A non-theist in Congress

By Phil Plait | March 12, 2007 10:26 pm

This is very, very interesting: Pete Stark, a Congressman from California, has come out of the closet, so to speak: he has admitted to being a non-theist, to holding no belief in God.

He did this, evidently, as part of a contest of sorts held by the Secular Coalition for America to find the highest ranking elected official who would admit to not being religious. It’s unclear to me from the press release linked above if Stark admitted this himself, or someone else submitted his name, or what. I’d love to hear more about this. As a Congressman he cannot accept the prize money, I think. Maybe he’ll donate it.

Update (March 13): According to the LA Times, he was nominated by someone from the Secular Coalition, and then came forward on his own: "When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being… Like our nation’s founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

At a time when it seems like more people are willing to say they are farther and farther into the religious extreme (cough cough McCain cough cough), and especially at a time when far-right religious extremists of all stripes are attacking science and, let’s face it, our very notion of reality, it’s amazing to me see someone in Congress come right out and say they hold no religious belief.

I will be very, very curious indeed to see what the fallout is from this. Stark represents the East Bay region of northern California (not too far from me, in fact). He’s been in Congress since 1973 (!) and is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, generally considered the most powerful committee in the House. I can’t imagine what the other Committee members will say.

Actually, yes I can. I’m keeping an eye on this one.

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Comments (87)

  1. Daffy

    I think it was Oriana Fallaci who observed that American politicians have to mention God more than the Pope does; it’ll be very interesting to see how this turns out. It would be nice if this were the first step toward a world wide realization of the dangers of religious fundamentalism. But, more likely it’ll just be a blip.

  2. He could take the money if he really wanted to. Three little letters: “PAC”, AKA the legal bribe.

  3. tacitus

    American politicians are past masters at using religion to their advantage. (Karl Rove certainly knows that.) Why would any of them want to give it up as an election tool for wooing voter? Pete Stark’s district is probably liberal enough for his “outing” not to matter at this point in his career, but it would have certainly killed any ideas of running for higher office stone dead.

    I grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s where religion was never really an issue in politics. Sure Maggie, Tony, and others have talked about their faith, and going to church on Easter Sunday is always a good photo-op, but that’s just about as far as it goes. Who knows how many Members of Parliament are seriously religious these days. Not too many, I’d wager.

    Trotting out your religious credentials at every verse end is purely political pandering. Sadly the lesson learned from Bush’s pair of presidential victories seems to have been that we need more of it, not less, and from both sides of the political divide.

  4. Ah, the ‘Fighting 13’th’

  5. Hm, my predictions is that there will be accusations of him lying about it before this to get elected. And then there will be some attacks on the group that was having the contest.

    This making predictions stuff is easy. I should start charging like Sylvia Browne.

  6. Quiet Desperation

    >>>I should start charging like Sylvia Browne.

    Dang. That produced an image in my head of Sylvia charging at me like a bull.

    How am I supposed to sleep now? :(

  7. I’m curious, why are you using the phrase “non-theist” rather than atheist?

  8. I find it odd that the “religious right” is seen to be attacking science, when a look at the history of science shows that in the begining it was people of faith, who were motivated by their faith to study the natural world, leading to the first scientific investigations. From the Christian perspective, it was felt that God had created two books, the book of the Bible and the book of Nature and it was every good Christian’s duty to study both..

    How times have changed :(

  9. zeb

    >>>I’m curious, why are you using the phrase “non-theist” rather than atheist?

    It’s probably because Stark doesn’t identify himself as an athiest, he’s a Unitarian. It’s kind of silly though, since anyone who doesn’t have a positive belief in god(s) is automatically an athiest by definition. I would guess Stark’s reason is that the term ‘atheist’ is essentially poisonous.

  10. MKR

    “atheist” implies a denial of the existence of a god. All he said is that he’s non-religious, which doesn’t preclude the acceptance of the possibility of some sort of creator. 😛

  11. TheBlackCat

    Sticks, the fact that some scientists were and are motivated by their religion does not change the fact that religion (not all of it, but certain sectors of it) has always been attempting to supress science in one form or another. We can’t forget that they threated Galileo with death. They added a disclaimer to Copernicus’s work stating, to the effect, that it is just a hypothesis and not necessarily a good explanation for the real world (hmm, where do I recall this sort of disclaimer coming up recently?). Socrates was executed partially for heresy against established religion. Religious suppression of science is as old as religion itself. It was Martin Luther, the founder of protestantism, who said that “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”

    That is not to say that religion and science are incompatible, or that people cannot be driven to do good science by religious ideas. But to claim that modern fundamentalist attacks on science are somehow an anomaly or are new and different is just wrong. The current attacks are simply the continuation of the attacks that have been continuous for nearly as long as we have records on the subject. The only difference is that religion is weaker now than it was, making it more difficult to kill people for going against it. The fact that some people had their science driver by religion does not change the fact that religion attempted to suppress science, often science by those very same people.

  12. The contest involved people being nominated followed by confirmation from the politician. Three local politicians submitted their own names. Two people nominated Rep. Stark, and one of them will get the prize (randomly chosen). Rep. Stark returned a form in which he affirmed that he was a non-theist (described on the form as lacking a belief in God) and described himself as a Unitarian.

    See here and here.

  13. Chris G

    As someone living in the UK, I’m bemused that it’s such a big deal for an American politician NOT to believe in God.
    Although many British politicians say they are believers and/or pay lip service to religion, at least two former leaders of the Labour Party (Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock) have been willing to admit their lack of religious belief.

  14. Ed T

    I wonder if he is planning on retiring after this term. That would make the admission non-consequential.

  15. The Secular Coalition for America chooses to use the term non-theist, in theory, because “Nontheists use a variety of terms to describe themselves: atheist, humanist, freethinker, agnostic, skeptic, bright, ignostic, materialist, and naturalist, among others.” I suspect is really just to avoid the built-in negative connotations the word atheist comes with. http://www.secular.org/

  16. You know a politician’s personal beliefs very seldom play a part in who I vote for. Mainly because most of them are so middle of the road (no matter what they claim to be) and are more willing to fall on a sword for political backer than God. So I try to follow what they support :) I don’t think his statement should play into anything…should he seek to run again or not. Though it will be interesting to see if it does.

