facts response out of Mr A for a while.So far the most cogent statement of his beliefs I have been able to obtain is:”Huh? Forty million……Oh–okay, now I get it. I’ve been punk’d!!(by ‘Anonymous”, jan 2 , 2006by far NOT his best poetry.

  • Rick McGirr

    I am an atheist. I don’t mind being called an atheist, even though the linguistic implication of the word “atheist” is a negative one. I’m very negative about the history of the churches and the pain and death they have inflicted, particularly among races exploited by European missionaries during the just-completed millenium. I prefer to be referred to with a term such as “atheist” because it is simple, factual, and reports my personal history of having rejected mainstream, traditional religious claims and thought. After agreeing that there is no god, I think there’s as much disagreement among atheists as there is among any multiple groups that one might see as ‘at odds with each other’. I’ve always resisted being trendy, peppy, commercial, plastic, petty, shallow, deceitful, arrogant, obnoxious, clique-y, dismissive, condescending, rude, separatist, and being lumped in with a bunch of people I don’t know. The term “Brights”, as I’ve seen it applied, is all of these and more.Mr. Dennett, your comparison of “Bright” to “Gay” is off the mark, although well-intentioned. The meaning of the word “gay” is somewhere along the lines of “sad,” or “gloomy,” but not necessarily. Just because one is not gay, in the old sense, one does not have to be unhappy. “Gay” intones an elevated state, perhaps a temporary one, as in “the gay ’90′s (no, I’m not in the “gay is a choice” camp). But the un-gay, again in the old sense, don’t necessarily have to be gloomy and sad.But terms used to describe someone who isn’t bright tilt very steeply towards the bin labelled “stupid, dumb, slow, retarded, etc.” No matter what I think of religious people, I would never want them to think that I see them as stupid for their beliefs. There are many intelligent believers, Francis Collins, for example, who debated Richard Dawkins in the pages of Time magazine. To ‘diss’ the lot of them with such a moniker is nothing short of elitist. So count me among those who dislike the stupid term “Brights”, do not intend to use the term to describe or define myself, and dislike and even resent being called a “Bright”.

  • Anonymous

    Brian, I am proud as punch to be a dogmatic, sexist, genocidal neo-Nazi, homophobic bigot and a fundie thumper Christer Jesusland Taliban Christofascist. Please call me more names, because I deserve it. I am very, very naughty. Tell me how naughty I am, Brian! Tell me!! Get very, very, very angry with me! Only you can stop me from spreading my pernicious and posionous stuff! Only you can put an end to my arrogance and hubris! Let the hate flow! Let me have it! Talk trash about President Bush! Please! Brian!

  • Brian Coughlan

    Let the hate flow! Let me have it! Talk trash about President Bush! Please! Brian!Who said anything about hate? I’m just defining you as your holy scriptures define you. Are you not the salt of the earth? The chosen? The elect? From the other side, that sounds awfully like arrogant bigotry. If you don’t subscribe to that, you aren’t reading your scriptures right and would be well advised to ditch the whole thing.Frankly, you seem confused about tolerance in secular society. We must certainly tolerate each others difference and respect each others space. However, tolerating the INTOLERANT is a recipe for disaster. Secular society must resist ideoligies that make claims about absolute truth, and make repeated and observable efforts to restrict the freedom of the rest of us.As for Bush, anyone that has a good word to say about that monster … nuff said.Mind you, a sense of humour is a good sign …. there is hope for you yet:-)

  • Anonymous

    James,A new survey of art history majors concludes that dark matter is a form of Mayan dance ritual.

  • A

    James @January 3, 2007 10:16 AM Sorry for the delay in responding.I expected two things: a definition of ‘intelligence’ (not a link about studies on religious opinion); concurrence by the atheists on the board that is is indeed the definition that will be discussed.I must admit that this is a bit unfair: (1) there is no strict definition of intelligence. That of course makes its measurement subjective; (2) There will be no concurrence since, if you will pardon a blunt way of putting it, the atheists on the board are rather dishonest and cowardly. Let me clarify: the preferred tactic, of the atheists on these boards, is to state “since you can’t prove a negative, it is incumbent on the theist to prove his position”. I disagree with that of course: If you believe in 0 rather than 1 (or 100), you must prove that 0 is correct.

  • James

    Intelligence StudiesOnce again (let me count the ways) A distorts the question or misreads it.The proposition was NOTThe Proposition was:This could be true, and God could actually exist.I presume elite scientists are more intelligent than I, and I know they are more intelligent than anonymous.So they are a *sub-group* of the more intelligent people we can use to test our proposition, I believe. If you don’t *think* so,throw them out.Lots of other studies cited on the site I referenced have done correlation studies BEYOND just scientists. But you knew that. You were being cute, I know.

  • James

    Intelligence DefinitionFirst, “A”, excuse me, in my last post I meant Anonymous.Now to your points about intelligence.I gave you a definition of intelligence.it’s not a perfect concept, but it is a lot clearer than the Concept of God. Or of Pornography.So if one is going to say intelligence doesn’t exist because the concept is fuzzy, we certainly have to say God and Pornography don’t exist. I know pornography exists, being God-less.The measurement is certainly *not entirely* subjective. If you took the five favorite intelligence tests and gave them out, you would get pretty good correlation.Your characterization in point to, that since there is no concurrance then atheists on this post are dishonest or cowardly, is, with all due respect, bizarre.I happen to be having a beer after work with all the atheists iin North America, and I guarantee you we will come up with an ironclad definition of intelligence for you.What country did you say you live in?

  • Mike

    I’m a ‘closet’ bright. Being an atheist in Missouri is not that far from being a Jew in Nazi Germany. But at least I don’t live in Kansas!

  • Anonymous

    If you ask an intelligent person a yes/no question whether he believes in something about which he is entirely ignorant, what is his response likely to be?

  • Anonymous

    How can an intelligent person — who knows that mastering a field of study requires years of formal education as well as disciplined, determined effort — expect that there is one and only one special body of knowledge that will just appear in his brain through magical revelation?Is such a belief rational?

  • Brian Coughlan

    If you ask an intelligent person a yes/no question whether he believes in something about which he is entirely ignorant, what is his response likely to be?I don’t know?Of course when it comes to the question does God exist, we are all amatuers. We can only give our best guess. It’s not like there is a body of evidence we can address to formulate a position on the characteristics of God.Look at scale of the universe. Try a few prayers. Look around at the injustice in the world. Reflect.My conclusion? There is no God. Now, you tell me why you think there is one.

  • AmericanFlyer

    The term “brights” just doesn’t work – when you are trying to replace a negative image (“Atheist”)with a more positive one, a term that smacks of arrogance is counterproductive. Try “free-thinker.” It connotes open mindedness and independent thinking, free of dogma. That is how I came to not believe in any of the multitude of gods, even though my parents pushed one of them. For the current athiest “vogue” to continue, a more positive and descriptive term could only help.

  • Anonymous

    Brian,Greetings. I wonder if you may have heard of an area of human endeavor called education. (I’m trying very hard to act naughty ’cause I know you like it.)Somebody warned me about people like you (and James) who think education is vastly overrated and an atrocious time-waster.You say, “It’s not like there is a body of evidence we can address to formulate a position on the characteristics of God.” Then you immediately contradict yourself. You say you look to the universe and the world for evidence, and then you formulate your own position.But an opinion that is reached without the benefit of education is, needless to say, merely an uneducated opinion.You say, “Of course when it comes to the question does God exist, we are all amateurs.” Actually, thousands of brilliant professional philosophers and theologians have employed their reason, intellects, and all the available evidence to ponder and debate the nature of God for a very long time.Look, I have no idea what God would be if it existed, or what it would have to be in order to exist, or whether it may have existed, or may yet exist. I have but the flimsiest evidence that you yourself exist (and you very easily could be just a devilish bit of software). And I have no idea how probable it is that I myself exist, and if I do, whether perhaps like you I am just a piece of kludged code.One thing is for certain, though: Uneducated amateurs produce uneducated amateurish answers. (Then for a wholly undeserved boost to their self-esteem, they nickname themselves “brights”.)I wonder if Brother Dawkins ever has offered the least proof that he himself exists — or do you simply believe in him?

