Mitch Daniels’ anti-atheist comments

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is getting some favorable attention from libertarians, perhaps with some justification given his reading habits. However he has nothing kind to say about the atheists among us:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

I was going to write a longer post about this until I realized the quote is from a December interview. That’s remarkable in itself, given that I just recently came across it. An American governor saying that any religion “leads to brutality” would surely have made bigger headlines, but disparage atheists and hardly anyone takes notice until months later.

Atheists have polled as the least trusted group in the US and a majority of respondents say they would not vote for an atheist candidate. Statements from politicians like Daniels are part of the reason. Since atheists are an invisible minority we have the option of letting such comments slide. As I’ve written before, I think this is a mistake:

Respondents to the survey call atheists elitist and in one sense they are right. Academia and the sciences are wide open to us. Educated Americans on the coasts are more tolerant of atheism. Unless we’re running for public office, no ceiling blocks our ambitions. Unlike other minorities, we have the luxury of not caring what other people think. And so we don’t.

So maybe we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

To their credit, the Center for Inquiry Indiana has taken Daniels to task for his comments, and Jonathan Turley was on it immediately.

I’m an atheist about all the gods that matter

Ron Rosenbaum’s “Agnostic Manifesto” at Slate has been making the rounds lately. He makes a few arguments against atheism, the central one being this:

Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. [...]

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing. But the question presents a fundamental mystery that has bedeviled (so to speak) philosophers and theologians from Aristotle to Aquinas. Recently scientists have tried to answer it with theories of “multiverses” and “vacuums filled with quantum potentialities,” none of which strikes me as persuasive. [...]

Agnosticism doesn’t fear uncertainty. It doesn’t cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.

I don’t think this criticism hits the mark. For starters, as Rosenbaum quotes approvingly from John Wilkins, we are all atheists about something: “Christians are Vishnu-atheists, I am a Thor-atheist, and so on.” This is the lay meaning of the word “atheism,” and it’s a useful meaning. When I tell people I am an atheist they understand that this means I don’t believe in any of the gods imagined by (or revealed to, if you disagree) human beings, and their understanding is correct.

Does this mean I am 100% certain that no gods exist? No, but certainty is a mug’s game. In real life we are faced with countless hypotheses about the nature of the world and we must use our best judgments about which of them to take seriously. I will concede that there is a non-zero probability that God once made a covenant with my ancestors, or sent down his son to offer us eternal life, or even that we are all headed toward Ragnarök. However I’m not going to spend much time investigating these possibilities.

On this I think Rosenbaum agrees, which leaves us with the less exciting kinds of gods that only philosophers bother talking about. It’s true that I cannot explain “why there is something rather than nothing.” But I don’t see why it should be my job to explain it, or how positing a god does any better. To this question the philosophers’ god is not a solution, but rather the placeholder to a solution. As Julian Sanchez writes, this is merely “gesturing at the realm of mystery and calling the question mark that lives there God.” Without giving the word meaning there’s nothing for me to be agnostic about.

Will advanced physics explain why there is something rather than nothing, if that question makes sense? I don’t know, but I also don’t know where else one would reasonably look. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be something we might call a god, or maybe someday I’ll be presented with a definition of god that plausibly and meaningfully answers the question. Until then I think it most honest to call myself an atheist, at least in regard to all the gods that matter.

The right perspective on Warren

I didn’t watch this morning’s festivities since I think they represent far too much political worship and because I haven’t bothered to actually plug in my TV since moving to Portland. But if I had viewed it I would have wanted to do so on New Zealand’s TV One:

In any event, the coverage was unexpectedly good. The best comedic moment came when they decided to skip coverage of the invocation, which was dismissed as “Someone is saying a prayer now” and that they would return to coverage of the event when something important happened. Of all the ways to not have to hear Rick Warren’s awful accent this was a good one.

Fantastic!

Secular separatists

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week with more background on the “Imagine No Religion” ad campaign and related developments:

Late next month, atheists, humanists, freethinkers, secularists — in short, nonbelievers of every description — will gather in dozens of cities to mark the holiday they call HumanLight.

Whether by singing from a Humanist Hymnal, decorating a winter wreath or lighting candles dedicated to personal heroes, they’ll celebrate what has been an exhilarating ride for the faithless — a surge in recognition that has many convinced they’re on the brink of making a mark on mainstream America…

Building on that momentum, nonbelievers have begun a very public campaign to win broad acceptance. On billboards and bus ads, radio commercials and the Internet, atheists are coming forward to declare, quite simply: We’re here. And we’re just like you.

