Response to ‘Freethinker’ Propaganda Part 4

Dan Barker states that “Freethinkers recognize that there is much chaos, ugliness and pain in the universe for which any explanation of origins must also account.”  Why does Dan believe that the perceived negatives he lists would not exist if God had created the universe? Does he expect God to provide us with flowers and perpetual orderliness whilst we enjoy our perfect physiques and march together in grinning lockstep? Does he believe that our Creator to give day with no night or otherwise self-contradict?  Does Dan Barker expect God to make a single-sided coin or a round square? The creator of the universe, and the laws that govern all matter and energy, will not create a system that ignores those laws, even to give us a world free of death, pain and other ‘negative’ things. In this universe all physical things begin and also end.  God WILL NOT go against his nature by violating logic or His own Nature.

Dan then goes on to add; “Freethinkers are convinced that religious claims have not withstood the tests of reason. Not only is there nothing to be gained by believing an untruth, but there is everything to lose when we sacrifice the indispensable tool of reason on the altar of superstition. Most freethinkers consider religion to be not only untrue, but harmful. It has been used to justify war, slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance, and oppression of minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes chokes progress.”

Dan apparently does not miss a single trope in the atheist playbook. He brings out the old stereotype that science and religion are at odds with each other. This conflict exists only in the minds of those who want to tar theists as ‘anti-science’ or ‘oppressive’.  In the June 14, 2009 issue of The Guardian (hardly a bastion of religiosity) James Hannam’s story entitled, ‘Science and Religion: A History of Conflict?’ makes the case that “…some atheists, like Jerry Coyne, have been insisting that there is really a battle between religion and science.” Coyne resists any accommodation between religious and non-religious scientists to defend Darwinism from attacks by fundamentalist Creationist advocates. Hannam suggests that, He (Coyn) doesn’t want to see the scientists joining forces against the creationist common enemy in case that legitimises religion.  Whether such an alliance would ‘legitimize’ religion in the eyes of modern science is debatable. What is not quite so debatable is that there is a ‘stigma’ about how western religions and science have interacted.

For some of this stigma (that has now covered them as well) the Protestant churches have only themselves to blame. The article ‘HISTORY AND MYTH: THE INQUISITION’ by Robert P. Lockwood (8/2000) examines how early Protestanism created “…an invented history meant to portray Catholicism as the enemy of free thought…a perverse form of medieval superstition that survives on the ignorance of believers and the Church’s own violent will to power.” These myths served a purpose in the war of propaganda between Catholicism and the dissenting churches of the 16th Century Reformation and were perpetuated through the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century world of progress and scientism.

Now, however, all Christians find themselves targeted by some variation of the early Protestant propaganda. The old accusations, slightly changed to apply to all theists (usually Christians), are now employed by assorted atheist groups and individuals. These stories are now such a part of Western Society that they constitute basic historical assumptions used (without the necessity of analyzing or addressing those positions) as useful rhetorical tools, particularly in the public arena, because they are universally understood and accepted.

One of the old anti-Catholic attacks (now come back to attack all theists) is the accusation that the Catholic Church forbade science and scientific research. Hannam notes that even though the popular perception of a historical conflict remains strong, it hasn’t stopped all serious historians from queuing up to condemn it. John Hedley Brooke and Peter Harrison at Oxford; David Lindberg and Ron Numbers at Wisconsin-Madison; and Simon Shapin in California have all tried to put the record straight. But as Numbers ruefully admits, “Despite a developing consensus among scholars that science and Christianity have not been at war, the notion of conflict has refused to die.”

In point of fact, the greater portion of ‘evidence’ for conflict myth is bogus. It is believed only because most people are ignorant of real history. The populace are taught or told the ‘religion vs science’ myths (either through ignorance or malice) and absorb the ‘information’ creating, a dissonance in which what they think they know about this topic is actually untrue. Hannam has edited a new collection of essays, published by Harvard University Press, called ‘Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion’ in which he chips away some more from the edifice of popular opinion.

