Survey: One in Five Americans are Without Religion


The fastest growing “religious” group in America is made up of people with no religion at all, according to a Pew survey showing that one in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion.

The number of these Americans has grown by 25% just in the past five years, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The survey found that the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing even faster among younger Americans.

Thirty-three million Americans now have no religious affiliation, with 13 million in that group identifying as either atheist or agnostic, according to the new survey.

Pew found that those who are religiously unaffiliated are strikingly less religious than the public at large. They attend church infrequently, if at all, are largely not seeking out religion and say that the lack of it in their lives is of little importance.

And yet Pew found that 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, while 37% describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” One in five said that they even pray every day.

John Green, a senior research adviser at Pew, breaks the religiously unaffiliated into three groups. First, he says, are those who were raised totally outside organized religion.

Second are groups of people who were unhappy with their religions and left.

The third group, Green says, comprises Americans who were never really engaged with religion in the first place, even though they were raised in religious households.

According to the poll, 88% of religiously unaffiliated people are not looking for religion.

Poll respondents 18-29 were also more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic. Nearly 42% religious unaffiliated people from that age group identified as atheist or agnostic, a number far greater than the number who identified as Christian (18%) of Catholic (18%).

(Source: CNN, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

UK Scientists Find “Lost” Darwin Fossils


British scientists have found scores of fossils the great evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin and his peers collected but that had been lost for more than 150 years.

Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said Tuesday that he stumbled upon the glass slides containing the fossils in an old wooden cabinet that had been shoved in a “gloomy corner” of the massive, drafty British Geological Survey.

Using a flashlight to peer into the drawers and hold up a slide, Falcon-Lang saw one of the first specimens he had picked up was labeled ‘C. Darwin Esq.”

“It took me a while just to convince myself that it was Darwin’s signature on the slide,” the paleontologist said, adding he soon realized it was a “quite important and overlooked” specimen.

He described the feeling of seeing that famous signature as “a heart in your mouth situation,” saying he wondering “Goodness, what have I discovered!”

Falcon-Lang’s find was a collection of 314 slides of specimens collected by Darwin and other members of his inner circle, including John Hooker — a botanist and dear friend of Darwin — and the Rev. John Henslow, Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge, whose daughter later married Hooker.

Falcon-Lang said the unearthed fossils — lost for 165 years — show there is more to learn from a period of history scientists thought they knew well.

“To find a treasure trove of lost Darwin specimens from the Beagle voyage is just extraordinary,” Falcon-Lang added. “We can see there’s more to learn. There are a lot of very, very significant fossils in there that we didn’t know existed.”

I jsut absolutely needed to share this when I saw it

~Mooglets

(Source: Yahoo!, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Why Do So Many Have Trouble Believing in Evolution


helvetebrann:

The evidence is clear, as in a February 2009 Gallup Poll, taken on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, that reported only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don’t have an opinion either way.

The same poll correlated belief in evolution with educational level: 21 percent of people with a high school education or less believed in evolution. That number rose to 41 percent for people with some college attendance, 53 percent for college graduates, and 74 percent for people with a postgraduate education.

Clearly, the level of education has an impact on how people feel about evolution.

Another variable investigated by the same poll was how belief in evolution correlates with church attendance. Of those who believe in evolution, 24 percent go to church weekly, 30 percent go nearly weekly/monthly, and 55 percent seldom or never go.

Not surprisingly, and rather unfortunately, religious belief interferes with people’s understanding of what the theory of evolution says.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It’s in the fossil record, carefully dated using radioactivity, the release of particles from radioactive isotopic decay, which works like a very precise clock. Rocks from volcanic eruptions (igneous rocks) buried near a fossil carry certain amounts of radioactive material, unstable atomic nuclei that emit different kinds of radiation, like tiny bullets. The most common is Uranium-235, which decays into Lead-207. Analyzing the ratio of Uranium-235 to Lead-207 in a sample, and knowing how frequently Uranium-235 emits particles (its half-life is 704 million years, the amount half a sample decays into Lead), scientists can get a very accurate measure of the age of a fossil.

