A number of interesting topics came up in our forums over Christmas.
The Salvation Army
Ginger The Instigator started us off:
Do you give to them in light of their being 1) a religious group and 2) anti-gay and lesbian.
How do you deal with them when you pass them?
David E. summed up how most of us felt:
Ever since I became aware of their anti-gay viewpoint a few years ago, I’ve made a point of not donating anything to them. When I have old clothes or the like to donate, I always take them to Goodwill rather than Salvation Army.
If they were solely a religious organization, it wouldn’t bother me, but I can’t knowingly support an organization that discriminates against people just for being who they are.
No, I do not give. There are many organizations which help the poor. I give to the secular ones. I see no reason to promote a religion in which I do not believe in order help the needy. I can help the needy without the unwanted baggage.
Mark T. The Clarifyer sourced the problem:
Their biblical “frown” on homosexuality aside, a lot of the claims of discrimination against gays by the Salvation Army seem to stem from a deal they attempted to strike with the Bush white house back in ’01:
And Bruce O. offered a minor dissent that I personally don’t disagree with in principle:
Reading through their position statement, yes, they do believe the bible says “gay sex is bad”, but they explicitly state they are also against discrimination against those who are gay, and still offer all their services to anyone, regardless of their sexuality.
So, obviously not ideal, but still a LOT better than some Xtian groups that seek to do anything they can to put down/discriminate/hate gay people.
Personally, even though I’m not Xtian, and agnostic, I do not have too much of a problem giving to a religious based charity, as long as I know the funds I am giving are going towards an actual program I believe in. For instance, I’ve donated blankets to the Haven of Rest shelter in Akron, even though they are a Xtian based homeless shelter, as I know they fill a need that’s not met too well in the Akron area. I would not donate to a fund for a church to evangelize, or to bring bibles to children, etc.
Guess what I’m saying is, if the motive is still good, the deed is still good, then I can overlook some minor religious ties sometimes.
But that’s just me.
The Josh started us off with a piece by Michael Shermer:
From Faitheist to Fundagnostical by Michael Shermer
This is a great piece on the whole “accomdationist” crap that skeptics, like Michael Shermer, get accused of. Read this piece and you’ll find out that Michael Shermer is anything but an “accomodationist”.
I will always call religions out on their BS. I will always call them out when they abuse/rape women and children. When religions circumcise women, kill abortion doctors, promote suicide bombing as a legitimate form of martyrdom I will be right there to shine a critical light on it. When religions teach children & adults that it’s a virtue to believe things in the absence of hard evidence, I will shout at the top of my lungs, “THIS IS WHAT’S WRONG WITH RELIGION AND IT SHOULD STOP!”
There are religious people/theists who would stand right next to me and shout those very words, too. There are religious people who think that critical thinking is important and creationism is nonsense. Kenneth Miller is a great example of this. Ken Miller fought against teaching intelligent design in schools and was crucial in the victory of the Kitzmiller VS Dover Area School District case. The last thing I would ever want to do is alienate people like Kenneth Miller when they could be great allies in the fight against teaching nonsense in our science classrooms.
It’s a great article written by Michael Shermer and I recommend it to everyone.
I (as always) threw my 2 cents in:
I agree. We Atheists do ourselves a tremendous disservice by refusing to cooperate or collaborate with moderate believers; so far as politics is concerned, short term concessions very often result in long term gains. To present our critique in a manner that is palatable to believers in no way undermines our position, but rather increases the likelihood that some of them will find themselves unable to continue turning a blind eye to the nonsense their religion espouses.
Mark T. The Clarifyer strikes again:
While Shermer’s original piece in the NYT was done with the noblest of intentions, I understand why he caught flak for it. Here is that article:
Shermer’s gist, as I see it:
“Accepting the theory of evolution doesn’t clash with your beliefs in an omnipotent god, or in Christ rising from the dead; or that he hears you when you pray to him; or that he will come again to judge the living and the dead; or that nonbelievers will be “cast into the lake of fire” (etc., etc) … so just look at the evidence, and accept that evolution is true, ok?”