  17. TheBlackCat I got my understanding on the history of faith and science from a lecture on the subject in the 1980’s and from Professor Alan Chapman, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and IIRC a mamber of the Anglican Synod. Read his excelent book, “Gods in the Sky”

    From what I picked up, in the earliest times, before some of the later issues with the RC church, faith and science were in harmony.

    Now it seems like it is portrayed as a very acrimonious divorce. Coming from both worlds, it is kind of depressing.

    To quote from “Mars Attacks” Why can’t we all just get along?

  18. KB

    I remember someone claiming a while back, it may have been Dawkins, that you can follow almost any religion and get elected in the US — but you can’t be an atheist. It may not be true (even if Stark’s view doesn’t disprove it), but it does get across a point.

    That ‘non-theist’ thing is vague, as has been noted above. There are certain strata of ‘non-belief’, some with less political acceptability than others.

    It’s probably not too bad in liberal areas to admit to having no particular belief, and making no superstitious claims at all. I think this is loosely termed agnosticism.

    It’s politically unhealthy to be an actual atheist, positively claiming God doesn’t exist.

    Then there is Richard Dawkins’ ilk, who are not only atheist, but actively oppose any belief in God at all. Their position has always intrigued me: they assert that holding on to superstition (as the vast majority of humanity does) is a huge limiting factor in human progress, and therefore constitutes a massive opportunity cost against curing the ills of the world.

    I call the latter ‘evangelical atheism’. ‘Antitheism’ might also be appropriate. I have trouble subscribing to this viewpoint, for a number of reasons, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

  19. spacewriter

    It’s true that atheists are more reviled in this country for political purposes than almost anybody else. It seems that the notion of a person who can think for him or herself without having to resort to magical sky fairies or angry cosmic daddies is just too scary and threatening to those “believers” who wear their faith on their sleeves and use it as a tool to bludgeon others. (NOT talking about the many believers who DO NOT do this, but about those who think that faith trumps all, including reason and dignity.)

  20. Gary Ansorge

    Ah Mystery, thy name engenders controversy.

    This conflict between rational materialists and religionists will likely continue until the day we are able to create our own universes. AS a commited rationalist/mystic (does that seem an oxymoron?), I see sentience as a continually progressive phenomena. I doubt there will ever be an end to evolution. The idea that there could be some ultimate intelligence presupposes an end to growth and the evidence speaks against that.

    Non-theist means literally “I don’t know,,,” which in all philosophy is seen as the first step on the path to wisdom. Seems to me Pete is merely admitting to being on that path. Think I’ll have to keep on eye on him,,,wisdom in politics is highly unusual,,,

    Gary 7

  21. carn

    MKR:

    ““atheist” implies a denial of the existence of a god. All he said is that he’s non-religious, which doesn’t preclude the acceptance of the possibility of some sort of creator. :P”

    Actually this is not the case. Since most atheists are pretty familiar with the scientific method, it’s a major point in many circles that atheists do not actually deny the existence of god/gods. No matter how long the odds, it’s still true that God cannot be disproven. However, atheists realize what a lame argument this is, and generally throw God on the same scrapheap as unicorns, celestial teapots, wotan, zeus, fairies at the bottom of the garden, the flying spaghetti monster, imaginary friends, and any other fanciful but equally vacuous assertion. An atheist is simply someone who doesn’t believe in God: nothing more, nothing less.

  22. thewayin

    Call me crazy, but something tells me that voters from the East Bay won’t be terribly disturbed by this, particularly from the man voted “most liberal member of Congress.”

    Incidentally, I live in California’s 13th District, and I honestly can’t remember if Stark even had an opponent in 2006.

  23. Stefanf

    THIRTEEEEEENTH!

    I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  24. Gary Ansorge

    As Aunt Kate, an avoved atheist, used to put it, ” I don’t say there IS no god. I say, I don’t BELIVE there is a god.”

    She was so fraking bright.

    There is quite a difference in the semantic content of those two statements.

    GAry 7

  25. The Dread Polack

    People define the words in different ways. At any given time, you could call me an agnostic, atheist, secular humanist, non-theist, or maybe even buddhist. When people ask me about it, I try to match it to the context and what their definitions might be- then I explain.

    By the way- don’t we have a couple of buddhist senators? Hawaii and Georgia, if I’m not mistaken. No time to look it up…

  26. J. D. Mack

    Is this “coming out” any kind of surprise? The guy has been in congress since 1973! Surely someone has asked him about his religious beliefs before now. How did he answer the question in the past?

    J. D.

  27. JD

    “I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services.”

    Wait…a politician said that? I…errr…are we in Norway? No?

    I gotta sit down and let this settle.

  28. peenworm

    I look forward to better knowing this district.

    “Is this “coming out” any kind of surprise? The guy has been in congress since 1973! Surely someone has asked him about his religious beliefs before now. How did he answer the question in the past?”

    http://www.adherents.com/adh_congress.html

    He answered the question of his religious affiliation with “Unitarian Universalist,” but never mentioned the “not believing in God” bit.

    Pity the Unitarians get laughed at so much. They’re bound by belief in common principles rather than common supernatural tales, which to me seems a more relevent rallying point.

  29. I think that there are plenty of atheists in government. But I suspect that the power associated with claiming to be on the Christian Right is a pull for many. The rest are too honest to win.

  30. Very minor correction, Phil. The update is March 13.

  31. Randall

    > However, atheists realize what a lame argument this is, and generally throw God on the same scrapheap as unicorns, celestial teapots, wotan, zeus, fairies at the bottom of the garden, the flying spaghetti monster, imaginary friends, and any other fanciful but equally vacuous assertion.

    No love for the Invisible Pink Unicorn, may Her Hooves never be shod?

