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May 9th, 2011
12:37 PM ET

College becomes nation's first to offer major in secularism

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - I don't know whether to be surprised that it happened or surprised that it took so long: a California college has become the first in the nation to offer a major in secularism.

The New York Times reported this weekend on the move by Pitzer College, a liberal arts institution in Southern California that's one of seven Claremont Colleges.

Some back story from The Times:

The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as “culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery.” Over the years he grew increasingly intrigued by the growth of secularism in the United States and around the world.

Indeed, signs abound that an aggressively secular demographic is growing in the United States and Europe, even as religion continues to occupy an important place in America and as Christianity and Islam see tremendous growth in the global south.

Last month saw the publication of a so-called secular Bible by an influential British atheist.  A recent academic paper predicted that religion will all but die out in nine Western-style democracies. And the number of overtly secular campus-based student groups appears to be exploding.

In addition to publishing books about atheism, the Pitzer College prof who proposed the new secular studies department has compiled a list of the 65 greatest songs for atheists and agnostics (though the atheism or agnosticism of some titles on the list, like The Beatles' "Think for Yourself,” are debatable).

A few additional details on Pitzer's new department from the Times:

Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”

... Laura Skandera Trombley, the president of Pitzer, said in an interview, “It’s a serious area of scholarly endeavor, and Pitzer College has a tradition of doing really exciting, cutting-edge intellectual work, so this really fits into the ethos of the college.”

Have you seen other signs that colleges are becoming more interested in the study of secularization and atheism?

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • California • Education

soundoff (302 Responses)
  1. hey there hi there ho there

    Religion keeps people from achieving their greatest possible selves, by focusing on a non existing afterlife people forget about the world in front of them. Birth rights, Stem cell research and gay marriage would've been passed or passed easier if not for religion. Religion forces the beliefs of some unto many.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  2. JohnR

    It may be surprising that this has come about at all in this religion intoxicated society, but it is dismaying that it took this long.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  3. Nonimus

    @Ed,
    "If reproduction is the only goal then we should be more like cats or rabbits."
    First, I'm not saying it is the only goal, but it may be a primary driver.
    Second, goals and shoulds don't really apply to evolution, so we aren't like cats or rabbits because we evolved differently, including a large brain, opposable thumbs, bipedal locomotion, lack of significant body covering fur, etc. My point is that for humans and their predecessors cooperation seems to have been a more successful approach. In line with your comparison, though, we actually are more like our nearest cousin the Chimpanzee and Great Apes which cooperate to some degree in troop-like social structures.

    "...without a constant good our improvement would be limited."
    I'm not sure I understand this statement.

    "Our society once thought slavery was right it never was but we thought it was. We even found support for it in out religion, but it was always wrong. But if it was wrong why and if not why don't we have it still?"
    This, to me, supports a lack of common understanding of right and wrong. If we all get right and wrong from a common divine source, why wouldn't slavery have always been viewed as wrong?
    If we are, on the other hand, figuring out for ourselves what works best for the most people then, I think, one would expect trial and error, but also a general trend to narrowing down common interests and how best to achieve them. Which might explain why slavery was acceptable for a long time but more recently has become less and less so.

    May 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks Nonimus as usual some great points sense it seems to have turned to evolution can I requests you read my responses to fimeilleur on the subject rather then me reposting them to you. I hope this ok.

      I think we did always know it was slavery was wrong. We just rationalized it because it was efficient. I do wonder what made us realize we were wrong. I think there must be a constant right or wrong in the universe that goes beyond our understanding at least for now. If your right and its all based on evolution we will one day understand it. If I'm right and there is God maybe one day we will understand him. Prehaps they are the same thing, either way hopefully we keep moving forward.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Nun of This and Nun of That

      @Ed
      There are all kinds of articles and chapters in anthropology texts about the evolutionary advantages of 'morality" in group forming. Check them out.

      May 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  4. Ed

    @Stevie while I am willing to believe evolution is how we came to be what we are, I don't think I can give it credit for our sense of right from wrong. While some of the more intelligent species seem to behave better than others there is insufficient evidence as to why they do. Most animals seems to act on instinct not morals.

    My dog sits when I tell her to not becasue she knows its right, but beause she wants a reward (treat, affection) or becasue she fears a correction (yelling at, jerking the leash). People however need more incentive. My 16 would not be satisfied with a pat on the head and a good girl or a cookie. I had to get her to understand right from wrong. My dog can not make the same leap, she just follows the pack. So how do we define rigt from wrong?

    May 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @ Ed
      I once watched a video on YouTube about a pack of lions that singled out a water buffalo... this victim was bleating (for help? maybe). Now, NORMALLY, the pack would have feasted... but on this day, the herd of buffalo turned and charged the pack, rescueing the injured beast... I'm not saying a cow protecting her calf, I'm saying an adult protected by the herd... What morality would have attributed this action if not the cooperation of the whole to promote a safer community for the whole. When's the last time you saw a water buffalo reading a bible? (PS, I believe the YouTube-er that posted the video was AaronRa... take a look at a few of his videos if you want, he's very educational)

      May 9, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      fimeilleur asks: "When's the last time you saw a water buffalo reading a bible?"

      I guess those missionaries in Africa have been working overtime...

      May 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Ed

      fimeilleur,

      I have not seen the video And have no explanation for the behavior. I have seen on natgeo them herd let the cornered herd member die. I don't know why they interferred this time. Do you? I would not attribute morality to the action but neither would I rule it out.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @ Ed,
      So you aggree then, that this video would demonstrate a non-instinctual response... and no, I don't have an explination for the behaviour but my guess (notice I avoid the use of the word theory) is a sociological response... better for the group to act as a whole and cooperate with each other, than not. Maybe the onset of morality.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Ed

      @fimeilleur, You guess is a reasonable guess it may be right. I simply don't know

      May 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  5. Eily

    Atheists Care Too! Please donate adult diapers and feminine hygiene products for our tornado victims!

    http://www.facebook.com/GodlessLiberals?sk=wall#!/pages/Atheists-Care/199305816777146

    May 9, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Admiral Akbar

      its a trap!

      May 9, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  6. RkyMtnHigh

    @CW. I think I would much rather take my chances as a non-religious decent human being on your so-called judgement day. If the only reason you get to heaven is because you have followed the so-called rules in order to get your reward on the final day, isn't my goodness from a pure heart "better" than your goodness from fear and bullying?

