Enthusiastic atheists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down private faith, now that religion has increasingly lost influence in the public square. Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, and Christopher Hitchens’s, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The reason for this attack is because the atheists claim to be committed to justice, while people of faith, along with the divine itself, are and have been purveyors of injustice, according to the new breed of aggressive atheists. It’s an interesting and alien perspective for those with a religious world view, especially those who are familiar with Christ, scripture, and so much of Church history. It is in fact Christ who is the greatest liberator of humanity from evil, and Christian practice and thought that has helped liberate the oppressed, and eased the burdens of the weak.

Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield in a piece entitled Atheist Tracts in the Weekly Standard, discounts the notion that real justice and societal advancement will be empowered by the absence of a belief in the creator. Some essential quotes from Mansfield’s article are provided below:

Atheism isn’t what it was in the eighteenth century. Now, the focus of the attack is not the Church, which is no longer dominant, but religion itself. The disdain one used to hear for “organized religion” extends now to the individual believer’s faith. Despite the change, politics is still the thrust of the attack. It’s just that the delusion of religion is now allowed to be the responsibility of the believer, not of some group that is deluding him. A more direct approach is required.

Edmund Burke said, with a view to the atheism of the French Revolution, that we cannot live justly and happily unless we live under “a power out of ourselves.” By this he meant a power above us, transcendent over our wills and our choices. We must choose to live under a power that limits our choices.

In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. The stubborn existence of injustice reminds us that man is not God, while the demand for justice reminds us that we wish for the divine. Religion tries to join these two forces together.

One of the reasons of the failure of atheism to overtake the world is noted by Mansfield in today’s Weekly Standard piece. He notes, “More pointedly, has not the atheist totalitarianism of the twentieth century, with its universal pretensions, proved to be the worst tyranny mankind has ever seen?”

Ironically, it was the atheist dream of utopia which helped secure atheism’s diminishing influence. When put into practice in the twentieth century, it was a hopeless, dark, and dreary mix of bread lines and gulags. It was a Baptist Minister from the American South, Martin Luther King, who was famous for saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    You make the long-refuted argument that that the evils of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao et. al. were perpetrated BECAUSE of atheism. This is anecdotal evidence and has little value in sophisticated intellectual discourse.

    If you look at EMPIRICAL evidence that demonstrates that non-theism correlates with amorality, you won’t find it. Creighton University (a Christian University) did a study on the correlation between societal ills and the level of religiosity in prosperous democracies. The results were not what dogmatic thinkers would hope for. The results are nicely (graphically) summarized at http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

    This links to the original Creighton U. study which can also be found at http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

  • http://stbarbara.blogspot.com John Powers

    I am wondering if the 20 Million who died as a result of Stalin considered their deaths to be “ancedotes”.

    I’ll agree to a very small extent that the murderous nature of the 20th century atheist tyrant was not solely due to the atheism of the tyrant, but how does that absolve the tyrants of their murder in the name of atheism?

    The French Republicans, Stalin, The Spanish Communists in the Civil War etc… certainly thought they were murdering to perpetuate atheism, regardless of the response of “dogmantic thinkers” to their slaughter.

    JBP

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Atheism as a philosophy predates Christianity by at least half a millennium and Marxism by around two. It will probably outlive both, though it may never grow beyond an elite way of looking at the universe. I remember hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about how when he read the writings of many of the greatest scientists of the past Copernicus, Galileo, Newton – he noticed that they explained enormous portions of the universe quite happily without reference to any gods, then began to resort to religion at the moment they reached the limits of their ability to explain things rationally. Unfortunately, most people reach that limit long before Isaac Newton, and quickly grab the crutch that religion offers to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what lies beyond. It is sad, but real. And many people are terrified of the possibility that someday they may need to do away with that crutch and are willing to fight and kill to prevent that from happening, which is sadder still.

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Speaking in Munich in 1922, Adolf Hitler declared: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross!”

    Given your evident discomfort at absolving tyrants who murder in the name of Atheism, I assume you feel likewise about tyrants who murder in the name of Christianity?

  • http://blog.acton.org/ Jordan

    Hitler was a neo-pagan, not a Christian. One quote does not a Christian make. His claims in that speech and others to the contrary, his self-identification as a Christian says more about his rhetorical perceptions of his audience than it does about his own convictions.

    See the work of Karla Poewe and Richard Pierard on this.

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Hitler was born, baptized and raised a Catholic. He was an alter boy in his church and cited the influence of Christianity in his life 70 times in Mein Kampf. It is not just one quote, his speeches throughout his career were saturated with invocations of Christianity. He founded and lead the Nazi Party which declared its religious creed to be “Positive Christianity” which Hitler himself declared to be the essence of Christian faith independent of any established sect. When Martin Boorman attempted to eliminate churches from Albert Speer’s master plan for Berlin, it was Hitler who over-ruled him and had them put back in.

    Those who try to make Hitler something else usually cite one source: “Hitler’s Table Talk”. This book is ostensibly a collection of quotes taken from Hitler in an informal setting and therefore revealing his true mind. It does include some anti-Christian remarks. The problem with it as a source is that the entire thing was edited by Martin Boorman – who did not like the Church and made no effort to conceal that dislike. Henry Pinker, one of the actual scribes employed to follow Hitler around and scribble down all his thoughts later said that the book edited by Boorman was worthless since he had tinkered with the quotes so much.

