Paul Kurtz – Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?

December 11, 2005

Paul Kurtz, considered by many the father of the secular humanist movement, is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As chair of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books, and as editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine, he has advanced a critical, humanistic inquiry into many of the most cherished beliefs of society for the last forty years. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has been featured very widely in the media, on topics as diverse as reincarnation, UFO abduction, secular versus religious ethics, communication with the dead, and the historicity of Jesus.

In this controversial interview with DJ Grothe, Paul discusses his views on religion’s antipathy to science, why he says science and religion are not compatible.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, December 12, 2005. 

Hello, I’m DJ Grothe. Welcome to the premiere of Point of Inquiry, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank affiliated with the State University of New York at Buffalo with branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood. Point of inquiry. This radio show and podcast seeks to draw on the Center for Inquiry’s relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. And to bring you each week interviews and commentary focusing on the three research areas here at CFI, first Pseudo-Science and the Paranormal. Second, we’ll focus on the growing alternative medicine movement. Third, on point of inquiry will focus on religion, secularism and nonbelief. The Center for Inquiry is headquarters to a number of advocacy and educational organizations, all devoted in their own ways to advancing CFI. His mission to defend science, reason and freedom of inquiry in every area of human endeavor. These organizations include the Council for Secular Humanism, PSI COP and the Commission for Scientific Medicine, among others, through education, research, publishing, social services and campus and community outreach. The Center for Inquiry seeks to present affirmative alternatives to the reigning mythologies of the day, affirming alternatives based upon the scientific outlook. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, we will be joined by Paul Kurts, founder and chair of the Center for Inquiry will discuss his views about how religion might hurt science, why he says science is incompatible with religion. Then later in the broadcast, David Capsule, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, will discuss articles from the current issue of free inquiry and even tell you how you can get a free copy. But first, Thomas Donnally with a roundup of Skeptic and Freethought News. 

Thank you, D.J.. The UTSA atheist agenda. A student group at the University of Texas, San Antonio, has garnered national press attention in recent days after asking students to trade in their Bibles for pornography. In an exchange program they call smut for smut. In an interview with MSNBC, Tucker Carlson on December 5th, Group President Thomas Jackson defended the program, citing the brutal violence and anti woman themes of the Bible as justification for labeling the book smut. Jackson stated that these things aren’t acceptable in our society, and if pornography is not acceptable, then these things surely aren’t. In the latest of a series of events marking the rise of rationalism in American pop culture, gossip columns were abuzz in recent weeks with rumors that pop princess Britney Spears has consulted a psychic to solve her marital problems with husband Kevin Federline. Sources close to the couple stated that after Kevin refused to see a therapist to help their ailing relationship, Britney decided to seek the help of a psychic. Reports claim that Britney had questions regarding the future of her marriage, how long it would last, how many children she will have, and even if Kevin will ever cheat on her. The past week also marked the escalation of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s crusade against the war on Christmas. O’Reilly, whose primetime show is one of the most popular programs in cable news, has focused on the so-called liberal war on Christmas. In his programs this week, he and others, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell, have claimed that the use of the term Happy Holidays over Merry Christmas is a vast, secular, liberal conspiracy to remove Christmas as a Christian holiday from the public sphere. Religious extremists are organizing boycotts of retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, Sears and Costco, all for using the phrase Happy Holidays in their ads instead of Merry Christmas. Criticism has even been leveled at the White House for using the phrase Happy Holidays in their annual holiday mailing. A Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll taken December 2nd showed that 42 percent of respondents agreed that there was an actual war on Christmas. While 48 percent disagreed and 10 percent were undecided. 

T.J.. Thank you, Thomas, for that quick roundup of this week’s Skeptic and Freethought News. Each week, Skeptical Inquirer managing editor Ben Radford will bring us a segment entitled Media Mythmakers, offering criticism and insight into how the media sometimes deceives the public. 

