American Atheists Essential Reading List Enjoy the introductory information provided in these books, which are of topics of interests to Atheists. These titles represent only a fraction of the books available from American Atheist Press, yet collectively they provide a broad overview of Atheist thought. ion
Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Free Thinker by David Eller An anthropologist advances Atheists and Atheism beyond belief!
Christianity before Christ by John G. Jackson Christian doctrines are traced to their origins in older religions. The Case Against Religion by Albert Ellis A psychotherapist’s view of the harmful aspects of religious belief.
Living in the Light by Anne R. Stone Subtitled “Freeing Your Child from the Dark Ages” This book serves as a manual for Atheist parents.
Our Constitution: The Way It Was by Madalyn O’Hair American Atheist Radio Series episodes about the myth that our founding fathers created a Christian nation. What on Earth is an Atheist! by Madalyn O’Hair American Atheist Radio Series episodes on various topics of Atheist philosophy and history.
The Bible Handbook by G. W. Foote, W. P. Ball, et al. A compilation of biblical absurdities, contradictions, atrocities, immoralities and obscenities.
An Atheist Epic by Madalyn O’Hair The personal story of the battle to end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in schools in the United States.
65 Press Interviews by Robert G. Ingersoll Ingersoll’s 19th-century newspaper interviews as a Freethinker and opponent of superstition.
An Atheist Primer by Madalyn O’Hair A humorous look at god concepts will help children (and adults) have a clear view of religion.
An Atheist Looks at Women & Religion by Madalyn O’Hair Why attempts to reconcile religion with civil rights for women are self-defeating.
The Jesus the Jews Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler A search of ancient Jewish literature yields no evidence for the existence of any historical Jesus. The Great Infidels by Robert G. Ingersoll How nonbelievers and Atheists have contributed to civilization and enriched our lives.
The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm Jesus couldn’t have come from Nazareth because no one was living there at the time.
Illustrated Stories From The Bible by Paul Farrell You can bet this book won’t ever be used In Sunday Schools!
Jesus is Dead by Robert M. Price Not only is there no reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead, there is no reason to think he ever lived or died at all!
Please see the order form located in the center of the magazine for member discounts and shipping & handling. www.atheists.org
FEBRUARY 2009 Vol 47, No.2
ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS Editor Frank R. Zindler firstname.lastname@example.org AMERICAN ATHEIST ‘A Journal of Atheist News and Thought’ General Editor Bill Hampl email@example.com Design & Layout Editor David C. Smalley firstname.lastname@example.org Cover Design David C. Smalley Published monthly (except June & December) by American Atheists Inc. Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 908.276.7300 P 908.276.7402 F www.atheists.org ©2009 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: $45 for 1 subscription and $30 for each additional gift subscription Online version only: $35 Sign up at www.atheists.org/aam Print & online: $55
From The President New Editors Are Announced Ed Buckner
From The Out-Going Editor Frank Zindler
Editor Introductions Bill Hampl & David Smalley
Legal Update Edwin Kagin
American Atheists National Conference Atlanta, Georgia April 9–12
Surrounded by Marxists Dr. Massimo Pigliucci
Spirit, Soul, and Mind Frank R. Zindler
Foxhole Atheist of the Month Sergeant Brooks W. Dingus, by Kathleen Johnson
Prayer & Babies Guy P. Harrison
Letter from the Editor Bill Hampl
21 Why Atheists Make the Best Type of Citizen Marie Alena Castle 22 Does Science Make Belief in God/Allah Obsolete? Secret Authors (Courtesy of Humanist International)
Discounts for multiple-year subscriptions: 10% for two years 20% for three or more years
The Faithful Atheist David Smalley
Additional postage fees for foreign addresses: Canada & Mexico: add $15/year All other countries: add $35/year
Thoughts on some Material Atheist Freedoms Greg Lammers
Discount for libraries and institutions: 50% on all magazine subscriptions and book purchases
hange keeps coming to American Atheists and no doubt will never cease to come. We have recently completely revamped our Website (and I say ‘We’ only because I’m the president and therefore have the formal privilege of including myself for credit even when others have done all the work), using impressive talent and many hours of work from David Silverman, Jared Alessandroni, Blair Scott, and others, and I join many others Ed Buckner, PhD in welcoming this change and President of delighting in it, but I also know American Atheists that Ed Gauci and many others deserve great credit for the valuable Web-site that gave way for the new one. In a similar way, I am proud to introduce two new names—Bill Hampl and David Smalley—to our readers and members but also proud to acknowledge the irreplaceable contributions of the people they succeed. Frank Zindler, a leader of leaders, has succeeded in finding two people to partially replace him and Ann Zindler—or more accurately to do an important part of the work they have done. Frank has been editor of American Atheist magazine for many years, both before and after Ellen Johnson served in that capacity. Ann has given untold hours of creative and technical work to layout and the design of the magazine. Both have also led the crucial efforts of American Atheists Press to publish books of singular importance to Atheists and other readers and thinkers world-wide—and happily, the Zindlers will continue to lead that effort. All who care about books— and every member of American Atheists ought to be in that category—can breathe a sigh of relief about this last piece of information. When it comes to taking credit as president, whether I deserve it or not, I’m eager to take some of the credit for the results of Frank Zindler’s exhaustive search for editorial renewal for American Atheists Magazine. We—especially Frank, but I did do some of this, too—talked to many truly outstanding creative and technologically accomplished people who offered American Atheists their services. Smalley and Hampl stood out as candidates highly likely to succeed, but their competition was plentiful and strong. Frank and I are agreed that we will be well rewarded for securing the services of many others from among the applicants and we certainly intend to do just that. But now let me explain why I have such extraordinarily high expectations for our new General Editor, Bill Hampl, and our new Design & Layout Editor, David Smalley. American Atheist - February 2009
Bill Hampl is a classy exemplar of Atheism and of excellence. He values community contributions and voluntarism, and his willingness to take on such important responsibilities to lead our chief enduring path of communication with the world (starting with our members)
PRESIDENT demonstrates the seriousness of his commitment. He is a master of clear English, of writing, and of editing, and will show readers that willing Atheist writers have much to offer and can be persuaded to offer it. A protégé of the late ‘Rev.’ Jerry Falwell (you may want to read Bill’s own comments about Falwell before you call me up and dress me down), Hampl’s perspective and experience will give fresh understanding to Atheism and this organization. The words you will see in the months to come will be, as they have in the past, the words of many different Atheists with many ideas, some of them in conflict with some of the rest. But behind those words, encouraging those words and organizing them with greater clarity, will be the mind and work of Bill Hampl. You will like what you read. Dave Smalley is no less excellent an Atheist than Bill Hampl, but he is nevertheless a very different guy. You will like what you read, but you will also like what you see—and the mind and creativity that makes the way the publication look interesting and engaging will be primarily Smalley’s work. He has mastered so many different graphics and layout software packages that a layman like me had literally never even heard of many of the tools with which he is proficient. His expertise and interests extend as well to video, and the crucial work to be done on the magazine will assuredly not be the only arena where either of these leaders will be contributing. More important than the technical sophistication, though, is Smalley’s creative eye, his highly developed talent at artistic composition and juxtaposition, as well as his ability to break out of traditional structures. Both Smalley and Hampl will be using both words and images to maintain the traditions that make all of us so proud our magazine, but Smalley will be the lead image composer while Hampl is the lead wordsmith. The work of each will complement the work of the other, to our lasting benefit. Welcome, William Hampl and David C. Smalley. You cannot imagine—even though I know both of you are gloriously imaginative—just how glad all of us in American Atheists are to have you with us.
From the Out-Going Editor Frank R. Zindler
ust in the nick of time, salvation is at hand! Just as I was about to ‘go down for the third time,’ someone has thrown me a life-preserver. Actually, it wasn’t just one someone, it was two someones — and I am not the only person whose life has been saved. My wife and life-partner Ann has been in the Atheist publication business with me — days and nights — for over thirteen years, and she is just as exhausted from chasing publication deadlines as I am. The two stalwarts who have effected our salvation are Bill Hampl and David Smalley. Early last summer, after I became acting president of American Atheists, I found myself doing the equivalent of three full-time jobs: the job of president, the job of magazine editor (in addition to my on-going job as managing editor of American Atheist Press), and the job I do for pay — working past retirement age as a linguist and editor for a scientific publishing society. Although Ann and I had produced the American Atheist magazine for nearly eleven years after the death of the Murray-O’Hair family in 1995, because Ellen Johnson assumed the editorship of the magazine, we had not had to worry about the journal for two years and we were able to concentrate our efforts on book production. Then, literally over night, we had to resume publication of the magazine. Needless to admit, it was too much; we couldn’t publish the magazine in a timely fashion and deadlines routinely were missed. Early last summer I placed two ads in the magazine and on the Atheist blog: one for a new president of American Atheists, and one for a new editor of American Atheist. The presidential position was filled last October with the accession of Dr. Ed Buckner, and that left me more time to concentrate on finding a replacement for myself as magazine editor. It was about as easy as trying to change from a snow-suit into a tuxedo while running a relay race—and avoiding arrest for indecent exposure. Fortunately, Ed helped me in this task as well. Out of a large pool of applicants (Damn! There are lots of talented Atheists out there!) we were able to settle on two men whose talents nicely complement
each other: William (‘Bill’) Hampl and David Smalley. Bill will be serving as general editor of the magazine, concerning himself with interacting with authors and printers, selection of materials for publication, editing them and preparing them for publication, and copy-editing proofs before each magazine is ‘put to bed.’ David Smalley will concern himself with overall design of the magazine, layout of text in Adobe InDesign (the industry standard for creating publications), creation of artwork, processing photographs, and even such mind-numbing tasks as creating order-blanks and application forms. Oh, yes: each of them will be receiving the exact same salary as I have always received: zero dollars and zero cents per year. Their unhesitating willingness to assume these onerous positions is a measure of their dedication to the cause of Atheism . Once again, Ann and I will focus on publishing new Atheist books and reprinting Atheist classics. We hope to enlist the aid of several of the other editorial applicants whose talents seem more appropriate in book publishing than in magazine production. Ann and I thank both Bill and David for coming to our rescue. We are confident that with their energy and enthusiasm American Atheist will once again become a journal of substance, a magazine of which we can justly be proud. With their help—and with the help of some of the other applicants—we think that American Atheist Press as a whole will be buoyed up and will once again be the printed voice of Atheism for the Englishspeaking world. Thank you, Bill and David!