    May 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Ed

      yes your goodness from pure heart is better.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Artist

      Doc Vestibule

      @CW
      Are you familiar with the legend of Dionysus?
      It pre-dates Christianity by hundreds of years and tells the story of a man who was born in a manger to a virgin mother, wandered the land with a group of disciples performing miracles like healing the sick and turning water into wine, was crucified by the local religious authorities and was resurrected three days later in a cave with a small number of women witnessing.
      Sound familiar?
      ---–
      I wouldn't count on it. Anything outside of the good book is false and lies.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  7. Artist

    SeanNJ

    @CW: The Kanamits gave us a book too. It was called, "To Serve Man."
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Loved that episode

    May 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  8. Artist

    CW

    @ Artist,

    ....God gave us all the Bible.....
    >>>>>>>>>
    Okay, now we are cooking... who wrote the bible? Please explain without using assumptions.

    May 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Artist

      ****crickets********************************************

      May 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • .

      You sure? I don't think crickets wrote the Bible.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Artist

      ***Hearing crickets....aw CW's resp*****

      May 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Ckck

      No! Crickets are the bug! The Holy Bug! You can hear them at night as proof that we are going to that great meadow in the sky after we die!
      Disney Chapter 23:44 "And then did Jimminy Cricket pass on to us his holy words of Chirping, that all we hear in the night may be a sign unto us."
      Ckck

      May 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Farty Dan

      The Crickets did not write the bible. They wrote "That'll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue."

      May 10, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  9. Stevie7

    Like the rule about stoning disobedient children? Have you read Leviticus? Its full of rules, but every Christian that I know picks and chooses what to follow.

    And are you saying that Buddhists aren't moral? They're the most peace-loving, non-violent people I've ever met.

    Look, there's lots of good in the Bible (I should know, I've read it several times). But the same code of morals and ethics can easily be found in other religions and cultures. Christianity does not have a monopoly on morality.

    May 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • CW

      @ Steve7,

      I see your looking at the old testament...Good. Have you ever read Hebrews? In this book it talks about some of the old rules of conduct are not to be followed as they were back before Christ came.

      Secondly....Never said that no one is moral...I'm sure that Buddhists are good people BUT are they living a christian life? Unless these people follow John 3:16 and believe in no other Gods then I would say that one day they will be judged on this.

      Third.....The Bible is the ONLY book that all of us should follow. I'm sure that "other false gods" have some good morals BUT I will say this....Jesus Christ d-ied for our sins....no other God has ever done that....

      Fourth....you could get your morals from any cereal box you want but I will choose to base my life on the Bible's standards.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Sharon

      "Christianity does not have a monopoly on morality."

      I think you meant "Religion does not have a monopoly on morality."

      If you act morally simply because you're afraid of divine punishment, or simply because of the promise of a pleasant afterlife, you're no more moral than the guy who returns the lost $100 only because the policeman was watching him (otherwise, he would've pocketed it).

      And anyone who acts morally for reasons other than those divine influences obviously has no need of religion.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Artist

      You must be a troll, you cannot be as foolish as HeavenSent. p.s. I bet you can't prove that fairies and zues do not exist. Your myth requires faith because well you cannot prove that your own god exists. In fact, not one god has ever come forward nor is there any direct evidence. Gods die with their empires. Anyting that does not exist or has zero direct evidence requires faith.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • CW

      @ Artist,

      Your right....I can't prove to YOU that God exists...b/c it takes FAITH!!!!....just like you said. All I can say is this....God gave us all the Bible. Its your choice to follow, believe, and live a life that is acceptable to him as best as anyone can. If you don't do this and "choose" not to b/c you refuse to take on FAITH what Jesus did for you...then...yes there will be a judgement day for which we will all be judged accordingly.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Ed

      @Sharon, well said

      May 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @CW: The Kanamits gave us a book too. It was called, "To Serve Man."

      May 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @CW
      Are you familiar with the legend of Dionysus?
      It pre-dates Christianity by hundreds of years and tells the story of a man who was born in a manger to a virgin mother, wandered the land with a group of disciples performing miracles like healing the sick and turning water into wine, was crucified by the local religious authorities and was resurrected three days later in a cave with a small number of women witnessing.
      Sound familiar?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Dorianmode

      @CW,
      Now don't be goin' and tellin' them to read the bible. That's the LAST thing you would want them to do, if you want them to believe in your "stuff".
      It's so full of contradictions, violence, and nonsense that anyone carefully reading the whole thing would never put any credence in it as a basis for anything.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Free

      SeanNJ-
      "To Serve Man."
      Makes you wonder what God actually does with all those human souls, doesn't it? I think there was an episode on one of the Star Trek spinoffs that actually had an alien that consumed human souls in his very Heaven-like matrix, or something. Maybe God also needs fuel?

      May 9, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • tim Ricard

      Then your purpose to be God's fuel, so what? Who is the potter to critize its maker? It is better than the alternative which is to have no concrete purpose

      May 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Secondly....Never said that no one is moral...I'm sure that Buddhists are good people BUT are they living a christian life? Unless these people follow John 3:16 and believe in no other Gods then I would say that one day they will be judged on this.'
      Interesting, so you think god thinks worshipping him is more important than being a good person? got a bit of an ego hasnt he?

      May 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Free

      Cedar rapids-
      "Interesting, so you think god thinks worshipping him is more important than being a good person? got a bit of an ego hasnt he?"
      An ego like a human tyrant king, or dictator with CW's god worship is more important than morality which leaves us to conclude that his Christianity isn't really about morality at all, just fear, and how to toady enough not to upset the tyrant.

      May 10, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  10. CW

    Ha Ha ha ha ha ha H aH Ha Ha Ha ha ha ha ha.....Geee...didn't know you could get a degree on going to H-ell. Oh well this world doesn't surprise me at all. I guess when your standing on the edge of having to dive into the lake of fire I guess one would want to see how hot it really is....could test it by bringing that so called degree with you....to see how easy it will burn.

    May 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • YaThink

      Duh CW you are already in He-ll Duh! You already screwed up and don't even know it.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Artist

      Another Christian Taliban nutball speaks. Behold I present to you The Fool

      May 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Some choose to actually live life in the present, not always focused and obsessed with their demise. Though I'm glad to see that you're doing god's work for him – the whole final judgement thing. I'm sure he'll be glad to know you're at the helm and he can take a little siesta. I thought pride was a sin, but what do I know!

      May 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Ed

      @Artist,
      Amen

      May 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • CW

      @ Yathink,
      @ Artist,

      Okay...maybe my funny comment wasn't so funny. Really I don't want anyone to go to h-ell. My point is that we as a world are getting farther and farther away from God. This so called "secu-lar" degree isn't anything more than some college trying to further take God out of everything. Anyway maybe this is will help save people once they tredge through the goolaush of junk they will try to feed the students and hopefully the students will pick up the Word of God and become a believer.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Or maybe people will stop kicking others off of planes because of the way that they dress. One does not need a god to be moral, and plenty of religious people are anything but moral.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • CW

      @ Steve7,

      I h-ate to say this but your very wrong. We all need God...a personal relationship with him. Your right you can be a moral person...but....without following God and reading the Bible no one is totally moral. The Bible is that book of God's rules to help you daily.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Elmo

      pssttt, CW.
      It's not literal. There is no fire. The devils and dead are spirits, and they don't feel corporal pain, as in "burn". Don't just read it, think out it.