  32. Flak

    That’s a gutsy congressman, liberal district of not. I too will be interested to see if he runs again as you can now be assured that there will be right wing (religious or not) hatchet-men trying to use this against him. Personally I tend to think one person’s mythology is just as good as anyone elses mythology and I try to respect them accordingly. That being said it’s still mythology until proven otherwise. And funny how elusive that proof always seems to be. I too like the way Mr. Ansorge’s Aunt Kate put it.

  33. SLC

    Actually, I think that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is also a non-theist.

  34. TheBlackCat

    Sticks, Socrates long predates the Roman Catholic church. Religious suppression of scientific ideas did not start with Roman Catholics, far from it. It is simply one of the better-known examples because several highly influential scientists were affected by it.

  35. An interesting example of religious suppression of scientific ideas occurred during the middle ages. Of all things, the idea of the vacuum was considered heretical (the empty space vacuum, not the cleaning device). If I recall correctly (from an episode of Connections by James Burke, I think) there were Italian scientists – or whatever you might call the middle ages’ equivalent thereof – at the time who feared to study the idea because of the church. The vacuum for cryin out loud! Terribly immoral, that.

  36. Irishman

    People, regardless of how some of us are aware of the actual meaning of the term “atheist”, in common parlance it is used to define the active god-disbelievers, the anti-theists. There are plenty of people who avoid the word for this negative connotation. Furthermore, Stark himself uses the term “Unitarian”, indicating his membership in the UU church. Granting him the benefit of honest convictions rather than self-serving obfuscations, I submit that he wishes to identify himself as morally inclined, as being about more than his lack of belief in a supreme being, but rather in his focus on the good side of humanity. I know humanists who prefer that label over atheist precisely because it speaks to what they are for rather than what they are against. I think Stark feels the same way, his focus is not on the lack of deities, but upon something more spiritual in nature. Ergo, avoidance of the loaded and incomplete description of “atheist”.

    Face it, there is a lot of baggage with the words, whatever their origins. “Agnostic” doesn’t mean what most people think it means, either.

    MKR said:
    > “atheist” implies a denial of the existence of a god. All he said is that he’s non-religious, which doesn’t preclude the acceptance of the possibility of some sort of creator.

    Actually, he said he does not believe in a supreme being or beings. Oddly enough, identifying as Unitarian suggests that he is “religious”, just not a god-believer. I’ll let you figure out how that works.

    TheBlackCat said:
    > Sticks, the fact that some scientists were and are motivated by their religion does not change the fact that religion (not all of it, but certain sectors of it) has always been attempting to supress science in one form or another.

    It goes back further than you allude.

    Sticks said:
    >I find it odd that the “religious right” is seen to be attacking science, when a look at the history of science shows that in the begining it was people of faith, who were motivated by their faith to study the natural world, leading to the first scientific investigations.

    That’s a bit simplistic in representation and incomplete. Science has roots back to ancient Greece, 2400 B.C., where Greek philosophers were investigating the world through the principles of investigation and evidence. There were Greeks who doubted the existence of the gods, and Greeks who discovered everything from measuring the circumference of the Earth (fairly accurately) to understanding atoms. Indeed, the word “atom” is from the Greek and was used to describe the particle nature of matter, made of infinitesimal particles too small to see. Then the mystics came, with the Pythagoreans and their secret numbers, and Plato and his views of the supremacy of reasoning over experiment.

    The Rennaissance was a rebirth of culture from the “Dark Ages”, owing to a lot of factors. Science was only one rebirth, alongside the arts, philosophy, and all aspects of high culture. While many people did see science as a tool for understanding God’s world, and there was a certain amount of encouragement and tolerance, there were also limits when science ran counter to established dogmas. Galileo got off lucky. Just ask Giordano Bruno.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

    Also see the difference in attitude toward Gregor Mendel’s puttering around with pea plants, and Charles Darwin’s treatise on the mechanism of changing forms of animals and plants, including human origins. One is seen as illuminating God’s mechanism and is wholly non-controversial. The other challenges the origins of man and the separate creation of every type of organism on Earth – directly challenging mainstream religious doctrine of Earth’s and humans’ origins.

    Felicia said:
    > You know a politician’s personal beliefs very seldom play a part in who I vote for. Mainly because most of them are so middle of the road (no matter what they claim to be) and are more willing to fall on a sword for political backer than God. So I try to follow what they support

    Well, I don’t think anyone would describe Stark as “middle of the road” – voted “the most liberal member of Congress for two consecutive years.”

  37. I used the term “non-theist” because that was the term used in SCA press release. It means something different to different people.

    I was taught that the prefix “a” meant opposite, but I think that’s incorrect. “Anti” means opposite, and “A” means “not”. So in essence, atheist and nontheist are the same thing. But words are fraught with meaning, and must be used carefully. I’m not worried about offending people, but I do worry that someone might be turned off to an argument because of terms used. A lot of religious people shut down the instant the word “atheist” is used. Nontheist is a gentler word to my mind.

    Sometimes something as simple as a phase change can make a huge difference.

  38. Flak

    Well geez, after reading all this I almost don’t know how to describe myself anymore! I used to think of myself as agnostic as, just like there’s no proof of a supreme being, there’s also no direct proof there isn’t one either. I don’t tend to think there is a supreme being but since it can’t be proven I was never fond of calling myself an athiest. So, wise readers, what am I? An agnostic? A non-thiest? What? I often debate with my born again baptist brother about such things so I prefer the terminolgy be correct. :-)

  39. Changcho

    Hooray! I always knew this Pete Stark guy is the right person to vote for, and this gives me even more reason to like him.

  40. Kevin

    Ah, agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive :). Agnosticism refers to knowledge, theism refers to belief in god. In fact, many theists are agnostic themselves!