February 2009 - American Atheist
Bill Hampl the new General Editor of American Atheist
am very excited to assume the role of General Editor for this great organization’s chief publication. I like to think of myself as “just another gay Atheist in the civil service,” but let me provide a little background on myself. I was brought up Baptist in a small town in Massachusetts. My parents elected to send me to a Baptist high school forty-five minutes from my house rather than have me attend the local public school. At my high school, the teachers strongly admonished my fellow students and me both from socializing or dating people from other religions— Catholics were a big no-no— and also from attending any secular colleges. Some of the more popular institutions of higher learning were Baptist Bible College East, Bob Jones University, and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. As a reward for graduating third in my class (out of a class of nine students), Liberty actually awarded me a partial two-year scholarship. I spent my freshmen year there, experimenting with my sexuality, and narrowly avoided being kicked out. After taking some time off, I went against the grain and attended secular schools of higher learning. I have earned a Bachelor’s of Music, a Master of Arts in English, and a Master of Science in Management, with a concentration in Account6
American Atheist - February 2009
ing. I went even further against the grain and embraced my sexuality. Eventually, I met my spouse, Jeff, through a mutual friend at a volleyball party, and I do not even like to play volleyball. When same sex marriage was legalized in 2003, Jeff and I registered for our marriage license on May 17. May 18th was my birthday, and we were married
on May 20th. Also that week, we bought our house, and our cat had kittens! Since July of 2000, I have been employed as an English Instructor for sailors and Marines at the BOOST/STA-21 Programs for the Department of Defense at the Newport Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island. My students are greatly
amused by my “WWJD—Who Wants Jelly Donuts?” bumper sticker, ordered from the Atheist website, and still available there. I am truly thankful for the confidence in my ability shown by Frank Zindler and Ed Buckner to act as editor of this great magazine. I will endeavor to provide interesting articles and informative insights. For example, when Jeff and I attended training to foster and/or adopt children, the instructor told the class not to identify as atheists, as doing so would negatively affect our chances of obtaining children. I will seek to put forward in print much of what we Atheists hold dear such as free thinking and also how the media present coverage of us. Thank you and I look forward to working for you and with you!
David Smalley the new Design & Layout Editor of American Atheist
t is with great pleasure and appreciation that I accept the position of Design and Layout Editor for the American Atheist. I have long enjoyed providing creative solutions for intellectual activism, and this is my greatest quest yet. The humble beginning of the American Atheists organization is an inspiration to many, and my ultimate goal is to help continue that legacy by adding value wherever I can. By bringing creative concepts to the table, I hope to attract and inspire even more freethinkers for our cause. I will take this introductory opportunity to present a brief summary of how this relationship came to be. It was January 10, 1980, just nine days after the New Year – I was lying there new to the world, and my father was already furious with me because I missed the tax deadline for him to claim me in 1979! My mother was also upset, because apparently, I had attempted to enter the world sideways, obviously against her will. Needless to say, people being upset by my unique approach to life started at an early age! I was raised in a primarily secular household with a Christian foundation from a Catholic mother and an Episcopalian father, who never agreed on much; accept that their attendance in church wasn’t all that important. Neither really cared too much about living by particular religious doctrine, but the ‘fear of God’ was ever-present in our home. After their divorce, when I was just five years old, my mother instilled in me what she felt were Christian values; which I later came to know as hu-
manistic ethics, but nevertheless, she did a bang-up job! My religious knowledge as a child was minimal to say the least. I was simply taught to fear the wrath of ‘God’ but I never understood why. This caused a unique interest in religion, and I wanted to know what everyone was so afraid of. Even as a small child, I didn’t grasp the concept of having so much love for something, yet being terrified of it at the same time. In any event, as a teenager, I became active in local Baptist churches and gospel choirs as a musician, typically playing the drums each Sunday morning, and being listed as the premier drummer for main events and recordings, including a live performance at the famed ‘Potters House’ in Texas. I’m even plastered on the cover a religious album as the drummer for a popular gospel choir! Over the years, I began to ask questions, and those answers lead me to realize the many fallacies of religion. Still, the powers of ingrained fear lead me to continue performing with religious groups, until I finally began my quest to find real answers. Needless to say, the answers I received and knowledge I discovered eventually lead to the marvelous freedom of Atheism! Moreover breaking the mold, I was the first person on my mother’s side of the family in 20 years to graduate high school, and the first ever to further an education with a university. My adult volunteer work as a secular humanist, helping the homeless and less fortunate, and a deep interest in exactly why intelligent people fall victim to the ab-
surdities of religion, both led me to pursue an education in psychology with an emphasis in applied behavioral analysis at Kaplan University. While continuing my education, I also host an online atheistic discussion forum titled The Smalley Debate, where theists of all types come to argue their case, as I present evidence of how each of them are mislead! Our very own Frank Zindler was my first inspiration, as I read the transcript of his radio debate of Noah’s Ark on the American Atheists Web-site. For two years, I worked with a national television network, UATV, as a graphics designer, video editor, and television producer. I often performed voiceovers for cartoons and television commercials, as well designing scripts, magazine layouts, and billboards. Combining a creative background in graphics, media, and music, with an activist’s mindset toward Atheism, the position of Design Editor of American Atheist magazine feels like the perfect fit! For a long time now, the way Atheists have been portrayed in the general view has been a strong motivator for me to spread the word of reason and free thought. I am eager to show the world how secular humanism is a productive way of life. I currently reside in Plano, Texas with my beautiful wife Brandy, and two amazing children, Brayden and Talissa. I look forward to serving in our cause for reason. The Smalley Debate Blog & Discussion www.davidsmalley.blogspot.com February 2009 - American Atheist
Atheism in Popular Culture The Colbert Report
erhaps when readers of American Atheists have some free time, they tune in to the antics of Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report. (Fans of the television series know that the title is pronounced Kol•bayr Re•por, with the t’s being silent. As Monsieur Colbert says of the pronunciation, “It’s French.”) Those viewers on December 11, 2008, were treated to a special section on Atheists. For those who missed the show when it originally aired, the episode is available in its entirety at ColbertNation.com. One of the many highlights of the Emmy-winning The Colbert Report is the segment entitled ‘The Word.’ While Colbert speaks on the left side of the television screen, a satirical commentary of his words appears on the right side of the screen. After humorously referring to Atheists as “godless grinches,” Colbert began that night’s segment of ‘The Word,’ which was entitled ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Supreme Being.’ This of course is a phrase and technically not a single word, and was a reference both to Milan Kundera’s 1985 novel as well as Philip Kaufman’s 1988 film version, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, and Derek de Lint. ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Supreme Being,’ though, focused on Atheists’ (supposed) activities during the holiday season. Colbert began ‘The Word’ by jocularly asserting that Atheists work all year long to “push their radical secular agenda.” He then noted that when December rolls around, Americans re-embrace their one true god (at which point the right hand of the screen featured the word ‘shopping’). Shortly afterward, the screen cut from Colbert and instead showed a December 2nd clip from Fox News featuring Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (ffrf.org). Barker was heard reading from a sign put up across from a xmas display at the Washington State Capital Building in Olympia, Washington. The text of the sign read: “At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” This section of the show, although brief, was quite powerful, giving valuable coverage to people committed to the separation of church and state. Photos of the sign and more information are available at http://www.ffrf.org/news/ 2008/reasonsgreetings_madison.php
American Atheist - February 2009
n December 2, 2008, American Atheists, Inc., together with eleven named plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Kentucky Circuit Court against the COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, the KENTUCKY OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY, and the persons responsible for enforcing the laws that govern that Kentucky department. The named plaintiffs are MICHAEL G. CHRISTERSON, JAMES F. COFFMAN, LUCINDA HEDDEN COFFMAN, JAN EWING, EMMETT F. FIELDS, ALEX GRIGG, EDWIN HENSLEY, HELEN KAGIN, GARY MARYMAN, DAVID RYAN, and JAMES K. WILLMOT. These plaintiffs are all Kentucky residents, and they live in a wide variety of Kentucky counties. Some are members of American Atheists; others are not. All of them are strong as new rope. Rarely has such a list of constitutionally aware plaintiffs been assembled. American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation incorporated in Texas, with its principal place of business in New Jersey. The corporation is also registered to do business in Kentucky. This is a legal nicety that it is respectfully suggested be implemented in all states. Becoming registered to do business in a given state is generally fairly simple and inexpensive for a not-for-profit corporation, and doing so can prevent certain unpleasant potential problems should litigation in a given state prove necessary.
tial Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was writ-
“the Commonwealth of Kentucky is in fact attempting to establish a religion” ten long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’” Effective: March 28, 2002 History: Created 2002 Ky. Acts ch. 82, sec. 2, effective March 28, 2002.” That’s why. This action is believed to be in conformity with the legal philosophy of American Atheists as set forth at http://atheists.org/press_releases/Legal_Philosophy_Announced and at http://atheists.org/American_Atheists_Legal_Philosophy.
It seems to me, and to the plaintiffs, that the ComInformation on the lawsuit can be found monwealth of Kentucky is in fact attempting to estabat http://atheists.org/Kentucky_Homelish a religion, in violation of Section 5 of the land_Security_Lawsuit and the text Constitution of Kentucky and of the First of the Complaint at http:// www. Amendment to the Constitution of the Unitatheists.org/upload/aavky.pdf. ed States. In a recent national radio interWhy all the fuss? Because view with a fundangelical talk show host, Kentucky has passed into I presented a hypothetical of whether, in law the following incredible Edwin Kagin - National Legal Director choosing between two Kentucky cities language, mandating that the American Atheists of equal size in which to attempt to survive executive director of the Kenthe kind of threat the Kentucky Office of tucky Office of Homeland Security shall: “Publicize the findings of the General Assembly Homeland Security was set up to meet, each city having an stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to army of defenders of equal size, one would rather be in the the security of the Commonwealth by including the provi- city where the defenders were well armed Atheists trained sions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and edu- in anti-terrorism tactics, or in the other city where the decational materials. The executive director shall also be re- fenders were unarmed fundangelicals who only prayed and sponsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque relied upon supernatural powers for deliverance. The host at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center was outraged. Sorry. I didn’t make the facts. You can hear stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3).” http://www.lrc.ky.gov/ this interview at <http://www.theamericanview.com/ index. krs/039g00/010.pdf>. KRA 39A.285(3) states, in black php?id=1226>. The comments on it continue and you are letter law: “39A.285 Legislative findings - The General invited to join it. The host does not believe that our ConstiAssembly hereby finds that: (1) No government by itself tution gives the right to believe in ‘false gods.’ No kidding. can guarantee perfect security from acts of war or terror- Rarely have I encountered such irrational and scary venom. ism. (2) The security and well-being of the public depend And people like that are permitted to vote and to sit on juries. An ‘Answer’ has been filed by the State of Kentucky not just on government, but rest in large measure upon individual citizens of the Commonwealth and their level of to the ‘Complaint.’ It should be on our website soon. In its understanding, preparation, and vigilance. (3) The safety Answer, Kentucky says the laws are not unconstitutional. and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart Also, among other things, the Answer says that any damages from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public suffered by the plaintiffs as a result of these laws is of their speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, includ- own doing. Stay tuned. ing Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, PresidenFebruary 2009 - American Atheist
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
GET READY TO PACK YOUR BAGS FOR
35th National Convention of The
AMERICAN ATHEISTS Thursday, April 9th 6:00 – 9:00 PM Great Hearth Room Registration and informal reception with cash bar.
