Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vet Charities

"The American Institute of Philanthropy, a leading charity watchdog, issued a report card this month for 29 veterans and military charities. Letter grades were based largely on the charities' fundraising costs and the percentage of money raised that was spent on charitable activities."

Air Force Aid Society (A+)
American Ex-Prisoners of War Service Foundation (F)
American Veterans Coalition (F)
American Veterans Relief Foundation (F)
AMVETS National Service Foundation (F)
Armed Services YMCA of the USA (A-)
Army Emergency Relief (A+)
Blinded Veterans Association (D)
Disabled American Veterans (D)
Disabled Veterans Association (F)
Fisher House Foundation (A+)
Freedom Alliance (F)
Help Hospitalized Veterans/Coalition to Salute America's Heroes (F)
Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (A+)
Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation (F)
National Military Family Association (A)
National Veterans Services Fund (F)
National Vietnam Veterans Committee (D)
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (A+)
NCOA National Defense Foundation (F)
Paralyzed Veterans of America (F)
Soldiers' Angels (D)
United Spinal Association's Wounded Warrior Project (D)
USO (United Service Organization) (C+)
Veterans of Foreign Wars and foundation (C-)
Veterans of the Vietnam War & the Veterans Coalition (D)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (D)
VietNow National Headquarters (F)
World War II Veterans Committee (D)

[The list is from this Washington Post page. Via the Rachel Maddow Show.]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Response to Paul Davies

"People say to me, 'Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?' No, I'm not... If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers... then that's the way it is." -- Richard Feynman from "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"

Paul Davies' Op-Ed in the New York Times, "Taking Science on Faith" (November 24, 2007) makes a familiar argument. If he had used the light version of the argument, I might have agreed. But he uses the strong version which is just wrong.

The light argument is: Everyone works with metaphysical assumptions. For example, I have a working assumption that the universe is comprised of matter and energy -- and everything we experience emerges from those two entities. Maybe there is more to the universe than I am guessing. I just haven't seen convincing evidence of anything else yet. So yes, I have a metaphysical assumption and it might be wrong.

Davies argues a much stronger version of this. He states,
"science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way."

That is demonstrably false.

Quantum physics is not rational or intelligible. On the quantum scale, sometimes "if A then B" -- sometimes "if A then not-B." No one understands why this is the case. But if we perform enough experiments resulting in B or not-B, we can statistically chart the probabilities. That is a rational approach to something we don't understand. The use of probabilities delivers extremely reliable results over the long term. But the actual workings of the quantum world remain mysterious.

Physicists Richard Feynman and John von Neumann are both attributed saying, "You don't understand quantum mechanics, you just get used to it."

The world is not so orderly -- and this is already accepted by scientists. There is a difference between rationality in nature and using rationality to study nature. Davies conflates the two ideas.

Davies continues,
"The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?"

Davies presents these as questions that science ignores. Actually, these are vital and pressing questions in the physics community.

The mathematical relationships that he describes as "tidy" are actually pretty hairy. The relationship between gravity and electromagnetism has been a mystery for decades and is the impetus for studies in supersymmetry and the string hypothesis. When relativity and quantum mechanics are combined on the tiniest scales, they generate messy infinities.

The sexiest and busiest theoretical physics happening from Einstein to today has been the attempt to reconcile this problem. But Davies portrays the scientists as in a blithe disregard.

Davies reports,
"Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from 'that's not a scientific question' to 'nobody knows.' The favorite reply is, 'There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.'"

First, "nobody knows" is perfectly legitimate answer. It's the kind of answer that gets scientists out of bed in the morning. It's a mystery to solve. "Nobody knows, but maybe we can find out."

Second, we can't assume there is an ultimate explanation. If we found one, that would be nice, just as Feynman said at the top quote. But we can't currently assume such an explanation will be found.

Davies rebukes,
"The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational."