But evidence for evolution is also much more palpable, for example in the risks of overprescribing antibiotics: the more we (and farm animals) take antibiotics, the higher the chance that a microbe will mutate into one resistant to the drug. This is in-your-face evolution, species mutating at the genetic level and adapting to a new environment (in this case, an environment contaminated with antibiotics). The proof of this can be easily achieved in the laboratory (see link above), by comparing original strands of bacteria with those subjected to different doses of antibiotics. It’s simple and conclusive, since the changes in the genetic code of the resistant mutant can be identified and studied.

However, there are creationist scientists who claim that mutation is not the true mechanism of resistance. Instead, they claim that bacteria already had those genes in some sort of dormant state, which were then activated by their exposure to antibiotics. For example, Dr. Georgia Purdom argues that this inbuilt mechanism is “a testimony to the wonderful design God gave bacteria, master adapters and survivors in a sin-cursed world.” I couldn’t identify any data to back her hypothesis that bacterial resistance to antibiotics comes from horizontal gene swap and not mutation.

Does evolution really need to be such a stumbling block for so many? Is it really that bad that we descended from monkeys? Doesn’t that make us even more amazing, primates that can write poetry and design scientific experiments? Behind this strong resistance to evolution there is a deep dislike for a scientific understanding of how nature works. The problem seems to be related to the age-old God-of-the-Gaps agenda, that the more we understand of the world the less room there is for a creator God. This is bad theology, as it links belief to the development of science.

Even though I’m not a believer, I wonder why those who are need to equate God with the hard work of designing people, bacteria, dinosaurs, or some 900,000 known species of insects. (Probably there are more than 10 million in total.) Surely there are better ways to find God or other paths toward spiritual meaning in life?

READ.  This article is FABULOUS.

(via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Catholic Bishops Say Religious Freedom Waning


helvetebrann:

Catholic bishops said on Monday that religious freedom had been whittled away by same-sex marriage, abortion and healthcare legislation, and vowed to ramp up efforts to protect it.

At a meeting of 300 bishops gathered for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the newly appointed committee on religious liberty announced plans to respond to legislation it says comes between citizens and their Catholic beliefs.

That includes Alabama’s recent crackdown on immigration, which prevents undocumented citizens from receiving religious services, said committee member Reverend William Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Other examples included a New York town clerk who faces legal action for refusing to administer same-sex marriages after New York state last summer became the most populous state to legalize gay marriage.

And, in Illinois, Catholic charities are considered discriminatory for not placing foster children with same-sex couples, Lori said.

The bishops singled out the U.S. Department of Justice’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, and the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, as challenges to religious liberty.

Hold on here, let me see if I have your argument straight Catholics.  The guaranteed rights of men and women are infringing upon your chosen religion? 

Same-sex marriage?  Civil right.

Abortion?  Civil right.

Access to health care, including reproductive services?  Civil right.

Religion doesn’t get to infringe upon the civil rights of others, but nice try.

Nothing needs adding.

~Mooglets

(Source: reuters.com, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

“In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

Carl Sagan - American astronomer and science popularizer.  “My candidate for planetary ambassador…a beacon of clear light in a dark world of alien abductions and ‘real-life X-files,’ of psychic charlatans and New Age airheads, of fatcat astrologers giggling all the way to the millennium.” - Richard Dawkins.  “Carl never wanted to believe.  He wanted to know.” - Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan (via helvetebrann)

(via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Richard Dawkins: Why I Refuse to Debate with William Lane Craig


helvetebrann:

Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”. For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.

Craig’s latest stalking foray has taken the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in Oxford this October. I took pleasure in refusing again, which threw him and his followers into a frenzy of blogging, tweeting and YouTubed accusations of cowardice. To this I would only say I that I turn down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year, I have publicly engaged an archbishop of York, two archbishops of Canterbury, many bishops and the chief rabbi, and I’m looking forward to my imminent, doubtless civilised encounter with the present archbishop of Canterbury.