    Christians spend a great deal of time rewriting history to try to make Hitler something – anything – other than another Christian. It does not work. Certainly if the Catholic Church had believed Hitler were anti-Christian they would not have sent Bishop Alois Hudal on his mission to rescue top Nazis from the allies and smuggle them to South America. There are some unpleasant facts that remain true. You’ll just have to live with it.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    I am not absolving anybody of anything. I merely state that to ignore the other ideologies these people embraced and lay the fault at ‘lack of belief’ is intellecually weak.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    Nice try. But unfortunately, complete hogwash.

    Regarding that quote from 1922: no part of what Hitler says is in any way recognizable as Christianity. It is, however, clearly recognizable as the twisted ranting of a madman putting a murderous spin on the Bible. To presume that Hitler’s violent misuse of scripture should somehow make me uncomfortable about the faith that I profess is laughable.

    And regarding Hitler’s catholic heritage and invoking of “positive christianity” as the religious creed of the Nazi party? Please. If you believe for some reason that Adolf Hitler was a member in good standing of or a qualified spokesman for any legitimate Christian religious tradition, and that his pronouncements can therefore qualify as some sort of indictment of all Christians from his time forward… well, frankly, there’s no profit to be gained in even acknowledging your “argument.”

  • http://teethwherenoneshouldbe.blogspot.com Phil

    In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. […] Religion tries to join these two forces together.

    Any argument for the practical benefits of religion versus atheism tacitly acknowledges that both A) atheism may be factually correct but impractical and B) religion may be factually incorrect, yet practical.

    An argument for the benefits of religion is wholly distinct from an argument for the truth of religion. This matters in the current debate because the new crop of famous atheist writers (Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, etc.) concern themselves first and foremost with the un-truth of religion (its factual incorrectness.) Their arguments about the ill effects of religion follow from this primary assertion.

  • http://teethwherenoneshouldbe.blogspot.com Phil

    “Enthusiastic atheists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down private faith”

    A strange statement, this. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that “Enthusiastic atheists and theists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down both private faith and private lack of faith.”

    Several major Christian religions call upon their members to go door to door proselytizing, and many Christians fly around the world for weeks or months in an effort to tear down the private faiths of people in other countries (so that it can be replaced with their own.)

    Many religious communities exert strong pressure on individuals marrying into their faith to replace their existing beliefs with their spouse’s faith.

    It’s rare in the modern era to see organized religions attacking other religious institutions directly; the emphasis for quite some time has been on attacking private faith, and private lack of faith.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    [i]Any argument for the practical benefits of religion versus atheism tacitly acknowledges that both A) atheism may be factually correct but impractical and B) religion may be factually incorrect, yet practical.[/i]

    Not necessarily. For instance, I believe that Christianity is true, and that when the truths of christianity are applied to one’s life, many practical benefits follow. It doesn’t involve any tacit acknowledgments of anything.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    You miss the greater point Marc. Indeed, YOUR belief that your variant of Christianity is true says nothing as to whether it IS actually and factually true.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    Mike –

    I make no claim to having a perfect interpretation of Christianity; I think it’s quite important for believers to be humble in this regard, and acknowledge their imperfection before God. But I suspect that’s not what you’re getting at.

    I’m assuming that you’re referring more to your belief that God does not exist, and that as such, the Bible and Christianity are essentially hollow, nothing more than archaic ancient texts and superstitions. Which, if God does not exist, they probably are. But I think it’s fair to remind you, respectfully, that the same thing that you are saying to me about Christianity can also be said to you about your athiesm – that your belief in the non-existence of God does not make that actually and factually true.

    So I guess we both have to operate on faith, don’t we?

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Sorry. I operate on evidence. You operate on faith.

  • Jan Wnek

    The 1700 year-old history of Constantinian Christianity holds the Guiness record for murder. There is no escaping this fact. Actually, we’re witnessing it again at present in Iraq and Afghanistan…..Christians killing for “freedom and democracy” in the name of the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace. As for Hitler, Mussolini,Tojo and Stalin, among others, do some research as to where the so-called “Christian” churches of those countries stood during their murderous expoits. If you want photographic evidence of the hierarchies of these churches giving the Fsscist or Nazi salute in acquiescence to “Caesar”,just go on the Internet….plenty of photos out there of the complicity of “Christian” churches with Satan…..

  • http://teethwherenoneshouldbe.blogspot.com Phil

    Marc,
    If you’re making an _argument_ that “many practical benefits follow,” that is distinct from the argument that Christianity is true. Further, if “practical benefits” are observable evidence that support your argument, then you’re acknowledging that the claim is subject to evidentiary support; thus, contrary evidence may disprove it.

    It works both ways–I could argue that practical benefits do not flow from Christianity, even if it is true. It’s just that not many atheists are doing that.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    I’m impressed to hear that you’ve conclusively proved that God does not exist. Quite an achievement!

  • Marc Vander Maas

    It’s entirely possible that I’ve completely misunderstood you, Phil, so let me retrace my steps. Your original statement that I objected to was as follows:

    [i]Any argument for the practical benefits of religion versus atheism tacitly acknowledges that both A) atheism may be factually correct but impractical and B) religion may be factually incorrect, yet practical.[/i]

    It seems to me that you are making the assertion that if I argue that religion has more practical benefits for an individual than atheism, I therefore must be in some way acknowledging the factual correctness of atheism and the factual incorrectness of religion. Am I understanding you correctly or am I missing something? And if I am understanding you correctly, why would those conclusions follow from those arguments?

