A Republican Speaks Of Evolution

"I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose." - Sam Brownback, Republican candidate for President of the U.S.A.

In the NY Times edition of May 31, 2007 Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas who is a candidate for the Presidency of the USA commented on a recent question about evolution that he and other Republican candidates were asked concerning their ‘belief’ in evolution. Brownback wrote in an op-ed piece entitled “What I Think About Evolution” as follows:

In our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason. The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it. There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality. Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person. The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose. While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

Are you happy to raise your hand to that?

Posted May 31, 2007

What Should Atheists and Humanists Stand For?

"Is Atheism Just a Rant Against Religion?" - Benedicta Cipolla, Religion News Service Saturday, Washington Post, May 26, 2007

Benedicta Cipolla writes: Despite its minority status, atheism has enjoyed the spotlight of late, with several books that feature vehement arguments against religion topping the bestseller lists. But some now say secularists should embrace more than the strident rhetoric poured out in such books as "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins and "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris.

At a recent conference marking the 30th anniversary of Harvard's humanist chaplaincy, organizers sought to distance the "new humanism" from the "new atheism." Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein said "At times they've made statements that sound really problematic, and when Sam Harris says science must destroy religion, to me that sounds dangerously close to fundamentalism," Epstein said in an interview after the meeting. "What we need now is a voice that says, 'That is not all there is to atheism.'"

"Atheists are somewhat focused on the one issue of atheism, not looking at how to move forward," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. While he appreciates the way the new atheists have raised the profile of nonbelievers, he said humanists differ by their willingness to collaborate with religious leaders on various issues. "Working with religion," he said, "is not what [atheists] are about." Even as he complimented the "military wing of secularism" for combating the intrusion of dogma into political and private life, he told his audience that religious people "are more likely to pay attention to that hand of friendship offered to them . . . than to have suggested to them, let us say, Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion,' which sets out to carpet-bomb all religion."

The suggestion that atheists may be fundamentalists in their own right has, unsurprisingly, ruffled feathers."We're not a unified group," said Christopher Hitchens, author of the latest atheist bestseller, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." "But we're of one mind on this: The only thing that counts is free inquiry, science, research, the testing of evidence, the uses of reason, irony, humor and literature, things of this kind. Just because we hold these convictions rather strongly does not mean this attitude can be classified as fundamentalist," Hitchens said.

The humanists are taking advantage of renewed interest in atheism -- in effect riding the coattails of Dawkins and Harris into the mainstream -- to gain attention for their big-tent model. While only a small portion of the nearly 30 million "unaffiliateds" might describe themselves as atheist, Epstein, from Harvard, sees humanism appealing to skeptics, agnostics and those who maintain only cultural aspects of religion.

A common critique of the new atheism is that it conflates belief with religiosity. In his research, Zuckerman has found that people may be outwardly religious not simply because they believe, but also because they're looking for community and solace within congregations. More than a kinder, gentler strain of atheism, humanism seeks to propose a more expansive worldview. "Atheists don't really ask the question, what are the vital needs that religion meets? They give you the sense that religion is the enemy, which is absurd," said Ronald Aronson, professor of humanities at Wayne State University in Detroit.

"There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God."

Atheists and Secular Humanists: Who are they, what are they, what can they know?

Posted May 26, 2007

London Bridge Is Falling Down

"Who says you own Britain anyway? Britain belongs to Allah" - Muslim activist Anjem Choudary who praised the 9/11 attack as "magnificent".

In the June 2007 issue of Vainty Fair Christopher Hitchens revisited the neighborhood of his youth, Finsbury Park, London. He writes that it has now become one of the breeding grounds for a new phenomenon - the British jihadist - and he asks how did a nation move from cricket and fish-and-chips to burkas and shoe-bombers in a single generation? Hitchens goes on to say:

