By the Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Madison, James. "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments." 20 June 1785. The Founders' Constitution, Volume 5, Amendment I (Religion), Document 43. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. The University of Chicago Press. 2000. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Catt, Andrew & Rhinesmith, Evan. "Why Parents Choose: A Survey of Private School Choice Parents in Indiana." June 2016. Found online here.
- Hungerman, Daniel M., Kevin J. Rinz, and Jay Frymark. "Beyond the Classroom: The Implications of School Vouchers for Church Finances." The National Bureau of Economic Research, released Feb. 2017. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Beck, Molly. "State paid $139 million to schools terminated from voucher program since 2004." Wisconsin State Journal. N.p., Oct. 12, 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Garcia-Roberts, Gus. "McKay Scholarship Program Sparks a Cottage Industry of Fraud and Chaos." Miami New Times. N.p., 02 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- "Number of Voucher Schools Relatively Unchanged since 2003 While Enrollment Has Doubled." Public Policy Forum 102.1 (April 2014): n. pag. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Carey, Kevin. "Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins." The New York Times. 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Mills, Jonathan N., Anna J. Egalite, and Patrick J. Wolf. "HOW HAS THE LOUISIANA SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM AFFECTED STUDENTS?" (n.d.): n. pag. Education Research Alliance NOLA. 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Figlio, David, and Krzysztof Karbownik. "Evaluation of Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, Competition, and Performance Effects." Thomas B. Fordham Institute. N.p., 7 July 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. Found online here.
- Marley, Patrick. "Past School Voucher Advocate Rips Gov. Walker's Plan." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Bice, Daniel. "School Voucher Supporters Trade Barbs." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. N.p., 29 May 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Mendez, Edgar. "75% of Voucher Applicants Already Attend Private School." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. N.p., 20 May 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Miner, Barbara. "Do Children Deserve Playgrounds? "Maybe," Says Milwaukee's Common Council." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. N.p., 2 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Evers, Tony. Letter to Taron Monroe. 28 June 2011. Freedom From Religion Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. Found online here.
- Richards, Erin. "Former Employees Cast Doubt on Voucher School's Operations." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Tabachnick, Rachel. "Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions." K-12 News Network. N.p., 25 May 2011. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
- Madison, James. "James Madison to Edward Livingston." 10 July 1822. The Founders' Constitution, Volume 5, Amendment I (Religion), Document 66. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. The University of Chicago Press. 2000. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. Found online here.
I know most of you already know and admire Dan Dennett. But after listening to his bio that I'm going to read, you'll understand why I was so impressed to be collaborating with him. Now, Professor Daniel Dennett, one of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He's an honorary FFRF director. He received FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2005. He received the Erasmus Prize in 2012 in Amsterdam. It's the highest award that's given in the Netherlands. And he received the American Humanist of the Year Award in 2004. Now he'll be signing copies of "Breaking the Spell: Religious as a natural phenomenon." Other books include "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", "Consciousness Explained" and the soon to be released "From Bacteria to Bache and Back: The evolution of mind." He received two Guggenheim fellowships, a Fulbright fellowship, a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies and Behavioral Science. As you've already heard, he's co-founded the Clergy Project and he and I co-authored "Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind." And when I meet people who know that we've worked together, they look at me with wonderment and they ask what it's like to work with Dan Dennett. I say it's wonderful. Many people have seen him on YouTube or read some of his books or essays and they get a correct sense that he's not only brilliant, but he's warm and folksy. Not only intellectual, but he has a great sense of humor and is decent and kind. His talk tonight is titled "Has the Damn Broken? Omen and worries." It's a great pleasure to introduce to you my colleague Daniel Dennett.
Well thank you all for being here. So I thought I would start by sharing something that many of you have probably seen or heard about, and it's relevance will be clear as I go on.
Shows a 1957 film clip on Panorama.
That was 1957 on Panorama, which was sort of like 60 Minutes. And Richard Dimbleby was that most august figure of the BBC. The man, the voice who quietly and respectfully intoned all the details of the coronation and other great state events. So he was a man of tremendous credibility, and yet he dared to put on this April Fool's joke which was so successful that the next day travel agents in the U.K. were inundated with requests from people who wanted to fly off to the spaghetti harvest while it was still going on. So that was 60 years ago.
Ten years ago a number of us — Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and I — all got into the act by writing books that later became called the books of the Four Horsemen. And we were all responding to the same thing, what you might call the theocratic rumble that we heard in this land. And I wonder if you remember how scary that was. I remember when Breaking the Spell came out. There were presumably smart, knowledgeable, savvy people in New York and the West Coast and elsewhere who advised me that I was going to have to get an unlisted phone number, have bodyguards, wear a bulletproof vest. And I didn't know they were wrong, but they were.
The rising theocratic surge was much more of a paper tiger than we realized. But that's the way it felt back then; the outrageous arrogance and affrontery with which they proceeded. What they did is they overplayed their hand. If they had just been a little bit more modest and calm, I would probably not have dropped everything and decided I had to do something about it and would have stayed with my other projects to which I am now pretty much returning. The reason I mention this is I want to make sure that we don't make the same mistake. There's a lot of good news and we've heard from various people, I won't spend much time on this because we've already heard a lot of the good news from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Tries to display a graph
This is a graph that shows the rising percentage of the unaligned, which has gone up from about 5 percent to about 30 percent in recent years. And another chart, which is in some ways even more heartening, which shows the age distribution. How many young people say that they are entirely unaffiliated and the percentages of young people going up and up and up? So that's good news and the FFRF has had a big role to play in fostering those developments. But freedom from religion is not the only freedom in need of defense today.
A question that has been occupying me of late is if we should we have a daughter foundation — the FFFF. The Freedom From Fascism Foundation. I think we have to take seriously the idea that it's not just religion. We shouldn't think that all of the problems are to be laid at the door of various religions.
There are plenty of non-religious fascists out there as well, and their power is growing. The Religious Right is fragmenting, in any case. It's losing market share and it's morphing into some new configurations.
An example, in June, quoting from Pew, fully 78 percent of white evangelical voters say they would vote for Trump, including about a third who strongly backed his campaign. That was in June. I read that a group of nearly 80 evangelical leaders published a letter condemning Trump. But will their congregations listen to them, and if they do, will they believe what they hear? Well, that was Thursday, I think maybe today they will believe what they hear.
What I want to talk about tonight is a longer-range worry and a few reflections on the circumstances that produce it. A philosopher whom I much admire and have been friends with for 40 years is Philip Kitcher. He's at Columbia and a book has just been published called The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher. It's a bunch of essays about his work with responses from him. And I have a piece in it called "What to Do While Religions Evolve Before Our Very Eyes."
Phillip is what Jerry Coyne would call a "faitheist." "I'm an atheist, but . . ." He is an atheist, but he has more than a soft spot for religion and wants to argue for preserving it, fostering it, helping it through difficult times. He claims to be on the same page as me and you. We all want to see religion evaporate, if not in our lifetimes, then in the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren. He is quite clear that that is his goal, too, and he's a good atheist, but he's very concerned with how we get there.
I share his concern, and I have to say I think there is a case to be made for his side of it. It's like the question of how do you pull off a Band-Aid? He's very, very gently and slowly, and gently and slowly, and gently and slowly. And I say, rip it off. Get it done and then we can go on with our lives. And I don't think it's obvious what the right answer is, but I do say he hasn't convinced me.
What he introduces is the distinction between what he calls the belief model and the orientation model of religion. The belief model is the traditional model, where your beliefs are the core of your religion. The orientation model says, "no, it's the community, the alliance, the loyalty, the ritual traditions that should be the core belief's creed." That's a negligible or ignorable or adjustable part of religion. And, as you can imagine, he wants to recommend to us all the orientation model, because he thinks the belief model is simply indefensible, because he's a good atheist. If you take it literally it's nonsense.
Well, the orientation model, he says, presents us all with a spectrum of possible views, which he has some curious names for. It goes from the mythically self-conscious, through doctrinal indefiniteness to doctrinal entanglement. What does that mean? The mythically self-conscious; these are people who say it's myth, it's metaphor. It's just myth. They are self-conscious about the fact that they are putting their allegiance behind the myth. This is not unlike such organizations as the Baker Street Irregulars who don't quite worship Sherlock Holmes, but pride themselves in knowing the details of all the Sherlock Holmes stories and they have meetings and scholarly papers and they celebrate Sherlock Holmes. Though they know he's not a real character, they know he is a fictional character, but they just they just love him as a fictional character. And if there was a Perry Mason group, or something like that, to stand in opposition to them, they would shun the Perry Masonites as they continue.
But this is all mythic, self-consciously myth loving. Doctrinal indefiniteness is that convenient fog that settles in over creeds and permits one to respond to questions with mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble. Which leads, if pressed, to doctrinal entanglement where one, in response to probing or just one's own curiosity, venturers some faint or growing entanglement with the doctrines of the belief model. Philip is a very astute presenter of this panoply of options. But he does have a problem. He really can't talk about it in public. That is, he can write a book about it, but it's not the sort of thing that you can talk about in the sort of wider public because you can't speak candidly because of the poisonous effects it might have.
You can't go into the church and say, "All right congregation, what shall we vote for? Shall we be doctrinally indefinite, or are we in for some mythic self-consciousness, or maybe even a little entanglement?" The very self-consciousness of the very reflection on these options is something which has to be kept backstage. You can't be candid about it.
And that, I submit, puts him in a very awkward position, and it really sort of puts us all in an awkward position. In fact, you can talk about it. That's what I'm doing right now. But this deflects us from what matters — truth. The very idea of insisting on telling the truth and expecting others to tell the truth is put in jeopardy by the normalization of policies of the sort that Kitchener is recommending.
And, by the way, PRRI found that the most common reason people gave for their lack of religious affiliation was the disbelief in religion's teachings. So that if the religion manages to fuzz over the boundaries of its doctrines sufficiently, this may keep people from leaving the church, which will actually delay further the end result that Kitcher himself says he wants, which is the gradual evaporation of religion. This is prolonging a moribund tradition by creative obfuscation instead of insisting on telling the truth.
I want to draw attention to a wonderful remark that was made yesterday [at FFRF's convention] by Carter Warden. He said, "I didn't lose my faith, I chose to discard it."
We should take that distinction very seriously and recognize that if we are going to give people the opportunity to make the informed choice that Carter made, we should resist importunings that we go along with doctrinal indefiniteness and other foggy obfuscations of that sort.
Now, how does this come about?
I think what we're facing today is a sort of credibility vacuum and people are losing track of the importance of, to put it bluntly, meaning what you say. Now, this is not a new problem. It's actually very old. I want to discuss what several other philosophers have had to say about this.
And I'm going to start with my favorite philosopher of all, David Hume. My colleague Dennis Rasmussen, in a forthcoming book, The Infidel and the Professor, the friendship and philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith tells the following tale:
In 1764, a friend asked Hume for advice about the case of a young clergyman whose religious beliefs were wavering and who was deliberating about whether to give up his orders. Hume counseled him not to, given that reliable occupations were so difficult to come by for a man of letters. As for the young man's scruples, Hume acidly responded, "It is putting too great a respect on the vulgar and on their superstitions to pique one's self on sincerity with regard to them. Did ever one make it a point of honor to speak truth to children or mad men?" And he goes on, "I wish you were in my power to be a hypocrite in this particular. The common duties of society usually require it, and thus the ecclesiastical profession only adds a little more to an innocent dissimulation or, rather, simulation without which it is impossible to pass through the world."
As usual, Hume is a master writer. But I think Hume was dissimulating here. This was not in a published paper. This was in a letter to a friend to pass on to this poor young man who had taken holy orders. And I think that Hume didn't mean it. And I think what he was doing was creating a useful crutch — exaggerating the triviality of saying a few words so that the young man could not only continue with his post, but do so with a relatively clear conscience. I think Hume, I'd like to think, was in fact a very generous-minded and sensitive man, and I like to think that he felt for the young man and contrived a way of giving him a counter illusion to salve his conscience as he continued espousing the illusion that he was being paid for.
So that's Hume dissimulating. Richard Dawkins in his recent second volume of his autobiography tells a story about New College, the college where he has been a fellow for many years. It's a very ecclesiastical place. It has a fabulous chapel. It has a world famous choir and many very distinguished academics. It is one of the jewels of Oxford. In the book, Dawkins tells about one of his duties when he was sub-warden, and that was saying grace at some meals. What should he do?
There were people who objected, said it was hypocritical of him to do this. And he said he didn't think it hypocritical. He thought he could do it. So where today should we draw the line between, as he puts it, a matter of simple courtesy like removing your shoes when entering a Hindu or Buddhist temple, and capitulation into hypocrisy.
So I want to do a little experiment. He, in his book, quotes his colleague A.J. Ayer, the philosopher who was also the professor of logic in New College. And Ayer, the famous atheist and logical positivist, his defense for saying grace was, "I will not utter falsehoods, but have no objections to making meaningless statements."
I think Ayer was dissimulating here, too. Especially if you know any philosophy and if you've ever read Language, Truth, and Logic by Ayer, you know he had lots of objections to uttering meaningless statements. That's the whole point of the book.
Much more honest to utter falsehoods that might be corrected than to utter meaningless statements. But it passed for a while and got him over the embarrassment of saying grace.
So what was the New College grace? Very simple. Benedictus benedicat. How many of you, just in the spirit of going along, will now repeat after me, "Benedictus benedicat"? How many of you refuse to do that? I thought there might be a little bit of a refusal. You say that at the beginning of the meal and then at the end of the meal — "Benedicto benedicatur." Benedicto benedicatur. Now let's translate those into English and see if you really want to say them. Maybe you do. "May the blessed one bless us, may the blessed one bless us." Are you happy with that? Anybody? Let us bless the blessed one.
