If Dan Dennett (and I) ruled the world

February 22, 2014 • 9:00 am

Professor Ceiling Cat is otherwise occupied today, and so posting will be light and limited to persiflage.

I don’t know if this is a regular feature of Prospect magazine, but it should be. Thursday’s issue published a short piece called “Daniel Dennett: If I ruled the world.” It’s a laundry list of what Dan would do if he could run everything. (He says nothing about enforcing compatibilism.) I’ll include just one of his Roolz:

I am not known for my modesty, and some may be surprised to learn that I really don’t think I have all the answers. Here, for instance, is one of my favourite ideas, but I am truly baffled about how to put it into action even with all the powers in the world at my disposal. As we all know—but sometimes forget, in our panic— when the plumbing has burst, the first step to take is to turn off the water main. In that spirit, I would like my first step on ascending to the dictatorship to be decreeing high quality, non-ideological education for boys and girls in every community on the globe. If we could just liberate the world’s children from illiteracy, ignorance, and superstition, their curiosity would lead them to solutions that were both locally informed and sensitive while also tuned to a fairly realistic view of the global context into which these solutions must fit. Once accomplished, the result of this universal education would be the opposite of paternalism, giving people everywhere maximum freedom to make informed choices about how to live their lives.

A great idea, but, as Dan admits, not workable:

The disastrous attempts to separate children from their families in the recent past in order to give them “proper” educations should convince us that there is simply no way of imposing an educational system on children in different cultures against their will and the will of their elders that isn’t both inhumane and ineffective. . . My reluctance to use my political power to educate the young is based on the begrudging opinion that resistance to such impositions is itself so intense that the effort is almost certain to be counterproductive.

He has another diktat as well, and one that even Sam Harris would agree with, but go over and see for yourself.

What would do if I ran the world? Well, let’s leave aside Big Projects like the above, or forcing the North Korean government to disband and merge with the South (something much to be desired). My aims are smaller:

1.  Anybody with more then ten items in the “ten items or less” (and it should be “fewer,” not “less”) grocery checkout lane would be roundly excoriated, turned away, and sent to the end of another lane.  One item too many and you’re GONE! (Note: two bottles of soda count as two items.)

2. Speaking of which, anyone approaching the register in the checkout line who has not fully written out their check except for the amount (or who has not removed their wallet from their pocket or purse) would also be expelled from the line. In my world there will be no fumbling in change purses for pennies or dimes.

3. The price of lattes—the most overpriced non-alcoholic beverage on the market—would be capped at $2.00, even for a large one.

4.  No hotel could charge for wireless.

5. No airline could charge you to check a single bag so long as it’s not overweight.

6. If you had an appointment for a haircut, and had to wait more than 15 minutes past that time for your trim, the haircut would be free.

7. Cilantro would be banned from all restaurants as an inedible substance.

8. All bicyclists would obey the traffic laws, including stopping at stop signs.

9. No commenter on this website could ever use the words “I don’t mean to nitpick, but . . . “

Feel free to add what you’d change about the world, along the lines of the above. But please, no stuff like “I’d bring world peace.” That’s for Miss America contestants!

Daniel Dennett on media bias and religion

January 18, 2010 • 11:38 pm

by Greg Mayer

Jerry’s back, but still overcoming the inevitable feelings of despair and hopelessness that come from arriving in Chicago in January after cruising among tropical islands (just kidding– Chicago’s my kind of town this time of year!), so he asked me to post the following link to a post by Dan Dennett in the Washington Post’s On Faith blog answering the question, “Is there widespread media bias against Christianity?” Money quote:

The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all. I don’t see bankers or stockbrokers wringing their hands because the media is biased against them; they know that their recent activities have earned them an unwanted place in the spotlight of public attention and criticism, and they get no free pass, especially given their power. Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light. If they detect that the media are giving them a harder time today than in the past, that is because the bias that protected religion from scrutiny is beginning to dissolve.

