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Vol 48, No.2
HOW THE GOD BUSINESS GETS AWAY WITH BEING TAX FREE
ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS Managing Editor Frank R. Zindler firstname.lastname@example.org AMERICAN ATHEIST ‘A Journal of Atheist News and Thought’ Editor, Cover Art, & Magazine Design David Smalley email@example.com Cover Photo of Ken Bronstein Susan Ferguson Staff Writers & Journalists Kate Sirls Edwin Kagin Blair Scott James MacIver Keith Lowell Jensen Jim Haught Samuel Johnson Conrad Goeringer Graphic Designer Gabriel Sheridan Staff Cartoonist April Pedersen Staff Photographer Kiny McCarrick www.kinymccarrick.com Published monthly by American Atheists, Inc. Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 908.276.7300 P 908.276.7402 F www.atheists.org ©2010 American Atheists Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. American Atheist is indexed in the Alternative Press Index. American Atheist magazine is given free of cost to members of American Atheists as an incident of their membership. Subscription fees for one year of American Atheist: Print version only: $20 for 1 subscription and $20 for each additional gift subscription Online version only: $35 – Sign up at www.Atheists.org/aam Print & online: $55. Discounts available for multiple-year subscriptions: 10% for two years 20% for three or more years. Additional postage fees for foreign addresses: Canada & Mexico: add $15/year All other countries: add $35/year Discount for libraries and institutions: 50% on all magazine subscriptions and book purchases
Ken Bronstein, President of NYC Atheists, discusses the finances of belief and how taxing churches could help the economy...
photo © 2010 Susan Ferguson
also in this edition...
6 8 10 12 13 14 16 18 20 22 Details of the National Convention (Last Chance!) The Last Supper Cicada Songs Do You Really Know the Boy Scouts? Pat Robertson Blames Victims in Haiti When Facts Don’t Change Minds From Sin City to Temple Square An Atheist Chapel? The Helen Mitzman Challenge: Mission Accomplished Religion & Science as Examples of Noetenous Behaviour
American Atheist - March 2010
March 2010 - American Atheist
AMERICAN ATHEISTS will hold its 36th National Convention April 2-4, 2010 in Elizabeth/Newark, NJ—right across the river from The Big Apple, New York! The theme is BLASPHEMY?— On The Dangers of Privileging Religious Beliefs, and is one that most speakers will touch on in one way or another. As Atheists, we reject all or almost all theistic beliefs, and we stand ready to debate religious vs. irreligious beliefs in any fair forum. But the greatest dangers of religion—to scientific progress, rational thinking, democratic governance, politics, protections for free individuals, human rights, educational growth, peace, and ethi-
cal progress for humanity, come when religion is cloaked with special rights and special protections. When critiquing religious belief is called ‘blasphemy’ or beliefs are held to be “sacred,” any idea, religious or otherwise, that cannot withstand untrammeled scrutiny in the marketplace of ideas, should be rejected without further ado. We will gather at one of the premier meeting sites on the East Coast—the Newark Liberty Renaissance Hotel near Newark International Airport. Fly in to Newark, grab your bags, and take the shuttle (available 24/7) to one of the most luxurious convention sites in the area—easily convenient to New York City!
Conference registration is only $149! (Includes all events, food, and drinks, except banquets) BANQUETS Friday $44 | Saturday $49
REGISTRATION: Sign up now at www.atheists.org
STUDENT DISCOUNTS www.secularstudents.org
HOTEL RESERVATIONS 1-866-234-7535 To qualify for the special room rate, you must ask for the American Atheists Convention rate of $84 (plus tax)
Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel Web-site: http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ewrnr-renaissance-newark-airport-hotel CONFERENCE EVENTS: We have plans for organizing a creative burst of marketing energy on Sunday morning (‘Easter’) called ‘Resurrection Bytes, Renaissance Lights’ that will feature dozens of our best minds and talkers. Free. HOTEL ADDRESS: The Newark Liberty Renaissance Hotel is located at 1000 Spring St., Elizabeth, New Jersey, with shuttle service to and from the Newark Airport, AMTRAK (www.amtrak.com), and NJ Transit stop at the Newark Airport station. AMTRAK (NE Corridor): www.amtrak.com | New York City Tourism: http://www.nyctourist.com/ American Museum of Natural History (New York) http://www.amnh.org/ Newark, NJ tourism—includes Liberty Science Center: http://www.newjerseybeautiful.com/nj8/newark-museum.html
NEED HELP? Call 908-276-7300, M-F 8 to 5 EST
SPEAKERS: (in alphabetical order) DAN BARKER, co-president, Freedom From Religion Foundation CECIL BOTHWELL, Atheist city councilman from Asheville, NC, investigative journalist, author of the Prince of War ED BUCKNER, president of American Atheists JOHN R. BUTLER, musician, special guest of the president SEAN FAIRCLOTH, executive director, Secular Coalition for America TOM FLYNN, editor of Free Inquiry and executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism EDWIN F. KAGIN, National Legal Director of American Atheists, author poet, blasphemy king WENDY KAMINER, author, lawyer and social critic, writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture. PAUL KURTZ, philosopher, author, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, Newark native MARTIN LEWISON, professor of business, wit, former Wall Street executive MASSIMO PIGLIUCCI, author, philosopher, advocate for science DARREL RAY, author, psychologist, theorist on religion’s power to infect society TERRY SANDERSON, president, National Secular Society (United Kingdom) JEFF SHARLET, author of The Family TODD STIEFEL, entrepreneur and freethought leader (member of American Atheists development committee) EDDIE TABASH, attorney, debater, fierce Atheist advocate ANDY THOMSON, psychiatrist; interests include evolutionary psychology & suicide terrorism PORTEOUS WOOD (KEITH), executive director, National Secular Society (United Kingdom) INDRA ZUNO, linguist, actor in Mexican theater and TV; now Spanish Court Interpreter for the US District Court
American Atheist - March 2010
’m proud to announce that the magazine is officially back on schedule! We appreciate everyone’s patience with the delays and expect a long, happy future of timely David Smalley and inspiring magazines. I’d like to specifically thank our President, Ed Buck- firstname.lastname@example.org ner, for believing in me to get the job done. I understand he Thousands of people read doesn’t ‘believe’ in much, but he trusted me with our flagthis magazine, and I understand ship publication, and for that I am grateful. Furthermore, I’d like to extend a spe- that not everyone will be happy cial thanks to Mr. Frank R. Zindler, the with everything in it. Yes, evManaging Editor of American Atheist eryone’s a critic. Trust me, I Press, and my inspiration for becom- get the emails. Just please uning an activist in the first place. His derstand that we are all on the same side. That side stands for guidance and editorship have been the fair treatment and civil rights of nonreligious people all instrumental in keeping this publica- over the world, specifically in the United States of America. tion on the scholarly level our mem- When a person is denied a privilege due to unbelief, it is the American Atheists that speak out, protests, and makes our bers expect and deserve. While the scope and purpose of voices heard. We will not be bullied. We will not be ignored. the magazine is remaining true to We are the American Atheists, and this is our proud, flagship the core of American Atheists, Inc, publication—the American Atheist. the entire philosophy of the production has changed. Enjoy this month’s issue! We now have multiple staff members, including journalists, cartoonists, and photographers, working very hard to submit material according to specific guidelines. The magazine production is now down to a science, and will be revealed in depth in an up-coming issue to give the readers a behind-thescenes look at how it all happens! In addition to editing the material from the wonderful new staff, I am always reviewing new material from you. If you wish to submit something for consideration, feel free to send me an email, and I will reply with the submission guidelines. Please remember, that you and I may not always agree on the font size, color of the cover, shapes used within the magazine, or even the content itself. However, please know that my focus is the same as yours: to make this organization proud by producing a magazine that preserves our scholarly tradition while progressively attracting new readers by inspiring activism and promoting education on the topics of Atheism, Secular Humanism, and obsurdities of religion. It is because of this, that I must stand strong and uphold the integrity of this proud journal. While humorous material is occasionally published, the magazine isn’t a platform for ridicule. We will enjoy ourselves, but we also want to maintain a respectful relationship with our opposition. For example, a three-part series will be published only after all three parts are completed. Our promises to our readers are very important to us, What are your thoughts on the new magazine and we don’t want to take any chance style? Write to the editor with your honest opinof breaking them.
From the Editor
ion, and your comments may be published!