Dan Barker rhetorically asks. “Hasn’t religion done tremendous good in the world?” to set up his response of “Many religionists are good people–but they would be good anyway.”
How, in the name of his overweaning egotism, can he have even the slightest confidence in that assertion? How can he claim to know that Augustine, Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Sarah Barton, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington or any of countless others would have been ‘good’ or ‘nice’ without a society built upon the ethics taught by Christianity?

“Religion does not have a monopoly on good deeds” he proclaims, adding that “Most modern social and moral progress has been made by people free from religion–including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Darwin, Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, H. L. Mencken, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Luther Burbank and many others who have enriched humanity.”

In response to these claims, this writer must inquire, When did any theist publicly advance a claim that no atheists can be moral? Show me that person, living or dead, and I shall advocate against them.
Your entire screed up to this point, Mr. Barton, has essentially stated that ‘Freethinkers’ are in all ways superior to theists. The belief that atheists have higher IQs than theists is like the religion vs. science trope. A lot of noise and braggadocio, essentially zero facts. Now you seem to play the victim card and say that theists claim a monopoly on morality?  Usually, theists are quite aware of their sinful nature and work to become a person pleasing for their deity.

As for your Atheistist Luminaries list, let us examine them.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abolitionist Suffragette and Temperance Activist. Was traumatized as a young woman by a revivalist preacher. His sermons, combined with her Calvinist Presbyterianism, caused her to believe in her own damnation. Calvin and his followers believed in ‘Predestination’ (that your soul at birth is destined for either Heaven or Hell and nothing you can do in your life will change that destination). She did not return to organized Christianity, but that does not mean she was an atheist.

Susan B. Anthony, Abolitionist, Suffragette and Temperance Activist. Was raised a ‘liberal Quaker’ less bound by the strict guidelines William Penn established. Later joined the Unitarians and tried to establish a doctrineless ‘Free Church’. Was horrified by the poverty and need she saw in Ireland in the 1880s and blamed God. Died an Agnostic because she could not reconcile the images of Loving God and Pain and misery on earth.

• Charles Darwin. Proposed the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection. Charles was raised in the Anglican Church and later attended a Unitarian. The web address I place below gives ample evidence of Darwin’s religiosity as a young man and middle age. In Darwin’s own words, I shall address this question by inserting a passage from the site. “In what is perhaps his most revealing response, a letter in 1879 to John Fordyce, an author of works on scepticism, Darwin writes: [My] judgment often fluctuates…. Whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term … In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. — I think that generally (and more and more so as I grow older), but not always, — that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.”

• Margaret Sanger: Birth Control and Abortion Advocate. Here is one that can honestly be called an atheist. It is relatively apparent that her atheism, radical politics and earnest desire to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies stem largely from her childhood. Her mother died from tuberculosis, possibly because her body had been weakened by 18 pregnancies which produced 11 children. Her father was atheistic and a radical activist who exerted tremendous force in Margaret’s formational years.
While it is indisputable that Margaret Sanger exercised tremendous impact on modern society, there is the question of whether those effects were positive or negative. Her advocating for the principles of eugenics, including sterilization of the ‘unfit’ brings her character and beliefs into question. Her firm support of birth control and abortion had the desired effects insofar as Planned Parenthood becoming a tremendous business. However, the availability of abortion and birth control has produced possibly unforeseen and undesired long term consequences on society at large.

• Albert Einstein: Highly Gifted Mathematical Theoretician. To answer this charge this writer turned to one who appeared the most researched and a source even ‘Freethinkers’ might listen to ( I have paraphrased or lifted sections of John Marsh’s article addressing the question; Did Einstein Believe in God?

According to Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’, the definition of atheism is the belief that there is “nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe.” In that book, Dawkins presents Einstein as a prime example, and describes Einstein’s religion as pantheism, which he calls “sexed-up atheism.” According to Dawkins, “The one thing his theistic critics got right, was that Einstein was not one of them. He was repeatedly indignant at the suggestion he was a theist.” John Marsh begins his rebuttal of Dawkins with, “because Dawkins tells us that in his opinion “to deliberately confuse the two understandings of God is an act of intellectual high treason.”