      @Ed,
      1. Go to Foxfire.com. Download it. You need help with some things. It will "spell check" and "grammar check" for you, automatically.
      2. "Do no harm" he took from the "First, do no harm" quotation. He assumed you would know what it means and from where it came, and what it originally meant.
      3. "you do need some type of authority setting and enforcing the code of conduct for that society. This code needs to be based on something. It still means each indivuidual must submit to a set of rules for ethics and standards for that society. Which means each individual does not get to decided for themselves". The guys who chop off your head are a good incentive, maybe enough for most, without mumbo jumbo.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • CW

      @ Elmo,

      The bible is truth. By the way how do you know there is no h-ell? Bet you can't prove it...just like you can't prove that God's word isn't truth.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Elmo

      Whatever.
      BTW, no one can prove a negative.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Ed

      @Elmo, what are you realiy's admin? I did ask where he got the quote I knew it was from some where it always is with reality. I asked what exaclty do you mean by do no harm? questions still stands

      May 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Eric G

      @CW: So, using your logic, if it is in the bible it is true? Is faith a path to truth?

      May 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Elmo

      @Ed
      It's hopeless.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Stevie7

      @CW
      You also can't prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist. What's your point?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ed

      I can I eat the Flying Spaghetti Monster it was good had meat sauce

      May 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Free

      CW-
      And how do you know that there isn't a Valhalla, or a Nirvana, or reincarnation, or Thetans, or any other proposed after/extra life? Do you worry about any of these being your fate after you die? Well, neither do we. Difference is, we've just disregarded one more unproved hope for life after death than you have.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Ed: I don't think you ate the REAL Flying Spaghetti Monster... possibly a stunt double...

      May 9, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @CW,
      Awwww... and this secular topic was such a wonderful opportunity for you to show all those Atheists how to behave properly in a forum where you disagree the majority.

      Too bad you missed that opportunity.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @PraiseTheLard
      "Ed: I don't think you ate the REAL Flying Spaghetti Monster... possibly a stunt double..."

      Obviously a false messiah since the one true FSM wouldn't allow himself to eaten. (Not without the sacred sprinkling of Parmesan and breaking of garlic bread, anyway.)

      May 9, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'but....without following God and reading the Bible no one is totally moral. The Bible is that book of God's rules to help you daily'
      ah of course, your faith is the one true faith, all other faiths are false right?

      May 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  11. Reality

    n. secularism

    1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
    2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

    The opening statement before each class for those majoring in the topic:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple secular rules of life e.g. Do No Harm. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    May 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Ed

      what exactly do you mean by do no harm?

      May 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Reality

      Ed, Ed, Ed,

      Google, Bing and Yahoo have listed more than ten thousand ways on how to Do No Harm. Get back to us when you are finished. I am sure you will understand each and every one.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Ed

      What's the matter couldn't think of an answer?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ed

      Sorry I ate Flying Spaghetti Monster with meat sauce and garlic bread good stuff

      May 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Free

      Ed_
      "Sorry I ate Flying Spaghetti Monster with meat sauce and garlic bread good stuff."
      Have some Chianti with that and you practically have the equivalent of a Catholic eucharist.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  12. RkyMtnHigh

    Also, I should add that those primitive societies haven't turned into anarchists. They have managed quite well to assemble their own 'rules' for their communities. They work together, help each other, watch out for each other, and they punish those who would harm the community. God didn't make these good people and communities happen - their evolutionary experiences did that. Peace to all !

    May 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Ed

      Don't most of the primitive societys you mentioned have some type on religious belief not christian or one of the major religions but some type on local religion? I agree it is possible to have fully functional society without religion but you do need some type of authority setting and enforcing the code of conduct for that society. This code needs to be based on something. It still means each indivuidual must submit to a set of rules for ethics and standards for that society. Which means each individual does not get to decided for themselves.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • RkyMtnHigh

      @Ed. Exactly my point. The primitive society bases their 'rules' on what is good for the community as a whole in order for it to survive and flourish for the individuals in it. Their 'religion' if you could call it that appears to stem from science that they do not understand. In one simple instance, for example, it is against their 'religion/rules' to eat the meat from large, horned, hoofed creatures. In the text I was studying, it seemed to have to do with the fact that they have no refridgeration and the meat from such large animals would make the tribe very ill. They attributed it to 'bad spirits,' when an educated society would attribute it to 'spoiled meat.' So, they do have their rules - what society could survive without some, but they don't base them on any kind of mysterious supreme being - and they all seem to get along wonderfully without it.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks for responding, Then we are agreed it society needs a set of rules set by someone, not necessarily based on religion but set by someone in authority over the society. Now consider what happens when this small villages gets to big for a it to be easy to police. Also who decides what right and wrong. In small tribal communitys its easy but not in larger ones. The example you used was great for partical purposes but what about moral questions. These are more ambiguos then wheter or not to eat meat that may have spoiled. How do we decide moral right from wrong in a large complex society?

      May 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • RkyMtnHigh

      @Ed. For larger society examples, I would suggest you look into how Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, etc., conduct their societies. They are, of course, not entirely without religious sects, but as a majority they do not have a "religious-based rules" society. Instead, they are mostly good, moral, ethical peoples who realize that absolutely no rules would equal mayhem; but, they do not need a god-based myth to keep them in line.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Ed

      I agree there is no need of religion to have amoral society. I think it helps for some people. But to have a good society based on a set of rules requires some group to come up with the rules and the society to except those rules. What made some of the ideas good or bad? Most people agree there are certain things that are right or wrong regardless of your society a constant good if you will. Where did the constant good come from?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Artist

      Ed

      I agree there is no need of religion to have amoral society. I think it helps for some people. But to have a good society based on a set of rules requires some group to come up with the rules and the society to except those rules. What made some of the ideas good or bad? Most people agree there are certain things that are right or wrong regardless of your society a constant good if you will. Where did the constant good come from?
      -----
      There was good well before judaism...don't tell me that you are venturing down the path of agnostic LOL. You know what I mean, you are buying into less the BS but still leave the door opem for "something" well before written history. Otherwise the actual Truth is lost and perhaps the "something" has left the building and left us to our own devices?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Ed

      @Artist, actually I was like this before I found God haven't changes theat much. I've just grown up and learned to enjoy the conversation without feeling the need to berate the other side. Whne I was younger I got in arguements with religious friends becasue rthey were wrong. Then I found God and got in arguements with none religious freinds because they were wrong. At some point a discovered everyone has some good pints and its worth listening. I have learned as nuch about God from atiests as I have from the religious. So know I try to respectfully enjoy the conversation.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • RkyMtnHigh