That's interesting, isn't it? Well, now you'll say in Latin, but you won't say it in English. Isn't that sort of fetishistic response? I mean, are you superstitious or something? Of course, now you know what it means in English, you're less likely to say it. But just to show you that this is on a sliding scale, I want to try one more and see how many of you will go along with this.
Are you ready? Allahu Akbar. Really? Really. It's not just "Allah is great," but "Allah is greater." Greater than your government, greater than your god. Greater. Are you comfortable saying Allahu Akbar? No. Neither, by the way, is Richard. I asked him and he said he would not say it. He would say "Benedict benedicatur" but he would not say "Allahu Akbar," because of his view of the difference between Islam and at least the kind of Christianity exemplified by the Church of England in New College, which is of course about as vitiated and watered down religion as you could possibly have. The Church of England or, as the joke goes, somebody says, "Are you religious?" "No we're C of E."
I want to talk about the problem that they raise. The problem with formula of this sort and our reluctance to saying them. I submit that our reluctance to saying them is not because we had any superstitious ideas about blasphemy, or anything like that. It's that once they've become sacred to some group of people, we know that saying them without meaning them is going to be offensive to some people or seem to give support.
And so the formula itself becomes an object of attention that people can become very exercised over and even fight over and even, in the end, kill over. And I want to know how this happens. And first of all, let me say, I don't know. But I have an idea and I'm going to run it by you. I don't know if many of you are familiar with this. Stephen Jay Gould's book Wonderful Life. This book is about the Cambrian Explosion, the incredible blossoming of new life forms about 350 million years ago. My favorite tree of life. This is the present, out around here. This is the beginning of life, and life continues on for about a billion years plus more than that. Two billion years really. Until suddenly we have the famous eukaryotic revolution.
And suddenly, by evolutionary standards, over a few million years, we had this tremendous outpouring of novel forms unlike anything we see today. There's a lot of wonderful artist drawings of the amazing different life forms that flourished for a few million years in response to this explosion that happened. Not for nothing is one of these critters called hallucigenia. What triggered the Cambrian explosion? Nobody knows. There are different theories. One that I want to introduce to you, if you haven't heard about it before, was developed by the Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker and presented in his 2003 book In the Blink of an Eye. He argues that the main trigger of all of this tremendous creative design, evolutionary design work, that happened, was in response to the shallow ocean becoming chemically, for various reasons, more transparent. Light could get through. And whereas there hadn't been any eyesight, eyes evolved very quickly. And as soon as they evolved this set off an incredible arms race of invention and counter-invention. New methods of locomotion, methods of hiding and seeking, predator-prey interactions, camouflage, evasive behavior.
And the driving force of all of this was the sudden transparency of the medium in which life then existed, permitting long distance perception and making locomotion a much more potent tool. Before that, you had very little chance of seeing into the future because your sense organs pretty much simply told you what was happening at your surface and you sort of groped around in the mud.
Parker's theory is not known to be right or wrong. He's had to adjust it to respond to some objections. I'm not saying we should accept it, but I am saying let's use it as a hypothesis on which we can model another hypothesis, which might be right even if Parker isn't.
If the Cambrian explosion was triggered by the old transparency, we are now inaugurating the era of the new transparency. It's not just the internet; it's cell phones and television. It's what's happened in the last 50 years. And the hypothesis is that it's going to be even more tumultuous and at a much faster pace than the chaotic scramble to avoid extinction that faced all life forms when the Cambrian explosion happened.
I got together with the computer scientist Deb Roy. He has a wonderful TED talk about the language project he did with his son. And he and I, together in Scientific American in March of 2015, published a piece called "Our Transparent Future. No secret is safe in the digital age. The implications for our future are downright Darwinian." That is not our title, that's Scientific American's title.
At any rate, this new transparency. So the idea is that the great change in our world, triggered by the media inundation, can be summed up in a single word: transparency. We all can see farther, faster, cheaper, easier than ever before, and we can be seen. And this makes a tremendous difference.
The epistemological murk of pre-scientific civilization is being replaced by transparency. All the institutions that have developed in civilizations — not just churches, but governments, armies, banks, industries, clubs, families, corporations, all human groups with projects — up until now have evolved in a relatively epistemologically murky environment. It's been easy to keep secrets. And suddenly it's very hard to keep secrets. We seem to be living in a post-secret age.
Now some people think this is wonderful. And politicians love to talk about transparency. Barack Obama pledged a more transparent presidency, but we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that that's a good thing. And, in fact, as anybody who's knows any game theory will tell you, you absolutely do not want to reveal your plans if you are in any sort of a competitive situation. You have to keep your own plans and intentions secret. You cannot be an effective agent unless you have a non-transparent boundary within which you can conduct your planning and your moves in the world.
This transparency that's coming is in many regards a good thing, and I don't want to say it isn't. It's a very good thing. I like to quote AJ Johnson, who said, "The internet is the best thing to happen to atheism since Darwin." Why? Because atheists, African-American or otherwise, know that we are not alone. Which nicely brings up the mutual knowledge aspect. It's very important that, not just that I know you're an atheist and you know I'm an atheist, but I know that you know that I'm an atheist, and you know that I know that I'm an atheist, and so forth.
And this mutual knowledge is actually very important and it is made possible by the new transparency. And it gives us a sort of recursive hall of mirrors.
Here's an example: In 1975, let's say, there were many thousands of people who knew of a priest who had sexually abused a child. But almost no one knew that. Today, hundreds of millions of people know that hundreds of millions of people know that thousands of priests have sexually abused children. It's that mutual knowledge. The fact that people not only know it, but they know that others know it, and those others know that others know it.
And this changes the whole world of those agents in that setting. This is why the Catholic Church is now having a very hard time recruiting priests. Young men have to add to their concerns the likelihood that a lot of people are going to view them with suspicion if they enter the priesthood simply, because of the common mutual knowledge of all of that abuse.
The archbishop of Minnesota, this is a headline in The Boston Globe of a couple of years ago where he denies touching a minor. I want you to look closely at the statement that he gave to the press. "Dean said he normally stands for these photos with one hand on his staff and the other hand either on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed person or on a stall that hangs from his chest. 'I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact,' he wrote."
Can you imagine a priest writing that sentence for public consumption 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago? No. And the mere fact that he protests in this way shows how profoundly the church has been affected by the transparency that it is now engulfed in.
In the Cambrian explosion, most of the exotic forms went extinct. Of course they didn't all. Every non-plant and non-fungus that's alive today is really descended from the creatures that were alive then. But they didn't all go extinct.
So which organizations will go extinct? Ah, the mutual knowledge changes the epistemological environment in which all organizations must survive. Here's an arresting fact: In Ireland, a generation ago, there were three priests for every parish. Today, there are three parishes for every priest. That's about a 10-fold decline. And most of the priests are old.
Now, we may applaud the transparency and think that all the institutions that have thrived in the darkness, and because of the darkness, will go extinct. Good riddance to them. But it may be a bad thing. When we move from epistemology murkiness into transparency, where there are no trusted authorities, there's no pope, there's no king, there's also no Walter Cronkite and no Richard Dimbleby.
The reason I showed that wonderful joke of his, that prank, is to suggest that, who could do that today? I don't think there's anybody that could do that. A lot of people could carry it off, but it wouldn't have the impact. And it wouldn't have the impact because nobody, nobody, has the credibility, the authority, to be accepted by most everybody.
Mutual knowledge does not endow anybody on the planet with that sort of reliability today. And what we have moreover is this sort of reputation arms race. What organizations and individuals are beginning to realize is it doesn't matter how good a job you do, if somebody else decides to destroy your reputation or credibility, all your good fact-gathering and evidence-gathering may go for naught.
As usual in arms races, offense is cheaper to design and develop than defense. And, to my knowledge, nobody has yet developed a defense against malicious reputation challenges. And that's a very frightening prospect. Notice that science as a whole is probably our best, strongest candidate. That's, to me, echoing what Jerry Coyne had to say earlier.
One of the best reasons to get behind science, and to announce our support. But don't go overboard. Don't make the mistake of worshipping science, but respect science for what it does respectably. And, to those who are critical of science, I love to point out to them, particularly when they describe to me one scientific misdemeanor or another somebody who's faked some data and been caught. I said right, and who discovered that? Who proved that this was fraudulent? The self-policing of science is what's done it, and that religion has nothing like it.
But there's also a touchiness arms race. We heard earlier today from Bonya about the blasphemy laws in Bangladesh, the crime of hurting religious feelings. And now we're seeing that many people are discovering in this arms race the utility as an offensive or defensive tool of a heightened sensitivity, a heightened religious feelings sensitivity which then scares off many people who otherwise would be critical. It's this that makes it difficult to find the balance we need when talking about the issues that we've been talking about happily amongst ourselves here at this wonderful convention.
There is, moreover, finally a sort of meta-meta-meta arms race. Doug Hofstadter once said to me "Anything you can do I can do meta." This is sort of the philosopher's theme. Going meta is to talk about the talk about the talk about something. And you will have noticed how so much of the coverage, for instance, of this election is meta, and meta-meta. Instead of talking about the issues, they're talking about the strategies, the counter-strategies, the effectiveness of the strategies, the effectiveness of possible counter-strategies, the probability that this strategy will work, and the hour goes by and nobody said anything about the actual issues. It's all just a game of strategy.
Maybe that's not so bad, maybe it's actually good. But it might be bad. It might distract us from truth-telling. That's what worries me the most. So what do we do? I think we've heard from several people what to do. We should do good under the banners of secularism. Not just say we're good, but show it. Show, don't just tell. Like the members of FFRF are doing in so many ways and I want to encourage you to do it again, and more. Thanks for your attention.
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Section 1. Policy.
Trump's proposed executive order begins with a critical misunderstanding of the Constitution. In Section 1, he declares that the Constitution ensures that religious people and organizations "will not be coerced by the federal government into participating in activities that violate their consciences." This misreading of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which underlies the entire executive order, is deceitful and un-American.
Religious belief was never intended to be a "free pass," allowing a citizen who happens to be a believer to avoid adhering to the social contract that binds us all as "We the People." Trump's misinterpretation of the Constitution — endorsed by extreme religious organizations, his vice president and advisers — amounts to a reckless redefinition of the concept of "religious freedom." The cost will be the end of civil rights and the principle carved into the U.S. Supreme Court building: Equal Justice Under Law.
Under our First Amendment, freedom of religious belief ends where the rights of others begin. The Bill of Rights protects the rights of minorities from majority will over matters involving individual conscience and civil liberties. Trump's proposed executive order would grant a unique privilege, never before seen in the history of our secular nation: to believers to discriminate in the name of their religion or deity.
Section 2. Definitions.
Section 2 defines "person" in the same expansive and outrageous manner that resulted in Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation, being granted free exercise rights — the first time such rights have been extended to a corporate entity in the history of our nation. The result was the loss of contraceptive health care coverage for thousands of Hobby Lobby's employees, in order to protect the "religious freedom" of a company.
This definition is reckless and, in the context of this executive order, leaves open the possibility that millions of real humans will not be able to receive necessary services from their government.
"Religious exercise," which is absolutely protected in Trump's executive order, includes not only tenets central to a system of religious belief, but also any other act (or refusal to act) that is merely motivated by religion, even if it is a fringe belief or interpretation held by an extremist minority.
But there is only one absolute right protected under our Constitution: freedom of thought. That freedom is embodied in the rights protected under the First Amendment. But those rights, including the exercise of religion, are not unlimited. Thomas Jefferson noted: "It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But as soon as one's exercise of religion begins picking pockets or breaking legs, or discriminating, that right ends. Religion is not and never should be an excuse to violate the rights of other citizens.
Section 3. Religious Freedom Principles and Policymaking Criteria.
The Trump proposal is unprecedented in ordering that government employees and private organizations fulfilling a government role are allowed to bring their personal biases to work, so long as those biases are fueled in part by religious belief. This section would legalize the type of discrimination exercised by Kentucky clerk Kim Davis against same-sex couples. Under this order, citizens could no longer count on receiving a consistent level of service from government. Services would be entirely dependent on the personal beliefs of the personal beliefs or biases of the governmental employee sitting behind the government desk. This sweeping change would affect every type of government benefit — from what our children learn in school, to what medical procedures are covered by our health insurance, who can adopt children, and who has access to benefits meant for veterans, the elderly, the homeless, or those on disability.
However, any individual acting in an official government capacity is the government and is bound by the Establishment Clause. As FFRF has written to many government officials, "In your personal capacity you can freely exercise your religion as you see fit. In your official capacity as an agent of the government, you are bound by the Establishment Clause and cannot abuse your office or authority to promote your personal religion."
Section 4. Specific agency Responsibilities to Avoid Potential Violation of Religious Freedom.
(a) This allows any entity that objects to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate to exempt itself from it. Right now, the federal courts, hampered by an eight-person Supreme Court, have been unable to answer whether requiring an Catholic order to fill out a two-page, five-blank form (requiring 1. entity name, 2. name of individual filling out the form, 3. mailing address, 4. signature, and 5. date) violates the entity's religious freedom. Quite obviously, it does not! The government routinely mandates that its citizens and organizations comply with far more burdensome requirements. But Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups have argued that this form is a "burden" on their religion. This proposed executive order would signal the end of universally applied regulations.
(b) This demand would require the federal government to ensure that individuals can purchase health insurance that does not cover "abortion," which, let us not forget, includes most forms of birth control in the minds of many religious anti-choice advocates, however untrue that belief is. Nonsensically, this order would also require the federal government, somehow, to ensure that birth-control-free health care options exist in states that opted out of the federally facilitated exchange.
(c) This section grants organizations receiving federal money to provide child welfare services a license to discriminate in the name of their religion against any families or individual children who are LGBTQ or practice a minority religion. If ordered, federal agencies could no longer ensure that all families and individual children have equal access to adoption, foster care, or any other child welfare services.
(d) This section would allow any religious person or organization with a government contract to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. It effectively circumvents nondiscrimination protections in hiring decisions for employees providing government services.