April 9-12, 2009
4HE %MORY #ONFERENCE #ENTER (OTEL s !TLANTA '! Friday, April 10th 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Lullwater Ballroom & 7:00 – 9:30 PM Silverbell Room Open Banquet, Award Ceremony, Members Meeting Saturday, April 11th 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Lullwater Ballroom &for 7:00 – 9:00 PMbash Silverbell Room Join us the Freethought of the year! Open Banquet, Honor Lifetime/Gift and Legacy Members
American Atheists will host its 35th National Convention at the spectacular Emory Conference Center Hotel in Atlanta, Ga. Make plans now for an exciting weekend of Hosted Breakfast Sunday, Apriloutstanding 12th Dining social events, talksRoom by renowned speakers, workshops and so much more. Arrive anytime between We’ll 8:00 have and a11:00 AM and berate greeted your board members & directors. special convention at thisby world-class meeting venue, plus extended ‘shoulder dates’ so you can visit the many tourism attractions in beautiful Atlanta! And don’t forget our 12th Thursday nightPM (April 9) Convention Sunday, April 12:00 - 5:00 PM Jump-Start for an evening of fun with fellow Atheists from around the world. Mark your calendar now — Afternoon Group Outing: Red State, Blue State; Old South, New South, From the Civil War to Civil Rights and look for more details in future issues of the American Atheist magazine!
Destinations being Stone Mountain and its many attractions, then on to the historical Ku Klux site and on to Sweet Auburn, the birthplace and resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King. $50 per person. Includes box lunch, transportation, and all admissions. Accessible for handicapped and limited mobility. Additional information: President, Ed Buckner (770) 803-5353 or atheists.org/events/National_convention.
American Atheist - February 2009
AMERICAN ATHEISTS NATIONAL CONVENTION APRIL 9-12, in Atlanta, Georgia Emory Conference Center Hotel 1615 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329
merican Atheists will host its 35th National Convention at the spectacular Emory Conference Center Hotel in Atlanta, Ga. Make plans now for an exciting weekend of social events, outstanding talks by renowned speakers, workshops and so much more. We’ll have a special convention rate at this world-class meeting venue, plus extended ‘shoulder dates’ so you can visit the many tourism attractions in beautiful Atlanta! Don’t forget our Thursday night (April 9) Convention Jump-Start for an evening of fun with fellow Atheists from around the world. Said to be the “Best Kept Secret” in Georgia, the Emory is a hidden oasis as its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and serene wooded views combine diverse meeting space, beautiful gardens, walking trails, and much more to create a one-of-a kind experience. The Emory is just 20 minutes from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The downtown business district and vibrant Buckhead are less than 12 minutes from the hotel. Complimentary on-site parking is an added bonus. The Emory offers a two-tiered guest room rate. Guest rooms in the hotel are $109 plus tax for single/double. Guest rooms in the inn (directly connected to the hotel) are $89 plus tax for single/double and include breakfast. You must make your reservations directly with the hotel on or before March 10, 2009 to enjoy our special convention rate. Be sure to tell them you are with the American Atheist convention.
Emory Hotel reservations: 404-712-6000 www.emoryconferencecenter.com
Confirmed Speakers Ed Buckner: President, American Atheists, Inc. Richard Dawkins: Evolutionist/science celebrity Mike Malloy: Nationally-syndicated talk radio personality Jim Morrow: Award-winning writer and novelist Dr. J. Anderson Thomson: Psychiatrist, researcher, author Nate Phelps: Estranged son of Pastor Fred Phelps John Lombard: Beijing business owner, activist
(D)evangelical Stand Up Comedy Troupe “Mass De-baptism Ceremony”
February 2009 - American Atheist
ecently I had a strange experience: I was having dinner in Manhattan, near New York University, surrounded by a group of pleasant and smart people, who happened to be Marxists! It was a nice evening, following a panel discussion at New York University on morality without gods. Still, I couldn’t help feeling I had been thrown back to my high school days (circa 1977), when people were using terms like ‘means of production’ and ‘oppression of the workers’ with genuine conviction and equal obliviousness to the subtleties of actual socio-economic and political situations. What I thought I was going to hear from my Marxist companions was something along the lines that Marx’s analysis of class struggle and of the foundations of capitalism was still largely correct, and in fact even relevant to the recent collapse of the worldwide by financial system unleashed by the most unbridled (as in unregulated) form of capitalism the world has seen since the era of the aptly named robber barons. That, I think, is actually a defensible position, as much as I don’t believe for a second that Marx’s solution will ever work in any real human society. (My take is that both extreme socialism and extreme capitalism make the same mistake, albeit for symmetrical reasons: they ignore fundamental aspects of human nature. Capitalism puts too much emphasis on self-interest, dismissing the fact that we are social animals with strong cooperative instincts; Socialism errs on the other side, proposing an ant-like society where individualism is progressively squeezed out of the human experience.) If one actually reads Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, one can hardly disagree with most of his theses. That a key to human history is the economic struggle among classes is true, though my view of history does not admit of a one-cause-fits-all sort of explanation. That a more just society would be created by a fairer redistribution of wealth and especially of the control of ‘the means of production’ is also true unless your definition of ‘justice’ is that (economic) might makes right. And that people’s understanding of their own condition is largely shaped by a system that wishes to perpetuate itself despite its flagrant injustice is also something I don’t dispute.
But my Marxist dinner companions really stunned me when they claimed that Stalin “wasn’t all that bad,” and that “Mao was even better.” Come again? Let’s start with Stalin. His radical policies and pursuit of power killed millions through famine, and that was just the beginning. His regime was one of the most violently repressive in human history, with again millions of people exiled to labor camps or simply eliminated, and entire ethnic groups ‘resettled’ because they were not to his liking. Oh, and while Stalin gets a lot of credit for resisting the Nazi invasion, thereby helping to turn the tide against Hitler during World War II, let us not forget that he also pushed the MolotovRibbentrop
Surrounded by Marxists
American Atheist - February 2009
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci
pact, which paved the way for Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and thus the onset of the war. My Marxist friends quibbled on exactly how many millions were killed (to me, one million is one too many), and claimed that Stalin’s was the first experiment in applied communism, and he had to make up stuff as he went. Well, let me declare the first experiment such a total and abject failure that I really don’t think we should attempt a second one. But of course many other such ‘experiments’ were carried out during the 20th century, one of the most cruel being Mao’s. Far from me to be able to offer an in-depth analysis of Maoism (or Stalinism, for that matter) here. But let us consider some examples of what the great leader of communist China did. Mao admitted to the execution of about 700,000 people just in the 1949–53 period—justified, in his mind, because of the necessity of consolidating power. The real number is more likely to be somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million. Moreover, another 1.5 million Chinese were sent to labor camps to be ‘reformed.’ During the so-called ‘great leap forward,’ Mao’s second five-year plan that began in 1958, his policies resulted in widespread famine that killed tens of millions of people. The exact numbers are in dispute, depending on the method used to calculate the deaths. A widely accepted figure is of 20 million, though other estimates take that to be a
“they claimed that Stalin ‘wasn’t all that bad’”
conservative number, with a range going all the way to the mindboggling figure of 72 million. Again, if this is the hallmark of success, I’d hate to see a failure. Why is it that otherwise intelligent, nice people, clearly concerned with justice in the world, can still whole-heartedly claim that communism is a good idea? I suspect it is for reasons very similar to those allowing Christians (just to pick another random group of reality-challenged people) to read the Old Testament and seriously claim that all those instances of Yahweh commanding his people to slaughter, rape and pillage ‘in his name’ are really quotes taken out of context. In what context, pray, does that sort of injunction become morally acceptable? The problem, in other words, is the uniquely human penchant for
In Memoriam Huascar Terra do Valle - Brazil Robert J. Peat - Cohoes, NY
New Life Members
adopting an ideological position and then sticking to it — reality be damned. As my favorite Marx, Groucho, aptly said (ironically, while talking about matters of economics in the masterpiece movie Duck Soup): “A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.” That is not that different from what I wanted to scream at several points during that recent dinner. Luckily, the NeoMarxist Club is one club I simply cannot join, on the grounds that they really wouldn’t allow someone like me to be one of their members.
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of biology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. As one of the world’s foremost evolutionary theorists and debaters of creationists, he is truly a celebrity of science. American Atheists is proud to number him among its life members.
Ed Buckner - Smyrna, GA
February 2009 - American Atheist
SPIRIT, SOUL, AND MIND By Frank R. Zindler
Formerly a professor of biology and geology in the SUNY system, Frank R. Zindler for more than a quarter of a century has served as a linguist and editor for a scientific publishing society in Ohio. Author of The Jesus the Jews Never Knew and more than 100 magazine articles and essays, he has participated in over 400 radio and TV debates and talk shows as an advocate for Atheism and science. He is managing editor of American Atheist Press and receives e-mail at email@example.com.
henever I peruse a dictionary, I am struck by the amazing number of words which refer to nothing at all in the real world. Many of the words are obviously fabulous: leprechaun, unicorn, gremlin, Philosopher’s Stone, Zeus, elf, Fountain of Youth, ghost, etc. Others, though referring equally to non-existent things, are less obviously fabulous: The Mean Sun, The Average Citizen, vital force, spirit, soul, and — in at least some of its accepted meanings — mind.