      @Artist, well put. Thank you.
      @Ed. I think it comes down to survival of the species… we know we cannot survive on this planet without working together in some way, and that some behavior will not be good for the whole to survive. We seem to manage, not to my 100% satisfaction, crime and punishment fairly well in order to maintain a livable society. But, I think we are getting way, way off track from the ‘religious’ based discussion we were having. If anything, I think religious-based ethics have created far more bloodshed and mayhem than any other single philosophy to date.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Artist

      Mythology served its purpose, perhaps there will be a time when mankind can put religion on the shelf once and for all?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Ed

      "@Ed. I think it comes down to survival of the species… we know we cannot survive on this planet without working together in some way, and that some behavior will not be good for the whole to survive. We seem to manage, not to my 100% satisfaction, crime and punishment fairly well in order to maintain a livable society. But, I think we are getting way, way off track from the ‘religious’ based discussion we were having. If anything, I think religious-based ethics have created far more bloodshed and mayhem than any other single philosophy to date."

      I agree religion has caused its share of problems (bloodshed, mayhem) but that was not caused by the ethics it set down. It was casued because far to many people of all religions don't follow their codes. Even as practicing catholic (lazy one) I find problems with organized religion. Because it is run by man and man is flawed. Weas a species do what is best for us as an individual, and power corrupts. How every for the more ambigous questions of morals like fidelity to a spouse or marriage age how do we decided right and wrong? Some simply say do no harm, buit how do we define harm? There must be a constant good what makes it constant or for that matter good?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • RkyMtnHigh

      @Ed. I think if we were discussing a brand new species, in a brand new society, without our past accomplishments and mistakes to guide us, we would be having the kind of conversation you seem to desire. However, we are an educated and evolved species and we have already defined what good and bad are, and what both of their underlying results are. Most people who procreate raise their children to be decent, kind, loving, caring, compassionate, responsible, thinking citizens. If we could get away from the harsh judgment of racists and/or religious-zealots entirely, I think our entire society as a whole would be much better off.

      And, I find I must add that I believe the bloodshed/mayhem caused by most religions was indeed caused by its very ethics. If you do not believe in my god, my religion, my rules… you are a heretic / must die / are an infidel / won’t get to heaven / will fry in hell, etc… you see the point, right?

      And, it’s been nice dialoguing with y’all… but I gotta go actually DO something today, lol. Peace to all !

      May 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ed

      @Rkymtnhigh

      "And, I find I must add that I believe the bloodshed/mayhem caused by most religions was indeed caused by its very ethics. If you do not believe in my god, my religion, my rules… you are a heretic / must die / are an infidel / won’t get to heaven / will fry in hell, etc… you see the point, right?"

      I have to disagree with this in these cases the religion is often the excuse for some power hunger greed monger to take what is not theirs. If the actually followed their religious ethics they would behave much better. I agree most people regardless of religion raise their kids to be productive members on society nice dialoging with you too have a great day.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      RkyMtnHigh wrote: look into how Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, etc., conduct their societies."

      Well, don't forget that the flags of Sweden and Norway feature a cross and the 2nd largest city on New Zealand is Christchurch... So there's still a strong influence remaining...

      May 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Good discussion, on all sides, thanks.

      @Ed,
      "There must be a constant good what makes it constant or for that matter good?"
      Why must there be a constant good? I think there just needs to common interests, which seems to stem from possibly evolutionary drives to reproduce. Although, you might suggest that the reproductive drive would lead to anarchy and ra.pe, I would suggest that through much trial and error, about 20,000+ years, cooperation has actually been more successful than anarchy and ra.pe. Interestingly, I think it is also beneficial to have some anarchy, or at least some rebelliousness, to keep the ideas flowing and trying new concepts. Too much control can be just as bad as too little.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @Ed
      I hope I didn't join this discussion too late... It was mentioned about the primitive people "inventing" their own belief system (gods and or deities) to explain the natural world... You seem to support this to mean that your God exists... whereas, I look at it as, what makes the early Jews any different? It is quite obvious the the early Jews had very little knowledge of science, just look at the first book in the bible... People have been inventing gods to explain the natural world since the begining of time... instead of looking at the bible for your answers, look a what scientists have discovered, repeat thier experiments if you don't believe them, and draw your own conclusions. For example. Start with Evolution... biological, geological, sociological, etc. look at all of them... then, look at Genesis... if, after the mountains of research that leans towards supporting the Theory of Evolution is more plausible than the book of Genesis... maybe, just maybe, you'll come to realize that a book of "truths" that begins with either an out right lie, or heavily flawed accounts of reality, just maybe un-true.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Ed

      @Nonimus, If reproduction is the only goal then we should be more like cats or rabbits. The are very successful at that endeavor. We seem to have a need for much more intellectually, emmotional, and yes even spritually. Why do we need more. you asked why must the good be constant/ Great question, without a constant good our improvement would be limited. Simply put society can be wrong. Our society once thought slavery was right it never was but we thought it was. We even found support for it in out religion, but it was always wrong. But if it was wrong why and if not why don't we have it still?

      May 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Ed

      @fimeilleur, It may surprise but like many christians I beleive evolution to be correct. Although it is still a theory not a fact, I have little doubt it will one day be proven fact. However science tells use for there to be a reaction you need the ingridents to come together and a catalyst to set it off. For evolution to begin this must be true. so when the earth formed and was a mass of rock and land. what forst created the ooze that would become life?

      May 9, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @Ed...
      Please use the scientific definition of Theory... as in GRAVITATIONAL THEORY, or PYTHAGOREAN THEORY... the hierarchy goes something like this... Fact (or observation), Law, Theory (from bottom to top).
      What force? Nobody in science has ever made this claim... and none ever will, until they can replicate it in a controlled environement... Every religion has made this claim about it's deity, and they have ALL been refuted. Including yours. See, we don't claim to know, but we are trying to find out... you guys (don't take this personally... I mean religious people) don't WANT us to learn the truth, because it would prove you wrong... hence the immoral ban on stem cell research.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ed

      @fimeilleur

      I have no problem with them finding truth and I encourage the research. Science has provided a great deal to the world not all good(atomic bomb), but most of it good. As for the theory of gravity Science had determined that gravity exist the theory is how. They know its there they just don't know how it works. Evolution on the other hand has been studies and expriemented with and they still have fallen short of prving irt fact. As I said before I believe they will one day, which by its self refutes your claim I fear the research. I saw an article once discussing acient alien theory. One of the scientist stated aliens must have helped evolution along becasue as he put it 'you would have a better chance of a hurricane hitting a junk yard and creating a fully function 747 then evolution creating humans without help'

      Also consider evolution it all startedin the ooze when some how single cell life was created. Never mind how it just was. At some point that cell split to 2 cells of the same kind. Can you see a similarity to the genisis story there I can. After a time the cells multiplied to have a lot of cells. Then those cells mutated for no obvious reaso into many different life forms. If they were the sme type of cell to start with how did they becoame differnt cells with the same influences (based on the ywere in the same ooze in the same place). eventually the decised to becoem multicelled life(no reason just did). Again science tells something must have casued the changes to start.

