Who would rally against reason?

March 24th is a landmark date for Washington, D.C. Thousands will converge on the world’s leading capital city to celebrate … Continued

March 24th is a landmark date for Washington, D.C. Thousands will converge on the world’s leading capital city to celebrate the crowning human virtue of reason.

How have we come to the point where reason needs a rally to defend it? To base your life on reason means to base it on evidence and logic. Evidence is the only way we know to discover what’s true about the real world. Logic is how we deduce the consequences that follow from evidence. Who could be against either? Alas, plenty of people, which is why we need the Reason Rally.

Reason, as played out in the grand cooperative enterprise called science, makes me proud of Homo sapiens. Sapiens literally means ‘wise,’ but we have deserved the accolade only since we crawled from the swamp of primitive superstition and supernatural gullibility and embraced reason, logic, science and evidence-based truth.

We now know the age of our universe (13-14 billion years), the age of the Earth (4-5 billion years), what we and all other objects are made of (atoms), where we come from (evolved from other species), why all species are so well adapted to their environments (natural selection of their DNA). We know why we have night and day (Earth spins like a top), why we have winter and summer (Earth is tilted), what is the maximum speed at which anything can travel (two thirds of a billion mph). We know what the sun is (one star among billions in the Milky Way galaxy), we know what the Milky Way is (one galaxy among billions in our universe). We understand what causes smallpox (a virus, which we have eradicated), polio (a virus, which we have nearly eradicated), malaria (a protozoan, still here but we’re working on it), syphilis, tuberculosis, gangrene, cholera (bacteria and we know how to kill them). We have built planes that can cross the Atlantic in hours, rockets that safely land men on the moon and robot vehicles on Mars, and might one day save our planet by diverting a meteor of the kind that – we now understand – killed the dinosaurs. Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.

Why Americans should embrace atheists
View Photo Gallery: Despite their negative reputations among many Americans, atheists tend to be very ethical and high-achieving, argue Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

Who then would rally against reason? The following statements will sound all too familiar.

1. “I don’t trust educated intellectuals, élitists who know more than I do. I’d prefer to vote for somebody like me, rather than somebody who is actually qualified to be president.”

What other than this mentality accounts for the popularity of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum–politicians who flaunt their ignorance as a vote-winning virtue? You want your airline pilot to be educated in aeronautics and navigation. You want your surgeon to be learned in anatomy. Yet when you vote for a president to lead a great country, you prefer to choose somebody who is ignorant and proud of it, someone you’d enjoy having a drink with, rather than somebody qualified for high office? If you are such a voter, you will not join the Reason Rally.

2. “Rather than have them learn modern science, I’d prefer my children to study a book written in 800 BC by unidentifed authors whose knowledge and qualifications were of their time. If I can’t trust the school to shield them from science, I’ll home-school them instead.”

Such a parent will not enjoy the Reason Rally. In 2008, at a conference of American science educators in Atlanta, Georgia, one teacher reported that students “burst into tears” when told they would be studying evolution. Another teacher described how students repeatedly screamed, “No!” when he began talking about evolution in class. If you are such a student, the Reason Rally is not for you – unless you take the precaution of stopping up your ears lest a word of unwelcome truth might penetrate.

3. “When I am faced with a mystery, with something I don’t understand, I don’t interrogate science for a solution, but jump to the conclusion that it must be supernatural and has no solution.”

This has been the lamentable but understandable first recourse of humanity for most of our history. We have grown out of it only during the past few centuries. Many people have never grown out of it, and if you are one of those the Reason Rally may have no appeal for you.

That is the fourth time in this essay I have said something like: “the Reason Rally is not for you.” But let me end on a more positive note. Even if you are unaccustomed to living by reason, if you are one of those, perhaps, who actively distrust reason, why not give it a try? Cast aside the prejudices of upbringing and habit, and come along anyway. If you come with open ears and open curiosity you will learn something, will probably be entertained and may even change your mind. And that, you will find, is a liberating and refreshing experience.

A hundred years from now, there should be no need for a Reason Rally. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the need is all around us and may become increasingly apparent in this election year. Please come to Washington and stand up for reason, science and truth.

Michael Cornwell

Michael Cornwell

A photo of Richard Dawkins, author of “The Magic of Reality.”

