Anyone paying attention in the last decade or so – at least since Sept. 11, 2001 – must have noticed the rise of public atheism. Atheist blogs, websites, and associations such as the Out Campaign have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere, all emphasizing the need to speak about religion openly and without filters. In London and New York, atheist associations have even bought advertising space on city buses to promote slogans like, “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR) is the only association in Italy dedicated to the rights of the non-religious and the promotion of a secular worldview. The association was born in 1986, with the objective of defending the rights of non-believers and the secular nature of the State. Their campaigns include Debaptism Day (for baptized Catholics who wish to legally separate themselves from the Catholic Church) Darwin Day (a celebration of science and reason), and the removal of crucifixes from public classrooms. In November 2009, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the presence of the crucifix violates the religious and educational freedom of children. The UAAR was behind this campaign, and helped win a decisive victory.
The rising number of non-believers going public inevitably invites a backlash from more traditionalist quarters. Politicians like Ignazio La Russa and Silvio Berlusconi have publicly declared their contempt for the separation of church and state. Pope Benedict XVI regularly admonishes non-beleivers with heavy-handed phrases like “loss of dignity,” calling those without God “alienated from themsleves.” Atheists are labelled “christophobic.” Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, in a defamatory video since removed from YouTube, asserted that “atheists are not fully human.” The tendency is toward defamation, to make the atheist look like an outsider, the humanist somewhat less than human. It is in this climate that atheists, secularists and humanists have begun to speak up and defend their rights. Raffaele Carcano is the Secretary of the UAAR and co-author (with Adele Orioli) of Uscire dal Gregge(Leaving the Flock), Luca Sossella Editore 2008.
Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini, a tireless advocate of the Christian roots of our country (Italy) and the presence of the crucifix in classrooms, working for months in an attempt to prevent the development of alternative activities to the teaching of the Catholic religion, got married today in Sirmione del Garda. The ceremony took place shortly after midnight in a civil ceremony (the groom is divorced). The Town Hall opened for the occasion. The bride is in the sixth month of pregnancy. The wedding was attended by two key members of a government that does not fail to underline its harmony with Catholic morals: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (already divorced, and currently requesting a further separation), and the Minister for Cultural Property Sandro Bondi (separated).
Jerry said I could use his letter instead of writing my own. Italy is now the proud owner of a homegrown creationist lobby. CNR stands for National Research Council, so this is a problem at the highest possible level.
Dear Dr. Maiani,
I read with dismay in this week’s Science that your organization has not only funded but promoted a creationist book edited by Roberto de Mattei. Your remarks on this book indicate that you think the CNR’s financial and intellectual support was justified because you consider intellectual research an “open enterprise” and are “opposed to any form of censorship.”
Certainly intellectual research is “open” to anyone, but do you really think it’s at all useful for a respected body of scientists to promote and support blatant lies like those promulgated in this book? (I need hardly tell you that dinosaurs did not die out 40,000 years ago, nor that the geological strata are not the product of a sudden, worldwide flood!) Really, it’s like the CNR supporting flat-earth theory, or the view that diseases are produced by evil spirits.
And do you really think that the CNR’s refusal to publish these lies would be considered censorship? I call such a refusal “good science”. Would it be “censorship” for your organization to refuse to publish a book proving that the earth is flat? For that is what creationism is equivalent to.
We have our own problems with creationism in the United States, but I never thought that that problem would crop up in Italy, particularly in an organization as respected as the CNR.
Somehow a number of Yahya apologists have found my little post and commented. One comment in particular I found interesting:
Author probabley (sic) confused with the evolution theory. Getting hair longer, growing fingernail or kids getting taller, is not the purpose of evolution theory. This is quite normal natural process and within the same speciey (sic). Evolution theory says, one speciey (sic)transform into antoher (sic!). For example, Fish became corodile (sic), human was animal or monkey.
Well, I never wrote that growing fingernails and long hair were the be-all and end-all of evolution. And humans are animals. I don’t even claim to completely understand the underlying mechanisms of evolution, just as I don’t understand exactly how gravity works, or medicine. I’m not a biologist. But when a guy like Harun Yahya sends his lavish “Atlas of Creation” to real scientists like Richard Dawkins, it’s a laughable affront to the scientific community and those of us who appreciate what science is all about.