(e)(1) This seeks to halt all enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches or other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Charitable donations that are essentially subsidized by taxpayers should not used for political ends. Any church is free to make a choice whether to remain tax-exempt or to decide to forfeit this privilege in order to engage in politics. This prevents the IRS from enforcing that rule. Unlike other 501(c)(3)s, churches do not have to file tax returns with the IRS. Other tax-exempt (c)(3)s must track every dime that comes in and goes out. You can usually find their Form 990 tax returns online. But churches are financial black holes.
Pair that with Trump's proposed executive order, and you have a quick recipe for churches to absorb millions, possibly billions, for political campaigns, which they can spend on anything they want. This is not about free speech, it's about tax-subsidized political power. Pastors can already endorse, just not from the pulpit using the aegis of their church or tax-free money.
At the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, Trump vowed: "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment."
(e)(2) Isolates specific religious beliefs for special protections by the government. It grants unique status to the beliefs that: same-sex couples cannot be married, sex outside of marriage is sinful, transgender individuals should be defined by their assigned sex at or before birth, and human life begins at conception. Naturally, these are all beliefs regularly voiced by extreme evangelical Christians. This section not only elevates religion over nonreligion, but specific religion — evangelical Christianity and Catholicism mainly — over other religions.
(b) [sic] This section attempts to prohibit the government from withholding accreditation to organizations that hold any of the specially protected beliefs in section 4(e)(2). Evangelical colleges often require their students to adhere to a strict behavioral code that bans sinning" and in effect, discriminates against LGBTQ students. Lately, those colleges have been struggling to retain accreditation from agencies, often nongovernmental, that do not wish to accredit institutions that discriminate. However, the federal government does "recognize" some accrediting bodies. This part of the order contains some mistakes, but we expect that it would be used to pressure accrediting agencies that wish to keep their federal recognition to let religious schools discriminate against LGBTQ citizens and to refuse to consider that discrimination in the accreditation process.
But this rule might have a more major ulterior motive. In the early 1980s, the IRS revoked Bob Jones University's tax exemption because the school discriminated on the basis of race. The university sued the government, arguing that its religious beliefs required the discrimination. The Supreme Court held that the "governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners' exercise of their religious beliefs." Trump's executive order looks like it could undo this rationale, certainly as it applies to LGBTQ Americans, but perhaps even more broadly.
(g) The Combined Federal Campaign is a program that allows federal employees to donate to charities directly from their paycheck. Every year, nonprofits and charities have to apply to be put on the list. In April of 2014, the Office of Personnel Management promulgated new rules for organizations seeking to be eligible for the CFC, including that they not discriminate against LGBTQ citizens. Trump's EO is seeking to prohibit the enforcement of anti-discrimination rules such as this.
(k) This section would prohibit federal agencies from punishing employees who refuse to do their job for religious reasons (such as Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite that being one of her job duties). This protection would extend to employees who hold any of the specially protected beliefs in section 4(e)(2), which means agencies cannot take action against employees who discriminate against transgender people or who refuse to provide contraception to women.
(l) This section would create a special working group to advance the idea of "religious freedom" as understood in this executive order and as advanced by extremists on the Religious Right, who wish to impose their personal religious beliefs on others. The special working group would operate in the Department of Justice, under Jeff Sessions, who has called the constitutional principle of a wall of separation between religion and government a "recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional."
Here is the full speech by Lawrence Krauss' at FFRF's convention on Oct. 8, 2016, in Pittsburgh. He was introduced by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker:
So, who knows what this is? This is the Freedom From Religion Foundation's "Emperor Has No Clothes Award." Daniel Dennett was the recipient of it some years ago. It's based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, you know, about the young boy who said, "He has nothing on! The Emperor Has No Clothes." We're going to give this award tonight to Lawrence Krauss. The first award was given back in 1999 to the physicist Steven Weinberg. He was the first one to receive it. Other recipients include Ron Reagan; Ursula K. Leguin, the science fiction writer; Daniel C. Dennett, of course; Christopher Hitchens, who came to Madison to receive it; Julia Sweeney; Charles Strauss, the Broadway composer who wrote "Annie" and "Bye Bye Birdie" who's still alive and still wanting to write more songs about atheism; Richard Dawkins; Donald C. Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy; Sean Carroll, the physicist; and last year the award was given to the Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers. He is an atheist in government who sued God, by the way. This award is given to public figures who make known their dissent from religion. Tonight, we're very honored to be able to present this statue to someone who embodies the award and outspoken atheist. He happens to be an internationally known theoretical physicist — Professor Lawrence Krauss. His studies include the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity, neutrino astrophysics. And by the way, Lawrence, this is made out of Higgs bosons. It's really heavy, this is. He has investigated questions ranging from the nature of exploding stars to the origin of all the mass in the universe. He grew up in Toronto, received his undergrad in both mathematics and physics at Carleton. His Ph.D. in physics from MIT. He joined the Harvard society of fellows at Yale faculty as an assistant and associate professor. And in '93 was named Ambrose Swayze Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy and Chair of the Department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University. In 2008 Krauss became the foundation professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and physics department, and the inaugural director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. This is an exciting national center for research and outreach on issues ranging from the origins of the universe to human origins. Also origins of consciousness and culture. The center hosted in a symposium in 2009 which brought together many of the most well-known scientists and intellectuals in the world, and attracted five thousand people. Lawrence Krauss is author of more than 300 scientific publications.
He's received numerous awards for his research and writing. He's authored more than a dozen books including A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, which he'll be signing after his speech tonight. And he also wrote a book called The Physics of Star Trek. His upcoming book will be called The Greatest Story Ever Told, and he won't be able to sign the book but we'll have some postcards and some bookplates that he'll be able to sign for you after the talk today. He spearheaded national efforts to educate the public about science. To ensure sound public policy, defend science against attacks and to lead a national effort to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools. His piece in The New York Times, followed by a public letter to Pope Benedict, helped to prompt a re-evaluation of the Catholic Church's position on evolution. He led the creation of a group in Ohio that recruited and supported pro-science candidates to run against creationist candidates for the state school board. All of those candidates were elected.
In 2007, Lawrence Krauss wrote to the Wall Street Journal proposing a presidential debate on science. Wouldn't that be something? Which is now a call co-sponsored by the American Association for the Academy of Science and endorsed by 20 Nobel laureates and 12,000 scientists. He and his good friend Richard Dawkins co-star in a full-length documentary movie that's really fun. It's called "The Unbelievers." It's kind of like a rock-n-roll tour documentary, but with rock-n-roll scientists. It follows them around the world as they talk about science and reason. He enjoys scuba diving, fly fishing and mountain biking. He served as a jury member at the Sundance Film Festival. He's performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and, really important to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, he has just agreed to join our distinguished list of honorary directors. Thank you, Lawrence. And you may have caught his really terrific piece in The New Yorker in February after the death of Scalia, "Put an Atheist on the Supreme Court." In that article he wrote, "Our strange attitudes about atheism warp our politics and our laws. It's time to remove the stigma attached to atheism. One way to do that is by appointing an atheist to the Supreme Court. It would be a tribute to the secular principles upon which our country was founded." So, Lawrence Krauss, where are you? Come up to receive The Emperor Has No Clothes award.
Thank you very much. This is a great, it's an amazing, an amazing award. And I will put it proudly in my living room now for all to see and be surprised about it. It amazes me. When I get awards like this, I think, with a group of people that have been awarded it before, and it's an amazing group of people. And this is truly an amazing organization, so, for me, I feel very privileged to be here and to be speaking to you. And I'm going to speak about physics because I told them that's what I was going to speak about.
But first, I have a confession. My real name isn't Lawrence Krauss. No. Just joking. I couldn't resist. Because my friend Dan is here, I retitled my talk to apply to metaphysics because he's a philosopher. What I want to do today is talk a little bit about, since this is Freedom From Religion, about an example of the way science treats problems that that seem like they're not solvable or seem like they might be almost metaphysical or religious. And the way we the way we treat them as we try and turn them in is science. And I want to talk about this because it's an incredibly exciting discovery.
The great thing people go to church for, I guess, is to escape from the real world, and the good thing about cosmology is it gives us perspective, too. We get embroiled in the petty problems of the world around us, and one of the great things about the field that I work in is that it points out that those problems are really irrelevant.
So, it's the best of times today. But what I mean by that is that the Large Hadron Collider is turned on in Geneva and it didn't create a black hole that destroyed the world. But it's also the worst of times.
The great thing about cosmology is it has different pictures. And this is the picture I wanted to talk to you about today, first. This is a most recent Hubble Space Telescope deep field picture. It's called the multi-chromatic version, which means all of the colors are real, and every spot in that picture, every dot that you can see is a galaxy, not a star. There are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and those small, faint, blue galaxies, which I could point to if I were actually standing in front of that, are about eight or nine billion light years away and that means that the light from those objects took eight or nine billion years to get to us.
Now that means that the light came well before the Earth and sun formed because the Earth and sun are about four-and-a-half billion years old, in most states. And so the light left well before the Earth and sun formed and since the lifetime of a main sequence star, like our sun, is about 10 billion years and a lot of those things are nine billion years old, or the picture is nine billion years old, so now it's nine billion years later. That means many of the stars in this image are no longer around. They burned out. And any civilizations around those stars have burned out. Any civilizations that had awful presidential candidates have burned out. They're gone. No one's going to ever know about them and their history.
And similarly, if the light from our sun is captured by, eventually, any other civilization that might go around a new star and one of those systems. It'll take a picture. You know, it may see us but they'll see us 10 billion years from now and by then our sun will be gone and our civilization will be gone and no one will care. It's over. And that's just the way it is. And, therefore, it doesn't matter, all the garbage we have to deal with today, 'cause this too shall pass, as I think it says in some book.
When you look at this image the first thing that you may ask, although it won't be the first thing you'd ask, is where is this picture? Which direction in the universe is it? And the answer is, it doesn't really matter, because every direction in the universe looks identical. There are the same number of galaxies out there as out here. Anywhere you look there are the same number. Now that may not seem strange, but it should seem strange to you because if you think about it that end of the universe, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, and that end of the universe, if I see light from almost that far, and I see light from almost that far, that means those two regions couldn't have communicated before today. Nothing, no information, could travel faster than light. And, if they couldn't have communicated 'till today, how come that region knows to look exactly like that region? It's not God, OK?
That's a real problem, that metaphysical problem, was one that led to much of the research in physics that I now have been involved in. We think we have a solution to it. But to understand that we have to think about the origins of the universe. Now when we look at this picture we're looking, nine light years away is pretty far. But the universe is 13.8 billion years old. And if we want to understand how the universe got the way it is, we want to look back to the beginning of time.
It turns out we can't look back to the beginning of time using light. If we do, this is as far back as we can get. This picture here. This is the cosmic microwave background radiation. It represents a wall in the universe, essentially. If I try and look outside this room, I can't look outside the wall because it's opaque. If I shine my laser beam at that wall it can't get through, it bounces off. Well, if we look back in the early universe, earlier and earlier and earlier, the universe was hotter and hotter and hotter, and at a certain point it was so hot that neutral matter couldn't exist. And electrons are stripped away from protons, and you formed a plasma. And that material is opaque.
So if we try and look back to the beginning of time, we can't because between us and the beginning of time, the universe was opaque. We can only look back to the time, the moment, the universe became transparent. Just like I can look back at all the way to that wall over there because the air is transparent. I can see all the way to the wall. Well, this is looking back at a spherical surface located almost 13 billion light years away from us. It turns out we're looking back at the time when the universe was about 300,000 years old. Now it doesn't look like a spherical surface, that's because I've projected it on a plane.
My wife is from Australia and so I hate to be northern hemisphere-centric. But the projection of the Earth is the same projection, in fact, that I have for this. So this is the plane of our galaxy, and that's looking up and that's looking down. Now the galaxy emits a lot of stuff here, but we can get rid of the galaxy. And then this is a baby picture of the universe. A neonatal picture of the universe, when it was about 300,000 years old. And color here represents temperature. So there are hot spots and cold spots. And this is before galaxies, before stars formed, and it looks like the universe has a lot of lumps, and it does. Except, they should have magnified. The average temperature of this radiation coming at us today is about 3 degrees above absolute zero. It was 3,000 degrees when it left at that surface, but the universe has expanded by a factor of a thousand in that time, and it's cooled and it's now 3 degrees. And it turns out the difference between the hot spots and the cold spots here is 1/100,000 of a degree. So, this is actually incredibly smooth. Far smoother than the surface of the Earth if you look at a map of the earth. And that, that exacerbates the problem I told you about earlier. The galaxies may look the same everywhere, but why is that temperature of the universe the same absolutely everywhere? Because that region could never have communicated to that region. That's one question.
The second thing is where did the lumps come from? Because these lumps are important because they're going to collapse to form all the stars and galaxies and everything you see in the visible universe. Well, it turns out, we think we understand that too. The same thing solves both problems, turns out. And it's really kind of amazing. These come from quantum mechanics. It turns out, we think quantum mechanical process in the early universe produced all the lumps I'm seeing in this room. All the lumps we see in the universe. We talk about macroscopic quantum mechanics nowadays. Quantum computing, all sorts of neat things. But, in fact, the universe is an example of macroscopic quantum mechanics as you'll see in a second. In any case, this is really neat. This is looking back, but it's not looking back at the beginning of time.
If we want to try and understand where all this comes from, we've got to look back through that plasma. If I want to look through that wall, I might want to use X-rays, right? Because I could see through the wall. I've got to find something that will, in this case, not interact strongly with all that material so it can come from the Big Bang all the way through that plasma and get all the way to our eyes today. Well, we have to think of something that interacts much more weakly than light because light can't make it through. So what's the weakest thing in the universe?
