A World that Never Was

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Revisionist history may seem like harmless, feel good child’s play, but the threat it poses (to all other animals at least) is that without hearing the real story, people will never learn from the past.

It’s tempting to want to believe that all that has gone wrong with the human race is the result of being led astray by our technology, and if we could just get back to our caveman roots, everything would be happy and harmonious like it surely was back then. But contrary to contemporary popular belief, that’s a world that never was.

Even the earliest human hunters drove countless species to extinction and exhausted their carrying capacities time and again, ever since plant-eating primates first climbed down from the trees and decided to take up big-game hunting.10418292_778659628825562_4081410081902108848_n

The notion of the peaceful savage has long since been disproven, but people want to cling to it rather than accept the truth about human nature. Just look at the dead-animal adornments any warrior or tribal chief wore, and it’s easy to see the roots of trophy hunting.

The thought that any spear-wielding species who took advantage of fire to herd animals toward a cliff or into a box canyon had an innate sense of ecological fairness goes against all that made us human—envy, lust, greed, gluttony, a lack of empathy and an over-blown ego are the kinds of things that ultimately define a hunter, whether the motive for their behavior is sport or subsistence.

Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson summed up the chapter, “Paradise Imagined,” of their book, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, thusly, “There is no such thing as paradise, not in the South Seas, not in southern Greece, not anywhere. There never has been. To find a better world we must look not to a romanticized and dishonest dream forever receding into the primitive past, but to a future that rests on a proper understanding of ourselves.”

Humans have achieved an awful lot of success as a species over the years, but judging by our planet-crushing prowess, we may have finally breached our collective britches.

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Pope Still a Bit Confused

My fellow animal lovers, it’s time to quit singing praises for the Pope. It turns out Pope Francis has backed away from his alleged statement that (non-human) animals have souls and that our bygone pets (God rest their souls) will be waiting for us in Heaven (presumably with leash at the ready, for us to take them on a long-overdue poody walk).

Whether Pope Francis said that last week or not, the very idea that pets go to heaven has been vehemently denied by Vatican commentators. How would humankind ever square that with their notions of superiority and sense of entitlement to preferential Heavenly treatment?

But the Pope did recently do right by our biological underlings in proclaiming his belief in Evolution and the Big Bang Theory.  God is no ‘magician with a magic wand,’ he quickly added, being sure to assign ultimate credit to the mystical one created in Man’s image. (As to whether magicians are gods he wouldn’t divulge.)

Collective Evolution reported, “Pope Francis continues to shake-up the Christian world with his latest public revelation, announcing that evolution and the big bang theory are in fact real, Speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, [Wait, what? Pontifical sciences? Isn’t that an oxymoron?] Pope Francis’s words lessened the divide between the Christian faith and science with his shocking assertion about mankind’s evolution.”

The fact that originators of the Big Bang Theory never mentioned Heaven or its approximate location within the boundless Universe doesn’t seem to matter to His Holiness, but evidently there’s limited acreage within its gates since non-humans are not officially allowed in. Apparently they still haven’t evolved a savable soul.

Deathdog

No Offense, but Have Yourselves a Merry Christmas

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year (you’ll notice I didn’t call it Xmas, or “the holidays”). It’s the season of chilly nights, snowy days

Text and Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Photography ©Jim Robertson

and cozy mornings by the crackling fire, that I long for during the dry summer months. The Solstice —with its leafless trees, longer days and promise of spring—adds its magic to the spell. To this devout unbeliever—this compassionate atheist—the arrival of winter has always been known as Christmastime.

Make no mistake; I don’t believe in virgin births, any more than I believe in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny or the talking walnut. It’s all a bunch of anthropocentric hooey. But I think it’s sad that Americans aren’t supposed to say “Merry Christmas” any more.