American Atheist - February 2009
Why the human species has invented so many words which refer to nothing in reality is a most interesting question for scientific investigation, and probably would require a complete book to elucidate properly. In this article I shall only attempt to deal with a few such words, specifically, the words spirit, soul, and mind. It is a striking fact that nearly all languages of the world, extinct as well as extant, have — or have had — words which could be rendered as ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ in English. At first glance, it would seem that this is a good argument in favor of the real existence of souls and spirits. For, would it not be improbable that so many different peoples and languages could be mistaken? If many different unrelated languages have independently invented words for soul, is that not a good reason to believe they did so because there really is such a thing? Well, no, I think not. The first clue to the solution of this puzzle comes from etymology, the study of word origins. While the origin of the English word soul is obscure, the word almost certainly had its origin in a word which meant ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ or ‘air,’ or something like that. The word spirit — generally a synonym for soul — comes from the Latin spiritus, and clearly meant ‘breath’ originally. Spiritual and respiratory both derive from the same root! Moreover, if we check in the Greek and Hebrew bibles to see which words are translated as ‘soul,’ etc., in the King James Version, we will find many whose literal meaning is ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ For ex-
ample, the Hebrew word neshamah (literally meaning ‘breath’) is twice rendered as ‘spirit,’ once as ‘soul.’ The Hebrew-Aramaic word ruach (lit., ‘wind’) is rendered 240 times as ‘spirit,’ six times as ‘mind.’ The word nephesh (lit., ‘breath’) is rendered ‘soul’ 428 times, ‘mind’ 15 times, ‘ghost’ twice, and ‘life’ 119 times. Turning to the Greek Bible, we find pneuma (lit., ‘breath’) rendered as ‘ghost’ 91 times (including the rendering ‘Holy Ghost’), 292 times as ‘spirit.’ The reader will recognize the same root in the word pneumonia, a word referring to a disease of the organs of breath. And finally, in this somewhat pedantic parade of words, we may note the important word psyche. As expected, its literal meaning is ‘breath.’ As we might have guessed, it is rendered as ‘soul’ 58 times, ‘mind’ three times, and ‘life’ 40 times. The fact that nearly all words now meaning ‘soul,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘life,’ etc., trace their origins to words meaning ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ leads me to conclude that the derived meanings were an outgrowth of the inability of primitive people to solve a basic biological puzzle, namely, what constitutes the difference between a live body and a dead one? To the ancient authors of the Bible — men who still thought they were living on a flat earth beneath a solid sky (firmament) — the solution seemed deceptively simple: living things breathe, dead things do not. At first, only animals (from Latin anima, meaning ‘breath’ or ‘breeze’ originally) were considered fully alive. The case of plants was viewed with confusion for a long time. Some authorities consi
dered them live, others did not. The ancients did not realize that ‘souls’ were really only a gaseous mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, contaminated with varying amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide, noble gases, and — depending upon what one ate and whether or not one brushed after every meal — varying amounts of aromatic substances! In the Genesis creation myth, the animating power of breath is clearly depicted. God, after having molded Adam from the dust, has to breathe into him the breath of life in order for him to become a living soul. Breath is life. The manner in which breath became equated with life is not difficult to discern. A person newly dead, say, of a heart attack, anatomically is not much different from what he was like before he died. He still has five fingers per hand, a tongue in his mouth, a brain in his head, and a heart in his breast. The ancients, unconscious of the microcosmic fever of chemical marriages and divorces that we call metabolism, could see only one obvious difference: the lack of breath of the dead. When a man expired (lit., ‘breathed out’’), his spirit (lit., ‘breath’) left his body, and he died. When a man sneezed, his spirit was forcefully ejected from his body, and one had to say “God bless you” or make a magical gesture, such as the sign of the cross, very quickly, before evil spirits could come to take over the momentarily spiritually vacant carcass. Demonic ‘possession’ was the result, quite simply, of inhaling one or more of the evil breaths thought to hover in the air around us. For early Christians, the Devil’s breath was everywhere. Of course, not all possession was necessarily evil. People could become ‘inspired’ – that is, the
breath of a god could take over their bodies to deliver words of wisdom or apocalyptic admonitions. Indeed, the origin of the Christian church itself was thought to have originated in an act of mass possession by the Holy Ghost (‘Holy Breath’ in the Greek text!). In Acts 4:31 we read that when the Apostles and others “had ended their prayer, the building where they were assembled rocked, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit [breath] and spoke the
Modern biologists, unlike the ancient makers of myths, know that all the phenomena of living systems can be reduced to physical and chemical terms. They have no evidence of any ‘vital force’ or mystical spirit — and no need to seek for such. They recognize the fully alive body and the newly dead body to be but two arbitrary points along a continuum of decreasing organization. So much for spirit, soul, and ghost. Originally denoting breath or wind, they are words which have acquired a host of mystical connotations as prescientific people attempted to account for the difference between life and death. But what of the word mind? Does it refer to anything real? Or is it, too, a fabulous entity? Unlike the analysis of spirit and soul, the analysis of mind is not at all simple. This is so largely through the grammatical accident that in all the European languages, ancient as well as modern, the word mind is a noun. We tend to think of nouns as substantive: table, chair, and plumb-bob are all nouns, and all are substantial. word of God with boldness.’ (Given There are many words, however, the close association of words with which though grammatically nouns, breath – thought to be life itself – are not at all substantial. Words like is it any wonder that religions of all beauty, truth, and velocity would be kinds have always focused on the examples. Unfortunately, our thinkmagical significance of words?) ing tends to be hedged around by Lest anyone still think the link the grammar and hidden assumpbetween breath and the foundations tions of the language with which we of Christianity be doubtful, attention think. And so it happens again and is drawn to the tale running through again that abstract nouns come to John 20:22. Jesus has come back to be thought of as representing things visit the Disciples to tell them that just as substantial as those reprehe is sending them out to forgive sented by common nouns. And thus or not forgive the sins of the world. we have the basic confusion neces“Then he [Jesus] breathed on them, sary to found philosophical systems saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’ ” such as Plato’s — whose perfect triRight from the beginning, Christi- angularity exists in triangle-heaven, anity was based upon warm breath and so on. – which in time became hot air. Because mind was a noun, it
“When a man sneezed, his spirit was forcefully ejected from his body, and one had to say ‘God bless you’”
February 2009 - American Atheist
was conceived to be a thing. Because it was thought to be a thing, it was thought to have existence apart from the brain. Because it has independent existence, it was thought capable of survival after the death of the body. And millions thought that to be good reason to invest millions in that greatest of all businesses, religion. Neurobiological studies show all these ideas to be quite worthless. Mind is a process, a dynamic relation, and not a thing. If we change the processes of the brain, we change the mind. The psychedelic drugs have taught us that fact, if nothing else. The history of western philosophy and religion, as well as science, would have been quite different if the word mind had developed as a verb instead of as a noun. To wonder where the mind goes after the brain decays is as silly as asking where the 70-miles-per-hour have gone after a speeding auto has crashed into a tree. Just as the relative motion of an auto can be altered only within certain limits and still represent the process called ‘speeding,’ so too we can alter the functioning of the brain only so much before the process called ‘mind’ or ‘thinking’ becomes altered out of existence. Now that scientists recognize mind as a process rather than a thing, they are making rapid advances in understanding the specific brain dynamics that correspond to the various subjective states collectively known as mind. Certain drugs are known, for example, that affect certain neural paths and centers in the brain to produce the psychic state known as euphoria. Others affect other circuits and produce depression or sleep. We can implant electrodes in the brain and cause the subject to ‘hear’ bells and sympho-
American Atheist - February 2009
nies that aren’t ‘there’ at all. We can be made to ‘see’ figures and lights without using our eyes at all, by stimulating the visual cortex at the back of the brain. We can cause to appear the emotions of rage, sexuality, sorrow, religious awe, etc., by altering the dynamic functions of the brain in appropriate ways. We are beginning to understand how neural circuits compete with each other to give us the illusion of ‘free will.’ Indeed, we are on the verge of being able to write equations relating the physicochemical states of the nervous system with the subjective, mental states described by psychologists and other mystics. In short, we are learning to study subjective states objectively. Whether or not we shall be any more responsible in the applica-
tion of this new knowledge than we were in the application of fire, dynamite, and atomic energy remains to be seen. Even the un-average person plays ill the part of Prometheus. Unless we, collectively the new Prometheus, judge wisely what to do with our new psychobiological powers, like Prometheus we may find ourselves chained to rocks, our vitals torn by eagles. Or worse.
This article originally appeared in American Atheist in February of 1985.
by Kathleen Johnson
ergeant Brooks W. Dingus joined the Navy in 1981 and spent four years on active duty and nine in the Naval Reserves as a meteorological technician, responsible for collecting data from weather balloons and making forecasts. In 2007, he joined the Army Reserves as an Aviation Operations
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Specialist and in 2008, he changed career fields and switched to Psychological Operations. SGT Dingus anticipates a future deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. He has been either an Agnostic or Atheist for more than 35 years and is an active member of the Central Texas Chapter of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, an organization affiliated with American Atheists.
Further Thoughts of a Freethinker By David Eller An anthropological and philosophical deconstruction of religion, religious language, and the danger of relying on belief or faith instead of knowledge. Atheism is shown to lead to ‘discredism’ — a rejection of belief as well as a rejection of gods. Prof. David Eller is a cultural anthropologist who has conducted field research among Aboriginal societies in Australia and now teaches anthropology in Denver, Colorado. His recent college textbook, Introducing Anthropology Of Religion, is being hailed as the most significant introduction to the scientific study of religion in a decade. Paperback xxii + 468 pp. Index $22.00 – Stock # 16010 (Member discount 10%, S&H $5.00) Use the order form insert or visit atheists.org to get your copy!
February 2009 - American Atheist
& Babies Guy P. Harrison I know 9 million dead children who do not believe in prayer.