Again, we can't assume that nature has any reasons. But we can still use our rationality to study nature. Nature is what it is. Our rationality helps us discover nature. But we should not assume we will find rationality staring back at us. Currently, we don't.

Davies argues,
"If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science."

No, it just means that some phenomena are unintelligible -- as in quantum physics.

A few words about the "laws" of physics. The use of the term "laws" carries some baggage. Plus, it invites additional baggage from those who want to assume a "lawmaker."

Let's take the law of gravity as an example. The law of gravity is one of the most respected ideas in physics. Galileo measured falling bodies at 32 feet/sec/sec. But that measurement turned out to be true only locally. Newton revised this by showing that the strength of gravity is inversely proportional to distance, and in doing so explained planetary motion. Einstein revised Newton, describing gravity in terms of space-time geometry -- which fit better with the orbit of Mercury around the sun. Now Einstein may be under revision as we try to understand the apparently accelerating expansion of the visible universe.

Like our secular laws, physical laws are open to revision. What's more, our current physical laws break down when we go back in time within the Big Bang model.

Our use of the word "laws" is a relic from science's past. Greater minds may be able to think up a better word. But it is important to realize that any scientific explanation is tentative, open to revision, maybe true at one time but not in another time. Modern cosmology now treats "laws" as potentially mutable.

Davies talks about his science education,
"The laws were treated as 'given' — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore."

It sounds like that education was a disservice. The Big Bang and inflationary models contradict these assumptions.

Leaving the Big Bang aside, let's concentrate on the consistency of scientific findings. Consistency of experimental results is the norm today and makes science possible. The current universe, to our best evidence, is very consistent. That does not necessarily mean that, at its root, the universe is intelligible or has "laws" for a "reason." Consistency and rationality are two different ideas. For example, the quantum world is consistently and dependably irrational.

Davies then touches on the multiverse speculation. This is the idea that our universe is only one of many universes. The other universes may have different physics which may or may not be stable or hospitable to life. He writes,
"In this 'multiverse,' life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence."

Davies is responding to a line of questioning often called the anthropic principle. "Why is the universe so suited for our existence?" is a way of summarizing the idea. The problem with the anthropic principle is that explores the universe by looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

In the novella Candide, Voltaire ridicules this kind of thinking with the character Dr. Pangloss. Pangloss argues we live in the best of all possible worlds. Evidence for this assertion is that our noses are perfectly designed for resting eyeglasses.

Actually, most of the universe is hostile to human existence. We are not adapted to survive in the vacuum of space (the vast majority of the universe). And if the earth happened to form near the center of our galaxy, the turbulence may have made it impossible for creatures to evolve to the point where they could ask teleological questions.

A better question might be, "Why is our universe productive enough to create life at all?" That might be interesting except that it's likely unanswerable. Our sample set of universes is limited to one. And we don't know what portion of this one is visible to us.

While it's unlikely we are the first life in the universe, we're the only ones we have found. The universe is not teeming with life forms except very locally. A few miles up or a few miles down and you're escaping our humble biota.

If Davies is dissatisfied with speculating on a multiverse, we are in agreement. Unfortunately, he goes further:
"Both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too."

Scientists do not necessarily assume there is something outside the universe. For example, asking what was happening before the universe may be nonsensical because time is part of the universe in question. To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, asking what happened before the beginning of the universe is like asking what land is south of the south pole.

Davies' argument misconstrues the search for "physical laws" as necessarily appealing to something "outside" the universe. Plus, it throws in the problematic multiverse idea for good measure.

Then comes the zinger,
"For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence."

This is a subset of the general rule: "no one can provide a complete account of physical existence."

This is not a controversial point.

The advantage of scientific inquiry is that it admits this ignorance. But Davies tries to use our shared ignorance as a basis for false equivalence.

There is a difference between saying,
"The universe seemed to start with a Big Bang, I wonder why?" and
"The universe seemed to start with a Big Bang, I wonder who made it?"
The second question assumes a particular kind of answer.
The first question is more open-ended and parsimonious.