  41. Troy

    This reminds me of two issues in the news recently: The media dogging Mitt Romney about being a Mormon and the Christian right (Michael Medved et al.) going ga ga over the James Cameron documentary about an attempt to find Jesus’ ossuary. I mean I don’t get why they care so much. On the mormon issue yes it shapes his policy to some degree and we can base our vote on policy. Just look at all the pro-choice cathoics out there, I think people can and do keep their religion separate. On the documentary issue, more proof that faith is equivilant to viewing the world with blinders, someone investigates something is a taboo? We’ve been here before as every modern understanding of the universe has met the same resistance.
    I thought Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura made a good case for atheism. I forget the exact quote something like religious people would stab you in the back while the atheists would do what they say.

  42. Jarno

    Looking from the outside, I’ve kinda despared for the fact that religion plays such a big role in American politics – that essentially you’ve got no chance of being elected, if you do not hold a belief in an invisible omniscient being or beings, and you’re honest about it.

    Great to see a congresman publically state his non-belief. That takes guts. It is interesting to see what the political reprocussions are. I’m not very optimistic, but perhaps we’ll be positively surpriced.

    As for the term “atheist”, I like to call myself an agnostic atheist, conveying the fact that I recognize the difference between claiming to know, and believing; I don’t believe that there are any deities out there, but I do not claim to KNOW one way or the other. Thus I’m an agnostic atheist.

    I think it’s a very clear system of definitions that I like: a gnostic atheist, agnostic atheist, gnostic theist, or agnostic theist – most people’s beliefs are accurately covered by one of these.

    People often seem to (inaccurately) think that atheism = gnostic atheism, when in fact, I’d say that gnostic atheists are extremely rare – I haven’t met, nor do I know of any.

  43. I would not dream of down playing the ancient Greeks, in fact in the TV series that accompanied Alan Chapman’s book Gods in the Sky a whole programme was dedicated to them.

    My thoughts were about Christendom, since that is usually the area criticised.

  44. People, regardless of how some of us are aware of the actual meaning of the term “atheist”, in common parlance it is used to define the active god-disbelievers, the anti-theists. There are plenty of people who avoid the word for this negative connotation.

    I’m so torn on this. Should we self-identifying atheists be trying to remove the stigma attached to the word, or should we be seeking out another word? “Non-theist” certainly does have less baggage attached; perhaps the breaking of this story would be a good opportunity to popularize it as an alternative.

  45. I know far too many atheists who don’t believe in a god, but believe in every other manner of woo woo from spiritualism to Chariots of the Gods to the law of attraction. This is getting more and more common.

    Same with people who claim to be humanist. I know many humanists who believe in chi and think they have spiritual powers. Neither term–atheist or humanist or non-theist–is synonymous with skeptic. Not anymore.

    And being Unitarian? Trust me, I’ve gone to a Unitarian church for years now and they are getting woo wooier and woo wooier, though the scientific skeptics who go there are completely blind to it. This congressman may not believe in a god, but he might dance around the moon in Samhain.

  46. Lo'ihi

    BA: ‘…….., it’s amazing to me to see someone in Congress come right out and say they hold no religious belief.’

    The fact that it is amazing or brave at all is amazing in the 21st century.

    For a non-native English speaker, the commonly accepted definitions are even more perplexing.

    Atheist, like apolitical, sounds to me nonchalant about deities of any kind, while nontheist is saying ‘non’ to theism.
    But the accepted parlance seems opposite. How strange.

    I am ‘areligious’, and whether the supreme being of any religious flavour can be disproven or not doesn’t interest me. The whole issue seems so passe.

  47. Darth Robo

    “Read his excelent book, “Gods in the Sky”

    From what I picked up, in the earliest times, before some of the later issues with the RC church, faith and science were in harmony.”

    Got that book, Sticks. I understand his (and your) point, in fact he spends the first two chapters of the book emphasising the fact that faith and science doesn’t have to collide. That’s fine, but in history, dogmatic orthodoxy was sometimes pretty harsh in its come down on new scientific ideas. When it was first suggested that the earth was not at the centre of the universe when a more accurate model was made, the guy got so much stick that he just said “Don’t worry, it’s just a mathematical model and doesn’t have to mean that the earth really isn’t the centre anymore”. You’re probably right that not just xians are responsible for doing stuff like that though.

  48. Davis said: I’m so torn on this. Should we self-identifying atheists be trying to remove the stigma attached to the word, or should we be seeking out another word? “Non-theist” certainly does have less baggage attached; perhaps the breaking of this story would be a good opportunity to popularize it as an alternative.

    I say: I agree with non-theist. Even though atheist means the same thing, the name is saturated with Satanic connotations. And most people aren’t used to the “a” in words, asexual, a-whatever. I think the most accurate thing to say, when possible, is “I don’t believe in a personal god.”

    On the other hand, whenever I hear soft-spoken, genteel people say “I am an atheist,” I take notice and so do others. If enough people did this…maybe.

  49. Unitarians are an interesting bunch. Very open to many different world views and perspectives. The Unitarians would accept the atheist and the theist worshiping side by side. And, yes, they might characterize it as “worship,” even though that might not actually be the case for one or the other.

    Many Buddhists are non-theists as well. God may be there, or not. That’s just not the important issue.

  50. Gary Ansorge

    Down here in the south, even referring to oneself as an agnostic is met with,”Oh, that’s too bad,,,”
    It’s usually said gently and with some sadness, as in,”I’m so sorry you’re going to burn forever in hell,,,”

    I always liked Bob Wiers song/statement, ” I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe, but at least I’m enjoying the ride,,,”

    I expect if hell awaits me, I’ll be so busy shaking hands with the Bad Astrtonomer, Randi and the Grateful Dead I won’t have time to worry,,,
    Should make for one hell of a party,,,

    GAry 7

  51. TheBlackCat

    Darth Robo:
    “When it was first suggested that the earth was not at the centre of the universe when a more accurate model was made, the guy got so much stick that he just said ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a mathematical model and doesn’t have to mean that the earth really isn’t the centre anymore’.”

    Copernicus said nothing of the sort. That preface was added by a monk without his knowledge or approval. And that didn’t stop the book from being banned by the Church once evidence supporting his position began to accumulate.