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Sorry again. I have merely recognized that there are mountains of compelling evidence for naturalistic explanations for our world and universe while there is no compelling evidence for the Abrahamic god. I don’t know where the universe came from, but I shan’t knee-jerk and say the biblical god did it.

  • http://www.cdobs.com John Powers

    So Jan,

    Even though sworn enemies of Christianity such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc thought they were leading atheism in a crusade to eliminate religion, you think that Chritians must be behind their tyranny because you have seen photos.

    Many Christians, including Pope JP2 recognize the violence committed in the name of Christ, and have explained that wrongfulness of that violence. Couldn’t one of the atheistic sects admit that atheists have committed a great deal of violence over the years as well, rather than claiming that sworn anti-religionists such as Stalin were somehow Christian?

    JBP

  • http://teethwherenoneshouldbe.blogspot.com Phil

    “I therefore must be in some way acknowledging the factual correctness of atheism and the factual incorrectness of religion. Am I understanding you correctly or am I missing something?”

    No, if you present the beneficial effects of religion as evidence in an argument about religion, you are not acknowledging the factual correctness of atheism. However, by introducing “beneficial effects” as a category of evidence, you acknowledge that the claim is subject to an evidence standard, which is a tacit admission that atheism _may_ be true if it provides better evidence.

    Further, arguing about the social benefits of religion necessarily separates the truth of religion into a separate category. If you say, “Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, no matter what befalls people who believe that,” you are only presenting one “fact” that can be argued. But if you say, “Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, and people who believe that will lead happier lives and have stronger interpersonal relationships,” then you’re presenting two independent facts. “Believing [that Jesus Christ is God] will lead to happier lives and stronger interpersonal relationships” is not contingent on Jesus Christ actually _being_ God Incarnate. They’re two separate “facts.”

  • Marc Vander Maas

    OK – there’s a little more nuance there than I first picked up on when I read your initial comment. Thanks.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    Classic bogus argument and faulty logic! Nice job.

    [BOGUS ARGUMENT]

    The argument that religiosity ought to lead to a more healthy and prosperous society is bogus. Christianity makes no such promise. In fact, Jesus is quite clear that Christians should not expect earthly prosperity. Rather, they should expect hardship.

    [FAULTY LOGIC]

    I read the study. The study shows a correlation between religiosity and societal health, but does not attempt to establish a cause-effect relationship. You seem to think that it does. It is obvious from your post that not only do you believe that the study shows religiosity causes societal ills, but that you want us to think that it does as well.

    Small problem. The study shows no such cause-effect relationship. It may very well be the case, and in my opinion IS the case, that people who live in prosperous democracies with societal ills feel a greater need to be religious, thus making the societal ills the cause of the increased religiosity and not the other way around.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross!”

    More faulty logic. Wonderful.

    First, Hitler’s own words prove that he was not at all motivated by anything remotely Christian. Christianity does not teach that Jesus died on the cross to fight against “jewish poison”. Hitler is not arguing from Christianity here. He is using the name of Christianity to advance his own perverted worldview. To argue that Hitler was motivated by his Christian beliefs when what he was advancing is not taught by Christianity…that’s faulty logic. Even if Hitler genuinely believed that what he was advancing was taught by Christianity, that would not make your logic any less bogus since you are using Hitler’s words to condemn Christianity [which does not actually teach what Hitler was saying it did], and not Hitler himself.

    Second, all similar arguments are inherently faulty. To argue that adherents of a religion who may be particularly bad at living up to the religion’s moral requirements does not prove the religion false. It only shows that it is possible to be bad at practicing that particular religion.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    I made no claim of cause/effect . . . merely the correlation. Is there are religion-flattering interpretation of the findings?

    What I take away from your argument is that we should not expect any benefit from Christianity in THIS life at all. It is merely the hazing to get into the celestial fraternity that your sect says is reachable only through death.

    These are the types of arguments that make for the ‘angry atheist’. Your worldview would partially or wholly dismiss this life (which we KNOW exists) and focus on the ‘next’ life (for which there is no evidence). Pardon me if I spend this life making this ACTUAL world a better place instead focusing on the next.

    Don’t get me wrong. If someone said that you could NOT believe what you believe, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with you and defend you. But if your mythological worldview is going to adversely affect education, health care, the environment and society . . . then I will be in your face . . . a lot!

  • Marc Vander Maas

    [i]What I take away from your argument is that we should not expect any benefit from Christianity in THIS life at all. It is merely the hazing to get into the celestial fraternity that your sect says is reachable only through death.[/i]

    For a person who claims to have been raised a Roman Catholic, you are either woefully misinformed about the basics of the Christian faith or you are being deliberately obtuse. Clearly, when Jesus says that you can expect hardship, He is not saying that you can expect [i]ONLY[/I] hardship. It’s also clear to see that in that statement, He does not rule out any earthly benefits for Christians. He’s just saying: you can expect hardships when you follow Me.

    [i]These are the types of arguments that make for the ‘angry atheist’. Your worldview would partially or wholly dismiss this life (which we KNOW exists) and focus on the ‘next’ life (for which there is no evidence). Pardon me if I spend this life making this ACTUAL world a better place instead focusing on the next.[/i]

    If the Christian worldview dismisses this life, how do you explain the millions of people who have worked in every corner of the world to improve the lot of the poor and impoverished, struggled to overthrow slavery and discrimination, generally committed their lives to making this world a better place, etc, etc, all in the name of Jesus Christ? (Note: the fact that there are people throughout history who have called themselves Christians and have done bad things does not negate the fact that vast numbers of Christians have also done incredible work – sometimes at great personal cost – to improve this world.)

