Skip To Content

Abstraction of the name william


What Does Religion Provide?

From "What Does Religion Provide?" by Greta Christina in Free Inquiry, April/May 2013.

"Religion gives people a belief in a supernatural creator or creators, and/or a belief in a supernatural caretaker or caretakers, and/or a belief in a supernatural afterlife. Period. Everything else that religion happens to provide—social support, rituals and rites of passage, a sense of tradition, a sense of purpose and meaning, safety nets, day care, counseling, networking, activities for families, avenues for chartable and social justice work, events that are inspiring and fun, ongoing companionship and continuity—" are not particular to religion. All can be found elsewhere.

Instead of asking "What Does Religion Provide?" we might ask "What do people need that religion currently provides? or better yet simply "What do people need?".

Margaret Atwood on Religion & Being an Agnostic

I especially appreciate Atwood's definition of a strict agnostic at the end of the video. My argument would be that if you cannot run an experiment to prove or disprove that there is a God then, there is no God because the universe only consists of physical material that can be tested.

Commandments, Beliefs & Facts

A set of "commandments" or ethical principles is a way to express one's moral values at a given time in human evolution. For commandments to have validity, they must be based on current knowledge. Because what we know will continue to evolve, so must commandments evolve to reflect current knowledge.

A key principle must be that you are entitled to your own beliefs but not your own facts. While we may extend respect to those that hold different beliefs, we should not support all beliefs as some do not correspond to the facts.

Facts are shared. They are that which exists independently of any perception, thought, belief, or knowledge claim. This means that science and reason are key to the development of our shared facts. Until we as a society can agree upon some set of shared facts, our ability to articulate shared ethical principles will be very difficult.

Go to New Commandments web page.

Evolution & Religion

From "Politics as if Evolution Mattered" By Lorna Salzman (pg. 76)

"Evolution was and is the most powerful challenge to religion in that it reveals the material origin of human beings, including their mind.

... How do atheists and believers differ? Atheists admit they cannot disprove the existence of a god. Believers refuse to admit they cannot prove it.

... Explanations require evidence. No evidence for a creator exists outside the human mind, whereas the evidence for evolution and the origins of life mounts every day. In the face of this uncontradicted evidence, religious belief in a divinity is no more viable than belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster."

Differing Views of God

From "Obama and Romney offer differing views of God" By Lisa Miller, Published: May 17

"People always ask, "What would Jesus do?," but in America today, it's impossible to know. And that's because there are (at least) two prevailing views of God at work in our public and political conversation.

Do you believe in a God who protects the individual's freedoms against the encroachments of the state? Who answers personal prayers and who intervenes, as he did for Paul on the Road to Damascus, to make believers out of skeptics and heretics? This God rewards his favorite sons and daughters with prosperity, and he bestows blessings, to paraphrase the aphorism, on those who help themselves.

Or do you believe in a God whose first priority is to care for the weak and the helpless, who teaches people to do unto others as they would have others do unto them? This is the collectivist God of the Hebrew Bible, who sees humanity organized into tribes and families of "brothers and sisters" who must work together to discern and follow his will."

The Righteous Mind:
Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The following quotes and notes are from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

Principles of Moral Psychology

First Principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second

"Think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas–to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to."

Metaphor: "The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider's job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning–the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant in the other 99 percent of mental processes–the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior."

"We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning."

Second Principle: There's more to morality than harm and fairness

Metaphor: "The righteous mind if like a tongue with six taste receptors."

Care / harm
Liberty / oppression
Fairness / cheating
Loyalty / betrayal
Authority / subversion
Sanctity / degradation

Liberal: Care for victims of oppression (Care, Liberty, Fairness emphasized)
Libertarian : Individual Liberty (Liberty, Fairness emphasized)
Social Conservative: Preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community (all 6 equal)

Third Principle: Morality binds and blinds

Metaphor: "Human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee."

"Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group. But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups.