In this program, I will bring you two elements often missing in broadcast news and in everyday conversation, context and perspective. Events don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a specific set of cultural, social and political conditions. Too often in our daily lives, we hear and see news stories and soundbites stripped of their meaning, and we repeat them in the same condition. I will offer my analysis on issues in the media, society, social justice and critical thinking. Who am I? And why should you listen to me? That’s the first question you should ask of me or anyone else. I’m managing editor of two science magazines, the Skeptical Inquirer and the Spanish language Pen Saar. I have written over 300 articles on various topics, including urban legends, science literacy, public policy and media criticism. My first book, Hoaxes, Myths and Manias Why We Need Critical Thinking, was coauthored by sociologist Robert Bartholemew. My latest book is Media Mythmakers How Journalists, Activists, Advertisers Mislead US. My third book will be published by the University Press of Kentucky next year. My columns appear in the crosscurrent newspaper and Skeptical Inquire magazine, as well as on the Web at live science. Dot com psych opt out. Org and media mythmakers dot com. Among other places, I will work hard to bring you facts, commentary and news on a broad range of issues. I ask only two things. You lend me your ears for five minutes per week and you think about what I say. I know this is an unusual and demanding request when the cable news channels or the White House give you information. Often the last thing they want you to do is to think about what they said. Just believe or maybe absorb, but don’t think because thinking leads to questions. My purpose here is not to completely inform you about issues. I can’t do that in under five minutes. And unlike most news broadcasts, I won’t even pretend that I can. I will, however, try to give you a different point of view, a side to the story that you haven’t heard, or maybe one people are thinking. But no one saying I’ll use what little time I have left to address a recent hysteria in the news, a topic which has gotten a lot of press but little criticism. Every Halloween, I send out a press release reminding Penick parents that they don’t need to x ray candy because the stories of razors and apples and contaminate candy are essentially myths. There’s never been a child killed or seriously injured by a stranger’s contaminated candy. This year, however, there was a new twist on an old theme. The danger to kids wasn’t so much bad candy, but a few bad apples. Sex offenders. This past Halloween, police departments and reporters across the country warned parents and children to beware of sex offenders who might tried to molest or kidnap children while trick or treating. Police in New York, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and other states imposed curfews on convicted sex offenders. Keeping them in their homes between 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.. They were not allowed to attend parties just in costumes or answer the door to trick or treaters in north central Texas. Offenders were locked in the probation office overnight. Everyone agrees that children should be kept safe. But this concern has stepped into hysteria. The assumption is that the threat to children is greatest on Halloween. For one thing, there has not been a single case of any child being molested while trick or treating at all ever. Like the mythical killer candy. It just hasn’t happened. And if you think about it, the circumstances make an attack very unlikely. What sex offender is going to try to molest a child in a Halloween costume with other kids and adults around in the doorway of their own home? Is this really a likely scenario that we need to alarm children and parents about kids, in fact, or in far more danger from being hit by cars on dark streets? I contacted officials from the Department of Corrections in New York and Wisconsin who admitted to me that they didn’t know of any actual attacks. And furthermore, they didn’t know if the efforts they were making were effective. But they defended the program, saying that they were being, quote, proactive. I’ll return to the sex offender hysteria in a future broadcast. This is little more than a public relations stunt by politicians to make parents feel like the government is protecting their children. It’s just another in a long line of exaggerated scares of the weak. Police and politicians should be ashamed of themselves for alarming parents and children in this way. It’s just one more distraction from important issues and real threats. Think about it. 

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We’re now joined in the studio by Paul Kurtz, who is founder and chair of the Center for Inquiry and a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He’s also chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal that PSI Cop, Chair of the Council for Secular Humanism and Prometheus Books. Paul is also editor in chief of Free Inquiry Magazine, the world’s largest journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. He’s author or editor of over 45 books, including the recent title Science and Religion. Are they compatible throughout the last 30 years? Paul Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society. He’s been interviewed very widely in the media on subjects ranging from alternative medicine and communication with the dead to the historicity of Jesus. He’s joining us on our first show to explore his views on why science is incompatible with religion. Why religion sometimes harms science. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Paul. 

I’m delighted to be here a D.J. on this first inaugural broadcast of a new venture in order to express the rationalist, scientific, secular humanist viewpoint. 

Well, again, thanks for joining us. Let’s begin by talking briefly about the Center for Inquiry. What is it? Why did you founded going back to its origins almost 30 years ago? 

The Center for Inquiry goes back at least three decades, at least the origins of it. It’s committed to science, reason and free inquiry in every area of human interest. 

