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E Pluribus Unum
for all faiths and for none

by Michael Shermer, Dec 20 2011

Foreigners could be forgiven for thinking that America is fast becoming a theocracy. No fewer than three of the remaining Republican candidates (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann) have declared that they were called by God to run for the country’s highest office. Congress recently voted to renew the country’s motto of “In God We Trust” on nothing less than the coin of the realm. And this year’s Thanksgiving Forum in Iowa (co-sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage) featured most of the major Presidential candidates competing for the title of God’s quarterback.

Rick Santorum, for example, in the course of denouncing Islamic Sharia law, inadvertently endorsed the same as long as it is a Christian on the Judge’s bench: “Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law.” Not content to speak in such circular generalities, Santorum targeted his faith: “As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court—legal in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law.” God’s law? That is precisely the argument made by Islamic imams. But Santorum was only getting started. “Gay marriage is wrong. The idea that the only things that the states are prevented from doing are only things specifically established in the Constitution is wrong. … As a president, I will get involved, because the states do not have the right to undermine the basic, fundamental values that hold this country together.” Christian values only, of course. Continue reading…

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Pat Tillman’s Atheism

by Michael Shermer, Sep 13 2011
The Tillman Story (DVD cover)

In the 2010 documentary film, The Tillman Story, the story of Pat Tillman and his tragic death at the hands of “friendly fire” is retold. Tillman was the NFL star who gave it all up to join the military cause in Afghanistan after being inspired by 9/11 to do something for his country. He did not do it for the glory or publicity, and gave up a lucrative football career for what he perceived to be a worthy cause. After his death the U.S. government implemented a publicity campaign to use Tillman’s death as a tool to promote the war as a cause so worthy that even a highly-paid NFL star believed it to be worth the sacrifice. What the government failed to mention is that Tillman was killed at the hands of his fellow soldiers during a “fog of war” incident in a steep and narrow slot canyon in which there was much confusion about where enemy fire was originating. It’s a very disturbing film to watch—infuriating in fact—and Jon Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory, presents the story in excruciating detail in a compelling narrative.

Pat Tillman was an atheist. At his funeral his younger brother Richard got up to speak, visibly upset, noticeably inebriated, and with beer in hand proceeded to thank everyone for their warm sentiments, but upbraided those like Maria Shriver and Senator John McCain who made religious overtones in their sentiments, noting about his brother Pat: “He’s not with God, he’s fucking dead. He’s not religious. Thanks for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.” Continue reading…

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Further Thoughts on Atheism

by Daniel Loxton, Mar 05 2010

Even before I started writing Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be I knew that it would very briefly mention religion, make a mild assertion that religious questions are out of scope for science, and move on. I knew this was likely to provoke blow-back from some in the atheist community, and I knew mentioning that blow-back in my recent post “The Standard Pablum — Science and Atheism” would generate more. And, I should have realized that I was muddying the water by packaging multiple related issues together in one post: the specific wording of a passage in my book; the question of whether that passage should have been included; and, the wider question of how science and skepticism relate to atheism.

Still, I was surprised by the quantity of the responses to the blog post (208 comments as of this moment, many of them substantial letters), and also by the fierceness of some of those responses. For example, according to one poster, “you not only pandered, you lied. And even if you weren’t lying, you lied.” (Several took up this “lying” theme.) Another, disappointed that my children’s book does not tell a general youth audience to look to “secular humanism for guidance,” declared  that “I’d have to tear out that page if I bought the book.” Continue reading…

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“The Standard Pablum” — Science and Atheism

by Daniel Loxton, Mar 02 2010

I’m pleased to say that the release of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be has been enjoying quite a bit of attention from skeptics — which has helped this full-color kids’ book get off to a great start. Perhaps the most rewarding moment for me so far was receiving a warmly positive quote from Dr. Eugenie Scott (Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education and 2010 National Academy of Sciences “Public Welfare Medal” recipient). Genie is one of the softest, yet most forthright and resolute voices in skepticism, and a great inspiration to me personally. You can imagine my elation when she said,

I am just so delighted with this book! Loxton hits the key concepts perfectly, and without being stuffy about it. A wonderful book to donate to your local library.

I was similarly honored to receive positive reviews from Phil Plait and from P.Z. Myers — both among the most popular science bloggers on Earth. I just about did cartwheels when P.Z. unexpectedly urged readers to “order a copy fast for the kids in your life!”

P.Z., did, however, dislike one subsection of Evolution:

I recommend it highly, but with one tiny reservation. The author couldn’t resist the common temptation to toss in something about religion at the end, and he gives the wrong answer: it’s the standard pablum, and he claims that “Science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.”

Continue reading…

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From Faitheist to Fundagnostical

by Michael Shermer, Dec 01 2009

Last week, while I was giving thanks for an abundance of family, friends, and food, a brouhaha was brewing over an invited opinion editorial I wrote for CNN celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (on Tuesday, November 24).

The title, “Religion, Evolution can Live Side by Side,” was written by the CNN editors, but it does capture the thrust of the piece which I concluded by noting that if you are a believer in an eternal god, what difference does six zeros make on when the creation happened — 10,000 or 10,000,000,000 years ago — or by what method of creation was used: spoken word or big bang?

Well, this set off a mild firestorm among some observers of the science-and-religion debate, most prominently the estimable Jerry Coyne, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Why Evolution is True, in his website of the same title called me an “accommodationist” and even a “faitheist” (“faith atheist”?) Continue reading…

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