Davies' argument falsely equates the two. It does this by misrepresenting the quest for physical "laws" as a faith-based initiative. Today's cosmology is not so certain.

If Davies was arguing that we are all ignorant of any full explanation of physical reality and we do our best with our assumptions, I would agree. But he goes further to argue that all scientific inquiry is like religion.

In practice, the answer "God made it that way," tends to stop inquiry (and generates an unwarranted amount of certainty these days). On the other hand, all scientific knowledge is tentative.

Even a discovery as well revered as gravity is under continuous scrutiny and revision.

Under what circumstances does the God speculation get revised?

-- Pat McComb

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dear Conservative Alerts

Dear Conservative Alerts and VBS Radio,

I read your alert below, "Fight Liberal Air America’s Attack on Christianity."
Let me try to understand this,

- I'm supposed to get upset about "Freethought Radio," a radio show for atheists, agnostics, brights, etc.?

- I'm further supposed to fear the destruction of America because of this one-hour weekly show?

- You are to have me believe that freethinkers are in the business of attacking American values?

- And the way to fight back is to help start a religious radio station?
(which has clearly been in the works for a while and not a response to a show which debuted two weeks ago)

- I am to assume there is some lack of religious programming today?
(Air America has a couple religious shows of their own)

- I am to be upset that Al Franken has "free reign on the airwaves" despite the fact that he no longer has a radio show and he is not an atheist?

- You would have me think conservative Christians (Falwell, Robertson, Reed, Dobson, Haggard, Perkins, come to mind) have been timid, "roll over," when it comes to politics and media?

- I am supposed to give startup money for this new radio station -- not invest, but donate?

- And my big motivation is those scary atheists? ...and their one-hour weekly radio show?

Is the above all accurate?
I want to make sure I understand this correctly.

Thanks for the email alerts,
-- Pat

PS: Does your PS suggest that if people do not believe in God, then God ceases to exist?

Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2007 10:58:46 -0400
Subject: Fight Liberal Air America’s Attack on Christianity

This CONSERVATIVE ALERT is a special message from the Victory Broadcast Service:

Air America Launches Nationwide Atheism Program -- Select below to Fight Back for Conservative Christian Radio:

Dear Conservative Friend:

What’s the best way to permanently destroy a building?


The Bible says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

So what is the best way for liberals to permanently destroy the American republic?

Destroy the foundations.

The radical left in America will stop at nothing to destroy traditional values in this country -- the foundations that were built upon the solid rock of Christianity. This month, they took one more step to destroy those foundations… According to

The liberal talk radio network Air America announced this week it will launch a nationwide show focusing on atheism. The first national show will feature Christopher Hitchens, author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

“How Religion Poisons Everything”???!!! Are you joking???

You read that right: the leading self-proclaimed liberal radio network is openly working to destroy the foundations of Christianity in this country, as part of their overall plan to move America to the far left.

Fight back NOW by supporting the Conservative Christian Radio Network, VBS Radio:

Tax-deductible donation:

We don’t have to just roll over and “play dead” any more. For too long, conservative Christians in this country have retreated inside the four walls of the church building, handing over everything to radical leftists like Air America’s Al Franken, Al Gore, Janeane Garofalo, Jerry Springer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Arianna Huffington, Sen. Bob Kerrey… the list goes on and on.

NO MORE. It’s time to stand up and fight back against the lies being spread by liberals like Air America, whose goal is to destroy the foundations that the American republic has stood on for centuries now.

That’s where the VBS Radio network comes in. Part of the Victory Broadcast Service, VBS Radio is a brand new conservative Christian radio network which has been “webcasting” (broadcasting over the internet) since January of this year… but which is launching its new FREE satellite broadcast on Wednesday, October 31… Reformation Day!