Gravity. This is an educated audience, that's great. Some of you may not feel that gravity is weak. Especially those of you who got up this morning early, like me, to get to a plane here. But that's because the entire Earth is attracting every atom in my body. But the gravitational force between each of my atoms and every atom in the Earth is so small you'd never be able to measure it. So, gravity is much weaker than electromagnetism. Now, about 200 years ago, James Clerk Maxwell showed us that if I shake an electric charge, I produce an electromagnetic wave. I produce radio waves or light. So this was the theory of electromagnetism. If I shake an electric charge, I produce an electromagnetic wave.
Einstein in 1916 demonstrated that gravity was really an effect of the curvature of space. That space itself responds to the presence of matter and energy by curving, by expanding, by contracting. And, therefore, each of you is curving space around you, but not by any amount you can see because gravity is so weak. But every time I do this (waving his arms around), and I do this a lot, I'm creating a disturbance that's changing and that produces a ripple of disturbance in space that travels out at the speed of light. Not an electromagnetic wave, but a gravitational wave. And Einstein said in 1916, if gravity is what I think it is, then there must be gravitational waves, and every time I'm doing this I'm producing a gravitational wave.
Now, what happens when a gravitational wave goes through this room? There are a lot of them in this room right now. There are ripples in space, distortions in space. So when the gravitational wave comes from the distance between those walls gets smaller and the distance between the floor and the ceiling gets larger, and then it gets smaller, and that gets larger. And that's happening right now. Most of you, well it varies on how much you drank before you came here, you don't experience that, and that's because gravity is so weak! It's so weak that we don't see this, but it's there. And if we could use gravitational waves, if we could measure them, it would give us a new window on the universe. So we've tried to measure gravitational waves.
Let me show you what a gravitational wave would look like if it's, um. If this gravitational wave is coming out from behind the screen, that's what the screen would be doing. It would be getting smaller and larger in that direction, and smaller and larger in that direction. And, you know, this is a three-dimensional picture of it here, but three-dimensional images have no information. But they look pretty. So that's what a gravitational wave in space looks like.
And people decided, maybe we try and detect these. So we built the largest gravitational wave detector in the world, and here it is. There are two of them actually. This is in Hanford, Washington. There's an identical set up in Livingston, Louisiana. This is called the LIGO Detector, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, but that doesn't matter. It's two perpendicular arms, each four kilometers long, and they're identical. Now if a gravitational wave comes down from above, what happens? This arm will get a little bit shorter and that arm will get a little bit longer, and then this one will get a little bit shorter and that one will get a little bit longer. So all we have to do is measure the length of those two arms and see if one gets shorter than the other. Easy.
But, you know, but this is the reason I'm not an experimental physicist. Because we can calculate: The more energetic, the greater the mass, the more violent the mass is moving, the bigger the gravitational wave amplitude. So, when I do this there is not much of a gravitational wave. But if I take two massive black holes, solar mass black holes in our galaxy, or a nearby galaxy, and they collide together, now that's going to produce gravitational waves. So if two massive black holes collide in our galaxy, the most extreme kind of generator of gravitational waves, what would happen here?
We can calculate what would happen if two black holes of solar mass size in our galaxy, or in a nearby galaxy collided. Then the length of this arm four kilometers long would change compared to the length of that arm four kilometers long. So this four-kilometer arm would change by an amount equal to one one-thousandth the size of a proton. And that's why I'm not an experimental physicist, because I never believed this would be possible to do. And it is amazing that it can be done, and we've been able to do it. And by we, I mean not me. But if you think about it, it's just remarkable because even the way it works is we send two laser beams down here and we basically measure the time it takes for those two laser beams to go in those two different directions. We compare them in a very special way. But just the vibrations in the mirror, the quantum mechanical vibrations of the mirror, are a lot bigger than the effect you're looking for. So we have to use really fancy, new kinds of techniques, optical techniques, to overcome that quantum mechanical vibration. If a truck hits a pothole over there it will produce an effect far bigger than the effect they're looking for, which is why there are two of them because there's lots of noise happening here.
But you see, if a gravitational wave comes by here it takes about 10 milliseconds to get from Hanford, Washington, to Livingston, Louisiana. So, if you look at those two detectors, they have a lot of noise. But if you look at them 10 milliseconds apart and one has exactly the same kind of noise as the other, then maybe you're onto something. And so the way we do it, this is a little video. So we take a laser beam, we split it at the mirror, and what happens is, it turns out, we can interfere those two laser beams with each other because they're waves. So we send this wave out, we split it, and we set up the two interferometers so that, in fact, when this wave bounces back, it comes back to this original mirror and it's exactly out of phase with this wave. And what that means is that two waves cancel out exactly, and on the screen there's just total darkness.
When the two, when the things are setup exactly, if you look here you'll see total darkness. But if the length of these two things changes a little bit, then the cancellation will go away and you'll see light and dark spots. And so that would signal, in fact, a gravitational wave. Now this detector was built over the 1990s, and in 2000 it was first built, but it didn't have quite the sensitivity we thought you'd need. It could only detect a change in length equal to one-hundredth the size of a proton. We thought maybe we'd be lucky. We were lucky. So it got upgraded. It got updated and then in 2015 it achieved the sensitivity of one-thousandth the size of a proton, we thought. And so they were going to turn it on and do an engineering run, which is what you do with big, new machines. You don't do the science, you just turn it on and tweak the knobs and get it all working. Ray Weiss, who was the director of this, said you know don't take any data because we're just doing engineering run. But, of course, they didn't listen to him and they turned it on and one hour later they got a signal that we've been waiting for since Einstein.
And, in fact, a signal that came from an event that happened 1.3 billion years ago. Here is a gold-plated event of gravitational wave. This is the signal in Hanford, Washington. This is the signal in Louisiana. Now it may not look like much. It's just a little squiggle, but two things I want to point out. This discovery could not have been made before last year because we didn't have the technology — the quantum technology, the optical technology — to build devices that were sensitive enough to this. That's the first part.
But the second part is, when you see something like this, it only means something if
you can compare it to something you can predict. Because if you can't predict it in science, it's no good. Science is not a story like religion. It makes predictions. And if it can't make predictions, it doesn't matter. In order to be able to make that prediction, it meant we had to be able to calculate what would happen when two massive black holes collided and that is incredibly complex because the gravity is very strong. We never witnessed gravity that strong before. And we needed supercomputers, new mathematical techniques. And those supercomputers didn't exist 10 years ago either.
So everything came together. The earliest we could have detected these gravitational waves was Sept. 14th, 2015. And that's exactly when we saw it. And what you can see is there's the data, which is a little noisy, and then there's a curve here. And that's the predictive signal if two black holes collide, and you'll see what they look like in a second. So that's a signal that you expect and the signal you'll see and you see they're virtually identical.
More importantly, this is the signal in Livingston, Louisiana, exactly 10 milliseconds after that signal was observed in Hanford, Washington. You put the two on top of one another and they are identical. And so what we discovered, what they discovered, by doing this amazing technology that no science fiction writer would ever suggest you could do, is an event that is equally interesting. This is an artist's rendering by the way, not the real thing. These are two black holes located 1.3 billion light years away. They actually distort, if we could see them, they distort the space behind them because they curve space around them and you'll see that happen. And they will collide, in fact. And this black hole is 35 times the mass of the sun, and this one is 29 times the mass of the sun. Remember that, 35 and 29. And they will collide, and they'll run this thing. It turns out they're orbiting one another, and you see how space is distorted by them because the gravity field is so strong. What's amazing is this 35 solar mass black hole and this 29 solar mass black hole are orbiting each other 200 times a second. Not once a year, like the Earth orbits the sun, but 200 times a second. And in two-tenths of a second, in the final hurrah, they will finally collide, and you see how they shape space? That's the gravitational wave emission.
Now, if that didn't amaze you I'm going to prepare your minds even better. So the sun burns a 100 billion hydrogen bombs every second, and that produces the light of the sun, and it lasts about 10 billion years, and during that 10 billion-year period of burning 100 billion hydrogen bombs every second, it will turn one percent of its mass into radiation. So over 10 billion years, a 100 billion hydrogen bombs every second, one percent of the mass of the sun will turn to radiation.
Now, remember I told you there was a black hole 35 times the mass of the sun and a black hole 29 times the mass of the sun? Now, I'm going to turn to my friend Dan Dennett here. Sorry Dan, I'm going to put you on the spot. I didn't prepare you for this. But you are a learned man, so I know I can trust you on this. So we got a 35 solar mass black hole and a 29 solar mass black hole. What do you think the mass of the black hole is that is the sum of those two? That's 36 and 29.
Very good! Most people would not be willing to say that in public. Sixty-five! There is an intelligent man! Wrong! He did the math right. But what they found was a black hole that was 62 times the mass of the sun, not 65. Where did the rest of that mass go? Three times the mass of the sun was emitted in gravitational waves. Now think about that. Our sun will burn for 10 billion years, 100 billion hydrogen bombs every second, it turns one percent of its mass into radiation. In two-tenths of a second that system emitted three times the mass of the sun in gravitational waves, which means in that in two-tenths of a second it emitted more energy in gravitational waves than all the rest of the stars in the visible universe are emitting right now. That's amazing. You couldn't write this stuff. You couldn't make this stuff up.
The real universe is just so much more interesting than the universe of myth and superstition. And we've discovered that this actually happens. Now, that's great and we're very excited about it. This means we're living in a time which is very similar to the time when Galileo first took his telescope and looked up at the moons of Jupiter. He created a whole new field of astronomy. And this will be a new field of astronomy.
Gravitational wave astronomy will open up a new window on the universe and, if history is any guide, every time we open a new window on the universe we're surprised. Now this is exciting, but it's not as exciting as what I want to talk about next, which is how these gravitational waves are from black holes that are very interesting. But what about gravitational waves from the beginning of the universe? How can we look for them? This is a device that's been built to look for those. This is the BICEP detector. This is at the South Pole. This is a detector the looks for the cosmic microwave background radiation which only comes from the universe that's 200,000 years old. But, it's looking for an imprint in there that comes from the beginning of time.
Now, in order to make this detector work, it's a complicated detector. It's not cold enough for the South Pole. So we have to send liquid helium down in the summertime. And you know why we send it down the summertime? Maybe you know this. I didn't know it 20 years ago, it amazed me. We could go to the moon, we can go to the bottom of this ocean, but we can't go to the South Pole in the wintertime. We don't send planes down in the South Pole the wintertime.
So we send this liquid helium down in the summertime and that's why this is one of my favorite images. Yeah this is a sunset, it seems in the BICEP detector, a sunset at the South Pole, which happens once a year. Right. So it means if you're taking this picture, you're stuck there for six months. Which means you're a graduate student. And this detector was designed to look for a signal from the Big Bang. It's actually designed to look for a signal from a moment after the Big Bang. And this is probably the most complicated picture I'm gonna show you. So, I mean, it's a brief history of time. But it is a phenomenon that we think happened when the universe was a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second old.
This is our universe expanding over time today. But we think at a very early moment, when the universe was a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second old, our universe expanded rapidly, incredibly rapidly, increasing in volume by a factor of 10 to the 90th in a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. It went from the size of a single atom to the size of a basketball. And that was because it was an incredible amount of energy stored in empty space.
Now, one of the reasons we think that happened is, besides the fact that our particle physics ideas suggest it might, is it also solves that problem that was bothering you after I brought it up and has been bothering you ever since then. How come the universe looks the same in all directions?
Well, in our standard picture, the universe is this big and there wasn't enough time for light to ever travel from one end of the universe to the other. But if the universe increased in dimension by a factor of 10 to the 30th, it was once much smaller than we would have imagined, and when it was that small there was enough time for light to travel across it and for the universe to thermalize and become uniform, and that would, therefore, explain this weird phenomenon.
But that's postdiction, which is not really good science. But you could also make a prediction, and one is that because the universe was the size of an atom at this point, quantum mechanics is very important and quantum mechanical fluctuations when the universe puffs up will get frozen in, and they'll end up looking like small density fluctuations, like the density fluctuations we see in the microwave background. And if you ask what would they look like if inflation happened, it turns out they look exactly like the ones we see in the cosmic microwave background, which you might say is proof that inflation happened. It's not. Because, to be honest, if they looked different, inflation could have explained that, too. And now if something can't be falsified it's not particularly useful, like God.
And so we have to look for something else that would be unambiguous evidence that inflation happened. Well, when you puff up a universe by a factor of 10 to the 90th, when all the mass of the universe gets puffed up by a factor of 10 the 90th in size, now that's going to generate gravitational waves. And the unambiguous prediction is that enduring inflation gravitational waves of all frequencies are generated and we can look for them, we think. And here's a picture, which is unintelligible, but it's from a Scientific American article of mine and I spent about 10 hours with the artist, so you have to suffer through it.
Here's looking back in time. Here's the Hubble Space Telescope picture I showed you, and then go back in time to when the universe was 3,000 years old. There's a cosmic microwave background picture. You go all the way back in time to inflation. Boom. Right there.
And inflation generates all these fluctuations in gravitational waves, and what happens? Well, let's say the universe is one second old. There are gravitational waves of a period, one second, that have been generated. But they will start to oscillate until the universe is old enough in them to start oscillating. Because when it's half a second, they haven't had time to oscillate. So they start to oscillate when the universe is one second old. But when the waves start to oscillate in an expanding universe, they die off. Then their gravitational waves of period, maybe a year, when the universe is a year old they start to oscillate and then they die off. And then maybe a century. But then there are gravitational waves that period 380,000 years. Which is exactly the point at which the cosmic microwave background was formed.
What would they do? Well, here's what they do. Here's what the cosmic microwave background comes from. The cosmic microwave background is caused because you've got free electrons that are about to be captured by hydrogen and before that, just before their capture, they scatter light to your eyes, and that's the picture I showed you. Now, if the universe is uniform all around them, the same temperature all around them, they scatter light in the same intensity in all directions. But if a gravitational wave of period, of the age of the universe at that time, comes by its size is the size of the visible universe at that time. What happens when it comes by? It causes the universe to get a little smaller in one direction and a little bigger in the other direction. And that means the electron will see radiation that's a little more intense in one direction and less intense in the other direction. And when it scatters that radiation, it'll be polarized. That means it'll be more intense in one direction than another.