Homo duplex: We are selfish and we are groupish.

Evidence, Science & Religion

"‎What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
Christopher Hitchens

That is all that is needed to show that science and religion are incompatible, because science has evidence and religion does not.

Deep Human History & Contemporary Religion

P Z Myers, "Remembrances of an Enduring People," February/March 2012 issue of "Free Inquiry"

"Our ancestors were creating art 100,000 years ago. It's a beautiful thought.

It's also a mind-expanding thought. Consider your typical Christian zealot who, even if he or she accepts that Earth and our species are very old, regards the most important event in all of our history to be a set of reputed to be miracles that occurred just two thousand years ago, along with the claimed manifestation of the all-powerful creator of the universe in human form at that time. There's a kind of childish provincialism to the idea that humankind's purpose on Earth has only been clarified and revealed in relatively recent history, it belittles our deeper history up to that moment, with many millennia of gods and myths as well as common pragmatic day-to-day living, all carried out oblivious to the modern gods and myths so many people unquestioningly consider essential to our nature and our destiny.

Jesus and Muhammad, the Torah and the Bible, the silly little rituals that form the furniture of religion—all of those are ephemeral, trivial, superficial. They are the quaint particulars of people who've lost sight of the deeper human universals. We've lost much of our history to the attrition of time, but science does give us glimpses of our distant ancestors that fill me with far more pride than anything the twisted circumlocutions of an absurd theology can. I see hardworking fishers paddling boldly out to sea, confident in their strength and ingenuity, using tools honed by generations of craftsmanship to do battle with great fish in the alien empty world of the open ocean. I see whole peoples setting off on voyages into the unknown to explore and settle new lands. I see creative people carefully mixing earth and bone, charcoal and oils, using formulas handed down from generation to generation to make bright and stark colors. I see happy laughing men and women painting their world with deft hands, stamping their mark on themselves and illuminating all that they see with new beauty. Those are our ancestors. They are us. That's what matters."

Shit Happens

Tom Flynn, "Excrement Eventuate!," February/March 2012 issue of "Free Inquiry"

"'Shit Happens' can help secular humanists capture just how matter-of-factly, how foundationally, we embrace the naturalistic view and all it implies. Secular humanists genuinely, honestly live in a world without design, without transcendent meaning, without woo-woo."

What we experience in the world at every level is only shit happening. "Yet we do not succumb to nihilism. We sleep soundly each night; we love those close to us with aching intensity; we laugh and make music and art and revel in exuberance."

"You don't have to be "spiritual" —or believe in design that isn't there or in Meaning that isn't there either—in order to have all these riches in your life."

Who Is An Atheist?

Stephen Prothero in God Is Not One examines eight of the world's religious rivals: Islam (one god); Christianity (one god); Confucianism (no god); Hinduism (multiple gods); Buddhism (no god); Yoruba Religion (multiple gods; Judaism (one god); and Daoism (no god—multiple gods).

For a group to be considered a religion it must "have statements of beliefs and values (creeds); ritual activities (cultus); standards for ethical conduct (codes); and institutions (communities)." (Prothero, pg. 324)

It is interesting that some religions are by nature atheistic. It also might be said that all religions that believe in a god(s) could be considered atheist relative to the other religions. For example: "Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet, you know exactly what it is like not to find these reasons compelling. ... You know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to Islam. ... Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way every Muslim views Christianity. And it is the way atheist view all religions." (Sam Harris, "Reply to a Christian," June/July 2006 issue of "Free Inquiry")

So we are all atheist. It is just a matter of how many gods evoke our atheism.

Why Belong to a Religious Group

"Religion is not simply a meaningless set of beliefs and practices. Religion is attractive to many people because of the emotional needs that it serves. It provides a structure for comprehending the world and giving meaning to our existence; it provides a sense of certainty and stability in times when uncertainty and ambiguity seem to reign; it provides a social network that furnishes friendship and a sense of belonging; it provides succor in times of grief; it provides relief from loneliness, for one's God is always there; and most important perhaps, it provides a powerful bulwark against anxiety: "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world." When emotionally soothed by a belief system, it is often not difficult to bend one's intellect into submission."