I wouldn’t expect store clerks to assume their customers are all church-going Christians. I for one am not and never have been—my church is the DSC_0082wild forest, mountains, rivers and oceans. Yet I still think of the giving season simply as Christmas. When I’m out shopping for Christmas presents, I’d rather hear a hearty “Merry Christmas” than a sheepish “happy holidays.” Instead of spreading good cheer, the latter comes across as an embarrassed, “the capitalist corporation I work for will fire me if I’m caught wishing you a Merry Christmas.”

I enjoy all kinds of Christmas music—as long as it’s joyous—and all sorts of Christmas decorations, particularly those that celebrate trees and greenery. I’m not offended by manger scenes, especially the ones that include lots of animals bedded down on nice dry straw. But the religious slant can definitely be taken too far. I get irritated when someone includes a cross in their Christmas display.

To me a cross is a symbol of cruelty, suffering and death, not peace, love and generosity. It doesn’t belong anywhere near Christmas. I’ve never believed in needing savior to achieve redemption. And I’m already painfully aware of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (not to mention, to the pigsDSC_0101 and turkeys, as well as the ducks and geese I hear being shot at out there as I write this—all in the spirit of holiday feasting).

Not that I think anyone’s ever coming back from anywhere, but I can identify with this memorable line in the Woody Allen film, Hannah and her Sisters, when Max Von Sydow’s character, Frederick, laments about the garbage on TV: “You see the whole culture. Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, a talk show. Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

I’ve never thought of December 25th as the birthday of any god-incarnate or the day that reindeer can fly or when Santa visits every house in one night. But I’ll always call it Christmas—the name for a season that ought to last all year long. It’s not just a holiday—the spirit of selfless giving should be a year-round sentiment.

Oh, and if anyone up there really is listening, all I want for Christmas is world peace for all beings— and enough freaking snow to ski on.

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Poll: Religion Trumps Belief in Big Bang Theory for Most Americans

This type of willful ignorance does not bode well for the animals or the Earth. If most people don’t “believe in” evolution or climate change, how long will it take to convince them that we are animals and we must curb greenhouse gasses?

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http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/poll-religion-trumps-belief-big-bang-theory-most-americans-n85806

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they express bigger doubts as concepts that scientists consider to be truths get further from our own experiences and the present time, an Associated Press-GfK poll found.

Americans have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine.

On some, there’s broad acceptance. Just 4 percent doubt that smoking causes cancer, 6 percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and 8 percent are skeptical there’s a genetic code inside our cells. More — 15 percent — have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines.

About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority — 51 percent — questions the Big Bang theory.

Those results depress and upset some of America’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.

“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.

The poll highlights “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

And scientists know they’ve got the shakiest leg in the triangle.

To the public “most often values and beliefs trump science” when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.”

Political values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change.

Religious values are similarly important.

Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.

“When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith,” said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. “It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable.”

But evolution, the age of the Earth and the Big Bang are all compatible with God, except to Bible literalists, said Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biology, philosophy and logic at the University of California, Irvine. And Darrel Falk, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University and an evangelical Christian, agreed, adding: “The story of the cosmos and the Big Bang of creation is not inconsistent with the message of Genesis 1, and there is much profound biblical scholarship to demonstrate this.”

Beyond religious belief, views on science may be tied to what we see with our own eyes. The closer an issue is to our bodies and the less complicated, the easier it is for people to believe, said John Staudenmaier, a Jesuit priest and historian of technology at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Marsha Brooks, a 59-year-old nanny who lives in Washington, D.C., said she’s certain smoking causes cancer because she saw her mother, aunts and uncles, all smokers, die of cancer. But when it comes to the universe beginning with a Big Bang or the Earth being about 4.5 billion years old, she has doubts. She explained: “It could be a lack of knowledge. It seems so far” away.

Jorge Delarosa, a 39-year-old architect from Bridgewater, N.J., pointed to a warm 2012 without a winter and said, “I feel the change. There must be a reason.” But when it came to Earth’s beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, he has doubts simply because “I wasn’t there.”