  • Anonymous

    Of course I acknowledge that Dennett is a philosopher, but I refer to the majority of “bright” posters on this thread.

  • James

    Anonymous has No NameFor the um-teenth time(like how he fudge my argument onand instead is spending all of his (and our) time trying vainly to be clever by derogating Brian’s intelligence.I for many have gotten infinitely more substance out of Brian’s thoughts than I have out of How bout really addressing the point I made to you above about how you deliberately misrepresented the argument about intelligence and belief.Or maybe you weren’t intelligent enough to understand the distinction.Sorry to be so frank, but Brian is actually trying to make substantive points, and doing so much more effectively than you,

  • Brian Coughlan

    You say, “Of course when it comes to the question does God exist, we are all amateurs.” Actually, thousands of brilliant professional philosophers and theologians have employed their reason, intellects, and all the available evidence to ponder and debate the nature of God for a very long time.Do we know what he wants?Your comment below covers it off nicely:-)————————————–Mr. A. (may I call you Mr. A.?) Theology is a non subject, the stale recycling of ideas that are millenia old, the assertion of details that can never be confirmed or disputed. So why waste our time? Philosophy is another subject all together, and certainly far more interesting, but I don’t object to that. I am also a big fan of education where the subject has … you know …. facts.You say you don’t know what God is, or even IF God is, either. Great we are in agreement on that point. However, I object to the bald unsupported assertion that a supernatural construct exists, with layers of detail and specifics. All Loving, All powerful, died for our sins, one yet three etc. You seem not to have a problem with that, and even to object to challenging these assertions. Given your comments, that seems something of a contradiction, why protect what you can patently see is untrue?

  • Anonymous

    James, my dear confused brother, when — out of the most charitable motives — one helpfully attempts to point out what one judges — correctly or not — to be faulty reasoning, only the most insecure wretch would leap up repeatedly to accuse that person of putting on airs.Now, I do indeed feel that you need to worship my superiority and erudition — BUT that is the first time you have heard me say so in this discussion. Like somebody said above, stop deliberately misrepresenting my words.As for my supposed misrepresentation, I drew an inexact yet extremely effective analogy. So revoke my rhetorical license. And by all means please do wake me up the moment any of you manages to contribute a substantive point.

  • James

    Mr Anonymous and BrianOnce more, Brian gives us some substance.Anonymous gives us BS.Not a word of substance in it.Mr A (how evocative the initial)But you have given none of the rest of us a reason to so regard you.This post, like all your others, does nothing to rebut the arguments of Brian or myself.And where is the substantive point in either of your last two points. “Anonymous is educated and you’re not” is, characteristically, just blather, not substance.Make a claim. State a position.

  • Anonymous

    My poor tortured brother James says:”Make a claim. State a position.Okay. Here’s my position: I haven’t the slightest idea, and I’m trying to come up with a reason I should care.No, wait, here’s my position: It depends on what you mean by relation, what you mean by intelligence, and what you mean by belief.No, wait, here’s my real position: No intelligent person sleepwalks through life without agonizing over the fact of his existence. No intelligent person assumes he needs advanced degrees to be a physicist or a brain surgeon, but when it comes to the most important questions, everything he needs to know he learned in kindergarten. No intelligent person clings to childish notions of God just so he can reject them. Any living intelligent person who is certain that he does not have a soul is lying.

  • Brian Coughlan

    No, wait, here’s my real position: No intelligent person sleepwalks through life without agonizing over the fact of his existence. No intelligent person assumes he needs advanced degrees to be a physicist or a brain surgeon, but when it comes to the most important questions, everything he needs to know he learned in kindergarten. No intelligent person clings to childish notions of God just so he can reject them. Any living intelligent person who is certain that he does not have a soul is lying.However, I thought THIS was your real position :Anonymous:

  • Anonymous

    Now Brian, you know that earlier post was a private communication between the two of us…Anyway, what’s your deal with the Holy Spirit?Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per Prophetas.

  • Anonymous

    one must begin with the knowledge that the entire body of religion is based on nothing more than assumptions and, as we know only too well, many assumptions have been proved wrong.

  • Brian Coughlan

    Anyway, what’s your deal with the Holy Spirit?I find that many religious people are like republicans, disingenous liars. However, they hesitate to cross this particular threshold given there is a specific verse in the Bible, that strongly suggests you will be damned for eternity if you deny the holy spirit. You have to laugh at the level of detail about the nature of god the bible claims to know about. I mean HOW? Different question, I digress:-)If a poster is too superstitious to cross the line, all their talk of open mindedness should be considered so much disingenous bull crap:-) So whats it to be?

  • Anonymous

    Dear atheist friends, do you believe you exist, and if so, on the basis of what evidence?

  • Anonymous

    How can a rational intelligent person simultaneously believe that the universe has no purpose or value yet his own puny existence does?

  • Anonymous

    Brian,”Theology is a non subject, the stale recycling of ideas that are millenia old, the assertion of details that can never be confirmed or disputed.”Many thanks for illustrating my earlier point and giving me the opportunity to reiterate it: An opinion without benefit of education is merely an uneducated opinion.”So why waste our time?”Waste of time? I cannot imagine more important questions. I love the so-called “brights” who insist they find nature and the universe endlessly fascinating, yet are absolutely incurious about how they got here and indifferent to where they’re going.”I am also a big fan of education where the subject has … you know …. facts.”So it’s not just theology, but you also oppose all of the arts, literature and poetry (and for that matter math, computer science etc.)?You say that I, Anonymous, “object to challenging these assertions”? Where on earth is your evidence for that, evidence guy? Poking holes ain’t censorship.

  • Brian Coughlan

    I cannot imagine more important questions. Mr A. Theology is to Philosophy what Astrology is to Astronomy, or Alchemy to Chemistry. It’s the nonsense dreamed up when humans had little idea about how the world worked, how things fit together. Why keep flogging a patently dead horse?I notice you don’t address the key question, what has millenia of theology revealed about the universe? It would be cool to hear your views on that.Here is another quick one. If you are genuinely not religious, and are merely “poking holes” in the pure and honest spirit of enquiry, lets hear a denial of the holy ghost. That generally flushes the superstitious out the woodwork:-)

  • Ted Swart

    If you go to the main page of the On Faith discussion you will find an interesting tabulation of the religious affiliations of the representatives in Congress.Those with no religious affiliation number 6 in the house and none in the senate. This represents 1.1% of congress as opposed to 14.1% in the population as a whole. So it would seem that atheists, agnostics and pantheists are very poorly represented in Congress.

  • Anonymous

    Brian, “…our own feelings about injustice…”You acknowledge a universal understanding of justice and universal “feelings” about it. The source of that understanding and those feelings is what, exactly?”…a supernatural construct remotely like any of the big 3 gods…”Atheists are so insecure that they insist on a God that allows them to retain their non-believing purity.

  • Brian Coughlan

    “…our own feelings about injustice…”You acknowledge a universal understanding of justice and universal “feelings” about it. The source of that understanding and those feelings is what, exactly?Pure evolution baby. Cats, Dogs and practically all mammals exhibit crude but identifiable forms of love, self sacrifice and altruisim. It’s a survival trait which we share with them.You need to find meaning in your OWN life Mr. A. In those you love, and those who love you. In what you enjoy, in your work and in your play. Life just IS. You don’t need some invisible sky fairy to define you.