Richard Dawkins is former professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford; author of “The God Delusion” and “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.”

More On Faith:

David Silverman: Why we need a reason rally

Fred Edwords: The great atheist ‘coming out’

  • JustaFarmer

    Not me, and definitely not with you!

  • jzjessez

    Cliche:Faith can Move Mountains.
    Truism:Faith clouds minds.

  • rvdee

    Does reason cause one to attribute simplistic, strawperson questions to what one perceives to be the other side and then offer snotty responses with a condescending tag line?

    In that case, the Reason Rally is not for me.

  • perryneheum

    PLEASE know that any person with some education and curiosity who deigns to discuss religion and eschatology is doing so in a spirit of fun and jocularity.

    BECAUSE ALL ASPECTS OF ALL RELIGIONS ARE SOLELY AND ENTIRELY OF HUMAN CONSTRUCT!

    Yes — god, heaven, hell, afterlife, age of the universe, bible, koran, jesus, allah, angels, commandments, word(s) of god, miracles — ALL are creations and imaginings of HOMO SAPIENS.

    Every one.

    However, one comforting aspect of any and all “faiths” is the surety that one needn’t worry about there being no afterlife and the reuniting of dead loved ones. Because when one’s brain straight-lines at the instant of death, there is no more thought. Just nothingness.

    So, GO, live your sole life, and fear no more!

    – Anonymous Marionette

  • dcfanoutwest

    Liked this very much.

    I can imagine a benevolent God urging folks to vote on more pragmatic criteria than positions on stem cell research, abortion, contraception/recreational sex and related health care controversies, gay marriage and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    To do otherwise would do the author and me the disservice of overwhelming the concerns of “reason:” relative understandings of economics, state, federal and international law, foreign policy, etc.; and ability and experience in forging compromise, government appointments, military leadership,… on and on and on.

    Three, three-and-a-half of the seven billion people on Earth claim to follow commandments and laws of either Allah or the Christian or God, yes? Many think themselves obligated to get others to do as they do — starting with faith and devotion to their deity.

    That deity may well want, without using force, to have one of His faithful lead a four- or eight-year injection of his/her flavor or combination of religious imperatives into the law of this land. The U.S. remains the Earth’s lone superpower, after all, though it comprises only about 5% of its people and land.

    That would be weird, though. Instead of with presumably much more powerful means at His disposal, would He commandeer legal systems, prisons and law enforcement from people of different beliefs that share their costs in order to impose His rules on them without their faith and devotion?

    As I understand it, Jesus said to pay Caesar what is due Caesar and God what is due God. It seems likely that He would prefer we vote after a duly diligent review that emphasizes pragmatic candidate qualifications.

  • mwcob

    He misses the point. The scientist asks “how” – but the theologian asks “why” – and if you’re looking for purpose and plan, science does not provide that.

    In the meantime… if the Big Bang begins with a gravitational singularity in space – where did space originate? What is the origin of space and time? Or is this something I should simply accept on… faith?

  • ccnl1

    What we do know: (from the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and the history of religion)

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to circle us in the nearby asteroid belt.

    3. One wayward rock and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 trillion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

    7. Super, dormant volcanoes off the coast of Africa and under Yellowstone Park could explode catalytically at any time ending life on Earth.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 trillion years?

  • jade_alpha

    Space and time as we know them did not exist before the big bang.

    Also, if you are looking for a grand design for the universe or a grand plan you will find none save that which you impart to it. Basically, life is meaningless and that is beautiful because it allows us to make our own meaning for our lives.

  • patcaro

    Hey, I’ve got a good idea. I’ll consult the writings of some shepherds from a couple thousand years ago who never traveled more than 100 miles from where they were born, or had any schooling, to tell me everything I need to know about the origin of the universe. For that matter, whatever they scribbled down & someone else decided to compile, will guide my every action. Except the kooky parts, like avoiding menstruating women and not eating shrimp.

  • agnostictaoist

    I am just now reading The Greatest Show on Earth — about the Neo-Darwinian
    Synthesis — by Professor Dawkins. A tremendous, brilliantly written book to
    counter the miasma of willful self-deluding nonsense all-too-frequently spewed
    in the name of Fundamentalist religious ideologies, and in defense of clear
    thinking and a profound appreciation of the magnificent beauties of the natural
    world — including human beings.