Select below to listen to VBS Radio online now:

VBS Radio is a multi-denominational religious radio network that features local church service programs from around the U.S.A., 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Several hours a day are dedicated to strong conservative Christian radio shows, including “The Gary DeMar Show,” “Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul,” “The Narrow Path” and others.

But the bulk of our programming consists of teachings from dozens of local churches around this great country -- churches from every part of the nation, whose pastors still believe in the foundations of America’s past, the relevant truth of the Gospel for today, and a glorious hope for our future!

THIS is what we need counter the lies of the anti-Christian Left -- preachers who are willing to stand up for what’s RIGHT, like they did from the founding of our country!

Ever heard of the “Black Regiment”? The "Black Regiment" was a group of patriot-preachers from virtually every protestant denomination located throughout Colonial America at the time of America's fight for independence, who courageously preached the Biblical principles of liberty and independence. (The name came from the tendency of these patriot-preachers to wear long, black robes in their pulpits.)

Those patriot-preachers ARE still around… and now, they’ll be broadcast on FREE satellite radio, 24/7! We don’t HAVE to let Al Franken and Al Gore have free reign on the airwaves!

Fight back NOW by supporting the Conservative Christian Radio Network, VBS Radio:

Tax-deductible donation:

We need your help TODAY. Usually, satellite time -- even for just a few hours a day -- is very expensive. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get VBS Radio onto a 24-hour-a-day North American satellite feed… CHEAP.

But it’s not “cheap” to us!

It’s going to cost us $1,100.00 in setup fees; plus a $1,500.00 deposit; and then $750.00 each month.

Now, compared to just the “normal” satellite fees of at least $12,000.00 per month, that really IS cheap… but to get us up and running by October 31, we MUST raise $3,350.00.

Hearing news like we shared with you earlier -- where radical liberals are taking to the airwaves to destroy the moral and religious foundations of our country -- tells us that this is the right thing to do, at the right time, with the right message. We’re ready to take that “leap of faith” to start satellite broadcasting over the entire U.S.A. -- and we’re asking YOU to take that leap of faith with us!

WILL YOU TAKE A STAND WITH US TODAY, to fight back for what’s right in America?

  • If you can make a tax-deductible donation of just $3,350.00 today, we can go LIVE over satellite right on time.

  • If you can give a gift of just $1,500.00 right away, we can cover our costs for our deposit.

  • If you can make a contribution of just $1,100.00 right now, we can completely take care of our setup fees to get on the air.

  • If you can give just $750.00 today, we can pay for a whole month of satellite airtime.

  • If you can make a donation of just $187.50 right now, we can cover the cost of one entire week of satellite airtime.

  • If you make your tax-deductible contribution of just $25.00 right away, we can purchase one whole day of satellite airtime.

Every dollar counts as we launch our satellite programming! Whether you can give $3,350.00, $1,500.00, $1,100.00, $750.00, $187.50, or even $25.00 -- your donation is needed today!

Fight back against the liberal atheist assault NOW by supporting the Conservative Christian Radio Network, VBS Radio:

Tax-deductible donation:

Thank you, and God bless!

William Greene, President
Victory Broadcast Service

P.S. The atheism-promoting “Freethought Radio Program” on Air America is hosted by the co-presidents of the “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Is that what we want to see happen in America -- freedom FROM religion, with God removed completely?

PLEASE, help us FIGHT BACK by selecting the link below to make your best tax-deductible donation to VBS Radio right away -- $3,350… $1,500… $1,100… $750… $187.50… or even $25. Thank you!

