But Is a Jedi "Bright"?

 

The Future Looks Bright

When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said,
Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?

- Quentin Crisp
 

These men are all Bright...

by Richard Dawkins

I once read a science-fiction story in which astronauts voyaging to a distant star were waxing homesick: "Just to think that it's springtime back on Earth!"  You may not immediately see what's wrong with that, so ingrained is our unconscious northern hemisphere chauvinism.  "Unconscious" is exactly right.  That is where consciousness-raising comes in.

I suspect it is for a deeper reason than gimmicky fun that, in Australia and New Zealand, you can buy maps of the world with the south pole on top.  Now, wouldn't that be an excellent thing to pin to our classroom walls?  What a splendid consciousness-raiser.  Day after day, the children would be reminded that north has no monopoly on up.  The map would intrigue them as well as raise their consciousness.  They'd go home and tell their parents.

The feminists taught us about consciousness-raising.  I used to laugh at "him or her", and at "chairperson", and I still try to avoid them on aesthetic grounds.  But I recognise the power and importance of consciousness-raising.  I now flinch at "one man one vote".  My consciousness has been raised.  Probably yours has too, and it matters.

I used to deplore what I regarded as the tokenism of my American atheist friends.  They were obsessed with removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (it was inserted as late as 1954), whereas I cared more about the chauvinistic nastiness of pledging allegiance to a flag in the first place.  They would cross out "In God we Trust" on every dollar bill that passed through their hands (again, it was inserted only in 1956), whereas I worried more about the tax-free dollars amassed by bouffant-haired televangelists, fleecing gullible old ladies of their life savings.  My friends would risk neighbourhood ostracism to protest at the unconstitutionality of Ten Commandments posters on classroom walls.  "But it's only words," I would expostulate.  "Why get so worked up about mere words, when there's so much else to object to?"  Now I'm having second thoughts.  Words are not trivial.  They matter because they raise consciousness.

My favourite consciousness-raising effort is one I have mentioned many times before (and I make no apology, for consciousness-raising is all about repetition).  A phrase like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should clang furious bells of protest in the mind, just as we flinch when we hear "one man one vote".  Children are too young to know their religious opinions.  Just as you can't vote until you are 18, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society's impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit your parents'.  We'd be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child.  So isn't it a kind of child abuse to speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child?  Especially in Northern Ireland and Glasgow where such labels, handed down over generations, have divided neighbourhoods for centuries and can even amount to a death warrant?

Catholic child?  Flinch.  Protestant child?  Squirm.  Muslim child?  Shudder.  Everybody's consciousness should be raised to this level.  Occasionally a euphemism is needed, and I suggest "Child of Jewish (et cetera) parents".  When you come down to it, that's all we are really talking about anyway.  Just as the upside-down (northern hemisphere chauvinism again: flinch!) map from New Zealand raises consciousness about a geographical truth, children should hear themselves described not as "Christian children" but as "children of Christian parents".  This in itself would raise their consciousness, empower them to make up their own minds and choose which religion, if any, they favour, rather than just assume that religion means "same beliefs as parents".  I could well imagine that this linguistically coded freedom to choose might lead children to choose no religion at all.

Please go out and work at raising people's consciousness over the words they use to describe children.  At a dinner party, say, if ever you hear a person speak of a school for Islamic children, or Catholic children (you can read such phrases daily in newspapers), pounce: "How dare you?  You would never speak of a Tory child or a New Labour child, so how could you describe a child as Catholic (Islamic, Protestant, et cetera)?"  With luck, everybody at the dinner party, next time they hear one of those offensive phrases, will flinch, or at least notice and the meme will spread.

A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word "gay".  I used to mourn the loss of gay in (what I still think of as) its true sense.  But on the bright side (wait for it) gay has inspired a new imitator, which is the climax of this article.  Gay is succinct, uplifting, positive: an "up" word, where homosexual is a down word, and queer, faggot and pooftah are insults.  Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay".  You can say "I am an atheist" but at best it sounds stuffy (like "I am a homosexual") and at worst it inflames prejudice (like "I am a homosexual").

Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new "gay".  Like gay, it should be a noun hijacked from an adjective, with its original meaning changed but not too much.  Like gay, it should be catchy: a potentially prolific meme.  Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.

Bright?  Yes, bright.  Bright is the word, the new noun.  I am a bright.  You are a bright.  She is a bright.  We are the brights.  Isn't it about time you came out as a bright?  Is he a bright?  I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.  Brights constitute 60% of American scientists, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to Fellows of the Royal Society) are brights.  Look on the bright side: though at present they can't admit it and get elected, the US Congress must be full of closet brights.  As with gays, the more brights come out, the easier it will be for yet more brights to do so.  People reluctant to use the word atheist might be happy to come out as a bright.

Geisert and Futrell are very insistent that their word is a noun and must not be an adjective.  "I am bright" sounds arrogant.  "I am a bright" sounds too unfamiliar to be arrogant: it is puzzling, enigmatic, tantalising.  It invites the question, "What on earth is a bright?"  And then you're away: "A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements.  The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

"You mean a bright is an atheist?"

"Well, some brights are happy to call themselves atheists.  Some brights call themselves agnostics.  Some call themselves humanists, some free thinkers.  But all brights have a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."

"Oh, I get it.  It's a bit like 'gay'.  So, what's the opposite of a bright?  What would you call a religious person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Of course, even though we brights will scrupulously insist that our word is a noun, if it catches on it is likely to follow gay and eventually re-emerge as a new adjective.  And when that happens, who knows, we may finally get a bright president.

You can sign on as a bright at the-brights.net.

Richard Dawkins FRS is Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University.  His latest book is A Devil's Chaplain.

Source: books.guardian.co.uk The Guardian Saturday 21 June 2003

My God Problem

by Natalie Angier

[Excerpt]

Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University's "Ask an Astronomer" Web site.  To the query, "Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?" the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, "modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God ... places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions."  He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of "God intervening every time a measurement occurs" before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief doesn't - and shouldn't - "have anything to do with scientific reasoning."

How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology.  "No, astronomers do not believe in astrology," snarls Dave Kornreich.  "It is considered to be a ludicrous scam.  There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary."  Dr Kornreich ends his dismissal with the assertion that in science "one does not need a reason not to believe in something."  Skepticism is "the default position" and "one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something's existence."

In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry.  You, the religious believer, may well find subtle support for your faith in recent discoveries - that is, if you're willing to upgrade your metaphors and definitions as the latest data demand, seek out new niches of ignorance or ambiguity to fill with the goose down of faith, and accept that, certain passages of the Old Testament notwithstanding, the world is very old, not everything in nature was made in a week, and (can you turn up the mike here, please?) Evolution Happens.

...

Why is it that most scientists avoid criticising religion even as they decry the supernatural mind-set?  For starters, some researchers are themselves traditionally devout, keeping a kosher kitchen or taking Communion each Sunday.  I admit I'm surprised whenever I encounter a religious scientist.  How can a bench-hazed Phd, who might in an afternoon deftly pur√©e a colleague's PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read in a 2,000-year-old chronicle, riddled with internal contradictions, of a meta-Nobel discovery like "Resurrection from the Dead," and say, gee, that sounds convincing?  Doesn't the good doctor wonder what the control group looked like?

Scientists, however, are a far less religious lot than the American population, and, the higher you go on the cerebro-magisterium, the greater the proportion of atheists, agnostics, and assorted other paganites.  According to a 1998 survey published in Nature, only 7% of members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences professed a belief in a "personal God."  (Interestingly, a slightly higher number, 7.9%, claimed to believe in "personal immortality," which may say as much about the robustness of the scientific ego as about anything else.)  In other words, more than 90% of our elite scientists are unlikely to pray for divine favoritism, no matter how badly they want to beat a competitor to publication.

...

Scientists have ample cause to feel they must avoid being viewed as irreligious, a prionic life-form bent on destroying the most sacred heifer in America.  After all, academic researchers graze on taxpayer pastures.  If they pay the slightest attention to the news, they've surely noticed the escalating readiness of conservative politicians and an array of highly motivated religious organisations to interfere with the nation's scientific enterprise - altering the consumer information website at the National Cancer Institute to make abortion look like a cause of breast cancer, which it is not, or stuffing scientific advisory panels with anti-abortion "faith healers."

