Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Disturbing Film: Jesus Camp

There is a very disturbing film out called Jesus Camp. You can read about it here: The WikiPedia entry links to the film's official web site.

One of the points the adults in the film raise several times is that we are "One nation under God", but the founding fathers did not intend to create a religious nation. They intended to create a nation that had religious freedom. If anyone doubts this, just read Thomas Jefferson's words. I've included some of his words at the bottom of this email.

Furthermore, take a look at this excerpt from an article in Slate that covers the history of the pledge of allegiance.

Given this tradition, it's not surprising that the original Pledge of Allegiance—meant as an expression of patriotism, not religious faith—also made no mention of God. The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Francis Bellamy, a cousin of the famous radical writer Edward Bellamy. He devised it for the popular magazine Youth's Companion on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of Columbus Day. Its wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the United States:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."


The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of this movement. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In the early '50s the Knights themselves adopted the God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same. Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.

For the YouTubers, here is a video that shows various founding fathers with quotes about religion and religious freedom superimposed on paintings of them.

Here is a collection of quotes from Thomas Jefferson about religion and the separation of church and state.

Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State (Letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1802).

Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle (letter to Robert Rush, 1813).

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority (letter to Samuel Miller, Jan. 23, 1808).

I can no longer be silent in defense of the values of this country. I care about our future far too much. I will not be mocked or scorned by people of religious conviction. The separation of church and state protects religion from government and protects government from religion. Any unbiased reading of the founding fathers' words proves this was their intention without any doubt. I will not sit idly by while religious extremists try to revise the history of the founding fathers and distort their intentions.

Instead, I will treat them with kindness and respect, as I do all people, but I will ask them to provide evidence for their beliefs. It has always astounded me that people who consider themselves religious "conservatives" and like to say that "liberals" believe things based on "what they feel" remain dogmatically immune to looking at their own beliefs and realizing that they are founded upon feelings, not upon evidence.

Here are some very troubling video clips from the Jesus Camp film.

Film Trailer:

A Nation Down the Drain (Part I)

A Nation Down the Drain (Part II)

Praying to George W. Bush
In this clip, children pray to George W. Bush.

Ted Haggard Bashing Gays
Ted Haggard, who has now admitted to having an affair with a homosexual man, bashes gays in this video clip from the film.

A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom

"SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminals who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

"SECTION II. We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

"SECTION III. And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Daily WTF: Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, The Second Coming of Jesus?

Thanks to Dr. G. for this information about a man claiming to be the second coming of Jesus:

He says that Jesus appeared to him and integrated himself inside of him. He also says he wants to be the president of the biggest government the world has ever seen. He also asks for money, money, money.

The Man-Christ-Jesus has reincarnated in a man from Puerto Rico, according this video:

Here is a brief history of the man, with warnings:

The WikiPedia entry on this man is very brief so far:

Disgusting Fraud Alert: Peter Popoff is Back

News like this makes my heart sink.

But, it also motivates me to speak out in defense of otherwise defenseless and innocent people who are being taken advantage of by disgusting and evil people with absolutely no regard for honesty.

Peter Popoff is back and is making millions of dollars scamming people! He is the televangelist that was exposed on national television as a complete and utter fraud 20 years ago by James Randi and Johnny Carson. Randi and Carson played video and audio that showed how Popoff's wife would send him information about audience members so that he could call them up and then tell them that he was being spoken to by God and had special power to heal them or grant them their wishes.

He's back selling Miracle Spring Water! Can you believe this? This man is selling miracles through the television! People are losing their money to this creepy crook and he just does not care at all. He laughs all the way to his million dollar home.

Few things get me seriously riled up, but this kind of disgusting charlatanism infuriates me! It is beyond vile and horrifying for a human being to prey on another person's ignorance and willingly lie and cheat them!

Peter Popoff's Charlatan Spring Water

Inside Edition Exposes This Fraud

They call him "The prophet who profits", and show how he was exposed twenty years ago.

John Stossel Exposing Peter Popoff

James Randi Exposes Peter Popoff

Despite his work, people still believe in Popoff today! This is so sad.

Aaron Ranen's Documentary Exposes Peter Popoff

Penn & Teller Interview James Randi About Peter Popoff

What is most amazing is that people just ended up sending their money to other televangelists after he exposed Popoff.