March 2010 - American Atheist
rom left to right they are: Galileo Galilei—Physicist, Mathematician, Astronomer Extraordinaire, and Champion of the Copernican Theory, through which we gets a clear view of where we stand in the universe. Using observations of the moons of Jupiter and phases of Venus, Galileo offered evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He was the first to observe sun spots, the rings of Saturn, and mountains on the moon. Steven Hawking said, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.” It wasn’t until 1992 that Pope John Paul II admitted that the church’s ruling against Galileo might have been a mistake. Marie Skłodowska Curie—Physicist, Chemist. She was the first person honored with 2 Nobel Prizes: one for her pioneering work in the field of radioactivity, the other in chemistry. She created the Theory of Radioactivity, developed techniques for isolating isotopes, and discovered two new elements. During WWI Curie developed the innovation of X-rays to help surgeons locate and remove bullets on the battlefield. Even with all those accomplishments it’s hard to find a picture of her smiling. J. Robert Oppenheimer—Physicist, and the Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project. Although he is known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” it is important to remember that it was the use of that weapon during WWII which shortened the war by years, saving countless lives in the process. After the war, Oppenheimer became an outspoken proponent of nuclear nonproliferation. Because of that, his security clearance was revoked and he was blacklisted by the McCarthy crowd. Sir Isaac Newton— Physicist. Considered by many to be one of the most influential people in history, Newton discovered the Law of Gravity and the Three Laws of Motion. He built the first reflecting telescope, codeveloped calculus, and developed a theory of color; based on the observation that white light can be broken down into primary colors.
Louis Pasteur—Chemist and Microbiologist. His work led to breakthroughs in fighting or preventing illnesses such as anthrax, chicken cholera, and silkworm diseases. He created the first vaccine for rabies and his experiments supplied observable evidence for the germ theory. He is regarded as one of the founders of microbiology and his process of Pasteurization gave us all something to wash down our Oreos with. Stephen Hawking—Theoretical Physicist. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, author of A Brief History of Time and, until 2009, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. Hawking calculated that black holes, far from being undetectable, create and emit x-rays, known today as Hawking Radiation, until they exhaust their energy and eventually evaporate. He also did a lot of other quantum physics stuff that is hard to understand. Look it up on Wikipedia.
Ok, then it’s agreed. We can build a rocket and all get the hell out of here before any of the problems start.
Albert Einstein—Besides owning a chain of bagel stores, Einstein was a Theoretical Physicist. His contributions include the Special Theory of Relativity which proposed that all motion is relative and that there is no absolute state of rest. In addition, he formulated his General Theory of Rela-
American Atheist - March 2010
Each person in this picture has accomplished more for humanity than any of the guys Nick Farrantello in that other painting...
tivity which described gravity not as a force but as a curvature of space and time. For his many contributions, Einstein received a Nobel Prize. His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for modern Quantum Physics and to this day, his hair style still sets the standard for all other scientists. Carl Sagan—Coming in at number two for great hair, Sagan was an Astronomer and Astrochemist. Although his scientific achievements focus on the chemical composition of planets in our solar system, he is best known for his popularization of science. He was co-writer of the television setechniques to the process of inventing. With 1,093 patents, his inventions include: the phonograph, the motion picture camera, the universal stock ticker, scotch tape, the wireless telegraph for communicating with ships at sea, alkaline batteries, the Dictaphone, and the electric train. Did I leave anything out? Aristotle—Greek Philosopher. Known as the father of science, his writings contain the first known formal study of logic. Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle emphasized the physical world, not the heavens. He felt knowledge could be gained by studying the observable universe. His branch of philosophy with its emphasis on examining nature led to the birth of physics, biology, medicine, and nearly all the other natural sciences. HE INVENTED LOGIC FOR GOD’S SAKE [sic]. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson—Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson is a bestselling author and great popularizer of science, appearing on scores of TV and radio shows. In 2004 he hosted the miniseries Origins on PBS. He has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest honor a civilian can receive from the agency. He is presently the host of Nova Science Now and is the snappiest dresser of all the scientists depicted here. Richard Dawkins—Evolutionary Biologist, former Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. Dawkins popularized and advanced our understanding of evolution though his books The Selfish Gene, and The Extended Phenotype. He is also one of the leading proponents of science and rationalism, and has personally chewed up and spit out creationists and intelligent design proponents through numerous essays, debates, and his book The God Delusion. Charles Darwin—One of the four giants on this page, (the other three being Galileo, Newton and Einstein). Darwin discovered the mechanism by which evolution occurs; namely natural selection. Because of him, we know the fact that all species of life on earth have evolved over time from common ancestors. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. And there you have it. Now, considering science usually has to drag religion kicking and screaming into the 21st century, what exactly did those guys in that other picture do? Oh yeah, they caused a lot of wars.
MORE FROM NICK... http://rationalcrank.blogspot.com
ries Cosmos, the most widely watched PBS program in history. His other books include Pale Blue Dot, Contact, and The Demon Haunted World (do yourself a favor and read that one). Thomas Edison—Inventor, Businessman, and “Wizard of Menlo Park.” He was the first to apply modern production
March 2010 - American Atheist
CICADA SONGS Cicada songs are warning me My summer soon shall end, And all my blossoms, all my bees Will into dust descend. Cicada songs are telling me These colors soon shall fade, That Autumn sere and Winter white Will rob my summer’s jade. Cicada songs are telling me The conquests I would make Will go unconquered one more year, Though yearning hearts still ache. Cicada songs confirm to me This world of mine is lostTo follies fired by fevered minds, To phantoms sired by frost. Cicada songs now make me think My earth cannot be saved, That Time and I again have failed To free a world enslaved. Yet cicada songs will sing me on Through summers yet to come; Again and yet again shall I Count up my zero sum. But cicadas still will sing beyond My efforts on this earth, To e’er new blossoms, e’er new bees Who’ll fill my vacant berth. And some day some cicada’s song Will fill a world of reason, When superstition shall no more Make Fall so sad a season. —Frank R. Zindler
American Atheist - March 2010
photo © Kiny McCarrick www.kinymccarrick.com
he Boy Scouts of America has long held a reputation for being a constructive, rewarding organization which helps boys of all ages grow into productive, self-sufficient young men. For many people, the Boy Scouts brings to mind images of campfires, long hikes, and other forms of male bonding that
organization’s religiosity is no small matter. Not only can Atheists be denied membership, but the very oath that Scouts must swear begins with the following phrase: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country,” meaning that even if Atheist children were allowed to participate, they would still have to swear
DO YOU REALLY KNOW THE
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
serve to strengthen America’s youth— and for some, the organization does provide a positive and satisfying experience. But there is one group that has been underrepresented, and often excluded, from the wholesome tradition that the Boy Scouts are supposed to represent: Atheists. There has certainly been more than one lawsuit filed against the BSA in relation to the fact that they routinely ban Atheists (as well as members of the gay community) from attaining membership. In one example, a woman from Portland, Oregon lost a case back in 1999 when she protested the BSA having access to public schools for recruitment purposes. The argument was that when “schools give special privileges to a religious organization that discriminates against some of its students based on religion, they are promoting that discrimination” (ACLU of Oregon). The judge, however, as well as the district lawyers, concluded that the positive aspects of the Scouting program outweighed the “very small . . . religious aspects”— even when those aspects are apparently a matter of civil rights. The argument that the religious aspects are “very small” and that the Boy Scouts are not a fundamentally religious organization is a harsh one for Atheists, for the reality is that the an oath to a god (Boy Scouts of America). Beyond this, parents of potential Boy Scouts must sign a “Declaration of Religious Principles,” which declares that, “the Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of that member” (US Scouting Service Project). It is interesting to think about how the situation would be if a similar organization, which routinely denied religious people access, required children to make an oath to a godless nation, and expected parents to acknowledge the training their children would receive in non-belief, was given treatment by the government as not being a non-religious organization—thereby allowing them special privileges that other such organizations would not receive. The BSA has consistently argued that as a private organization, they have the right to free association and can therefore practice whatever membership policy they see fit—but the problem we are facing is that the BSA is currently allowed access to areas that are supposed to be religiously neutral (as according to the separation of church and state), and this access may go as far as the use of American
tax dollars (in such areas as local police units and funding for Jamborees, among other things). As Larry A. Taylor of Humanist magazine put it, the BSA is getting away “with having it both ways, being ‘private’ for purposes of discrimination but ‘public’ when it comes to taxpayer support.” Currently, religious conservatives are making no
secret about the fact that they object to their tax dollars going towards such things as health care—and at the same time, myriad Atheists are quiet about their own tax dollars going towards an organization that actively discriminates against their children. Activism in this area is essential. It is important, of course, to continue to work towards equality within the Boy Scouts of America, but until that goal is reached (or the government stops refusing to recognize it as a religious organization), Atheists need to send a message that religious discrimination won’t be tolerated in the public sector—especially among our youth.