Listen to VBS Radio now:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ebert Archive and Chat

On At The Movies this past weekend Richard Roeper announced:
1) The past 20 years of At The Movies (formerly Siskel & Ebert & the Movies) is going to be archived for free download online. That's several thousand reviews -- from Adventures in Babysitting to Zodiac. Unfortunately, the first ten years of of the show was poorly preserved. (This is sad, as Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had the most compelling on screen relationship since Kirk and Spock or Lucy and Desi.) I hope some of those great "Dog of the Week" excerpts got preserved.
2) Roger Ebert will be a guest for an online chat Thursday at 8:00 Eastern (7:00 Central). You can submit questions in advance here. The chat will be at this link.
Strangely, this is not being promoted much. Aside from Roeper's announcement, there have been no Googlable press releases and only a couple very short blog entries.
Until the actual archive shows up online, you can enjoy these links.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Godless Political Values: Importance of Godless Values to Modern Democracy

Politics in a liberal, democratic democracy cannot long proceed or survive simply by inertia; instead they must be constantly fed by people who are engaged in the political process and who share some of the basic values necessary for such a democracy to thrive. None of these values depend in any way upon religion or theism; this means that they necessarily “godless” — that they exist independently of people’s religions and gods. [More...]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Integration of Theory and Practice

[The following is from a recently deleted Wikipedia page.]

The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement was a strategic plan published in essay form in 2001 by the Free Congress Foundation.[1] It was written by Eric Heubeck with guidance from Paul Weyrich.[2] It urges conservatives to reassess their position in American society, to avoid an over reliance on political activism, and to consolidate their position by focusing on building conservative institutions with the goal of "taking over political structures." Heubeck makes a number of pragmatic arguments, such as "Good Results More Important than Good Intentions."

The essay describes as "hopeless and self-delusional" the political activism efforts of conservatives to "compensate for their weakness in the non-political sectors of society." Instead it called for fostering an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of conservatism in American society which would in turn convince the American people that conservatives can be trusted to take over political structures: "to do that we must win the people over culturally -- by defining how man ought to act, how he ought to perceive the world around him, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered." Weyrich's 1999 A moral minority? An open letter to conservatives from Paul Weyrich[3] is cited for its call for "a tactical retreat from political battle" for conservatives to regroup and reorganize. Again citing Weyrich, it suggests that "a network of parallel cultural institutions" be developed, "existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions" and that the these institutions will supersede "the existing ... conservative movement ... because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society."



[edit] Selected excerpts

Heubeck makes the case that radical changes are necessary steps for achieving American conservative's goals:

"This essay is based on the belief that the truth of an idea is not the primary reason for its acceptance. Far more important is the energy and dedication of the idea’s promoters—in other words, the individuals composing a social or political movement..."

"There will be three main stages in the unfolding of this movement. The first stage will be devoted to the development of a highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities. The second stage will be devoted to the development of institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses. The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture..."

"Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions..."

"We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today’s American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Traditionalist movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously."

"We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Left at intimidating people and institutions that are used as tools of left-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as Hollywood celebrities, multinational corporations, and university administrators. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths..."

"We will be results-oriented rather than good intentions-oriented. Making a good-faith effort and being ideologically sound will be less important than advancing the goals of the movement..."

"We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. ... contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. ... We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture."

"We need more people with fire in the belly, and we need a message that attracts those kinds of people...We must reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between good and evil. And we must be prepared to explain why this is so. We must provide the evidence needed to prove this using images and simple terms..."


Katherine Yurica of the anti-dominionism blog "The Yurica Report" has written that Paul Weyrich guided Eric Heubeck in writing The Integration of Theory and Practice, the Free Congress Foundation’s strategic plan published in 2001 by the foundation,[4] which she says calls for the use of deception, misinformation and divisiveness to allow conservativeevangelical Christian Republicans to gain and keep control of seats of power in the government of the United States.[2]

TheocracyWatch calls the essay "Paul Weyrich's Training Manual"[5] and "a new manifesto" for Dominionism.[6] The Integration of Theory and Practice was taken down from the Free Congress Foundation's website and those of other Christian groups after critics began linking the strategy it detailed to Dominionism and specific policies of the religious right.[7]

Author Eric Heubeck

Eric Heubeck is a paralegal who has worked for several conservative organizations in Washington DC. He is interested in religious freedom issues. He has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Virginia.