The article is interesting throughout and includes the revelation that atheists now fund a congressional lobbyist. I’m looking forward to receiving a federal subsidy for the time I spend not worshiping. Hey, it works for farmers.

So what is this HumanLight day and what happened to its founders’ space bar?

In Western societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During the winter holiday season, where the word “holiday” has taken on a more secular meaning, many events are observed. This tradition of celebrations, however, is grounded in supernatural religious beliefs that many people in modern society cannot accept. HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.

I don’t want to denigrate a holiday that’s clearly filling a need for some people, but it seems a bit overly sensitive to think that Christmas is unfit for non-believers. The holiday has already become highly secularized and represents the very things listed above to millions of Americans, leaving them free to attach specific Christian meanings only if they choose to. For many non-Christians the day has as little do with the birth of Christ as it does with the pagan festivals that give it form. Given that HumanLight is not going to knock Christmas off its perch as the primary winter holiday any time soon, this is a good thing. It seems to me truer to the theme of universal good will to continue co-opting Christmas and making it our own than to replace it with an esoteric, separate celebration two days earlier. And if our aim is to make secularism more accepted and appealing, then we should perhaps not send the message that being an atheist requires giving up a treasured holiday with centuries of tradition behind it. (Though if HumanLight makes you happy, by all means enjoy it. The group responds to criticism, including discussion of the capitalized ‘L’, here.)

On a semi-related note, head over to the new Secular Right weblog. It’s got some good names behind it and is off to a promising start.

[WSJ link via Freedom and Shit.]

God smites

A billboard conveying an atheist message has been taken down in Rancho Cucamunga:

The billboard, at the busy corner of Archibald Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, says “Imagine No Religion” in large letters on a stained-glass background. Underneath is the name of the group, “Freedom From Religion Foundation,” and the group’s Web address…

Judy Rooze, administrator of First Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga, which is two blocks from the billboard, was relieved it was coming down.

Rooze said it was unsettling.

“I understand people have freedom of speech, but this is taking it too far,” she said. “It’s very jarring.”

The request to remove the billboard came from the city, which had received 90 complaints from tolerant people of faith like Judy Rooze. It’s not clear from the reports how voluntary that request was, but that’s getting dangerously close to censorship. Cities have no business asking a billboard companies to take down signs just because they have an anti-religious message.

I wonder if Ms. Rooze was offended by the clever “God speaks” billboard suggesting that non-believers will spend eternity in Hell? I’m guessing not, and it’s hard to imagine a city asking that it be taken down so as not to offend secularists.

Unfortunately, this isn’t even the dumbest anti-atheist prejudice I came across today. That dubious honor goes to Wall Street Journal editor Dan Henninger, whose columns I’m embarrassed to admit I enjoyed in college.

What would Jesus palm?

I really enjoyed this behind the scenes look from Mother Jones at the annual convention of the Fellowship for Christian Magicians:

To demonstrate one of his favorite bits of legerdemain, [Duane] Laflin selects a boy named Drake and asks him to mark a quarter.

“This quarter represents Drake’s life,” announces Laflin, delivering a stream of well-rehearsed patter. “Now, it’s a treasure, isn’t it?” He places the coin in a small box, and retrieves a silver cube, which, he says, represents God’s will for Drake’s life. “Would you like to know what’s in the cube?” Laflin asks. Drake nods. Music swells from a set of portable speakers. “There’s only one way for you to know—you must give up your life. You can keep the quarter or pick God’s plan for your life. What’s your choice, Drake?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Drake picks God’s plan. Laflin hands him the silver cube. Nervously, the boy lifts its lid—only to find that it contains six smaller boxes, nested like Russian dolls. Inside the final box is a handkerchief with two quarters inside. One is unmarked; the other is his original coin. “When you make the decision to live for God and give your life to him, God gives your life back to you so you can live for God,” Laflin says as Drake stares at the coins in amazement. After Laflin finishes his lecture, audience members—mostly middle-aged men and teenage boys—line up for autographs.

One of the magicians covered is Andre Kole, whose gospel show I saw in Texas many years ago:

For some gospel magicians, the very fact that their powers aren’t supernatural is proof that the biblical miracles were real. “I carry tons of equipment in order to do my shows,” says André Kole, a famed magician who consults for David Copperfield and has mastered an illusion where he appears to walk on water. “If Jesus was a magician, you’d have to visualize 2,000 years ago Jesus and the disciples walking through the dusty streets of Galilee wearing sandals, with three diesel trucks behind them carrying all their equipment.”