Kate Sirls Staff Writer, American Atheist
REFERENCES Boy Scouts of America. Scout Oath and Law. Boy Scouts of America. 2009. Web. 10 Jan 2010. Taylor, L. “How Your Tax Dollars Support the Boy Scouts of America.” Humanist Oct. 1995: Web. 10 Jan 2010. US Scouting Service Project. BSA Declaration of Religious Principle. 10 Aug 2007. Web. 12 Jan 2010.
March 2010 - American Atheist
The Atheist at the End of the Universe
Greg Lammers, Missouri State Director
material universe is where we live and what we deal with. Atheism doesn’t entail beliefs that must be walled off against the intrusion of the world and the facts of life and of existence. We are completely natural mortal creatures. Someday we will be gone and if one of many of the current cosmological theories is correct, the universe in which we find ourselves will cease to exist. Humans are prone to adopting opinions for which there is scant or no evidence, and we human Atheists are certainly not immune, but as far as our lack of deities and our dismissal of supernatural phenomena are concerned, we have every reason for confidence (and every bit of confidence in reason!). Unless immaterial beings show up at our material doorstep or Uri Geller’s spoons start bending themselves, our lack of belief is completely warranted. Atheism is not a faith. I know that is contrary to what many religion enthusiasts would have us think, but I can’t help that. One needn’t be a professional scientist or philosopher to listen to the pronouncements of religious marketers or read sacred texts such as the Christian bible or the Book of Mormon and come to the realization that the ideas promulgated by such characters and in such works are often nonsensical and/or harmful. I think that most capable, educated, modern people can tell by a young age that the dead do not fly up out of their graves and that torturing people (somehow forever) does not make one good, much less, perfectly good. Of course if young people are given the ‘choice’ by parents and other authority figures to be punished or believe such things, then many will pretend to buy it. They will fake it till they make it, or at least fake it till they can support themselves and be done with it. Atheism does not depend on being passed through families or communities. It is important for us to make known that it is good to be godless and that Atheists are every-
where, in order to end the isolation so many of us experience. But we don’t need to knock on doors or call people at dinnertime to spread Atheism. Atheism can and does occur naturally to people who perceive that the real world is all there is and that tales of the supernatural are bunk. “I am so happy, I thought I was the only one,” was how I felt when as an adult, I first encountered other nonbelievers. Again and again, when I meet someone who has recently discovered other Atheists I hear this feeling echoed. The good godless people who express this sentiment haven’t been visited by Atheist missionaries or Freethought evangelists. They came upon their godlessness by way of thought and reflection and the study of whatever resources they could access. Let’s compare this stance with the situation that religions find themselves in. Think for a moment of all of the old time religions with which you are familiar; those of the Greeks, of the Norse, of the ancient Egyptians and countless others. Once whole peoples believed the stories and honored and feared the colorful characters of these traditions. We know that many of these people were good and decent to their fellows and that many were intelligent and curious. Now their faiths are for all practical purposes dead. Very few fear the wrath of Zeus or Odin any longer. I know of no representatives of Apollo attempting to insert creation myths into our public school science curriculum. I haven’t heard reports of servants of Thor attempting to have their ancient views of marriage adopted as law. The religions that we encounter today are likewise traditions based on incredible stories, spread through marketing and sometimes force, and maintained through the use of appeals to tradition and emotion. The traditions must be continually maintained, shored up, and passed on, or they perish.
American Atheist - March 2010
Take Islam as an example. Let us say that Islam were to vanish. All traces of Islam: the music, writing, architecture, everything that could tell one anything about Islam were lost to the world. If this were to happen could Islam be reinvented exactly as it had existed? I don’t think it could. Islam was created at a certain time and place by certain individuals and the Islam of today is a product of its particular history. If it were to vanish completely it could not be reconstructed. The same is true of any faith tradition. Given enough time, the religions we know today will pass away, just as their predecessors did. Other ones, maybe even spin offs of current ones, will likely take their place.
But I think that if we humans retain our capacity to think and to challenge authority, no matter what kinds of superstitions are foisted upon our descendants, some will refuse to be taken in. And some of these individuals will have the hardihood, in the face of extreme pressure and sometimes violence, to stand up and proclaim their disbelief. And if indeed the universe ends, whether with a bang or a whimper, a Big Rip or a Big Crunch, and our species, or another species which can ask questions and think critically is around to witness the end of it all, then at least some will be Atheist.
PREACHER PAT ROBERTSON BLAMES VICTIMS OF HORRIFIC NATURAL TRAGEDY
American Atheists Press Release
n Atheist public policy group tonight charged that politically influential televangelist Pat Robertson made insensitive, inaccurate and “downright foolish” remarks when he stated that Haiti was “cursed” because it made a “pact” with Satan. Robertson, a patriarch of the religious right and host of The 700 Club television program, added that the impoverished nation has been “cursed by one thing after another” following a “pact with the devil.” A devastating 7.0 earthquake ravaged the island country, in mid January, and estimates say that perhaps as many as 100,000 people have been killed. “Once again Pat Robertson has chosen to exploit natural events, including this lat-
for weather and other est tragedy, and ‘blame the natural occurrences. victims’ so he can stump for his peculiar, authoritarian Televangelist “This guy has claimed brand of Christianity,” said Says Haiti to have ‘prayed’ storms away, and said Dr. Ed Buckner, President “Cursed,” that hurricanes like of American Atheists. Robertson is a cruel sa- Made “Pact Katrina were literally the wrath of God,” dist quite apparently interWith The said Silverman. “And ested only in money, power, Devil” this is the guy who and attention—and willing has had full access to to say anything to get it. the White House un“What about the religious people who were killed or are suf- der the two Bush presidencies, and fering from this devastating earth- wants to direct the course of Amerquake?” asked Buckner. “What ican politics.” Buckner expressed hope that about the children? Did they cut a people everywhere from Atheists deal with the devil?” Dave Silverman, Communica- and Humanists to religious believtions Director for American Athe- ers, will join together to reach out ists, said that Robertson has an to the suffering people of Haiti odd penchant for bestowing pro- with emergency assistance and phetic and religious significance long-term economic aid.
March 2010 - American Atheist
ver a century ago Charles Darwin admitted that “it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public, and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.” That is why Darwin insisted that it has “been always my object to avoid writing on religion, and I have confined myself to science” (1880). Darwin was correct, as the subsequent decades of Atheist arguments and frontal attacks on religion have proven: we have fairly little to show for our efforts. However, his analysis of the situation is inadequate in two ways. First, he does not explain why direct arguments fail to have much effect, and this is the critical question. Second, in failing to account for the weakness of argu-
How, in a word, do we teach people in a way that will lead them naturally to Atheism? We like to think that showing people the facts and laying out the logic will suffice to get them to change their minds, in this case to de-convert from theism and to embrace the truth of godlessness. But this works much less often than we think. Why? Why don’t people ‘face the facts?’ Unbeknownst to Atheists, educators have thought about this question for some time, since they too confront the problem of presenting facts to students who reject the facts right before their eyes. Clark Chinn and William Brewer call this the problem of dealing with “anomalous data,” new information that contradicts existing beliefs or conclusions and which, in an ideal world, ought to cause the abandonment of those now-falsified beliefs and conclusions in favor of true ones, but which in reality often do
When Facts Don’t Change Minds: Educating for Atheism
Dr. David Eller
neither direct argument nor science alone will break the grip of religion
ment, he puts too much stock in science: he may have confined himself to science, but advances in knowledge do not guarantee any better outcome in the struggle to free self and society from religion. The proof here is also only too strong: after 150 years of evolutionary research and plenty of new knowledge, a significant percentage of the population still does not accept evolution, and the vast majority still accepts god(s). One thing we learn from Darwin’s wisdom is that neither direct argument nor science alone will break the grip of religion on minds. The other and more important thing we learn is what will break the grip—the gradual and general illumination of human minds, that is, education. Therefore, I say to Atheists that from now on we must think of the theism/Atheism “debate,” or the Atheist project, not as scientific and certainly not as philosophical but as educational. What this means for practical purposes is that we must train ourselves not only in facts and logic but in educational theories and techniques.