      As for stem cell research. The want to take the cells from aborted fetuses. Must religions are against abortion so why would you expect them to be ok with the research. This is one those ambigous question when does the fetus become a life? if at conception abortion is wrong if at some later point thenits not. Even doctors have trouble with this one. However many state laws are inconsistant. If the mother is killed during pregnancy the often charge the murder with 2 murders not one. However if the fetus is not alive yet then its only one murder if it is then abortion is wrong.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Nonimus

      (Duplicate from mis-posting below)

      @Ed,
      "If reproduction is the only goal then we should be more like cats or rabbits."
      First, I'm not saying it is the only goal, but it may be a primary driver.
      Second, goals and shoulds don't really apply to evolution, so we aren't like cats or rabbits because we evolved differently, including a large brain, opposable thumbs, bipedal locomotion, lack of significant body covering fur, etc. My point is that for humans and their predecessors cooperation seems to have been a more successful approach. In line with your comparison, though, we actually are more like our nearest cousin the Chimpanzee and Great Apes which cooperate to some degree in troop-like social structures.

      "...without a constant good our improvement would be limited."
      I'm not sure I understand this statement.

      "Our society once thought slavery was right it never was but we thought it was. We even found support for it in out religion, but it was always wrong. But if it was wrong why and if not why don't we have it still?"
      This, to me, supports a lack of common understanding of right and wrong. If we all get right and wrong from a common divine source, why wouldn't slavery have always been viewed as wrong?
      If we are, on the other hand, figuring out for ourselves what works best for the most people then, I think, one would expect trial and error, but also a general trend to narrowing down common interests and how best to achieve them. Which might explain why slavery was acceptable for a long time but more recently has become less and less so.

      May 9, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I found the discussion about origin of ethics and morals interesting, but the discussion of the science of evolution is just rehashing the same old fallacious arguments.

      Evolution is also considered a fact, because speciation has been observed. One example is Richard Lenski's e. coli experiment.

      The 747 analogy is a weak analogy fallacy in that 747s don't reproduce and therefor can't evovle.

      Evolution is not about the origin of life.

      Early cells and organisms differentiated for the same reason they still do today, different environments, mutation, genetic drift, gene transfer, i.e. evolution.

      Why bring abortion into the discussion?

      May 9, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Ed

      @Nonimus, I found it a responded below as well

      May 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Ed

      @Nonimus, Sorry abortion was brought into explain the churches stance on stem reasearch fimeilleur commented on it

      May 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Thanks for the discussion folks.

      @Ed, just saw your response below, Thanks.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ed

      @Nonimus,
      "Early cells and organisms differentiated for the same reason they still do today, different environments, mutation, genetic drift, gene transfer, i.e. evolution."

      But they weren't in different enviroments. The cells were in the same ooze and the same area of the world, yet some became plants, some animals, some insects why? Also with in plants some became different types of plants even though all of the types seem to survive fine in the area in which they developed so why the difference?

      May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Ed, thanks, I see that now. My statement still stands though even if the target audience changed. : )

      May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks Nonimus good disussion as usual it was fun

      May 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @ Ed,

      I am currently waiting for two replies in moderation, so, I'll assume they won't be posted...
      My point was that Science provides much better, plausible and VARIFIABLE answers than the bible. As you stated, most religions accept that evolution is a reality of life. Therefore, Genesis did NOT get the story of creation right, so your book of "truths" either started out as a lie, or a misrepresentation of reality. So I ask you, is your god a liar? or a deciever?

      May 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Ed,
      "The cells were in the same ooze and the same area of the world, yet some became plants, some animals, some insects why?"
      Plants, animals, and insects didn't emerge out of the same puddle, even if the primordial ooze concept was true. It took billions of years just to get multi-cellular organisms, let alone plants or animals and the early organisms weren't hanging out in the same puddle all that time.
      from wikipedia (not that that is a primary source, but a good place to start):
      3.8 billion years of simple cells (prokaryotes),
      3 billion years of photosynthesis,
      2 billion years of complex cells (eukaryotes),

      Not to mention that even if they were all in the same puddle, there are still different factors on each organism, such as, food supply, access to resources, i.e. competi.tion, DNA damaging radiation, and random copy errors in DNA coding.

      You too. Thanks for the discussion.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ed

      @fimeilleur
      First I'm catholic so I'm a traditionallist not a literalist on the Bible. In fact I had many a debate on the blogs with the literalist.

      Second, If God infleunced creation through evolution which is what I believe then imagine him explaning it to the jews 10,000 years ago and then them handing it down by word of mouth for a few thousands years before it got written down. So the truth is there some of the details have been lost. I know it means religion is bad science good they never change anything after the decide it like the number of plants.

      Finally we were haveing a good conversation why did you have to end on a insult Is God a liar or a deciever?

      @Nonimus thanks Enjoyed the whole thing have a great day

      May 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      @ Ed,
      I used to be Catholic, my family thought I'd make a great priest. (The Catholic Church has very little authority in protecting the lives of children BTW in regards to the abortion discussion) Why the "insult" (I don't think you can insult something that doesn't exist... but anyways...)? Because it leads to questions and answers (or dialogue). You admit then that the early Jews may have gotten some things wrong when they wrote it down. Leads to question "what else did they get wrong?" Christians will tell you the obvious, God's unwavering love... (the Old testament states God is a Jealous God, a Vengefull God); or the old "eye for an eye" versus "turn the other cheek". It seems to me, that the God of the bible changed with the times... so I ask, how can a perfect being evolve? And if the answer is that he didn't change, but the Jews were wrong all along (pretty insulting to the jews BTW) You have to remember that the christian god is the god of Abraham... who was wrong... It's only a matter of time before this house of cards crumbles. Also remember that the god of Mohammed is ALSO the god of Abraham, and the christian god... so the muslims think the christians got some things wrong about god as well.
      This is what happens when you can't prove your case... it opens the door for anyone to put their own spin on things. (and no, I don't have to prove to you that God doesn't exist, the burden of proof is on you... religion... to prove his existance, just like I don't have to prove the non-existance of fairies, pixies, minotaurs, etc.)