The Need for Critical Thinking

It is so incredibly important for people to learn the skill of critical thinking. There is no skill more important than this to be taught in schools, in my opinion. How in the world is this nation going to survive when we cannot even remember 20 years ago that Popoff was proven a charlatan? How in the world are we going to survive as a nation when people continue to place their hopes in invisible things and don't care about the beauty and glory of the real world that they know is absolutely real?

Here is a magician talking about critical thinking:

USA Losing Grip on Science and Engineering

See this article for evidence that the United States is losing its grip on the dominance in science and engineering:

For years, the European Union has treated the USA as a yardstick for what it needs to achieve in science and innovation. That stick – measuring performance in terms of research graduates, patents, prize winners, scientific citations, etc. – appears to be getting shorter, US experts reported earlier this month.

Asia’s ascendancy and Europe’s determination, especially in basic science, have begun to erode America’s dominance in science and innovation, according to John Jankowski, a senior analyst at the National Science Foundation (NSF). “The rest of the world is catching up – scientific excellence is no longer the domain of just the US,” he told the New York Times last week.

The leading American daily offers many examples where the USA fears a loss of scientific status. One area, international patents, is still strong but Asia is on the rise. The US share of industrial patents has fallen steadily over recent decades, now standing at almost 52%. In published research – once a US mainstay – it has also experienced serious decline.

In physics journals, American papers went from 61% in 1983 down to just 29% last year, according to a tracking study by Physical Review. A European Commission study showed that Europe overtook the USA in the mid-1990s as the world’s largest producer of scientific literature. Many of the USA’s woes are outlined in the National Science Board’s January report ‘An emerging and critical problem of the science and engineering labor force.

Of Universes, Demons, and The State of Education With Thanks to Carl Sagan

Here is a partially completed video of an essay I wrote about the topic of science and engineering education in the United States two years ago.

You can read the essay and see other related videos in this post:


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Beauty of Rational Thinking

This is a great video. See

This is also a "great" video in the sense that it shows the complete and utter lunacy of fundamentalist religionists. It is time for "moderates" and non-religionists to speak out against this kind of insanity.

Here is another video of her being insane:

Here is a modified version of it.

Not to be forgotten, Peter Popoff is back!

Reason in an Age of Credulity

Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot Narrative

I had a great dinner and conversation with some friends tonight. We walked over to Surin of Thailand in Virginia Highlands, a local favorite, for dinner:

After that we started discussing the state of credulity and unreason in today's American culture. We covered a lot of ground! All of us are gravely concerned about the lack of critical thinking in today's society. None of us are religionists. We all believe in personal responsibility and action.

Here are links to many of the YouTube video clips we discussed as well as links to other information about the topics.

Mr. Deity

We talked about the hilarious Mr. Deity video series. My favorite happens to be the one about Lucy, otherwise known as Lucifer.

"You're the deity! Come on, who's the deity!"

Why Won't God Heal Amputees

We discussed the great web site, a site that is very critical of supernaturalistic religion. Here are a couple of great videos from that web site:

Proving That Prayer is Superstition

This video demonstrates that praying for silly things like having dice turn up all sixes never results in creating any prolonged ability to roll six die any greater than normal probability.

I'd just like to add my observation that a much better test of prayer could be done by setting up an experiment like this:

  1. In order to avoid loss of life, use 50 Barbie dolls instead of real people.
  2. Set the dolls on the ground.
  3. Raise an anvil high above them.
  4. Pray that God will make the anvil move out of the way of the doll to protect the doll from destruction should the anvil fall.
  5. Drop the anvil.
  6. Observe the result each of the 50 times.

I will bet you that will not ever see the anvil fail to destroy the Barbie doll. This kind of test is far better than most prayer studies because we can actually test for an expected result. In prayer studies that attempt to measure the result of people praying for others to recover from an illness, there are too many complicating factors involved, too many variables that have to be accounted for. But, in this experiment, there is an expected outcome, so unless the expected outcome is observed, one is justified to explain that's it's likely there is no deity listening to and responding to the prayer.

How Do We Know That Christians Are Delusional?

This video discusses the Muslim Bubble of Delusion, the Mormon Bubble of Delusion, and the Christian Bubble of Delusion.

