Religion Verses Atheism: A Misunderstood Debate

religion and science debateRecently on The Daily Tarheel, I posted a comment in support of same-gender marriage in which I chided religion for inhibiting advancements in the human condition. A contributor responded with a few questions which seemed to show that some good, religious folks have misunderstood the roll of atheists in relation to advancements in the human condition. Although I had not mentioned atheism in my original post, he wanted to know what atheism has contributed to humanity. I took this as an opportunity to elaborate, and decided to share the debate here.

I begin with my reply to his questions, which are incorporated below and are marked by <>:


Thank you for the questions. I always appreciate a civil debate. Forgive the lengthy reply, but your questions cannot be answered in a few words.

First, my argument has nothing to do with atheism. It has everything to do with religion-free Reason. Perhaps you could call it humanism. There are atheistic humanists, spiritual humanists, and religious humanists–and every shade within that spectrum. This applies, as well, to scientists the world over.

<>What advancements do you believe the anti-religionists of the 20th century brought to the world and the human psyche?

The question is a straw man argument. Again, I am not arguing atheism v religion. Advances in human societies have nothing to do with atheism, but everything to do with critical thinking. Better to ask what advancements have dogmatic religion brought to the world and to the human psyche. Dogma, by its very nature, is not a result of critical thought. (no condescension meant).

Once science divorced itself from religion and threw off (or set aside) the yoke of religious dogma, we achieved great strides in knowledge. In medicine, for example, we found that illness was not caused by demons, a devil, witchcraft, and/or a god’s punishment, but by organisms too small to see with the naked eye. The religion-free Scientific Method brought us cures for most of those diseases, and it will be religion-free science that conquers the Ebola virus.

For contrast, I researched the effectiveness of prayer and know that it does not work–subjective opinions notwithstanding. See: http://new.exchristian.net/201….

Too, science gave us knowledge that mental illness is not demonic possession, and this advancement led to cures and therapy instead of exorcisms. We no longer burn people to death because Reason has brought us empathy and understanding.

The Enlightenment brought us real astronomy (fought against by the church, fang and claw). Astronomy was nurtured by the birth of physics (where was the church here?)

The short if it is that the exclusion of religion in science has opened up humanity to every advancement known to the world and religion has been dragged along kicking, screaming, and killing. Reject science and you get ISIS (as an example).

<>If theism is out, what reason do you propose for our ability to reason?

My powers of reason (and yours) are a product of evolution. It developed because of its survival value just like most traits of all other species.

I sense that you would not agree with that. I will welcome your thoughtful arguments for Intelligent Design, but before you start, check out the documentary and trial transcripts of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. You can find them athttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/e…. Dr. Behe testified, and the judge was a conservative, appointed by a conservative.

<>When you consider world history, how has atheism fared in the promotion of world peace?

Again, it isn’t atheism v. religion. it is about Reason. Unfortunately, partly because of religion, science has had little effect on the human psychological thirst for domination and territoriality, and this, too, is a result of those traits we inherited from our evolutionary past. It is only when humanity realizes its own nature and whence it came will we be able to collectively do something about it. Better to ask what religion has contributed to world peace. Here is an article that will answer this question..

<>What religion(s) do you see killing each other in the names of their loving, merciful gods?

When you realize the real reason you disbelieve and oppose other religions, then, and only then, will you realize why they disbelieve and oppose yours. Muslims of every persuasion believe their god to be a loving god, so long as one is faithful to Islam. Christians believe their god to be a loving god so long as one is faithful to Christianity.

In the Muslim world, however, having rejected the Enlightenment, various denominations are even now killing each other. Surely you’ve noticed. Listen to many fundamentalist Christians who think we should nuke the Muslim nations and kill them all. I’ve debated many who advocate a “finial Crusade.” I suppose you might call that their “finial solution.” It is such a sad view, I think.

<>Where does the “golden rule” come from?

From many religions as well as the ancient sages. I’ve researched this as well: See: https://thebenevolentthou.com/2… for the list and the quotes.

<>How do you know that’s the only doctrine humanity needs?

The last answer lays out the reason.

<>Why do you list “love” as a prerequisite to marriage?

I did not “list” love as a “prerequisite” to marriage. This question is an equivocation on my argument that no one in this nation (U.S.) should be denied the right to marry someone he or she loves. This is not a theocracy. It is a secular nation. No religion has a right to dictate to others in society that they must abide by certain religious beliefs. You may not like what others do because of your religious beliefs, but since their actions bring no harm, they have every right to marry someone they love–the same right you reserve for yourself.

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Why We Have a Wall of Separation between Church and State

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IRAN: “Razieh Ebrahimi was forced to marry at the age of 14, became a mother at 15, and killed her husband at 17. Now at 21, she is on Iran’s death row.”

The primitive and inhuman religious intolerance of fundamentalist Islam is not a testament to the superiority of Christianity, but a testament to the brilliance of the Founders of our republic (in particular, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) in placing the Establishment Clause* in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, thereby, as Jefferson said, erecting a “wall of separation” between Church and State.**

Keep in mind that in the West, fundamentalist Muslims are considered to be evil merchants of hatred and death. Indeed, they are.

But keep in mind, too, that Islam is only one of the three Abrahamic religions, the other two being Judaism and Christianity. Of the three, it is the radical faction of Islam that holds most faithfully to the ancient scriptures, albeit adding many more draconian laws (especially for the subjugation or women) since its founding.

If a Jewish or a Christian nation were to strictly abide by the ancient laws, which they claim to be God’s Word, but to which only fundamentalist Islam faithfully subscribes in toto, there would be little difference between the fundamentalist Muslim states and the states of the west.

Fortunately, Judaism has moderated and evolved, with the help of reason, and early Christians saw fit pick and choose from the old laws, leaving out the summery executions of women for perceived insults to the male ego and their obsession for dominance. Fundamentalist Islam, however, with it’s head firmly buried in the 7th century, still perceives itself emasculated by independent women–and in Islam, the old laws govern the state. There is no Wall of Separation. Men still fear female independence.

ImageAnd yet, even here in the West, modern day Christian fundamentalists–including many politicians and some Supreme Court Justices, who should understand the Constitution better than anyone, still disavow and deny existence of the Wall of Separation, (e.g., Scott “Stoning Gays is Fine” Esk, of Oklahoma, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy MooreU.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and many others).

Such inexcusable ignorance! Have these people no knowledge of what happened in the early years of our nation? Have they not heard of the Salem Witchcraft Trials and the execution of women? With enough people like Esk, Scalia, and Moore, et al, in government, is there any doubt that we would not revisit the years when woman were hanged, stoned, crushed, or drowned by mere accusation of witchcraft and men and women executed for homosexuality?

 This is the very reason for the Establishment Clause. And for Scalia, et al, not to understand this is beyond belief. For his information (as though he would care), the intent of the Separation Clause is documented in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. This is the document from which the Separation Clause was fashioned and it spells out Jefferson’s precise intent–which is true freedom of conscience and speech for every person, and under no coercion from clergy or government agency. Scalia, et al, should take the time to read this document.

If a religion cannot stand on its own merits and be strong enough to withstand criticism, even from its women, then it does not deserve to survive. If our “leaders” cannot understand the concept of benevolent reciprocity (do unto others . . .) then they should step down.

* Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

** The “Wall of Separation” comment is found in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in the state of Connecticut, written in 1802.


— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical novel based on the epic struggle between religion and science, and brings the true nature of justice, mercy, and love into sharp focus.  What sort of world would a truly benevolent god have created?

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