  • Tammy Irwin

    Thank you, Brian, for the link to the Dawkins site. It is awesome to find out how many freethinkers we are.

  • Anonymous

    Brian,Thanks for proving the point splendidly. You require God to be a sky fairy, because a mature understanding of God threatens your identity.You say, “You need to find meaning in your OWN life Mr. A.” I must? Why? How rational is it to find purpose and value in my puny existence if I am certain the vast universe has none?In any case, if I am certain my puny existence is finite, what conceivable rational basis is there for perpetuating it? There is none. Zip. Nada. You know that every excuse you could come up with is nothing but a desperate rationalization, so you convince yourself the alternative is a “sky fairy” (how precious). Put up or shut up. There is no purely rational basis for delay. Either get it over with, or acknowledge there is some intrinsic or transcendent reason you don’t.Your appeal to evolutionary imperatives is particularly hilarious. Even your own personal sky fairy Dr. Dawkins acknowledges that humans have the capacity to thwart natural selection. You have choice and freedom of action (and if you don’t, why have this conversation?).What actual evidence or rational basis do you have for believing anyone loves you? What evidence do you have that those you love exist?You say, “Life just IS.” Duh. Pass the bong, man.

  • brian coughlan

    You say, “You need to find meaning in your OWN life Mr. A.” I must? Why? How rational is it to find purpose and value in my puny existence if I am certain the vast universe has none?The sheer scale and complexity of human society is testimony to our ability to thwart our genes. No argument there. Hey, you asked a specific question, don’t ask if you can’t handle answers that address the actual question. Our morality is rooted in our evolutionary history. This is a testable explanation which fits the facts and is observable in other species. We don’t need holy books or “revelation” to tell us what is right, or what makes stable and healthy human societies, it’s in our genes. In fact much of what is in the holy books is so obscenely wrong, we’d be wise to ditch the bulk of them ASAP.In a nutshell, it is as the Buddha said, do unto others, as you would have them do unto you:-)Certainly their love, and existence is orders of magnitude more tangible than that of the big 3 monotheistic gods. You seem to be talking yourself out of your faith Mr. A., am I getting through?You go off on these wild philosophical tangents, when really all most atheists are looking for is simple. Conclusive proof that god, really any god, exists. If you can provide that I’m yours, no REALLY, I mean that.Yet, religites cannot even meet this minimal hurdle and then get all hot and bothered when we object to this nonsense being trotted out as truth, with layers of detail no less!!! God is all loving, ooooh god is all powerful, ooooh god is actually three persons in one. ROTFL:-)Give it a rest:-) You can blow all the philosophical smoke you like, yet your god (which you have studiously avoided describing) is almost certainly a pan generational fraud like every other god before it. I’m genuinely sorry that this is so traumatic for you.

  • James

    Anonymous: Give it a Rest IndeedYour convoluted and distored reasoning just pollutes the conversation.you don’t believe anything yourself that you will state an affirmative position on.You set yourself up as smarter and wiser than the rest of us and go on to disprove that proposition with everyword, even “and” and “the.”As Brian correctly states, you studiously avoid describing your God, or anything that you believe in. And your nihilism is much more depressing and inhuman than that which you ascribe to Brian and others.

  • Anonymous

    Brian,You say, “Why bring sky fairies into it? Why is this so hard for you to get?”But of course it is you who has the fixation with sky fairies and keep dragging them in. (Why?) “This” is hard for me to “get” because you won’t answer the question.You say, “Our morality is rooted in our evolutionary history. This is a testable explanation which fits the facts and is observable in other species. We don’t need holy books or ‘revelation’ to tell us what is right, or what makes stable and healthy human societies, it’s in our genes.”Ding ding ding!! Congratulations! That’s 100% Grade A traditional Catholic moral theology. It’s called natural law.You say, “In fact much of what is in the holy books is so obscenely wrong, we’d be wise to ditch the bulk of them ASAP.”But you JUST SAID, “we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water do we? We can keep the love, and ditch the xenophobia.”You say, “Certainly their love and existence is orders of magnitude more tangible than that of the big 3 monotheistic gods.” Except that God is love, and who abides in love, abides in God. Love does not exist apart from God, because God and love are two names for one and the same reality. The manifestations of love you describe have no reality apart from God. You flatter yourself if you think I find your non-answers traumatic. I have no idea if God, man or the universe exist. But I do know these are the only questions that matter, and I am unwilling to sleepwalk — or to anesthetize myself by smirking at the great unwashed and their sky fairies.Now tell me I’m very, very bad.

  • Anonymous

    James,You say I “don’t believe anything yourself that you will state an affirmative position on.” What? Have you already forgotten that, in response to Brian’s challenge about the Holy Spirit, I quoted the Nicene Creed to affirm my belief?You say I “set yourself up as smarter and wiser than the rest of us.” If I’m smarter and wiser, blame it on God.P.S. Sorry, but you don’t get to disinvite me.

  • James

    Observation: Re Gordon and BrianI appreciate Gordon’s attempt to cast light on these issues, and you said some smart things, G. But I found my mind having to do all sorts of twists and turns to follow your reasoning: proving negatives and then turning them back on their heads etc. It did remind me of the tortured arguments that Catholic theologians have about Limbo and angels.Brian’s comment on your post was like a breath of fresh air.The logic was direct, impeccable, and understandable even by me (I must do one little brag and admit that I got an A in logic).The major resonating point that Brian made, though certainly not a new one, isWhile trying to be respectful to fundamentalists, Dawkins’ argument combined with Brian’s is really unrefutable by a reasonable, logical, evidence based mind.

  • James

    Dear AnonymousGood. Glad your are staying around. I am getting to like you. You are fun to play with.

  • James

    RamanVery nicely put.The moral thing to do with childrenis NOT to indoctrinate them into any fundamentalismbut ratherto teach them that there are people all over the world who believe in many different gods, or no god (e.g. Buddhists)and all these people are about equally moral.Further, it is an element of richness in human life to learn about what all the other humans are doing, andIt is a spur to genocide,war and ignorance to believe that only belief in Daddy’s god will get you into heaven and help you avoid going to hell where all the non believers will be.You also accurately point out the vacuity of Anonymous’s position of God is Love/Energy/House Plants.I suppose that “moderate” position is better than sayingBut it adds nothing, as you say, to the realization that all mammals are moral.Most apes obey the 10 commandments about as well as most humans, for instance.

  • brian coughlan

    Yes, my Mormon heritage goes all the way back: my great grandfather was in the Jail with joseph smith when Smith was killed.

  • James

    The Mormon ApostateOf my three siblings, one is still an active mormon and 2 aren’t. My active brother is younger than I, so I can beat him up if he gives me trouble (actually, we are polite and respectful and don’t talk about religion).He is a “smart” Mormon, and my older sister argues with him a bit, so though he is still pretty orthodox, he knows how to moderate his rhetoric out there in the real world.My sister, the first-born, went through a struggle with my parents when she apostasized. By the time they got to me, the third (and a boy) they were tired of arguing. Plus I was far from a juvenile delinguent.My Mormon uncle in Utah just sent us a family history about our Danish ancestor converts who came to New York in 1867 and then took the wagon train to the Promised Land.

  • Raman

    Yes JamesThe best thing to tell children will be to respect all gods – That is for the time being till they grow up to decide for themselves..And NEVER preach faith. Faith – accept whatever said as true. No questions. That is the root cause.Instead teach them – to rationalize. When they are adults they will have a healthy outlook to other religions (they will not say their GOD is the BEST GOD)And they will NEVER do something blindly. That will prevent the development of people who fly aircraft into buildings. These fellas give up their present life for their GOD (definitely irrational). The child’s brain is like the computer. We put in the operating system. Better put in things like LINUX (Rationalism: Open source: Free thinkers) rather than Windows (Owned by GOD/ Theologians/ Blind Faith). Atleast rationalism will help them modify their behaviour as life unfolds.One can, it seems, question anything on earth, but GOD. That’s what faith teaches us. I wonder about the GOD who needs such protection from HIS OWN CHILDRENSorry for the long post though….