      May 9, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Ed

      @fimeilleur
      Like many christians you seem to have gotten lost in the details of faith. The Bible and the church were meant to be a guide to our relationship with God. They are not themselves God. Without a doubt there are inconsistances in the Bible but the over all points are the same. If all you do is disect the Bible for the details you lose the point. The old teastament is largely a history of the Jewish people and a guide for how the live. For instance it tells people how the wash their hands after working ti fields before eating(the same method is used today by surgons before surgery). This is hardly a moral matter but it is important for hygiene. It also gives rules for how to treat each other. This is more along the moral issue.

      It is possible to have morals without faith. although for some people it helps. I have to disagree with your family I don't think you would have mae a good priest. Not because of a lack of faith although that would be important for a priest, but because you seem to have a disdain for anyne with differing ideas then you. Like many athiest you say atheism is about being open minded. But you seem very dogmatic about this.

      As for proving God exists. I don't have to. I'm not trying to convert you. If you choose to believe thats between you and God. I know God and science are compatable. I was just trying to have a good debate and I had one. Its the responsibilty of the person trying to convert the other to prove their point. From our converstion you seemed far more interested in proving God wasn't real to me then I am in proving God is real to you.

      May 10, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • RkyMtnHigh

      Good morning. I checked in here to see how far past my jumping off point y'all kept up the discussion. I've read every response and am heartily encouraged by the fact the people can have differing viewpoints, and can communicate them, and discuss them without becoming overly nasty and hateful (like so many other blogs I've seen and won't be involved with) toward those who don't see eye-to-eye. Thank you for restoring some of my faith in humanity! Peace to you all.

      May 10, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • fimeilleur

      I guess CNN moderators don't like my comment... I'll break it down into parts... just to see what they don't like...

      @Ed,

      Let's look at what else the bible says with regards to "medical knowledge"... Leviticus 14, 4Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 5And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: 6As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: 7And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.

      May 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      Continued...
      I don't know of anyone using THAT technique at the local hospitals... Remember, the Bible says that God spoke these words to Moses himself. So....... God lacks knowledge in scientific medicine... or the ability to communicate... or... omnicience. Your claim that God provided knowledge about basic hygene looks to me like the early Jews didn't like the taste of mud on their hands while they ate.

      May 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      Continued...
      My distain doesn't come from people with different opinions, my frustration comes from people who argue a point but can't back it up. Being open minded doesn't mean accept on "blind faith". Being open minded means to evaluate the evidence presented for... something. Evidence for God = Bible = God = Bible = God = .... circular reasoning... unless YOU have information that no one else has been able to provide... ? ? ?

      I think you're wrong... You DO have to prove God exists in order for Religion to have a say in matters like abortion and stem cell research, same-sox marriage, etc... after all "God says" these things are wrong... nothing about converting here.

      May 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      Ed, I am enjoying this discussion... but I don't think you are being honest with yourself... The Catholic faith teaches that God is all knowing, all powerfull and all forgiving (not to forget eternal)... you believe in the original sin, that is the reason for the right of baptism, but you admit the story of Adam and Eve is "not accurate" (ie, it never happened)... so then, why is it important to baptise newborns to protect from a sin that never occured? Why are we inherantly sinners, from a sin of our ancesters who never existed? You admitted earlier that most cultures made up their gods and belief systems to explain the unknown... why can't you go "one god further?". Again, my goal isn't to deconvert you... my goal is to make you aware that religeous beliefs, that cannot be proven, have no place in dictating how all of society should behave. Beliefs have changed over time, but basic human decency has been around since the dawn of time...

      May 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  13. RkyMtnHigh

    I also wish I had the opportunity to have this type of major. What an interesting and thought-provoking course of study. As most other agnostic/atheist people, I have had to learn much of this on my own personal quest out of being raised a brainwashed, indoctrinated catholic to something that fit me better and I could believe in. As it turned out, I found I could not believe in any type of invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing god and to think for myself. My final argument with myself turned out to be that if a group of children were born and raised without any outside influence regarding god whatsoever, would they somehow miraclulously "find" him anyway? If god exists, wouldn't he find a way to bestow upon these unfettered children, his glorious self? Hasn't happened yet - examples would be in extremely primitive villages where educated outsiders have not yet been able to penetrate and expose. I'm also looking forward to reading, "The Good Book" for atheists!!

    May 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  14. Artist

    Free thinking is always a good thing. Free thinking in religion only exists with in the borders of their bibles. Perhaps someday our country will be free of the Christian Taliban and religion as a whole?

    May 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  15. David Zarmi

    Wouldn't religion also exist to keep the rich from killing the poor? If religion keeps the masses in line why do you folks seem hostile to it? I think there's something to that, but that should make you wish more people were religious, not less. Even if it's just Bahai. Or maybe especially so.

    That Bible as Literature class seems contradictory to a Secularism course of study. That's just showing that you can't ignore religion. Just start over.

    May 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • David Zarmi

      And please to the Quran first.

      May 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Colin

      @David. I do not think it "keeps the masses in line". If that were so, the most secular countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxumberg, Australia, New Zealand etc. would be more chaotic and less alturistic. The opposite is true. Have a look at P 1 of today's USA Today.

      May 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @David Zarmi,
      "If religion keeps the masses in line why do you folks seem hostile to it?"
      I assume by "you folks," you mean secularists. Why would you think secularists want the masses kept in line? I think to whole point of secularism is for people to determine their own societal standards and ethics.

      May 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Ed

      @Nonimus,
      "I think to whole point of secularism is for people to determine their own societal standards and ethics."

      If each person is allowed todetermine their own societal standards and ethics what is ther to prevent anarchy? I think we will still need some group deciding for the majority what is right from wrong. What should they to base their opinon on?

      May 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      What is to prevent anarchy? Well, for one, people do far better by cooperation than by theft and violence, and will freely choose that instead of becoming vicious. For another, people don't want to live in a hostile world and be victimized, and many will choose to act in a decent manner. And there are some people who behave compassionately even in the most hostile and chaotic circu-mstances. While certainly some do not choose to behave decently, one look at the real world shows it's pretty obvious that laws and religion has not stopped them anyway.

      Religion is not responsible for society behaving civilly. Indeed, study after study shows that more secular countries have significantly lower rates of major crime. The Bible Belt has relatively high rates of crime. Non-religious people are a far smaller percentage of convicts in prison than they are of the general population. Furthermore, studies show religious people are far more likely to support torture and war.

      I know religion has taken the credit for morality, but there is no evidence that it created it or enhances it. No evidence of that.

      I do not agree that we need a small group in charge. Their morality always favors their own prosperity. And when that prosperity would be enhanced by something as massively immoral as war, they choose war.

      May 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks dexter you make some great points. But if not a small group how do we decided the rules is a large complex society like ours. I agree many people will behave some will not religion has not prevented this. However people behave how they are taught to behave. Anyone who has a young child between 5-8 has caught them in a lie. The correct them and the child learns when it grows up the child knows better and does not lie. Who said it was wrong to lie and why?

