Raising thinking children

It should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I am obsessing over children now; that just kind of happens unexpectedly when you become a parent. Of course, it’s a bit early to start obsessing over what kind of education to provide my daughter with, but I’ve been giving it a thought or two anyway. One is never too young to begin learning.

Whyevolutionistrue pointed me to a recent television special by Richard Dawkins on the rise of faith schools in Great Britain. The first three parts are good – especially when he gets a Muslim-school science teacher to admit she doesn’t know squat about evolution – but I was most moved by this last part where the Prof rhapsodizes on the virtues of curiosity and wonder and how we, as parents, ought to be wary of anything which threatens to close our children’s minds to the beauty of asking too many questions.

Are All New Yorkers Jewish Atheist Pornographers?

Well, Woody Allen had some fun with this meme in his latest film, Whatever Works. I’m not going to give it away, but I’ll just say that everything dissolves in the universal solvent of New York City. It’s fashionable, whenever a new Allen film comes out, to say things like, “Not his best screenplay” and then something derogatory about his latest starlet and the fact that all his movies are really the same movie, and all his male leads are really himself (all true, by the way). Of course, we’ve known this for a long time. What we never hear is that Allen’s track record for enjoyability is unmatched. So if you get nothing else from the movie than ninety minutes of unwholesome fun, shouldn’t that be worth something?

Next week a campaign will begin in NYC to promote the possibility that people can be moral without God.

The ads, which will begin appearing on posters in 12 subway stations Monday, pose the provocative question “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”

Predictably, not all New Yorkers are enthusiastic about such a campaign. But, President Obama noted in his inaugural speech, America is a country in which non-believers are citizens, too.

 A small step for humanism, a huge leap for humankind.

A Rational, Scientific God?


There has been a wave of  books lately intent on neutralizing the “Dawkins effect”. They are invariably books with titles like “There Is Not a God” or “God: the Proof“. At times they are written by men (why only men?) who present themselves as lifetime atheists–militant is the preferred modifier–men who suddenly stumbled upon the error of their ways and embraced, well…Jesus. Their genius is that their atheistic error is a logical error, which they put invariably in philosophical terms. It is not an error of faith, which few people would take seriously as an attempt to overturn an arch-rationalist like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Because the debate over God needs to present itself in ultra-modern garb in order to separate itself from “fundamentalism”–or unequivocal, unvarnished (and untested) faith.

So these new men of faith put their faith up against the modern arsenal of logical debate. Could Jesus have been born of a virgin? Could he have risen from the dead? Could he return, even after a disappearance of such length? They put these age-old theological questions to the scientific test. Frank Tipler, a physicist, even wrote a book called The Physics of Christianity which asks these very same questions (and concludes that, according to the universal laws of physics, the answer is a resounding yes). Conclusion? Even Richard Dawkins should conclude that–from a rational, scientific approach to the question–God not only exists, but Jesus is God and Christianity is truth.

So with this in mind, I want to bookmark two new books that I will probably never get around to reading. But you should.

p.s…In an attempt to be fair-minded, some readers have misconstrued my position as being favorable to the Tiplers and contrary to the Dawkinses. Let be me clear:  this is not the case!

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali


On the eve of Durban 2, it might be worth recalling the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I just rushed through the last hundred or so pages of her autobiography, Infidel. It was a much different book than I had imagined, having approached it expecting a sort of female Christopher Hitchens–a snide wit ridiculing Islam, getting in a few punches below the belt for good measure. Of course, Hitchens is better than that much of the time, but Hirsi Ali is different altogether. She has a patient style, judicious even, and tells her tale bluntly. She is not angry with God (she is an atheist, so that would be contradictory), nor is she burning with rage against the Muslim world into which she was born. Her story is probably typical of many Somali women, except that her father was a high-profile revolutionary while she was growing up. Her genitals were excised at the age of six, as is the tradition of her clan. She was educated as a traditional Muslim, and even sympathised with the Muslim Brotherhood for a period while she lived in Kenya. She believed Islam was perfect and held the answers to all of life’s questions. Then something snapped, and she grew up.