Those who are fishermen know about polarization, perhaps, and those of you who don't like glare have polarized sunglasses. And the reason is when light bounces off water and gets into your eyes, that light is polarized. So say it's vibrating in only this direction. If you have lenses and only let light in vibrating in that direction then you don't see the glare. So that's how polarized glasses work. But if this happened, then it might produce polarization in the radiation that we see in the cosmic microwave background.
And here is what we would look for. Here is a picture of the cosmic microwave background, and there's random polarization if there's no gravitational waves. If I gave what gravitational waves were to look like, exactly the same. It's just damn hard to find it. You really can't, you really can't. It takes an incredible amount of work. But, in February three years ago, the BICEP detector was looking for that polarization and they said here's this kind of signal we would expect to see if inflation happened. The signal actually that I'm happy to say I had predicted about 20 years earlier. But it produces this kind of snake-like polarization pattern. That's what they predicted. In February of 2013, I think, they produced this image. And it shook the world because if this were true this would be perhaps the most important image in the history of science. Because it would be the first detection of gravitational waves that would happen before LIGO. But this would be a signal from the very beginning of time.
These would be gravitational waves generated when the universe was a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second old and they'd allow us to test our ideas about the origin of the universe. You notice I said, "if it's true," because we just don't know. When these experimenters did this they were very excited. There's another way of presenting their data, it doesn't really matter what it is. It turns out this is called a multiple expansion, but there is the data and there is the prediction from inflation you see. It looks great.
What are all these lines? That's noise from our galaxy. Our galaxy has dust in it and the dust can be polarized and it can produce a signal, too. But they argued that the dust was much smaller, and therefore they discovered something, and therefore they deserve the Nobel Prize. There was another group of people who were really pissed off. They were the people who produced that image I showed you, the Planck satellite, the image of the cosmic microwave background. They were looking for the same thing. It was the Holy Grail, if you'll forgive me, of cosmology.
But they got very happy because they could actually measure dust in our galaxy because they could see over the entire sky. And when they looked at the dust they couldn't look at exactly the same region that the BICEP people did, but they said you know what there's enough dust. That dust can produce a signal, that up there is the one they see there. The dust in our galaxy could produce a signal that's the same magnitude as what the other guys saw. So they were excited because it meant these guys were wrong.
Now, I want to present this, the reason I wanted to present this to you today is because it's the difference between science and religion. Because these guys hated these guys. And these guys wanted those guys to be wrong and those guys wanted these guys to be wrong. So what did they do? Did they cut each other's heads off? No. They said let's do a joint analysis. Because they didn't care who was right, they just wanted to know what was right. They didn't care in the end. They knew that one of them was wrong, maybe they were both wrong. But all they wanted to find out was what the answer was. And to me, therefore, even though many people say, "Oh, it's unfortunate that maybe this experiment was wrong," to me it's one of the great examples of the history of science because it shows how science works. So they got together and they came up with a joint analysis and it looks like this.
This was the original signal. It was some number, the number R, or if you're a pirate "argh," and if it was nonzero then there are gravitational waves from the beginning of time and you see the original analysis. This is what's called a likelihood function. The highest probability was by far nonzero. Well when you included dust it changed, and the upper curve is that change. So this is a new analysis. Now, you see, it still peaked at nonzero, so why are we saying we discovered gravitational waves? Because this is physics, not medicine. I'll explain that in a second. This is a probability function and the highest probability is indeed nonzero, but you can ask what's the probability that R is actually 0 and this is all noise? It's about 8 percent. So the likelihood that R is not zero is 92 percent. If that were epidemiology, that would be a Nobel Prize. But this is physics. And if you're going to make an extraordinary claim, as Carl Sagan and others would have said, you've got to have extraordinary evidence. And 92 percent just doesn't cut it. You need 99.9995 percent confidence before we can say we made a discovery. That's what we needed before we claimed we discovered the Higgs.
And so, if you actually look at their joint paper, which everyone says implies that gravitational waves haven't been seen, it really says exactly what I told you. There's an 8 percent chance that they're not there. And for physicists, that means there's no evidence that they're there. Because the other thing about science that's really important is we try and prove ourselves wrong as much as we try and prove ourselves right. And only after we've convinced ourselves, after trying to prove ourselves wrong, that we're not wrong do we claim we're right. And this just isn't good enough.
But I want to close by asking what would we learn if that was really there? Because we don't know. We're doing new experiments to see if it's really there. New experiments with greater sensitivity. If this image, or some version of this image, is real, we have seen a signal from the beginning of time. And I think because it's late and I was going to show you some other neat experiments, but I think I won't. I'll just show you a picture of me because I like that. There I am. I'll show you.
No, I was going to show you other ways you can do it because I want to end on this metaphysics thing. Because I wrote a book on the Universe from Nothing a bunch of years ago, which tried to take back these questions that religion observed a long time ago. Why is there something rather than nothing? And show that in fact science can say that it's easy. You don't need supernatural shenanigans to get something from nothing. But at the time, I wrote about the possibility that most of us think is true right now among physicists: That there are probably more than one universe, or probably many, many universes, out there. Something we call a multiverse.
People kept saying, I remember once debating that awful guy William Lane Craig, and they say, 'Well, you know you involve the multiverse. It's just like God.' It's not. And I say, 'No, it's well-motivated.' But the point is it did sound just like, kind of, religious speculation. And the neat thing is it doesn't have to be, because if we go and measure gravitational waves for inflation then we may be able to know if other universes exist, which is what I find incredibly exciting. Because it turns out inflation is just a period when space expands exponentially fast. And it turns out that space is still expanding exponentially fast in most of the multiverse.
But what happens is there's a local place where that exponential expansion stops. It's like a snowflake forming. In this case it's sort of like water melting right there. And when that happens, all the energy and empty space gets converted into particles and radiation in a big bang. So our universe originated when inflation ended at that point. But in other places in this multiverse, inflation is still going on and there may be today a universe just forming and it goes on in most of these models forever. It's eternal. And the really strange thing is, it turns out that the way inflation ends in each universe can produce different laws of physics in each universe.
That may explain the properties of our universe because it may be, as it turns out, in some universes there may be a lot of galaxies and in some universes there may not be many because the conditions aren't right. And it could just be that the properties of our universe are what they are because if you didn't have galaxies you wouldn't have stars, if you didn't have stars you wouldn't have planets, if you didn't have planets you wouldn't have astronomers.
So the universe is the way it is because there are astronomers here to measure it. Which sounds religious, but it's not. It's just cosmic natural selection. You would not expect to find yourself in a universe in which you couldn't live. That would be a book. But the neat thing is this speculation may now be in some sense testable. Not directly, because we'll never know those other universes exist, but if we could measure gravitational waves from inflation and demonstrate that inflation happened, and measure the properties of inflation, we'd be able to know if inflation is eternal. And if that's the case, we would know that there are other universes out there. It's just like the situation in 1905, when Einstein actually wrote his Ph.D. thesis on proving that atoms existed, but no one ever thought you'd ever be able to see atoms. But all the indirect evidence told the atoms were there.
In this case you could have a theory, a grand unified theory, that would explain everything we can see about the universe in which we live. But one of the predictions, so make 50 predictions we can test, the 51st we might not be able to test, but we have huge indirect evidence that it's there. And so I'm amazed that we are potentially on the threshold of knowing whether we are alone in a cosmic sense. Whether there are other universes, or whether our universe is unique. And, of course, if there are a multitude of universes then that makes, of course, God even more redundant.
So, let me close by going back to this picture. When I look at a picture like this I think about the civilizations that may have died there on these planets that may have been around these stars. I think about why the universe is the way it is, and it caused us to do the work we've done over the last 40 years. This is spiritual. This is all. But this beats the spirituality of religion because it's real. And that's what I want to leave you with today. Thank you very much.
Here is the full speech given by Jerry Coyne at FFRF's 39th annual convention in Pittsburgh on Oct. 8. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker introduced him:
Jerry is a past recipient of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Emperor Has No Clothes Award and has been an honorary board member of FFRF and has also worked with our attorneys over the years. He is professor emeritus in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago and he's a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. He focuses on understanding the origin of species, the evolutionary process that produces discrete groups in nature. He's written 119 scientific papers, 150 popular articles, book reviews, columns, and a very popular trade book about the evidence for evolution: Why Evolution is True. And I think, when it comes to this book, nobody does it better. In fact, even Richard Dawkins said that he didn't need to write his next book because Jerry Coyne had already done it. His newest book is called Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Let's welcome Jerry Coyne.
By Jerry Coyne
I want to begin by asking all of you a question. I want you to raise your hand if you agree and keep your hand up when I ask you two other questions. First of all, how many of you accept that evolution is true? OK, so it's almost everybody. Now keep your hands up, but put them down if you don't agree with the next question. Do you think you're a humanist? I think a couple of hands went down. And the third question is, how many of you would describe yourselves as atheists? Keep your hands up. OK, so hardly any of them went down.
I thought there would be a lot more humanists than atheists. Well, we're going to try to convince you in this talk is that your hands should have been up all the time because humanism, atheism and evolutionary biology go hand-in-hand. And, I want to describe the nexus of that relationship and why it's true and why when you promote one of those three areas, you're perforce promoting the other ones.
But first I'm going to start with evolutionary biology, and I'm gonna say what Maajid Nawaz calls the Voldemort Effect, that which must not be said: That the study of evolution should lead ineluctably to atheism.
So here's my thesis for the evening. The fact of evolution, and you've seen this yesterday with Carter Warden. His transition to atheism began by studying evolutionary biology. And this is a general pathway that a lot of people go on, including Richard Dawkins. The fact of evolution is not only inherently atheistic, it is inherently anti-theistic. It goes against the notion that there is a God.
Second of all, the implications of evolution are also atheistic. It's not just that what evolution tells us about how we evolved that makes us not believe in God, but the implications of this is the process that gave rise to all living things also creates that conclusion.
And finally, therefore, as it did for Carter Warden, accepting evolution and science tends to promote the acceptance of atheism. Now, it doesn't always of course. There are many religious people who accept evolution. I would say they're guilty of cognitive dissonance, or at least of some kind of watery deism. I would also claim that promoting the acceptance of atheism should promote the acceptance of evolution because it's only religion that blinds people to the truth of evolution.
And finally, I want to bring in humanism here because it's a very important thing. Atheism promotes the rise of humanism and vice versa. So all these three factors atheism, humanism — for whatever that stands for and we all have our own interpretation — and evolutionary biology should be mutually synergistic in promoting the acceptance of each other.
The path from going to an evolutionary biologist to an atheist and anti-theist is pretty straightforward. You write a book on evolution with the indubitable facts that show that it has to be true, as true as the existence of gravity or neutrons, and then you realize that half of America is not going to buy it no matter what you say.
So you start realizing that this book, writing this book, is a useless endeavor for these people. Their minds cannot be changed; their eyes are blinkered. And so you start studying what it is about religion that makes people resistant to evolution. And when you study theology, and God help me, I never want to do it again. I spent three years doing that. You discover that religion is in some ways like science, but it's a pseudoscience. It makes scientific claims, or at least empirical claims, about the real world, but then adjudicates those claims in a completely different way from science.
So you start realizing that religion is perverting what you're trying to do with science by making statements about the world, but then supporting them with various cockamamie methods. And so you become an atheist and you become an anti-theist because you see that religion is promoting ways of thinking about the world which are not sound.
This is a natural pathway; it's the same pathway Richard Dawkins went along. He started off just like I did as a straight evolutionary biologist, writing Climbing Mount Improbable, The Selfish Gene, and segued into, of course, The God Delusion. The pathway he went along is pretty much the same one as I did. Except that he pissed off religious people more than I did.
Look at the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker: A World Without Design. As I'll show you, that is one thing that religious people cannot bring themselves to accept. I'm not going to go over the evidence for evolution. You should either know it by now or, if you don't, buy my book. Let me just say it comes from many various areas of biology: embryology, the fossil record, morphology, genetics, biogeography. All these different areas come together to show that evolution, in fact, is true. As true as anything is in science.
And that book I wrote, and one that Dawkins wrote about at the same time, The Greatest Show On Earth, shows that. Case closed, right? Well, no. Not in America, at least. The Gallup Poll has been surveying American attitudes toward evolution for 32 years and they've held pretty steady.
You can see this plot here beginning in 1982 against an inclining line until 2014, consisting of: If you ask Americans, "How did humans get here?" Unfortunately, the top line, which has held steady at about 40 percent of the young earth creationists, who say, "We've always been here like we are now and so have all the other species and the Earth is about 10,000 years old."
You can see that for over 30 years this has held steady. Then we have the theistic evolutionists on the second line. Those are the people who accept evolution, but think that God was the motor that did it. In other words, that God put his, her or its hand into the process at some point. And that has pretty much hovered around 30 percent. There's a sort of hardening downswing in that in the latest years, which is mirrored by a hardening upswing in the number of naturalistic evolutionists at the bottom about 20 percent. Those who claim, yeah, we got here by naturalistic processes. This happens to be the truth, by the way.
But the fact that this has held steady, and you can see this may be a heartening rise in the last couple of years of naturalistic evolution. The fact that this has held steady in an age of which we've had Richard Dawkins, we've had Stephen Jay Gould, we've had David Attenborough, we've had E.O. Wilson, we've had Jared Diamond. All these people all over the media telling us about evolution. It's not like people don't have access to the evidence and information of evolution. It's that people are blinkered to that truth by religion, and that's something that I think almost all of us know in our hearts.