      May 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      The "child who lies" analogy is interesting. Almost all adults who learned that lesson still lie. Indeed, people have constructed complex methods of lying plausibly, not only to others but to themselves as well. Do you think corporations like BP tell the truth? Are their officers and spokespeople religious – statistically many are.

      For a different perspective, the parental control vanishes, but for the sake of discussion, lets' say the person still chooses not to lie. The external control is no longer necessary. That would imply that authority can be removed and you still get the same result. Why? Because lying has costs that often far outweigh the benefits. However, as we have seen, when lying is perceived to be profitable, people will do it in an instant. Including religious people.

      I would agree that education helps morality somewhat, but who gets to educate? Do religious people behave more morally? As I mentioned before, study after study shows they do not. Have religions themselves been involved in moral atrocities? Sadly, yes. As such, religion is unqualified to teach religion, as the morality they have taught has been marred by many many failures, and religions themselves choose to act immorally on occasion when it profits them.

      I'm afraid I cannot discuss it more as I have to go, but I will read your response later.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Stevie7

      @Ed, evolution is a great answer for why a lie is wrong. Our morals allow for us to behave civil and to be cooperative and to organize effectively. We don't need to be pre-programmed by some higher power. We see morality and kindness in different species – it isn't particular to us, we've just taken it to the next level.

      C.S. Lewis makes a great argument that god must exist because we have morals, but that argument is based on an assumption that we could have morals without god. That simply isn't the case. We wouldn't survive as a species without them.

      May 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Free

      Point is, if you are content with what you have in this world, and aren't afraid of dying, then why would the idea of Heaven ever be attractive? That's why countries with better social equality are seeing a slip in their religious adherence. It's like asking who is more likely to play the lotto: a person unhappy with what they already have, or someone living comfortably?

      May 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Ed
      Sorry that I wasn't more clear. I didn't mean that each person gets to live by whatever ethics they chose, but I can see how you might interpret it that way.

      "If each person is allowed todetermine their own societal standards and ethics what is ther to prevent anarchy?"
      Nothing, except us.
      In fact that appears to be the way society/civilization developed from anarchy of troops/bands to nomadic tribes, to city/states, to nations (or something like that, anyway.) History certainly doesn't show every group of humans constructing principally the same form of government from the very beginning. At least I've never seen the Consti.tution of the United States of Palestine from 500 BC, have you?

      "I think we will still need some group deciding for the majority what is right from wrong. What should they to base their opinon on?" As others have already stated or implied, common interest.
      The best way to support what most of us have as common interests, liberty, fairness, security, etc., is to cooperate.

      May 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Ed

      The "child who lies" analogy is interesting. Almost all adults who learned that lesson still lie. Indeed, people have constructed complex methods of lying plausibly, not only to others but to themselves as well. Do you think corporations like BP tell the truth? Are their officers and spokespeople religious – statistically many are.

      For a different perspective, the parental control vanishes, but for the sake of discussion, lets' say the person still chooses not to lie. The external control is no longer necessary. That would imply that authority can be removed and you still get the same result. Why? Because lying has costs that often far outweigh the benefits. However, as we have seen, when lying is perceived to be profitable, people will do it in an instant. Including religious people.

      I would agree that education helps morality somewhat, but who gets to educate? Do religious people behave more morally? As I mentioned before, study after study shows they do not. Have religions themselves been involved in moral atrocities? Sadly, yes. As such, religion is unqualified to teach religion, as the morality they have taught has been marred by many many failures, and religions themselves choose to act immorally on occasion when it profits them.

      @ Dexter agian some great points, It is true that many followers of religion resort to ignoring its rules as soon as they get in the way. This is unfortunately human nature. Religion its self has failed because in the form we see it it is run by man and man has failed. In order for any society to have a quality code of ethics it must be taught, somone has to teach. In order for it to be taught the majority have to agree on what is to be taught and that is much harder to achieve then it sounds. So where do we find this code?

      May 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Ed

      @Stevie7 while I am willing to believe evolution is how we came to be what we are, I don't think I can give it credit for our sense of right from wrong. While some of the more intelligent species seem to behave better than others there is insufficient evidence as to why they do. Most animals seems to act on instinct not morals.

      My dog sits when I tell her to not becasue she knows its right, but beause she wants a reward (treat, affection) or becasue she fears a correction (yelling at, jerking the leash). People however need more incentive. My 16 would not be satisfied with a pat on the head and a good girl or a cookie. I had to get her to understand right from wrong. My dog can not make the same leap, she just follows the pack. So how do we define rigt from wrong?

      May 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • cal

      @Ed – The teaching comes from the masses in the form of social pressure. The collective whole can put pressure on ideas that are not within the boundaries of what is the accepted norm. This happens all the time. If a man stands up and spouts outragious ideas, that person is shunned and frowned upon by the group. It's is still a concept of "Do right and be rewarded: Do wrong and be punished" – but the reward is that you live peacefully with everyone else here on earth and progress the human race, not some carrot on a stick that is heaven. All humans can agree that killing another human being is wrong, that stealing is wrong, and many other actions are wrong without having to be told this – because one would not want these things to happen to themselves or someone they care about.

      May 9, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      Sorry for the delayed response, Ed. You are onto a very interesting topic, so this is going to be a long response – so long that I have to break it up for the word limit.

      Morals requires value judgements of right or wrong, good or bad. I realize that religious people feel that their religion is the source of those values, but I would like to look at that a bit. Can values come from elsewhere, without God or religion or government or external authority? I think they actually mostly do, even for religious people.

      Let's stick with lying as an example. Growing up, kids get in trouble with teachers and parents for lying – an external source of morality. They move out on their own, out of school, and there is no more parents or teachers. What motivates them to tell the truth? Plenty of things: lying to friends causes conflicts, alienation and the loss of respect. Lying causes conflicts and problems in work and relationships and elsewhere. Lying requires a lot of effort to keep your stories straight and remember and support them – telling the truth is a lot easier. I suggest that the real reason that those people who have chosen not to lie did so because of actual consequences, not an abstract code of behavior.

      I suggest that actual consequenses are what really teach people how to behave, not the teachings of an ideology. This is true of other areas or morality as well. One analogy is a kid who goes off to college. No more parents, no more rules. He can eat all the unhealthy food he wants, stay up as late as he wants, stagger home blind drunk on a school night, forget to pay the bills, and never clean his room. And he does. But he feels lousy because of the junk food, does badly in his early morning classes because he isn't getting enough sleep, has horrible hangovers and does even worse in school for it, has his phone and electricity shut off, and can't get any girls to come over for romance because they don't like his pig sty. He starts to change his ways, not because religion or parents or authority preach those morals, but because his interaction with reality is much more pleasant if he does.