    [i]Don’t get me wrong. If someone said that you could NOT believe what you believe, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with you and defend you. But if your mythological worldview is going to adversely affect education, health care, the environment and society . . . then I will be in your face . . . a lot![/i]

    I’d say that I appreciate your support here, but first I have to know – what would I have to do to “adversely affect education, health care, the environment and society”? Does this mean that it’s ok for me to believe what I believe as long as I don’t try to act on those beliefs? I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s what you may be getting at, but I hope you prove me wrong.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “I made no claim of cause/effect . . . merely the correlation.”

    I know that you made no explicit claim of cause/effect. But you certainly hinted at it.

    Since you brought it up, let’s spend a while on the “correlation”. I was a mathematics major in college and am currently a high school mathematics teacher. Every year my algebra students spend a few days looking at positive, negative, little, and no correlation as well as how to identify graphs that are misleading.

    The data in figure 2 of the Creighton study does not appear to show ANY correlation between religiosity and homicide. The data are nearly horizontal indicating very little, if any, correlation.

    The data in figure 3 are extremely scattered and show no correlation between religiosity and 15-24 year old suicide at all.

    The data in figure 4 appear to show a strong positive correlation between religiosity and the under-5 mortality rate. The graph, however, is misleading. The x-axis goes from 0-70 while the y-axis goes only from 0-9. If the graph scale is changed to 1-1, the data is nearly horizontal, indicating very little to no correlation.

    The data in figure 5 are very scattered and indicate no correlation between religiosity and life-expectancy.

    The data in figure 6 are nearly horizontal and indicate little to no correlation between religiosity and gonorrhea infections.

    The data in figure 7 are nearly horizontal and indicate little to no correlation between religiosity and syphilis infections.

    The data in figure 8 seem to indicate a WEAK positive correlation between religiosity and abortions. Again, however, the data are nearly horizontal and only indicate little or correlation.

    The data in figure 9 are scattered and indicate little or no correlation between religiosity and 15-17 births and pregnancies.

    “Is there are religion-flattering interpretation of the findings?”

    I’ll start here by stating that your objection would require a response only if the study showed something useful. I don’t believe that it does. The data show very little correlation between religiosity and some of the societal ills studied, and no correlation at all between religiosity and the others. I don’t see how this study is usefull. However, if I ignore your objection it will look as though I am conceding the point, which I am not.

    In response to your objection I simply point out that even if there were a [worthwhile] correlation between religiosity and these societal ills, that would not speak to the veracity of the religion itself. Only that the religions themselves are not designed to address these specific ills. Christianity is primarily about saving souls, not stopping abortions, or homicides or gonorrhea.

    “What I take away from your argument is that we should not expect any benefit from Christianity in THIS life at all. It is merely the hazing to get into the celestial fraternity that your sect says is reachable only through death.”

    You are partially correct. One should not expect their Christianity to translate into a great and wonderful earthly life. That does not mean they won’t have one, however. Only that they shouldn’t EXPECT it. You would be wrong, however, very wrong, to expect MY Christianity to somehow make your life great and wonderful.

    “These are the types of arguments that make for the ‘angry atheist’. Your worldview would partially or wholly dismiss this life (which we KNOW exists) and focus on the ‘next’ life (for which there is no evidence). Pardon me if I spend this life making this ACTUAL world a better place instead focusing on the next.”

    Not at all. This life is a gift from God. As such, no Christian should dismiss it. It is not, however, the reason for which we were created. Any Christian knows that they are called to live a life of gratitude to their creator and savior in response to that salvation. God has spelled out in Scripture that this aspect of our faith plays out in this life.

    “Don’t get me wrong. If someone said that you could NOT believe what you believe, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with you and defend you. But if your mythological worldview is going to adversely affect education, health care, the environment and society . . . then I will be in your face . . . a lot!”

    Adversely affect education? Explain.

    Adversely affect health care? Explain.

    Adversely affect the environment? Explain.

    Adversely affect society? Explain. [Remember, the Creighton study showed nothing.]

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Kudos to you Dan. You are the first to every attempt to refute the findings of that study. I am an engineer and am familiar with statistics and distribution and such. I would differ with your interpretation of the graphs however. That being said; I disliked statistics when I studied it and I still don’t enjoy it so I will not be going into a debate on the topic. You may interpret that any way you like.

    As to your questions at the end . . .

    “Adversely affect education? Explain.”

    The attempts to insinuate the wholly unscientific idea of Intelligent Design into our science classroom. We don’t teach alchemy in our chemistry classes, nor do we teach astrology in our astronomy classes. Even our conservative Supreme Court used the phrase “breathtaking inanity” when ruling on the topic. I would like to “teach the controversy”, but the controversy would be the motives behind ID.

    “Adversely affect health care? Explain.”

    Embryonic stem cell research. The ONLY argument against this is religious and, presumably, based on the religious premise that there is a divine soul imparted by God at conception. Some say that destroying a cluster of indistinguishable cells with no nervous system is tantamount to murder.

    “Adversely affect the environment? Explain.”