  • Anonymous

    1) Love

  • Anonymous

    You say, “Do you know what ‘bulk’ means?”As between the baby and the bath water, I’d say the baby is the bulk, which you say to throw out, but then say not to. Write back when you decide.You say, “OK, a thread to pull on….etc.”God and love are two names Christians use for one and the same reality. (Did you miss that part?) Please feel free to substitute whatever names make you happy.

  • brian coughlan

    1) LoveWere we differ substantially is on probability. Even if we take as given that the existence of a god, creator of the universe, but otherwise completely undefined, is 50/50, the real problems arise when you begin to layer on detail.For example, your contention that god is love. I submit that the natural world (disease, death, random natural catastrophe), and how humans occasionally treat each other mitigates very strongly against this probability. Now there are “arguments” to explain why this is so in the context of a loving god, but they are contrived and convoluted and require far more explanation than the obvious “sh1t happens” of the materialist.Each new attribute or property you ascribe to god, drops the probability that much lower that this specific construct exists.Hence I keep on trying to get you supply specifics and argue why you think such and such is so, and you keep retreating to vauge, wispy constructs that frankly, the average “Ted Haggard Class” evangelical christian, or typical muslim would find heretical and suspiciously “new age”. Only a few hundred years ago, both groups would have insisted on your execution for holding such poorly defined views of god.Finally, my inability to define god is not MY problem, I’ve got almost nothing to work with. This is the theists problem, and it is a doozy.

  • brian coughlan

    You say, “Do you know what ‘bulk’ means?”As between the baby and the bath water, I’d say the baby is the bulk, which you say to throw out, but then say not to. Write back when you decide.As it happens I think the metaphorical bath in this case IS a swimming pool. In the bible, the koran and the book of mormon, the “water” outweighs the “baby” by orders of magnitude. Still there is some good stuff in there, and it’s fascinating cultural literature in it’s correct context.However, if we accept a book of Bronze Age myths as a guide to morality, then we are required to kill unbelievers, apostates, witches, cheeky children, and Sunday labourers. As all such cases cause unjustified suffering, however, they are in fact the most immoral of acts. Consequently, we can see that our own moral intuitions are a much better a guide to morality than any authority.

  • brian coughlan

    God and love are two names Christians use for one and the same reality. (Did you miss that part?) You still MUST explain how you came upon this information, I have had many of these conversations, and thought long and hard about the subject myself. Yet I have yet to hear a compelling case made. By all means surprise me.

  • Richard E.

    When you engage in faith instead of reason, you’re abdicating the part of your intellect that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. So “bright” is an intellectually appropriate term for atheists, and “dim” is a more accurate term for those who need an intellectual crutch to get through life.Regarding how dims (“supers,” euphemistically) should be treated, the very practice of religious tolerance encourages them to enact their pathetic superstitions into law. If everyone were rational, there would be no theists — and there would be no one calling himself an “atheist.” Therefore, atheism is a religious belief that is entitled to the same degree of respect as all the others.So, every time a dim feels the need to shove his religious beliefs in my face (self-righteously expecting me to grin and bear his well-meaning nonsense, usually) I reply in kind with a reason why his beliefs are irrational, hypocritical, contradictory, destructive or whatever his utterance warrants — in the hope he will realize that the best way to experience the feigning of “religious tolerance” by me is to keep his beliefs to himself.That is “coming out of the closet.”Oh, Raman. The above policy also applies to those who would foist their beliefs on your children. Superstitions taught at an early age are difficult to unlearn (or unteach). And, as Richard Dawkins noted, teaching children religion is the worst form of child abuse.

  • James

    Re Richard E and RamanI am not sure exactly what Raman meant,It’s fine to tell your child you are an atheist.It is probably not a good idea to indoctrinate them into atheism, or Mormonism, of Sufi-ism(i am an atheist, btw. this is what we did with my 19 year old, who is a confirmed atheist – she may just have been imitating her parents, but she is an independent thinker).

  • Anonymous

    James, just curious how you justify subjecting another human being to existence in a pointless universe?

  • James

    AnonymousIf I had to spend eternity in conversation with you, the universe would be pointless.It takes an impoverished imagination, no human sympathy, no aesthetic capacity, and no ability to love (it’s really hard to love a daughter)Wanna have a beer later?

  • Anonymous

    James,Are you trying to pick me up, you devil?Anyway, it is you who are totally dependent upon a juvenile deity to sustain your precious unbelief.

  • James

    AnonymousAs Martha said to her husband in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,I am fairly good at logic, but your sentence above makes no sense in any logical universe I have ever inhabited.Perhaps it is just that your unbelievably superior intelligence is over my head.And I mean “unbelievably” literally.

  • Raman

    Re AnonymousAm beginning to feel this is getting nowhere. ‘Devil’ – Who?. Taunting gets us nowhere.’Violence (verbal / otherwise) is the last resort of the incompetent’Juvenile deity – What does that mean?’. Is there an adult deity then?

  • James

    To BrianI truly sympathize with you in your effort to get Anonymous to take a position: as I said before, ANY position.We now get two brave assertions from our brilliant Mr Anonymous.1. God is LoveRegarding 1:Now totally seriously, I am quite sure that Love exists. As the pablum pop song says With all due respect,After we stipulate Love, what does “God” add?2. It is an unbelievably obvious statement that the Bible is a very important document in our literary/historical/cultural tradition.The Book of Ecclesiastes (sp?) is brilliant. The creaton story is embedded in everyone’s mind, etc.But WHAT does that tell us, beyond the obvious.We all agree I guess: we should read the Bible the same way we read other mythologies/faux histories with literary psychological merit.we have all known that for Centuries.Brian’s arguments go against what most westerners have believed for centuries.Anonymous’s truisms do what truisms always do.

  • brian coughlan

    2. There is some literary/historical/cultural merit in the Bible etc (let me tell you as an ex Mormon, there is NONE in the Book of Mormon).How long have you been off the myth?

  • Raman

    Theists, whenever consecutively questioned, end up in blank dead-ends such as love. Why can’t we say goodness? In other words they mean – God = morality. Spare a thought to the countless other people with totally different gods in china and India who are nevertheless moral. Different gods same morality. Are we missing something here? The only common factor is we are humans and mammals. We care for our and love our young and as an extension our family and fellow human beingsGod does not equate to love. You can have enough of love without invoking god.After all those books, bible, Koran whatever the Incas had etc… we end up with God = Love. Then why write such voluminous books and build up such rituals.

  • James

    Ex Mormons and Fundy’sYes, my Mormon heritage goes all the way back: my great grandfather was in the Jail with joseph smith when Smith was killed.As a 19 year old college freshman, I had to decide if I was going to become a Missionary, as all good 19 year old boys are supposed to do, so they don’t get hooked on sex and drugs and rock and roll.I looked at my Secular Jewish room mate, who was much more moral, evolved, senitive, concerned with the world’s injustice problems, than I or 99.9% of the Mormons I knew, and I said to myself:You mean, I am supposed to tell people like this that unless they convert to Mormonism, they lose their chance to go to the best heaven (mormons call it the Celestial Kingdom), where all of those uniformed, blindly obedient, cult-like regular Mormons are going to be,and I said, if this is the kind of God and the kind of universe and the kind of reward system that the Church believes in,I can’t sell it to the general public.Now I am addicted to Bach, reasonably decent wine, and trying to get social justice for my Gay friends. (I am 59, have a daughter at Juilliard and have been a good citizen and out of jail for 40 years post-mormon. I run a major adult ed center.