  • agnostictaoist

    You could acquire a copy of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and read it to grasp exactly why your question, as stated, is meaningless.
    You could do the research online, too: the internet is your friend.

  • agnostictaoist

    In the hardcover edition of A Brief History of Time you will find your explanation on p. 136: “If Euclidean space-time stretches back to infinite imaginary time, or else starts at a singularity”…etc.
    Wouldn’t want to deprive you of the intellectual joy of discovering
    the rest of it for yourself!

  • kemcb

    Thank you Richard Dawkins for giving me freedom from mythical fear and a vision of the scientific truth of life! Thank You!

  • alance

    Nothing sounds reasonable in 2012.
    Hang on tight.
    The downward spiral will be breathtaking.

  • Lalande21185

    Boy, for someone touting reason so loudly, what a load of fallacious strawmen Richard has lined up for himself to so easily (and irrelevantly) shoot down. I’ve got a news flash for you, Mr. Dawkins, NO ONE thinks the way your imaginary strawmen argue. But I gues a genuine, rational opponent of faith would be too much for you, so you’re probably most wise to stick with your made up ones.

    I think I’ll sit out your “reason rally”, and stay home to soak in the wisdom of a genuinely rational person – in this case, Archbishop Oscar Romero (look him up).

  • bnutz79

    Actually, Lalande21185, you’re wrong. Lots of people believe the way Dawkins describes. I’ve lived in Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Flordia, and, believe me, there are plenty of people that I’ve run into (argued with) that believe that non-sense.

  • bnutz79

    Actually, Lalande21185, you’re wrong. Lots of people believe the way Dawkins describes. I’ve lived in Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Flordia, and, believe me, there are plenty of people that I’ve run into (argued with) that believe that non-sense.

  • bnutz79

    JoeDBrown: please explain what you mean by cowardly. Do you mean to describe people who engage in name calling and start online fight? If that’s what you mean, I totally agree with you.

  • bnutz79

    This is simple guys. So, based on your logic, we should just stop searching for answers? The Bible has them all.

    Science may not have the answers to your question…now. However, they’ll keep working until they do or we’re all dead. It’s called progress. We like it.

    Now take out your iPhone and look at it. God didn’t make it. If religion had its way years ago, you wouldn’t be able to distract yourself on that iPhone with the irrational garbage you read.

  • SODDI

    “Idiocracy” was the most prophetic fim ever made.

  • SODDI

    Don’t worry. In real life, Christians are straw men too.

  • Jamesstankiewicz

    This article by Dawkins is one of the most deceptive primitive wrtings that take us back to the stone age one can imagine. The lies and twisting of real truth is amazing that most of you readers are in a slumber to accept Dawkins as the word on science and truth. This Dawkins is so corrupted with lies and deception based on available science and history of all disciplines of learning. The world Epistimology completely destroys any nonsense coming out of the mouth of Dawkins who has made himself the class clown. The science in the Bible today is more proven then ever. The compelxity of the bible written by 40 or more authors over 1600 years telling the same story from begining to end which is not saying how wonderful we are rather how fallen we are. Including the signature of God in all the Bible text using complex mathematical equations is humbling. I am not writing about word codes I am talking about a numerical signature impossible to be random. The World and noisy clay pots like Dawkins will not tell you anything written in the bible Scientifically, Historically, Genealogies, Geographically and Spiritually has either proven correct or not yet proven. NOTHING in Scripture has ever been proven false. The Dating of the unverse could be billions and the earth but Creation and forming of the earth as we know it did not start until after the first verse in the bible. Which says prior the earth was without form and void., Very well could have been in that state for billions of years. Look up the long list of Creation Scientists past present who believe in the account of a 6 day Biblical creation with the proof to substansiate it. As the Bible and the story of God is being proven daily people like Dawkins are having hissy fits and rallies to try and take the attention away and ridicule anyone that professes “In the begining God”. All Dawkins is doing at this point is a smoke show. Far greater minds than Dawkins have come to the knowledge of God and trusting t

  • catatonicjones

    You are insane.

  • Counterww

    No, he is right

  • Counterww

    Oh bs. God gave man the brains to manipulate matter, just like God did, but to boot, God created the matter.