Kole puts on a good show, but really, that’s an absurd argument. (It’s not just a random quote — the argument is a central part of his presentation.) I don’t know anyone who believes that Jesus was a magician. I know lots of people who think we shouldn’t be taking ancient religious books as literal truth. Can Muhammad’s ascension to Heaven from the Dome of the Rock be explained by advanced Middle Eastern illusion technology? No? Then we’d better start pulling rabbits out of our keffiyahs, because we’re all Muslims now.

The FCM convention does have one thing going for it that I envy: “The five-day event coincides with a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders.” The overwhelmingly male secular magic conventions I’ve attended would have been a lot more fun with a Gathering of Skeptical Cheerleaders going on next door.

Praying for lower gas prices

From The Washington Post:

…unlike the customers rolling up to the station’s pumps this week, resigned to the fact that their wallets were about to take a beating, Rocky Twyman and company had a plan to bring that number tumbling down.

They would ask God to do it.

“Our pockets are empty, but we’re going to hold on to God!” Twyman, a community organizer from Rockville, said as he and seven other people formed a semicircle, held hands and sang, pleading for divine intervention to lower fuel prices.

It was the latest demonstration by Twyman’s movement, Pray at the Pump, which began in April. Since then, he has held group prayers at gas stations as far away as San Francisco, garnering international media attention and even claiming success in at least a couple of cases.

Some would say the proof of whether Twyman has the ear of the Almighty is in the result. On the first day of the movement, April 23, the national average price of a gallon of unleaded was $3.53, according to AAA. As of yesterday, it was $3.96.

The sad thing is this isn’t even close to being the dumbest energy policy idea to come out of Washington this year.

[Via TMN.]

Mormons more popular than atheists

Everyone’s standing up for Romney’s plea for tolerance of his odd religion. Unfortunately, he didn’t grant any time in his speech to include non-believers. According to Gallup, we’ve got the bigger problem. The most recent polling puts the number of Americans who’d be willing to vote for a qualified atheist for president at just 46%, a number that has plateaued over the past decade. A qualified Mormon, in contrast, would draw support from 80% of the population.

Women, racial, and religious minorities have seen a very positive trend in voter acceptance. Perhaps an electable atheist politician could boost these numbers beyond the hypothetical response rate, but it seems that despite the success of atheists writers in the media, secular society is losing ground to the evangelical impulse and traditional morality in politics.

[Hat tip: Unqualified Offerings.]

Update 12/12: See also The Economist and The NYT.

Previously:
Trust me, I’m an atheist

Throwin’ in with Jesus

Richard Dawkins on Bill O’Reilly:

A fantastic mismatch of intellect if ever there was one.

[Via Mungowitz.]

Atheism roundtable

Given recent blogging, I’m looking forward to this AFF event:

On Wednesday, October 24, AFF will host a roundtable on atheism. Though historically disorganized and decreasingly popular on the national political scene, fundamentalist Christianity has retained enough force to attract a powerful new salvo of criticism. Some charge that what Andrew Sullivan calls ‘Christianism’ has collapsed the wall between faith and government, harming both. Others seek to do away with religion entirely. Figures arrayed across both science and the humanities, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have published a wave of bestsellers making the atheist pitch to the masses. But instead of surrender, this diligent barrage has prompted an equally diligent counterattack. With western civilization at yet another moment of apparent peril, internecine cultural conflict could needlessly provoke another paralyzing crisis. To the contrary, such conflict may prove precisely the west’s enduring strength. Regardless, when cultural combatants go on offense, we judge them on the merits in those terms. How does what Peter Berkowitz calls the New New Atheism fare in that regard — harshly dogmatic or valuably reasonable?

Joining us to discuss these issues are Ross Douthat of the Atlantic Monthly, Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The American Conservative, and Keith Pavlischek of Ethics and Public Policy Center. James Poulos will moderate. The event will take place at the Fund for American Studies, 1706 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, near Dupont Circle. Drinks at 6:30; Roundtable begins at 7:00. Roundtables are free for members, $5 for non-members. So join today! Please RSVP to Kathleen O’Hearn at kathleen@americasfuture.org.

Atheists and libertarians, same boat

Via Andrew Sullivan, is there a “problem with atheism?” Sam Harris thinks so and explains why in a challenging essay:

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves…

While it is an honor to find myself continually assailed with Dan [Dennett], Richard [Dawkins], and Christopher [Hitchens] as though we were a single person with four heads, this whole notion of the “new atheists” or “militant atheists” has been used to keep our criticism of religion at arm’s length, and has allowed people to dismiss our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. And while our books have gotten a fair amount of notice, I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism.