not. The simple matter is that learners “typically resist giving up their preinstructional beliefs. Instead of abandoning or modifying their preinstructional beliefs in the face of new, conflicting data and ideas, students often staunchly maintain the old ideas and reject or distort the new ideas” (1993: 1-2), and not only in the area of religion. Chinn and Brewer identify seven possible responses of learners to data that challenge their pre-existing beliefs, and only one of these involves significantly changing those beliefs. First, people may just ignore the incoming information: “When an individual ignores data, he or she does not even bother to explain it away. Theory A [the old belief] remains intact and totally unscathed” (4). Surely, we have all seen theists take this approach; they close their eyes and ears to what we say. Second, they may reject the information, which involves a little more cognitive work that sheer ignoring: “The difference is that in ignoring data, the individual does not even attempt to explain the data away; in rejection, the individual can articulate an explanation for why the data should be rejected” (6). Unfortunately, this explanation is almost always in terms of the pre-existing belief, so the contradictory data can, ironically, end up confirming that belief, since the belief ‘handled’ the data. The most common way to reject data, they say, is to attack the data, arguing “that there was a fundamental methodological error in the way the data were obtained” or “that
American Atheist - March 2010
the data were merely due to random variation” or that the data are “fraudulent” (6). Again, we have seen theists try to debunk everything from fossils to the Big Bang theory by claiming that scientific techniques (e.g. dating methods) are flawed or that scientists manufactured fake fossils (or that their god planted fake fossils). A third strategy to avoid the consequences of new information is to exclude the information, normally by labeling it as “outside the domain” (7) of the question at hand or as irrelevant to the belief. One way to achieve this result is compartmentalization, in which the learner hears the data—and may even learn it and may even accept it—but files it mentally far away from the cherished preinstructional belief. “When anomalous data are excluded from the domain of a theory, they obviously do not lead to any theory change” (7). Fourth, the learner can simply delay dealing with the new information, “holding anomalous data in abeyance” (8). In this case, there may be some acceptance that the knowledge has consequences for pre-existing beliefs, but they postpone contemplating those consequences, often on the assumption that their beliefs are able to handle the challenge and will handle the challenge at some indefinite future date. It is just a matter of time, they may insist, until their belief can integrate or overcome the contradiction; this also serves to reinforce the initial belief. The fifth approach to new facts is reinterpretation: the learner “accepts the data as something that should be explained by his or her theory. In the case of reinterpretation, supporters of theory A [the old position] and theory B [the new position] can agree at some level about the data, but at a theoretical level” they assign different meanings to the data—meanings that align with and even support the theories/beliefs they already hold (9). The authors mention some of their own research to show this effect: “after reading about some anomalous data that were designed to be clearly inconsistent with the meteor impact theory of mass extinctions, one student who supported the meteor impact theory wrote, ‘This further proves the meteor impact theory,’ and he actually increased his rating of how strongly he believed the theory” (10). A sixth outcome allows the pre-existing belief to persist by making peripheral changes to it but leaving its essence intact. Believers, as we know too well, are easily able to accommodate various kinds of information and to modify their claims in small and large ways in what Imre Lakatos (1970) called the “protective belt” of a position while keeping the “hard core” of the belief safe and unchanged. Indeed, the history of religion is exactly a record of such adaptations, small and large, to cultural and factual threats, which is how religions change even as they deny that they are changing.
Finally, sometimes it actually does occur that people jettison their previous theories/beliefs and adopt a new one. Such acceptance means “change in one or more of the theorist’s core beliefs. In this form of response to contradictory information, the individual accepts the new data and explains it by changing the core beliefs of theory A or be accepting an alternate theory” (12). This is obviously the aim of Atheism—to get theists to let go of their godbeliefs and to acknowledge the truth of Atheism. Notice, however, that such fundamental belief change is not the only possible result of exposure to “the facts” nor is it a particular likely result. As Chinn and Brewer illustrate, people may hear the facts and even ‘accept’ the facts and still preserve (and strengthen) their prior belief: truly, the greatest irony of Atheist argumentation is that it may be counterproductive, as often as not fortifying religious belief. This research indicates that belief is more stubborn that we think. Nevertheless, armed with this understanding, we can anticipate some of the objections and cheats in the theist response to our arguments. In a future article, we will explore some tested methods that educators have developed for overcoming these intellectual barriers and defenses and how Atheists can apply them in the struggle for minds.
religions change even as they deny that they are changing
REFERENCES Chinn, Clark A. and William F. Brewer. 1993. “The Role of Anomalous Data in Knowledge Acquisition: A Theoretical Framework and Implications for Science Instruction.” Review of Educational Research 63 (1): 1–49. Darwin, Charles. 1880. “Letter 12757—Darwin, C. R. to Aveling, E. B., 13 October 1880.” Http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/ entry-12757.html, accessed January 9, 2010. Lakatos, Imre. 1970. “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. London: Cambridge University Press, 91–196.
March 2010 - American Atheist
“[T]he whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 114) and... “Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned....” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 343) For me, the highlight of the trip came when I asked our gracious guide if he knew how much the tabernacle cost to build. His reply was something about most of the funding for the construction and upkeep coming from endowment and private donation. However, when he leaned in closer to me, there was no mistaking the figure he said was quoted by a group of architects that had apparently appraised Breyen Canfield the tabernacle: “Anywhere between $300,000,000 and his summer I was fortunate enough to take a trip $500,000,000.” with my wife to visit a friend of ours in Salt Lake I’m reasonably certain I let out a laugh when I heard City, Utah. We took in the delightful view of the the numbers. I’m not sure if it was because I thought he was large body of water, the sort of which we in Las joking or if it was an involuntary reaction brought on by a Vegas may soon enough not be able to enjoy if Lake Mead state of mild and fleeting shock. The one feeling that was dries up as predicted. We eventually navigated our way back unmistakable though was the disgust that quickly flowed to town and easily made our way to our religious destination. through all of those fibers of my being I’ve heard passionate I hesitate to use the adjective ‘impressive’ to describe people talk about. the architecture of Temple Square because every beautifully The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not placed brick on the 40,000 square meter card-carrying cult the only religious entity that has spent billions of dollars compound was placed with a delusion of grandeur predicated constructing enough places of worship to likely house the upon discrimination. up to 100,000,000 homeless people the National Policy and When a man offered to give us a private tour of the Advocacy Council on Homelessness estimates currently go Mormon Tabernacle just ten minutes before the tours were to sleep without a roof over their head. They are also not scheduled to end, we accepted the invitation and within the only group that enjoys a tax exempt status as defined by minutes were standing in awe of the building Frank Lloyd the IRS under section 501(c)(3) of the International Revenue Wright called “one of the architectural masterpieces of the Code. The code that clearly defines a tax exempt religion country and perhaps the world.” The tabernacle, built in the as one that “may not attempt to influence legislation as a mid-1860s features an 11,623 pipe Tabernacle organ, the substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in twelfth largest in the world, and a seating capacity of over any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” 8,000. Our tour guide told us a little about the construction One thing that does set the Mormon Church apart from of the building and its recent refurbishing and then made it its religious counterparts though, is its view on homosexual a point to say that the church does not charge the public for relationships before the 1950s. Former church member and the concerts it puts on (and this is very closely paraphrased) history professor at Brigham Young University, D. Michael “because the Church is very sensitive to the poor and needy Quinn, discusses the church’s acceptance of homosexuality and feels they should have the ability to take part.” He also in his book Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century mentioned that when charity functions and benefits are held Americans—a Mormon Example, saying that the founder of in the building the church only approves its use by groups the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith, was relatively accepting whose purpose is morally compatible with its own. Mind of both gay and lesbian relationships. you, this is a religious faction that laid out its racist beliefs in Most people would think that the growing visibility of its canonical texts: secularism may be wielding a positive influence on even the
From Sin City to
A Trip to the Temple & a CLOSER LOOK at the Mormon Church
American Atheist - March 2010
most conservative. However, the Mormon Church seems to be heading backwards, asking, “How do we react when persons who do not share our beliefs accuse us of being intolerant or unmerciful when we insist that erotic feelings toward a person of the same sex are irregular and that any sexual behavior of that nature is sinful?” After making it clear they believe homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle rather than a biological trait, they go on to say, “Every Latter-day Saint knows that God has forbidden all sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage” and “Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity” and “Some Latter-day Saints face the confusion and pain that result when a man or a woman engages in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex, or even when a person has erotic feelings that could lead toward such behavior.” The Mormon Church is also careful to point out: “We should distinguish between (1) homosexual (or lesbian) ‘thoughts and feelings’ (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) ‘homosexual behavior’ (which is a serious sin).” No wonder the church played such a vital role in the success of Prop 8, the ballot calling for a ban on homosexual marriage. The New York Times reported Prop Marriage, an anti-homosexual marriage group, estimates close to half of the $40,000,000 raised to fight gay marriage, came from the donations of Mormon Church members. While private political donations made by church members do not technically violate the restrictions placed on tax exempt religious institutions, church leaders publicly rallied for a “Yes” vote, prompting the church members to open up their wallets. The gray area, however, lies in the wording of U.S. Code Title 26: (3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
Here we can see the spirit of the law is being violated by one of the richest religions in America. Unfortunately, there has been a relatively small amount of discourse on the matter of the revocation of the tax exempt status of a religious institution that so blatantly abuses the generosity shown to them by the United States government. This is the same institution that publicly advertises its successes in suppressing the rights of the citizens that have to pay the taxes that not only make up the difference but also help fund the wages of the politicians that write the bills that allow them to maintain that status. This cycle is not only being ignored on a large scale but is also being mocked by the fact that numerous United States Senators, Congressman, and Governors publicly announce their pride in being members of such an organization. The lack of public awareness of these issues is devastating to the rights of homosexuals and minorities everywhere. As soon as these transgressions gain more traction in the public sphere, the freedom gap between these oppressed groups and those of us lucky enough not to be discriminated against will no doubt start to close up. *Recent editions of the Mormon Doctrine, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, feature a short side note about the church’s decision to allow “Negroes into the priesthood” as of 1978 Breyen Canfield lives in Henderson, Nevada and he can be reached at email@example.com
March 2010 - American Atheist
ur correspondent Reuf Ramic certainly had never heard of such a thing. Then, in September of 2007 while visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he had occasion to visit the city cemetery. Lo and behold, there in front of the main entrance he encountered an arc of five buildings which proved to be five chapels: one for Muslims, one for Orthodox, one for Catholics, one for Jews—and one for Atheists! (The Atheist chapel is the middle one in the accompanying photograph.) A map directory (see accompanying illustration) indicated that the cemetery is divided into eight parts according to religion—or lack thereof. It would appear that the Atheist section (those regions marked with A1–20 on the map) is the second largest in the cemetery, being surpassed in size only by the Muslim section (regions marked
An Atheist CHAPEL?