  • brian coughlan

    Brian, it sounds as if you’ve fallen into the belief-in-belief trap. I .e., someone who professes religiosity is ipso facto moral, good, or at least well-meaning.Once you consider religion in general is nonsense, it’s hard to buy into a different version.There is are exceptions though. Heavily mutated strains of religion like, communisim, nationalisim and extreme capitalisim are the AIDS of religions. The sneak in past the immune system because they don’t look like a religion, but they are and they are even more lethal.Thinking for ourselves, rigourously questioning all authority and giving the state the frequent finger are the only way to keep yourself healthy:-)

  • Raman

    It does not require a religion or GOD to help us decide what is good or bad. Otherwise, it would appear that people are good merely because they would miss out on heaven / burn in hell. The presence of morals requires the human to have an encompassing view of things – a wide horizon. Go ahead and teach your children religion without imposing FAITH (complete belief – no questions) on them. They will soon grow out of it – like Santa Claus. Regression towards normal – of the thinking mind.Only when FAITH is imposed, the trouble starts.At some point all of us are non-believers. We chose to ignore certain portions of our religious texts – out of necessity / propriety / impracticality. Try to adopt a take all – or leave all approach to the scriptures and see for yourselves.

  • Anonymous

    James: I have trouble with this one. No offense meant – but is it a trojan horse? 1) If you believe in God (in the sense of this sentence) how would you relate to him? 2) How does this god affect you / us?3) If you are talking about the universe and not GOD, then the universe is open to analysis, whether we chose to do so or not.I am afraid the definition of GOD often does not leave scope for analysis. If we accept that, then viola – we have the trojan horse – Faith. After faith enters, dogma follows (for some people) and we are back to square one

  • Anonymous

    Brian, just curious (if you’re willing to share) whether you (like most self-identified atheists on these forums it seems) are essentially self-educated on theological matters?

  • Raman

    Sorry that was meJames:I have trouble with this one. No offense meant – but is it a trojan horse?1) If you believe in God (in the sense of this sentence) how would you relate to him?2) How does this god affect you / us?3) If you are talking about the universe and not GOD, then the universe is open to analysis, whether we chose to do so or not.I am afraid the definition of GOD often does not leave scope for analysis. If we accept that, then viola – we have the trojan horse – Faith.After faith enters, dogma follows (for some people) and we are back to square one

  • James

    Spirituality and Godthanks Raman for the good questions. (i was stunned to see the “real anonymous” asking reasonable questions, so i am glad you cleared that up.)I believe it is *reasonable* to posit a trait called “Spirituality.” (see the current Harris post as well), including the elements I listed.When I saidi CERTAINLY did not mean one HAD to believe in God.I do think we have to believe in the Universe, and in nature.I think some people have little or no sense or feeling for their relation to nature, for instance.I would say those people could be more “spiritually developed.”I myself DO NOT believe in God, but like to think I am spiritual (of course: that is why i defined it this way, to make myself look good).I agree with you about God, BTW. the only concept of god that makes sense to me is “the infinite, that which can not be put into words.” but of course that makes no sense on a certain level. i don’t believe in a supernatural entity or a creator of the world.some people whom I know (of) who seem(ed) highly spiritual did also believe in God. martin luther king for instance. gandhi.slight disagreement with you: i think i know some people who have faith but are not dogmatic. but i do agree that faith has a strong relation with dogma.

  • Anonymous

    “I do think we have to believe in the Universe, and in nature.”Sounds pretty dogmatic.Anyway, why do you have to “believe” in something that exists?

  • Raman

    Anyway, why do you have to “believe” in something that exists?But then as i said – i did not get the point

  • brian coughlan

    Anonymous: Long answer, I just don’t like the term theology, it’s not a real subject, it is similar to alchemy or astrology, clear nonsense. How can you study something that has no informational content that can be verified?

  • James

    To Raman and Gandhi and GodTo your question: But using God for personal solace: I hope humanity grows out of that. Gandhi IS obviously a fascinating man, and a fascinating persona. He clearly believed in SOMETHING. One doesn’t have to believe in God to have Faith and Hope. And one certainly does not have to believe in Jesus.Hindu conceptions of God are much more multi-varied and complex than the Christian concept, no?

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if you guys have any idea what you sound like?”We have lots of opinions on God or gods that we’re only too eager to share — but we’re self-taught, we don’t even find the study of God a serious field of inquiry, and truth be told we don’t have the first bleedin’ idea what we’re talking about! But man do we have opinions!”You mock others’ sincere beliefs, and then turn around and say you “believe” in things you know to exist!And it wasn’t the Holocaust, it wasn’t slavery, it wasn’t colonialism, it wasn’t the French Revolution, it wasn’t the Inquisition, it wasn’t the Crusades, it wasn’t Darwin, it wasn’t Galileo, it wasn’t Luther — no, friends, what caused Brother Brian to lose his faith was an unassuming ranch hand from Crawford, Texas!

  • brian coughlan

    And it wasn’t the Holocaust, it wasn’t slavery, it wasn’t colonialism, it wasn’t the French Revolution, it wasn’t the Inquisition, it wasn’t the Crusades, it wasn’t Darwin, it wasn’t Galileo, it wasn’t Luther — no, friends, what caused Brother Brian to lose his faith was an unassuming ranch hand from Crawford, Texas!The Iraq war was the catalyst that caused me to question my faith, to start to dig into the foundations. All the items you list above were simply additonal black marks against the concept.In the final analysis, I lost my faith because, faith cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. And yes, theology is nonsense. I don’t need to study fairies to reject their existence, or read every tome on UFO’s to know with a high degree of certainty it’s rubbish.You want theology to be real, because it’s the miasma of smoke and mirrors that allows the pan generational fraud of faith to persist. It seems frankly, a kind of security blanket for you. Sorry, I’m not buying:-( You are welcome to it though.Did you look at the cargo cult link? They’ve got it all prayer, signs, wonders, messiah and an apocalypse. Religions sprung fully formed from the minds of humans in living memory …. and we should trust writings thousands of years old? Get real:-)Good night all.

  • James

    BrianHe is not to be taken seriously. He tells us that we are missing the wisdom of the great theologians because we haven’t studied theology.I have studied philosophy, religion, and history at two of the best colleges in the country,and heard hundreds of speakers on philosophy and religion here in Cambridge, and interviewed Harvey Cox for a public program,and I can tell you that anonymousHis highest level theological contribution isGet real indeed.

  • Raman

    just curious how you justify subjecting another human being to existence in a pointless universe?Take for example the myth of the Santa Claus. Tewll every child until he or she is 10 that Santa lives in iceland and visits every christmas. Then one day – pop – tell them there is no SantaJust like that tell them there is GOD in the heavens. And one day what happens – You cannot show them proof? Then they will feel let downSome studies have shown that some children take it very badly when told Santa does not exist.The universe may be pointless or purposeful. We have no control over that. Better the truth than fantasy

  • Anonymous

    Does this mean the beer is off?

  • James

    Nooooooooo anonymousthe keg is On tap!I told you, you are fun to play with.

  • Anonymous

    Ha, more tap-dancing by the pseudo-atheists!To restate: It is immoral to bring a child into the world if the probability of a purposeful universe is no greater than 50/50 — yes or no, and if no, why?