She was betrothed to a man she had never met, and pretty much forced into marriage. The facade of tradition was already cracked, and while on a stopover in Germany (on her way to Canada to become her new husband’s property) she snuck into Holland, applied for refugee status, and was eventually accepted. She learned Dutch (which, from what I can gather, is her sixth language–after Somali, Swahili, Amharic, Arabic and English), studied political science, obtained a degree, and then began to wonder what to do with so much freedom.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001. Hirsi Ali began to speak out about Islam, about how suicide terrorism is not the result of ignorance and poverty. She said the attackers were acting in perfect harmony with their faith. The more she spoke, the more people began to listen. She began to receive death threats, which she didn’t take seriously at first. Then, once a member of the Dutch Parliament, Hirsi Ali dedicated herself politically to the betterment of Muslim women’s lives. That was her bone to pick. She said the Prophet Muhammad would be considered a pedophile and tyrant in modern-day Holland, which some people didn’t like. The death threats began to get serious.

Then she made this film with Theo van Gogh:



Van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam not long thereafter. He didn’t take the death threats seriously. Hirsi Ali was immediately whisked into hiding, shuttled from apartment to apartment, finally ending up in a motel in smalltown Massachusetts. At times even she couldn’t know where she was being hidden. She could not use a telephone or go online for any reason. She could not risk being traced. Her potential killers could be anywhere, ready at a moment’s notice to make good on their promise to cut her throat.

Even Hirsi Ali admits in her book that all this top-security mishaguss was a bit much. But she was a member of the Dutch government, so she got the star treatment. When she was finally allowed back in Holland, she was made to resign and had her citizenship revoked on a technicality. Her neighbors even complained that her presence made them feel unsafe. They rallied to kick her out of her home. So she became a refugee, again.

Long story short, she was offered a job in the United States, where she now lives and works. Her Dutch citizenship has been reinstated.

So why all the fuss? Ask the guys in Geneva.

Prophecy Derailed

Ron Rosenbaum has an interesting reflection on the 2012 cult, which I’ve never heard of before (but then again, I don’t really follow these things). It’s typical pseudo-prophetic mishaguss. And many people lap it up.

Here’s Rosenbaum:

“Why am I so fascinated with unmitigated full bloom looniness? Shouldn’t we just laugh it off? Unfortunately nonsense like this has led to millions of dead from religious wars over just such clashing idiocies. I think it reminds us that this kind of baseless belief is at the heart of all religions and that man has suffered immeasurably since the beginning of civilization from it and that, it’s looking more likely that it will cause the death of enlightment civilization, just a brief candle in the vast darkness of ignorance.”

I, too, am fascinated by unmitigated, full bloom looniness. Recall The Secret? We all should be so fascinated, because we live in a world full of apocalyptic death cults and nuclear weapons. Also, we should be slightly worried for the future of our planet and our civilization.

Today’s nutjobs might be tomorrows deathmobs. The point is worth making.

Pope Condemns Witchcraft

The New York Times reports today that the Pope Benedict XVI was embraced by the people of Angola, in Africa. They further report that the crowd of faithful Angolans wasn’t the least bit fazed by the controversy surrounding the pope’s poo-pooing of condoms as a useful way to fight HIV (and various other STDs, unwanted pregnancy, etc…). Here’s the clincher, at least for me:  

“The only people who use condoms are those with no faith,” said Simba Teresa, a 45-year-old street vendor, trying to wave away the heat with a continuing flap of her hand. She said three of her five children had died as infants, a common story in a country with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world. “Faith is everything,” she said. “You put your life in God’s hands.”

Now, we live in a world where it is no longer able to claim absolute ignorance of certain things, namely that if you want to have sex without risking making babies–and therefore ending up with too darn many of them–you can put on a rubber. Unless you are a Catholic–no, wait…unless you are a Catholic living in an underdeveloped region of the world. Italy, for example, is home to Vatican City and a healthy majority of Italians still identify with being Catholics, but all of them have recourse to condoms (and, more importantly, use them). The ones who don’t aren’t supposed to be doing the nasty anyway.  So this just goes to show that while most mainstream Catholics will pay lip service to the pope, most of them realize he is full of hot medieval air when he says these things.

One thing the NYTimes article did not report that the Italian media did was Benedict’s plea to the Angolans to abandon their old time religion: witchcraft, animism and all, and get with the new. My guess is that he meant the Catholic Church, that big, democratic holy roller-rink of a faith. I, for one, don’t see much difference between the doctrine of transubstantiation and, well, lesser known forms of religious witchcraft.