    Sticks:
    “From what I picked up, in the earliest times, before some of the later issues with the RC church, faith and science were in harmony.”
    “My thoughts were about Christendom, since that is usually the area criticised.”

    The Catholic church started when Christianity was established as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the in the early 300’s. Prior to that Christianity was outlawed and was really in no position to force their beliefs on anyone. And rejection of science on religious grounds was present well before that and continued non-stop to the present day. A particularly egregious example was the significant number of early Christian leaders who directly opposed the idea of a roughly spherical earth on scriptural grounds, both before and after the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Rome. They did so even though the roughly spherical shape of the Earth was common knowledge at the time and pretty much universally accepted since it had been conclusively established by both the Greeks and Egyptians centuries before and the size even calculated to a very high degree of accuracy around 500 years before (and many other times after).

  52. I’ve lived in the South all my life, except for the five or so years I lived up north. I encourage people to say, when asked “Where do you go to church?” to say, “I don’t go to church” rather than “well…I’m still looking.” Good people need to say they don’t go to church, are agnostic or atheist or whatever, when they can.

    But remember, though the South and Midwest harbor the greatest density of conservative Christians, New Age beliefs are more prominent in (1) the Northeast (2) the West Coast and (3) the Midwest, and (4) the South.

    Now, I’m not saying that New Age beliefs are not as prominent in the South because it’s a bastion of reason. Perhaps the religious conservatism tends to keep it out. (Actually, there are many non-believers here, but because it is so socially acceptable to be so OUT with your religion, it is therefore consequential to say you don’t have any, so we do tend to keep our mouths shut.)

    But I am saying, and I’m saying it louder and louder, that New Age beliefs are just as dangerous as conventional religious beliefs. I insisit we shine the same harsh light on them as we do on fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. And good people like Susan Blackmore talk about how much better Europe is in not throwing religion in your face, but it looks to me like they are worse when it comes to New Ageism.

    And Unitarians do accept atheists, though theists are making a huge come-back. Because they tolerate everything (EXCEPT conservative Christianity) Unitarian Universalism is becoming a New Age religion. And I repeat, the scientists and atheists I’ve met there are the minority and are asleep at the wheel. When they are dead, usher in John Edwards or the Law of Attractionists. They’re welcome.

    UU is going Woo Woo. It is not a faith of reason any longer. If anyone has had a different experience, please counter me on this.

    And Gary, your comment about going to Hell in a bucket but having one Hell of a ride: I think it’s important for religious people to know that atheists are just as moral (however you want to define it) as they are. In fact, I’ve found it more so. I want to ditch the Atheist=Hellraiser idea because I don’t believe it’s true at all. I don’t believe you raise any more Hell than my Baptist neighbors.

  53. Darth Robo

    “Copernicus said nothing of the sort. That preface was added by a monk without his knowledge or approval. ”

    My mistake. (blush)

  54. Irishman

    Sherry Austin, you are correct about the UU church. The principle of acceptance of however each person finds the divine means they allow any and all approaches. So the woo woo factor is welcome, as are the non-dogmatic christians, deists, pantheists, and atheists. As long as you don’t judge others, no one judges you. While the message of tolerance is good, the acceptance of nonsense is a downside.

    The only reason most of us aren’t criticizing the New Age spirituality as harshly is because they are not oppressive in spreading their beliefs. Most New Age believers I know are fairly tolerant and accepting. While I oppose the woo woo ideas, I don’t feel under attack from them, so don’t feel the need for agressive defense.

  55. Actually Isaiah 40:22 where it refers to the “Circle of the Earth”, the Hebrew word actually meant “ball” or a sphere, so those early leaders should have known better.

  56. icemith

    I’ve often wondered in recent years, exactly how I describe myself, religiously, I mean. As one who started to study for the Christian ministry, but finding I was not really cut out for it, I find I agree with the ‘non-theists’ mostly.

    Now, that is. I did not know before tonight what the difference was between ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’. Or for that matter, the list of various names mentioned in other posts.

    But I also find it difficult to clear out all the references of Theistic thoughts, and attributes that litter everyday speech. We say, “Oh, my God!”, and “What the Hell!”, “Be an Angel”, etc. Or, the more coarse forms, names of religous people in vain, even though we do not believe in the concepts.

    Now I agree that a more considerate person would not need to use language, that did not reflect the speaker’s inate feelings, nor the respect for others’ beliefs.

    Last week-end, I was invited to a niece’s baby christening. I had to find a suitable card for the gift, and that was not easy. Then in the service, I found myself not able to join in singing the hymns, as I felt hypocritical, even though I knew them well enough. I certainly did not feel I needed to apologise in any way though. Regardless of the intent of the ceremony, I still felt that it was a committment of the little community to the welfare of the infant, her parents and relatives.

    I feel that we can still contribute, but without the claptrap, and supernatural nonsense.

    Ivan.

  57. Wendy

    California once had an Atheist governor. A member of our CFI West Skeptics’ bookclub found the following information:
    “Another example of the stigma of atheism was Culbert Olson, a Calif.
    governor before my time. I’ve read that he was an atheist, but never
    publicly said so until he had retired from public office.”
    Olson was very progressive. Here is more info:
    http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/roots/olson/

  58. Gary Ansorge

    Sherri: Why don’t Baptists make love standing up? They don’t want people to think they’re dancing,,,

    Yes, there are plenty of woo-woos attending to other non-evidence based belief systems, even here in Georgia, which is a bastion for Whikens.

    DeadHeads are as notorious in that regard as any other religionists, which is one reason Jerry G. tried so hard to remind people he was just a fallible human, even going so far as to say he hoped when he died, his music would be burned, so people would just get on with their lives and quit worshiping him. He specified even his bones should be crushed and scattered, to prevent their sale on E-bay. He was acutely aware of the propensity of people to worship anyone that had the ability to make them feel good. It was part of the two edged sword that goes with being a popular icon.