Experience and faith aren’t the only things affecting people’s views on science. Duke University’s Lefkowitz sees “the force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact” as a more striking factor, citing significant interest groups — political, business and religious — campaigning against scientific truths on vaccines, climate change and evolution.

Yale’s Leiserowitz agreed but noted sometimes science wins out even against well-financed and loud opposition, as with smoking.

Widespread belief that smoking causes cancer “has come about because of very public, very focused public health campaigns,” AAAS’s Leshner said. A former acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Leshner said he was encouraged by the public’s acceptance that mental illness is a brain disease, something few believed 25 years ago, before just such a campaign.

That gives Leiserowitz hope for a greater public acceptance of climate change. But he fears it may be too late to do anything about it.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

— Seth Borenstein and Jennifer Agiesta, The Associated Press

Researchers Discover Why Zebras Have Stripes

It’s an evolutionary abnormality that has stumped scientists for hundreds of years: Why do zebras have stripes?

Hypotheses have included mating rituals, protection from predators, camouflage and heat protection, though no evidence has backed up the claims. But in a paper released Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers at University of California, Davis may have proven the reason: to protect the animal from disease-carrying biting flies.

“No one knew why zebras have such striking coloration,” wrote Tim Caro, lead author and a UC Davis professor of wildlife biology, in a press release. “But solving evolutionary conundrums increases our knowledge of the natural world and may spark greater commitment to conserving it.”

The biting fly explanation has long been suspected, as flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces. To find out once and for all, researchers noted the geographic distribution of zebras, horses and asses, and noted differences in zebra stripe patterns. They then overlapped the data with variables such as temperature, terrain, predator range and biting fly distribution.

While the other factors did not correlate with stripe patterns, one factor overwhelmingly did: the biting flies.

“I was amazed by our results,” wrote Caro. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”

Researchers noted that the short coats of zebras make them particularly susceptible to the flies, which may explain why the stripes do not appear on other animals.

However, as researchers mentioned in the release, one mystery solved leads to yet another mystery: why biting flies avoid black-and-white striped surfaces.

And the wonder continues.

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Maybe If We Had Worshipped the Creation

Created by Jim Robertson

Sunday school children are taught that it is blasphemy to worship the creation instead of the Creator. Rather than encouraging people to praise the miraculous (in the non-secular sense of the word) living planet and all its incredible diversity of sentient life forms, western religions threaten eternal damnation if you don’t swear blind allegiance to some patriarchal creation of the human imagination, created in the image of man.

Hence, Homo sapiens has run roughshod over the Earth, destroying the very same natural systems that allowed us to come into being and trampling the rights of all other beings in our obsessed quest for domination over a world we’ve proven unworthy of even having dominion over.

Now, with so much of the land divided and conquered, the seas losing oxygen and turning acidic and the air encrusted in carbon, only fire remains untamed. Maybe if we had worshipped the creation and treated the Mother Earth with the respect she deserves, we would be feeling her love—instead of her punishing wrath.

Why is it so hard for otherwise hyper-intelligent humans to feel a sense of awe for a living world that came into form through the process of evolution, rather than one created by a mythical man-like creature? We see it happen every year, when life springs forth from a formerly frozen “wasteland.” Do people really believe some grey-bearded Santa Claus look-alike (minus the jolly disposition) waves a magic wand at every plant that shoots up to the heavens and every animal who, in their own way, rejoices?

Religion is supposed to teach humility, but after constantly being reminded that they are the Creator’s crowning achievement, humankind is anything but humble.