  • Rongoklunk

    Richard Dawkins held the chair of Public Understanding of Science, at Oxford University. He is the recipient of the 1990 Michael Faraday Award of The Royal Society, and other awards include the 1997 International Cosmos Prize for Acheivement in Human Science, The Kistler Prize, the Shakespeare Prize in 2005, the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing on Science, was named Auther of the Year at the Galaxie Book Awards.
    He also wrote the following books; The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out Of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving The Rainbow, The Ancestors Tale, and edited The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing.

    You hate him because he’s a threat to your irrational religious beliefs. Put away the Bible long enough to read some of his ideas, He’s brilliant and more interested in the truth than in ancient myths. Religion is lying to you. There are no gods as there are no Leprechauns and no fairies, and no supernatural dimension to reality. You have been hoodwinked. Dawkins is one of the best scientists on the planet, Religion has deranged your brain as it deranged the brains of the 9/11 wackoes who took down the WTC for a oneway trip to Paradise with 72 virgins a piece. They weren’t crazy – just religious. To believe in a great skygod is no virtue. It’s a scam.

  • Rongoklunk

    All you’re doing is revealing your ignorance – your lack of education, and how indoctrinated you are. You’re pretty messed up. Dawkins is a scientist, one of the very best. If he was a fake we’d all know it. If he was mistaken we’d hear about it – or figure it out for ourselves from his writings. But his writings are brilliant, and his depth of knowledge amazing. Of course he doesn’t believe in a god. Gods are mythical by definition, and as you’ve been raised to believe they’re real – that’s too bad. People lied to you.

    Read “God; The Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger. Then maybe you’ll understand.

  • ccnl1

    Added reasoning:

    THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    - only for the newcomers

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    “Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty wingie thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

  • TopTurtle

    James,

    This article is so full of lies that it’s impossible to point to any single one! I’m assuming that’s why you didn’t.

  • Bluefish2012

    It’s always struck me that it takes at least as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a religious believer. Secularism should have no more rights than defined religions do. You’re just another belief system.

  • chaos1551

    Atheism? Faith?

    Atheists purport that there is no conclusive evidence to believe in a god, not that there is evidence to the contrary. An atheist who is sure there is no god must be removed from the adult conversation as readily as the theist who is equally sure.

    Still waiting for that conclusive evidence, by the way. Something empirical and verifiable would be nice; or even a system that can predict future outcomes the same way science can.

    Faith, still? Conjecture? Superstition? Witness accounts? Bummer, dude.

  • chaos1551

    We must have read different Bibles, James. The King James version I’ve read is full of discrepancies:

    Jesus of Nazareth was conveniently born in Bethlehem to fulfill a prophecy. He had to get to Bethlehem somehow, so a story of taxation was drummed up–a story never corroborated anywhere in history ever–that never happened.

    Which account of the Ten Commandments in the Pentateuch is the one we should be following, by the way? And why are only two of the popularly selected commandments enshrined in secular law, while very important secular laws (e.g. sexual crime, child crime) are not even mentioned in the Bible?

  • csintala79

    Who? Why, the unreasonable, of course.

  • csintala79

    Nothing in scripture has ever been proved false? OK, get ready, we are going to find a really big fish, or aquatic mammal (i.e., whale), of your choosing of course, and have you swallowed by it whole. After three days in its gullet we are going to have your regurgitated so you can tell us about the experience. It may take a while to find a suitable candidate as the really big whales eat microscopic things like krill and plankton, while the meat eaters, such as the Orca, have to tear a meal your size apart to be able to swallow it. However, since Jonah lived to tell the tale, we are sure you can also.

  • Chip_M

    How much faith does it take to not believe in the Loch Ness Monster or leprechauns, or ghosts, or any other fantastical claim. None. Not believing in god is not a leap of faith but precisely its opposite.

  • killifish2007

    Chaos1551,
    What is the nature of your god. What predictions can you make about the real world from it that are not better explained by a secular, scientific model.

  • JeremyH2O

    Since you’re attempting logic to persuade us, I suppose we can call you a reasoning person? That’s the thing about reason. It’s hardwired into our brains, no matter what religion (or non-religion) we are. That’s why secularism is the least controversial, most productive way to go: everybody reasons, and everybody expects everyone else to be reasonable. No matter what faith they have. This is a good thing. It really isn’t that scary.

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