But, if you're like Eugenie Scott and you're standing up here, you're not going to admit that religion has anything to do with resistance to evolution. I want to try to prove this otherwise to you. By the way, about 70 percent of people who think about evolution think that God had some hand in it, 41 percent and 30 percent. And of those people who accept evolution in the last two lines, about 31 over 31 plus 19, or 62 percent of evolution acceptors think that God had a hand in it.
So most people who say they accept evolution are nevertheless supernaturalists to some degree. Why? Because of religion. Religion is the only serious reason why people do not accept the truth of evolution. Not only in the United States, but throughout the rest of the world. Here, for example, there are a number of organizations that are opposed to evolution. You can see they have the word majesty and creation in them. They're all Christian organizations.
You scratch a creationist, you'll find a religionist. Intelligent design advocates' ideas have been described as creationists in a cheap tuxedo, which is why I've displayed it like that. They don't fool anybody because they're also religious. They just don't like to say it. They say intelligent design, but what they really mean is Jesus. I have never met a creationist who was not religious, except for one person — David Berlinski, and I have my suspicions about him as well.
So there's something inherent about creationism that makes you opposed to evolution. First of all, the antagonism between these two areas which you already know about. But then that's why they're so antagonistic. So, let's ask those people who don't accept evolution why they don't accept it.
Those people who fall into the first category in the chart below. If you ask evolution deniers why they deny it, this is what they say. This is a poll taken by the Gallup organization about nine years ago. The first three reasons are all religious. They don't have anything to do with evidence. "I believe in Jesus Christ," "I believe in the Almighty God," "due to my religion or faith." It's only when you get to the fourth most common answer — you can only give one answer in this poll — they say "Well, there's not enough evidence for it."
And you keep going down and all the answers are religious. So 83 percent of the people that reject evolution say it has to do with their faith. It has nothing to do at all with evidence.
The antagonism between religion and evolution can be seen in this graph, which plots data from 32 European countries on the religiosity of those countries. The degree of belief in God is on the X-axis, and their acceptance of human evolution on the Y-axis. Each one of these triangles or diamonds is one of 32 European countries. And you can see there is a strong negative relationship, a highly statistically negative relationship, between them.
Those countries which have the most belief in God on the lower right and the right have the lowest acceptance of Darwinism. Those countries which have the least acceptance of God, the least belief in God, are those that accept evolution more. If you were to plot countries in, say, sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East, there would be a whole bunch of dots at the lower right because those countries are not only highly religious, but they're also deeply opposed to evolution. So this is, if anything, an underestimate of the sort of antagonistic relationship between religion and belief in evolution.
If you're an economist and you looked at this, you'd say that what we see here is an elastic demand curve for God. In order to gain 10 percent more acceptance for Darwinism, you have to give up 40 percent of your belief in God. So you have a lot of religious resistance there.
So what's the reason for this relationship? This is a correlation, not a causation, but I think there is some causality here. First of all, you can say, well, the higher your belief in God, the less likely you are to accept evolution. There's something about being religious that makes you less likely to accept Darwin and I think that is indeed the case.
But the other alternative explanation is that the more and more you grow to accept evolution, the less and less you are likely to be religious and to become an atheist. That's plausible, but I think it's almost incontrovertibly true that the first explanation is the correct one, simply because you know how it works in this country: People get their Jesus before they get their Darwin. By the time they get to biology class, they're already immune. They're immunized to evolutionary biology.
There's a third factor that I want to talk about, but this is the reason I think for this negative relationship. Those countries whose inhabitants are more wedded to the idea of a supernatural being have less, or are less likely to accept evolutionary biology.
Where's the U.S. in this graph? It's really bad. We're second from bottom. The only country that has less acceptance of evolution than we do is Turkey. And you know Turkey is a Muslim country. Usually secularly Muslim, but getting more and more hardline all the time.
So the reason why the U.S., actually amongst so-called advanced industrialized countries, is so resistant to evolution as opposed to say France, Denmark and Sweden, is because we're one of the most religious first-world countries in the world. Now, I want to go and try to explain why that's the case, but let's look at another case.
The states of the United States is where we can do the same kind of correlation. So instead of looking at the different countries, we look at the 50 states and we order them from top to bottom in terms of how accepting the inhabitants are of evolution. So lengths of the blue bars tell you the proportion of people who accept human evolution. The yellow bars in the middle are the people that are dithering. They don't know, or they don't want to answer. The red bars are people who deny evolution — they are basically creationists.
So the top we have like Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts. At the bottom: evolution denialists, Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah. You see any pattern there? You're going to see the same pattern we saw in different countries.
I don't have the data on the religiosity of every state in the U.S., but what I did find were the 10 most religious states and the 10 least religious states. So I'm going to put the 10 least religious states with blue arrows, because they're blue states, and the 10 most religious states with red arrows. I'll just show you where they fall on this graph. Those are the 10 least religious states. Here's the 10 most religious states. This is the kind of data that we love as scientists because you don't have to do statistics on it. There's a complete non-overlap of these two distributions. Those states that are the most religious are the ones that are the most evolution denialist and vice versa, and there's no overlap between them.
We see the same pattern here as we saw among different countries in the world. The more religious you are, the less likely are to accept evolution. Maybe I'm preaching to the choir, but I want to document this for statistics before I try to give you the reasons why it's true.
Where is Pennsylvania? Since we're in Pennsylvania. Eh, it's OK. It's in the middle somewhere. Could do better, those of you who live in this state. So that's a correlation, not a causation, between religiosity and evolution denial. And there could be a third factor at work here, and I think there is, and that's where the idea of humanism comes in. Not that there's some other factor that explains that relationship, but there's another factor that explains why different countries vary in their degrees of religiosity and why different states in the U.S. vary in their degrees of religiosity.
And that has to do with well-being. So, how many of you are familiar with the work of Greg Paul? Many of you are. This came out awhile back, but it's being increasingly supported by studies of sociologists. What Greg Paul did was to try to rate the well-being of different countries. In this case it's the plot of 17 first-world countries, based on what he called the Successful Society scale. How well-off are members of a given society.
And he used 25 factors that sociologists like to use as inferences of well-being. Income equality, incarceration rates, suicide, the availability of medical care, child mortality, corruption. All of these factors were factored into a scale that went from zero, a really rotten society, to 10, a really high society. So every one of these 17 European countries is rated on that scale. And then, on a separate scale, it was rated for religiosity.
You see the same kind of relationship we saw for evolution and really just the negative relationship those countries which have the highest belief in God tend to be the countries that are the least well-off. Those countries that have the lowest belief in God tend to be the countries that have the most well-being. I don't think this is an accident.
Where is the U.S. here? You can say the reason why we reject evolution is because we're so religious. But why are we so religious? Because we're not really that well-off. We have high degrees of income inequality. We have no government health care — or not, at least, until recently — high incarceration rates, high child mortality compared to other countries. This is purely an objective plot. No, it's not done theologically where you come to your conclusion beforehand. This is the result of Greg's analysis.
So what's going on here? Well, again, you have a correlation and not causation. You can say two things. First of all, you can say that those people on the lower right, those countries that absolutely believe in God more, tend to create societies that are bad. That it's the religiosity that somehow makes the societies dysfunctional. That's possible, but it just doesn't jibe with any notion of religion that I have. Although, some aspects of some religions you can see where this might be true.
The other explanation is — and I think this is the correct one because sociology is supporting it increasingly with more and more studies — that the more well-off you are as a country, the less need your inhabitants have to embrace God. They don't feel that they have to have a need to appeal to some celestial being to succor an additional life that will make things right for them when your own life is miserable now.
And Nadia Duncan spoke in her speech about an hour ago about how slaves were pacified by telling them — you can see this in the movie "12 Years a Slave" — "Well your life might be crappy now, and I'm going to whip you, but think of all that wonder you're going to find afterlife." And so it was a form of, it was an anodyne. It was like an opiate for the religious people.
So my explanation for the diversity of religious belief among different countries, which plays into the acceptance of evolution, is that the countries that are pretty crappy, whose inhabitants have low levels of well-being, are the ones whose inhabitants feel a need to embrace God.
And you can see this in Europe as countries became more and more secularized over time, that secularism went hand-in-hand with an increasing well-being of the inhabitants and increasing acceptance of evolution.
One more graph just to show you to dispel the common reason that happiness and religiosity go hand-in-hand. You may not know this, but every few years the United Nations compiles a happiness index. It goes around to all the countries of the world and asks the inhabitants, "How are you doing? Are you happy?" They don't have any objective rating on how happy they are. They don't look at your blood pressure or anything like that. They just ask people if they are happy or not.
I've taken that happiness index and I've correlated here in this graph with the religiosity of these different countries. There were 156 countries surveyed. I could get data on only 52 of them. But you can see there is, again, a strong negative relationship. The happier you are as a country, the less religious you are. The more miserable you are, the more religious you are. The happiest countries in the world are Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. The unhappiest countries in the world are Togo, Benin and the Central African Republic — countries which are deeply dysfunctional and highly, highly religious.
So this supports my explanation, which I said before, of why religious countries tend to be countries that are less well-off. That's the explanation of Karl Marx. I don't know if you read The New Yorker over the last week or so, but there is a re-evaluation of the work of Karl Marx. It didn't really talk about this, but Marx was perhaps the first person to actually make this hypothesis, that religion is an anodyne. It's an opium of the people.
And his famous quote that people use in order to make themselves feel better when their lives are crappy. Here's this famous quote, which comes from a critique of Hegel's philosophy: "Religion is the sight of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and on the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
What Marx meant by that, and this is often taken as an anti-religious quote, but what he's really trying to say is that religion comes into being when people have no other place to turn to in their lives. It is the opium of the people. And to rectify the situation, where you have an illusory kind of solution to a very real physical problem, is the next paragraph: "To call on people to give up their illusions about these conditions is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."
In other words, if you want to get rid of religion in this world, then you have to get rid of the conditions that breed it. The conditions that foster the illusion that things are going to be made right in the next world. So this sort of sociological hypothesis for why countries are differentially religious, which, in turn, I've used to explain why they're differentially friendly to evolution, was first adumbrated by Karl Marx.
So I hope I've painted a picture of the antagonism, the perpetual antagonism between religion and evolution. Of course, not all religious people hate evolution. You know many of them. There might be some sitting in this audience.
What I want to say now is why that antagonism occurs. Why is evolution so anathema to believers. Well, there are lots of reasons. So I made a list. But before I do that, I just want to make us feel good by showing us the benefits of accepting evolution, as opposed to the down side for religious people.
Well, first of all, because it's true. It's the true story of our origins. All of us, or most of us, are intensely curious about our genealogy, where we come from, who our grandfathers were, what countries they came from. Evolution answers that question on the broadest scale possible because it ties us in ancestry to every creature that ever lived. Those extinct and still living.
Second of all, it just feeds your sense of wonder in a way that religious myths can't. That this ineffably simple process of natural selection, it's not actually ineffably. If you read Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable, you'll see he makes it quite effable. That this process of natural selection, which is just the blind sorting of molecules, based on their ability to contribute to the propagation of their descent of molecules, has been responsible for every complex thing that we see on this planet today — from dandelions to frogs to mushrooms to homo sapiens. And that's really, really a remarkable thing that when you become an evolutionary biologist, that sort of imbues every fiber of your being.
Third of all, evolution makes possible the consideration of these scientific questions and phenomena, and religion doesn't. For example, here's one question I thought of almost immediately when I was writing this talk. If you look at male and female animals they're often very different from other. Males are often brightly colored, they have feathers, they have elaborate displays, they have calls like these Mandarin ducks here. And females are sort of drab, nondescript, and they sit back and they choose the males most brightly colored.
OK, how do you answer that question? If you're religious, the only thing you can say is "God must have wanted it that way." And that's not very satisfying. But if you believe in evolution, then you can say, "Well, we have a whole theory called sexual selection." The answer to this question, and we can test it and it seems to work. That's a lot more satisfying, at least to a scientist or anybody with curiosity.
Finally, and this isn't necessarily true, but it seems to be true, that if you believe that you are related to everything living on Earth and you yourself are a product of the environments on Earth, then you sort of get a fellow feeling, not only for the other creatures on the Earth, but a sort of protectiveness toward the environment.
Now, there's a lot of religious people who are conservationists and animal lovers. So this is just something that I see that grows out of evolution, but isn't necessarily a concomitant of accepting evolution. So that's the good stuff. I just wanted to remind you why the acceptance of evolution makes you feel good.
This is why I think evolution makes so many people feel bad. It's scary. It's scary in a lot of ways if you're religious. In fact, I could not finish the list of the ways that evolutionary values scare religious people.
Here's just a few of them. I put the most scary ones in red, so you can see them. We're products of evolution, not out of any protective God. We can be explained largely by natural selection and you don't need a God to do that. That, of course, is the thing that religious people really cannot stand that all. Their strongest argument for God, which is the appearance of design in nature, has now been kicked out from under them by Charles Darwin and his descendants. The design-like features of organisms don't come from the mind of God, they come from a process of evolutionary genes sorting. Mindless, mindless wind. There is no celestial mentation behind it. The process involves huge amounts of suffering death and waste. There's no two ways around it. Evolution goes with pain and suffering.
As Dr. Lawrence Krauss would have said last night (at the convention), that's just the way it is! There's no way around it. But, you know, theologians have made their lives trying to explain why this has to be so. Don't ask me what I think about theologians that do that.
There is no qualitative difference between life and non-life. It is a smooth transition between evolution of molecules and evolution of organisms. This is something we're beginning to realize now. Naturalism reigns, there is no evidence in evolution or anywhere else in science for a supernatural organism.
Origin of life. There is no mind-body dualism. Free will does not exist. If you want to take that up, take it up with Dan Barker. He's writing a book on it now. We've had our differences on this issue. The mind is what the brain does. There is no duality. There is no "you" that makes decisions. In fact, the decisions are made before you think you made them.