Almost-live report: Daniel Dennett at the Cambridge Darwin-and-faith bash

July 9, 2009 • 5:28 am

Daniel Dennett is attending the Darwin celebration at Cambridge University, and sent us this report from the two symposia on faith and religion — symposia that were, as I reported earlier, sponsored by The John Templeton Foundation.  On to Dan’s report, which he kindly gave permission to post:


I am attending and participating in the big Cambridge University Darwin Week bash, and I noticed that one of the two concurrent sessions the first day was on evolution and theology, and was ‘supported by the Templeton Foundation’ (though the list of Festival Donors and Sponsors does not include any mention of Templeton). I dragged myself away from a promising session on speciation, and attended. Good thing I did. It was wonderfully awful. We heard about the Big Questions, a phrase used often, and it was opined that the new atheists naively endorse the proposition that “There are no meaningful questions that science cannot answer.” Richard Dawkins’ wonderful sentence about how nasty the God of the  Old Testament is was read with relish by Philip Clayton, Professor at Claremont School of Theology in California, and the point apparently was to illustrate just how philistine these atheists were—though I noticed that he didn’t say he disagreed with Richard’s evaluation of Yahweh. We were left to surmise, I guess, that it was tacky of Richard to draw attention to these embarrassing blemishes in an otherwise august tradition worthy of tremendous respect.  The larger point was the complaint that the atheists have a “dismissive attitude toward the Big Questions” and Dawkins, in particular, didn’t consult theologians. (H. Allen Orr, they were singing your song.) Clayton astonished me by listing God’s attributes: according to his handsomely naturalistic theology, God is not omnipotent,  not even supernatural, and . . . . in short Clayton is an atheist who won’t admit it.

The second talk was by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, a Professor of  Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and it was an instance of  “theological anthropology,” full of earnest gobbledygook about embodied minds and larded with evolutionary tidbits drawn from Frans de Waal, Steven Mithen and others.  In the discussion period I couldn’t stand it any more and challenged the speakers: “I’m Dan Dennett, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and we are forever being told that we should do our homework and consult with the best theologians. I’ve heard two of you talk now, and you keep saying this is an interdisciplinary effort—evolutionary theology—but I am still waiting to be told what theology has to contribute to the effort. You’ve clearly adjusted your theology considerably in the wake of Darwin, which I applaud, but what traffic, if any, goes in the other direction? Is there something I’m missing? What questions does theology ask or answer that aren’t already being dealt with by science or secular philosophy? What can you clarify for this interdisciplinary project?” (Words to that effect)  Neither speaker had anything to offer, but van Huyssteen  blathered on for a bit without, however,  offering any instances of theological wisdom that every scientist interested in the Big Questions should have in his kit.

But I learned a new word: “kenotic” as in kenotic theology. It comes from the Greek word kenosis meaning ‘self-emptying.’ Honest to God. This new kenotic theology is all the rage in some quarters, one gathers, and it is “more deeply Christian for being more adapted to Darwinism.” (I’m not making this up.) I said that I was glad to learn this new word and had to say that I was tempted by the idea that kenotic theology indeed lived up to its name.

At the coffee break, some folks told me my question had redeemed the session for them, but I would guess I irritated others with my persistent request for something of substance to chew on.

After the second set of two talks, which I was obliged to listen to since the moderator promised more responses to my “challenge” and I had to stay around to hear them out, there was another half hour of discussion. I did my duty: I listened attentively, I asked questions, and the theologians were embarrassingly short on answers, though one recommended David Chalmers on panpsychism—a philosopher, not a theologian, and second, nobody, not even Chalmers, takes panpsychism seriously, to the best of my knowledge. Do theologians?

The third speaker was Dr. Denis Alexander of Cambridge University, and he had some interesting historical scholarship on the varying positions on progress and purpose offered by thinkers from Erasmus Darwin–who had surmised that all life began from a single “living filament” (nice guess!)–through Darwin and Spencer and the Huxleys and on to Gould and Dawkins (and me).  Particularly useful was a late quote from Gould’s last book (p468 if you want to run it down) in which he allowed, contrary to his long-held line on contingency, that evolution did exhibit “directional properties” that could not be ignored.  The conclusion of Alexander’s talk was that it is nowadays a little “more plausible that it isn’t necessarily the case that the evolutionary process doesn’t have a larger purpose.”  That is certainly a circumspect and modest conclusion.

The fourth speaker was the Catholic Father Fraser Watt (of Cambridge University School of Divinity, and a big Templeton grantsman, as noted by the chair).  He introduced us to “evolutionary Christology.” Again, I’m not making this up. Evolution, it turns out, was planned by an intelligent God to create a species “capable of receiving the incarnation”—though this particular competence of our species might be, in Watts’ opinion, a “spandrel.” Jesus was “a spiritual mutation, ” and “the culmination of the evolutionary process,” marking a turning point in world history. A member of the audience cheekily asked if Father Watt was saying that Jesus’s parents were both normal human beings then? (I was going to press the point: perhaps Jesus’s madumnal genes from Mary were the product of natural selection but his padumnal genes were hand crafted by the Holy Spirit!—but Father Watt forestalled the inquiry by declaring that he had no knowledge or opinion about Jesus’ parentage—something that his Catholic colleagues will presumably not appreciate.)