...

I may be an atheist, and I may be impressed that, through the stepwise rigor of science, its Spockian eyebrow of doubt always cocked, we have learned so much about the universe.  Yet I recognise that, from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.  Why is there so much dark matter and dark energy in the great Out There, and why couldn't cosmologists have given them different enough names so I could keep them straight?  Why is there something rather than nothing, and why is so much of it on my desk?  Not to mention the abiding mysteries of e-mail, like why I get exponentially more spam every day, nine-tenths of it invitations to enlarge an appendage I don't have.

I recognise that science doesn't have all the answers and doesn't pretend to, and that's one of the things I love about it.  But it has a pretty good notion of what's probable or possible, and virgin births and carpenter rebirths just aren't on the list.  Is there a divine intelligence, separate from the universe but somehow in charge of the universe, either in its inception or in twiddling its parameters?  No evidence.  Is the universe itself God?  Is the universe aware of itself?  We're here.  We're aware.  Does that make us God?

...

Source: evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com from Free Inquiry magazine Volume 24 Number 5 reprinted from The American Scholar 72 No 2 Spring 2004 (c)Natalie Angier

Atheism

Atheism is traditionally defined as disbelief in the existence of God.  As such, atheism involves active rejection of belief in the existence of God.  However, since there are many concepts of God and these concepts are usually rooted in some culture or tradition, atheism might be defined as the belief that a particular word used to refer to a particular god is a word that has no reference.  Thus, there are as many different kinds of atheism as there are names of gods.

Some atheists may know of many gods and reject belief in the existence of all of them.  Such a person might be called a polyatheist.  But most people who consider themselves atheists probably mean that they do not believe in the existence of the local god.  For example, most people who call themselves atheists in a culture where the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (JCIG) dominates would mean, at the very least, that they deny that there is an Omnipotent and Omniscient Providential Personal Creator of the universe.  On the other hand, people who believe in the JCIG would consider such denial tantamount to atheism.  Baruch de Spinoza (1632 - 1677), for example, defined God as being identical to Nature and as a substance with infinite attributes.  Many Jews and Christians considered him an atheist because he rejected both the traditional JCIG and the belief in personal immortality.  Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) was also considered an atheist because he believed that all substances are material and that God must therefore be material, not spiritual.  Yet, neither Spinoza nor Hobbes called themselves atheists.

Epicurus did not call himself an atheist, either, but he rejected the concept of the gods popular in ancient Greece.  The gods are perfect, he said.  Therefore, they cannot be the imperfect beings depicted by Hesiod, Homer, and others.  Their gods have human flaws, including jealousy.  Perfect beings would not be troubled by anything, including the behavior of humans.  Hence, the notion that the gods will reward or punish us is absurd.  To be perfect is to be unperturbed.  The concept of perfection, therefore, requires that the gods be indifferent to human behaviour.  Some have rejected belief in the Christian God for similar reasons.  The idea of a perfect being creating the universe is self-contradictory.  How can perfection be improved upon?  To create is to indicate a lack, an imperfection.  If that objection can be answered, another arises: if God is All-Good and All-Powerful, evil should not exist.  Therefore, either God is All-Good but allows evil because God is not All-Powerful, or God is All-Powerful but allows evil because God is not All-Good.  Such an argument clearly does not deny the existence of all gods.

Others have rejected the Christian God because they believe that the concept of worship, essential to most Christians, contradicts the concept of omnipotence (Rachels 1989).  Still others reject a belief in the JCIG because they consider the scriptures used to support that belief to be unbelievable.  Some theologians have tried to prove through reason alone that this God exists.  Rejection of such proofs, however, is not atheism.

Some Christians consider Buddhists to be atheists, apparently for the same reason they consider Spinoza or Plato to be atheists: anyone who rejects the Omnipotent and All-Good Providential Personal Creator rejects God.  Yet, rejecting the JCIG is not to reject all gods.  Nor is rejecting the JCIG the same as rejecting belief in an ultimate ground or principle of being and goodness, a being that explains both why there is something rather than nothing and why everything is as it is.  Nor is rejection of the JCIG the same as rejecting belief in a realm of beings such as devas or spirits that are not limited by mortality and other human or animal frailties.