Richard Dawkins

We talked about Richard Dawkins' encounter with Ted Haggard, his book The God Delusion, and his TV series "The Root of All Evil",

Richard Dawkins Versus Ted Haggard

The God Delusion

The Root of All Evil Part I

The Root of All Evil Part II

Richard Dawkins Interviews a Bishop Who Accepts Evolution

See the whole interview here:

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as the Spaghedeity) is the deity of a parody religion called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.[1] The religion was founded in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson to protest against the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. In an open letter sent to the education board, Henderson professes belief in a supernatural Creator called the Flying Spaghetti Monster which resembles spaghetti and meatballs.[2] He furthermore calls for the "Pastafarian" (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarian) theory of creation to be taught in science classrooms.[3]

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Treaty of Tripoli, or More Evidence that the United States is Not a "Christian" Nation

We talked about the Treaty of Tripoli from 1797. The Treaty of Tripoli clearly stated that the founding fathers did not intend to create the United States on top of any religion.

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."


Watch this video to learn more about the Treaty of Tripoli.

Gregory Boyd on The Myth of a Christian Nation

Carl Sagan and Cosmos

We talked about how our world would be a better place, full of more critically thinking people if more young students watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos at a young age.

Here are just two incredible clips from Cosmos to illustrate this:

The Origins of the Universe Part I

The Origins of the Universe Part II

You can view my Carl Sagan playlist on YouTube here:


We discussed more videos and resources, but I'll have to add them later as I am tired.



Monday, August 20, 2007

Einstein: His Life and Universe Review

Einstein: His Life and Universe



"I only wish I had more mathematics" -- Albert Einstein, lamenting to his son that he did not pay enough attention to mathematics during his life, realizing that it would have made his life easier and more fulfilling.

Einstein Sparks Enthusiasm for Science & Math

This is a cute video about a school that sponsored a great Einstein festival:

Book Review

I finished listening to Walter Isaacon's Einstein biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. It was a very good book. I learned a lot about the man who fundamentally changed our understanding of space and time. Here are some things I did not know:

  • Einstein could not stand the German educational system. He hated the militaristic style of forced learning of facts and rote memorization.
  • He excelled when he went to school in Switzerland where the teachers taught by using visualization techniques. Teachers helped guide students in their natural curiosity and engaged their minds.
  • His Special Theory of Relativity, from 1905, and General Theory of Relativity, from 1915, fundamentally transformed the way we understand the nature of the universe, forever displacing Newton's model. It proved that light speed is the fastest speed possible and that matter is equivalent to energy, as well as the facts that observers have no authority to claim precedence in observing events. That is, a person who sees something happen "now", only sees it "now" because the speed of light is constant, and thus takes longer to travel to someone further away from an event's source than it does to travel to someone close by.
  • However, he received the noble prize for his paper about the photo-electric effect, not the Theory of Relativity.
  • He almost named The Theory of Relativity a different name: Invariance Theory. This is ironic, because the "relativity" in the theory is not about everything being "relative" and open to interpretation in a post-modernist kind of way, but is instead about space and time the relative position of observers .
  • Einstein did not believe in a "personal God", but instead said he believed in Spinoza's God, which esentially equates "God" with the universe itself.
  • He was an accomplished violinist and played throughout his entire life.
  • He was not trusted by the US to take part in the Manhattan project, even though he had warned the US president Roosevelt that the Germans were likely working on an atomic bomb.
  • His son Hans Albert Einstein became a respected professor of engineering.
  • Einstein was falsely accused of communist sympathies because of his outspoken views and refusal to accept mainstream ideas without critically thinking.
  • He got in arguments with Thomas Edison about the purpose of education. Einstein firmly believed that education should not be about memorizing facts, but about teaching students how to think crtically
    and expansively.
  • Einstein's brain was taken out of his head after he died and was carried around the country for decades!

Misconceptions About The Theory of Relativity

It's a sad misconception in today's world that so few pepole understand that a scientific "theory" is not the same thing as a commonplace, everyday conjecture. Part of this is because the word theory comes from the word theoria, in Greek. This word does mean conjecture. But, a scientific theory has been observed and tested over and over. It is no longer a hypothesis. It has a body of evidence and observatoin to back it up. It makes claims that can be tested and verified by independent observers.

As such, when people say things like, "Well, it's just a theory!" about science, it really frustrates me. Scientific theories are open to revision and change when new evidence comes along that will force them to change. They are not "the truth". Rather, they are descriptive and predictive within a certain context of parameters and bounds. Einstein's theory of relativity has been tested and found accurate in hundreds of experiments, for more than 100 years.