Today, there are great attacks upon the Enlightenment, upon the viability of science, and also efforts to censor freedom of inquiry. And so in order to explicate the nature of science, the methods that are as have been so successful in extending the frontiers of knowledge and contributing to human well-being and in order to explain the scientific outlook. 

Now, unfortunately, we’re often overwhelmed by mystical, religious, theological, metaphysical viewpoints, drawing on the ancient literature of sacred books. And that is of historical interest. We say go directly to the Book of Nature, try to account for and explain how and why things work. And that’s the great adventure of scientific inquiry. 

And we invited you on the show today to explore your views on science and religion. Last February, at a meeting of the Triple A. Yes, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You were on a panel where you argued that science and religion are not compatible. This is contradicting the late Harvard thinker Stephen Jay Gould’s notion that religion and science are compatible, that they are what he called non overlapping magisterium. It’s a view that some argue is pretty common among scientists in America. What what was the reception to your remarks at the triple J. S panel? 

Well, this Tripoli s panel, I think, was developed under the impetus of the Templeton Foundation, and they’ve been attempting to push the compatibility of science and religion. Basically, the audience, most of the people there agreed with me. There were four panel members and I think of the other three argued in some sense or another that religion and science were compatible. I argued the country because there’s a long history of conflict and struggle between these two dimensions of human interests. And unfortunately, science has often suffered censorship, excommunication, inquisition and worse in effort to push the frontiers of science. It’s been a constant battle historically, and it crops up in America today, where science is often beleaguered by religious forces in the history of science. 

So there were a number of leading lights who were religious, who didn’t attack their scientific inquiry because they were religious. They somehow seemed to have a compatibility. Take Newton, for instance, or some people say Einstein may have been religious. How’s the. Oh, if religion and science are incompatible. 

Well, you know, scientists are human beings and they’re interested in many different things and often they may be specialists in one field. So Newton was a specialist in calculus and in in the natural sciences. And he’d made great contributions. He was also interested in the Bible and use that as an effort to develop and to defend his religious beliefs. Einsteins religion was of the week as sword. He didn’t think that God was a purpose, right. Necessarily or had a purpose or ahead or was a person. 

He merely talked about religion being the structure and order of nature. A Spinoza’s despite existing panth. Earlier you talked about Stephen Jay Gould, a man who I’ve worked with for many years before his untimely death. 

He argued there were two magisterium. But he also argued that there was a profound conflict between science and religion. And he tried in his lifetime to defend the theory of evolution against those who defended creationism against it. He merely said that science deals with the nature of things and develops truth. Religion deals with ethics. And that is its magisterial. Now, I think that he was profoundly mistaken. 

Right. In fact, you think there are implications for ethics to draw from the scientific outfit? 

Well, often, I mean, religion is not the only source of ethics and often it contradicts secular ethics. 

So I think that there are three areas where religion and science conflict first in the area of truth. The nature of things. Second, in the political domain, where there is an effort, as in theocracies, to bridge any separation of church and state. And third, in the area of ethics. No, I think that the scientific rationalist outlook has something to say in three areas. 

If you look at American scientists as they are now, 60 percent, roughly 60 percent are non-religious, atheist or agnostic. 

So we thought that was a poll. Has it only was done about 1915 and repeated again about three or four years ago. And I got the same result. Sixty percent of American scientists are atheist genera. 

And so something like 93 or is at 97 percent of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientists of the day. 

They are atheist or yes. The leading scientists in the National Academy of Science, 93 percent are nonbelievers. What do you think explains that? Well, I think that scientists are committed to a method of inquiry. That’s where we disagree. And hence, your first year, your first issue of conflict, which is truth. Truth. 

Yeah, a knowledge of the universe. How do we find what’s what and how do we explain it in terms of causal accounts? And there is a method of science. It’s a very strong method in which you appeal to evidence, observation. You develop theories tested by their coherence and you test the claims empirically, verify them in terms of experiment and predictions. Religion draws on revelation, authority, intuition, faith, tradition and does not test its claims in the same way. In fact, the great religions often disagree. They contradict each other and conflict. So that’s the first point. The first major confirmation that I mean, like truth and the best modder there is Galileo, who was placed under house arrest because he’s accepted the Copernican theory that the sun was the center of the universe, not the not the planet Earth. 

