Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Government neutrality on religion protects us all

In a comment on my last blog post, my good friend Gavin stated that he is "concerned about the rise of secularism in general" because atheist groups are "far more intolerant of religious people than religious people are intolerant of atheists." I think this is far from the case, and I want to share a few stories of people who have bravely fought to be treated neutrally by their government.

I'm giving a summary of Vashti's story from a paper I found online here, although I originally heard many of these stories on FFRF podcasts.

My first example is Vashti McCollum. She isn't atheist, but wanted freedom to teach her children her own interpretation of the Bible. Her son Jim came home with a permission slip to allow him to participate in religious instruction at the school. She refused to sign it, but after heavy pressure from his peers, Jim desperately wanted her to sign it, so she did. She soon found that the class was not teaching ethics and morals, but rather religious indoctrination including faith and miracles. She transferred her son Jim to another school, and the next school again sent home a similar permission slip, she again refused to sign it, and Jim began to be bullied by his peers who saw that he was not attending the religious instruction class. He was forced to sit alone in the music room while everyone else went to the class. She decided to sue, on the grounds that the school was violating the 1st and 14th amendments.

Her family was ostracizied from the community. She often received very angry and threatening letters and phone calls, which were most especially vehement on Sunday evenings (after church). At one point, a crowd marched on her house singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers," rang her doorbell, and when she opened the door, she was pelted by rotten fruits and vegetables. People would dump their garbage in front of their front door. Jim often came home crying, and teachers seemed angry at him for not attending the class.

It was under these circumstances that the Supreme Court found that the only way for the schools to treat all students equally would be to ban religious classes in public schools. This decision protects all religious minorities. A Mormon family in Texas found refuge in it, and sued to prevent the Southern Baptist majority in the area from pushing their religion on their children. It protects students in Utah from having Mormonism pushed on them. Ultimately, these decisions protect all religions, and defends our right to not have someone else's religion pushed on us or our children at school.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You can be good without religion

Many people have suggested that society needs religion to be good. In contrast, I think there's some decent evidence that more secular societies are better in many ways. According to The Moral Landscape, location 2557-62 on the kindle version:
And on almost every measure of societal health, the least religious countries are better off than the most religious. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands—which are the most atheistic societies on earth—consistently rate better than religious nations on measures like life expectancy, infant mortality, crime, literacy, GDP, child welfare, economic equality, economic competitiveness, gender equality, health care, investments in education, rates of university enrollment, internet access, environmental protection, lack of corruption, political stability, and charity to poorer nations, etc.
He cites  "Society without God" by Phil Zuckerman.

Now I'm not saying that atheism is for everyone; I think many people are actually better off religious, whether you're better off religious depends a lot on your personal circumstances and background. But I do see this as good evidence that as America becomes more secular, it's not going to fall apart. It's entirely possible to have a good, non-religious society, and to be a good non-religious member of society. Many deists, atheists, and non-religious individuals have made very substantial contributions to society. I'll list a few of my favorites:

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Albert Einstein (seriously, I promise he didn't believe in a religious God)
  • Charles Darwin
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Bill Nye
  • A couple of my heroes, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett
  • George Soros
So there's no lack of awesome non-religious role models out there, including many of the founders of this country, our most prominent scientists, and the most generous philanthropists in the world. I hope that as America becomes more tolerant and diverse, that non-religious individuals and atheists like myself will be as accepted and trusted as religious individuals.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Human sexual evolution

If I've never written something that made you feel awkward, this probably will. Read at your own risk.

Our biology reveals fascinating evidence of our
evolutionary history, and answers some interesting questions. Why are our penises so big? Why is the vagina so acidic? Why do we have sex so often per childbirth? Why so much pumping action, and why do females have a tendency to vocalize during sex? Why do we have large external testees hanging off our bodies? Any man can vouch to the inconvenience of his balls: they're terribly sensitive and present an easy target in a fight. It doesn't have to be that way. Gorillas have tiny 1-inch penises and balls safely inside their bodies. The answer to these questions is that sperm competition has played a prominent role in our sexual evolution.

The reason we have large penises is that a vacuum is created by the tight seal between the vagina and the penis. By pumping, the male can suck out any semen that may have been left by a previous male. His large external testees create enough sperm to allow him to attempt to fertilize many women each day. The female's vagina has barriers to entry, such as its acidity, so that only the healthiest sperm could fertilize her egg. Her tendency to vocalize during sex may be an invitation for other males to have sex with her as well.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be monogamous, but I am saying that for the last several hundred thousand years, our species has not usually been monogamous. Some of these explanations may turn out to be wrong, but I think it's clear that evolution offers very plausible explanations of our biological characteristics, whereas the hypothesis that we are a special creation of a loving deity who wishes us to be monogamous does not offer plausible explanations of those characteristics. I think this evidence indicates that we are a product of evolution.