Until he was jailed last year on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, a man known to the police of several countries as Abu Hamza al-Masri was the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque. Overnight guests at his mosque's sleeping quarters have included Richard Reid, the man in whose honor we now all have to take off our shoes at the airport, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the missing team member of September 11, 2001. Other visitors included Ahmed Ressam, arrested for trying to blow up LAX for the millennium, and Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who planned to don an explosive vest and penetrate the American Embassy in Paris. On July 7, 2005 ("7/7," as the British call it), a clutch of bombs exploded in London's transport system. It emerged that one of the suicide murderers had been influenced by the preachings of Abu Hamza, as had two of those attempting to replicate the mission two weeks later. Britain's former head of domestic intelligence, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said "over 100,000 of our citizens consider the July 2005 attacks in London justified." I find myself haunted by a challenge that was offered on the BBC by a Muslim activist named Anjem Choudary: a man who has praised the 9/11 murders as "magnificent" and proclaimed that "Britain belongs to Allah." When asked if he might prefer to move to a country which practices Shari'a, he replied: "Who says you own Britain anyway?" A question that will have to be answered one way or another.

What Hitchens is saying should come as no surprise to anyone. In November 1995 the Electronic Telegraph World News reported that a British-educated economics lecturer, Ramadan Shallah, became the leader of the militant Islamic Jihad movement. In March 1996 the same organization reported that Britain had become the undisputed overseas fund-raising and educational headquarters for Hamas. In August 1997 an Israeli security chief flew to London to investigate claims that suicide bombings in Jerusalem were planned in Britain. This was following reports that the terrorists had entered Israel on British passports. Israeli officials were said to have become increasingly frustrated by what they saw as British foot-dragging in curbing the activities of Palestinian hard-liners and the Israeli government made repeated calls for action to be taken against militants, said to be operating freely in the British capital.

After the massacre in Luxor Jack Straw promised new laws to curb the activities of international terror organisations based in Britain. At that time Britain had become the international centre for Islamic militancy on a huge scale. More Arab newspapers were published in London than anywhere else in the world and the capital had become home to a bewildering variety of radical Islamic fundamentalist movements, many of which made no secret of their commitment to violence and terrorism to achieve their goals.

On February 21, 2001 months before the 911 attacks the NY Times reported: Spurred by growing international alarm about Osama bin Laden's militant networks, the police in Britain and Germany have recently arrested more than a dozen Islamic radicals. American officials say some of those arrested were plotting terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. American and foreign officials said the arrests were part of an intensified effort to crack down on a network with ties to Mr. bin Laden.” The United States and several of its Arab allies have complained that Britain offers a haven to groups plotting violence in their countries.

After the London 7/7 attack Peter Bergen published an article in the July 8 2005 edition of The New York Times entitled: Our Ally, Our Problem. He wrote: As the shock waves from yesterday's terrorist attacks in London reverberate across the Atlantic, a grim truth should become increasingly clear: one of the greatest terrorist threats to the United States emanates not from domestic sleeper cells or, as is popularly imagined, from the graduates of Middle Eastern madrassas, but from some of the citizens of its closest ally, Britain. Richard C. Reid, the "shoe bomber" who tried to blow up an American Airlines jet flying between Paris and Miami in 2001, is British. So is Saajid Badat, who pled guilty in London four months ago to plotting to use a shoe bomb similar to Mr. Reid's to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight in late 2001. And Ahmed Omar Sheik, who orchestrated the 2002 kidnapping-murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, is a British citizen of Pakistani descent who graduated from the London School of Economics.

Why have so many of these terrorists come from Britain? Many British Muslims are young and poorly integrated into society and therefore vulnerable to extremism. In fact, Muslims have the youngest age profile of any religious group in Britain; around a third are under the age of 16. The unemployment rate among British Muslims runs almost 10 percentage points above the national average of about 5 percent. In the case of 16- to 24-year-old Muslim men, the unemployment rate is 22 percent. Not surprisingly, polls of British Muslims show a considerable sense of anger. Eight out of 10 believe that the war on terrorism is a war on Islam, while a poll conducted last year, under the auspices of the Guardian newspaper, found a surprising 13 percent who said that further attacks by Al Qaeda or a similar organization on the United States would be justified. British authorities believe that between 300 and 600 British citizens were trained in Qaeda and Taliban camps in Afghanistan. For this reason, and because of Britain's relatively permissive asylum laws, Arab militants living in London sometimes jokingly refer to their hometown as Londonistan.