Afterwards I was asked if I had enjoyed the session, and learned anything, and I allowed as how I had. I would not have dared use the phrase “evolutionary Christology” for fear of being condemned as a vicious caricaturist of worthy, sophisticated theologians, but now I had heard the term used numerous times, and would be quoting it in the future, as an example of the sort of wisdom that sophisticated theology has to offer to evolutionary biology.
I had an epiphany at the end of the session, but I kept it to myself: The Eucharist is actually a Recapitulation of the Eukaryotic Revolution. When Christians ingest the Body of Christ, without digesting it, but keep it whole (holistier-than-thou whole), they are re-enacting the miracle of endosymbiosis that paved the way for eventual multi-cellularity. And so, dearly beloved brethren, we can see that by keeping Christ intact in our bodies we are keeping His Power intact in our embodied Minds, or Souls, just the way the first Eukaryote was vouchsafed a double blessing of earthly competence that enabled its descendants to join forces in Higher Organizations. Evolutionary theology. . . . I think I get it! I can do it! It truly is intellectual tennis without a net.

There is another Templeton session on The Evolution of Religion, with Pascal Boyer, David Sloan Wilson, Michael Ruse and Harvey Whitehouse. Dr. Fraser Watt, our evolutionary Christologist, will be chairing the session. It will be interesting to see how docile these mammals are in the feeding trough.


The second Templeton-sponsored session (at the Cambridge Darwin Festival) was more presentable.  On the evolution of religion, it featured clear, fact-filled presentations by Pascal Boyer and Harvey Whitehouse, a typical David Sloan Wilson advertisement for his multi-level selection approach, and an even more typical meandering and personal harangue from Michael Ruse.  The session was chaired, urbanely and without any contentful intervention, by Fraser Watt, our evolutionary christologist. (I wonder: should “christology” be capitalized?   Ian McEwan asked me if there was, perhaps, a field of X-ray christology.  I’ve been having fun fantasizing about how that might revolutionize science and open up a path for the Crick and Watson of theology!)

I learned something at the session. Boyer presented a persuasive case that the “packaging” of the stew of separable and largely independent items as “religion” is itself ideology generated by the institutions, a sort of advertising that has the effect of turning religions into “brands” in competition. Whitehouse gave a fascinating short account of the Kivung cargo cult in a remote part of Papua New Guinea that he studied as an anthropologist, living with them for several years.  A problem: the Kivung cult has the curious belief that their gods (departed ancestors) will return, transformed into white men, and bearing high technology and plenty for all.  This does present a challenge for a lone white anthropologist coming to live with them for awhile, camera gear in hand, and wishing to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Wilson offered very interesting data from a new study by his group on a large cohort of American teenagers, half Pentecostals and half Episcopalians (in other words, maximally conservative and maximally liberal), finding that on many different scales of self-assessment, these young people are so different that they would look to a biologist like “different species.”

Ruse declared that while he is an atheist, he wishes that those wanting to explain religion wouldn’t start with the assumption that religious beliefs are false.  He doesn’t seem to appreciate the role of the null hypothesis or the presumption of innocence in trials.  We also learned tidbits about his life and his preference–as an atheist–for the Calvinist God.

Many thanks to Dan for the report, and for permission to make it public.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum: Atheists turn Americans from science, strangle puppies

July 1, 2009 • 2:05 pm

Over at Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson has begun reading and posting on Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s new book, Unscientific America, an analysis of why the American public is so scientifically illiterate (I’m going by the blurbs; I haven’t read it yet). According to Mooney and Kirshenbaum, one of the main reasons for this illiteracy is — can you guess? — the ATHEISTS. Yes folks, our stridency and militancy have alienated flocks of Americans, turning them away from science. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens all get their licks, with special opprobrium reserved for P. Z. Myers. See link above for Ophelia’s first take, and the second is here.

I will reserve making my own comments until I read the book.

One other note: three liberal English theologians, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have joined forces to prevent British citizens suffering from terminal illnesses to seek euthanasia in countries like Switzerland. Liberal religion harmless? Not in this case. See the link for Anthony Grayling’s take and the original news item.