Horrific child death rates in the world’s most religious nations provide a powerful blow against all claims that prayer works.
young mother in India prays to Vishnu, a Hindu god revered for his mercy. She begs for the life of the dying infant in her arms. The 10-month-old girl suffers from dysentery and can no longer cry in her weakened state. Like the god who does not answer the mother’s prayers, the baby is silent. Eventually she dies. A Muslim mother in Bangladesh faces a similar crisis. Her four-year-old son is severely malnourished and near death. In a panic, the mother prays to Allah for help. She screams for the god to take away the boy’s pain and let him live, if only for another day, another hour. Nevertheless, he dies. A mother in Chad stares into the dull eyes of a young daughter who is losing her fight against malaria. The mother is afraid to blink. She fears the child will die if she breaks eye contact for even a fraction of a second. The mother is a Christian and prays to Jesus. She pleads for a miracle as death creeps closer. Finally, the crying mother offers Jesus anything in return for the life of her child. Still, the baby dies. This is business as usual in the developing world. Every day of the year, thousands of mothers who sincerely believe in a god or gods watch helplessly as their babies die. Virtually every one of these deaths occurs despite a torrent of passionate prayers asking gods for life. The prayers are sent out to a variety of divine beings, in many languages and from many nations. They are diverse in both structure and delivery, faithful to the idiosyncrasies of numerous belief systems. Every day and night, countless prayers from Muslims, 18
American Atheist - February 2009
Hindus, Christians and other believers fill the skies on behalf of impoverished babies on the verge of death. But the babies keep dying by the tens of thousands. They perish precisely as one would expect if good nutrition, clean water, medication and access to doctors are all that matter. They die as if no gods exist or, at the very least, as if prayer does not work. More than 26,000 children under the age of five die every 24 hours in developing nations, according to UNICEF. Most of them are killed by malnutrition and diseases that are easily prevented or treated in wealthier societies. This carnage totals more than 9 million children per year, a statistic that more people in the West should be aware of. Future generations may look back on us and forgive our rampant tribalism, lust for war, and destruction of nature, but how will they ever understand our indifference to 9 million dead babies year after year? Being unlucky in birth and sentenced to death by poverty is bad enough but the manner in which these millions of children die each year is merciless as well. They suffer terribly in their final days and hours, enduring high fevers, severe headaches, cramps and nausea. Is anything in our world more unjust than their fate? No matter what the politicians and headlines tell us, this continual massacre is far worse that wars, terrorism and natural disasters. The only reason these children die out of view is because they are powerless and therefore invisible to the rest of the world. Are there any other victims who make more appropriate candidates for a god to rescue than these babies? One would think prayers for them would be a high priority for a god to respond to rapidly and favorably. Even if a god’s answer is “no” to the mothers’ prayers and for some mysterious reason 9 million babies must die each year, how can we explain why that god refuses to ease the children’s suffering before they die? The nearly 10 million children under the age of five who die in extreme poverty each year have more in common than lack of money. They also live out their brief lives inside the most religious societies on Earth. Based on the levels of belief in their nations, it is likely that virtually all of them had mothers who believe in a god or gods. Developing nations such as Haiti (Christianity), Yemen (Islam) and Bangladesh (Islam/Hindu), for
example, are not only very poor but also have an exceptionally strong presence of religious belief. Atheists tend to be the rarest of creatures in these societies. (See: Phil Zuckerman’s essay, “Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns”, in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Michael Martin, ed.) Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that nearly every mother with a severely ill child in these countries prays and prays hard. A mother’s prayer, transmitted within the lifeand-death context of her seriously ill baby, must be among the most heartfelt words ever uttered by a human being. There simply is no doubting the sincerity and force of such a plea when death stalks a mother’s child. Certainly these prayers, above all others, should get a god’s attention and inspire action. But the children keep dying. If just one version of one religion that is popular in the developing world had a true communication link to a god who responded to prayers we should see impoverished babies linked to that religion fare better than others in similar conditions. But we do not. Based on the numbers, the world’s poorest babies appear to die strictly in relation to their access to adequate food, clean water and healthcare. Nothing else seems to matter, least of all prayers. Meanwhile, as babies die by the millions in highly religious societies, children under the age of five do much better in nations with relatively high rates of atheism such as England, France, Sweden, Canada and Denmark. In the world’s least-religious societies, mothers are less likely to be believers and, therefore, less likely to pray for their baby’s health. It is reasonable, then, to assume that much less praying for newborn or sick babies is occurring in societies that have the lowest levels of belief. But it seems to be of no consequence because children in these countries survive at a much higher rate. Again, it’s as if prayer is meaningless. Of course, defenders of prayer may point to the severe imbalance of resources and healthcare between wealthy and poor societies as the reason. But wouldn’t that suggest that the gods are limited in their powers? Do prayer defenders really imagine that their god’s hands are bound by mere human economics? Is their god stumped by the challenges of inadequate healthcare
infrastructure and low doctor/patient ratios in the developing world? Surely a god could overcome such trivial details and answer a mother’s prayer. Those who claim that praying causes positive results are in a tough spot given the long dark shadow of 9 million more dead babies each year. Can they explain why so many babies die in accordance to their society’s global economic rank rather than how much praying is done on their behalf? Standard defenses for prayer do not work so well here. “God works in mysterious ways” and “Sometimes God says, ‘no’” seem trite, if not offensive, in the face of so much pain and death. Keep in mind, these dead babies had not been blasphemous or sacrilegious. Most of them barely lived long enough to learn to speak. These babies were not gay. They didn’t belong to atheist clubs, watch pornography, or listen to immoral music. They were babies. High child death rates in societies where prayer is popular is an important issue because prayer is one of the most common reasons cited by religious people worldwide for why they believe in their god or gods. Praying, they say, is a real phenomenon. I have heard it from many followers of many different religions. “Prayer works, therefore, my god must be real,” they declare. Of course, skeptics argue that claims of answered prayers usually can be explained as nothing more than misinterpretations, coincidences, or statistically expected results that don’t necessarily have anything to do with a supernatural cause. There also is no getting around the fact that the same claims for the value of prayer are made by people who pray to very different gods within contradictory belief systems. Based on their resumes, all gods cannot be real. Therefore, many prayer advocates must be wrong and it is possible that they are all wrong. Unfortunately, the common skeptical arguments fail to carry much weight among believers. Prayer defenders find them cold, unappealing and easy to fend off with an anecdote or two. Millions of little babies, however, left to suffer and die by the gods, might get their attention. Given the attraction believers have to prayer, February 2009 - American Atheist
and its role in helping to convince people that gods exist, prayer deserves more attention and more scrutiny. Some nonbelievers ignore prayer as an unimportant side issue but it’s more than that. Convince believers that prayers are not answered and many of them may begin to consider the possibility that no gods exist in the first place. Unfortunately, no scientific study can conclusively disprove prayer because believers can always challenge the results. Prayer is too flexible, too elusive, too personal, too silent, too invisible and too mysterious to ever achieve total scientific closure. A study that fails to validate prayer does not disprove prayer as a real phenomenon. It can only show that prayer didn’t work in that specific case and believers know this very well. The loopholes alone make prayer studies unlikely to change the minds of believers. Maybe just participating in a prayer study is an insult to the gods and will ensure that the prayers will fail. Who determines the “proper” way to pray? The world’s believers have never been able to agree on who the real gods are, which sacred writings are valid, or even how one should dress and eat. It is unlikely that they will ever agree on how to pray. Someone can always say a given study failed to validate prayer because of one technicality or another. This does not mean that skeptics should give up, however. Praying mothers and their dying babies—approximately 100 million per decade—provide a devastating blow against belief in prayer. Atheists should cite this tragedy forcefully and frequently because the agony and death of young innocents on a massive scale makes a compelling case against the power of prayer. And it is something that many good-hearted believers are likely to take note of. Personal stories of answered prayers and canned comebacks are unlikely to gain much traction before a mountain of dead infants. The millions of children who died last year, and the mothers who prayed for them, deserve a mention every time someone claims that prayer brought on a miraculous healing of some disease. When believers say praying brought them more money, a better job or success in love, atheists need only bring up the 26,000 babies who were not saved by prayer yesterday and the 26,000 who won’t be saved today. It is not rude or unfair to ask believers why their gods do not respond to the most urgent and important prayers of all. Given the prominence of prayer 20
American Atheist - February 2009
in so many religions, this is a meaningful challenge. It may promote rational thinking by spurring believers to question even more than prayer. For undoubtedly some of them will have the honesty and courage to consider the possibility that the prayers of so many broken-hearted mothers go unanswered every day because no gods are there to hear them. Guy P. Harrison is an award-winning journalist and the author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, published by Prometheus Books. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Altar Boy Chronicles, by Tony Pasquarello $16.00: ISBN 1-57884-953-5 vii + 213 pages, paperback
Did someone really set a pornographic stained-glass panel in a window of a Philadelphia Italian Catholic church? Or did a preadolescent surge of hormones merely make it seem so? Can you really get syphilis off a toilet seat? How can a really good Catholic boy be thinking of sex all the time, yet have as his personal hero that zany third member of the Trinity—the Holy Ghost? Can a child who is both brilliant and artistically gifted grow up Catholic—and stay Catholic all the way?
Why Atheists Make the Best Type of Citizen
n our religious culture, Atheists are not so much on the outside looking in as caught in the crossfire. We’d just as soon be left alone, but the demand from all sides is that we have a god belief. Because we don’t, the Bible calls us “fools,” it is assumed we have no moral compass, and we cannot get elected to public office. As for patriotism, “An Atheistic American is a contradiction in terms,” according to Congressman Louis Rabaut, who introduced the bill putting “under God” in the pledge in 1954. The elder George Bush reiterated this on August 27, 1987, at a Chicago press conference: “...I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens,” he said, “nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” All this simply because we accept that the natural world is all there is, having no reason to think otherwise. These accusations have been piled on us for so long that Atheists rank at the bottom in social acceptability. But, as the girl said as she picked up the shovel, “With such a big pile of crap, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.” There is. The truth is that Atheists actually make the best type of citizen and cause the least trouble of any demographic group. We go only by what makes sense and improves life in the here and now. Our commitment to secular government has made us strong supporters of freedom of conscience and of every movement to repeal oppressive laws. This includes abolition, women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, children’s rights, medical research, and physician aid in dying. We ap-
By Marie Alena Castle
preciate liberal religionists who also support these issues. We oppose religious authoritarians as politically and socially harmful. In the workplace, we are there to get the job done. We need no accommodations for prayers, holy days, religious attire or services we refuse to pro-vide because of religious beliefs. In politics, we have no contentious religious beliefs to impose and we don’t do religious wars. In public education, our interest is in educating students about the arts and sciences, and teaching them to think critically, behave responsibly, and make the most of their abilities. Like all humans, Atheists create myths to express ideas.
“I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens” - George Bush Sr. While religious myths offer inspiration from the past with stories of miraculous and heroic events, Atheist myths look to the future, often expressed through science fiction. Perhaps the most powerful is the world of “Star Trek,” created by Atheist Gene Roddenberry, where humans have given up wars, social preju-dices and divisive beliefs, and used science to end hunger and poverty. That is a myth to inspire us that has some faint hope of realization.