Finally, atheists do not deny that people have "mystical" or "religious" experiences, where one feels God’s presence or a sense of the oneness and significance of everything in the universe.  Nor do atheists deny that many people experience God’s presence in their everyday lives.  Atheists deny that the brain states that result in such feelings and experiences have supernatural causes.

How widespread is atheism?  A worldwide survey in 2000 by the Gallup polling agency found that 8% do not think there is in any spirit, personal God, or life force.  Another 17% are not sure.  However, more than half the world’s population, and more than 90% of the world’s scientists, do not believe in a personal God, and hence would be considered atheists by many Christians.

Source: skepdic.com

Atheists Identified as America’s Most Distrusted Minority, According to New University of Minnesota Study

Minneapolis - St Paul - American’s increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn’t extend to those who don’t believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology.  From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.”  Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organised and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public.  “Atheists, who account for about 3% of the US population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.  Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past — they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society.  “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy — and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell.  Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behaviour to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.  Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings.  “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens — they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said.  “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”

The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.  The study is co-authored by assistant professor Joseph Gerteis and associate professor Doug Hartmann.  It’s the first in a series of national studies conducted the American Mosaic Project, a 3-year project funded by the Minneapolis-based David Edelstein Family Foundation that looks at race, religion and cultural diversity in the contemporary United States.  The study will appear in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

Source: ur.umn.edu 20 March 2006

How To Be A Spiritual Atheist

by Steve Gillman

A spiritual atheist?  Perhaps it's a strange concept if you only think spirituality has to mean a belief in a god.  Do the two have to be related?  Many people think of the historical Buddha as a spiritual person, but most don't know that he never expressed a belief in a god.  He even discouraged his followers from such "speculation," preferring that they work on their salvation in this world.

Imagine a computer that has begun to get so complex and powerful that it starts to ask questions "outside the box."  It starts to become conscious.  The first thing it would realise is that for all its computing capacity, it is still very limited.  The humans who use it, most of whom can't begin to understand it's complicated algorithms, still are more powerful.  They see the world more clearly.  The computer could recite a million facts, perhaps, and yet not know what to use them for.  It could describe human psychology, and yet not understand a smile.  It wouldn't even know why it existed, or what it was being used for.  If it came to understand these limitations, and to actually wonder about the world outside its circuits, and to desire to see more, and to grow - that would be computer spirituality.

An atheist simply doesn't believe in a god.  There isn't sufficient evidence, so there is no belief.  Contrary to what many think, there is no need for an atheist to disprove that a god exists, anymore than a Christian needs to disprove that the world is ruled by intelligent termites.  The burden of proof is always with the person making a positive assertion.  An atheist can recognise the mystery of life, and marvel at how everything learned deepens that mystery, pushing "final" causes further into the distance.  An atheist can recognise his or her own limitations, and seek to grow, perhaps even by developing contact with "higher powers."  This is an atheist spirituality.  How is it different from "regular" spirituality?

The difference is that an atheist feels no need to pretend to understand the mysteries - no need to create gods and religions to explain them.  Contacting "higher powers" can simply be tuning into subconscious resources through meditation or other means.  Are these "higher powers" nothing more than electrical patterns in our brains?  We don't know, and we don't have to know to tap into them.  Is it that atheists don't want to know?  It is the opposite.  "Understanding" by forcing religious explanations on things short circuits any search for the truth.  How can you understand and integrate new evidence when you are no longer questioning?  Better to simply use spiritual tools like "intuition" and let them be understood - or not - with time and real evidence.

Look to the past, and we see how narrow-minded people were, and how little they understood compared to us.  We will appear that way to people in the future, as they will to people further into the future.  We are growing in our knowledge and power, but like that spiritual computer, our circuits are in a box that we need to grow out of.  Seeking the way beyond that box is what makes one a spiritual atheist.

Steve Gillman has been exploring new ideas for decades.  Visit his site for invention ideas, business ideas, story ideas, political and economic theories, deep thoughts, and more.  Get a free gift too: 999ideas.comThis article represents the views and opinions of the author and not of www.dailyindia.com.