Videos About the Theory of Relativity and Einstein

Carl Sagan explains time dilation in Cosmos Series

Time bends the faster you travel. Time actually slows down the faster you travel. This is NOT SCIENCE FICTION. This is REALITY. This clip really blew my mind when I watched it as a 5-year-old kid. It left me convinced that reality is far more amazing and worthy of my interest than fantasy since reality is stranger than fiction!

The Elegant Universe Part I: Einstein's Dream

Find the rest of the videos in this series here:

Einstein's Relativity

Time Travel: Einstein's Big Idea

Simultaneity: Albert Einstein and The Theory of Relativity

Time Dilation: Albert Einstein and The Theory of Relativity

Einstein's Brain!

His brain was dissected and taken all around the country in a jar!

The Secrets of Einstein's Brain

Einstein's Brain: Part I

Eerie but cool music in this video:

Related Links

  1. Einstein His Life and Universe, book:
  2. Einstein His Life and Universe, audio book:
  3. Albert Einstein:">
  4. Hans Albert Einstein:">
  5. The Photo Electric Effect:
  6. The Theory of Relativity:
  7. The Elegant Universe:
  8. Einstein's Big idea:

Links From Einstein's Big Idea on PBS

Inquiry & Articles

The Legacy of E = mc2
The Legacy of E = mc2 Einstein's big idea has been enormously influential, in ways that reach far beyond the purely scientific.

The Producer's Story
The Producer's Story Filmmaker Gary Johnstone describes how creativity fuels both art and science.

The Equation Today
The Equation Today Three young physicists contemplate how a 100-year-old equation figures into their careers.

Einstein the Nobody
Einstein the Nobody The patent clerk's career prospects looked bleak just before his "miracle year" of 1905.

The Theory
Behind the Equation

The Theory Behind the Equation Explore the eureka moment when Einstein came up with special relativity, the theory that spawned E = mc2.

Genius Among

Genius Among Geniuses To rank with Newton or Einstein, you have to reinvent the way we see the world.

and the Cosmos

Relativity and the Cosmos Examine what many consider Einstein's greatest achievement—general relativity.

Interactives, Audio & More

E = mc2 Explained
E = mc2 Explained Hear how 10 top physicists describe the equation in a few minutes or less.

The Power of
Tiny Things

The Power of Tiny Things How much energy does a paper clip pack? Test your intuition in this quiz.

Ancestors of E = mc2
Ancestors of E = mc2 Meet the visionary scientists whose experiments paved the way for Einstein.

Einstein Quotes
Einstein Quotes Seven thought-provoking statements from the world's most famous scientist

The Light Stuff
The Light Stuff Find out why the speed of light isn't always 186,000 miles per second.

Time Traveler
Time Traveler Explore time dilation in this interactive version of Einstein's "twin paradox."

Einstein Time Line
Einstein Time Line Follow the arc of Einstein's life from his birth in 1879 till his death in 1955.

Timeline of Einstein's Life

Born to Hermann Einstein (a featherbed salesman) and his wife Pauline in Ulm, Germany.

Receives his first compass around this time, inspiring a lifelong quest to investigate mysteries of the natural world.

Settles into a program of self-education at age 10 and begins reading as much about science as he can.

Stays on in Munich to finish the school year after his parents move to Pavia, Italy. Lasts only one term on his own and then follows his family to Italy.

Attempts to skip high school by taking an entrance exam to the Swiss Polytechnic, a top technical university, but fails the arts portion. His family sends him to the Swiss town of Aarau to finish high school.

Graduates from high school at age 17 and enrolls at the ETH (the Federal Polytechnic School) in Zurich.

Falls in love with Mileva Maric, a Serbian classmate at the ETH.

Graduates from the ETH.

Becomes a Swiss citizen and, unemployed, searches for work. Meets Maric in northern Italy for a tryst, and she becomes pregnant. In the fall, he finds work in Schaffhausen, Switzerland as a tutor. Maric, visibly pregnant, moves to Stein am Rhein, three miles upriver. She then returns to her parents' home to give birth to her child. Einstein moves to Bern.