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Bible vs. Science: Big Online ‘Origins of the Universe’ Debate Tomorrow Night

http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/12617/20140203/bible-vs-science-big-online-origins-universe-debate-tomorrow-night.html

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Thomas Carannante

Feb 03, 2014 10:38

Bill Nye “the science guy”, a childhood idol of many, will be participating in a creationism vs. evolution debate tomorrow night. His opponent is Ken Ham, who is one of the founders of a creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis. (Photo : Ed Schipul)

Bill Nye “the science guy”, a childhood idol of many, will be participating in a creationism vs. evolution debate tomorrow night. His opponent is Ken Ham, who is one of the founders of a creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis, located in the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

It’s estimated that over one million people will be watching the debate online, which will focus on the origins of humankind. Bill Nye has been a celebrity for years, dating back to his television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” that aired from 1993-1998. His opponent, Ken Ham, is the president of the Answers in Genesis ministry in the Creation Museum that supports young Earth creationism and the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis.

Since its inception seven years ago, “Answers in Genesis” has been subjected to widespread criticism for challenging the evolution of man with the interpretation of biblical story. But that hasn’t prevented hundreds of thousands of people from visiting the museum. They are also planning to build a Noah’s Ark theme park 40 miles from the museum, which is expected to cost $60 million.

Ham has expressed his nerves leading up to the debate, citing “a little fear, trepidation, and stress,” in this USA Today article. Perhaps there is more fuel on the side of Bill Nye, since scientists such as himself are insulted by the views of creationism believers such as Ham.

“I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine,” Nye said in the same USA Today Article. “But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them.”

The debate at the Creation Museum is expected to draw 900 audience members and nearly 1 million online viewers; 800,000 were already registered for the debate’s online stream two weeks ago. And although each speaker isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind, it should certainly be an entertaining debate.

15 ways atheists can stand up for rationality

http://www.salon.com/2014/01/11/15_ways_atheists_can_stand_up_for_rationality/

Atheists need to assert ourselves! Here’s how
by Jeffrey Tayler

I’ve often wondered how the term “New Atheism” gained such currency. It is a misnomer. There is nothing new about nonbelief. All of us, without exception, are born knowing nothing of God or gods, and acquire notions of religion solely through interaction with others – or, most often, indoctrination by others, an indoctrination usually commencing well before we can reason. Our primal state is, thus, one of nonbelief. The New Atheists (most prominently Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens) have, in essence, done nothing more than try to bring us back to our senses, to return us to a pure and innate mental clarity. Yet their efforts have generated all manner of controversy. Far outnumbered, and facing a popular mindset according kneejerk respect to men (yes, mostly they are men) of faith — reverends, priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and so on – the New Atheists have by necessity explained their views with zeal, which has often irked the religious, who are accustomed to unconditional deference. Even some nonbelievers who, again thanks to custom, consider religion too touchy a subject to discuss openly have been riled.

We atheists, however, need to buck up, assert our rationality, and change the way we deal with the religious, with everyday affronts delivered (at times unknowingly) by believers, with the casual presumptions that historically have tended to favor the faithful and grant them unmerited respect. A lot is at stake. Religion is a serious matter, reaching far beyond the pale of individual conscience and sometimes translating into violence, sexism, sexual harassment and assault, and sundry legal attempts to restrict a woman’s right to abortion or outlaw it altogether, to say nothing of terrorism and war. Now is the time to act. Polls – see here and here – show the zeitgeist in the United States is turning increasingly godless, that there are more atheists now than ever before (surely thanks in part to the efforts of the New Atheists). Most of Europe entered the post-faith era decades ago. Americans need to catch up.

I propose here a credo for atheists – concrete responses to faith-based affronts, to religious presumption, to what Hitchens called “clerical bullying.” (I’ll deal below with the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions, but what I say applies to other confessions as well.) The faithful are entitled to their beliefs, of course, but have no inherent right to air them without expecting criticism. Religion should be subject to commonsense appraisal and rational review, as openly discussible as, say, politics, art and the weather. The First Amendment, we should recall, forbids Congress both from establishing laws designating a state religion and from abridging freedom of speech. There is no reason why we should shy away from speaking freely about religion, no reason why it should be thought impolite to debate it, especially when, as so often happens, religious folk bring it up on their own and try to impose it on others.