In the Oxford English Dictionary we find the following definitions: theism is the belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism; and the belief in one God, as opposed to polytheism or pantheism. It is important to note that, firstly, the definition of theism does not necessarily include the notion that God is personal. Secondly, atheism is defined as a disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. Thirdly, pantheism is a belief or philosophical theory that God is not only immanent (indwelling and sustaining the universe) but also identical with the universe.

Dawkins explains that in dealing with Einstein’s religious views he relied on Max Jammer’s book Einstein and Religion. Dawkins wrote: “The extracts that follow are taken from Max Jammer’s book (which is also my main source of quotations from Einstein himself on religious matters). However a very different picture emerges when we study what Einstein actually said, again as recorded in Jammer’s book. It seems Dawkins needs to be reminded of the ‘Ten New Commandments’ he lists in his own book. The seventh reads. “Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.” The following quotations from Einstein are all in Jammer’s book:
• “Behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force is my religion. To that extent, I am in point of fact, religious.”
• “Every scientist becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men.”
• “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man.”
• “The divine reveals itself in the physical world.”
• “My God created laws… His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking but by immutable laws.”
• “I want to know how God created this world. I want to know his thoughts.”
• “What I am really interested in knowing is whether God could have created the world in a different way.”
• “This firm belief in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God.”
• “My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit; That superior reasoning power forms my idea of God.”

I am reasonably confident that Jammer, a friend and colleague of Einstein has a much greater credibility regarding Einstein’s beliefs than Dawkins. According to Jammer, “Einstein always protested against being regarded as an atheist.” This writer joins Mr. Marsh when he asks “What evidence does Dawkins have that Einstein was indignant at being called a theist?” Dawkins needs to explain this very peculiar discrepancy. Lastly Dawkins argues that science and religion are incompatible. Again Einstein takes the opposite point of view: “A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

• Andrew Carnegie. Industrialist and Philanthropist. Andrew Carnegie witnessed intense sectarianism and strife in 19th century Scotland regarding religion and philosophy. Stemming from the reasonable desire to avoid violence in his life, young Carnegie kept his distance from organized religion and theism. Carnegie instead preferred to see things through naturalistic and scientific terms stating, “Not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.” At this point one might be able to argue at least for ‘Lapsed Christian’, though there are no known documents from his life avowing to atheism.

Later in life, Carnegie’s firm opposition to religion softened. For many years he was a member o of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, pastored from 1905 to 1926 by Social Gospel exponent Henry Sloane Coffin, while his wife and daughter belonged to the Brick Presbyterian Church. He also prepared (but did not deliver) an address in which he professed a belief in “an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed”. Records exist of a short period of correspondence around 1912–1913 between Carnegie and `Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith. In these letters, one of which was published in the New York Times in full text, Carnegie is extolled as a “lover of the world of humanity and one of the founders of Universal Peace”.

Thomas Edison. Inventor, Entrepreneur. Historian Paul Israel has characterized Edison as a “freethinker”, just not in the way Dan Barker defines the term.  Edison was heavily influenced by Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. Edison defended Paine’s “scientific deism” by saying, “He has been called an atheist, but atheist he was not. Paine believed in a supreme intelligence, as representing the idea which other men often express by the name of deity.” In an October 2, 1910, interview in the New York Times Magazine, Edison stated: “Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me the fabled God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love. He also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness, and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us-nature did it all-not the gods of the religions.”

Edison was accused of being an atheist for those remarks, and although he did not allow himself to be drawn into the controversy publicly, he clarified himself in a private letter, saying, “You have misunderstood the whole article, because you jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God. There is no such denial, what you call God I call Nature, the Supreme intelligence that rules matter. All the article states is that it is doubtful in my opinion if our intelligence or soul or whatever one may call it lives hereafter as an entity or disperses back again from whence it came, scattered amongst the cells of which we are made.”

He also stated, “I do not believe in the God of the theologians; but that there is a Supreme Intelligence I do not doubt.”