In January, Maric gives birth to their daughter, Lieserl, whom they eventually put up for adoption. Lieserl reportedly becomes ill, and then all record of her disappears. Einstein takes a job at the Swiss Patent Office. Hermann Einstein becomes ill and dies.

Marries Maric in January.

Maric gives birth to their first son, Hans Albert.

Publishes, at age 26, five groundbreaking papers, making this his "annus mirabilis," or miracle year. One of the papers introduces his special theory of relativity and another E = mc2.

Continues working as an examiner at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern.

Begins applying the laws of gravity to his special theory of relativity.

Son Eduard is born.

Moves with his family to Prague, where he is given a full professorship at the German University there. Attends the invitation-only Solvay Conference in Brussels, the first world physics conference; he is the youngest physicist there.

Moves with his family to Zurich, where he becomes a professor of theoretical physics at the ETH.

Works on his new theory of gravity.

Becomes director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin and professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin. Maric and the children move there in April, but they return to Zurich after three months. Divorce proceedings begin. In August, World War I begins.

Completes the general theory of relativity.

Collapses from exhaustion and falls seriously ill. Nursed back to health by his cousin Elsa Löwenthal. Publishes his first paper on cosmology.

Marries Löwenthal. On May 29, a solar eclipse provides proof of the general theory of relativity.

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1921.

Attends fifth Solvay Conference and begins developing the foundation of quantum mechanics with Niels Bohr.

Begins pursuing his idea of a unified field theory.

As a Jew, begins to feel the heat of Nazi Germany. Now, at 53, at the height of his fame.

Sets sail with Löwenthal for the United States. Settles with her in Princeton, New Jersey, where he assumes a post at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Löwenthal dies after a brief illness.

Writes a famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt not long after the start of World War II that warns of the possibility of Germany's building an atomic bomb and urges nuclear research.

Becomes an American citizen (retains his Swiss citizenship).

Ex-wife Maric dies.

Dies of heart failure on April 18.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Thoughts on Atlanta Freethought

I attended the Atlanta Freethought Society's (1) monthly social today in Roswell. This was the first time I have been to a meeting sponsored by the society.

Meeting Summary

At today's meeting, Ed Buckner (2) discussed his chapter in the book Parenting Beyond Belief (3), edited by Dale McGowan (4). Dale was also present and said a few words as well.

Ed's gave four basic premises that he said should be used as the basis for any rational approach to teaching about religions in school. I agreed with them, though I cannot recall the wording of them at this time.

Dale cited Barna Group statistics (5) as showing that evangelicals and free-thinkers are the groups growing most rapidly, while other affiliations are declining. 

My Personal Thoughts on the Value of Reading Religious Texts

I was not raised with any religious dogma given to me as "the truth". Instead, my family encouraged me in personal responsibility for my actions and the ethics of treating each person with kindness and respect. Aside from that, my family encouraged me to pursue my curiosity of the natural world. I dug for bones. I put pond water under microscopes. I looked at the stars through telescopes. Eventually, I learned how to program computer systems and have made a great career out of that, very similar to how my uncle and my grandfather had done in their lives. There's something to be said for learning from one's elders.

I credit my family showing me Carl Sagan and his COSMOS series (6) when I was probably four or five years old, and then his book  The Demon Haunted World (7) when I was 25 as having had the two most profound effects upon my critical thinking skills. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Thank you, my family. You guys rule.

There was a time a few years ago when I tried very hard to "believe" in the literal interpretation of Christianity, because I wanted to make sure I had given religion its fair shake. What I came to realize was that I enjoy reading parables, whether from the Bible or elsewhere, hence I subscribed to Parabola magazine,, (8) which features stories and parables from a wide range of religious traditions, not just Christianity or Judaism.

I see religious texts as man's attempt to explain existence and grapple with the question of meaning and origins. It's fascinating to read these texts, and it does not require one to change one's metaphysics or commitment to reason when doing so, at least in my opinion. I believe it actually helps a non-religious person to be familiar with and comfortable will the ideas of religious thinkers. It enriches my life to understand Christian beliefs, Buddhist beliefs, Islamic ideas. I enjoy reading about Sufi traditions and poetry from Rumi. All of this I can read in Parabola magazine and never feel as if I have to abandon reason or science. It's literature, and it makes me a better person for knowing it and reflecting upon it.

The Disconnect Between Religious and Non-Religious People

I am very concerned about the rise of extremist religious fundamentalism around the world in the form of Islamic sects and within the US in the form of Christian sects. Most reasonable people are concerned about this.