    Still, there was something magical(read: Technology sufficiently advanced,,,) in those Dead concerts. Perhaps it was just the acute sensitivity engendered by a mix of really good music and psychedelics. Sometimes it really seemed as though a higher level consciousness was being created there. I expect in 200 years or so, the effect of great music could become distorted into a new religion however, the G.D.s band members were among the most rational people I’ve ever known. Excellance in any endevor can produce extreme feelings, bordering on the edge of ecstasy(and sometimes going over the edge). When the day arrives that we understand HOW that can be achieved at will, we will have the means to lead all horses to water and encourage them to drink deep of the well of knowledge.
    ,,,and that is the essence of the spiritual experience, that moment when we say,”Wow, oh my god, that’s SOOOO cool,,,”

    Of course, it’s also a two edged sword. If you can lead people to water and get them to drink, you can also get them to drink that poisonous kool aid,,,

    Such knowledge is power and only the most ethical should ever be entrusted with it but defining that ethicality is the hard part. I hope if people can be educated to the point they understand how easily they can be manipulated, then it may be possible to immunize them against such manipulation.
    I fear that may take a very long time,,,but I, for one, will keep trying.

    Gary 7

  59. TheBlackCat

    Sticks, whether you think the Bible says it or not is irrelevant. Your interpretation of the Bible, whether it is right or not (if there even is a “right” interpretation), doesn’t change the fact that from the very beginning there have been significant numbers of Christians who rejected the well-established evidence for a nearly spherical Earth based solely on their religious beliefs. You may not share those beliefs, but the fact that they existed (and still do) proves that your assertion that Christianity and science had no conflicts prior to the Catholic Church is wrong.

    Besides, the passage you cite is only one of many examples where the bible pushes the flat-earth concept. Others include referring to standing on the corners of the earth, or pillars supporting the earth, or in particular seeing the entire earth from various high places, and many other things. The latter is presented as a historical account in the New Testament. Citing one questionable example does not negate the probably dozens of unambiguous examples. It is certainly much easier to make a case for a flat earth than a semi-spherical Earth based on scripture.

  60. Yes, there are plenty of woo-woos attending to other non-evidence based belief systems, even here in Georgia, which is a bastion for Whikens.

    You think THAT’s something. I live near Asheville!

  61. Gary Ansorge

    Most of the folk I’ve met here in Cartersville, while fairly religious, are just as good hearted as any I’ve met anywhere in the world. Every once in a while I run into a dyed in the wool, conservative, against everybody that ain’t like me red neck. But they seem to be a dying breed. Well, score one for death,,,natures grand recycling method,,,

    Gary 7

  62. TheBlackCat my understanding is that the Bible uses phenomenal language which people still use to this day, like sunrise and sunset.

    I will accept that some professing to be Christians may have been in conflict but read properly the Bible does not teach flat Earth or geocentricity any more than a standard novel does.

    The passage I referred, Isaiah 40:22, the word circle in English translations actually means a ball in the original language. The OT was therefore referencing the Earth as a ball or a sphere.

  63. TheBlackCat

    Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

    Luke 4:5 And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

    You can’t see all the kingdoms of the world from a mountain if the world is not flat, no matter how high it is. That is not “phenomenal language”, that is a direct and unambiguous historical account. Seeing the whole Earth from one high place or the whole Earth being able to see one high object is common in the bible but not possible in a nearly spherical Earth.

    You are also skipping most of Isiah 40:22. The complete verse:

    40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

    You can’t spread the heavens out like a curtain or tent over a spherical Earth. Only a flat Earth can have something like tent stretched over it. Whatever they meant by “circle”, the latter parts are only consistent with a flat Earth.

  64. DenverAstro

    Well, I feel obligated to make a short statement here. Im a Druid monk and sacrifice virgins every full moon. The only problem is that I havent come across a virgin since I was in grade school. Do you guys know any? If ya do, lemme know and I polish my stone dagger :o)
    All this talk of athiest, agnostic, woo woo whatever kinda depresses me. I cant understand why it is such an awful thing to believe that the Big Bang was the result of God having one too many bean burritos. One gigantic gaseous outburst and this whole stinkin universe is on its way. Hey, comeon, it coulda happened. It’s just as likely as any other hypothosis.

  65. It’s just as likely as any other hypothosis.

    That’s right.

  66. Melusine

    DenverAstro:
    I cant understand why it is such an awful thing to believe that the Big Bang was the result of God having one too many bean burritos. One gigantic gaseous outburst and this whole stinkin universe is on its way.

    So, cosmologists should be studying the Great Big Fart of Space and Time, eh? Has a ring to it. 😉

  67. rash

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_earth#The_Early_Church
    From Late Antiquity, and from the beginnings of Christian theology, knowledge of the sphericity of the Earth had become widespread.[14] As in secular culture a small minority contended with the flatness of the Earth.

    The scarcity of references to their beliefs in later medieval writings convinces most of today’s historians that their influence was slight.

    ————————————–
    Why try to create controversy where there is none?

  68. James J. Murphy

    So we have another representative in Congress ignorant of reality, he assumes God doesn’t exist. We are the product of chance acording to him. I can’t believe the stupidity! It doesn’t say much about the electorate that elected him. They are just as ignorant as he is.
    I’ve learned that expressing a pro-God view on these highly biased blogs is like placing raw flesh in a south American river containing Piranha fish. Immediately attacked.

  69. TheBlackCat

    Yes, you are going to be attacked. You come here and insult many members of the blog, calling them “stupid” and “ignorant of reality”, and you expect us to welcome you with open arms? You have given absolutely not reason why we should take your ideas seriously. Come on. It is like you are trying to make a martyr of yourself. You have not told us why you think these ideas are stupid, or what aspects of them are stupid. You drag out long-disproven, centuries-old creationist canards like “chance”. You have systematically avoided any attempt by us to get the slightest bit of detail out of you. You call the blog “highly biased”, but don’t tell us what its bias is or what makes you think these biases exist. You come here trolling the blog, insulting people, and yet offering us no reason to take you seriously. Until you do so, you will be attacked. Respect is not a right you get by default, it is something that must be earned.