    There are those that, because of the imminent return of the messiah (let’s not even discuss those that are trying to hasten his arrival), that it would be futile and unnecessary to address global warming and other environmental issues.

    “Adversely affect society? Explain.”

    Religion seems uniquely suited to create divisions between otherwise indistinguishable peoples. Just look at Shia/Sunni, Catholic/Protestant, Christian/Muslim, etc. etc. etc.. There are plenty of other incentives for people to behave badly. We don’t need to create mythologies to create more.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    A couple quick comments on a few of your comments:

    [i]Embryonic stem cell research. The ONLY argument against this is religious and, presumably, based on the religious premise that there is a divine soul imparted by God at conception. Some say that destroying a cluster of indistinguishable cells with no nervous system is tantamount to murder.[/i]

    You’re quite wrong, although the moral argument against embryonic stem cell research is indeed part of my thinking on the issue. As for the science of it all, please note that the only stem cell research to date that has shown any promise toward providing actual therapies for actual diseases and actual chronic conditions is ADULT stem cell research, which no one has religious or moral objections to. Unfortunately, whenever they’ve tried to use the embryonic stem cells for therapies, tumors develop.

    Allow me to refer you to Robert P. George (professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics) and Rev. Thomas V. Berg (executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person), who jointly wrote an editorial on this issue for the Wall Street Journal back in March and address some of the issues you raise:
    [quote][i]- We are a long way away from therapies derived from embryonic stem cells.[/i]

    James Thomson, the first scientist to derive stem cells from a human embryo, made this point clearly just a few weeks ago: “I don’t want to sound too pessimistic because this is all doable, but it’s going to be very hard.” He added, “those transplantation therapies should work but it’s likely to take a long time.” Leading British stem cell expert Lord Winston has been even more blunt: “I am not entirely convinced that embryonic stem cells will, in my lifetime, and possibly anybody’s lifetime, for that matter, be holding quite the promise that we desperately hope they will.”

    There are currently no controlled human clinical trials underway for ESC-derived therapies. By contrast, there are currently some 1200 clinical trials underway associated with human adult stem cells (ASCs). While most treatments derived so far from ASC research apply to blood-related diseases, the broader application of ASCs for a more diverse array of maladies is likely within several more years.

    [i]- The human embryo has at least some degree of special moral status.[/i]

    “We believe most would agree that human embryos deserve respect as a form of human life. . . .” So said President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Committee, speaking of ESC research. The committee was willing to support the use of “excess” embryos from assisted reproduction clinics, but only if their use was necessary to advance life-saving research. It did not endorse the creation of embryos by cloning or other methods for use in research involving their destruction.

    Standard embryology texts insist that from the zygote (single-cell embryo) stage forward there exists a new living member of the species homo sapiens. Surely we can all agree that the human embryo possesses the active potential to develop by an internally directed process towards maturity, and that this is morally significant…

    [i]…- Concerns about embryo destruction are not only religious.[/i]

    Charles Krauthammer, a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, lucidly articulated this point in a Washington Post column: “I don’t believe that life — meaning the attributes and protections of personhood — begins at conception. Yet many secularly inclined people such as myself have great trepidation about the inherent dangers of wanton and unrestricted manipulation — to the point of dismemberment — of human embryos. You don’t need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of the good.”[/quote]

    [i]There are those that, because of the imminent return of the messiah (let’s not even discuss those that are trying to hasten his arrival), that it would be futile and unnecessary to address global warming and other environmental issues. [/i]

    Indeed there probably are some who believe these things. But I would challenge you to show evidence that this attitude constitutes the environmental worldview of more than a tiny minority of Christians. Far more typical is the belief that we have been given a stewardship responsibility over God’s creation, and as such should use the resources that we have been given wisely, and to respect and cherish the gift of creation.

    I have my own views on education that I’ve expressed elsewhere on this blog, so I’ll leave it to others to hammer that issue out. And as for divisiveness – I can only note that here at Acton, I – a protestant – work with quite a few solidly committed Catholics, and yet somehow (much like the vast majority of Christians around the world) I have managed to avoid taking up the sword of purity and striking them down in righteous fury. In fact, despite our differences of opinion on certain matters of faith, we all get along pretty well.

    Yes, divisions can be bad when taken to extremes. But the types of religious divisions that we see in, say, America? Not really much of a problem for society, I’d say.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “Kudos to you Dan. You are the first to every attempt to refute the findings of that study. I am an engineer and am familiar with statistics and distribution and such. I would differ with your interpretation of the graphs however. That being said; I disliked statistics when I studied it and I still don’t enjoy it so I will not be going into a debate on the topic. You may interpret that any way you like.”

    So you had the ability to analize those graphs yourself but chose not to [its basic 1st year algebra]? Is that a common tactic that you employ? Not analizing data and information before you try to use it? In any event, the fact that the correlations were so weak when they existed at all should be interpreted by any reasonable person as indicating that there is something other than religion which explains the societal ills. That being the case, your use of the study packs no punch.

    “As to your questions at the end . . .

    The attempts to insinuate the wholly unscientific idea of Intelligent Design into our science classroom. We don’t teach alchemy in our chemistry classes, nor do we teach astrology in our astronomy classes. Even our conservative Supreme Court used the phrase “breathtaking inanity” when ruling on the topic. I would like to “teach the controversy”, but the controversy would be the motives behind ID.”