Herewith, some common religious pronouncements and how atheists can respond to them.

1. “Let’s say grace!”

No, let’s not. When you’re seated at the family dinner table and a relative suggests clasping hands, lowering heads and thanking the Lord, say “No thanks. I’m an atheist. So I’ll opt out.” Nonbelievers have every right to object when being asked to take part in superstitious rituals; in fact, if children are present, they are morally obliged to do so. Courteously refusing to pray will set an example of rational behavior for the young, and contribute to furthering the atheist zeitgeist.

2. “Religion is a personal matter. It’s not polite to bring it up.”

No, religion is fundamentally collective, and since time immemorial has served societies in fostering union, but also in inciting xenophobia and violence (especially against “unchaste” women and “impure” minorities), often on a mass scale. Nonbelievers need to further advance the cause of rationality by discussing it openly; doing so, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, will help puncture the aura of sanctity surrounding faith and expose it for what it is.

3. “You’re an atheist? I feel sorry for you.”

No, please rejoice for me. I fear no hell, just as I expect no heaven. Nabokov summed up a nonbeliever’s view of the cosmos, and our place in it, thus: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” The 19th-century Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle put it slightly differently: “One life. A little gleam of Time between two Eternities.” Though I have many memories to cherish, I value the present, my time on earth, those around me now. I miss those who have departed, and recognize, painful as it is, that I will never be reunited with them. There is the here and now – no more. But certainly no less. Being an adult means, as Orwell put it, having the “power of facing unpleasant facts.” True adulthood begins with doing just that, with renouncing comforting fables. There is something liberating in recognizing ourselves as mammals with some fourscore years (if we’re lucky) to make the most of on this earth.

There is also something intrinsically courageous about being an atheist. Atheists confront death without mythology or sugarcoating. That takes courage.

4. “If you’re an atheist, life has no purpose.”

A purpose derived from a false premise – that a deity has ordained submission to his will – cannot merit respect. The pursuit of Enlightenment-era goals — solving our world’s problems through rational discourse, rather than though religion and tradition – provide ample grounds for a purposive existence. It is not for nothing that the Enlightenment, when atheism truly began to take hold, was also known as the Age of Reason.

5. “If you abolish religion, nothing will stop people from killing, raping and looting.”

No, killing, raping and looting have been common practices in religious societies, and often carried out with clerical sanction. The catalogue of notorious barbarities – wars and massacres, acts of terrorism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the chopping off of thieves’ hands, the slicing off of clitorises and labia majora, the use of gang rape as punishment, and manifold other savageries committed in the name of one faith or another — attests to religion’s longstanding propensity to induce barbarity, or at the very least to give it free rein. The Bible and the Quran have served to justify these atrocities and more, with women and gay people suffering disproportionately. There is a reason the Middle Ages in Europe were long referred to as the Dark Ages; the millennium of theocratic rule that ended only with the Renaissance (that is, with Europe’s turn away from God toward humankind) was a violent time.

Morality arises out of our innate desire for safety, stability and order, without which no society can function; basic moral precepts (that murder and theft are wrong, for example) antedated religion. Those who abstain from crime solely because they fear divine wrath, and not because they recognize the difference between right and wrong, are not to be lauded, much less trusted. Just which practices are moral at a given time must be a matter of rational debate. The “master-slave” ethos – obligatory obeisance to a deity — pervading the revealed religions is inimical to such debate. We need to chart our moral course as equals, or there can be no justice.

6. “Nothing can equal the majesty of God and His creation.”

No need to inject God into this. “Creation” is majestic enough on its own, as anyone who has gazed into the Grand Canyon or the night sky already knows. While paddling a pirogue down the Congo, at night I often marveled to the point of ecstasy at the brilliance of the stars, the salience of the planets against the Milky Way – just one of the many quasi-transcendental experiences I have had as an atheist globetrotter. The world is a thing of wonder that requires no faith, but only alert senses, to appreciate.