    It seems to me like you want us to attack you. Maybe it is so you can go tell people how biased and closed-minded your enemies are. Maybe it is so you can go criticize us for not having an open mind, for attacking someone just for having opposing views. Maybe it is so you can feel justified in your beliefs (if all those people who are “ignorant of reality” attack me I must be right). Of course you will conveniently forget about or fail to mention that this post was nothing more than a bunch of insults. You will ignore the fact that the had no substance to it. You are a troll, pure and simple. And trolls are attacked, and rightly so.

  70. Darth Robo

    “So we have another representative in Congress ignorant of reality, he assumes God doesn’t exist. We are the product of chance acording to him. I can’t believe the stupidity!”

    And the reason he’s not entitled to his religious opinions is… ?

    “It doesn’t say much about the electorate that elected him. They are just as ignorant as he is.”

    And you are also just as ignorant to assume your opinions are better than his or anyone else’s. Why are they any better?

    “I’ve learned that expressing a pro-God view on these highly biased blogs is like placing raw flesh in a south American river containing Piranha fish. Immediately attacked.”

    Ah, the obligatory martyr comments. I have no problem with your pro-God POV (I don’t consider myself athiest). But when you barge in screaming that people who disagree with your religious opinions must be stupid, then yes, you will be attacked. Now, if you lived in the days when the christians were fed to the lions, then maybe we’d cut you some slack…

  71. James J. Murphy

    TheBlackCat: You use the word “troll” in your entry. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “troll” as: “to leave an intentionally annoying message on a part of the Internet in order to get attention or cause trouble:” You guys have anything but an open mind. I don’t regard my entries as “intentionally annoying” or its my attempt to cause “trouble”. I know that, even if you and others don’t.
    Now as for why I don’t go into detail about my beliefs, Jesus Himself said it better than I ever could: Matt 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”

  72. TheBlackCat

    Coming here and insulting us definitely fits that definition, no matter how you try to justify it.

    I see, so not only are the atheists who visit here “stupid” and “out of touch with reality”, but all the people who visit this board are “dogs” and “swine”. You don’t see how that might just be “annoying” or “cause trouble”? If you honestly cannot see the results of insulting the entire blog and everyone who visits it then there is really nothing anyone here can do to get through to you and we are all wasting our time.

    You are not required to tell us your beliefs. But unless you do no one will take you seriously. Make no mistake. What you are saying you believe will require that we abandon everything we know about ancient history and everything we know about biology and much of several other fields of science. If you will not tell us what your beliefs are or why you have them, do you really expect us to just casually toss away that much knowledge for no reason whatsoever? You have given us absolutely no reason to take you seriously, so why are you so surprised that we don’t? We are not going to abandon so much based solely on the fact that you tell us to. You have no authority on biology, history, or theology, and even if you did on all three unless you give us some reason to accept what you say other than cherry-picked biblical passages than we will not.

  73. Darth Robo

    “You guys have anything but an open mind.”

    That’s rich. Nice to know you can read a dictionary aswell as the Bible. So. You open minded enough to answer my questions?

  74. James J. Murphy

    Dogs & Swine: Apt figures of speech.
    Darth Robo: “Ah, the obligatory martyr comments”, are only in your mind, not in mine. Any further discussion along these lines would be pointless. “East is east and west is west and never the twain will meet”. Rudyard Kipling.

  75. TheBlackCat

    “Dogs & Swine: Apt figures of speech.”

    Thank you for proving my point. You are a troll. Have a nice day.

  76. James J. Murphy

    Dogs & Swine: Apt figures of speech.

    TheBlackCat: Thanks for proving Jesus was right. Have a nice day.

  77. Darth Robo

    ” “Ah, the obligatory martyr comments”, are only in your mind, not in mine.”

    Then could you explain this? :

    “I’ve learned that expressing a pro-God view on these highly biased blogs is like placing raw flesh in a south American river containing Piranha fish. Immediately attacked.”

    If you come onto a pro-science blog and start spouting cr*p, then what else do you expect? Ah yes, you can’t explain yourself:

    “Any further discussion along these lines would be pointless. “East is east and west is west and never the twain will meet”.

    Indeed. So, so far we have extablished that you came along here to troll just because you happen to disagree with Pete Stark’s philosophical views. So, if you want to prove you are not a troll, then perhaps you could answer my questions. I’ll remind you if you have forgotten them already.

    (Ahem)

    So, you disagree with Pete Stark’s religious opinions. Your entitled to your choice. And the reason he’s not entitled to his religious opinions is… ? Also, as Stark stated at any point he’s going to try and force his religious opinions on anyone else?

    You also claimed that Stark and anyone who votes for him is ignorant just because your theological position differs to his. And you are also just as ignorant to assume your opinions are better than his or anyone else’s. Why are they any better?

    So uh, are you just keep on whining and pretending to be smart just because you can quote literature, or are you going to answer my damn questions? If not, then get lost and stop trolling.

    And whatever you decide to do – have a nice day. :)

  78. James J. Murphy

    Darth Robo: Upon taking Jesus’ advice, I have no response. Anything I write will get “trampled on”, Matt:7:6. Have a nice day.

  79. Darth Robo

    “I have no response.”

    Well, I’m disappointed (that happens alot from fundies). And still quoting from literature I see. Doesn’t mean much if you can’t use real world arguments to back up your points. I’d just like to remind you that not everyone who comes here is an atheist – I myself have no particular problem with your religion, you can believe what you like. I DO have a problem if someone tries to push their particular religious opinions as being better than anyone elses. I’m sorry if you feel that all your posts get “trampled on” but that again sounds like another martyr comment to me. (yawn)

    I’ll say again, if you talk nonsense you’ll get an appropriate response. If you feel your views are correct then feel free to back them up (or concede the point), you’ll get alot more respect that way. Otherwise, learn to stop whinging.

    “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Yoda:E:5. Nice day you have.