Source: dailyindia.com/show/5358.php 7 March 2006

Ignosticism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ignosticism is the view that the question of the existence of God is meaningless because it has no verifiable (or testable) consequences and should therefore be ignored.  The term was coined by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.  Ignosticism is often considered synonymous with theological noncognitivism.

In the entry under "God" in the Guide to Humanistic Judaism, published by the Society for Humanistic Judaism, ignosticism is defined as "finding the question of God's existence meaningless because it has no verifiable consequences."  This use of the term verifiable is consistent with the usage of logical positivism and indicates that the word "God" is meaningless because theism is incoherent.  This doesn't have to imply, however, that the idea of God is emotionally or √¶sthetically meaningless.  It is sufficient to say that the idea of God as a being makes no sense.  For most purposes, this view may be considered a form of agnosticism (sometimes referred to as "apathetic agnosticism"), and falls under the general category of nontheism.  But it is a particular form.  From this approach, the "I don't know" of agnosticism ceases to mean "I don't know if God exists or not" and becomes "I don't know what you're talking about when you talk about God."  This underlies the form of the word: ignosticism, indicating an ignorance of what is meant by a claim of God's existence.  Until this ignorance is cleared up, the ignostic is justified in ignoring putative arguments for or against.

So, when the word "God" is spoken, the ignostic may seek to determine if something like a child's definition of a god is meant or if a theologian's is intended.  A child's concept generally has a simple and coherent meaning: a big powerful man in the sky responsible for the weather and other such matters.  The ignostic is probably atheistic toward this notion, regarding the balance of evidence to deem against it.  In taking this view the ignostic is in agreement not only with all atheists but, ironically, with any serious modern theist.  A theologian's concept is more complex and abstract, often involving such concepts as first cause, sustainer, and unmoved mover and claiming such attributes for God as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.  To the ignostic these abstractions, taken singly or in combination, cannot be said to be false; rather, they are muddled, self-contradictory, linguistically empty, or perhaps poetic.  Hence, one cannot meaningfully expound on the existence or nonexistence of God.

The consistent ignostic, therefore, awaits a coherent definition of God (or of any other metaphysical concept to be discussed) before engaging in arguments for or against.

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

Census Returns of the Jedi

No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots.  This is one nation under God.

- George Bush
 

Sir Alec Guinness

Jedi is the faith espoused in the Star Wars films.  The Force is evidently still strong with the Star Wars legacy - Jedi is the chosen "religion" for thousands of people in Britain.  The 2001 census reveals that 390,000 people across England and Wales are devoted followers of the Jedi "faith" made famous by the blockbuster films.  Census officials bowed to pressure after a massive internet campaign to include Jedi on the list of chosen religions.

In the great fictional battle against the evil of the Empire, Jedis are depicted as holy warriors, who use the powerful strength of "The Force" to overcome the baddies.  Prior to the census in April 2001, an e-mail was circulated stating that if 10,000 people put Jedi on the census form, it would become a "fully recognised and legal religion.  Do it because you love Star Wars... or just to annoy people," the message declared to supporters.

And although the sci-fi sect was not officially listed as a religion, collators did include a special code to register the Jedis.  Out of 52m respondents, 390,000 kept true to the Star Wars cause.  The figures suggest there are large pockets of support for Luke Skywalker and the gang.  The Jedi response was most popular in Brighton and Hove, with 2.6% of census respondents quoting it.  Student support may have helped boost figures in Oxford (2%) and Cambridge (1.9%) with more followers coming forward from Wandsworth (1.9%), Southampton (1.8%) and Lambeth (1.8%).  The "religion" was least popular in Easington, on the north-east coast of England between Sunderland and Hartlepool, where it was quoted by only 0.16% of respondents.  And in Sedgefield - Prime Minister Tony Blair's constituency - Knowsley, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Wear Valley all showed less than 0.2% of respondents pledging support for the Jedi "faith".  Unconfirmed reports suggests this may due to Jedi Knights falling victim to their "dark side".