Therefore, Edison is NOT a Freethinker by Dan’s own standards because he believed absolutely in a Supreme Being; an immaterial and unmeasurable Supreme Intelligence.

• Marie Curie. Researcher, Scientist. Maria’s mother Bronisława died of tuberculosis on May 1878, when Maria was ten years old. Less than three years earlier, Maria’s oldest sibling, Zofia, had died of typhus contracted from a boarder. Maria’s father was an atheist, her mother a devout Catholic. The deaths of Maria’s mother and sister caused her to give up Catholicism and become agnostic. To be an agnostic is to not believe in God’s existence or believe in the absence of God. As Dan has stated earlier, to be a ‘Freethinker’ is to believe in the absence of God.

• H. L. Mencken. Journalist, Editor. Humorist and Critic. It is difficult to know whether this man was an agnostic, mystic of some type or truly an atheist. The articles or websites I found were primarily devoted to his quotes. His words were cutting, acerbic and usually funny (if his ire was not directed at you). Few argue that his skill with the American language was unmatched in his day.

One of his most marked characteristics was that he attacked everyone and everything in he deemed undesirable in the American Culture. What I read of his quotes indicates that Menken had no love, or even respect, for organized religion of any type and that he had only the most superficial knowledge of Christianity typical of his generation. He condemned religion for coming between ‘a man and his god,’ whilst praising mysticism as a direct link. He once remarked, that if he found out that he had been wrong in his agnosticism, he would walk up to god in a manly way and say, “Sir, I made an honest mistake.”

• Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis Pioneer. Freud was very open and honest about his atheism and considered religion a ‘mental disorder similar to an Oedipal Complex. In ‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) he stated, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.”
This is the second self-declared atheist and therefore the second ‘Freethinker’ Dan Barker placed on his list.

• Bertrand Russell. Philosopher and Mathematician.  Bertrand Russel thought that religious questions did not really belong to the discipline of philosophy. This view of philosophy predisposed him to scepticism about subjects that involve ambiguity, interpretation, and perhaps a personal, experiential kind of insight. Ethics is one such subject and religion even more so. Like earlier rationalist thinkers such as Descartes and Spinoza, Russell had an exacting standard for what qualified as “knowledge”, and argued that if philosophy is the search for truth then it should concern itself only with the kind of certainty associated with basic mathematical functions.

Nietzsche once argued that although science makes claims to knowledge, these claims are as deluded as those of religious dogmatists. Russell accepted that what we customarily call “knowledge” occupies a broad spectrum of degrees of uncertainty, and that very little – if anything – is absolutely certain.
This creates a dichotomy between Nietzsche’s pointing at the intellectual “piety” underlying modern science and Russell’s almost utopian vision of scientific progress. His writings state that, ‘In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science and help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations.’ Russel’s writings also show the origins of modern atheist tropes (imaginary supports, allies in the sky and so on).

Nevertheless, Russel’s autobiography relates a mystical experience in which “The ground seemed to give way beneath me and I found myself in quite another region,” he wrote. “Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that.”

Despite this powerful experience, Bertrand Russel boxed the experience away from his philosophical position on religion. Russell tended to treat “religion” as either a body of doctrines to be intellectually analyzed, or as a phenomenon to be observed objectively from the outside. In the first case, Russell found flawed arguments; in the second, flawed institutions perpetrating violence and oppression.  A biographer noted that Russel tended to see only the best of science and only the worst of religion.

Luther Burbank. Botanist. Luther is another person who the ‘Freethinker/Skeptic’ community claim to be solidly in the atheistic camp though the truth is not on their side.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation website portrays Luther Burbank as a clearly atheistic person. It attributes quotes such as “There is no use now talking evolution to these people. Their ears are stuffed with Genesis.” to display his sentiments towards Christians following the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial.’ Then they offer; “In 1926, an interview about Luther Burbank’s freethought views appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin, which headlined it: “I’m an Infidel, Declares Burbank, Casting Doubt on Soul Immortality Theory.” The article was reprinted around the world, creating shockwaves. Burbank was inundated with mostly critical letters, which he felt he had to reply to personally. Friend and later biographer, Wilbur Hale, attributed Burbank’s hastened death to the exertion of his replies: “He died, not a martyr to truth, but a victim of the fatuity of blasting dogged falsehood.” A crowd estimated at 100,000 came to Luther’s memorial, and heard the openly atheistic and ringing tribute by Judge Lindsay of Denver, Colorado. California still celebrates Luther Burbank’s birthday as Arbor Day, planting trees in his memory.”