There is no evidence for a soul. All of this comes out of science and evolution. Some of these are direct facts, some of them are implications, but both of them are scary to religious people. We're animals, African apes. If you want to really tick off evangelical Christians, tell them they are just an ape. If you tell them they're a fish, it doesn't give them the same reaction, although that's just as true. Just tell them they're an African ape and that will rile them up.
Morality is not God given. This is a big thing for Americans in particular. Morality is not something that's given to us by God, but is either evolved from earlier antecedent animals or is a cultural veneer that is developed sociologically over time. And there is no externally imposed meaning or purpose and lives. At least nothing that we can find in the universe that that shows any evidence or purposiveness at all or teleology.
And so Steven Weinberg, in one of his most controversial quotes, says the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless. By "pointless," he didn't mean that his life was pointless, what he meant was that we don't see any signs of any higher intelligence directing science. This quote seems quite innocuous, but it is anathema, it is poison to theologians.
The feeling here is John Hart, who's a liberal, Catholic theologian and one that I've debated, says that religious people can accept all kinds of scientific findings but what they cannot abide is the conviction that the universe and life are pointless. They just can't stand that. And when they say "pointless," they mean it has to have some meaning put into it from above.
So here we see that direct conflict between religion and science and between evolution and religion. I just want to tell you briefly about why science and religion are incompatible. And that's the subject of my second book, "Faith Versus Fact." Although you will hear from well-meaning people throughout the country and throughout the world that science and religion are not at odds with each other, they are not incompatible.
That's just wrong. If you can pardon my French, I think it's complete bullshit. There are three reasons why I think this.
Science and religion are both competing entities and they both compete to make statements about the universe. You don't hear people saying that religion and business are compatible. Or that religion and baseball are compatible. You don't hear that. What you hear is science and religion are compatible. Why science and why religion? Because they both compete to tell us the truth about the universe.
So, in many ways, they're in the same business, although there's a lot more to religion than just empirically non-verifiable statements. They differ in their methodologies. Science, you know how it works, we appeal to nature, we appeal to to testability, we appeal to hypotheses, we appeal to falsifiability, we depend on consensus. We have all the apparatus of professional science like blind testing, like peer review. All of these professional scientific things.
Religion makes claims about the universe that does not have this apparatus. It has dogma, authority and scripture, and that's the way it tests its claims. So right off the bat when they're making claims about the universe, they differ in how they adjudicate them. Methodologically, it can't be expressed more strongly than this: In science, faith is a vice. If you say, "I have faith that the Philae lander is going to land on the comet," people would just laugh at you in science. But if you say the same thing for religion, "I have faith that Jesus died for my sins," people say, "What a wonderful man that is, he's a person of faith."
But, yet, these are both empirically, they are both epistemic statements about the world. So in science, faith is a vice; in religion, faith is a virtue. In science, we have ways of knowing that we're wrong. I have a slide of a list of like a dozen things that would convince me that evolution was wrong. I think Susan Jacoby said she can find ways that can convince her that God actually exists. So, if you have a scientific frame of mind then, if you believe something, you can be capable of being shown wrong.
In religion, there's no way that they can be shown wrong. If you say point out to them, "Everybody is suffering and dying. Look at that little girl over there who's got leukemia. How could your god do that?" They'll always find a way to explain it. It's a system of bias where you find out exactly what you want to believe to begin with.
So the result of the difference in methodology between religion and science and how they find out the truth results in a difference in outcome. And that is the second incompatibility that I'm talking about. Science and religious investigations tell us different things about the world.
Here, for example, is what Christianity told us about the world before science came in and blew them all out of the water. Creation story, there was an exodus, Adam and Eve, a great flood, prayer works, young Earth. These are all wrong. We know this now. And why are they wrong? Because science has shown them to be wrong.
We have an asymmetric relationship between science and religion. Science can show that religious beliefs are wrong. Religion cannot show that scientific beliefs are wrong. Religious people know this in their heart and that's why they hate science so much, at least many of them. And different religions give different answers to these questions. So not only are religions incompatible with science, they're incompatible with each other. Which means, of course, as several people have said today, that leads right off the bat to wondering, "Well, are any of these things are true?"
Here's a graph of the history of religions over the past 20,000 years. You start with whatever proto-religion there is on the left, and as you go toward the right you see them splitting off. The orange denominations on the top are Christians. There's actually 41,000 of these. I couldn't put them on the graph all together. The green ones are Muslims. Shia, Sunni and Sufi, and of course there's others as well. That low yellow bar going across is Judaism, but there are different sects of Jews. And then at the bottom we have the Asian religions.
The point I'm trying to make here is that this is like a phylogenetic tree of organisms. We have one religion as it evolves, so to speak, it splits into different religions. Why? Largely because their splits come over irresolvable matters of fact. And a religion will schism when its adherents divide into two camps trying to figure out which one of them is right about a question that can't be decided. How many gods are there? Is there one or more? Is there a trinity? Unitarians, trinitarians. Was Jesus a prophet? Muslims versus Christians. Did Jesus even exist? Is evolution true? Can you give blood? Can women be priests? Can you marry more than one woman at a time?
Each time one of these questions come up about God's approval of the nature of the universe, a religion splits. And they split, and they stay split. They don't come back together again because these questions cannot be resolved. Now, in contrast, this is science. This is the history of science over the past 30,000 years and what we see is pretty much a straight line. We have these things coming off which represent divergent ideas, like the continents could be static instead of movable, and the last one I put over on the right is string theory which is still out there.
But, you know, nobody's believing now. But you can see that there's a difference. Science has a way to resolve its questions. It has a way to arrive at a consensus, which we call the scientific truth. And then there's philosophical incompatibilities as well as the methodological and outcome incompatibilities.
I won't talk about these except that science has an atheistic philosophy behind it. That we do not believe that gods interfere in our experiments and observations. And this is the philosophical underpinning of our epistemology. And that's an end compatibility, also.
So science advances and people feel threatened by the implications of science, and the more science advances the more threatened they get. Here are all of the fields of science, and even humanities, that threaten religious people.
Evolution, of course, threatens them for ways I've mentioned before. Cosmology, the idea that there's a big bang and that there could be an infinite series of big bangs that go back forever and ever so you don't need a first cause. That's scary to religious people. Animal behavior in psychology is starting to tell us that that we're born with certain evolved tendencies which we can see nascent in other species.
You might want to look up Frans de Waal's experiments with morality and capuchin monkeys. The famous, "give that monkey a grape and give that one a cucumber and see what they do to each other" experiment. That's morality in its nascent form. And, of course, this is repugnant to religious people because morality has to come from God.
Psychology and neuroscience are starting to tell us that we don't have free will. That our brain is just collections of molecules and what we do is completely deterministic. It's a product of the physical processes in our brain.
We don't have the kind of libertarian free will that is absolutely essential to many religious people. You have to be able to choose to accept Jesus. You have to be able to choose freely to accept God. God gave us free will as our most precious gift. If we don't have that, then the underpinnings of religion are seriously undermined. And this is what neurobiology is starting to tell us. We can now predict what choices are going to make in certain circumstances 10 seconds before you're cognizant of having made that choice yourself.
And finally, archaeology, history and biblical scholarship are starting to tell us that the bible is largely a man-made construction. It's a work of fiction. Many of the things in it don't turn out to be true, like the exodus or the census of Caesar Augustus.
I don't know how religious people come to deal with that, particularly fundamentalist ones. So we have this constant tension. Now, don't believe the people that tell you that science and religion are friendly, because they're not. Science advances and each time it does, religious people have to figure out how to incorporate that change into their worldview. Not only the changes I talked about before, but the changes that are proposed by the so-called Four Horsemen, these books, the new atheism.
So religious people are being squeezed at two ends by the advances of science and by the books written by the new atheists. And I would say, and many would disagree with me, that if there's anything that characterizes new atheism that differentiates it from the old atheism, for most people, except for maybe Ingersoll, is its emphasis on testability and science.
All these new atheists are either scientists or science friendly. They regard religious hypotheses as hypotheses to be tested. And if you can't test them, then you don't consider them seriously. So what does a religious person do when they're faced with this squeezing from one end by the atheists and from the other end by the scientists? They don't want to give up their religion, that's for sure one thing. Except for Adam Mann yesterday, who actually could not take that cognitive dissonance any more when he learned about evolution. They try to do what we call accommodationism. They try to find ways in which science and religion are friendly to one another.
And I want to talk about that for a moment. The view that science and faith are compatible, harmonious or mutually reinforcing. And if you ask an accommodationist why they are like that, what's so comparable about science or religion, they'll give you a diversity of answers. But the most common one is the one that Steve Gould proposed in 1999 in his book Rocks of Ages, which was very popular.
I don't think he believed it for a minute. Gould was a diehard atheist if there ever was one. He had no use for religion, when he showed respect for religion in this book, I think he was absolutely lying through his teeth because I knew the man and I never heard him say anything good about religion at all.
But if there's anything that will make you popular in this country, it is saying that science and religion are friendly. You don't get a lot of popularity by saying that science and religion are enemies of one another. So I think this was Gould's attempt to mollify his public to make them like him. And his idea was that they're non-overlapping magisteria.
Science documents the factual character of the natural world and develops theories that coordinate and explain the facts. Religion, on the other hand, has nothing to do with claims about the universe or the real world, according to Gould. Religion is all about meaning, morals, purposes and values.
So what we get are these two non-overlapping areas. One of them dealing with what's true in the universe, the other one dealing with what's right and wrong in the universe, and they can be friendly because they're separate from one another. So I guess distance breeds amity, or something like that. Unfortunately, religious people do not have this.
This isn't the way religion works in most countries. Religious people really do have an epistemological underpinning to their beliefs. And here's what, for example, a Harris poll, taken a couple of years ago, shows about what Americans believe. It's always between 55 and 85 percent. The existence of God, the existence of heaven and hell, Jesus Christ's resurrection, the virgin birth, the existence of angels. Look at that: 68 percent of Americans believe in angels. That's three times more than believe in evolution or accept evolution.
These are real empirical statements about the nature of the universe. So this is not the kind of religion Gould was talking about. This is a religion that is absolutely grounded on certain propositions about what's true. You cannot call yourself a Christian, or maybe Bishop Spong can, but hardly anybody else can call themselves a Christian unless they believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And, in fact, smart theologians — that may be an oxymoron — will admit this in their more revealing moments. Here's Ian Barber, a religious historian of science: "Religion is a way of life and a set of abstract ideas, but it presupposes beliefs about the nature of reality and cannot be sustained if those beliefs are no longer credible."
Here's Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. Collins, of course, is head of the National Institutes of Health, America's most prominent scientist, and they say, "Well, yeah. Religion often makes claims about the way things are." So, Gould's conception of religion as some nebulous collection of moral dicta and songs that you hear in church is completely at odds with the way religions really live in America and Christianity, and even more so and Middle Eastern countries in Islam.
You try telling a Muslim that there is no truth in the idea that the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Mohammad, they'll slit your throat. I mean, not all of them will. But they take these things very seriously as empirical truths. Try telling a Mormon that Joseph Smith was a con man and made up those golden plates. If they really believed that, they couldn't be Mormons.
Now, you know, there is epistemic underpinning for almost all religions. Maybe not Quakerism, maybe not Buddhism, maybe not Confucianism, but the Abrahamic religions, yes. And this is emulated by the Christian physicist Ian Hutchinson at MIT, who explicitly says, "The religion Gould is talking about is not a religion that I recognize."
A religion, whatever its attraction to the liberal scientist, could never be Christianity or, for that matter, Judaism or Islam. So think of religion as a form of science, because at bottom all religious beliefs, all religious adherents, all religious attendance at church must be based on certain claims about the universe and the world that, at least in principle, are empirically testable. If you can test them, then you can show whether they're wrong. They always are wrong. If you can't test them, then there's no reason for you to believe them according to Hitchen's dictum.
Eugenie Scott, whom I have great respect for as ex-head of the National Center for Science Education, was one of the great accommodationists of our time because she realized that if you alienate Christians or religions by saying that science and religion are odds, you're going to lose a lot of those liberal religious people who will come to court to support you against the teaching of creationism in the public school. So it was a political tactic on her part. I don't know whether she believed that or not, but this is certainly the line that she took.
That religion and science are separate, like Gould said, because you cannot put God into a test tube. You cannot do scientific tests on claims about religion, and therefore they're different magisteria. Well, of course you can do scientific tests on claims about religion. Creationism is one such test and it's been shown to be wrong.
Here's another one. You've probably heard of the heart study that was done, although I can't remember the year. It was funded by the Templeton Foundation. It was meant to test whether intercessory prayer was effective, and they did a really good study, a double-blind study. They took heart patients who had undergone cardiac surgery and they had people pray for them. And some people knew they were being prayed for, some people didn't know they were being prayed for, some people didn't know who they were praying for. So it was a pure double blind study.
And then he could monitor the effects of this prayer. What do you think the outcome was? It's zippo. Actually, not zippo, the people who were prayed for the most were marginally worse off than everybody else. But believe me, if it had gone the other way, if prayer had worked, then you would hear this study trumpeted from the highest mountaintops by every Christian in this country. But when it doesn't work they'll say things like, "Ah. You can't test God. It's a meaningless study."
So this is the way they regard putting their God in a test tube. When the test tube doesn't give you the results you want, you write off the experiment to begin with.
I just want to say one other thing about Gould, which is his idea that meaning, morals and values are the purview of religion. That that's its bailiwick. That is a very invidious and misleading statement, and Gould should have known better because we have all this history of secular ethics and philosophy beginning with Plato, Hugh Spinoza, John Stuart Mill. In our day, Dan Dennett, John Rawls, Anthony Grayling, Peter Singer.
You don't need a god to construct an ethical system or to have a philosophically consistent system of virtues and morality.
I just want to give you one test case of, even if you're a liberal Christian, how evolution and science comes in to clash with your own views, and that's the case of Adam and Eve. You all know the story, so I'll just reiterate it briefly. You can find it in the bible in the Epistles of Paul. And then it was the theologians and as Aquinas and Gus — sorry, Aquinas and St. Augustine — founded it, there were two original humans created by God — Adam and Eve.