  • brian coughlan

    To restate: It is immoral to bring a child into the world if the probability of a purposeful universe is no greater than 50/50 — yes or no, and if no, why?It’s a tough one, especially if you come from a lifetime of religious upbringing, that has driven deep ruts into your mind as regards how to think about these issues. This is not a snide aside at you Mr A., I’m talking about my own experience.I can only reiterate that you need to find meaning in your own life. What you are going through, is getting a sense of proportion about where you fit in the wider universe, and it’s not terribly flattering is it? A passing asteroid, supernova or blackhole could wipe out the entire human race, perhaps the planet and potentially the entire solar system. Makes a tsunami seem like a nasty paper cut.I’d recommend you read Douglas Adams “Hitch Hikers guide to the galaxy” series, puts this entire question a humourous context. I mean what else can one do but get on with it, treat those you encounter with respect and have a laugh enroute?Every one of us alive today is the end product of billions of forks in the road. I reckon we are pretty lucky to be here, and I’m happy to have flickered into existence at all, however briefly. I mean what were the odds?Besides, an eternity with god doesn’t sound terribly appealing, although the sources I’m baseing my opinion on are pretty flaky. Maybe it’ll be amazing, we’ll just have to wait and see:-)

  • bd

    *Sigh* It was so much easier when they just said “the bible said it, I believe it period” instead of trying to translate that statement into pseudo intellectual babble (Tongues?).

  • Raman

    Yes, initially it is difficult to comprehend the insignificance of everything. Then as comprehension trickles in this becomes a glorious insignificance. The beauty is in the evanescent nature of life

  • Anonymous

    James,Our relationship seems to have become the central focus of your (meaningless) existence. I can’t tell you how flattered I am, but at the same, with respect, it kind of gives me the willies.

  • James

    AnonymousWhat did you say?It is my civic duty to make sure that people don’t take you seriously.Beer tonight?James

  • Richard E.

    James sez “Children as they are growing up should learn about belief/non-belief systems all over the world.”People who have no business at all indoctrinating your children with religious nonsense will incrementally brainwash them with this tripe in ordinary day-to-day discourse with them, eventually instilling the notions that some of this stuff really exists: “Let’s pray that … ” “Thank God that …” “heaven … hell … sin.” etc. Since other people are already doing this to our children, there is no need for a parent to expose them to other belief systems — except, perhaps, to show how murderously intolerant of each other the competing religious systems are.The fact is, we are at war, and religion is the sworn enemy of reason, science, day-to-day morality among men, world peace and human dignity. Anything less than protecting your children from this relentless onslaught if irrationality and hatred is parental malpractice.

  • Anonymous

    Richard E.,Am in receipt of your gracious declaration of war.While it is extraordinarily thoughtful of you to include me, and I would love nothing more than to engage with you on the glorious field of battle, I’m afraid that previous commitments compel me to offer my sincerest regrets.By all means kill a couple of Christers for me and impale their empty heads — O Champion of Children! O Defender of the Peace! O Mighty Reason-Warrior!

  • James

    Richard,I think we agree and just have a miscommunication.What I am advocating is that parents say to their children, at an age appropriate time:lots of people in the world believe in one type of god or another.we don’t, but when you grow up you should make up your own mind.further, god -belief is an important part of the world’s cultural and political history, so it is good for all citizens in a democracy to understand the beliefs, history, and effects of religion and god-belief.I TOTALLY agree that Brainwashing into fundamentalism or religion of any kind IS a kind of child abuse.james

  • Richard E.

    To James: I think we probably do agree.To be a little less evangelical about this, if you listen and watch for them, you’ll see young children exposed to nonsensical concepts such as “God,” “prayer,” “heaven” and “sin” before their young minds are intellectually capable of recognizing this hogwash for what it is. (Hence the child abuse.) Further, when implanted this early, these ideas are difficult to expunge — especially when the exposure continues through life.My point was that we because children and adults are exposed to this claptrap continuously, our efforts would be best spent refuting these ideas — not exposing our children to still more of them.The latter course of action, in fact, encourages a kind of religious tolerance that cannot be justified in light of the demonstrable egregiousness of religious belief. (Oops! There I go waxing evangelical again.)

  • brian coughlan

    My point was that we because children and adults are exposed to this claptrap continuously, our efforts would be best spent refuting these ideas — not exposing our children to still more of them.Here were real people, serving god and loving their fellow man, nothwithstanding being catholics or 7th day adventists or lutherans or whatever.Then I bumped up against some muslims who were pretty much the same, and then George Bush hove into view. Five years of GWB made me re-examine the whole superstructure of my faith very, very critically indeed. Then I took an intellectual wrecking ball it, reading everything I could on religion and rants against religion. In particular the roots of christianity in pagan religions was a compelling argument against faith, and the existence of cargo cults. Look that up sometime, if there is a religious expression that highlights graphically how people will beleive anything, cargo cults are it.So in summary I think exposure to lots of religions presented in context, as cultural myths, innoculates a child against the full blown illness.

  • Anonymous

    “Five years of GWB made me re-examine the whole superstructure of my faith very, very critically indeed.”Brian, I want to be respectful of your personal journey. So that we all can understand where you’re coming from, I wonder if you could indicate the level of humor or irony intended in the above statement? Thank you.

  • Richard E.

    Brian, it sounds as if you’ve fallen into the belief-in-belief trap. I .e., someone who professes religiosity is ipso facto moral, good, or at least well-meaning.Consider this conundrum: If a “casually religious” Muslim, for example, can be presumed to be “good,” shouldn’t the true believer (e.g. the one who hijacks and airplane and flies into a large building full of innocent people) be even better? Or put another way: Are the people who accept the teachings of their “moderate” theologians without carefully reading the book upon which those teaching are based better than those who take the book that says “Kill the infidel” literally?Not wanting to (pray tell) single out any particular religion as fundamentally pernicious, I suggest you Google “The Skeptic’s Annotated Quran/Bible/Book of Mormon.” There are enough contradictions, conundrums and hateful passages to keep you busy trying to figure out the meaning of “doing the work of God” for quite some time.

  • brian coughlan

    James, just curious how you justify subjecting another human being to existence in a pointless universe?Which is worse? Telling children there may or may not be a god, that some people think there is and others think there isn’t. Or telling them there absolutely is a god, who will burn them in hell for eternity unless they do X,Y and Z?

  • brian coughlan

    Brian, I want to be respectful of your personal journey. So that we all can understand where you’re coming from, I wonder if you could indicate the level of humor or irony intended in the above statement? Thank you.The questions : and questions of a similar nature simply could not be ignored, and the responses to them are so trite and such terrible slop. My eventual conclusions were that all religions are nonsense, at their core. Although good people find meaning, and do good things on the periphery, frequently in spite of them. These same good people would do these things independent of their religions.In fact of course, we see this exact thing, plenty of atheists are involved in red cross work, doctors without borders and the like. People are intrinsically good to their own ingroup, but we have a genetic predisposition to attack those in the out group. Our in and out groups have become so large, and our predisposition to attack the out group is still so powerful, that we do the crazy things we do. War, religion and nationalisim are simply expressions of our hatred of the out group.Hence a wonderful father and loving parent, can head off to gas jews without a qualm. If there is one evolutionary trait we need to rise above, it’s our irrational hatred of out groups. If we don’t, the religions may well get their armageddon:-(Check this out

  • Anonymous

    Whatever. But WHERE is Brian’s supposed reasoning concerning God’s existence? I missed it entirely (maybe it was just too subtle).[P.S. Bremer...Iranian?? (I assume you're trying to work while carrying on this flirtation, so I understand the distraction.)]

  • Anonymous

    You know, all them “eye” countries sound alike: I-rakk, I-rann, I-rabia…

  • James

    Bremer smuggled it across the border.There are perks to being the big Poobah.(by “there” I meant the region).BTW, are you a man or a woman?AlsoBad Faith. Entrapment. You should be ashamed.Shame on myself for not warning Brian: your guile was obvious from the start.

  • Anonymous

    I asked in good faith but followed up in bad faith. After a barely perceptible twinge of conscience — and after contemplating the manifold absurdities of this discussion for about a nanosecond and a half — I just lost it. Mea culpa.