And for this, he was condemned at that time. And that has continued ever since the effort by different religious theologies to dictate truth and to seek to limit or censor science, which may disagree with the prevailing authoritative tradition. 

Paul, the second area of conflict that you talked about was in the political domain. So if you look at the culture war, stem cell research, cloning, abortion, yeah, even gay rights science has a view on why homosexuality is or what a fetus is or what stem cell research. Cloning side. 

Yes, indeed. And so in that view, conflicts with that all reflects that depends on which religion, because many religions support science. But many of them are opposed to that. And and that’s why we’re concerned with. But in any case, freedom of inquiries, basic and the separation of church and state is basic. And the effort to use the state to censor science, to invade the scientific classrooms, to dictate to the scientists in the area of truth here they using politics to do so and using a club to enforce that view. 

And we’re living through that battle, as you properly pointed out, DJ Grothe. The area stem cell research where there’s effort too limited in the area of population control or population or disease control against AIDS, where people say, well, we ought to use science, recommends the use of condoms as effective, but that violates religious grounds. 

So that is the political the political sphere. You have a theocracy as an Islamic lands. So many, many religions attempt to use the state to enforce the doctrine, and that often impedes science and other areas of human behavior. 

I think another good example of this conflict between science and religion in the political domain is the current debates regarding evolution versus intelligent design. It’s not just a debate about science. In fact, there is no debate within science on this issue. It’s a culture war debate. Can anything be done to diminish these conflicts, to lessen them in the future, or are they here to stay? 

Well, I think that this attack on Darwinism and the theory of evolution has reached a kind of intensity that we are surprised because other parts of the world do not have the same kind of battle on the cultural level. I think most other parts of the world, surely the democratic, secular, scientific world accept the theory of evolution. But in the United States, unfortunately, some people seek to impose creationism, either the the short earth creation of some the right or even intelligent design. Right as an alternative explanation. So that’s first. And evasion of the quest for knowledge in the area of truth, where evolution has been tested over and over again. And second, it’s a use of the state to enforce a particular theological doctrine. 

They’re trying to use political methods to advance their religious point of view. 

Yes. And that’s that had no had always been the case historically. And you particularly see that Islamic countries, unfortunately, where a science often is not free and science cannot can contradict the Koran. And so either the Koran or the Bible or the Hindu religion uses the the sacred literature of Hinduism to define orthodoxy and to prohibit any effort by scientific inquiry to question that. 

So you’re drawing an analogy between religious political extremists of the Muslim variety and those politically active in America who were seeking to advance their religious world view politically in terms of evolution and creationism? 

Yes, of course, this has been an ongoing battle through the whole history of science and indeed before that philosophy. And what is crucial in science is a principle of skepticism. Namely, you ought to formulate a hypotheses, seek to develop a theory, and then tested empirically, make predictions. And if you cannot do so, you ought to doubt that. And of course, science constantly maintains the principle of fallible as and we may be mistaken. We have to modify our theories. This violates the absolutist fundamentalist who thinks there are absolute truths that you can never question. 

But without questioning, you do not have science. And that is very clearly the case in this battle between intelligent design or creationism. On the one hand, and the theories and hypotheses tested, incidentally, by a whole body of empirical data on the other. 

Well, I find it very strategic, even cunning, that the cultural competitors, the intelligent design proponents, they talk about free inquiry, they talk about having an open mind. Be open minded enough to imagine that evolution might be wrong and allow for these competing views. They’re aping the language that you’ve. Been promoting for 30 years. 

Yes. Well, I think that’s very good and I think free inquiry of the willingness to change your mind is fine. But does that apply to religious claims? Because you can do the same thing about religion. And there is this whole field of biblical criticism or Koranic criticism where you can bring the best scientific techniques, linguistics, archeology, anthropology to explain religious claims. In any case, freedom of research is fundamental, both in the first sense and the second sense. The third area of conflict is, is morality. And I think Stephen Jay Gould was mistaken when he said that this is the magistrate of religion. Now, granted, religion does deal with morality, but there are alternative secular sources which can be tested and can be modified in the light of reason. 

You think that science can tell us something about ethics? 

Well, it does all the time. I mean, we we formulate means to achieve our ends and we modify our ends in the light of these means. We have moral principles and we test them in the light of our consequences. 

That’s something like science. That’s not science as a body of knowledge. It’s more like the method of science, which is testing, discovering. You’re looking at consequence? 