They sinned against God's will. That gave them the original sin since they were the only founders of humanity, and all humans descended from them, everybody was infected by original sin. In order to rid ourselves of this original sin, we have to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior to cleanse us.
This is believed by 58 percent of Americans and it's held as true by the Catholic Church that Adam and Eve are our literal ancestors. There were only two original humans and we all descended from them. So when you say that the Catholic Church is friendly to evolution, remember that this is still part of Catholic dogma. It's in Pope Pius the XII's Die Humani Generis, it's still in the Catholic catechism. You cannot not believe in Adam and Eve and that there were only two humans originally.
The problem is, of course, that this is not true. And now the population genetics in the last 10 years has enabled us to know how many ancestors we have. I'll just show this graph briefly, which on the X-axis on the bottom shows going back in time in units of 10,000 years, 100,000 years, a million years, etc. And then the effective population size the number of breeding humans on the planet on the Y-axis and that goes up in factors of 10, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, and you see that there are two drops in the population size of history. Of humans over history. How do they do this?
You can look at the diversity of genes in the population of existing humans and sequence them and you can back calculate how many humans there must have been at certain periods of time. How many were there? You can see there's two drops in population size. Here, a big one about six million years ago, which is when we split off from the ancestors of modern chimps. Maybe we went through a bottleneck or had a disease. And then you can see here, a drop about 60,000 years ago in population size. We don't know the reason for this, it's likely is because many humans who were leaving Africa about that time and it caused a bottleneck in the population size. So what was the population size of humans at that time?
(And audience member shouts "Two!")
That's what Christians will tell you. If you believe in Noah's Ark, you would say eight. But there would have to be two beforehand. But you can actually set limits on these estimates. And here's what the estimates are in Africa — 10,000. People who left Africa — 2,250. Total humans on the planet, smallest size we ever achieved — 12,050. Greater than two, right?
Now, you may say, well you know this is clear, right? There were never two humans, but this is throwing theologians into a huge tizzy. They don't know what to do about it because that's a fundamental cornerstone of Christian theology. And many people take it literally. So some people say, "Well yeah. There were never Adam and Eve. There were these two guys over there, John and Freeda, and they were the titular Adam and Eve that God appointed."
And that's one solution. You may laugh, but that's what theologians get paid to do. But it causes problems because what about the rest of the people on the planet? How did they get the original sin from those two people? And some will say the whole thing is just a metaphor, but that causes theological problems, too. If Adam and Eve are metaphors, what are they metaphors for? Are they representing our evolved tendency to be xenophobic, selfish and aggressive?
If that's so, then why are we being punished for something we had no control over, which was built into our genes by natural selection? So there's all kinds of problems that are caused by this. And theologians at this very minute are fighting over it. It's actually quite amusing to sit at the sidelines and watch these squabbles when they try to resolve this issue.
And, of course, if you say Adam and Eve are metaphors, then you get into the slippery slope of saying that Jesus is a metaphor because you can make an argument that Jesus didn't exist. There's no real good evidence for Jesus. But he's a metaphor for the increasing morality that is developing in our planet. The kind described in Steve Pinker's book.
And so Jesus is, this is a metaphor for Adam and Eve. But you don't tell that to Christians.
I'll finish up with a question: Can religion and science have this friendly dialogue that everybody is always saying we need to have? This is a paper that has occurred in Nature just a week and a half ago. I've written a reply. We'll see if it will be published. Religion and science can have a true dialogue. And what they mean by dialogue is that we all sit down at a table, maybe we'll have a glass of wine — Manischewitz or something like that. And we'll settle our differences and we'll be buddies and everything will be fine.
The problem is that is not possible. You cannot have a dialogue like that. You cannot have a constructive dialogue between religion and science. You can have a destructive monologue between religion and science. The monologue is because the only discipline that can speak to the other one is science talking to religion. Science has the capability of telling religious people your beliefs are wrong. Religion doesn't have that effect on science. It can't. There is nothing, and there is no scripture, there is no religious belief that has ever had any influence in promoting the advance of science whatsoever.
So it's a monologue. Science talking to religion. Religion is having to swallow it. And change its dogma, if it can. But it's a one-way thing. So let me finish with this question: What is our task in light of all this antagonism between science and religion? The relationship between atheism, humanism and evolution. What do we do? How is the best way to promulgate evolution, or to promulgate non-belief, or promulgate humanism?
There are several ways to do it. Well, one of them was very common. Just teach evolution and shut the hell up about being an atheist. And being a humanist. You hear this all the time by people who say, "Richard Dawkins, you know, he really had me believing in evolution but then he wrote The God Delusion." And, I mean, I just can't stand that anymore. The guy has completely wrecked his credibility because he was being an atheist. This is what I call the "Dawkins Canard" because it's not true. It's simply not true.
If you look at the evidence that Richard's atheism has impeded his efficacy in promulgating evolution, there is none that I can find. You go to his website, you find a place called Convert's Corner. There are hundreds and hundreds of letters from people. People who have read the The God Delusion and by reading The God Delusion have not only become atheist, but have accepted evolution. Or, you find people that have read The Selfish Gene or Climbing Mount Improbable and believe in evolution and they become atheists.
So what you find when you look at data is this synergy between atheism and religion. The Dawkins Canard is not correct in my opinion. In fact, you will find one letter, and I've never heard anybody tell me, interacting with creationists over a long time, saying, "You know I really, really, really want to accept evolution. I really do because I know that all effects are buttressing it. But as long as Richard Dawkins keeps propagating atheism I'm not going to do it." You don't hear that. But that's the contention that these people make.
Second of all, you can criticize a religion and teach evolution, just don't do it at the same time. That's one strategy. This is the one I usually use not because it's duplicitous, but because you don't want to confuse people with what your message is. Because I will gladly tell, when kids ask me when I'm teaching evolution, what do I think about this and I will tell them. Or, you can bring up religion and science and evolution at same time. You need a special audience to do that, like the collection of molecules I have in front of me.
And finally, this is the lesson I really want to say, that the all-important thing here in propagating evolution and atheism is the rise of humanism itself. If you want to get people to accept evolution, you have to get rid of the blinkers that prevent them from doing that. Which is religion.
And if you want to get rid of religion, you can be an atheist and you help preach people out of it. But the best way to do it, this is what Marx said, you improve society in a way that makes people not need religion anymore. Propagate humanism.
So if I was going to ask what's the best way really to get people to accept evolution? My answer would be "income." Get rid of income inequality and give everybody health care. That's going to take a long time, but when you do that, you're going to build a lot of societies like the ones in Northern Europe which are largely atheistic. They've given up the need for God because they don't have a need for God. And every one of those societies is an evolution-accepting society.
We have evolution that perforce leads to accepting atheism because the implications and the facts about evolution. And then if you become an atheist and then an anti-theist, because you think religion has applications, then you want to become a humanist because you realize that humanism is the way to create societies that become atheistic.
And then you can go the other way around. If you're a humanist, then you just simply build good societies and you don't worry much about atheism or evolution. But, it turns out, that once you improve society, people don't need to believe in god anymore. They become atheistic and as soon as they become atheists their opposition to evolution just drops. Drops like a stone.
So I'll just say we're winning. This country and, that is, at least the West, is becoming more and more secular over time. The Nones are increasing in the United States, even in Europe, for the first time this year. In Britain, Christians were outnumbered by people who said they have no religion at all.
The last thing I want to say is a quote in honor of Susan Jacoby from the great, agnostic Robert Ingersoll, who said the most precious thing I've ever heard about the relationship between science and religion. "There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, the religion sought to strangle it in its cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied rack, religion, says to the athlete, 'Let us be friends.' It reminds me of the bargain the cock wished to make with the horse. Let us agree not to step on each other's feet."
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Away with the manger —in with the Solstice!
For a fact, the Christians stole Christmas. We don't mind sharing the season with them, but we don't like their pretense that it is the birthday of Jesus. It is the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis.
Christmas is a relic of sun worship.
For all of our major festivals, there were corresponding pagan festivals tied to natural events. We've been celebrating the Winter Solstice, this natural holiday, long before Christians crashed the party. For millennia, our ancestors in the Northern Hemisphere have greeted this seasonal event with festivals of light, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings.
The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season. The Winter Solstice, occurring on December 21 or 22, heralds the symbolic rebirth of the Sun, the lengthening of days and the natural New Year.
We nonbelievers are quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody's holidays. We just want to be spared the schmaltz, the superstition — and the state/church entanglements.
The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. It's fun to hear from distant family and friends, to gather, to feast, to sing. Gifts, as freethinker Robert Ingersoll once remarked, are evidences of friendship, of remembrance, of love.
The evergreens displayed now as in centuries past flourish when all else seems dead, and are symbols, as is the returning sun, of enduring life.
In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality.
What Is the Winter Solstice?
"Sol," in Latin, means sun. Witnessed from the northern hemisphere at the time of the Winter Solstice, the sun appears to stop its southerly drift for a day or two, before it returns north. Hence the word "stice," from the Latin for "stand still." The Winter Solstice is the moment when the sun appears at its most extreme southernmost position from the Equator, creating the year's longest night. The Summer Solstice six months later marks the longest day. The sun's "migration" north to south relative to the Earth is caused by the rotation of the Earth on its tilted axis as it orbits the sun. (The vernal and autumnal equinoxes are the midpoints, when daylight and nighttime are equal.) Today the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is popularly known as "the first day of winter."
The Winter Solstice took place on December 25 at the time the Julian calendar was adopted by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.E. The Julian calendar was off by 11 minutes per year. In 1582, by the time Pope Gregory established the Gregorian calendar, the Julian calendar was out of sync by ten days. The pope's remedy of deleting ten days from the calendar year 1582 established the solstice on December 22.
"Keep Saturn in Saturnalia"
Many of the Winter Solstice traditions coincide with agricultural seasons and harvest. The year's end is a natural time to store harvests, rest from farm work, feast and party. The best-known Winter Solstice custom was the Roman festival of Saturnalia, taking place for a week. The celebrations featured role reversals for masters and slaves, feasts, drinking, bon-fires, family parties, and gift-giving, decorating with evergreens and candles. In 350, Pope Julius I named December 25 as the day to celebrate the nativity. Emperor Justinian made Christmas a civic holiday after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fifth century.
Notes James Frazier in The Golden Bough, "it appears that the Christian Church chose to celebrate the birthday of its Founder on the twenty-fifth of December in order to transfer the devotion of the heathen from the Sun to him who was called the Sun of Righteousness." Frazier conjectures that for the same motives, "the Church may have consciously adapted the new festival [of Easter] to its heathen predecessor for the sake of winning souls to Christ."
Nothing in the New Testament refers to the nativity as occurring in wintertime. In fact, when "shepherds watched their flocks at night" was likely early spring or fall. Christmas (a word absent from the New Testament) is celebrated on December 25 because, as Frazier put it: "Taken altogether, the coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals."
"It is obvious that the babe in the manger and the babe in the diaper with a New Year's banner around his chest are really the same – a symbol of the reborn sun god," wrote Lee Carter ("The Winter Solstice and the Origins of Christmas," Fall 1985 Free Inquiry). "Some of the major gods who celebrated their birthdays on December 25 were Marduk, Osiris, Horus, Isis, Mithras, Saturn, Sol, Apollo, Serapis, and Huitzilopochli."
Christmas trees aren't Christian
What is now the ubiquitous American practice of placing a decorated tree in one's home was popularized here and in England in the 19th century by Germans, such as Queen Victoria's husband. But the roots of this custom, so to speak, were pagan. Besides Teutonic (German) peoples, Celts and Druids were among many ancient "heathens" who engaged in various forms of tree-worship. Evergreens were widely used as winter decorations by many in Northern Europe, including the Vikings. The Old Testament harshly warns of such idolatry: "Learn not the way of the heathen. . . Their customs are vain; for one cuts a tree out of the forest . . . they deck it with silver and with gold. . ." Jeremiah 10:2-5
The obvious pagan origins of Christmas revelry and customs were why the Puritans outlawed any observance of December 25 other than a church service.
Celebrating what is human
The 19th century's most famous "infidel," Robert Ingersoll, wrote "A Christmas Sermon," published in the Evening Telegram, Dec. 19, 1891, noting: "The good part of Christmas is not always Christian — it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural. . . . .
"Long before Christ was born the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has."
As Ingersoll said: "I am in favor of all the good free days — the more the better."
© 2012 by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Freedom From Religion Foundation
FFRF Nontract Number 15
Freedom From Religion Foundation
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701
June & July 2015
- Az. State Rep. Juan Mendez(Not participating)
Welcome to the voting page for the Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award. Below are links to twelve entries that have qualified as nominees since last year's contest. Watch the videos and select your favorite.
The Satanic Temple West Florida
Pensacola, Fla., City Council
July 14, 2016
The text of the invocation was originally written by Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. The invocation was delivered by David Suhor, a musician, activist, teacher and co-founder of The Satanic Temple West Florida.
Suhor sang it to an altered version of Albert Malotte's famous and beautiful melody for the "Lord's Prayer" (1935).
This was his fifth invocation before local elected boards. David is also a plaintiff in FFRF's lawsuit against the city of Pensacola for the exclusive display of the "Bayview Cross," a huge Latin cross in a local public park.
Let us stand now,
unbowed and unfettered
by arcane doctrines
borne of fearful minds in darkened times.
Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse
to eat of the Tree of Knowledge
and dissipate our blissful
and comforting delusions of old.
Let us demand
that individuals be judged for their concrete actions,
not their fealty to arbitrary social norms
and illusory categorizations.
Let us reason our solutions
with agnosticism in all things,
Holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true,
Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority
that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All.
That which will not bend must break,
and that which can be destroyed by truth
should never be spared its demise.
It is Done. Hail Satan.