He was Deputy Director at the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, where he was mentored by Paul Weyrich, and wrote a number of articles that garnered attention. He is reputed to have met often with Karl Rove at the Whitehouse when his boss Weyrich was unable to.

Heubeck joined the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm in 2003. He also worked as a newspaper editor for the Capital Research Center.

Heubeck's other writing

  • The Living Wage Campaign, Eric Heubeck, Labor Watch, Capital Research Center, October 1, 1999[8]
  • Labor-Backed Third Parties, Eric Heubeck, Labor Watch, Capital Research Center, March 1, 1999.[9]

See also


  1. ^ The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement Eric Heubeck. Originally published on the Free Congress Foundation website in 2001, available through the Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b Conquering by Stealth and Deception, How the Dominionists Are Succeeding in Their Quest for National Control and World Power Katherine Yurica. The Yurica Report. September 14 2004.
  3. ^ A moral minority? An open letter to conservatives from Paul Weyrich Originally published on the Free Congress Foundation website in 1999, available through the Internet Archive.
  4. ^ The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement Eric Heubeck. Originally published on the Free Congress Foundation website in 2001, available through the Internet Archive.
  5. ^ Paul Weyrich's Training Manual TheocracyWatch. February 2005.
  6. ^ "The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party", TheocracyWatch. December 2005.
  7. ^ Paul Weyrich's Teaching Manual? The Yurica Report.
  8. ^ The Living Wage Campaign, Eric Heubeck, HEARTLAND INSTITUTE website
  9. ^ Labor-Backed Third Parties, Eric Heubeck, Labor Watch, Capital Research Center, March 1, 1999.


External links

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wakka Wakka Wakka

I just put together this animated GIF.
It's a variation on a very nifty optical illusion.

Click on the file so you can see the whole graphic and fix your eyes on the white dot in the center.

-- McLir

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Atheist vs Culture Warrior

Last month, I had an online argument with a Christian culture warrior, Janice Crouse. Crouse is from the DC Christian think tank, Concerned Women for America where she is a senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute.

Crouse is also a columnist at who advocates for abstinence-only sex education, against homosexuality, against condoms to prevent AIDS, and was a leading critic of Mary Chaney's decision to have a child. (Crouse is the one who famously called Mary Chaney's choice "unconscionable.")

The new controversy was over PBS airing the documentary "A Brief History of Disbelief" by Jonathan Miller. (Available online)

She was angry that public money was being spent to show what she sees as anti-Christian propaganda. In a recent article on the subject, she made this statement:

"airing the program gives credibility and cohesiveness to individuals who seek to undermine the beliefs and values on which democracy and the American dream are founded."

I thought that was pretty outlandish. That line of talk makes me mad. After finding her email address (pretty difficult, considering her media presence) I sent her a message. I tried to be polite but forceful.

I wrote to Crouse:

Recently, you criticized PBS for the upcoming airing of "A Brief History of Disbelief."

"airing the program gives credibility and cohesiveness to individuals who seek to undermine the beliefs and values on which democracy and the American dream are founded."

I don't question your sincerity in saying this. But I hope to explain how rude it is.

You are making a political argument against a sizable segment of the population. 10-15% by recent accounts. We are people who have asked the question "is there a God?" and you don't like our answer. So you paint us as a threat to America.

I personally know atheists who are models of morality, honesty, generosity and patriotism. So it gets very tiresome hearing people's knee-jerk reactions against non-believers.

I would also like to point out that there is no mention of democracy in the Bible. In fact, the Bible advocates very explicitly for a "kingdom." As a proud American, I prefer that we remain a democracy.

-- Pat McComb

Crouse responded quickly:

Your note is terrific. Let's see ... It is rude for me to complain about a propagandistic and demagogic piece against Christianity. It is OK for you complain about Christianity (history of DISbelief) in a 3-part series -- a political statement against the majority of Americans (not 10-15%)---- paid for by public taxation and presented as a "documentary."