Well, I think so. I think that ethical reasoning can be objective. It’s not private or subjective simply. It may be relative to human beings, clearly, but it can be modified in the light of what you cannot cannot do. Science presents us with tools to achieve our ends, and it enables us to modify or ends in the light of these tools, but also in terms of their effects upon the real world. And you see this you mentioned earlier, DJ Grothe a about population control, where many people in the religious area are offended by the use of condoms because they think that this is immoral in terms of the religious doctrine. Yet condoms can prevent AIDS. It can limit population. So this this is an empirical test of a claim. 

I asked you earlier if you thought anything can be done to diminish these conflicts, both in the political domain, the area of truth, area of ethics. Can anything be done to lessen these conflicts in the future? 

Yes, indeed. I think we have to. And I think many liberal, modern religious people accept the agenda of science. They realize all of these wonderful things that have occurred. The lengthening of the lifespan, the reduction of pain and sorrow, the increase of the goods for the achievement of happiness so that scientific research can contribute to human welfare and human betterment. And I think we can indeed have conveyed this to many, many people in the religious field as well. The problem is when you get into a kind of dogmatic area of resistance, as you mentioned earlier in this interview, cloning, therapeutic cloning. Now, some theologians are opposed to cloning because they think that the soul is imparted by God. And so when the first cell divides, a soul is implanted. Now, I think that’s mistaken. I don’t think there’s any evidence for that. And yet that is used on moral grounds. So it’s moral censorship, not simply political censorship of scientific inquiry as scientific advance and religion and science are incompatible in this area as well, because we can use reason and science to modify our moral values. 

You say that religion and science are incompatible in those three areas. Area of truth. The area of the political domain and an ethics. Those three areas. But you say that ultimately I think it’s at the end of science and religion, your book or another of your books. 

Ultimately, religion and science can meet somewhere, but not in the area of truth. Only in the area of hope or optimism. Yes, you say religion, obviously, and it’s obvious. Well, as people gives a lot of people hope. And you say that science or the scientific outlook can also. 

Well, so, yes, you’ve touched on a very good point. 

I think that I interpret religion as a kind of existential poetry, a kind of metaphysical drama, dramatizing the human condition, facing death and tragedy. How do people cope? And many people have turned to religion. Karl Marx thought it was the opiate of the masses. We no longer quote Marx today. Others think it is a kind of a bomb to sue the human aching human heart. 

But it has given many people hope, promise. It’s buoyed their spirits, and I surely do not deny that. 

So you say the scientific outlook can do as much? 

Well, yeah. So super supernatural claims are is authentic. They’re kind of padre. And they have a moral dimension. Existential is the term facing the universe. And many people can’t do that. The naturalist scientific naturalists argue that a basic virtue is the courage to persist, to be, says Paul Telic, and to become so that although we emphasize the virtue of inquiry. Reason and knowledge as basic, we also emphasized the importance of fortitude, courage and the great challenge for a scientific naturalist is can we supply promise, hope, expectations of the of the future, which are positive? I think we can. And I think that many scientists, rationalist nonbelievers, have led significant, meaningful lives of enrichment in which there is joy and sharing, companionship and partnership. All of the goods of life. But in any case where science and religion compete is on this existential question. 

And you say that the scientific outlook can give does give religion a run for its money? 

Oh, I think so. I prefer the term secular outlook, humanistic outlook. And I think that can be drawn from a naturalistic account of the universe. Namely, what is reality? Most likely what the sciences reveal, not the ancient traditional sacred book so called We turned to the Book of Nature and then we learn about ourselves and also how to improve life and enhance it. 

So, yes, naturalism has power. It has moral power. It has esthetic power. It moves people. It has a passionate aspect. 

In one of your books, you say something like, no, God will save us. We must save ourselves. That seems to be a rather hopeful statement. If science and religion can meet, at least in this area of hope. Well, what gives you so much hope based on the sciences? 