      There are very solid reasons to cooperate and be reasonably fair with people instead of cheat and steal from them. Prosperity is ongoing in the former case, but only a temporary windfall in the latter. And the cheater must worry about retribution also. No ideology such as religion is necessary for that morality.

      For numerous reasons, many people still behave immorally, regardless of any moral code, even ones they claim to be loyal to the ideology. Indeed, those people often construct elaborate superstructures of rationalizations over their bad behavior to justify to themselves and others that they are actually good or right. Listen to the Catholic Church defend its handling of the pedophile priests for an excellent example.

      The remainder follows.

      May 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      Continued

      This is also why religious people often act in violation of religious values – they are responding to the lessons of their environment (some beneficial, some destructive). Mormons have very strong religious morals at play, and they do have less of certain major crimes. However, their morality represses human se-xuality, a very powerful force, and it comes out in unhealthy ways – high rates of ra-pe and po-rn consumption in Utah. The percentage of Mormon women who have been se-xually mo-lested is staggering, and it is mostly Mormon men who are doing it. Worse, their religion produces powerful disincentives to women reporting ra pe. And the Mormon morality seems to leave a va-gue feeling of repression, as the rates of suic-ide amongst young Mormon men and women are uncomfortably high, as is the use of anti-depressants. A self-created system of morality, based on actual consequences of experience and reality, is much healthier than an imposed system of "thou shalt nots".

      Those who do not respond to action-and-consequence will not respond to an ideology's moral code either. Those people respond only to punishment.

      So basically I believe that reality is the most effective teacher, but not perfect. The wrong environment can teach the wrong lessons – a child who was physically ab-used throughout his childhood often turns out violent. Ideologies create a lesser level of morality, but it is based on conforming, and some of what is considered moral is actually horrific – like so many of the moral laws in the Leviticus. The lowest form of morality is the avoidance of force.

      When you say "Religion its self has failed because in the form we see it it is run by man and man has failed," I might point out that man has not really "failed" so much as the human race is limited in intelligence and has evolved to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli. If the opportunity for power exists, many people who gain power will become corrupt. The problem is that the very existence of power or wealth will create a certain set of problems because people are what they are. I suggest that religion and man have not failed so much as that no ideal system or ideology can exist because human nature ensures they will make choices outside the ideology. It does not matter if we are talking about Christianity or Communism – none reflect how humans truly behave.

      I think that somewhat explains how someone without a moral code can develop one organically, and how atheists can behave more morally than Christians. I do not think that ideologies or majority agre-ement or small groups or people in authority are necessary for morality.

      May 9, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Ed

      @Dexter,

      Thanks and well said. I agree religion is not necessary for a moral code. I think it can help but it really has to come down to people. Society can result is a similar code that is just as effective maybe more. I agree human nature intefers with this moral code regardless of its source. I agree power corrupts. This is why we chould have a level of seperation of church and state. History shows us if the church and the government get to close the church becomes corrupt in an effort to maintain its power. I don't have problem with the church trying to convience its members to vote a certain way becuase its still their choicve how to vote. I don't have problem with a church saying this it what we should do to the government of public. This is no different from any other organization lobbying for their goals.

      I think religion is more personal its a relationship between the individual and God. While I do consider my own faith when making decisions moral or otherwise, I don't think faith is necessary to make a good decision. As you stated many religious people behave less morally then non religious people. This is due to their own failure and decision to get what they want know as opposed to wiating for latter. Ithink if you only follow Gods rules to get to heaven or avoid he-ll your not being particularly moral. My dog listens to me to get treats or avoid punishment, it doesn't make the mut moral. To be moral you have do the right thing for the right reason. Funny thing is my behavior didn't really change much after I found God. I wasn't reaised religious that came later.

      Buttom line for me anyway is religion is not the only source of morals and I believe many people will choose to follow moral behaviors regardless of faith. I would point out though that many athiest say religion was created to keep the masses in line and behaving well, ehy did the early leaders of humanity feel the need to create religion if people were behaving without it?

      May 10, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • Dexter Skagway

      I don't think religion was invented to keep people in line. I think that originally it was invented to explain things that were beyond the comprehension of primitive peoples, like "what is lightning and why did it hit Uncle Og?" What is death, and what happens to you after you die?" It was an explanation for natural phenomenon and the occurance of coincidence (when something good or bad happened to someone).

      The use of religion for power came a bit later, when a few of them realized that if you present yourself as someone who is closer to the gods (all early religions are anamistic pantheons), you have a major source of power.

      Good conversation. I greatly appreciate that you are capable of having an intelligent, polite conversation.

      May 10, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Ed

      Thanks Dexter I appreciate your side as well is nice to have a good debate with out it being an arguement

      May 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  16. Colin

    Another (small but) positive step in the inexorable march of secularism to replace religious supersti-tions in the USA. Europe and Australia, New Zealand are still ahead of us, but at least we are starting to catch up.

    May 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Artist

      Thank god the percentage is growing and the religious numbers are falling. It appears to be speeding up which is a good thing. Not my generation but eventually people will see religion for what it is....mythical

      May 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Colin

      Artist – if you believe the statisticians, it snowballs. With each person that is freed from religious supersti-tions, it becomes less socially burdomsome for others to follow suit. Like deserting soilders from a losing cause joining the rebellion.

      May 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • The Easter Bunny

      Agree with you and JJ in CT. Claremont is a great college. I will try to get in on some of their classes when I'm out there. Interesting that the "inexorable march you talk about is happening, but not at the same rates everywhere. A huge majority of Europeans, (70-80%) think the Theory of Evolution is on the right track, while 30 % of Americans do. Wow.
      (See the Pew Research Center's web site.)

      May 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  17. JohnQuest

    I am not at all certain of the reason people still believe in a deity. I think I understand the need for religion (I don't agree with it but I understand it). As people become better educated (think for themselves) the less likely they will believe.

    May 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Artist

      Bingo correcto mundo. Religion serves its purpose for the ignorant masses in general. It makes them feel good and keeps them in line. They are called sheep for a reason.

      May 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  18. Miracle Manna

    Yes! Another article that's not about a child molesting pope.

    May 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • LG

      Life is about individuals ; I'm sure that's a jewish concept also; the church is made up of individuals; if one pope does a wrong and bad thing, that doesn't mean they're all bad and doing it too. I believe the catholic church as a powerful group does good in the world; but it is made up of humans who act out badly sometimes. And when they do I believe they should be subjected to criminal justice . There are a lot of forces for evil in the world, also for good. And while "good " may seem "so hard to define" for some people , who wish to analyze everything into oblivion , I believe "the good fight" is still a very viable way to go.

      May 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Study the Past

    "Religion exists to keep the poor from killing the rich."

    May 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. JJ in CT

    Wish they had this major when I was in school. I like the course on the bible as literature – that's an interesting work of fiction, right up there with other classic mythology.

    May 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.