  80. James J. Murphy

    Darth Robo, I originally got onto these Bad Astronomy blogs because of my naivete regarding their hostility concerning evolution. You of course would not call it “hostility”, but I would. You complain of my quoting literature, what is wrong with that? I don’t offer my personal beliefs based upon Jesus’ advice. Your real desire is to “tear me to pieces”, as He said. I can see through you like I can see through a pane of glass.

  81. Darth Robo

    (sigh) “Their” “hostility” (I assume you are refferring to people who agree with evolution) has only come about because of fundies pushing their non-scientific religious nonsense where it does not belong (the science class). If it makes you feel better (to feed your martyr complex – again) to call it hostility, that’s fine, go ahead and whine.

    “You complain of my quoting literature, what is wrong with that?”

    I wasn’t really complaining as such, just pointing out that it’s just pointless quoting non-relevant literature around. But If you think that makes you look smart, then you carry on.

    “I don’t offer my personal beliefs based upon Jesus’ advice.”

    Okay, but you sure like to preach the Bible alot. As if any here are really interested. Remember, this is a science forum.

    “Your real desire is to “tear me to pieces”, as He said. I can see through you like I can see through a pane of glass.”

    And now we’re back to the old martyr complex again. Round and round in circles we go. That’s all you seem to be here for, to complain about science you don’t like (we don’t care) and then complain that we are all hostile towards you for making flawed, bad points because of your lack of understanding of the scientific method or making absolutely no point at all. If you really want to make a point, you could argue your original case you made on this thread and answer my damn questions. Because so far on this thread you have only been blowing out hot air. If I am only here to “tear you to pieces” then, for God’s sake, stop making it so easy.

  82. James J. Murphy

    Darth Robo: Your comments are not even worth consideration, they’re total nonsense! Just a re-hash of your preconceptions, that have nothing to do with my reality. Thanks for confirming that Jesus was right, not that I needed it.

  83. Darth Robo

    “Just a re-hash of your preconceptions, that have nothing to do with my reality.”

    I could say the same, however in the end, that’s just me and you stating our opinions.

    “Thanks for confirming that Jesus was right”

    For you maybe. And that’s fine. Like I said, not everyone here is interested. If we wanted to listen to preaching, we’d go to the appropriate forum. So if you’ve finished whining, perhaps you could answer my questions? I’ll remind you of them if you’ve forgotten.

    (ahem)

    You said:

    “So we have another representative in Congress ignorant of reality, he assumes God doesn’t exist. We are the product of chance acording to him. I can’t believe the stupidity!”

    And the reason he’s not entitled to his religious opinions is… ? Also, other than stating he is a non-theist, has he made any indication that he wants to use his position to force his own personal philosophies onto anyone else? Then you said:

    “It doesn’t say much about the electorate that elected him. They are just as ignorant as he is.”

    About what exactly? And you are also just as ignorant to assume your opinions are better than his or anyone else’s. Why are they any better? Then you said:

    “I’ve learned that expressing a pro-God view on these highly biased blogs is like placing raw flesh in a south American river containing Piranha fish. Immediately attacked.”

    I’m sorry you feel that way, but I simply have a different point of view than you do and so therefore I asked these questions. So, nearly 3 weeks later and I still haven’t had any answers. All I’ve had is complaints about your “ill treatment”. But hey, you’ll survive. You’ve got Jesus by your side telling you you’re always right, right?. So, do you have an answer to back up your original opinions? Until then, remember that your opinions are just exactly that. Your opinions. They are no better than Stark’s or mine or anyone else’s. You are as human as the rest of us, whatever ‘reality’ you think you live in.

  84. James J. Murphy

    Darth Robo: Your right, I’ve expressed my opinion about Pete Stark and the electorate. Its just that. I don’t give my reasons and won’t, because your still looking to “tear me to pieces”, like Jesus said.

    I’ve neither “preached”, nor “whined”. I’ve expressed my opinion. You contradict yourself by calling my opinion, “preaching”. Further, my opinion, you call “whining”, when the hostility is an obvious fact. It is truly unfortunate that naivete is met with such defensive hostility. I’ll keep the hostility in mind should I express an opinion on any future BA blog.

    Quote: “You’ve got Jesus by your side telling you you’re always right, right?” Wrong! Jesus is telling me where I need improvement, and you too.

    Quote: “You are as human as the rest of us..” Pardon me while I enjoy a good belly laugh at that one. Gee, I didn’t know I was merely human! Job had said, “…All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes.” Job: 14:14. Whoops, another relevent quotation!!! I suspect this one is over your head!!! Oh, and by the way, I’m not preaching, I’m just quoting since you say I’m “just as human as the rest of us”.

    You read a lot into my comments that really isn’t there. You and I will never agree!!! For sure.

  85. Darth Robo

    You’re still whining about the apparent hostility you get, but what do you call this?

    “So we have another representative in Congress ignorant of reality, he assumes God doesn’t exist. We are the product of chance acording to him. I can’t believe the stupidity! It doesn’t say much about the electorate that elected him. They are just as ignorant as he is.”

    And when you group a whole load of non-believers together by calling them “stupid”, you have the gall to say that they are the ones being hostile and you just say that you’re “naive”? Well, I could probably agree with you on that one, fundamentalism can breed naivete of the worst kind. Along with the arrogance of thinking that your opinion is better than anyone else’s. If you didn’t think that your opinion was better than anyone else’s you could have explained yourself by answering my questions.

    I’m sure you can say I’m arrogant, and heck, maybe you’re right – I’m also stubborn and opinionated when I want to be. I know I’m flawed, but I also know that Jesus ain’t telling me where to improve. If anyone it would be the FSM (praise the Lord, Ramen). But we’re not really getting anywhere here, and Phil is probably getting sick of having to moderate this old thread that everyone else has forgotten about while we’re still here bickering like a couple of daft gits. I’m sure that we’ll both have plenty of opportunities to express differing opinions in the future. See ya around.

  86. James J. Murphy

    Darth Robo: I find it ridiculous the way you carry-on repeating your nonsense. (Whining, better than others etc.) With this comment I am severing all comments to you.

  87. Darth Robo

    Aw! (sniff, sniff. (cry) )

    :(

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