In an epitome of bullying presumption, Craig now proposes to place an empty chair on a stage in Oxford next week to symbolise my absence. The idea of cashing in on another’s name by conniving to share a stage with him is hardly new. But what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt? In the interests of transparency, I should point out that it isn’t only Oxford that won’t see me on the night Craig proposes to debate me in absentia: you can also see me not appear in Cambridge, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, if time allows, Bristol.

But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God’s commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse:

“But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them”

You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. He then notices the plight of the Canaanite children.

“But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods’ (Deut 7.3-4). […] God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. […] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”

Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli [sic] soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalising effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.”

Oh, the poor soldiers. Let’s hope they received counselling after their traumatic experience. A later post by Craig is – if possible – even more shocking. Referring to his earlier article (above) he says:

“I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God’s command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land.[…] Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples.
It is therefore completely misleading to characterise God’s command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. No one had to die in this whole affair.”

So, apparently it was the Canaanites’ own fault for not running away. Right.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig’s words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.

In other words, Dawkins refuses to feed the troll.

(Source: Guardian, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Christopher Hitchens Says His “Time” is Coming


helvetebrann:

Christopher Hitchens said that his ‘time’ is coming as he made his first public appearance in months at the weekend.

The controversial writer and fervent atheist, who is suffering from esophagus cancer, attended the Atheist Alliance of America conference in Texas where he was presented an award by Richard Dawkins.

The 62-year-old said that he had been determined to attend the conference because of the state’s Bible Belt devotion.

‘I think being an atheist is something you are, not something you do,’ he told the New York Times.

‘I’m not sure we need to be honoured. We don’t need positive reinforcement.

‘On the other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you can’t run for sheriff.’

Dawkins praised him for showing his atheist determination even in the face of death and said he had disproved the saying that there are ‘no atheists in foxholes’.

‘I’m not going to quit until absolutely I have to,’ Hitchens told the audience before receiving a standing ovation.

Nooooo!!!!

I can’t deny it - I am incredibly saddened by this news. Hitchen’s is a man I look up to and admire. I will miss his interviews and his writing and his wonderful way of owning the stage when he’s on it. 

~Mooglets

(Source: Daily Mail, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Rising Atheism in America Puts “Religious Right” on the Defensive


The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Professor Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who conducts the national Religious Identification Survey, believes up to a quarter of young people in the US now have no specific faith, and scoffs at the idea, prevalent in so much US media and culture, that the country is highly religious or becoming more so. “The trending in American history is towards secularisation,” Kosmin said.

For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.

More Americans are now choosing to get married or be buried without any form of religious ceremony. At universities, departments devoted to the study of secularism are starting to appear. Books by atheist authors are bestsellers. National groups, such as the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), have opened branches across the country.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

Kosmin said the attention paid by politicians and the media to religious groups was not necessarily a sign of strength. “When religion was doing well, it did not need to go into politics. Secularity of our population and culture is obviously growing and so religion is on the defensive,” he said.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

“Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don’t ‘out’ people,” said Silverman.

Others think that one day it will become politically mainstream to confess to a lack of faith as US political life lags behind the society that it represents. “Politicians have not yet caught up with the changing demographics of our society,” said Gaylor.

(via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Further Updates: Anti-Atheist Charged With Two Counts of Making Death Threats


helvetebrann:

Another update to the story originally reported here with the first update reported here.

He uses the nickname Mabus, but his real name is Dennis Markuze.

He’s suspected of spilling his hatred on the Internet for the past 20 years, targeting scientists whose views conflicted with his Christian beliefs.

To an author who debunked religious creationist views of the world, Mabus wrote: “You are going to learn even to talk about God the way you do is going to cost you your lives…”

The picture above was snapped when Markuze appeared unannounced at a convention of atheists. His online response was, “actually it is quite a flattering photo of me: with finger cocked and pointing, I say “and I gotta take out these idiots!” bang!”

Dennis Markuze was arrested Tuesday and has been charged with two counts of making death threats. Tracking him was easy, according to experts.

“If you post a comment on a web forum, most likely whoever runs that site knows where you’re writing from and has your I.P. address,” said technology columnist Elias Makos.