There are 2 ways of looking at this- one one hand, Shermer is going easy on religious folk in order to promote science; on the other hand, he is unwittingly treating them as children. The fact of the matter is, the supernatural beliefs associated with religion DO clash with science. (Find me one example in which they don’t, and I will eat my words).
This is why many of us prefer the “stark fist” of a Dawkins or a Hitchens… it is more directly honest. There are plenty of Kenneth Miller & Frances Collins types who espouse the “evolution doesn’t have to clash with God” thing- which is good, but should atheists & skeptics have to play the same angle?
Josh makes a good case for doing both:
If you want to take the Hitchens and Dawkins approach when you’re trying to teach critical thinking or science to people, that approach wont work. For the most part we are dealing with friends, family, co-workers and other members of our own community. If I start saying their beliefs are bullshit then the conversation ends right there and I have now alienated that friend or family member. Anything important I have to say to them about a matter as far as religion goes or science will be ignored.
Like Shermer says, it depends on what your goal is. When you’re debating creationists or religious leaders or apologists or fundamentalists then the Dawkins/Hitchens approach is the way to go. When you’re trying to teach people science and critical thinking then the Michael Shermer, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Jay Gould approach is the way to go. It depends on what you’re goal is. I know the difference between the two goals and the two approaches. I know when to use one and not the other to be as effective as I can be.
Nathan agrees with Mark T. the Clarifyer:
I agree with Mark, the more direct approach is more honest.
The only way to reconcile any two conflicting ideas or beliefs is to compare them to something unrelated.
Evolution doesn’t conflict with Jesus rising form the dead or the existence of a creator being. (But it does conflict with the idea that the creator being created us.)
The theory of gravity doesn’t conflict with the existence of a creator being or someone rising from the dead. (But, it does conflict with the notion that Jesus or Mary ascended bodily into heaven or that angels can fly.)
The sexual theory of reproduction doesn’t conflict with the existence of a creator being. (but, it does conflict with the idea of Jesus (or any other god) being born of a virgin.) SO as long as we never compare the scientific theory to the part of theology it proves absurd, we’re good.
Now, if the debate/discussion is about evolution (or any other scientific topic), you can stick to the facts without ever bringing religion into it. I agree, at that point religion isn’t even part of the discussion and shouldn’t be brought up (now if the theist or denier brings it up, i’m all for smashing them to bits (metaphorically speaking)). If the discussion is theological in nature, then the most honest approach is the most direct, and will end up with some pissed off believers.
Mark O. chimes in with a different opinion:
Religion and science can be a marriage that works. Like most marriages, it takes a
little work. If one does not accept the Bible as literal, the two can co-exist.
“God made man in his image”. Does this refer to the spirit, or are we to believe
that God is 5′-7″ (if male), has one head, two eyes, two arms and two legs?
Religion and science can be a marriage that works if religion relinquishes any truth claims which it holds and allows science to prove it wrong every time. Is there a claim made by a religion that is true, and can only be made in a religious context? Similar to Hitchens’ challenge. Is there a claim made by religion (any of them I guess) that could not be made secularly and/or explained secularly?
We know the big ones don’t hold up (virgin birth in humans, resurrection 3 days after death, flying to heaven on a donkey, existence of hell, etc.)
I don’t believe God made man, so that second question means nothing. Man made God in his image.
Michael The Moor dissents:
There are just some couples that just shouldn’t be together, this being a great example. Why try and shoe horn a complex, cobbled together, contradictory book with the cumulative wisdom of science? Where does that even make sense? Science and (Western) religions are compatible only in a semantic sense, not a rational one. Religion is an ossified concept from the dark genesis of mankind and science is the light, the torch that guides our way. Trying to make them work together is an insult to human progress and intellectually dishonest.
And I agree with him:
A better question than “can religion and science coexist” is “should religion and science coexist”? If our objective is the marginalization of religious thinking in our society, then it would be to our detriment to even consider the possibility that the two are not mutually exclusive. If, however, that is not our objective, then I must ask, what is?