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them…

We will have won this war of ideas against religion when atheism is scarcely intelligible as a concept. We will simply find ourselves in a world in which people cease to praise one another for pretending to know things they do not know. This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future compatible with our long-term survival as a species. But the only path between now and then, that I can see, is for us to be rigorously honest in the present. It seems to me that intellectual honesty is now, and will always be, deeper and more durable, and more easily spread, than “atheism.”

As Harris tells it it, libertarians strike me as facing much the same dilemma. On the one hand, by identifying with a political ideology we make it easier for others to dismiss our policy arguments rather than confront them on the merits. On the other, if we eschew the label for something more generic we miss out on opportunities to express our opposition to the dominant, pro-state views of modern conservatives and liberals.

I agree with Harris that using the atheist label concedes too much to religion, as if we atheists should also call ourselves “aghostists” and “aNessiests” and “aESPists” when asked our opinion of other irrational beliefs. I, too, would love to live in a world where the basic ideas of major religions are considered so bizarre that it would be silly to assign a label to non-belief. Similarly, I wish proposals for socialized medicine or federal marriage amendments were viewed with such ridicule that I could simply call myself a liberal and be done with it. But we’re far from that state of affairs, both in religion and in politics.

Thankfully, as Harris points out, people of sound mind don’t have to join the “non-racist” club to express their lack of irrational prejudice. But in a previous century they did and organized a movement around abolition. The shedding of labels is a luxury for the victors. We atheists haven’t won acceptance yet. As I wrote last year:

…we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

Strategically, I think Harris is right that we should work harder at debunking specific religious beliefs rather than always declaring war on religion as a whole. But the need for a label isn’t something we control; it’s forced upon us by a religious society that expects people to fit into religious categories. Much of the time, refusing the category means ducking the conversation, and thus foregoing an opportunity to normalize unbelief.

Even so, Harris’ essay does have me rethinking when to use the label. I know there are a few other atheists reading this site. What do you think?

Thou shalt not smoke

Thou shalt not smoke

We hear all the time — and rightly so — about private smoking establishments protesting smoking bans. That’s why I love the inversion involved in this article from the Telegraph about church leaders upset about having to deface their glorious cathedrals with officious, unnecessary “no smoking” signs to comply with the impending ban on smoking in enclosed spaces:

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev Colin Slee, who is the spokesman of the Association of English Cathedrals, was scathing.

“It is such nonsense,” he said.

“One is bound to ask, when did you last hear of somebody smoking in church?”

As if people couldn’t figure out not to smoke in a cathedral without the government’s help. Of course if England officials had any faith at all in people working out their own civil customs, these sweeping bans wouldn’t be passing in the first place.

Equal time

As long as we’re talking religion, I might as well link to this story about a dispute between a Utah coffee shop and the LDS church that doesn’t like its tee shirts.

Sci-fi analogy to the shabbos goy: If a Mormon could have a non-Mormon friend drink coffee and somehow transport the wakefulness into his own body, would that be ok?

[Via BoingBoing.]

Previously:
Mormon cafe culture?

Baby I will be your shabbos goy

Jesus said to his Jews: “The law was for servants—love God as I love him, as his son! What are morals to us sons of God!”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s no secret that I’m far from Christian, but if there’s anything that could make me appreciate the religion it’s Nietzsche’s interpretation. This post, coupled with my weakly expressed Jewish heritage, should explain why.

Recently I came across an interesting post about the amount of energy wasted using an elevator when stairs are available. Given the size and weight of elevators, I’ve always assumed elevators are massive energy hogs and take stairs when I can. In truth, thanks to the use of counterweights, elevators are actually very efficient. Many also employ regenerative braking that converts friction into usable electricity. All things considered, using elevators is actually pretty far down the list of environmental sins. But more interesting than this fact is the mention of a contrivance I’d never heard of: the Sabbath elevator.

Talmudic law prohibits the doing of useful work on the Sabbath. This has been interpreted to include the operation of electrical devices, making life particularly difficult for Jewish robots. It creates obstacles for real people too, leading to the invention of the Sabbath elevator.

Elevators are problematic because they require users to push buttons to operate them. To get around this need, areas with high Jewish populations have created Sabbath elevators programmed to run constantly, stopping on every floor on a preset schedule. This allows observant users to get on and off the elevator without having to interact with it in any way.

It’s actually a bit more complicated than this, depending on how observant one actually is. For example, one must beware of elevators with automatic sensors that could be accidentally set off. Also, some Sabbath elevators disable the regenerative braking, ensuring that a passenger’s weight on the elevator doesn’t produce any useful work.