For more details see London Bridge Is Falling Down and A Muslim Britain.

Is the problem of muslim fundamentalism improving in Britain?

Posted May 22, 2007

God: Why do they hate Him?

"Religion Poisons Everything. Religion comes to us as infants, perpetuated by pious individuals who pretend to know intimately the mind of God. If you like to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, go ahead, but please don't teach it to my children." - Christopher Hitchens

Anthony Gottlieb writes in the May 21, 2007 issue of The New Yorker: The terrorist attacks (of 911) were carried out in the name of Islam, and they have been taken, by a string of best-selling books, to illustrate the fatal dangers of all religious faith. The first of these books was “The End of Faith,” by Sam Harris. Then came “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” by Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University, who has written popular books on the science of consciousness and on Darwin. Next was “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and Britain’s preëminent science writer. And now there is “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens, which is both the most articulate and the angriest of the lot.

Hitchens is nothing if not provocative. Creationists are “yokels,” Pascal’s theology is “not far short of sordid,” the reasoning of the Christian writer C. S. Lewis is “so pathetic as to defy description,” Calvin was a “sadist and torturer and killer,” Buddhist sayings are “almost too easy to parody,” most Eastern spiritual discourse is “not even wrong,” Islam is “a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms,” Hanukkah is a “vapid and annoying holiday,” and the psalmist King David was an “unscrupulous bandit.”

The first surviving example of anti-Christian polemic is strikingly similar in tone to that of some of today’s militant atheists. In the second century, it was Christians who were called “atheists,” because they failed to worship the accepted gods. “On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians” was written in 178 A.D. by Celsus, an eclectic follower of Plato. The Christian deity, Celsus proclaimed, is a contradictory invention. He “keeps his purposes to himself for ages, and watches with indifference as wickedness triumphs over good,” and only after a long time decides to intervene and send his son: “Did he not care before?” Moses is said to be “stupid”; his books, and those of the prophets, are “garbage.” Christians have “concocted an absolutely offensive doctrine of everlasting punishment.” Their injunction to turn the other cheek was put much better by Socrates. And their talk of a Last Judgment is “complete nonsense.”

Since all the arguments against belief have been widely publicized for a long time, today’s militant atheists must sometimes wonder why religion persists.

One can venture conservative estimates of the number of unbelievers in the world today. Even the low estimate of five hundred million would make unbelief the fourth-largest persuasion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Who can say what the landscape will look like once unbelief has enjoyed a past as long as Islam’s—let alone as long as Christianity’s? God is assuredly not on the side of the unbelievers, but history may yet be.


The Publisher of Hitchens’ latest book writes: In the tradition of Bertrand Russell’s "Why I Am Not a Christian" and Sam Harris’s recent bestseller, "The End Of Faith", Christopher Hitchens makes the ultimate case against religion. With eloquent clarity, Hitchens frames the argument for a more secular life based on science and reason, in which hell is replaced by the Hubble Telescope’s awesome view of the universe, and Moses and the burning bush give way to the beauty and symmetry of the double helix.

Publishers Weekly said: Hitchens can he turn a phrase!: "monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents." The book's real strength is Hitchens's on-the-ground glimpses of religion's worst face in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes. But its weakness is its almost fanatical insistence that religion poisons "everything," which tips over into barely disguised misanthropy.

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and A. C. Grayling spoke for the motion, "We'd be better off without religion", at a debate held in Westminster on March 27. Speaking against were: Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Professor Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey. Download the podcast here: Part 1 Part 2. Watch this YouTube video as Hannity and Hitchens discuss 'God is not Great'. In this YouTube video Bill Maher (also an atheist) and Hitchens discuss religion.

Why are atheists so upset about God?