Frank R. Zindler & Reuf Ramic
American Atheist - March 2010
with M1–26). Other sections of the cemetery are reserved for Adventists (D1), Protestants (E1), Jews (J1), Catholics (K1–14), Orthodox (P1–16), and Old-Style Catholics (S1). The cemetery is equipped with a restaurant, a florist shop, and of course a stone-cutter. The prominence of Atheists in the cemetery should perhaps not be surprising, considering that Yugoslavia—of which Sarajevo was once a part—was an Atheist nation. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that Yugoslvia’s ship of
state foundered on the reef of a threeway religious war between Muslims, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. In its tripartite partition between the three major ‘faiths’ that destroyed the Yugoslav Republic, this cemetery would seem to be the burial ground for Yugo-
slavia itself. Having separated themselves from each other during life, true believers preserve their separateness here forever. Their bodies, of course, cannot be preserved for quite that long.
March 2010 - American Atheist
Marilyn Kay Whetzel—Hudson FL—$10.00 Dave Vining—Lexington VA—$120.00 Steve Petterson—Kenmore WA—$500.00 Stanley Bradley—Lithopolis OH—$100 Deward Buchanan—Bakersville NC—$10.00 Carl Lorick— Batesburg SC—$200.00 Carl Dye—Chicago IL—$100.00 Howard Thornton—Washington DC—$200.00 Joseph Nemeth—Clinton OH—$2500.00 Joseph Horn—Roswell NM—$250.00 Jon W. Bell—San Clemente CA—$30.00 John Burgeson—Stratford CT—$35.00 Heyward M. Widener—Richmond VA—$2500.00 Donald Worrell—Huntsville AL—$50.00 Terry N. Tappan—Redding CA—$50.00 Howard McGregor—Centennial CO—$100.00 Craig Porter—Santa Barbara CA—$200.00 G. Stanley Brown—Fairfax VA—$100.00 Robert Finch—New York NY—$500.00 Eugene Rozanski—Normal IL—$25.00 Hazel Fisher—Akron OH—$100.00 Rice Odell—Washington DC—$120.00 Nhora Restrepo—New York NY—$100.00 Kay Rousseau—San Francisco CA—$100.00 Willard Wheeler—Upland CA—$40.00 David Driscoll—Duluth GA—$150.00 Andrew Chongor—Hamburg NY—$215.00 Eric Weigle—Palo Alto CA—$100.00 Don Latimer—Lancaster CA—$100.00 Nicholas Panasis—Titusville FL—$500.00 David Poole—Temple TX—$2.00 Kenneth Middleton—Jensen Beach FL—$100.00 Wayne F. Ward—Wilmer AL—$100.00 Martin Slater—Tamarac FL—$25.00 Jeffrey Sorensen—New York NY—$100.00 Bill Kight—Key West FL—$100.00 Raymond Peger—Brownsville KY—$20.00 William Barnett—Gresham OR—$108.33 Roger Colucci—Spring Hill FL—$10.00 Gordon Batesole—Danville CA—$100.00 Richard A. Angorn—Gainesville FL—$250.00 Donna Gore—Roswell GA—$35.00 Dennis Buchholz—Crestwood KY—$100.00
Roger F. Perkins—Auburn CA—$20.00 William Eikleberry—Coventry CT—$25.00 Hazel Fisher—Akron, OH—$100.00 Edwin Hughes—Traverse City, MI—$100.00 Tony Pasquarello—Mansfield, OH—$25.00 Nicholas Panasis—Titusville, FL—$25.00 John Scripps III—Palm Coast, FL—$50.00 Jon Butatti—Burbank, CA —$60.00 Jack Bradley—Napa, CA—$25.00 Ed Rothfuss—Las Vegas NV—$25.00 Scott H. Smith—Pembroke NH—$50.00 Corey R. Alexander—Macungie PA—$100.00 Thomas Trezos—San Gabriel CA—$50.00 Carolyn Frawley—Sweetwater TX—$50.00 Willard Wheeler—Upland CA—$75.00 Richard Champagne—Bourg LA—$150.00 James L. Pettee—Hingham MA—$50.00 Mary Wabeke—Dearborn MI—$50.00 John Schmidt—San Diego CA—$35.00 Glenn Pearl—New Orleans LA—$100.00 D. M. Kery—Bethlehem PA—$25.00 Mark T. Dickinson—Wisconsin Rapids WI—$25.00 Michael Kelsey—Provo UT—$100.00 Gerard Martin USAF RET—Lompoc CA—$100.00 Els Boesten—San Francisco CA—$25.00 Tim Young—Springfield OH—$100.00 William Hairston—Sulligent AL—$100.00 Stephen D. Parker—Albuquerque NM—$50.00 Robert Pickering—Reno NV—$50.00 Lee Helms—Hazel Park MI—$20.00 William Faloon—Boca Raton FL—$25.00 Jose L. Bartoli—New York NY—$15.oo (HM) Roger Long—Hamilton NJ—$25.00 Albert Sevcik—Houston TX—$25.00 Richard Faust—Surry ME—$100.00 Frank A. Mokisel –East Patchogue—$5.00 Pete Hance—Fogelsville PA—$20. Paul King –Bedford MA—$100.00 Darcy Wertz—Falls Church VA—$20.00 Richard Bystrak –Rock Tavern NY—$30.00 Matthews Bruns—Centreville PA—$50.00 Mimi Geller –Ashburn VA—$50.00 Dominik Kot –East Haven CT—$10.
Donations in response to the challenge totaled $131,852! Thank you Helen Mitzman for matching $100K, and thanks to everyone for your participation and wonderful gifts!