That account of the funeral is directly contradicted by the funeral description available at website , “Judge Ben B. Lindsey of Denver gave a funeral oration at Burbank’s funeral to a crowd that was estimated at 10,000. He expanded on Burbank’s Unitarian rejection of a god of fire and brimstone. He said, “Luther Burbank lives forever in the myriad fields of strengthened grain, in the new forms of fruits and flowers and plants and vines and trees and above all the newly watered gardens of the human mind from whence shall spring human freedom from those earthly fields that shall drive out gods, false and brutal.”

The assertation that Luther Burbank was atheistic is greatly contradicted by Bertrand’s own opinions.  In LUTHER.BURBANK, “OUR BELOVED”, by Frederick W. Clampett (1926) the following quotes are directly attributed to Burbank:
• “I belong to the great church that holds the world within its starlit aisles; that claims the great and the good of every race and clime; that finds with joy the grain of gold in every creed, and floods with light and love the germs of good in every soul.”
• Over the entrance of such a church, Burbank said, and it will appeal to vast millions, may be written the name of the God of science.
• An atheist denies the existence of God. But an infidel is simply a disbeliever in the established religion.
The (In)famous 1926 article featured by the FFRF (above) ended in the following passage: Religion cannot be founded on a principle; it needs the power of an Eternal Energy, almighty and omnipresent. Burbank had already made that point clear when he said : “I prefer and claim the right to worship the infinite, everlasting, almighty God of this vast universe as revealed to us gradually, step by step, by the demonstrable truths of our savior, science.”

Luther did receive thousands of letters attacking his ‘atheism’. However, Clampett offers the following in response: “It is true he was an atheist in his utter denial of the God of the theologians, but that denial makes his faith all the stronger in the God of science.”  The cause of Burbank’s death was a heart attack followed by gastrointestinal complications.  There is a possibility that a latent condition was aggravated by the stress of reading (and replying to selected individuals) the thousands of letters he received.  The FFRF account is the only one citing the flood of mail as the cause of Luther’s death.

One Eternal Energy! One Infinite Spirit! There will you find the foundation of his faith, the one Supreme Source of the philosophy of his life. And this Infinite Energy is the very life of the world, the inspiration of all things created. It is the idea of God, as revealed to us from the “Kingdom within.” God is immanent, Burbank believed. “In Him we live, and have our being.” This Infinite Spirit was to him not a personality living in a distant realm, enthroned like a king, dispensing His authority. He is a part of everything created.

Luther was sure that, “…humanity, as time goes on, will picture in his soul God, the spirit whose moral attributes transcend to infinity his own highest ideals of goodness. He will image the Spirit of Light and Love and Truth an all-loving Being so close to the poorest of his creatures that no go-between is needed.” And as the “Kingdom within” develops those moral attributes, it will reveal glimpses into new depths of the eternal qualities of love, of mercy, of kindness, of peace, of harmony and health.. Under Jewish teaching, where racial religion was supreme, there was a “Holy of Holies.” But in the words of Jesus: “Neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. . . . God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

It appears that Luther was indeed a theist, possibly a pantheist (in the Hindu sense), but his idea of drawing closer to God through scientific research was quite different than the prevailing notion of the Judeo-Christian God in America at that time. However, they appear to be very much in line with Gregor Mendel and other Catholic monks, priests and nuns for the past 1,600-2000 years of Christianity. To know God, study Creation. He left hints and clues throughout; from the smallest quantum particle to the incredible vastness of the cosmos.

As this post has proven to be far longer than originally planned, this author shall carry on from this point next week.