Ginger chimes in:
I think Josh’s point is one of strategy. For example, I am an animal lover. It makes more sense for me to go after the low hanging fruit first such as spay and neuter your cat before taking out the big guns such as stop wearing leather shoes and never eat meat or dairy again.
Mark O. responds:
Remember that religion came before science. Religion was/is a way of explaining
the natural world. It has a good 50,000 year head start on science.
And I return to my premise that religion is rational.
As I wrote on Dec 08: The foundation that all religions are based is Power, control, and fear.
To a lesser degree governance and health.
Michael, I agree some religious belief systems are ossified (good word), but not all.
Michael The Moor responds in kind:
And a lack of religion also preceded science, just because religion has a veneer of oldness to it doesn’t make it special or worth keeping. The premise of religion is rational in the context of its time not now given what we know about reality. To say religion explains the world now is just flat out wrong. Also, let me clarify by saying Western religion (though eastern ones like Hinduism are guilty as well) As for the head start, it reminds me of the tortoise and the hare. The hare represents quick, meaningless answers that mean nothing whereas the tortoise represents the slow, cumulative, honest, methodical approach of science. I’m also calling you on using a veiled argument from authority (religion has a 50,000 year head start)
Anthony T. contests my position:
I’d like to think our objective is to maximize rational thought, rather than the negative goal of marginalizing religious thought. If that is the goal, than Shermer has a valid point. That doesn’t mean he is right in coddling irrational thought (such as his poor performance on Larry King, vis-a-vis life after death).
As for the rest, I have to say, I am most definitely *not* an accomodationist. I am more in agreement with Dawkins and P.Z. Myers and Hitchens. Religious belief hobbles such great scientists as Francis Collins, who believes god answers the questions of such silly things as physical constants, and so are beyond science. This is, of course, the most ludicrous position a scientist can take, as history is filled with people claiming a god of the gaps.
Mostly, though, I don’t care what people believe, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people. Rational thought and objective perception of reality should guide public policy, and interaction with others outside your own faith.
That’s just me, of course, idealist to the end.
Bruce O. affirms the value of consensus over conflict:
Just a reminder that a number of scientists throughout the ages have been inspired to discover more by their faith. Not all just accept that there are things that can’t be known that are for only God to know. Instead, they seek to discover how and why the world works in the hope to better understand how and what God is, and how and what creation is.
While this isn’t necessarily my belief, I believe that there is no problem with people holding these beliefs. I see no need to demonize people for holding such beliefs either. Yes, it would be wrong of people to advocate their belief in God within a scientific argument, however, after the scientific paper has been presented, there is no problem in my eyes with going back and providing a philosophical argument to augment the papers findings.
I’m a firm believer in finding consensus between people. There ARE cases where none will ever be found (literalists) but, with people with more moderate, enlightened views of faith, I DO believe there can be enough common ground to discus items rationally with people who do not share our world views 100%, and thus be able to come together to help society as a whole.
Michael The Moor takes the hardline:
I’m sorry but coddling nonsense does not help humanity in the long term. And by finding a “consensus” with sympathetic religites, we hamstring ourselves because apologists and religious moderates won’t let us criticize fundamentalists. By living and let live, progress is eroded more and more as we see. And what sense does it make to let a man not come to terms with reality? By letting persist in the fantasy that there is something more after this life with no pain and eternal bliss, he will not truly live this one. He will be a bystander in his own life in the hopes of getting a better one. That is immature. We atheists tend to live with courage and passion because we know this is all we have. Also what can be known to be true is more important than someone’s “precious” feelings. I represent a courageous humanity, one that faces nature and reality on it’s terms rather than persisting in a ridiculous delusion.
Bruce, yes many scientists were men of faith simply based on what they knew or reality at that time and were educated by the church. However, after the Origin of Species was published and found to be true, the number of religious scientists fell drastically or they become vague believers in belief. There is no logical reason to believe in gods, fairies, elves, ancestor spirits. Intelligent people who do believe these things are genuinely mistaken due to cognitive dissonance or have a fear of truly living without the god crutch(and losing familial ties).