As mentioned above, elevators are very efficient so the Sabbath versions are silly if not terribly wasteful. However there are other fascinatingly ingenious workarounds available, such as this ridiculous wooden lamp. The difficulty with using a lamp on the Sabbath is that one can’t turn it off when light is no longer wanted and leaving it on all the time isn’t very pleasant either. The solution? A wooden lampshade with opaque panels that can be rotated into place to turn the lamp “off.” Of course the bulb is still burning and wasting energy under the shade, so it’s not really off at all, but this is religiously preferred to flipping a switch.

Finally, as a last resort there’s the shabbos goy, a gentile who does work for observant Jews on the Sabbath. Non-Jews can do things that a Jew can’t do. So an observant Jew can’t turn on the air conditioner, but he can not-so-subtly complain about the heat until his gentile friend does.

And this is what I always found distasteful in Judaism — aside from the gefilte fish, another Sabbath workaround. Judaism doesn’t seem to prohibit these kind of acts because of their moral or practical implications, but because of their symbolism; it’s perfectly fine to benefit from air conditioning as long as it’s not a Jew hitting the on switch. Though the Jewish side of my family is extremely reform, this obedience to a plethora of traditional rules always struck me as more burdensome than meaningful. Thus my affinity for the Nietzsche quote above. (This is a purely personal preference. If you’re Jewish and find meaning in following the rules, follow them all you want.)

I’m not writing this as an unprovoked rant against Judaism. I have a serious question: can an environmentalist observant Jew consistently apply his ethics? Covering light bulbs with boxes instead of turning them off hardly seems like a good idea for an environmentalist. Perhaps the general prohibition on operating electrical devices does result in observant Jews having a net energy savings on the Sabbath, but it’s actions on the margin that matter. Given that the applicable rules for Jews are more symbolic than moral, could some flexibility be granted for a good cause? Or alternatively, is the flexibility embodied in the creative workarounds mentioned above the real problem?

(I’m aware that that the Sabbath prohibitions are intended to respect God’s resting on the seventh day. To which my friend Chad says, “Yes, but God got a lot more done the other six days of the week than I do.” Exactly! If the Old Testament God had GMail and Bloglines, he wouldn’t have been able to rest on the seventh day either.)

(Also, if this post doesn’t elicit some comment from Jeff, nothing will.)

Godless congressman

And I mean that as a compliment. From the Secular Coalition for America:

There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America (www.secular.org ). Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.

Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition’s research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. [JG: Even I find this surprising.] Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

If you count Republican Ron Paul as a Libertarian, atheists are doing about as well in politics as the LP, which isn’t saying much:

In October, 2006 the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, announced a contest. At the time, few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist. So the Coalition offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.

In addition to Rep. Stark only three other elected officials agreed to do so: Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.

So good for Stark. Alas, he doesn’t seem to be the nicest guy to represent us godless types:

Stark, 71, added to his legend of buffoonery last week when he called Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., “a little wimp” and a “little fruitcake” — and suggested the two should step outside. Capitol police were called to the hearing.

It was reminiscent of the 2001 debate when Stark made a reference to the children of Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., all being “born out of wedlock.” It was not only insulting, it was — as Watts pointedly told Stark in a face-to-face confrontation — not true.

And there was the time he accused Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., of being a “whore for the insurance industry.” Stark once brought up President Bush’s personal battles with alcohol during a debate on federal funding of faith- based programs.

Yes, this is the same Pete Stark who in 1990 suggested former Health and Human Services Director Louis Sullivan, an African American, was a “disgrace to his race.”

Best response to the story comes from commenter David on Radley’s Reason post about the subject:

Hmmmm, maybe atheism for congressmen is a reversed Pascal’s wager.

Exactly! If being a politician already ups one’s chances of damnation, it’s best to come out as an atheist and score whatever points for honesty one can.

Update 3/13/07: I should have also linked to Radley’s recent piece on America’s misguided distrust of atheist candidates.

Previously:
Trust me, I’m an atheist

Optimism for the new year

The 2007 EDGE question and answers are up, and as always the responses thought provoking. Each year EDGE asks leading scientists and empirically minded intellectuals a single question. This year it’s, “What are you optimistic about? Why?”

I’ve only had a chance to read through about a quarter of the responses so far and couldn’t pick just one to quote. So instead, here’s a suprisingly theological answer from Martin Seligman:

I am optimistic that God may come at the end.

I’ve never been able to choke down the idea of a supernatural God who stands outside of time, a God who designs and creates the Universe. There is, however, an alternate notion of God relevant to the secular community, the skeptical, evidence-minded community that believes only in nature.

The rest of his response is here.

[Via BoingBoing.]