    Try this thesis on for size: human evolution should not be taught in schools either because it is no longer relevant. When a particular trait is identified as beneficial for survival, we don’t sit around for millions of generations waiting for the trait to take over, we modify ourselves to have that trait. Suppose it was discovered that people with blue eyes tend to reproduce more. No big deal. There would just be an increase in sales of blue contact lenses. The problem with evolution now is that it really isn’t entirely scientific either. Humans have the ability to interfere with evolutionary processes. If that is in fact the case, then human evolution isn’t science either. If human evolution is true, then as far as humans are concerned, it has evolved itself into obsolecence. Either way.

    “Embryonic stem cell research. The ONLY argument against this is religious and, presumably, based on the religious premise that there is a divine soul imparted by God at conception. Some say that destroying a cluster of indistinguishable cells with no nervous system is tantamount to murder.”

    Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has yet to lead to any new treatments. A lot of money is being spent on ESCR but ESCR isn’t delivering the goods. Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, has yielded lots of new and useful treatments. Why spend money on the stuff that doesn’t work when we could be spending it on the stuff that does work? The fact that there are also moral objections surrounding ESCR makes continued spending on it that much more incomprehensible.

    “There are those that, because of the imminent return of the messiah (let’s not even discuss those that are trying to hasten his arrival), that it would be futile and unnecessary to address global warming and other environmental issues.”

    There are also those who are not religious who feel the same way. There are also many religious people who DO believe that we should address climate change and other environmental issues. Since religious people can be found on both sides of this issue it does not seem like it is religion that is having an adverse effect on the environment, it is unconvincing data being passed off as “evidence” that is causing people not to consider this that serious of an issue.

    “Religion seems uniquely suited to create divisions between otherwise indistinguishable peoples. Just look at Shia/Sunni, Catholic/Protestant, Christian/Muslim, etc. etc. etc.. There are plenty of other incentives for people to behave badly. We don’t need to create mythologies to create more.”

    Huh? Which is it? Is religion “uniquely suited” to create divisions or are there plenty of other incentives for people to behave badly?

    If you are making a distinction between “creating divisions” and “behaving badly”, then I say this, religion is by no means “uniquely suited” to create divisions between otherwise indistinguishable peoples. Politics is capable of doing this, allegiance to a particular sports team, arguments over the remote control, whether or not the bathroom needs to be cleaned both the day before spring break and the day immediately after, etc. People divide over anything on which they can disagree. Religion is just one of those things. Religion may be of greater importance, and thus may lead to more heated and long-standing divisions, but to say that it is “uniquely suited” to create such divisions is absurd.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    “So you had the ability to analize [sic]those graphs yourself but chose not to [its basic 1st year algebra]? Is that a common tactic that you employ? Not analizing [sic] data and information before you try to use it?”

    Well Dan, I disagree on the interpretation of some of those graphs. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that none show any useful correlation. In which case, we can readily take away from the study that religion does nothing for the health of a society. This is not something that theist would put on their short list of “the good religion does for society”. If we can agree that there is no correlation between religion and societal health, I will be satisfied.

    “Try this thesis on for size: human evolution should not be taught in schools either because it is no longer relevant.”

    With regard to human evolution, it could be argued that western civilization has stopped evolving. If a baby can be born with its spine exposed and modern medicine repairs this so that they mature and reproduce, we have certainly bypassed some important selective forces. On the other hand; evolution is a pillar for pretty much all our biological science. Our understanding of communicable diseases and their treatments would be nowhere without the understanding of evolution. Indeed we are seeing evolution in action in the microcosm of the microscopic.

    “Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has yet to lead to any new treatments.”

    This is a red herring and completely immaterial. ESCR is ONLY a moral issue because of religion. There is no other context that could MAKE it a moral issue. You destroy more cells scratching your nose than destroying an embryo. The success or failure of the research has nothing to do with the debate. Scientists are being told not to work on ESCR because of religion. If you are going to say the knowledge and experience gained (in ANY field)should not be pursued, you better have an argument that is better than a religious argument.

    “Which is it? Is religion “uniquely suited” to create divisions or are there plenty of other incentives for people to behave badly?”

    You got me. ‘Uniquely suited’ was too broad a term. Being a Cubs fan does not specifically mean that you have to dislike Sox fans. But there is so much hard coded hate in the holy texts toward other religious faiths and others. You do, after all, have divine warrant to stone me to death. Of course I don’t expect that you subscribe to things like that. You have discarded the most ridiculous stuff and kept the stuff that you can reconcile with reality. I contend that the enlightened theists are the ones who pay the least attention to their respective bronze-age text.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Marc says: “You’re quite wrong, although the moral argument against embryonic stem cell research is indeed part of my thinking on the issue. As for the science of it all, please note that the only stem cell research to date that has shown any promise toward providing actual therapies for actual diseases and actual chronic conditions is ADULT stem cell research, which no one has religious or moral objections to. Unfortunately, whenever they’ve tried to use the embryonic stem cells for therapies, tumors develop.”

    This is a straw man. As I have said in other posts; the issue is not whether embryonic stem cell research ESCR has show effective or not or promising or not has nothing to do with it. It is religion and ONLY religion that makes ESCR a moral issue. You destroy more cells scratching your nose than you do destroying and embryo. This is religion telling the scientific community what it can and cannot do base on nothing more than (what has not been shown to be anything more than) mythology. The argument is just as invalid in fields other than ESCR.

    Marc says: “But I would challenge you to show evidence that this attitude constitutes the environmental worldview of more than a tiny minority of Christians.”