I've seen the Jesus Camp Trailer. I've seen the Tom Delay interview about the rapture. I've seen Richard Dawkins confronting Ted Haggard. I've also seen Neil deGrasse Tyson confronting Richard Dawkins.

You can watch them now.

Jesus Camp Trailer

This video shows a very troubling and fanatical indoctrination of children, including asking children, "How many of you would be willing to give up your lives for Jesus?"

Christians United for Israel Video

This features Tom Delay saying he wants the "second coming" to come as soon as possible. He literally believes that Jesus Christ is going to return to the Earth.

Richard Dawkins and Ted Haggard Exchange Fighting Words

Haggard, as is well known, later admitted to engaging in hypocritical sexual acts with a male prostitute.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Confronting Richard Dawkins at Beyond Belief 2006 (9)

In this video Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and Carl Sagan's eulogist, expresses his concern for Dawkins' approach toward educating the public about science.

So, who is right? Is Dawkins right, or is Tyson right? I think that Tyson has a great point and that Dawkins, with all his intellectual prowess, could do more good by using an approach similar to how Tyson approaches things, which is similar to how Carl Sagan approached things. (To be fair, I believe he has done his fair share of this. Just see his wonderful and scientifically compelling video clip about "Nice Guys Finish First" (10) in which he combats misconceptions of his book The Selfish Gene (11).)

The reason I believe that is rooted in human psychology. Most human beings do not want to be accused of being totally ignorant or unthinking. Instead, most people want to be heard. They want their opinions and their ideas to have merit and to be valued by people who listen to them. There is no requirement that the hearer has to believe or accept those opinions and ideas as true.

So, is it possible for religious and non-religious people to talk to each other peacefully? Of course it is. So long as they would like to do so, they will find a way to do so with amicability. Carl Sagan was a master of this approach. Here is an essay I wrote about his approach toward people which he employed so wisely and so successfully:

Here is a key excerpt from the essay:

Respect for People Seeking Truth, Criticism for Beliefs
Sagan has a new book on shelves now, ten years after his death. The book is entitled "The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God". The book is named after William James' famous "The Varieties of Religious Experience" published after he was invited to give the Gifford Lectures. I have just completed reading Sagan's new book and enjoyed it very much.

As an author and a speaker, I can't recall Sagan ever acting as a stubborn dogmatist. Instead, he was a true scientist who kept his ideas and his mind open for revision. Along with that, what I remember most now, more than 25 years after watching his Cosmos series initially and 10 years since his death, are his kindness, elegance, unparalleled intellect, and extremely approachable personality.

Rarely did he speak explicit ill of ancient, outmoded or disproved cultural and traditional beliefs, but instead sought understanding first. Achieving that, he would attempt to extract some kind of lesson or symbolic meaning from them, all while continuing to stand tall and steadfastly on the side of patient scientific inquiry and reverent agnosticism. This respect that he had for people who sought truth did not compel him to place all claims to truth on equal footing. He was respectful to belief-holders even while disagreeing with and dismantling their stated beliefs, sometimes before their very eyes. To be able to do this consistently as he did while never intentionally belittling the belief-holder is no small accomplishment.


The dogmatist knows all the answers. He or she accepts no criticism and opens no ears. Merely questioning the dogmatist amounts to overt and intolerable criticism ipso facto in his or her mind. The dogmatist listens to no questions and throws all criticism to the scrap heap.

The true scientist has more questions than answers. He or she explicitly seeks criticism and opens ears to others. Strong questions about the scientist's ideas afford opportunities to confirm or deny their validity. The scientist must accept questions and readily understands that he or she may be forced to throw cherished ideas to the scrap heap.

Human Compassion and Love: The Tools for Healing The Disconnect

In today's meeting, Dale McGowan brought up the point that one thing that religious affiliation offers, at least to those willing to agree with their core beliefs, is acceptance, compassion, love, and forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is the entire foundational underpinning of Christianity. Forgiveness is, most certainly, one of the strongest and most powerful emotional tools a human being can possess and put into practice. That the character of Jesus in the Gospels would know this and employ it should not be surprising. It should also not be surprising that this is a powerful attractor of people. After all, if the creator of the universe can forgive you, then why not want to believe in it?

