December 2007

Show Me the Science

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group

by Craig Wilkinson

In 2005 Daniel Dennett responded to a statement by President Bush about intelligent design with an article in the New York Times. President Bush announced in August 2005 that he was in favor of teaching about “intelligent design” in the public schools.” I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. This was followed a week later by Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee who made the same point. “Teaching both intelligent design and evolution doesn’t force any particular theory on anyone.” He said, “I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future.”

In his article Mr. Dennett asks the question, “Is intelligent design a legitimate school of scientific thought?” Throughout the rest of his article he proceeds to show that it is not a legitimate scientific theory but only a ploy to get religion taught in our public schools.

He starts off by explaining why a determined band of naysayers would like to shake America’s confidence in evolution. He explains, “the fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God’s traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the scientists and biologists. Nobody is immune to wishful thinking.”

He states, “…No intelligent design hypothesis has ever been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon, including evolution. It has no content. When intelligent design proponents argue that Darwin’s evolution by natural selection hasn’t explained everything yet, this is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology hasn’t explained everything yet but intelligent design hasn’t tried to explain anything. To formulate a competing hypothesis, the intelligent design folks would have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be or how he might have accomplished his goal of creating all life on earth.”

The Discovery Institute, the conservative organization that has helped to put intelligent design on the map, complains that its members face hostility from the established scientific journals. But establishment hostility is not the real hurdle to intelligent design. If intelligent design were a scientific idea whose time had come, young scientists would be dashing around their labs, trying to win the Nobel Prizes that surely are in store for anybody who can overturn any significant proposition of contemporary evolutionary biology. Remember cold fusion? The establishment was incredibly hostile to that hypothesis, but scientists around the world rushed to their labs in the effort to explore the idea, in hopes of sharing in the glory if it turned out to be true. Mr. Dennett concludes by quoting George Gilder, a long time affiliate of the Discovery Institute, who has said, “Intelligent design itself does not have any content.” Mr. Dennett then concludes, “Since there is no content, there is no ‘controversy’ to teach about in biology class.”

It is the opinion of the author that we should make all efforts to keep our public schools from including intelligent design in our science curriculum. We would not let the competing theory of astrology be taught in our astronomy classes. We would not let the competing theory that “evils humors” can cause illness to replace the germ theory of disease in medical school. We would not allow the Ptolemy theory of an earth centered universe to share equal time with the Copernican theory of a sun centered universe.

Using the same reasoning, “intelligent design” should not be given the respect of being taught as a competing theory with Darwin’s natural selection in explaining the evolution of life on earth.

Political Courage

During the last Democratic debate, the host asked all candidates to comment on their Christian faith. At the recent Republican debate, a similar question was asked concerning their Biblical beliefs. Both the Democrat and the Republican candidates scrambled at the chance to show who was the most believing Christian.

How would you have reacted had at least one candidate shown the courage, and felt the moral obligation, to take that most opportune chance to express Constitutional values as follows?

Mr. Host, I find the question constitutionally inappropriate for a presidential debate. But it was asked and I will respond. Everyone who knows me privately knows who I am and what I believe. Those in the American audience who do not, need only know this one thing: As president I will consider all peoples regardless of faith, or no faith for that matter, as equals. I consider this attitude an absolute requirement for any public servant. Furthermore, I say to the world, and especially to the Muslim world, during this perilous time, America embraces your faith as it embraces our majority Christian faith. This idea is a very important concept, and I want to make it perfectly clear. Our Founding Fathers did not create a Christian nation; they created a political system where all peoples have the right to live and practice their beliefs in anyway they want while pursuing their right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course there is an important constitutional restriction. No one has the right to violate another person’s similar guarantees, especially the sacred right to life and property.

Bin Ladin violated those American concepts to the core! Of course, America and the world will remain dedicated to bringing anyone inflicting those unacceptable kinds of religious terrorist acts to justice. As President I will emphatically invite the Muslim world to join with us, confident that with these kinds of new sincere American attitudes, they will. The so called war on terrorism should never have been a war of violence or “Crusades,” as President Bush believed and conducted; but rather, an American invitation to the Middle East to a sharing of human values and a joining together of all good peoples everywhere in the victory over extremist fundamentalist behavior be it Muslim or Christian. A safe home, food on the table, health care, children educated, etc., all of these are universal human goals. A continuance of this insane war with all its associated costs, human and otherwise, and wasted world resources makes those human goals ever more difficult to achieve.

If Americans are ever going to solve the Muslim terrorist problem they need to put their own house in order first. Today’s American house and the Middle East house are very similar. At this very moment, the Middle East house is in conflict regarding who is the best Muslim, the Sunni or the Shi’a, while the American house is having presidential arguments being broadcast to the rest of the world as to who is the best Christian. Certainly one difference is in the degree to which the conflicts are conducted. But I don’t like the direction America is going, and the people of the Middle East can see the contradiction.

The American message should not be just about Democracy, which I have been hearing about forever, but rather about our great Constitution and its Bill of Rights and our Secular (not a dirty word) or neutral government that respects all beliefs and who’s duty is to act as moderator of religion (and never a participator) in cases where those beliefs become abusive, or out of hand, from time to time.

And so, I believe, with good people taking to the streets and showing their repugnance at every violent religiously motivated act, even if it comes from within their own culture, terrorism will cease because it will be seen as being counter productive.

As your President I promise these kinds of human-to-human communications, including many taken directly to the common Middle East peoples, will be a large part of the peace initiatives of my administration.