The preceding quote is from an article by James Alcock entitled "What is So Strange about Believing as the Mormons Do?" in the October/November 2011 issue of "Free Inquiry." It is a description of why someone would join a religious group that corresponds to my experience of growing up in the Episcopal church and the values expressed by family and friends. I left the church because it stopped providing a structure for comprehending the world and giving meaning to my existence that was intellectually acceptable to me. Science, rationality and the natural world now provide me the understanding, meaning and wonder that magic thinking can not. The more difficult task for me has been to develop a supportive social network but this to has come with time and effort.

I appreciate what the congregation that I grew up within contributed to my growth. I am saddened by religious groups that seek to bind young people to narrow beliefs that isolate them from the world and the opportunity to grow. If religion cannot evolve with the insights of each new generation, it will die. On one hand, based on its fundamentalists leaning in our current society, I hope that it does die but on the other, it could be a positive force in our culture and society.

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

Sean Carroll opens his article with the following paragraph.
"The topic of "Life after death" raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about it, we should all be interested in hearing."

In the article, Sean Carroll provides for me a clear and compelling argument against the existence of the soul. The article ends with the following paragraph.
"There’s no reason to be agnostic about ideas that are dramatically incompatible with everything we know about modern science. Once we get over any reluctance to face reality on this issue, we can get down to the much more interesting questions of how human beings and consciousness really work."

The comments following the article are also very interesting. Go to the Physics and the Immortality of the Soul web post and enjoy.

The TED talk Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness provides an interesting companion piece.

God As Useless: A Plus for Philosophical Naturalism

I have never believed in the existence of God and found that arguing about his or her existence to be of little value. That is why the following by Robert A. Sanders ("Free Inquiry", February/March, 2011, Page 64) was helpful in articulating my sense that the concept of God has little value and that philosophical naturalism as a position makes sense to me.

Although it is not possible to logically prove or disprove that God exists, it is "possible to show that no theory of the existence (or nonexistence) of God can carry information—i.e., make any prediction about the functioning of the real (natural) world. Thus, it is reasonable to not believe in the existence of any sort of god—not because such a belief is demonstrably correct or incorrect, but simply because it is demonstrably useless."

Quotes form All My Bones Shake

Author: Robert Jensen, All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice

"Humans created religion; religion did not create humans."

"Inanimate matter created life; life did not create inanimate matter."

"You can be a man, or you can be a human being.
You can be white, or you can be a human being.
You can be an American, or you can be a human being.
You can be affluent, or you can be a human being."

"Which practices, systems, and fundamental conceptions of what it means to be human are consistent with a sustainable human presence on earth, respect of other life, in societies that provide the necessary resources for all people to live a decent life, within a culture that fosters individual flourishing alongside a meaningful sense of collective identify, helping us to take seriously our obligations to ourselves, each other, and to the nonhuman world?"

What Is Morality and Where Does It Come From?

I listened to the TED talks linked below and found their juxtaposition to be particularly powerful. In the first, Krista Tippett talks about about compassion. In the second, Van Jones talks about the disposable—things, environments and people. The third talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt discusses the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices. He identifies the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most. In the last talk, Karen Armstrong looks at religion's role in the 21st century: Will its dogmas divide us? Or will it unite us for common good? She reviews the catalysts that can drive the world's faiths to rediscover the Golden Rule.

Together together these talks suggest essential elements of any religious or secular moral code.

The Meaning of Life

Philip Appleman, "The Labyrinth," February/March 2011 issue of "Free Inquiry"

"Why are we here? Where will we spend eternity? The brain has become capable of inventing questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. For such questions, God is a convenience: the unanswerable question is referred to the undefinable Being, and lo, we have the impression of an answer, though in fact we know no more than before."