Everything evolves, all the time, from the animal body to the cosmos itself. Nothing is fixed in our universe. Once this is grasped, evolution from one species to the next (where does one species end and another begin anyway?) is not such a great leap. Of course, if you think God or Allah created Adam from scratch and pulled Eve from his rib then you might find yourself in great difficulty accepting the basic principle of evolution.
A suggestion to my Turkish readers (now that I have so many): I am delighted that you are so thirsty for knowledge of the real world. Harun Yahya is not your friend. He will teach you nothing about science. For that you must lose your fear of atheism, Darwin, Dawkins and all the rest. There never was any such thing as a crocoduck or a fronkey. This is not what evolution is about. A wide world of discovery awaits you. If you should lose your faith and become atheists, well, you might just enjoy the intellectual freedom you get from it.
According to this guy evolution is responsible for anti-Semitism. He’s apparently challenged “Darwinists” to come up with “just one proof” (sound familiar?) of a “missing-link”. Umm…try, like, a developing embryo inside its mother’s womb. I mean, we evolve every day a little here and a little there. Our fingernails grow out, our hair gets longer, kids get taller and old folks shorter. Life is one long evolution from birth to death. Why would anyone be so silly as to think we are all cardboard cutouts?
Harun Yahya is a big player in creationist circles. A Muslim apologist, he has gained renown for his concentrated attacks on science and reason. To most normal people (better than calling ourselves “brights,” don’t you think?) he’s a wacko. But he’s a well-funded wacko with the ear of the Turkish government. So he gets a lot of air time for his crapola.
And his name isn’t even “Harun Yahya,” either; it’s Adnan Oktar. You’d think that if someone can’t even come out with his or her real name in public when airing opinions, perhaps the opinions themselves are of questionable vintage. I mean, it’s not like he’s voicing support for atheism in Iran or anything dangerous. He’s telling traditional Muslims what they long to hear: the religion of Allah is Islam. Atheists are evil. Darwin is the devil’s helper. Zionists and Freemasons are conspiring for world domination. It’s the usual creationst rant with an Islamic twist.
Lest you think Christopher Hitchens is among the first to ruffle feathers, take a look at this video (from 1959!) of Bertrand Russell. You might recognize him as the author of History of Western Philosophy, Why I Am not a Christian, In Praise of Idleness, and What I Believe (one of 25 books I actually read last year).
Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters — presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent. The myth that it is only the religious who truly care is sustained largely by the fact that they tend to donate not as individuals, but through their churches. Non-believers, by contrast, give as individuals: we have no church through which to give collectively, no church to rack up statistics of competitive generosity. Non-Believers Giving Aidis not a church (that’s putting it mildly) but it does provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, whilst simultaneously giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good.
Here is a video of a guy who tells of his “experiences” raising the dead. You don’t need an “ultimate super-level of hyperfaith” to do it, either. Apparently, you just need to command the dead to sit or stand up – in the name of Jesus, of course – and they do. Sometimes they even steal your money and begin to run away.
If you catch them, be sure to give the delinquent zombies a good old Christian-style whippin’. Then convert them.
It’s already promising to be a very interesting year from many perspectives. I want to offer an article by Greta Christina (via Whyevolutionistrue) called 10 Myths and Truths About Atheism. I realize many people out there believe that atheism is a dogmatic stand-in religion for those who have problems believing in god. This is not really the case, and Greta explains why. Conveniently, she links to Sam Harris’s article on the same subject, so you’re only two clicks away from two great articles that will explain something you were probably in the dark about.
Atheists aren’t killing, stealing, raping, cheating, at any greater rate than believers. Look at countries in Europe, like France and England and Scandinavian countries, where nonbelievers make up half, or more, of the population. They’re not disintegrating into crime and chaos. They’re doing pretty well, and they treat each other pretty well, with a strong sense of social responsibility.