This is the reality humans face and must deal with: We are a vulnerable species in a universe that is basically a huge debris field 15 billion light years across, full of violence and destruction. We are hunkered down on a small, unstable rock wobbling through that debris field. The life forms that evolved in the thin biosphere surrounding this rock survive by eating each other. The evolutionary process that brought us to consciousness works off of high birth and death rates with many defective products. There is no greater prescription for misery. But here we are, with one life to live and no one to turn to for help but each other. We humans have worked mightily to overcome nature’s shortcomings, with the only “god” in sight being us, warts and all. Despite the difficulties, life remains an exciting challenge, and
we accept it.
Marie Alena Castle is communications director for Atheists For Human Rights (www. Atheistsforhumanrights.org), based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For most of her life she has been involved in one cause or another, including labor unions, women’s rights, abortion rights, civil rights, gay rights, etc. She discovered that all the causes could be addressed by Atheism, since the source of all their troubles was religion. February 2009 - American Atheist
Secret Authors From Dangerous Countries Asked That Their Idenities Be Withheld...
[This article is courtesy of Humanist International]
Does Science Make Belief in Allah/God Obsolete?
ecessarily, it does - says a physicist…If not, we must invent a science-friendly, science-compatible fiction of allah/god. First, try the pantheon of available fictional creators. Inspect thoroughly. If none fits the bill, then invent a new one. The allah/god of your choice must be a stickler for the so-called divine principles laid down by the priests—the classical inventors of allah/god over the centuries. Science does not take kindly to the so-called deity who, ignorant people suppose, if piqued or euphoric, sets aside seismological or cosmological principles and in wild dreams of many, can causes the moon to shiver, the earth to split asunder, or, as to some stupid people, such a deity may even cause the universe to suddenly reverse its expansion. This fictional allah/god must, among other things, be stoically indifferent to supplications for changing local meteorological conditions, the task already being naturally performed by the discipline of fluid dynamics. Therefore, religious people, even if they pray earnestly with their buttocks elevated in the air, dance with great energy around totem poles, shall not cause even a drop of rain to fall on parched soil. This newly invented, rule-abiding and science respecting allah/god/ bhagwan equally well dispenses with tearful Christians singing the Book of Job, pious Hindus feverishly reciting the havan yajna, or earnest Muslims performing the « special rain prayers » in hot dry deserts as they face the former abide of idols, the so-called holy Ka‘aba. The fact is that the equations of fluid flow, not the number of earnest supplicants or quality of their prayers, determine weather outcomes. This is grossly irreligious; otherwise, one could imagine joining the faithful of all religions in a huge simultaneous but vain global prayer that stupids feel would wipe away the pernicious effects of anthropogenic global climate change. Your chosen allah/god cannot entertain private petitions
American Atheist - February 2009
for good health and longevity, prevent an air crash, or send woe upon demand to the enemy. Mindful of microbiology and physiology, she/he cannot cure leprosy by dipping the afflicted in rivers or have humans remain in unscathed condition after being devoured by a huge fish. Faster-than-light travel is also out of the question, even for the so-called prophets and special messengers. Instead, she/he must stay as the fictional and nominal runner of the world according to the laws and unto the letter, closely following the flow of Nature. A scientific fictional creator should certainly know an awful lot of science which the formerly invented medieval allah/ god didn’t need. To differentiate between the countless universes discovered by superstring theory is a headache. Fine-tuning chemistry to generate complex proteins, and then initiating a cascade of mutations that turn microbe to man, is also no trivial matter. But bear in mind that there are definite limits to knowledge, whether by man or by any fictional creator: the fictional allah/god can supposedly know only the limited, the knowable. Omniscience and science do not go well with each other. The difficulty with omniscience—even with regard to a particle as humble as the electron—has been recognized as an issue since the 1920s. Subatomic particles show a vexing, subtle elusiveness that defeats even the most sophisticated effort to measure certain of their properties even when tried by a fictional allah/god. Unpredictability is intrinsic to quantum mechanics, the branch of physics which all particles are empirically seen to show. This discovery so disturbed Albert Einstein that he rejected quantum mechanics, pronouncing that the fictional allah/god could not “play dice with the universe.” But it turned out that Einstein’s objections were flawed—uncertainty is deeply fundamental. Thus, any science-abiding fictional deity we invent will be incompletely informed on
many aspects of nature. Is one being excessively audacious, perhaps impertinent, in setting down terms of reference for a fictional divine and non-existent entity? Really! Humans have always invented their objects of worship. Smarter humans go for smarter fictional versions of allah/god. Anthropomorphic representations— such as an allah/god with octopus arms—are a bit out of fashion today but were enormously popular just a few centuries ago. As well, some people might object to binding fictional allah/god and the real human to the same rules of logic, or perhaps even sharing the same space-time manifold. But if we drop this essential demand then little shall remain. Reason and evidence would lose meaning and be replaced by fiction, tradition, and the delusion of revelation. It would then be wrong for us to have 2 + 2 = 5, but okay for inventing the fiction of an allah/god. Centuries of human progress would come to naught. Let’s face it: the day of the mythical Sky God is long gone. In the Age of Science, religion has been re-invented, and the medieval allah/god of classical religions has lost repute and territory. Today, people pay lip service to trusting that rusty allah/god, but they still swallow medicines when sick. As a case in point, Muslim-run airlines start a plane journey with prayers but ask passengers to buckle-up anyway, and most suspect that people who are falsely rumored to rise miraculously from the dead were probably not quite dead to begin with. These days if you hear a voice telling you to sacrifice your only son, you would probably report it to the authorities instead of taking the poor lad up a mountain, and if you really took your son to an alter for sacrifice, the state would be sure to put you in a mental asylum, regardless of whether you call yourself the prophet Abraham or somebody else. As you can well imagine, the old trust is disappearing. Nevertheless, there remains the tantalizing fiction of a divine power somewhere ‘out there’ who is blamed to run a mysterious, but scrupulously and rather stupidly, a miracle-free universe. In this universe, the fictional Allah/God may be dishonestly ascribed to act in ingenious ways that seem miraculous. Yet these fictional and ‘never-actually-verified-miracles’ do violate physical laws and seem ridiculous. Ordinary and naturally, no supernatural interventions in the physical world could permit quantum tunneling through cosmic holes. It would be perfectly unfair for a scientific mind to invent a fictional allah/god to explain the nonlinear dynamics to explain how tiny fluctuations quickly build up to earthshaking results—the famous ‘butterfly effect’ to give a rather
dull explanation of the deterministic chaos theory. Nietzsche and the other philosophers were plain right—God was never alive, but always dead. Even as the fiction of divine habitat, the sky, shrinks before the aggressive encroachment of science, the quantum foam of space-time may be ascribed to create a little confused space for the crazy delusion based on the spare universes, offering space both for self-described ‘deeply and spiritually confused believers.’ Many eminent practitioners of science have successfully persuaded themselves that there is no logical contradiction between faith and belief, by inventing a science-fiction of Allah/ God, or by clothing a traditional fiction in new terminology of science fiction. Unsure of whether they happen to exist at all, humans are likely to scour the miserable delusion of heavens forever in search of some sort of meaning.
The Founder’s Friends
So many of you help American Atheists with donations and other financial support—and we wanted to find a way to say “Thank You!” We are pleased to announce the re-establishment of an American Atheist tradition—The Founders’ Friends, begun by the Murray O’Hair family.
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February 2009 - American Atheist
ne of the stronger arguments against Atheism dedicated to belief in a god, so we can quickly rule that is not made by religious folks at all, but often one out for Atheists. The final definition simply states times by our friends, the Agnostics; who claim ‘complete trust, especially with strong conviction.’ Atheism requires just as much faith as religion. The ba- Well, they have us there! We do trust evidence and scisis of their argument is that the separation of Atheism ence. It is impossible to say Atheists have no faith at all, and Agnosticism basically comes down to Atheists hav- in the literal sense. ing faith that there is no god, while AgnosA preacher once told me, “You would be a great tics stand firm on the notion that Atheists Christian if you ever started to believe; we could and theists alike are attempting to resolve use your level of conviction in our church!” He the unattainable. To further this argufollowed by saying “I have to say, I respect you ment, during a religious debate, a Chrisfor having so much determination to stand up tian once said to me, “I don’t have enough for what you believe in.” I responded with “Corfaith to be an Atheist!” This claim comes rection – I stand up for what I don’t believe in.” from the many religious folks that asThat statement set the tone that we sert being an Atheist requires Atheists do not project a system of persons to have all knowledge beliefs that require the burden of the universe in order to of proof. It is the duty of the firmly state that there are accuser to prove the exisno gods. Of course, betence of their god, and we ing that we all lack only stand up to them when that knowledge, they assert their beliefs as the claim is made fact or common knowledge that Atheists must without absolute proof. This have a tremendous is where the problem comes amount of faith – even in. What may be proof to one more so than theists. With these may not be proof to another; so what postulations coming from both is the meaning of proof? ends of our debate spectrum, let’s Imagine for a moment that faith is dive into exactly what they mean, davidsmalley.blogspot.com measured in a single tube (such as a and how you can handle this when thermometer) in which the actual fluid presented with the accusation in your own debate. represents evidence percentage, and as it rises, people First of all, as with any good discussion, we must become closer to a full confirmation (proof). Any respeak the same language as our opponent and not allow maining space in the tube is a lack of evidence, also them to set the definitions of the conversation. Do not let known as faith. Of course, upon discovering all posthem coax you into accepting ‘faith’ as only a religious sible evidence, the tube is full because faith is no longer term. The word actually derives from the Latin fidere, needed. I call this the Faithometer Theory; and it conmeaning ‘to trust’ which is akin to fides, also meaning cludes that a belief in the most far-fetched assumption, ‘promise, loyal, and assurance.’ This is how we adopted with the least amount of evidence, must have the largest the phrase ‘bona fide’ meaning ‘real’ or ‘factual,’ and amount of faith. ‘fidelity’ meaning ‘loyalty’ and ‘sincerity.’ Webster has In the simplest form of examining this theory, let’s three English definitions for faith; the first being ‘an set the scenario that Beth is standing in front of a closed allegiance to a duty or person, and sincerity of inten- door. By stating that she believes a dog is behind the tions.’ This is used when stating a person is ‘faithful’ to door, she is making that statement on 100% faith, betheir spouse. The second version of the word is wholly cause she has no evidence to support that claim (her