American Atheist - March 2010
Wayne Aiken— Raleigh NC$1200.00 Patrick Heintz—Feeding Hills MA$1200.00 Neal Cary—Glen Allen VA—$1200.00
Sandra Rader –Macungie PA—$150. Peter Winders—Wallington NJ—$10. Elijah H. Hall—Peoria AZ— $30.00 Percy Prestenbach—Marrereo LA— $20.00 Lawrence D. Jones—East Greenbush NY—$5000.00 Carroll W. Mitchell—Rustburg VA—$150.00 Arthur J. Ando—Steilacoom WA— $30.00 Woody Kaplan & Wendy Kaminer—Boston MA—$1000.00 Robert A. Bryant—San Angelo TX—$100.00 Judith Rosen—Alexandria VA—$1000.00 Dennis McConville—Palm Coast FL—$250.00 Paul Schenck –Minnesota MN—$100.00 Peter Winders—Wallington NJ—$10.00 Carl Huber—York PA—$75.00 Lindsay Webster—Summerland CA—$50.00 Burton Borgardus—Danville CA—$1000.00 Mark Dybdahl—Saline MI—$100.00 Danny Paul—Sulphur Springs TX—$25.00 Damon Vix—Burbank CA—$100.00 Walter Leu—Honolulu HI—$112.00 Lorne Hall—Redding CA—$100.00 Jonathan Pacheco—Bell—Montebello CA—$30.00 Mathrem Grigsby—Centerville OH—$40.00 Michael Wilson—Lake Stevens WA—$100.00 Julie S. Vargas—Cambridge MA—$150.00 Douglas Stewart—Eden Prairie—$25.00 James W. Thomte—Ringgold GA— $100.00 John Boenke—Hardy VA— $100.00 Valaydon Poonoosamy—Cincinnati OH—$50.00 Gary Kern—Lancaster OH— $100.00 Elliott Lesser—Phoenix AZ— $100.00 Harold Stephens—Bayside NY— $100.00 Antonio Munoz—Milipitas CA— $50.00 Winifred Mitchell—Topeka KS— $10.00 Roger C. Lewis—Owantonna MN— $50.00 Daniel Fratini—Spokane WA— $250.00 John Douma—Beverly Hills MI—$50.00 Brian Futterman—Bridgewater MA— $500.00 Thomas Stiger—Fostoria OH—$10.00 Glen Love—Haverford PA— $100.00 Edward Esty—Chevy Chase MD— $500.00 Scott Romanowski—Billerica MA—$100.00 Gene Hagedon—Oregon OH— 25.00 Steve Campagna—Tacoma WA—$50.00 Allen Eckert—Mason TX—$20.00 Ralph P. Amrine—Columbus OH—$100.00 Sam Popowsky –Albany CA—$100.00 Susan Fink –San Francisco CA—$50.00 A. James Watt—Marco Island FL—$500.00 Paul Stutzman—Corte Madera CA—$100.00 Ken Moore—Bellevue WA—$50.00 William Fell—Alpharetta GA—$35.00 Harold Church—Columbia TN—$250.00 Al Collins—Berwyn IL—$25.00 Karl Wolf—Silver Spring MD—$100.00
Alvin E. Crown—Santa Monica CA—$50.00 Ski Grabowski— Oakland CA—$1000.00 Peter Winders—Wallington NJ—$10.00 Sandra Rader—Macungie PA—$150.00 Dominik Kot—East haven CT—$10.00 Mimi Geller— Mount Kisco NY—$50.00 Matthew Bruns—Centreville VA—$50.00 Richard Bystrak—Rock Tavern NY—$30.00 Darcy Wertz—Falls Church VA—$20.00 Paul King—Bedford MA—$100.00 Pete Hance—Fogelsville PA—$20.00 Frank A. Mokisel—East Patchogue NY—$5.00 Richard Faust—Surry ME—$100.00 Albert Sevcik—Houston TX—$25.00 Roger Long—Hamilton NJ—$25.00 Jose L. Bartoli—New York NY—$15.00
Lewis B. Ulrey—Boise ID—$125.00 Augustine Sanvenero—Inverness FL—$10.00 Doug Brassil—Toledo OH—$125.00 Andrea Natalie—West New York NJ—$50.00 Raymond C. Greenbank—Ashland OH—$50.00 Stanley Bradley—Lithopolis OH—$125.00 Richard Ford—El Paso—$75.00 David P. Persuitte—Washington DC—$50.00 Celia R. Glantz—Coral Springs FL—$10.00 Freda Kernes—Coral Springs FL—$10.00 Arthur Mathis—Phoenix AZ—$75.00 Raymond Peger—Brownsville KY—$10.00 James Williams—Palms Springs FL—$10.00 Jewel Snow—Ithaca NY—$300.00 William R. Stribling— Pompton Plains NJ—$300.00 Mr. & Mrs. Sheldon F. Cohn—Milwaukee WI—$100.00 Robert A. Henning—Tucson AZ—$100.00 Charles Sommers—Madison WI—$50.00 Mark and Gyl Dybdahl—Saline MI—$100.00 Evelyn Flowers—Fenton MI—$40.00
NEW LIFE MEMBERS
This is a partial list of donations. Some earlier donations, those received after the first of January, some repeat donors, and some who requested anonymity are not included.”
March 2010 - American Atheist
RELIGION & SCIENCE as examples of NEOTENOUS BEHAVIOUR
or the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood, is a phenomenon observed in many species. In fact, modification of the typical times at which developmental changes take place can be seen as a ‘tool’ available to nature for quite rapid evolution, since via this mechanism relatively little has to be altered at the level of genes for quite drastic changes to come about, say, in an animal’s body or behaviour. A paradigmatic example of a neotenous species is the axolotl salamander, which, instead of becoming terrestrial upon reaching sexual maturity, has evolved to retain various juvenile characteristics such as gills and thereby lead an aquatic adult existence. (It is also famous for being able to regenerate most of its body parts.) Another example is Homo sapiens (Morris, 1967). Among various neotenous features which stand out in comparison with other primates— like scarce body hair, a flat face or, in some populations, lactose tolerance—is a relatively large head, with
a brain that continues developing well into puberty (Leigh, 2004). It is likely that this child-brain of ours is responsible for much of the curious behaviour we exhibit. Two instances that spring to mind are the practices of religion and science. Infant mammals usually depend on the protection and guidance of a parent to survive, a powerful ever-present being to be admired and emulated, to oversee, judge and reward—or to punish. The members of most species except our own seem to grow out of this. Curiosity and playfulness are also celebrated juvenile characteristics, key to the learning process of any young mammal. And as Sir Isaac Newton famously put it: “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” (Brewster, 1855.) Of course, as grown-up children, we squabble. But if science and religion are just expressions of different juvenile characteristics—of curiosity and playfulness on the one hand, and of the need for parental oversight on the other—is there really a fundamental difference between them? As we all know, there is. However childish the motivation of the typical scientist, it seems that playing around with nature actually provides us with some sort of an understanding of how it works. That this is so, is beyond dispute, as the success
of spin-offs such as engineering and medicine shows (and we could note that no other approach has ever produced similar spin-offs). With a few exceptions—say a biochemist bent on curing AIDS, or a physicist distraught at witnessing nuclear warfare—it is safe to say that a majority of scientists are quite content with this description of their work: an indulging of their natural curiosity which may collaterally serve to throw a little light on unexplained phenomena, or perhaps be of some practical use one day. But how do theists feel about the idea that their god is actually just a glorified invisible friend? Perhaps also with some exceptions, they do not like it. More often than not, they are convinced that their god knows the truth. What is more, the word of this god, a sample of his (seldom her) truth is taken to be written down somewhere, for his followers to learn from. Therefore, every time this truth is revealed to be incongruous with whatever science may happen to be showing about the world, theists have to choose from a variety of defense mechanisms so as not to lose their faith (because loving gods are notorious for applying severe corporal punishment to followers who lose their faith): • Ignore the incongruities. This is actually quite easy for most theists, since they have only scanty knowledge both of science and of whichever local religious doctrine they subscribe to. • Adapt the truth. That is, reinterpret metaphorically the word until it can pass as compatible with science.
American Atheist - March 2010
• Try to negotiate. Concede some terrain (all right, the earth does go round the sun then) but forbid any further trespassing (the moment of creation must forever lie beyond the scope of physics!). Attack science. This is, after all, supposed to be the best defense. Even if popular support has dwindled so that you can no longer just burn your enemies at the stake, you can still go a long way by making a lot of noise— however nonsensical your utterances —and appealing to the tribal instincts of your followers (just look at creationists). It is interesting that as you go down the list from the most peaceful to the most belligerent of the defense options, the more ‘intellectual’
the typical theist resorting to them will be. The pinnacle of antagonism is achieved by certain theologians and philosophers who, with this aim, spend their time concocting convoluted confabulations, expounding at length the weaknesses and dangers inherent in the Scientific Method— how it negates the ‘Person,’ destroys ‘Love,’ perhaps even how a balanced ‘Ignorance’ is to be preferred to the “Holy Grail” of science, the Theory of Everything, what scientists so recklessly take to be the ‘Truth’ (Cheetham, 2000). But they have completely misunderstood the nature of their rivals in neoteny. No scientist ever wrote ‘truth’ with a capital T.
Brewster, D., Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (Vol. II, Ch. 27), 1855. Cheetham, T., “Dogmas, idols and the edge of chaos,” Human Ecology Review 7, 68–71 (2000). Leigh, S.R., “Brain growth, life history, and cognition in primate and human evolution,” American Journal of Primatology 62, 139– 64 (2004). Morris, D., The Naked Ape, Jonathan Cape, London, 1967.