Markuze returns to court Friday for a bail hearing, hough he might be sent for a full psychiatric evaluation.

(Source: montreal.ctv.ca, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Montreal Police Investigate Alleged Threats Made Against Atheists


helvetebrann:

Following a deluge of thousands of complaints from around the world, Montreal police have launched an investigation into a St. Laurent man accused of making hundreds, if not thousands of deadly threats.

The man is believed to be Dennis Markuze, but uses a variety of pseudonyms when online, including David Mabus and Hebert Marxuxe.

Complainants say that he creates accounts on Twitter or on message boards then starts insulting, harassing, and threatening atheists, scientists, and journalists with profanity-laden messages telling people that they will be executed and subjected to the judgement of God.

In October 2010 Markuze showed up at the Atheist Alliance International conference in Montreal, where he was recognized and challenged by attendees before he left.

Someone identifying themselves as Markuze then went online to the Humanist Canada website and wrote: “believe me, the only reason the photo is available is because I WANTED IT OUT THERE…. actually it is quite a flattering photo of me: With finger cocked and pointing, I say “And I gotta take out these idiots!”

Many people say they have complained to the Montreal police department in the past few years but that no investigation was ever launched.

Police have said that any investigation would be difficult because while Markuze lives in Montreal, many of his alleged victims live in other countries.

That changed this week, when more than 3,000 people signed a petition calling on police to investigate reports of death threats. Each signature resulted in an email to police.

Montreal police have posted several messages on their own Twitter account, assuring people they are investigating and asking them to stop bombarding police with messages.

Good science, how many complaints does it have to take before death threats are taken seriously???

I didn’t know there was an actual news report out about this. I signed the petition myself, and I’ve followed PZ’s complaints about this guy for a couple years now. I’m not surprised it took so long, but it’s nice to know that they’re finally taking it seriously.

~Mooglets

(Source: montreal.ctv.ca, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Fox News Facebook Page Gets Over 8,000 Death Threats After Segment on WTC Cross


helvetebrann:

Just over a week ago the group America Atheists filed a lawsuit to prevent a cross from being erected at the World Trade Center Memorial site. 

The cross in question is actually two broken girders from the original tower that were found in the rubble and roughly make the shape of the Christian cross.

Last week Blair Scott, the Communications Director for the American Atheists, appeared on Fox News show America Live to discuss the lawsuit.  It went as you might imagine.

However, it’s the online aftermath that’s getting much of the attention.  Following Scott’s appearance Fox News’ FaceBook page received more that 8,000 death threats against atheists.

The All Facebook blog reports that “the admins of Fox’s Facebook page worked furiously to delete the hateful posts” but not before some savvy viewers screen-grabbed them for posterity.

8,000 death threats.  Eight THOUSAND.

For those who wanted more evidence that it really did happen. Here you go. 

~Mooglets

(via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)

Who Built the Pyramids?


helvetebrann:

Not the slaves that were emancipated by Moses, like the Bible says.

Contrary to some popular depictions, the pyramid builders were not slaves or foreigners. Excavated skeletons show that they were Egyptians who lived in villages developed and overseen by the pharaoh’s supervisors.

The builders’ villages boasted bakers, butchers, brewers, granaries, houses, cemeteries, and probably even some sorts of health-care facilities—there is evidence of laborers surviving crushed or amputated limbs. Bakeries excavated near the Great Pyramids could have produced thousands of loaves of bread every week.

Some of the builders were permanent employees of the pharaoh. Others were conscripted for a limited time from local villages. Some may have been women: Although no depictions of women builders have been found, some female skeletons show wear that suggests they labored with heavy stone for long periods of time.

Graffiti indicates that at least some of these workers took pride in their work, calling their teams “Friends of Khufu,” “Drunkards of Menkaure,” and so on—names indicating allegiances to pharaohs.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 workers built the Pyramids at Giza over 80 years. Much of the work probably happened while the River Nile was flooded.

More lies the Bible taught you.

(Source: National Geographic, via helvetebrann-deactivated2014092)