Ed brings up the reality of the conflict:
In a debate once with a creationist I asked at some point that since “the Bible has already shown the universe to be only a few thousand years old and we are not evolved from previous species” should astronomers and biologists working in these areas just quit their jobs since it has all been answered already? He could not respond. The correct answer is of course not!
I believe every time we have not accepted an answer provided to us by religion to explain the natural world we have found out something that has helped humanity progress and reduced suffering.
Science has allowed us to communicate faster, live more diverse lives, heal illness faster, etc., etc., etc. I am sure it could be debated if science could be managed better to give us more benefit versus the negatives science also brings (advanced weaponry causing global extinction at once, climate change, pollution, overpopulation, lack of physical exercise, etc.) Even with the tax we must pay for science and technology it is still more beneficial than religious doctrine.
A review of the last 2000 years of life on this planet would include the question of “Is human life more enjoyable than it was in the past?” How does this change correlate with technology and science. I believe where we see less religion and more science we see less suffering and more general enjoyment of life. The human condition has improved in the last 100 years for MOST people and I believe this is due to science and technology. Where we are going is another question but I do not think it has to do with religion but instead with mass human behavior.
And I respond to Anthony T.
I don’t see any distinction; religion is an institution that requires the suspension of one’s critical faculties. If our objective is as you say, to maximize rational thought, then in addition to promoting the virtues of science and skepticism we should be working to marginalize religious thinking; while we could target any institution that promotes non-nonsensical reasoning, as religion does, it would be more effective of us to concentrate on the biggest, baddest, most intellectually dishonest entity; the effect of revealing religion to be the scam that it is to the society as a whole would have far reaching effects, more so than a multitude of small and easy battles.
I also responded to Bruce O. earlier:
If the crediting of a person’s faith is a valid defense of religion, then the actions of those such as Al-Ghazali, who is almost single handedly responsible for ending the era of great scientific advances in the Islamic world due to his determination to find god as the cause of all things, must be equally considered as a critique of religion. Also, we must ask ourselves whether a person who did use science to clarify his faith would not have behaved similarly in the absence of religion? If the application of science was only used to reconcile a religious idea with the realities of the physical world, then why should that be taken as a positive influence of religious thinking?
Randall T. expounds a bit on that:
I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to religion (other the fundamentalism wackos) that most followers do NOT really believe that Jesus turned water into wine or raised lazarus from the dead. That deep down inside they know that the physical laws of the universe were not suspended because some Rabbi had a great deal of influence. But what they do take from religion is the hope of ever expanding optimism that there is some hope and possability. Its a sheer optimism veiled over by rationalization. They NEED to live with hope. Im fine with that until the more intrusive believers filter into politics and science.Thats the fight we should worry about………
And Bruce O. makes a good point against dismissiveness:
The main thing that can be learned from holy documents, besides appreciating some of them for their literary value, are philosophical ideas.
For instance, from Buddhism, we get Zen and meditation.
From Christianity, we get a message of non-violence, in a time much more brutal than our own. (wish more would actually get that message)
Yes, all ideas CAN be gleaned from other sources, as there are always multiple paths towards the same philosophical goals. All I’m saying is that, beside the loony bits that are in most holy books, there can be interesting ideas that can be extracted, explored, and used too, and it’d be a shame to just dump those by the wayside because one saw them as coming from a “tainted” source.
I’m not saying that every idea in a holy book is loony. But, for example, the idea of non-violence that you claim is espoused by Christianity was present in other religions/cultures 1000’s of years prior to Christianity. It is also prevalent in non-religious culture, so the holy books don’t matter in regards to such ideas or ideals. You’ll have to provide a working definition of “Zen” for us to discuss. Meditation was also around in Indian cultures prior to Buddhism being adopted. You could also say that relaxation of any kind is good, so meditation is simply focused relaxation. Again, non-religious cultures can come up with those. The religious texts have no use.
On a contrary note, do you really think that Christianity stresses non-violence? Also, do you think that today’s world is less brutal?
I don’t dismiss the ideas from holy books because they are from holy books, I dismiss them because they are either bad ideas (genital mutilation, human sacrifice, etc.) or, in the case of non-violence, aren’t from holy books.