Fighting back against Templeton

June 21, 2009 • 9:36 am

Standing behind much of the accommodationism in America is the John Templeton Foundation. This organization is loaded to the gunwales with cash, thanks to the investing activities of the late John Templeton, and it regularly uses its ample coffers to lure scientists into discussing “the big questions” in support of its aim to unify science and faith. (n.b.: whenever you hear the words “bigger questions” or “deeper questions” in this debate, rest assured that they really mean “unanswerable questions” or even “meaningless questions.” And you can also be sure that the answer to these big, deep questions involves religion.) Templeton likes having big-name scientists and secular academics on its panels and in its published discussions, for their presence lends an air of versimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing enterprise.

Some of us have begun fighting back, refusing to participate in Templeton’s ventures or to lend our name to their discussions. The latest refusal involves science writer Edwin Cartlidge, who emailed several neo-materialist fundamentalist militant atheists, asking their cooperation in a Templeton-funded project. So far Daniel Dennett and Anthony Grayling have responded (all of these emails are reproduced with permission of the writers):

From: Edwin Cartlidge
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2009 9:55 AM
To: Dennett, Daniel C.
Subject: Questions on materialism

Dear Prof Dennett, I am a science journalist currently taking part in the Templeton Cambridge journalism fellowship programme in science and religion. As part of the programme each fellow takes an indepth look at one particular topic, and mine is “materialism”. In the first place I want to understand simply what is meant by the term (as it seems to have various forms) and then to understand how a materialistic viewpoint can or cannot be reconciled with the world around us (particularly as regards human nature).. For this I will be speaking to a number of different experts, including scientists, philosophers and theologians. Since you have written extensively on the philosophy of mind and related areas I thought that you would be a good person to talk to, and wondered whether you might be free at some point in the next three weeks to speak over the phone. I imagine the conversation would last around 20 to 30 minutes.

If you would like to speak to me I would be grateful if you could tell me when would be a good time for me to call and what number I should use.

best regards,

Edwin Cartlidge.

Dennett’s response:

From: “Dennett, Daniel C.”
To: Edwin Cartlidge
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2009 11:53:16 PM
Subject: RE: Questions on materialism

Dear Mr Cartlidge,

I have had my say about materialism and the persistent attempt by religious spokespeople to muddy the waters by claiming, without a shred of support, that materialism (in the sense I have defended for my entire career) is any obstacle to meaning, or to an ethical life—see, e.g., BREAKING THE SPELL, pp302-307.

I see no reason to go over that ground again, and I particularly don’t want to convey the impression, by participating in an interview with you, that this is, for me, a live issue. It is not. If you had said that you were studying the views of scientists, philosophers and, say, choreographers on this topic, I would at least be curious about what expertise choreographers could bring to it. If you had said scientists, philosophers, and astrologers, I would not even have replied to your invitation. The only reason I am replying is to let you know that I disapprove of the Templeton Foundation’s attempt to tie theologians to the coat tails of scientists and philosophers who actually do have expertise on this topic.

Many years ago I made the mistake of participating, with some very good scientists, in a conference that pitted us against astrologers and other new age fakes. I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers! As one person explained to me “I figured that if you scientists were willing to work this hard to refute it, there must be something to it!” Isn’t it obvious to you that the Templeton Foundation is eager to create the very same response in its readers? Do you really feel comfortable being complicit with that project?

Best wishes,

Daniel Dennett

The response of philosopher Anthony Grayling, who received the same request from Cartlidge:

Dear Mr Cartlidge
Thank you for your message. I hope you will understand that this is by no means
directed at you personally, but I don't engage in Templeton-associated matters.
I cannot agree with the Templeton Foundation's project of trying to make
religion respectable by conflating it with science; this is like mixing
astrology with astronomy or voodoo with medical research, and I disapprove of
Templeton's use of its great wealth to bribe compliance with this project.
Templeton is to all intents and purposes a propaganda organisation for religious
outlooks; it should honestly say so and equally honestly devote its money to
prop up the antique superstitions it favours, and not pretend that questions of
religion are of the same kind and on the same level as those of science - by
which means it persistently seeks to muddy the waters and keep religion credible
in lay eyes. It is for this reason I don't take part in Templeton-associated
matters. My good wishes to you -
Anthony Grayling

Professor A. C. Grayling
School of Philosophy
Birkbeck, University of London

By the way, does anybody find these responses “uncivil”???