    I don’t say that it is a majority. After 9/11 I figured that the myriad religions need to identify the extremists of their ranks to they can be addressed. How does one do that? The extremists work from the same instruction manual that the moderates do, they just interpret it differently. If you can tell me where the line in the sand is that says these are extremists, then a) you will receive some important international prize and 2) we can address their detrius and you moderates can go about your business in our secular state. (it cannot be done).

    I am a man who likes to address root causes and not symptoms. Supernatural worldviews create extremists, and the moderates protect them by taking offense at criticism.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    [i]“Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has yet to lead to any new treatments.”

    This is a red herring and completely immaterial. ESCR is ONLY a moral issue because of religion. There is no other context that could MAKE it a moral issue. You destroy more cells scratching your nose than destroying an embryo. The success or failure of the research has nothing to do with the debate. Scientists are being told not to work on ESCR because of religion. If you are going to say the knowledge and experience gained (in ANY field)should not be pursued, you better have an argument that is better than a religious argument.[/i]

    Please explain why ESCR should be pursued even though 1) it is clearly morally problematic to a great many people, religious AND non-religious (I’ve re-quoted the material you seemed to breeze by without reading earlier) and 2) the controversy over this type of research diverts attention away from much more successful and promising (not to mention NON-morally problematic) forms of stem cell research.

    Do you really fail to see the difference between the cells you destroy when you scratch your nose and a human embryo?

    Is there any moral argument at all that you would consider legitimate?

    And once again:[quote]- The human embryo has at least some degree of special moral status.

    “We believe most would agree that human embryos deserve respect as a form of human life. . . .” So said President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Committee, speaking of ESC research. The committee was willing to support the use of “excess” embryos from assisted reproduction clinics, but only if their use was necessary to advance life-saving research. It did not endorse the creation of embryos by cloning or other methods for use in research involving their destruction.

    Standard embryology texts insist that from the zygote (single-cell embryo) stage forward there exists a new living member of the species homo sapiens. Surely we can all agree that the human embryo possesses the active potential to develop by an internally directed process towards maturity, and that this is morally significant…

    …- Concerns about embryo destruction are not only religious.

    Charles Krauthammer, a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, lucidly articulated this point in a Washington Post column: “I don’t believe that life — meaning the attributes and protections of personhood — begins at conception. Yet many secularly inclined people such as myself have great trepidation about the inherent dangers of wanton and unrestricted manipulation — to the point of dismemberment — of human embryos. You don’t need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of the good.”[/quote]

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    I didn’t breeze by any of the quoted text, I merely didn’t buy into their position. As far as ‘diverting monies from more promising areas of research’ . . . that is another straw man. The market and our best science will naturally gravitate toward what is most promising. In the absence of non-theistic arguments against ESCR, I have a problem with religion defining what science should work on. We have not yet had any real success with controlled nuclear fusion (for clean, abundant, inexpensive energy). Should we not continue work in the area because we have wind power? Of course not.

    You say: “Do you really fail to see the difference between the cells you destroy when you scratch your nose and a human embryo?”

    The similarities are far greater than the differences. Neither is a sentient being. Neither has aspirations. Neither has consciousness. Neither knows love. Neither knows pain. Neither ‘knows’ ANYTHING because neither has a nervous system, circulatory system, brain or anything else. The only difference is that the embryonic cells might become skin, but the nose cells already have become skin.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not wholesale in support of abortion; but to not recognize the continuum from (at one end) a cluster of indistinguishable cells to (the other end) a full term infant child is intellectually laughable. Somewhere along that continuum there appears a sentient being. We certainly need to err on the side of caution, but I can guarantee you that the zygote is NOT the sentient being.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “Well Dan, I disagree on the interpretation of some of those graphs. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that none show any useful correlation. In which case, we can readily take away from the study that religion does nothing for the health of a society.”

    That is a non-sequitur. Concluding that the Creighton study shows no useful correlation only allows the conclusion to be made that there is no useful correlation between religion and the different indicators used in that particular study. It does NOT allow us to make the sweeping generalization that religion does NOTHING for the health of a society.

    “This is not something that theist would put on their short list of “the good religion does for society”. If we can agree that there is no correlation between religion and societal health, I will be satisfied.”

    I don’t know for a fact that this is the case. The only thing I am relatively certain of is that the Creighton study does not show us anything useful about any correlation between religion and the indicators used. There may very well be a very strong correlation between religion and some other indicators of societal health that the Creighton study does not address.

    “This is a red herring and completely immaterial. ESCR is ONLY a moral issue because of religion.”

    You did not say that the only moral objection to ESCR was religious, you said the only objection [period] was religious. I think the economic objection is quite persuasive. Of course, I’m not sure how you could have a MORAL objection to anything that was not based on something inherently religious in the first place. So, to say that the only moral objection is religious is, in my opinion, redundant.

    “There is no other context that could MAKE it a moral issue. You destroy more cells scratching your nose than destroying an embryo. The success or failure of the research has nothing to do with the debate.”

    I beg to differ. Spending money on something which does not work is bad for everyone. That money could and should be used on things that actually work. To continue spending money on research that a) has not worked, and b) has been made obsolete by other research is wasteful.

    “Scientists are being told not to work on ESCR because of religion. If you are going to say the knowledge and experience gained (in ANY field)should not be pursued, you better have an argument that is better than a religious argument.”