Samuel Johnson Staff Writer, American Atheist
March 2010 - American Atheist
How the God Business Gets Away with Being Tax Free
rue or False? Ending tax exemptions for U.S. religious institutions would cut every private citizen’s taxes by up to 50 percent and provide enough revenue to finance a national health insurance program. Answer: True! Though no one knows for sure what the actual numbers are, economists have estimated that if religions were taxed like a business (which some say they are), it would bring in more than a trillion dollars in tax revenue annually to local, state and federal governments. Our government currently collects a total of $3.5 trillion in taxes each year: one trillion from personal income taxes, a little over two trillion from corporate taxes and .05 from other sources. Thus, taxing churches would bring as much revenue into government coffers as they get from all personal income taxes put together. Think what we could do with the tax revenue from churches should it come barreling in someday: in Washington, where Congress is currently lamenting that the nation does not have enough money to finance a national health insurance plan (although the old-fashioned countries like France, England and Canada found a way to do it), legislators might be interested in learning that taxing churches would bring in enough revenue to provide health insurance for every man, woman, and child in our country ($700 billion). But before your mouth waters at the prospect of a smaller personal tax bill and available health care if Congress should suddenly come to its senses about taxing churches, there are a couple of caveats here. Just because the government collects a trillion dollars from a new source doesn’t mean it is going to lower the taxes on an
And Why Taxing Churches Kenneth Bronstein Could Bring Us Into the 21st Century
old source. Laws would need to be enacted to make sure we do indeed get lower personal taxes as the new source of funds kicks in. Getting revenue from churches may answer another problem our president faces. To fulfill last year’s campaign promises, the administration is seeking ways to lower individual taxes for people with incomes below $200,000. The downside of this is, the government stands to lose considerable revenue from this largess. Washington’s economic wizards are squeezing numbers to find ways to replace the not-inconsiderable income lost though this promised reduction. I have news: with a kick-in of tax money from churches and religious institutions, lowering taxes for the lower and middle-income taxpayer would be painless. But before we spend the money we haven’t received yet by taxing the god business, I must ask the question: are churches truly a business? I would strongly argue that they are. The definition of a business is “an organization that sells services or products.” A buyer purchases those services or products, and some form of monetary transfer takes place. I contend that churches are indeed selling services: they are selling salvation, prayers, hope, heaven, forgiveness of sins, rituals, and trinkets. Some of their services may be intangible, but when you go to a psychiatrist and he makes you feel better, you pay for that ‘intangible’ service. Churches also charge fees for various ceremonies: weddings, funerals, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, communions, confirmations, etc. St. Patrick’s Cathedral recently made news when it decided to sell “indulgences” again. The indulgence promises sinners so many years off their stay in purgatory after they die, based on how much money they
American Atheist - March 2010
pay. Is this a tangible item or a service? Whatever it is, it is a transaction that involves money even if the service purchased is to take place in the afterlife. (Apparently a Catholic can spend his or her whole life saving up money to buy out the punishment for a lifetime of sinfulness in the afterlife. If the whole idea weren’t so comically bizarre, it would be tragic.) Churches also receive income from providing services such as schools, marriage counseling, and from collections, donations, legacies, and investments. Remember too, that any land owned by churches is not taxed. I have heard that in Rome some 5,000 apartments a year are donated to the Vatican, which makes the Catholic church a landlord with the competitive advantage over other landlords of not having to pay property taxes. Nor do churches pay taxes on money received from donations and tithing. Under current tax laws, the donors of money to a church can deduct the amount donated from their income taxes, which makes the tax collector a double loser in this transaction: the government loses revenue from both the donor and from the receiver, the church, which does not pay taxes on the gift. There is yet another important way that churches deprive the government of tax revenue. The fact that churches and temples usually sit on prime downtown property deprives the community of vast amounts of income that might be produced, if say, a high rise office building occupied the footprint that the church sits on. This underutilization of taxable land is known as ‘Opportunity Costs’ and it refers to the fact that churches often occupy these key locations that could be put to more effective use in terms of tax revenue production for the city. For example, take the Church of Christ on Park Avenue and 63rd Street in New York City, which occupies some posh terrain worth hundreds of millions of dollars. If that same location were used for a 40-story office building, it would produce millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city, not to mention jobs (and thus more income taxes) and an increase in local business activity which, of course, adds to the city tax coffers. But the Church of Christ produces no tax revenue whatsoever for the city because it is a tax-free religious edifice. The land it is on isn’t being utilized to its full financial potential. It is, therefore, depriving the city of untold tax and business opportunities, hence the term ‘Opportunity Costs.’ To add insult to injury, the church also finds creative ways of using government programs and resources to line its pockets and increase the value of its property. Consider the following: 1) Churches have used the government’s Historical Landmark programs for maintenance of their property. Claiming landmark status for their churches, they use
millions of dollars in government subsidies to repair church façades, organs and the like. 2) Churches have used money from Faith-Based Initiative programs for repair and maintenance of their buildings instead of what it was intended for, social services for the needy. 3) Churches have entered the catering and rental businesses, renting their space for events. Because they pay no taxes, they are able to undercut other catering and rental businesses, causing a number of bankruptcies of legitimate businesses. There is one church in New York that no longer holds any religious services but simply rents its rooms for meetings. 4) Some parochial schools are becoming charter schools, which are funded with tax money. 5) Churches get free services that taxpayers support with our tax money, such as water, police protection, garbage disposal and firefighting. Because churches are getting a free ride for these amenities, every private citizen’s bill for these services is much higher than it should be. Can we ordinary citizens afford to continue to subsidize churches? Because most of these subsidies are hidden, it is difficult for us, as Atheists, to realize that, as taxpayers, we are subsidizing religion whether we want to or not. When I have spoken about these hidden subsidies to groups, many Atheists become infuriated by the thought that churches, shrines to a supernatural world that we deplore, are being maintained and repaired, and even profiting, with the help of tax money from Atheist citizens. Let me make it even clearer: ‘God’ is a business, and a profitable business. Religious institutions are able to make extraordinary profits because they are excused from many of the obligations of other businesses. The whole situation of churches being subsidized by our tax money, enabling them to become tax-exempt profitable businesses, is not fair, it doesn’t make sense, it is untenable and it is time that business people across the nation—Atheists or not, looked at this discrepancy in tax policy and protested. It is incumbent on us, as Atheists, to start the ball rolling toward fairer tax policies. In my initial research on this topic, I got in touch with tax think tanks, tax specialists and tax reformers, all of whom urged me to continue educating and alarming my constituency to start the ball rolling for the elimination of tax exemptions for churches. If Atheists do not work on this issue, who will? Join me in spreading the word, lobbying and alerting the public about the long-concealed and overlooked injustice of our nation subsidizing organized religion by tax exemptions and thus enriching the already brimming coffers of the churches.
March 2010 - American Atheist
MILITARY DIRECTOR Kathleen Johnson 411 E. Hwy 190 Ste. 105 PMB66 Copperas Cove, TX 76522 (318) 542-1019 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/mil ALABAMA STATE DIRECTOR Blair Scott P.O. Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-2000 (256) 701-6265 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/al/ ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR [NEW] Don Lacey P.O. Box 1161 Tucson, AZ 85641-1161 (520) 370-8420 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/az/ CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR Michael Doss P.O. Box 10541 Santa Ana, CA 92711 (714) 478-8457 email@example.com Mark W. Thomas (Asst. Dir.) 472 Lotus Lane Mountain View, CA 94043-4533 (650) 969-5314 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ca/ CONNECTICUT STATE DIRECTOR Dennis Paul Himes P.O. Box 9203 Bolton, CT 06043 (860) 454-8301 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/ct/ FLORIDA STATE DIRECTOR Greg McDowell P.O. Box 680741 Orlando, FL 32868-0741 (352) 217-3470 firstname.lastname@example.org Ken Loukinen (So. FL Reg. Dir.) 7972 Pines Blvd., #246743 Pembroke Pines, FL 33024 (954) 381-5240 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/fl/ IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR Susan Harrington P.O. Box 204 Boise, ID 83701-0204 (208) 631-5012 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/id/ KENTUCKY STATE DIRECTOR Edwin Kagin P.O. Box 48 Union, KY 41091 (859) 384-7000 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/ky/ MICHIGAN STATE DIRECTOR Arlene-Marie George Shiffer (Asst. Dir.) Both can be reached at: P.O. Box 0025 Allen Park, MI 48101-9998 (313) 938-5960 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/mi/ MINNESOTA STATE DIRECTOR Randall Tigue 201 Golden Valley Office Center 810 North Lilac Drive Golden Valley, MN 55422 (763) 529-9211 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/mn/ MISSOURI STATE DIRECTOR Greg Lammers P.O. Box 1352 Columbia, MO 65205 (573) 289-7633 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/mo/ NEW JERSEY STATE DIRECTOR David Silverman 1308 Centennial Ave., Box 101 Piscataway, NJ 08854 (732) 648-9333 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/nj/ NORTH CAROLINA STATE DIRECTOR Wayne Aiken P.O. Box 30904 Raleigh, NC 27622 (919) 602-8529 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/nc/ OHIO STATE DIRECTOR Michael Allen PMB289 1933 E. Dublin-Granville Rd Columbus, OH 43229 (614) 678-6470 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/oh OKLAHOMA STATE DIRECTOR Ron Pittser P.O. Box 2174 Oklahoma City, OK 73101-2174 (405) 205-8447 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/ok/ TEXAS STATE DIRECTOR Joe Zamecki (512) 758-0894 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/tx/ Dick Hogan (TX Reg. Dir., Dallas/Ft. Worth) email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/dfw/ UTAH STATE DIRECTOR Rich Andrews P.O. Box 165103 Salt Lake City, UT 84116-5103 (801) 718-7930 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ut/ VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Rick Wingrove P.O. Box 774 Leesburg, VA 20178 (703) 433-2464 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/va/ WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTOR Wendy Britton 12819 SE 38th St., Suite 485 Bellevue, WA 98006 (425) 269-9108 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/wa/ WEST VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Charles Pique P.O. Box 7444 Charleston, WV 25356-0444 (304) 776-5377 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/wv/
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American Atheist - March 2010
Organizations Presently Affiliated with American Atheists
Is your local or national group interested in affiliating with American Atheists? If so, please contact Blair Scott, National Affiliate Director, at bscott@Atheists. org.