American Atheist - February 2009
Faithometer is empty). Once she hears a dog barking, her evidence rises to approximately 50%, because she must concede that while she’s fairly certain the barking is coming from behind the door, the audio she hears could be a recording, or the dog could be in an adjacent room. Her statement is then made up of 50% evidence, and 50% faith. If she were to open the door and find a dog, her evidence would rise to 100% because she would have effectively proven her faith, and confirmed the existence of the dog. This would be the ultimate proof. However, with only partial evidence, and the possibilities of fallacies lingering, she must rely on a great deal of faith to make the claim that a dog is behind the door. In a slightly more ambiguous form, you may have faith that your mother gave birth to you – so you go to the hospital where you were allegedly born, and check the records. Sure enough, your mother’s name is next to yours, and the documents provide you with a substantial amount of evidence for your Faithometer. But is that really absolute proof? Should your Faithometer be at 100%? The documents could have been mistyped or you could have been unintentionally switched at birth, and given the name of the child that was set to go home with your mother. Even with this document as evidence, there is a slight chance of error. Therefore, while you may wholeheartedly believe your mother gave birth to you, 100% of the evidence has not been obtained; therefore, even though your Faithometer has a substantial amount of evidence, say 98%, you are still relying on a small percentage of faith – but still, it is faith. With a full understanding of both aforementioned scenarios, do you think it is fair to make the claim that you and Beth have just as much faith? When she hears the dog barking, is that just as much evidence as your birth certificate? Of course not – simply because you personally deem proof to be only that which satisfies your particular doubts. Therefore, if you do not have enough information, or even a problem complicated enough to form more detailed inquisitions, your doubts will be limited, and therefore require less evidence before you consider it proof (this determines the size of your Faithometer). We must remember that all seas are at the same level, regardless of depth. On the surface, they appear to be the same – but once you’re in the water, the bottom can mean all the difference in the world! Simply because two people have faith, it does not make them equally blind to facts. Faith can be both justifiable and unjustifi-
able. We find a great example with the deep-sea fisherman and scientists whom prior to 2004, had recovered the bodies of giant squid, but had neither filmed nor captured one living. These people had justifiable faith that giant squid existed due to the probable evidence they had found. It would completely discount their records and evidence to say they had just as much faith as the believers of Demeter, the Greek Goddess of Agriculture! Since we Atheists do not have all the answers, some level of justifiable faith is required, in the literal sense – just as the scientists looking for the giant squid trusted there was one living before it was proven. But pointing back to the Faithometer Theory, when a greater amount of knowledge is discovered, a smaller amount of faith is required. In addition, it is much more far-fetched to say a magical god exists and is intervening in human lives on earth, than it is to state no such magic is possible. In fact, one statement is sensible and rational, and the other is an unjustifiable claim. Perhaps it is fair to say the theist must have all knowledge of the universe in order to claim their god is the only god! (Most Christians would probably argue that as fact, but biblically, Yahweh even mentions ‘showing off’ for other gods in the Old Testament). It’s reasons like this, that a theist has the burden of proof with such an outstanding accusation fueled with unjustifiable faith. If I were to try to be an Agnostic, and say, “I just don’t know if there is a god,” I would feel just as silly as saying “I just don’t know if there is a Tooth Fairy.” In the literal sense of trusting in evidence, I’m okay with being a faithful Atheist, but my faith is justified, and nothing like the unjustifiable faith required by believing in magic! The strongest faith often lies in the falsehoods of others – otherwise known as the lack of evidence held by our opponent. The Atheist has not made a single claim to require faith, accept that all supernatural claims are without proof. If an Atheist has faith in anything, it’s that theists accept fallacies as evidence.
“The strongest faith often lies in the falsehoods of others”
February 2009 - American Atheist
Organizations Presently Affiliated with American Atheists Agnostic & Atheist Student Association (UC Davis) Jeremy Ross, President email@example.com Atheist Coalition of San Diego Jeff Archer, President 4245 Francis Way La Mesa, CA 91941 (619) 465-9528 firstname.lastname@example.org
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American Atheist - February 2009
Atheists of Silicon Valley Go to Web Page to contact. Atheists United for a Rational America PO Box 2073 Iowa City, IA 52244-2073 (319) 400-5328 rationality.rules@ gmail.com Boston Atheists 95 Melville Avenue Boston MA 02124 (617) 935-4951 BostonAtheists@ gmail.com
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Florida Atheists & Secular Humanists (FLASH) Ken Loukinen, President P. O. Box 246743 Pembroke Pines, FL 33024 Browardatheists@mac.com Free Inquiry Group, Inc. Margaret Oâ€™Kain, President PO Box 19034 Cincinnati, OH 45219 email@example.com Freethinkers of Upstate New York Doug Schiffer, President (315) 245-3596 firstname.lastname@example.org Freethinkers United Network (F. U. N) 3854 139th Ave SE Bellevue, WA 98006 (425) 269-9108 email@example.com Gator Freethought (UF) firstname.lastname@example.org Heartland Humanists PO Box 24022 Shawnee Mission, KS 66283 (913) 738-4442 email@example.com Hudson Valley Humanists Ed Poll, Director PO Box 961 Saugerties, NY 12477 (845) 247-0098 HVHumans@yahoo.com Humanist Community of Central Ohio PO Box 141373 Columbus, OH 43214 (614) 470-0811 firstname.lastname@example.org
Humanist Society of Santa Barbara Richard Cousineau, Chairman PO Box 30232 Santa Barbara, CA 93130 (805) 687-2371 chairman@ santabarbarahumanists.org Idaho Atheists Lori Howard PO Box 204 Boise, ID 83701-0204 (208) 455-9222 IApresident@ IdahoAtheists.org Individuals For Freethought Paul Youk, President & Keiv Spare, Publicity Director c/o Office of Student Activities, Kansas State University 809 K-State Union Ground Floor Manhattan, KS 66506 email@example.com Iowa Secularists PO Box 883 Iowa City, IA 52244 firstname.lastname@example.org Info: Local meetings in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City (will expand as interest develops). Long Island Secular Humanists PO Box 119 Greenlawn, NY 11740 LISecHum@aol.com
Military Assoc. of Atheists & Freethinkers Jason Torpy, President 519 Somerville Ave. PMB 200 Somerville, MA 02143 Community@maaf.info Minnesota Atheists PO Box 6261 Minneapolis, MN 55406-0261 (612) 588-7031 email@example.com Info: Group produces live â€œAtheists Talkâ€? radio show, Sundays, 9-10 a.m. CST (AM 950 KTNF or http:// am950ktnf.com/listen). Nashville Secular Life 707 Cynthia Ct Mt. Juliet, TN 37122 (865) 567-6892 firstname.lastname@example.org New Jersey Humanist Network Lisa Ridge, President PO Box 8212 Somerville, NJ 08876-8212 (609) 403-8238 NJHN@comcast.net New Orleans Secular Humanist Association Harry Greenberger, President 529 Saint Louis Stree, Apt 3 New Orleans, LA 70130-3681 (504) 282-5459 nosha.secularhumanism.net
Metroplex Atheists Terry McDonald, Chairman 1332 Martin Court Grapevine, Texas 76051 Terry@MetroplexAtheists.org
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North Alabama Freethought Association Aaron Sakovich, Organizer PO Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-0041 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Northeast Pennsylvania Freethought Society Rodney Collins, Organizer PO Box 2501 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703 (570) 793-1837 email@example.com
Oklahoma Atheists firstname.lastname@example.org Orange County Atheists Michael Doss, President PO Box 10541 Santa Ana, CA 92711 (714) 478-8457 contact@OCAtheists.com PA Nonbelievers Steven Neubauer 45 Gravel Hill Road Mount Wolf, PA 17347-9710 (717) 266-1357 PANonbelievers@aol.com Rationalists of East Tennessee Daryl Houston PO Box 51634 Knoxville, TN 37950 (865) 539-3006 email@example.com Rationalist Society of St. Louis (RSSL) Dr. William Martin, President PO Box 300031 St. Louis, MO 63130 firstname.lastname@example.org Rebirth of Reason in Florida Luther Setzer, Leader (321) 544-7435 LutherSetzer@yahoo.com Saint Petersburg Atheists Gary Thompson PO Box 22304 Saint Petersburg, FL (727) 577-9150 easy8@TampaBay.rr.com San Francisco Atheists 900 Bush Street, #210 San Francisco, CA 94109 (415) 771-9872 email@example.com
Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry PO Box 32256 Charleston, SC 29417 (843) 670-0290 president@ lowcountryhumanists.org Shasta Atheists & Freethinkers Ed Coleman, President PO Box 1544 Shasta Lake City, CA 96019 (530) 275-4626 firstname.lastname@example.org South Lake Atheists and Freethinkers (Groveland) Go to Web Page to Contact Southeast Wisconsin FreeThinkers (SWiFT) PO Box 3 Mequon, WI 53092 St. Olaf Agnostic and Atheist Society Koya Kato, President 1500 St. Olaf Avenue Northfield, MN 55057 (507) 646-2879 email@example.com Tucson Atheists 9114 E Wolfberry St Tucson, AZ 85747 (520) 664-0722 AZAtheist@cox.net Western Colorado Atheists Anne Landman PO Box 1434 Grand Junction, CO 81502 (970) 263-9199 WesternColoradoAtheists@ yahoo.com
Santa Cruz Atheists (831) 335-8231 firstname.lastname@example.org Seattle Atheists Kyle Hepworth, President (425) 402-9036 email@example.com
February 2009 - American Atheist
Thoughts on Some Material Atheist Freedoms By Greg Lammers
ost days as I leave my house I take quick note of things such as the weather and the time. I might hum a song which is playing on a loop in my head or think about a loved one or some plans for the future. I never consider the possibility that I may have done something unlucky such as walking out the wrong door or under a ladder. I am in the habit of not worrying if a curse has been said against me or whether planets are lined up for or against me. I don’t listen for messages in the wind or expect the touch of an angel. What allows so many of us to walk around not fearing a witch’s spell or a voodoo curse is our Atheist and Materialist outlook. We try to view our surroundings as they are, not adding phenomena where there are none. And we needn’t worry about all that is logically possible; we don’t need to know everything that is or could be happening everywhere. We need only expect natural forces and beings to be at work around us. We can safely do this because nobody has ever found reliable evidence of anything else. In our universe there are no ghosts or gods, no miracles or curses. We do not look for or expect magic, we expect there to be a natural cause for every occurrence. The English language even hints at this for us; the word immaterial refers to that which does not have a body or physical form and can also tell us that something is unimportant, of no consequence, irrelevant. Now and again believers in the supernatural will claim that the Atheist view is impoverished (if memory serves, Dennis Prager offered this canard in his debate with Frank Zindler at the 2008 American Atheists convention). The insinuation is that the Atheist is not open to a spectrum of experience and is poorer for it. If this were true than the Atheist would be poorer than one who was open to any of the myriad of myths and claims of the supernatural that are available. We would be poorer than the believer in miracles and also poorer than one who might hold that the Star Wars movies are documentaries about a powerful force. This argument implies that the more beliefs one can swallow the “richer” one is. So the polytheist would be richer than the monotheist and the 10 deitied polytheist would be richer than the 5 deitied polytheist. I don’t know where a monotheistic psychic astrologer would fit in. Also, if a person with three gods were richer than a person with one god could a believer in the Christian trinity be simultaneously richer and poorer than himself? I guess I will just leave that one for the theologians.