–Grant Simons

Humanist Parenting

I recently participated in a round table presentation to a group of Jordan District school teachers regarding religious tolerance. Members of the panel included leaders of the LDS, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, and myself speaking for Humanist Unitarians. Each panelist was given ten-minutes to present the basic liturgy of their organization and how we would like our belief system to be presented to students in the school classroom.

It was impressive to hear the panelists summarize their doctrines and then express the hope that school students would have a better understanding of their own religion and a more tolerant attitude of their fellow students practicing a different religion.

The teachers in the audience asked a variety of serious questions of the panel participants and said they appreciated hearing the variety of religious expressions that differed from their own. They said they now felt better prepared to talk positively and tolerantly about religions to their students.

As the session drew to a close I thought about the responsibility we humanist parents have to set an example of religious tolerance in our own homes. If we want our children to be understood and accepted by their peers, then we owe it to them to present the idea of religion respectfully in our homes. Hopefully we can discuss the positive moral values of humanism to our children without disparaging other religious systems. Let us impress upon our kids that being “different” does not mean being “better or inferior.” Let us emphasize to them that humanism hopes to attain the goals of the enlightenment, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” for everyone.

–Flo Wineriter

Atheist Iraq War Vet Still in a Foxhole

In today’s politically correct society, it’s just fine to be different. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one should be looked at differently for their personal views. The freedom to personal expression is one of America’s most unalienable rights.

As a Marine, I was on call twenty-four hours a day seven days a week for four years to protect those rights. In 2003, I was called upon to serve in Iraq and continue to protect the rights and freedoms of America’s citizens.

Now that I have left military service, I have been called an atheist in a foxhole.

I was taught in Marines that we don’t reside in foxholes. Foxes hide from confrontation, and Marines fight for what they believe in. Now I should be able to stand up for what I believe in no matter what the consequences, but then why do I feel that I must keep my opinions and beliefs to myself.

Everywhere I go I’m inundated with references to God, religion, and all other aspects of theology, yet I feel that I must go through my day hiding my true self for fear of what kind of looks or comments will be made. So, now why do I have to hide my true self in a supposed secular society. This country is based on the idea of freedom of religion. Yet, what if I don’t have a religion, if I’m a humanist, a free thinker, a secularist, a Darwinist, or what ever name I choose to refer to myself and my beliefs?

Living in America is about freedom and the right to choose to believe in what I or anyone wants. So, why do I feel that I have to stay in the proverbial foxhole? I can’t move my ideas mainstream for fear of being ostracized.

I look forward to when all people of all faiths or beliefs can live in harmony. Why is America, a supposed secular nation still so bent on being tied to religion? I know that I’m not alone and the atheist in a foxhole organization is beneficial to all service members, but really why should we need a special organization to provide support for our ideals? In a supposed secular society, all service members should be free to think what they wish.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be religion in the military, since everyone has their own personal beliefs. In fact, chaplains provide an invaluable service to military members, because they provide a person that all soldiers, airmen, Marines, or sailors can talk to without fear of reprisal. Why does a man like this need to be tied to religion?

I do, however, disagree with organized prayer in the military formations or other ceremonies. I should never have to bow my head to anything I don’t believe. I know that I may sound proud and that some may think that it doesn’t make a difference–I should just go with the flow. However, if an individual in the military has different religious beliefs than another individual the military offers separate services for each of them. In fact all religions have their own services, yet, I’m expected to bow my head to something I don’t believe in.

This double standard in today’s society is why I still feel that I must keep my personal views to myself. One day I hope to be able to express beliefs, the same way a religious person can. Until that day I remain an atheist in a foxhole, waiting to move to my fighting position.

–Daniel Kuhns

Daniel Kuhns is a senior at the University at Albany, majoring in sociology. As a U.S. Marine 1st Marine Division, 5th Marines in 2003, he was in the second vehicle to enter Iraq and the second vehicle to enter Baghdad as part of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

President’s Message

The “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah” event planning is proceeding well. We now have venue space reserved at the University of Utah Student Union Building for the program we have planned. Dr. Craig Wilkinson has arranged for two distinguished speakers. The early afternoon speaker will be Kristen Hawkes, Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah Anthropology Department, recipient of the Rosenblatt Prize and member of the National Academy of Sciences. Our evening speaker will be Scott D. Sampson, Professor of Geology and Geophysics and Chief Curator and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Also, we will be showing a video about the life of Charles Darwin at the little theater in the union building. There will be tables with literature about the Humanists of Utah, The American Humanist Association, and Darwin. We will also have some items for sale from the Evolve Fish organization. In addition, Utah Friends of Paleontology will also have a display table, and we hope perhaps one other table from a University of Utah science department.

I am looking forward to “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” I think this event is a good way for us to become more visible to the public as humanists while championing causes we are in agreement with. Science, especially evolutionary science, has been under increasing attack from creationists. This is a good opportunity to display facts about evolution and science to the public. While debates are a useful way to give both sides of an issue a fair hearing, it is also nice to present our side of the issues without the need to argue with creationists or have them present their views. This will be a celebration of Darwin, his contribution to science, and a celebration of science in general. I hope that you will all join us on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 for our first annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.”

On another note, don’t forget to join us on Thursday December 13, for our December Social. Board members will be bringing the food for this potluck-type dinner. We will also have an open microphone for anyone who wishes to have a say about, well, just about anything.

Also, I want to remind the membership that we still have a seat on the Board of Directors that needs to be filled. And, we are still looking for a few volunteers for monthly chores and to help out on Darwin Day.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers

Member Recommended Websites

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers has website that is an excellent resources for members of the uniformed armed services.