I was surprised that a public advocate and a columnist would choose to express herself this way.
OK, I wasn't that surprised. But it reminded me of why I don't watch much TV.

I could have gone in any number of directions on this:
- Dispute whether the show is propaganda (it's available online, see for yourself)
- Enumerate the many shows PBS has presented about Jesus and Christianity
- Distinguish between fact claims and political claims (valid, but not a productive route)
- Or I could have explained that I neither produced nor appeared in the documentary

I decided to stay on point.

I responded to Crouse:

No, it's not rude for you to complain about that.

It's rude for you to portray atheists as a threat to America.

-- Pat

Crouse responded (this time easing up on the facetious condescension):

It is a truism that American was founded on Christian principles; Judeo-Christian ethics and values permeate the founding documents of this nation. Anything that threatens those principles is a threat to America. Those who repudiate those principles (more non-believers who are self-centered and disregard anyone else -- they don't adhere to any positive values because it is all about "me" -- than those who, as a matter of ideology, disbelieve but have their own code of conduct that is ethical for secular reasons). BTW, I think there is a logical inconsistency is adhering to a code of conduct when you don't believe in an "authority" outside yourself. What makes one person's code of conduct more applicable than someone elses in that case?


Early America was very Christian. However, the Constitution is a very secular document for an open society. Invocations of God were purposefully left out of the Constitution and it was a tough sell to the states. It only mentions religion in the ban on religious tests for judges and the ban on laws respecting an establishment of religion. This is a worthy line of argument, but it's one of those that can go off the rails in varying interpretations and heavily propagated falsehoods.

I could have pointed out that non-believers are disproportionately un-represented in the prison population. But that probably wouldn't mean much to her.

I avoided mentioning Pat Tillman. The NFL star and non-believer left pro football to fight in Afghanistan and died in friendly fire. I have a lot of respect for Tillman leaving his millions for military service. But trotting him out as a poster-boy for atheism is in pretty poor taste, so I refrained. In another context, he might be worth mentioning, but not this time.

Her main claim about atheists got lost in the parentheticals, but I think I got her basic idea.

I responded to Crouse:

I think you are talking about ethical egoists -- people who are just "in it for themselves." I don't know any. I know a lot of atheists but I don't know any real egoists.

If you assume atheists are egoists, I can only guess you don't know many atheists.

You and I both share values that do not appear in the Bible. We can agree that rape and child abuse are morally wrong, but the Bible never forbids these acts. On the other hand, the Bible says that working on the Sabbath is punishable by death. We can probably agree, it's good that that rule is not enforced much anymore.

The good news is, we can talk and reason about morality. Empathy, generosity, alleviating suffering, the Golden Rule, we can grow in those moral aspects without needing to invoke a supernatural referee.

According to your argument any threat to Judeo-Christian principles is a threat to America. Does that mean contrary religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, tribal gods, etc. also pose a threat?

-- Pat


She didn't respond after this. Perhaps I was so persuasive that she is now leaving Washington DC and pursuing a fruitful career as a secular humanist. Ya think?

Some people think it's a waste of time to argue with some people. Maybe.

But as I hear some people's preconceived notions about atheists, I become more convinced that non-believers should speak out.
People need to get to know us.
People need to know we're generally nice and smart people.
And if anyone claims we are any less American, any less human, or any less moral, people should know why we can get righteously pissed off.

Daniel Dennett says, "...the idea that 'belief in God is a requirement of morality,' you hear this all the time. ... I think it is false. And I think it's very important for those of us who believe it is false to start saying it is false at every public opportunity. [Applause]. Stop being polite about this. And just draw to the person's attention that there are many excellent, engaged, moral individuals leading fine, meaningful lives who don't have God in their lives. And that this is simply a lie that should not be promulgated further. Don't let people presuppose this." [Applause].
-- Daniel Dennett at Center for Naturalism lecture