7. “It is irrational to believe that the world came about without a creator.”

No, it is irrational to infer an invisible omnipotent being from what we see around us. The burden of proof lies on the one making supernatural claims, as the New Atheists have tirelessly pointed out. But here again the New Atheists are really doing nothing novel. Almost 200 years ago, the British poet Shelley, in his essay “The Necessity of Atheism,” noted that “God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist.” This was clear to him even before we had mapped the human genome, discovered the Higgs boson, or even invented the telegraph.

8. “I will pray for you to see the light.”

Not necessary, but do as you like. Abraham Lincoln noted that, “What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.”

9. “If you’re wrong about God, you go to hell. It’s safer to believe.”

Pascal’s wager survives even among people who have never heard the name of the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician. Leaving aside whether blatant self-interest would please a god demanding to be loved unconditionally, which god will save us from hell? The god of Catholicism? Judaism? Islam? Doctrines of all three Abrahamic faiths prohibit entry into paradise for adherents of rival confessions.

10. “Religion is of great comfort to me, especially in times of loss. Too bad it isn’t for you.”

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.” A few shots of vodka will do for me, and are more to the point.

After the passing away of his son, Lincoln, in dire need of solace, nevertheless remarked that, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

10. “As you age and face death, you will come to need religion.”

Perhaps in dotage anything is possible, but this turn of events is unlikely. Aging and the prospect of dying by no means enhance the attractiveness of fictitious comforts to come in paradise, or the veracity of malicious myths about hellfire and damnation. Fear and feeblemindedness cannot be credibly pressed into service to support fantastic claims about the cosmos and our ultimate destiny.

Whether one would even consider turning to religion in advanced years has much to do with upbringing, which makes all the more important standing up to the presumptions of the religious in front of children. One would regard the Biblical events – a spontaneously igniting bush, a sea’s parting, human parthenogenesis, a resurrected prophet and so on – that supposedly heralded God’s intervention in our affairs as the stuff of fairy tales were it not for the credibility we unwittingly lend them by keeping quiet out of mistaken notions of propriety.

11. “You have no right to criticize my religious beliefs.”

Wrong. Such a declaration aims to suppress free speech and dialogue about a matter influential in almost every aspect of our societies. No one has a right to make unsubstantiated assertions, or vouch for the truthfulness of unsubstantiated assertions on the basis of “sacred” texts, without expecting objections from thinking folk.

12. “Jesus was merciful.”

If he existed – and there is still, after centuries of searching, no proof that he did – he was at times a heartless prophet of doom for the sinners he supposedly loved, commanding those who failed to give comfort to the poor to “depart . . . ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

13. ”You can’t prove there’s no God.”

Correct, at least epistemologically speaking. Reasonable atheists, “New” and old, would not argue with this. Richard Dawkins, for example, has told audiences that he is nominally an agnostic, since proving that something does not exist is impossible. He claims to be an atheist “only” in the sense that he is an “a-leprechaunist, an a-fairiest, and an a-pink-unicornist.” The evidence for God, fairies and leprechauns, he remarked, “is equally poor.”

14. “My religion is true for me.”

A soppy, solipsistic and juvenile declaration and cop-out bordering on the delusional and contradicting Christianity and Islam, neither of which recognize the other, and both of which espouse universalist pretensions. You will not find a scientist who will say, “quantum physics is true for me.” No one would have trusted Jonas Salk if he had promoted the efficacy of his polio vaccine as “true for him.”

15. “Don’t take everything in the Bible literally.”

Not taking the Bible (or other texts based on “revealed truths”) literally leaves it up to the reader to cherry-pick elements for belief. There exists no guide for such cherry-picking, and zero religious sanction for it.

I’m not counseling incivility — but arm yourself with the courage of your rationalist convictions and go forth. We will all be better off for it.

Jeffrey Tayler
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.

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