  • James

    AnonymousNice, qualified, wishy-washy apologyBUTit comes withan affirmation of your

  • brian coughlan

    Based on your repeated self-description, I assume you now will present us with clear and convincing empirical evidence supporting your assertion of a causal relationship between opinions on God-existence and nuclear proliferation.You rather missed the point of my post entirely. If society is permated by people with a persistent sense of doom, and apocalyptic visions of the end, the odds are clearer higher that one of them may be in a position of power, and that they may mistake themselves for the hand of god and pull the trigger on his behalf.In fact, there is some evidence that GWB already sees himself as doing the bidding of a “higher” father. I’m not sure what his position on the “end times” is, but I am disturbed by his obvious faith and proximity to the launch codes for thousands of nuclear weapons.By reducing faith in such apocalyptic myths, generally, the overall risk is reduced. It’s a statistical thing:-)

  • Raman

    Again an attitude borne out of faith. ‘Serving one’s GOD’. Hinduism avoids this sort of direct incitement, but makes up for it with racism / casteWhen people in power invoke GOD, then we may expect irrational decisions. PAkistan and India have nuclear weapons because they are a muslim and hindu states – simple.

  • Anonymous

    If I missed the point, what rational verifiable point were you making, exactly?”In fact, there is some evidence that GWB already sees himself as doing the bidding of a ‘higher’ father.”Fine — so produce the evidence, evidence guy. If he simply meant he pondered whether he was doing the right thing, there is nothing whatsoever sinister about that, and if you are threatened by it you’re delusional. If he said God phoned in a target list with coordinates, I will be happy to acknowledge that you were right.”I am disturbed by his obvious faith and proximity to the launch codes for thousands of nuclear weapons.”And your evidence is what? You reach conclusions based solely on evidence, right — not prejudice, hatred, peer pressure or a febrile imagination, right? What is the evidence?”By reducing faith in such apocalyptic myths, generally, the overall risk is reduced. It’s a statistical thing.”If it is a statistical thing, where are the statistics? You make no conclusions without data, right? Show us the data!Or is the truth that you guys are no more fact-based than anybody else?

  • Anonymous

    Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Brian knows I am naughty, and in fact he likes it… He likes it a lot.

  • brian coughlan

    If it is a statistical thing, where are the statistics? You make no conclusions without data, right? Show us the data!Or is the truth that you guys are no more fact-based than anybody else?It’s really quite hard to miss the point here, but you are doing an amazing job:-) Let me spell it out, while narrowing your options for disengenous equivocation.If you beleive in the literal return of Jesus Christ, the rapture and the holy genocide of unbeleivers, AND are in a position of power, you are a danger to yourself and others. Or do you disagree?

  • James

    Ache-a-holics Anonymous’s ProblemBrianI think you hit on Mr A’s problem.It was so obvious, so right in front of our noses, that we didn’t see it.We assumed he was not brilliant, as he had represented himself to be, but just of regular intelligence.The clearly correct conclusion is that he hasIt’s not that he doesn’t *want* to make a salient and logical response to your points.it’s not his heart, lord, it’s his mind.maybe its all the Iranian beer I’ve been feeding him (or her).

  • Anonymous

    “You seem to be confused about what statistics ARE. We don’t need specific numbers to know that fewer drunk drivers would result in fewer road deaths it’s that kind of statistical thing.”Yowza! You didn’t really say that!? That’s just too fat a target. As penance for previous sins I’m holding my fire — but I expect to be given credit for it!”If you beleive in the literal return of Jesus Christ, the rapture and the holy genocide of unbeleivers, AND are in a position of power, you are a danger to yourself and others.”I value the constitutional prohibition against religious tests for public office. I’d have to have a pretty serious reason to advocate for abrogating it. And I would have to have — you know, that evidence stuff — solid evidence of a clear and present danger. The attitude expressed above is called prejudice.But of course, that can’t be, because you’re all about reason, empiricism, facts, and evidence, you atheist you!

  • Anonymous

    Where, oh where, are the True Atheists, the Mighty Reason-Warriors as of Old?

  • Jamesq

    Oh, there is a logical statement.he saysshows that Brian does not believe in the separation of church and state.Could you repeat that?We are supposed to take Logic criticism from someone who doesn’t even know his own name?

  • brian coughlan

    I value the constitutional prohibition against religious tests for public office. I’d have to have a pretty serious reason to advocate for abrogating it. And I would have to have — you know, that evidence stuff — solid evidence of a clear and present danger. The attitude expressed above is called prejudice.For example, what if your religious belief led you to the conclusion that eating the livers of small children was vital to their salvation, and yours? Would that be OK? An extreme example, sure, but really not terribly far removed from the book of revelations.Religious beliefs, held with sufficient conviction are a danger to the public. Just ask those that died on 9/11. If you think that Jesus is returning and you are going to be raptured, you are operating at very low level of mental health, and are frankly dangerous. The more powerful your position, the greater the danger. This is really very simple, pure statistical probabilities.That you are having such trouble grasping this simple concept has me wondering about YOUR mental health:-) Do you REALLY want people that believe outrageous things, absent any evidence whatever (we at least got agreement on that right?), running the worlds most powerful nation? Maybe you do:-)Do YOU think Jesus is returning and that you are going to be raptured? If not why not?

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but it’s prejudice unless it’s established on the basis of facts and evidence under some kind of fair and objective standard, with right of appeal. Full stop.I can’t believe you repeat the absurd notion that just because you “feel” one thing is more likely than another, you can speculate about “pure statistical probabilities”. A statistical probability is established through observation and testing (numbers!) and is not something you simply assert!?

  • James

    Dewey and AbstractionFunny John, my daughter went to a down’the line dewey “progressive” school, and she turned out way above average in abstraction ability.i run a very dewey-influenced adult ed center, and people here are making abstractions ALL the time.im Massachusetts, it is the standardized test anti-progressive people who are eliminating abstract thinking.

  • James

    Anonymous TheologyWaiting for Anonymous to give usof where our deficient theological lernin’ whether God, the big guy, exists.It is like waiting for Godot, isn’t it?All we need is something like:”Tillich said that the Courage to be is tantamount to….”But so far – a big NOTHING.Nothing from Anonymous. Nothing from God. No word from Godot.Maybe tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    Existence is overrated.

  • Anonymous

    Only fundamentalists and their opposite number (those with a compulsive need to identify as atheists) care whether or not God exists. So God does not exist. Big deal.God never claimed to exist. God says, “I am.” God is being. If anything is, God is. If not, not. Whatever.

  • Anonymous

    May I respectfully propose the following policy for this forum.Anyone demanding that another participant demonstrate the existence of a third entity shall first submit clear, convincing and unimpeachable proof of [a] the first party’s own existence; and [b] existence of the second party (i.e., the participant of whom said demand is made).If either the party of the first part or of the second part cannot be shown to exist, then such demand shall be deemed utterly null and void, inasmuch as any effort to fulfill it would be unproductive and a waste of valuable time in a (paradoxically) pointless universe.

  • brian coughlan

    Only fundamentalists and their opposite number (those with a compulsive need to identify as atheists) care whether or not God exists. So God does not exist. Big deal.If the thought of millenial dispensationlists, waiting with bated breath to be raptured, all the while with their finger on the US nuclear trigger does not worry you, then I submit your survival instinct isn’t working.If you remain unmoved by the possibility of tens of thousands of Iranians being incinerated in a US first strike, because their theocratic politicians insist on building a nuclear weapon, then I submit your sense of empathy needs an overhaul.The existence or non-existence of god is suddenly important (as opposed to simply a fascinating topic for discussion) because lives are at stake.