"Ever since Darwin we have known that we came this way not by design but by random variation and the directive natural forces of selection, and adaptation. To go on looking for design around us, outside us, is a destructive fantasy. It prohibits maturity.

And yet design is one of our fondest imaginings, and we will not abandon it. If it doesn't exist outside ourselves, we will create it inside, in our work and our loves, in our art and avocations. This is not a trivial endeavor: we stake our happiness on it. We create the abstraction of love beyond sex and can, with difficulties, be faithful to it. We entertain the notion of truth and set out to test it. We imagine freedom and try to achieve it. We are able to control these designs because we have constructed them and set their rules.

If we come to maturity by recognizing what is outside us, we come to wisdom by knowing what is inside. Balancing our desires and aspirations, orchestrating our responses to the world we encounter and our initiatives to the world we create, we teach ourselves all we will ever know about the meaning of life."

"Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves, is all we will ever have—and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life."

Eight Religions Compared

Author: Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One

Each religion articulates:

  • a problem;
    (for Christianity the problem is sin)
  • a solution to this problem, which also serves as the religious goal;
    (for Christianity the solution/goal is salvation)
  • a technique (or techniques) for moving from the problem to the solution; and
    (for Christianity the technique is faith and good works)
  • an exemplar (or exemplars) who chart this path from problem to solution."
    (for Christianity the exemplars are saints or ordinary people of faith)

The essence of eight religions:

  1. Islam: The Way of Submission
  2. Christianity: The Way of Salvation
  3. Confucianism: The Way of Propriety
  4. Hinduism: The Way of Devotion
  5. Buddhism: The Way of Awakening
  6. Yoruba Religion: The Way of Connection
  7. Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return
  8. Daoism: The Way of Flourishing

Empathize with Atheist

Sam Harris, "Reply to a Christian," June/July 2006 issue of "Free Inquiry"

Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet, you know exactly what it is like not to find these reasons compelling. On virtually every page, the Qur'an declares that it is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible's account of itself. Why don't you find these claims convincing? Why don't you lose any sleep over whether or not you should convert to Islam? Please take a moment to reflect on this. You know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to Islam. Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Qur'an is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe has not read the book very critically? Isn't it obvious that Muslims have developed a mode of discourse that seeks to preserve dogma, generation after generation, rather than question it? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way every Muslim views Christianity. And it is the way atheist view all religions.


Massimo Pigliucci, "Socrates and Religious Morality" in Free Inquiry Vol. 24 No. 4, pages 18-19

In a short dialogue between Socrates and a theologian named Euthyphro, Plato has Socrates ask Euthyphro: "Is what is holy holy because the gods approve it or do they approve it because it is holy?" The dilemma that Socrates poses is that either what is good (moral or "holy" ) is such because god says so, or god has no choice but to approve of something because it is good. In the first case, good becomes an arbitrary concept that varies with each proclamation by god, the god you choose to follow, or different interpretation of god's intentions. The problems with this position have and are clearly evident in the world: One god says that being a martyr is holy; one says a an eye-for-an-eye is holy; one says that slavery is holy, one says turning the other cheek is holy; etc.

To avoid this position, religious people say that god cannot possibly wish something that is not good. This impales the religious on the second horn of the dilemma, for now we do not need god to be moral: if morality exists outside of the gods, we can do without the middle man and go straight to the source of ethical behavior.

"The point of Euthyphro's dilemma is that the gods are irrelevant to the question of morality, because they are either capricious (and therefore not moral themselves), or they refer to an independent standard of morality that is accessible to humans as well."

Michael Shermer, 2004, "The Science of Good & Evil," Pg. 17

There is a simple way around the dilemma [Euthyphro's]: leave God out of the discussion altogether and adopt the methodological naturalism of science, in which all effects have natural causes subject to scientific analysis. The supposition is that the moral sense in humans and moral principles in human cultures are the result of laws of nature, forces of culture, and contingencies of history.