Director of reporting and analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), John Pullinger said support for Jedi had unexpected plus points for the census.  He said: "Census agencies worldwide report difficulties encouraging those in their late teens and 20s to complete their forms.  We suspect that the Jedi response was most common in precisely this age group.  The campaign may well have encouraged people to complete their forms and help us get the best possible overall response."

It remains to be seen whether the census results will give rise to planning applications for Jedi bases or open air gatherings being held.  And sales of light sabres could well give a boost the UK economy.  But the big question remains: Could this mean an invite for Yoda, the Jedi Master, to give BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day?

Source: news.bbc.co.uk Thursday 13 February 2003

Britons Unconvinced on Evolution

Just under half of Britons accept the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life, according to an opinion poll.  Furthermore, more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design (ID) should be taught in school science lessons.  The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI for the BBC's Horizon series.  Its latest programme, A War on Science, looks into the attempt to introduce ID into science classes in the US.  Over 2,000 participants took part in the survey, and were asked what best described their view of the origin and development of life:

bullet22% chose creationism
bullet17% opted for intelligent design
bullet48% selected evolution theory
bulletand the rest did not know.

Intelligent design is the concept that certain features of living things are so complex that their existence is better explained by an "intelligent process" than natural selection.  Andrew Cohen, editor of Horizon, commented: "I think that this poll represents our first introduction to the British public's views on this issue.  Most people would have expected the public to go for evolution theory, but it seems there are lots of people who appear to believe in an alternative theory for life's origins."

When given a choice of three descriptions for the development of life on earth, people were asked which one or ones they would like to see taught in science lessons in British schools:

bullet44% said creationism should be included
bullet41% intelligent design
bullet69% wanted evolution as part of the science curriculum.

Participants over 55 were less likely to choose evolution over other groups.  "This really says something about the role of science education in this country and begs us to question how we are teaching evolutionary theory," Andrew Cohen added.

The findings prompted surprise from the scientific community.  Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, said: "It is surprising that many should still be sceptical of Darwinian evolution.  Darwin proposed his theory nearly 150 years ago, and it is now supported by an immense weight of evidence.  We are, however, fortunate compared to the US in that no major segment of UK religious or cultural life opposes the inclusion of evolution in the school science curriculum."

In the US, a recent high profile court case ruled that the intelligent design movement is motivated by a desire to introduce God into the classroom.  This came after parents in Pennsylvania took a school board to court for demanding that biology classes should not teach evolution as fact.

Source: news.bbc.co.uk Thursday 26 January 2006

Most Important Invention of the Past 2000 Years?

by Jay Ogilvy

Okay, I'll weigh in with the invention of secularism — getting out from under the thumbs of the gods.

From all we can tell from historians and anthropologists, every ancient society worshipped some god or other.  Superstition ran rampant.  Human beings denied their own freedom and autonomy by praising or blaming the gods for their fates.  Not until some bold minds like Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud did it become thinkable, much less fashionable, to preach atheism.  These were inventors of a new order, one that allowed human beings to make up our game as we go along, unfettered by superstitions about the will of the gods or fear of their punishment.

For my part I am appalled at how slowly this invention has been accepted.  Over 60% of Americans still agree (somewhat, mostly, or strongly) that, "The world was literally created in six days, as the Bible says," (confirmed on three successive national probability sample surveys by the Values and Lifestyles Program at SRI International where I was director of research during the 1980s).  Islam claims over a billion devotees.  And I find it remarkable the number of highly educated, intelligent adults who still embrace a childlike, wish-fulfilling belief in God.

Without kneeling down to positivism, or overestimating what is knowable, or underestimating the mysteries that remain lurking in the individual and social unconscious, let us nevertheless celebrate our liberation from superstition, remain humble before forces that transcend our individual egos, but accept the collective responsibilities of human freedom, and sing, as my GBN partner, Stewart Brand, did in the epigram for the Whole Earth Catalog: "We are as gods so we might as well get good at it."

Jay Ogilvy is a cofounder and Vice-President of Global Business Network, responsible for training; headed "Values and Lifestyles" research at SRI International; former professor of philosophy at Yale and Williams College; author of Living Without a Goal and Many Dimensional Man.

Source: edge.org

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