  • brian coughlan

    I can’t believe you repeat the absurd notion that just because you “feel” one thing is more likely than another, you can speculate about “pure statistical probabilities”. A statistical probability is established through observation and testing (numbers!) and is not something you simply assert!?I notice you avoid the rapture question. There are only two reasons for this. 1) You know we’ll all have a good laugh if you do subscribe to such an disturbed idea.Either way anything other than a no leaves your credibility, well what few tatters are left, further diminished.Mr. A. give us a good laugh tell us about the rapture and jesus, you’ve really got nothing else to say. Why continue to deny your lord?:-) Our eternal salvation rests in your hands. Guess we are screwed then … if your success to date is anything to go by:-)

  • James

    The Anonymously Artful DodgerNot only will anonymous not tell us his name,How bout that for ground rules:I didn’t ask you whether it matters whether God exists (though Brian illustrated quite vividly why it does, and showed the poverty of your spiritual imagination – i.e. you can’t imagine iraqi[s and iranians could be hurt by Bush’s god-sanctioned war).I asked you to demonstrate with ONE SPECIFIC POINTYou apparently can not. Do you know who Paul Tillich was?So far, no comment that you have made illustrates that you have any special theological knowledge, let alone knowledge that casts doubt on Brian’s reasoning.

  • Anonymous

    Based on your repeated self-description, I assume you now will present us with clear and convincing empirical evidence supporting your assertion of a causal relationship between opinions on God-existence and nuclear proliferation.Will you demonstrate conclusively that a secular Iran would eschew nukes, or show how it would define its strategic interests differently in any way?Will you explain the God-existence connection behind India, Pakistan and DPRK going nuclear, and Libya and the former Iraqi regime trying to?And will you produce the evidence to prove your provocative claim that “millenial dispensationlists” have “their finger on the US nuclear trigger”? [NB: Moonbat web sites do not constitute "evidence".]Or do you cling desperately to such moonbat beliefs because they give you meaning, identity, a sense of belonging — and of superiority?

  • Anonymous

    Did Brian (or any of you) engage in reasoning? Did I miss something? Dang! I would have loved to see that.

  • Anonymous

    If it will advance the conversation, I am more than happy to stipulate as follows:[a] James and Brian speak infallibly on all matters pertaining to God-existence.[b] God-existence is wholly irrelevant to the validity of any and all assertions made by Anonymous.What does that buy us?

  • John Conolley

    “Oh, well. I asked the ‘brights’ to define intelligence for me. No response.”Ayn Rand, who was always handy with a new definition, defined intelligence as the ability to deal with a wide range of abstractions.I can’t think of a better way to define it.Unfortunately, ability to deal with any abstractions is getting mighty rare in this country, thanks to John Dewey and his “experiential education,” which trains children that concretes are all.

  • James

    To Mr. AnonymousIt buys us, first and foremost,Contrary to your claims over and over again on this post,1. You have NO knowledge from the academic discipline of Theology that casts doubt on Brian’s reasoning concerning God’s existence.LOGICAL CONCLUSION: a human who had any shame would stop making statements like “do you know what you guys sound like, given that you don’t have a doctorate in theology.”It also leads to the inescapable conclusion that your repeated claims to superior knowledge and reasoning have NO SUBSTANCE. They are, in fact, substance abuse.2. It also buys us In short, it buys us the privilage of knowing that every comment you make is not to be trusted, most likely not made in good faith**, and primarlily meant to prop up your inflated view of your own wisdom.It makes me feel better to have that conclusively demonstrated.BTW, the beers tonight are going to be Iranian beer that Paul Bremer brought back from his stint there.

  • brian coughlan

    I have enough faith in atheism and atheists to believe there MUST be some intelligent ones out there SOMEWHERE…

  • Anonymous

    I have enough faith in atheism and atheists to believe there MUST be some intelligent ones out there SOMEWHERE…Lord knows the law of averages would strongly suggest so at this point.

  • John Conolley

    “our lack of “theological knowledge” – an oxymoron if there ever was one”Not to be a nit-picker, or anything, but the deterioration of the English language really bugs me. An oxymoron is a phrase that seems to contradict itself, but actually has a point, such as “jumbo shrimp,” or “cold fire.” “Theological knowledge” is not an oxymoron. It’s a contradiction.

  • John Conolley

    I can reccommend a book that seems (I’m only in the third chapter) to show that the more theology you know, the more appealing atheism is. It’s called _A History of God, The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam_, by Karen Armstrong.Armstrong knows a good bit about theology. She was a nun for some years, and spent all her spare time at the convent studying theology. When she realized she wasn’t getting any closer to God, she gave up the religious life and let her belief “slip quietly away.”She continued to study the history of religion, however, made several TV shows about it, and has now written this book. It’s an honest history of monotheism (I’m enough of a history buff and student of religion myself to know she’s not pulling the wool over my eyes), and it clearly demonstrates (so far) that religious beliefs are man made. I reccommend it to believers and non-believers.

  • ernest reinhart

    While reading ” Words that Work ” by Dr. Frank Luntz, I came across this paragraph that we can all learn from.

  • Paladin7

    Wow. This has been a long and interesting thread. It’s good to see debate on these issues. Isn’t the Internet wonderful! I am hopeful that the widely held connotation for the term “Bright” will become positive and useful over time. After reading this thread, I have some doubts but I certainly applaud the concept and have long recognized it’s necessity. I do not believe in God. While I am certainly willing to call myself an atheist, defining my outlook by stating what I am not is woefully incomplete. As defined at the site (www.the-brights.net ) it makes sense to try and grow a word that simply means one who pursues natural rather than super-natural explanations for the universe around us. It is predictable that many who prefer supernatural explanations for life, the universe and everything would see the promotion of the term “Bright” as a vitriolic attack on their intelligence. I also hear atheists and agnostics rejecting the term for the same reason. Whether it’s “Bright” or some other word (Dennett invites suggestions), there does need to be some acceptable word that holders of a naturalistic view can rally around. We need a word with deeper meaning than a simple “I am not this” or “I am not that”. It most certainly won’t happen over night but it does need to happen. Regardless of the word, getting freethinkers to promote political concepts with anything resembling one voice is going to be like herding cats. However, the simple premise of promoting the freedom not to believe should be an easy sell with freethinkers far and wide. I can understand how believers might feel that the term “Bright” is a sleight, but I am not losing sleep over the talk of vitriol. Atheists do not enter debates in churches, mosques and synagogues about what Christians, Muslims and Jews should call themselves. Besides, if a group of people wish to call themselves anything that means something besides “not you” what business is it of yours. Is the pious, moral superiority of believers so great they feel deserving of a voice in this matter? Also, construing the word “Bright” as a sleight to you is nothing compared to the disgusting premise of Christianity and other religions which hold that simply because I do not believe, I am deserving of eternal punishment. How vitriolic is that?

  • Elaine

    A few days ago, someone I don’t know, Ernest Reinhart, posted a comment about the importance of recognizing how others perceive your words. That has great significance not only for the issue of the word “bright” (I’m comfortable with it myself), but for the constant reference to the gay model for seeking greater acceptance and open participation in society. We don’t have to refer to them to prove that we’re not prejudiced, but we don’t have to take on the burden of others’ prejudice against them either.

  • Paladin7

    Well said Elaine!

  • John

    Daniel Dennett is simply awesome.

  • Roger Jaenke

    Recently I came upon a column that I had set aside by Sally Quinn in the AZ Republic “Immoral options are only choices left in Iraq” telling of her experience as a young child years ago of returning to the US from Korea on a Army medevac plane with wounded/dying military personel. It tore me up…especially considering what is going on now in Iraq in which the “Bush gang” fails to even mention the thousands of mutilated men and women who have yet to be counted in the mounting 3000 dead GIs.

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