Can freethought and secularist organizations offer acceptance and forgiveness in such a way that it feels as compelling as what religion can offer?

I'm not sure that it can. The reason is that religion can offer forgiveness at no cost in a way that can be entirely personal and unknown to any other human being. Accepting the forgiveness that religion offers does not require a person to actually speak to anyone else or to open him or herself up to discussion. It's solely a conversation between the person and their conception of the creator / offer bringer. This lack of the human factor, I believe, impedes maturity and leads to improper attitudes toward life and reality. Perhaps it could be said the Catholic confession is a good thing in this sense, because it brings a person in front of a real human being.

But, while free thought cannot offer unconditional forgiveness, those who practice free thought can certainly offer unconditional compassion and love to other human beings, no matter what those people believe. This means the ability to step inside someone else's shoes and envision yourself in the same situation. This requires human empathy that is gained only through experience with other human beings in real-life situations. This is the ability to, as Tyson spoke of, apply a sensitivity to a person's situation and work from that sensitivity to engage them and respect them.

My Great Grandmother: Passion, Compassion, and Love in Action

I'd like to offer one last example of a human being who brought all of these realizations up close and personal to me and to whom I will forever be indebted. She was my great-grandmother Carola Laurel Gough. She passed away in July at age 96. While I can never speak for her and classify her as a "free thinker", and she often spoke of "God or Mother Nature", that is not important to the example of her life.

Her life was an example of passion, compassion, and love wrapped up into one and will forever inspire me and countless others. She was a painter, world traveler, volunteer, and mentor. Learn all about her and her artwork on You can see some thumbnails of her paintings on the left side of my blog, and you can listen to an essay I wrote about her in my book by click on the "I Didn't Want to Hit the Rocking Chair Just Because I'm 90" item in the podcast player.

I feel like one of the most fortunate people in world to have known her so well. Here is an excerpt from my last letter to her, which you can read or listen to at this URL:

These are values I learned from her and my family:

Practice attention, patience, and compassion to achieve success. Here are a few words on each of these.

Attention is more than a direction of the eyes, attuning of the ears, straightening of the spine, or a steadying of the hands or feet. Each of these forms the skeleton of attention, but its muscle is the brain. There is no Cartesian division between mind and body. The two are one. Direct your eyes, attune your ears, straighten your spine, steady your hands and feet and focus your brain on the task before you and expect success. With patience and compassion, success will follow.

Patience is not the ability to sit idly by, waiting for other people to come along and show you something new, but is instead the inability to refrain from joining with others to share something that is true; Once you begin to do this, there is no limit to what you can achieve, together, for the good of yourselves and others. Notice I said "begin to do" and not "learn how to do", because you can't learn without doing. You just do it, and understanding will follow.

Compassion is first the recognition of a physical or psychological struggle in others that you have seen, and perhaps overcome, in yourself. Second it is the inclination to join with them to be then their eyes, ears, hands and feet, or voice. Finally, it is the understanding that their struggle is as much your own as it is theirs for without their success and uplifting you also are stuck at an altitude far below that which you can soar.

Success is an accumulation. But, it is not solely the accumulation of physical objects and financial assets. These things are well and good when used for a noble purpose, but success is much more than this. It is the accumulation of memories of kind words and actions extended from you toward others and from others toward you. Layer upon layer of such memorable actions builds in you an infinite cushion into which to fall when you face setbacks. Knowing always that you can brighten somebody else's day with a kind word or a smile will be your secret to success. I guarantee it or your money back.

The Carola L. Gough Foundation: Enriching Young Lives Through the Wonders of Art & Science

It is for the reasons above that we are creating a non-profit organization, The Carola L. Gough Foundation, in her name. Our goal is stated as "Enriching young lives through the wonders of art & science". I learned so much about life and being open and accepting different ideas, even while not agreeing with them, from her and about spending time with people, listening to them, mentoring to them, and helping them learn about science and health. I want to do what I can to bring other professionals together for action in inspiring young people the same way she did. Our goal is to help engage their natural curiosity and stir their desire for self-responsibility and compassion for others.

We're actively looking for partner organizations and other professionals who can help us in this goal. We want to find venues to host fun and educational parties and events that expose young people to art, science, technology, critical thinking, teamwork, etc.

Learn more about the organization at

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Related Resources

  10. Nice Guys Finish First, by Richard Dawkins