Current American Atheists Affiliates Due to the number of Affiliates, only the group name and Web Page or Email is listed. For a full list including mailing addresses and phone numbers, please visit http://alabamaAtheist.org/naod or contact Blair Scott at bscott@Atheists.org for additional details.
ALABAMA Birmingham Atheists Atheists.meetup.com/132 Florence United Nontheists FlorenceFreethought.org Montgomery Area Freethought Association montgomeryfreethought.org North Alabama Freethought Association thenafa.org West Alabama Freethought Association meetup.com/ westalabamafreethought ALASKA Anchorage Atheists http://meetup.com/ anchorageAtheists ARIZONA Tucson Atheists Atheists.meetup.com/69 CALIFORNIA Agnostic & Atheist Student Association daviswiki.org/agasa Atheist Coalition of San Diego Atheistcoalition.org
March 2010 - American Atheist
Atheists & Agnostics Group of Rossmoor rossmoorAtheists.info Atheists & Freethinkers of Contra Costa County contracostaAtheists.com Atheists and Other Freethinkers Aofonline.org Atheists of Silicon Valley godlessgeeks.com Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics cvaas.org East Bay Atheists eastbayAtheists.org Humanist Society of Santa Barbara santabarbarahumanists.org Orange County Atheists OCAtheists.com San Francisco Atheists sfAtheists.com Santa Cruz Atheists santacruzAtheists.org Shasta Atheists & Freethinkers shasta@Atheistalliance.org
COLORADO Atheists and Freethinkers of Denver Atheistsofdenver.org Boulder Atheists boulderAtheists.org Metro State Atheists metrostateAtheists.wordpress.com Western Colorado Atheists WesternColoradoAtheists@yahoo. com CONNECTICUT Atheist Humanist Society of CT and RI Atheisthumanist.org Connecticut Valley Atheists cvAtheists.org FLORIDA Florida Atheists & Secular Humanists **Affiliate of the Year, 2008** freethoughtflorida.com Gator Freethought (UF) gatorfreethought.org Rebirth of Reason in Florida rebirthofreason.com/Florida
Saint Petersburg Atheists Atheists.meetup.com/209 South Lake Atheists and Freethinkers Atheists.meetup.com/655 GEORGIA Atlanta Freethought Society atlantafreethought.org IDAHO Idaho Atheists idahoAtheists.org ILLINOIS Bradley Atheists PTurack@Bradley.edu IWU Atheist, Agnostic, and NonReligious facebook.com/group. php?gid=5558627959 IOWA Iowa Secularists iowasecularist.org Siouxland Atheists siouxlandAtheists.org KANSAS First Church of Freethought/Fort Riley Atheists email@example.com Heartland Humanists heartlandhumanists.org Individuals For Freethought k-state.edu/freethought Kansas Freethought Society Atheists.meetup.com/642 KC FreeThinkers kcfreethinkers.org Miami County Kansas Freethinkers Atheists.meetup.com/733 28
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KENTUCKY Kentucky Atheists firstname.lastname@example.org Lexington Atheists meetup.com/The-LexingtonAtheists-Meetup-Group LOUISIANA Ark-La-Tex Freethinkers (Shreveport) facebook.com/group. php?gid=128265161375 New Orleans Secular Humanist Association nosha.secularhumanism.net MARYLAND Freethinkers Union at McDaniel College email@example.com MASSACHUSETTS American University Rationalists & Atheists facebook.com/group. php?gid=34367344446 Atheists of Greater Lowell Atheists.meetup.com/331 Boston Atheists bostonAtheists.org MICHIGAN Michigan Atheists michiganAtheists.org Mid Michigan Atheists and Humanists mmah.org MILITARY (OVERSEAS) Southwest Asia Freethought Association (379AEW) swafreethought.jimdo.com
MINNESOTA Campus Atheists & Secular Humanists cashumn.org Minnesota Atheists mnAtheists.org St. Olaf Agnostic and Atheist Society stolaf.edu/orgs/aas MISSISSIPPI Great Southern Humanist Society humanism.meetup.com/164 Mid-South Humanist Society midsouth-humanist-society.org MISSOURI Columbia Atheists meetup.com/The-ColumbiaAtheists-Meetup-Group Community of Reason CommunityOfReason.net Joplin Freethinkers joplinfreethinkers.org MU Skeptics Atheists Secular Humanist Agnostics facebook.com/group. php?gid=150886568817 Rationalist Society of St. Louis rssl.org NEBRASKA Lincoln Atheists lincolnAtheists.org Omaha Atheists omahaAtheists.org NEVADA Las Vegas Freethought Society lvfs.org
NEW JERSEY New Jersey Humanist Network NJHN.org NEW YORK Freethinkers of Upstate New York funygroup.org Hudson Valley Humanists hudsonvalley.humanists.net Long Island Secular Humanists LISecHum@aol.com New York City Atheists nyc-Atheists.org Science Club of Long Island sciencecluboflongisland.com NORTH CAROLINA Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics CharlotteAtheists.com NORTH DAKOTA Red River Freethinkers redriverfreethinkers.org OHIO Free Inquiry Group, Inc. gofigger.org Humanist Community of Central Ohio hcco.org OKLAHOMA Oklahoma Atheists OklahomaAtheists.info PENNSYLVANIA Atheist Station Atheiststation.org Central Susquehanna Valley Freethought meetup.com/Central-susquehannavalley-freethought
Northeast Pennsylvania Freethought Society Atheists.meetup.com/622 PA Nonbelievers panonbelievers.org RHODE ISLAND Rhode Island Atheist Society riAtheist.com SOUTH CAROLINA Secular Humanists of Lowcountry lowcountryhumanists.org TENNESSEE Chattanooga Freethought Association chattanoogafreethoughtassociation. com Memphis Freethought Alliance memphisfreethought.com Nashville Secular Life Atheists.meetup.com/699 Rationalists of East Tennessee rationalists.org TEXAS Atheist Community of Austin Atheist-community.org Denton Atheists Meetup meetup.com/The-Denton-AtheistsMeetup-Group Freethinkers Association of Central Texas FreethinkersACT.org Houston Atheists Meetup meetup.com/Houston-Atheists Metroplex Atheists metroplexAtheists.org San Antonio Atheists sa-Atheists.org
UTAH Atheists of Utah Atheistsofutah.org VIRGINIA Beltway Atheists meetup.com/beltwayAtheists Rational Response Squad @ George Mason myspace.com/rrs@gmu WASHINGTON Freethinkers United Network freethinkersunitednetwork.com Seattle Atheists SeattleAtheists.org WEST VIRGINIA Morgantown Atheists morgantownAtheists.org WISCONSIN Southeast Wisconsin FreeThinkers swiftnow.org NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS Atheist Nexus Atheistnexus.org Atheists for Human Rights Atheistsforhumanrights.org Atheists United for a Rational America rationalamerica.com Military Assoc. of Atheists & Freethinkers maaf.info
March 2010 - American Atheist
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AIMS & PURPOSES
American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a ‘wall of separation’ between state and church.
American Atheists is organized: To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices; To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories; To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church; To act as a ‘watchdog’ to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church; To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular system of education available to all; To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation to society; To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity; To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and other) life; and To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of American Atheists and to society as a whole.
DEFINITIONS Atheism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural beliefs altogether. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism. Atheism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds. Materialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent, immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth and strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and justice. Materialism’s ‘faith’ is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is a commitment that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is impossible without noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works. Materialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes, unlimited.
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