American Atheist - February 2009
Okay, maybe that last question was a bit flippant but we can seriously leave the theologians on this dead end back road because no supernatural beings have a place in the material universe. They can argue about how many gods one can believe in before one is just obnoxiously flaunting one’s belief wealth until their kingdoms come and we needn’t take them seriously; they are speaking of nothing(s). The believer in eternal life and a god (or gods) that punishes infidels and rewards true believers must not only fear the wrath of their own god but the wrath of all other vengeful deities, after all what if the neighbors that belong to the “weird” church are right? Foreign belief systems often seem bizarre and unnatural and the faithful sectarian can privately shrug off the claims of thousands of other faraway sects and hold that their own narrow way is the one true path. But when alien sectarians confront previously secure believers with conflicting supernatural claims (and with increasing travel and communications technology conflicting beliefs are encountered more often) the tension is there. Maybe our hypothetical believer can ignore the opposing faith’s claims that he is seriously mistaken. Maybe he can employ some cognitive dissonance and shove the conflict aside. Or, maybe his ideas about the claims of his own tradition will be modified or jettisoned. In the modern world where people of many different religions interact with each other on a daily basis the belief that one true path leads to some eternal bliss while all other paths lead to an eternity of unimaginable pain becomes harder and harder to maintain. How many people who believe they are holding to the one true road have family and friends who hold conflicting beliefs or no beliefs? What kind of stress does it put on a person to think that those they care about are destined for and deserving of infinite and unrelenting torment? As an Atheist there is no reason to fear such horrible fairy tale fates created and spread by sadists to scare the defenseless. Believers and followers have to continuously guard their faiths against the always encroaching outside world. Leaders of all sects fear the sales forces of other organizations and use carrots and sticks of various kinds to keep their flocks in the fold. But despite all of the heavens, hells, threatening, cajoling, and ostracism the possibility always remains that lone followers will be siphoned off by smooth talk and slick presentations. How does the average supernaturalist weigh the claims of one belief system against another? The Atheist with the materialist view need not fear being confronted with novel supernatural claims. When happening upon or being sold a series of assertions, if we can see that the phenomena in question are distinct impossibilities, complete fantasies with no ground on which to rest, we can leave the whole mess alone. When cult salespeople come with pamphlets, books, videos, or other media telling us of beings
that break the laws of nature or exist outside of space and time we can see their presentations for what they are (the same old supernatural con repackaged) and treat these presentations with the appropriate respect. New discoveries in science are being made and new questions asked on a daily basis and new information coming out of such fields as neuroscience and biology can be a challenge to believers in the supernatural. The problems that anti-progressive religions have made and continue to make for the advancement of human knowledge have been well documented. On the other hand the likelihood that researchers will find definitive proof of the veracity of some one or another mythology any time soon and we Atheists will have to convert to that cult is extremely (I mean extremely) small and we needn’t lose any sleep over it. While groups holding dogmatic beliefs wedded to regressive moral codes seek to censor works of art and hamper human thought and expression we Atheists can taste the new and embrace what we find enjoyable. The Atheist can be fearless in what he thinks; sadly this is not the case for many who have been told that even their most intimate and secret thoughts and wishes are on display for a judge which may deal very harshly with them. We Atheists can be open to new experiences, we can smash taboos, enjoy any art, read any book, we can even eat any food any day we like without fear. We needn’t ignore or actively oppose science and progress. We needn’t fear threats of otherworldly torture. We Atheists can face the world as it is and as we are. Sure, there are things to worry about but there are a lot of things not to worry about. When we don’t have to fret over the supernatural because it is immaterial we are in a nice place. I thank the non-lucky completely natural stars that really didn’t have much to do with it anyway that I’m an Atheist.
Greg Lammers is a life member of American Atheists. He lives with his wife Katie and their young son Henry in Columbia, MO, USA.
February 2009 - American Atheist
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.
INFORMATION ABOUT TAX DEDUCTIONS IRS rules state that the tax-deductible portion of membership dues can be found by subtracting the fair-market value of any goods or services that you receive in return. For most of our membership types, your dues are actually LESS than the fair-market value ($40 per year) of a subscription to our magazine. This means that your membership dues are NOT tax-deductible. Life membership dues are also NOT tax-deductible. (If we sold Life magazine subscriptions, they would cost at least as much as life memberships.) The only membership type that is fully tax-deductible is the Associate membership because Associate members do not receive a magazine subscription. For the Couple/Family ($65) and Wall-Builder ($150) membership types, $40 covers your magazine subscription. The remainder of your dues ($25 for Couple/Family and $110 for Wall-Builder) are considered to be a tax-deductible donation. For multiple-year memberships, the same fraction of your dues (1/3 for Couple/Family and 11/15 for Wall-Builder) is tax-deductible (in the year that those membership dues were paid). Also, any donations that you make IN ADDITION TO your membership dues are fully tax-deductible.
American Atheist - February 2009
State Directors MILITARY DIRECTOR Kathleen Johnson CMR 422, Box 910 APO AE 09067 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/mil ALABAMA STATE DIRECTOR Blair Scott PO Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-2000 (256) 701-6265 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/al/
FLORIDA STATE DIRECTOR Greg McDowell P.O. Box 680741 Orlando, FL 32868-0741 (352) 217-3470 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/fl/ IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR Susan Harrington P.O. Box 204 Boise, ID 83701-0204 (208) 392-9981 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/id/
ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR Clyde Baxley 3713 Deborah Ln. Anchorage, AK 99504 (907) 333-6499 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ak/
ILLINOIS STATE DIRECTOR Sandra Van Maren P.O. Box 1770 Chicago, IL 60690-1770 (312) 201-0159 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/il/
ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR Monty Gaither P.O. Box 64702 Phoenix, AZ 85082-4702 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/az/
KENTUCKY STATE DIRECTOR Edwin Kagin P.O. Box 48 Union, KY 41091 (859) 384-7000 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/ky/
CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR Dave Kong (415) 771-9872 firstname.lastname@example.org Mark W. Thomas (Asst. Dir.) (H) (650) 969-5314 (C) (650) 906-1095 email@example.com 900 Bush Street, Unit 210 San Francisco, CA 94109 http://www.atheists.org/ca/ CONNECTICUT STATE DIRECTOR Dennis Paul Himes P.O. Box 9203 Bolton, CT. 06043 (860) 643-2919 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ct/
MICHIGAN STATE DIRECTOR Arlene-Marie email@example.com George Shiffer (Asst. Dir.) firstname.lastname@example.org Both can be reached at: P.O. Box 0025 Allen Park, MI 48101-9998 (313) 938-5960 http://www.atheists.org/mi/ NEW JERSEY STATE DIRECTOR David Silverman 1308 Centennial Ave, Box 101 Piscataway, NJ 08854 (732) 648-9333 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/nj/
NORTH CAROLINA STATE DIRECTOR Wayne Aiken P.O. Box 30904 Raleigh, NC 27622 (919) 602-8529 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/nc/
VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Rick Wingrove P.O. Box 774 Leesburg, VA 20178 (H) (703) 433-2464 (C) (703) 606-7411 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/va/
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
WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTOR Wendy Britton 12819 SE 38th St. Suite 485 Bellevue, WA 98006 (425) 269-9108 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/wa/
OKLAHOMA STATE DIRECTOR Ron Pittser P.O. Box 2174 Oklahoma City, OK 73101 (405) 205-8447 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ok/
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/
TEXAS STATE DIRECTOR Joe Zamecki 2707 IH-35 South Austin TX 78741 (512) 462-0572 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/tx/ TEXAS REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR DALLAS/ FORT WORTH Dick Hogan email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/dfw/ UTAH STATE DIRECTOR Rich Andrews P.O. Box 165103 Salt Lake City, UT 84116 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ut/
Contacting State Directors
Our directors are not provided with contact information for members in their area. If you’re interested in working with your Director on activism, please use the listing on this page to contact them. They would love to hear from you! If you live in a state or area where there is no director, you have been a member for one year or more, and you’re interested in a Director position, please contact: David Kong, Director of State and Regional Operations email@example.com
Did someone really set a pornographic stained-glass panel in a window of a Philadelphia Italian Catholic church? Or did a preadolescent surge of hormones merely make it seem so? Can you really get syphilis off a toilet seat? How can a really good Catholic boy be thinking of sex all the time, yet have as his personal hero that zany third member of the Trinity—the Holy Ghost? Can a child who is both brilliant and artistically gifted grow up Catholic—and stay Catholic all the way? Tony Pasquarello has written an affectionate and often hilarious memoir on what it was like to grow up in a Catholic Little Italy during World War II. The head-on collision of inscrutable dogmas with a mind that is reflexively logical is an immensely amusing spectacle. Add to this the bewildering perplexity of pubertal transformation going on in the midst of the most sexually repressed culture since Victoria's England—and you have a book neither Catholic nor non-Catholic readers will be able to put down before reading the last word. TONY PASQUARELLO is an emeritus philosophy professor (the Ohio State University) who has successfully pursued a second career as a popjazz-classical musician and popular performer. A Philadelphian, he studied piano and theory at the Settlement School, the Philadelphia Conservatory, and the University of Pennsylvania. With over five thousand works in his repertoire, he has concertized throughout the United States, Europe, and Central America. The author of numerous technical articles on philosophy and the teaching of philosophy, he also has written popular pieces such as "Proving Negatives and the Paranormal," which appeared as a featured article in the journal Skeptical Inquirer. Once an altar boy and possible candidate for the priesthood, he evolved into a skeptical philosopher whose delightful-buttrenchant writings are eagerly sought after by a variety of free-thought publications.
Other great titles available from American Atheist Press...
Atheism Advanced by David Eller
The Myth of Nazareth by Rene’ Salm
purchase online at atheists.org
American Exorcism by Michael W. Cuneo