That statement, no, dedi will save us. We Must Save Ourselves is from a humanist manifesto to which I drafted in 1973. And what I meant by that is that religions of the past developed in in periods of great poverty and disease in the ancient world. And the great hope was salvation in the afterlife as so whether it was Judaism, Muhammad and Islam through Mohammed or Christianity, it was the same message. The secular humanist argues that we live in this world here and now, and then we want to achieve a significant, meaningful life in its own terms. What’s a secular humanist? Just quickly, a secular humanist is committed to the realization of the best of which we are capable as human beings. That’s the humanism, the achievement of a life of creative joy. I call it of humanistic ethics and secular means without benefit of God or clergy. Namely, we’re responsible for our own destiny, our own powers using intelligence, compassion and goodwill to achieve a good life. And we can do that. And so there’s a competition between religions of salvation and the you practice Sufis, I call it, of of of human fulfillment and realization in the world that we live in. 

So if religion and science can meet, if if they’re not compatible, but they can meet in this area of hope. What specifically about science or the scientific outlook gives you so much hope? 

Well, I should say they must meet. We live in the same world and we must learn to compromise and negotiate our differences. And this warfare between religion and science is very unfortunate. The science in the area of truth, in the area of social justice, I would speak as a philosopher and a rationalist and the area of virtue and goodness in the ethical domain. This is a significant there is a significant literature and people learn to live in this life and enjoy it fully. I think the liberalization of religion is very important. Islam needs a new reformation, such as the Protestant Reformation. And it needs a new Rhen swords. It needs to live and let live. It needs to draw upon the sciences and learn from the humanistic agenda and also respect the democratic liberties. And in that sense, we can live in compatible terms clearly. Why are you so optimistic? I am an optimist, a realistic. I have to confess. I think life is wonderful. Life can be wonderful for people. It depends on satisfying our basic needs. It also depends upon getting rid of disease. And Mrs.. And the hunger and the things can be conquered. 

They are being conquered in the history of the Western cultural tradition. Science and technology has advanced our comforts and our progress much more than religion. You’re saying? 

Well, yeah, everybody accepts that. Everybody accepts the technological applications of scientific research to make life more bountiful in the fullness of life flows from that. And religionists do that, too. One has to I have no objection to religion, but I object to is abrasive, fundamentalistic, dogmatic sensorial religion. I believe in live and let live. If people want to accept the religious beliefs, of course they have the right to. It’s when they seek to impose them upon others that we get violence and war and conflict as in the present world and the conflict between Islam and Christianity. 

That’s been a really groundbreaking new venture at the Center for Inquiry, our Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Societies, headed up by Ibn Warraq. 

Yes, this is a rather unique departure. We’ve gone back and we’re developing Koranic criticism, much the same as biblical criticism, high criticism of the Bible. 18TH century Germany. Yes. Of the Bible. Yes. A great tradition of over two centuries. And now the same kind of intellectual scrutiny of the Koran has to be developed. Many devout Muslims refuse to allow that. They will declare a fatwa. And we argue for freedom of inquiry, freedom of research. And when you want to explore the origins of the Koran, you will find that there were many versions of the Koran and that the traditional account of what happened is not necessarily so. And there were Judaic, Christian and Syriac sources of the Koran. And so one has to modify this notion that the Koran should be taken as absolute truth as much as what was done within the Christian trade, Christian tradition yet and also the Jewish tradition. You end up with the more liberal metaphorical interpretation of the Bible, whether it’s the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. We urgently need the same thing for the one point two billion Muslims. We need a kind of an intelligence scrutiny of these claims. And we would hope that are other sympathetic, like minded Muslim friends will do that and went. Once you do that, you will moderate this notion that we alone have the final truth. We alone will go to heaven and everyone else is condemned to hell. 

Are you interested in only exploring the claims of the monotheisms or all world religions, all supernatural world views? 

Well, I think supernatural world views in general need to be explained. And we hear it’s a nice script, does routinized and explain how they arose, what they portend. These are part of the ancient literature of world civilization. 

So there are Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalists as well as well. 

You have far fewer of Budos aboutus. Fundamentalists. Yes. So I think that the reinterpreted kind of rare understanding of our religious tradition would be very helpful. But we would hope that people will become secularized, that they’re open their minds and hearts to other points of view, and in particular that they submit their children to an educational system in which they can learn these other points of view. So we believe education is crucial for developing the scientific outlook. The use of reason and continuing the goals of the Enlightenment. 