A description of the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion (one of which Mr. Cartlidge received) is here. Note the description of their purpose:

The John Templeton Foundation inaugurated the fellowship in 2006 to offer a small group of print, broadcast, or online journlists annually the opportunity to examine the dynamic and creative interface of science and religion.

Creative interface only? What about those who want to write about the destructive interface?

Thanks to Richard Dawkins, who secured permission to quote these emails, and who also has a commentary about Templeton on his website. There’s a new post at Pharyngula, too.

Brown + Ruse vs. Myers: Are atheists responsible for creationism?

June 18, 2009 • 6:47 am

I swear, sometimes I think that pro-evolution accommodationists see evolutionists as a bigger enemy than are creationists.  This became clear to me earlier this week, when I received a nasty, chest-thumping email from philosopher Michael Ruse, accusing me of two things:

1.  Since I was not a philosopher, I had no credentials to pronounce on issues of philosophy, religion and theology.  You know what I think of this claim.

2.  My “anti-religion” activities are inimical to the cause of promoting evolutionary biology.  You know what I think about this as well: religion is really the root cause of creationism, which won’t dissipate until we loosen the grip of faith on America.

I’ll quote just two sentences from Ruse’s email: “But as it is, we are in a battle in America for the scientific soul of its children.  I don’t know who does more damage, you and your kind or Phillip Johnson and his kind.  I really don’t.”

This made me laugh.  Ruse is the Discovery Institute’s favorite philosopher, a guy who can always be counted on to stroke IDers and say, “Yes, yes, you’ve really been misunderstood. I understand.  It’s those nasty atheists who are really the ones cooking up trouble.”  Ruse edited a book with ID prima donna William Dembski, and has posted on the Discovery Institute website.  Fortunately, most philosophers and evolutionists don’t take Ruse too seriously. He is constantly coddling the faithful to grotesque extents, even going so far, in his book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?, to float the idea of an intergalactic Jesus who could carry the message of salvation between every planet on which life evolved. (See my review of this execrable tome here.)

Ruse still likes to make trouble, though.  His latest shenanigan is a collaborative posting with Andrew Brown (on Brown’s column) at the Guardian website (I swear, the Guardian has published three pro-religion, anti-atheist pieces in the past three days. What’s with them?). The post is absolutely unbelievable in its hauteur — and stupidity.

Ruse reports that he visited Kentucky’s Creation Museum, where he had an epiphany.  He suddenly realized how misunderstood creationists really are.  We nasty, militant atheists don’t take the trouble to step into the creationists’ shoes and understand where they’re coming from.  From Ruse’s circular email, coopted by Brown:

Just for one moment about half way through the exhibit …I got that Kuhnian flash that it could all be true – it was only a flash (rather like thinking that Freudianism is true or that the Republicans are right on anything whatsoever) but it was interesting nevertheless to get a sense of how much sense this whole display and paradigm can make to people.

His conclusion?

It is silly just to dismiss this stuff as false – that eating turds is good for you is [also] false but generally people don’t want to [whereas] a lot of people believe Creationism so we on the other side need to get a feeling not just for the ideas but for the psychology too.

Really?  Didn’t Ruse himself, along with Kenneth Miller and other theistic or theist-friendly scientists, work together to show that creationism is false in the Dover trial and earlier creationist cases? Isn’t that the way we win in court?  Well, maybe, but Ruse’s beef is that we need to be armchair psychologists as well as scientists, something that the deeply empathetic Ruse has apparently mastered.   Brown concurs:

This is, I think one of the key differences between the new, or militant, atheists and Darwinians like Ruse, just as atheist as they but a lot less anti-religious. The new atheists recoil instinctively from the idea that they should get a feeling for the ideas and psychology of creationists. To them the essential point about believers is that they are stupid and crazy and wrong. So why waste your one life trying to inhabit a mind smaller and more twisted than your own?

(Just for fun, click on Brown’s links above.  They don’t lead you to statements by the “new atheists”!)

Well, I won’t waste time rebutting Brown’s (and Ruse’s) view, for P. Z. Myers has done a splendid job of it over on Pharyngula.  This is one of P.Z.’s all-time classic posts.  Check out the eloquent peroration after he has worked himself up to the heights of indignation:

I sympathize [with creationists] because they are all missing the awesomeness of reality for the awfulness of some narrow Bronze Age theocratic bullshit.