Posted May 18, 2007

Romney, Reindeer, Religion And Reality

"As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that." - Al Sharpton

In the May 13, 2007 issue of the Post Chronicle John W. Lillpop writes that National Review's Katharine Jean Lopez asked Governor Romney, "Will an exposé on Mormon Christmas celebrations hurt you in the primaries?" Governor Romney replied, "This may sound strange to some, but my grandchildren will be eagerly awaiting presents to be delivered to their homes by a bearded man in a red suit led by a pack of flying reindeer. There are differences between doctrines of churches. But the values at the core of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith and many other religions are very, very similar and it's that common basis that we have to support and find ability to draw people to rather than to point out the differences between our faiths."

When CNN'S Wolf Blitzer asked Governor Romney before he declared whether his faith would be a problem, Governor Romney responded with this declaration of faith...in the American people: "The great majority of American people look at the character of the person[s], their track record, what they plan on doing, what their values are... You are going to see most evangelicals support whoever they feel is closest to their values. I don't think that people are going to ever disqualify someone and apply a religious test."

In response to inquiry as to how he would "deal with what is bound to be attacks from the media and opponents about 'his' religious faith, Romney made this additional point: "I think the American people want to see a person of faith lead the nation, and I don't think the American people care very deeply about which brand of faith that is. My religious beliefs are consistent with the religious beliefs of other Judeo-Christian faiths."


Meanwhile CNN reported that civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who led the charge to have radio host Don Imus fired for making racially insensitive remarks, is now under fire for a comment about Romney's Mormon faith. During a debate on religion and politics at the New York Public Library with atheist author Christopher Hitchens, Sharpton said, "As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that. That's a temporary situation."

Can Governor Romney be elected President of the United States as a professing Mormon?

Posted May 13, 2007

Religionless Christianity?

"I seek a Jesus beyond scripture, beyond creeds, beyond doctrines and even beyond religion itself. Only there will our gaze turn toward the mystery of God, the mystery of life, the mystery of love and the mystery of being." - John Shelby Spong

Writing from his prison cell in Nazi Germany in 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian, sketched a vision of what he called "Religionless Christianity." In this book, John Shelby Spong puts flesh onto the bare bones of Bonhoeffer's radical thought. The result is a strikingly new and different portrait of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jesus for the non-religious. Spong challenges much of the traditional understanding, from the tale of Jesus' miraculous birth to the account of his cosmic ascension into the sky. He questions the historicity of the ideas that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he had twelve disciples, or that the miracle stories were ever meant to be descriptions of supernatural events. He also speaks directly to those critics of Christianity who call God a "delusion" and who describe how Christianity has become evil and destructive. Spong invites his readers to look at Jesus through the lens of both the Jewish scriptures and the liturgical life of the first century synagogue. He proposes a new way of understanding the divinity of Christ as the ultimate dimension of a fulfilled humanity. Jesus for the Non-Religious may be the book that finally brings the pious and the secular into a meaningful dialogue, opening the door to a living Christianity in the post-Christian world.

Publishers Weekly commented: Spong, the iconoclastic former Episcopal bishop of Newark, details in this impassioned work both his "deep commitment to Jesus of Nazareth" and his "deep alienation from the traditional symbols" that surround Jesus. For Spong, scholarship on the Bible and a modern scientific worldview demonstrate that traditional teachings like the Trinity and prayer for divine intervention must be debunked as the mythological trappings of a primitive worldview. These are so much "religion," which was devised by our evolutionary forebears to head off existential anxiety in the face of death. What's left? The power of the "Christ experience," in which Jesus transcends tribal notions of the deity and reaches out to all people. Spong says Jesus had such great "energy" and "integrity" about him that his followers inflated to the point of describing him as a deity masquerading in human form; however, we can still get at the historical origin of these myths by returning to Jesus' humanity, especially his Jewishness.

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000. As a leading spokesperson for an open, scholarly, and progressive Christianity, Bishop Spong has taught at Harvard and at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is the author of many books, including A New Christianity for a New World and Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

Click to view a video of The Burke Lecture given by Bishop Spong on Terrible Texts in the Bible which was later published as the book The Sins of Scripture.

Can one be committed to Jesus without accepting the traditional symbols and forms through which the meaning of Jesus has been communicated through the ages ?

Posted May 06, 2007