    Economics. I thought I made that argument already.

    “You got me. ‘Uniquely suited’ was too broad a term. Being a Cubs fan does not specifically mean that you have to dislike Sox fans.”

    It’s not doctrinal, but I know many of each who strongly dislike the other. But then neither is Cathiolic dislike of Protestants [and vice versa] or Christian dislike of Muslims [I cannot say vice versa here because Muslim dislike of Christians and Jews IS doctrinal]. Perhaps a better [and more convincing] example would be Red Sox and Yankee fans, or Michigan and Ohio State fans, or Florida and Florida State Fans, or Duke and North Carolina fans.

    “But there is so much hard coded hate in the holy texts toward other religious faiths and others.”

    Such as?

    “You do, after all, have divine warrant to stone me to death. Of course I don’t expect that you subscribe to things like that. You have discarded the most ridiculous stuff and kept the stuff that you can reconcile with reality.”

    At the time those texts were written, stoning people was not ridiculous, it was just a means to carry out capital punishment. Sure, we don’t stone people today, but we do have electric chairs and lethal injection. Two methods which are widely recognized as legitamate forms of capital punishment. You cannot apply present day jurisprudence to a book that describes a much different era.

    “I contend that the enlightened theists are the ones who pay the least attention to their respective bronze-age text.”

    I think you are wrong here. It’s not that less attention is paid to scripture [from my perspective, at least], it’s that more time is spent reading and reflecting and interpreting it. It does not take much to read a few pasages that say to stone adulterers and say, “hey, that’s what we’ll do”. It does, however, take much more to read such a passage and interpret in light of a) the time that it was written and b) the time in which it is being read and then try to understand if those two lights are the same.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Dan said: “Concluding that the Creighton study shows no useful correlation only allows the conclusion to be made that there is no useful correlation between religion and the different indicators used in that particular study. It does NOT allow us to make the sweeping generalization that religion does NOTHING for the health of a society.”

    I’ll buy that. It sort of went without saying that my comment was only in the context of the Creighton study. So, barring some other empirical data to the contrary, we can agree that there is no correlation between religiosity and the societal characteristics of murder, teen pregnancy, teen abortion, sexually transmitted disease, juvenile/adult mortality. We will consider that common understanding between you and I.

    As long as we are on empiricism and correlations. All of recent surveys of prison populations indicated that non-theistic individuals are grossly under-represented in US prison populations. Non-theists make up only .2% of the prison population even though we make up between 10-20% (or more) of the population as a whole. You can Google it and find the information. You tell me if there is a correlation or not.

    Dan said: “Sure, we don’t stone people today, but we do have electric chairs and lethal injection. Two methods which are widely recognized as legitimate forms of capital punishment. You cannot apply present day jurisprudence to a book that describes a much different era.”

    My bad. You have divine warrant to electrocute me as a heretic trying to turn you away from God. Thanks for the clarification.

    Dan said: “It’s not that less attention is paid to scripture [from my perspective, at least], it’s that more time is spent reading and reflecting and interpreting it. It does not take much to read a few pasages [sic] that say to stone adulterers and say, “hey, that’s what we’ll do”. It does, however, take much more to read such a passage and interpret in light of a) the time that it was written and b) the time in which it is being read and then try to understand if those two lights are the same.”

    Fair enough. Just let me know which of you are extremists and which of you are not and then we won’t trouble you moderates.

    In conclusion: I am not trying to be snotty, but I have had my pants in a bunch lately. I don’t have problem with people of faith as long as their faiths don’t affect me or my neighbor or society adversely. The harder I looked to find the arguments that any religion is something more than mythology, the more I find a complete lack of evidence.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “I’ll buy that. It sort of went without saying that my comment was only in the context of the Creighton study.”

    Are you sure about that? If I remember correctly your original statement used the word “NOTHING” [emphasis yours], indicating that you believed religion did [universally] nothing for society.

    “As long as we are on empiricism and correlations. All of recent surveys of prison populations indicated that non-theistic individuals are grossly under-represented in US prison populations. Non-theists make up only .2% of the prison population even though we make up between 10-20% (or more) of the population as a whole. You can Google it and find the information. You tell me if there is a correlation or not.”

    How many of the theists were theists *before* they went to prison? I would imagine that the percent of atheists going into prison is much higher that 0.2%. Let us also not forget that many people who claim to believe in [a] god do so because they think that god will make them prosperous; blessing their family and punishing their enemies but not much more. Such “believers”, if they could be called that, should not be lumped together with those whose religiosity is more serious.

    “My bad. You have divine warrant to electrocute me as a heretic trying to turn you away from God. Thanks for the clarification.”

    If you were doing a better job of it, maybe.

    “Fair enough. Just let me know which of you are extremists and which of you are not and then we won’t trouble you moderates.”

    Sorry, it does work that way. You can’t take on religion by taking on only the opponents you want to. You have to best the moderates as well.

    “In conclusion: I am not trying to be snotty, but I have had my pants in a bunch lately. I don’t have problem with people of faith as long as their faiths don’t affect me or my neighbor or society adversely.”

    But you’re cool if a religion you don’t subscribe to benefits you. That’s pretty weak. ‘I’m against the lottery because I never win it, unless someone who does win it wants to give me money, then it’s ok.’

    “The harder I looked to find the arguments that any religion is something more than mythology, the more I find a complete lack of evidence.”

    Religion isn’t science. Why would you expect to find “evidence”?