But there are also some for whom I have no sympathy at all.

I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.

Those people can just fuck off.

Well, a mite strong there at the end, but I share P.Z.’s frustration and anger.   Do look at the readers’ responses (my favorites from last night are #25 and #47)  and especially the readers’ responses to the Brown/Ruse post.  Suffice it to say that Brown’s piece did not go down well.

Let me point out Brown’s twisted logic at the end of his piece:

But this constant identification of religion with irrationality, stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance [by the new atheists] is doubly self-defeating. It doesn’t of course work to persuade anyone out of religious belief. But it also promotes some quite grotesque self-deception. For if all the bad traits in human nature are religious, and I am not religious, then I am surely free from all the believers’ faults. Sometimes I think this explains the attractions of that style of atheism.

Oh dear.  Who ever said that all the bad traits in human nature are religious?  Or that atheists are free from faults?  This is just smoke and mirrors, and what it mirrors is Brown and Ruse’s refusal to face the complete lack of evidence for both God and  the epistemic assertions of the faithful. And I’m dead sick of the Brown/Ruse failure to engage the substantive arguments of atheists.  Instead, they repeatedly criticize our tone.  This is a tactic born of desperation. It’s what students of animal behavior call displacement activity: for example, when a pissed off sea gull attacks a leaf.

People like Ruse are afflicted with what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief” — the idea that even if the tenets of religion are wrong, it should still be promoted because it’s good for people and for society.  I find this notion incredibly condescending.  We know from the situation in Europe, where there are a ton of atheists, that people do not need religion to live happy, fulfilled, and moral lives.


UPDATE: Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse describes Ruse’s own sordid history of cozying up to creationists. I had forgotten that Ruse gave a series of public talks with ID bigwig William Dembski, and didn’t know that Ruse described Dembski’s book The Design Inference as “a valuable contribution to science.”  To science??

Join the Reason Project

May 21, 2009 • 7:11 am

Under the inspiration of Sam Harris, a nonprofit organization called The Reason Project has been formed under the trusteeship of Sam, his wife Annaka, and Jai Lakshman.  The website can be accessed here, and the aims are these:

The Reason Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. Drawing on the talents of the most prominent and creative thinkers across a wide range of disciplines, The Reason Project seeks to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy through a variety of interrelated projects. The foundation will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific studies and opinion polls, publish original research, award grants to other charitable organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

While the foundation is devoted to fostering critical thinking generally, we believe that religious ideas require a special focus. Both science and the arts are built upon cultures of vigorous self-criticism; religious discourse is not. As a result, unwarranted religious beliefs still reign unchallenged in almost every society on earth—dividing humanity from itself, inflaming conflict, preventing wise public policy, and diverting scarce resources. One of the primary goals of The Reason Project is to change this increasingly unhealthy status quo.

We are always looking for creative ways to involve the community in our efforts. If you would like to contribute to the work of The Reason Project, please fill out a volunteer application. We encourage you to consider the work of The Reason Project your own.

There is a nice advisory board, including luminaries like Sam, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Steve Pinker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and one non-luminary, moi.   Our goal is not to constanty attack or wipe out religion, but to spread rationality (granted, the spread of one is inimical to the existence of the other).  But have a look at the website and do volunteer or join up if you’re interested.  There are some cool projects listed, and more in the offing.


NYT shows that atheists are not agents of Satan

April 27, 2009 • 7:58 am

Surprisingly, today’s New York Times has a good article on the growth of atheism in America.  As I’ve said, I think that this is the best way to rid the country of creationism, though it will take time.  And the best way to effect this change is to be vociferous –or at least not reticent– about your lack of belief.  I used to be very timorous about professing atheism (which, remember is not an explicit disbelief in God, but a refusal to believe until you have a good reason).  It was the writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris that persuaded me that I could stand up for what I thought, and I can’t help but think that the more one speaks out, the more one effects change.  There are a lot of like-minded non-believers out there who, as the article notes, won’t say what they think for fear of ostracism.

The one scary  part of the article was this:

Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate, one of many offered by the state, says “In Reason We Trust” — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said “Non Prophet Organization,” he said.

Geez, those tee shirts are sort of funny.  But I didn’t realize that Habitat for Humanity, an organization for which I had a lot of respect, is actually an “ecunmenical Christian housing ministry.” Anyway, it’s heartening to see so many unbelievers (a term I prefer to “atheists”; I also like “naturalists”) coming out of the woodwork.