You mentioned the Enlightenment. The feel a source of the Enlightenment cherished what they called the Republic of Letters rather than the monarchy of princes. So they wanted to expand the number of people engaged in inquiry and investigation and and those those kinds of goals of the enlightenment you’ve championed for 30 years, continuing those goals, looking at the next 30 years. What makes you most optimistic about the scientific enterprise and the scientific outlook as applied or as you’re trying to apply it in the Center for Inquiry and the institutions you’re founded? 

Well, you mentioned the Enlightenment. If you go back to the founding fathers of the great American experimentation were children of the Enlightenment. They were influenced by the French and the English enlightenment. And that led to the progressive improvement of the human condition ever since the latter part of the 18th century. You had the industrial revolution. You had the democratic revolution, the expansion of consumer goods worldwide. We’re at the same turning point today with. The information revolution of which this radio program is a good illustration because it’s using the best technology to extend the point of view everywhere. So I think as we have just entered the 21st century, looking ahead, the scientific revolution, the technological revolution, bio genetic engineering, the fact that we are part of a global planetary civilization augur well for the human condition. So I’m very optimistic about the future status of the human species on this planet. And I think through the use of intelligence and goodwill, science and reason, we can expand a progressive future. 

Well, thank you, Paul, for joining us on this premiere episode of Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you, D.J., and thank you. We look forward to an auspicious future for this new radio series. You. 

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Every week on point of inquiry, we’ll bring you a segment called From the pages of this time, it’s from the pages of Free Inquiry. David Capsule, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry, discuss articles from the current issue of F.I. and even tell you how you can get a free copy. 

Hello, this is David Capsule, the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and I’m here with Tom Flynn, who is the editor of Free Inquiry magazine. Hello, Tom. Hello, David. Good to be here. Good to have you. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the current issue of free inquiry, which is the cover story from Chris Mooney, who has a relationship with the Council for Secular Humanism. Perhaps you want to tell us first about that and then a bit about the issue. 

Yes. Chris Mooney actually got his start in public life with the Council for Secular Humanism. He was a student at Yale when he was involved with our campus Freethought Alliance, did a good deal of activism, work with us on campus and came to work here at our headquarters in Amherst, New York, as our public information officer, and stayed in that capacity for about a year and a half and went off on his career. And he’s had a stellar, one might say, meteoric career. He’s been involved with The American Prospect, several other big name magazines. And he’s currently the Washington correspondent for SEED, the big third culture magazine, exploring the intersections of culture and science. So he’s become a very successful commentator and pundit, particularly on issues having to do with the public understanding of science and the way that world view issues are communicated on the American scene, which he says is generally done rather poorly. 

Well, he’s doing a good job of picking up the slack. He’s got a cover story on F.I. right now. You want to tell us a little bit about that? 

That’s correct. Our cover is called the Republican War on Science. And when you see the magazine on the newsstand, you’ll see the large angry elephant swinging an old fashioned mason, busting up a bunch of scientific laboratory equipment, including a very conspicuous petri dish of stem cells. And this is an excerpt from Chris’s book of the same name, The Republican War on Science, which has just come out and gotten tremendous attention. He’s been getting a lot of press attention, some very good quality reviews, even did a guest chat on The Daily Show. I think you really know you’ve arrived when you’re sitting across the desk from Jon Stewart. 

Yeah, that’s certainly a sign of the times when Jon Stewart is the cultural harbinger. And Chris is indeed getting a lot of a lot of notice for this book and the cover. I believe the cover story was an exclusive. I wasn’t. That’s correct. Terrific. Well, we also have a number of editorial features this month. First, we have Paul Curtseys editorial. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Well, Paul’s editorial is called In the New Pursuit of Excellence. People may remember the In Pursuit of Excellence, the big management book of the 1980s. Well, Paul is taking that in a different direction. Secular humanist sometimes inaccurately have the image that there are people who believe that anything goes. 

And in fact, secular humanist believe that when we look at the world honestly and use our reason and compassion and common sense, we see a whole range of objectively useful, beneficent moral values that help people to live together more successfully. And that’s a big part of the secular humanist mindset. Now, Paul is taking this to the next level and to an area that some people will agree with and some will find controversial. And he’s saying that we can, in fact, speak about objectively better and less good approaches in esthetics, that some works of art and some methods of media presentation are objectively better, more humane, more fulfilling than others. And as secular humanist, we should be putting our own voice out in favor of a more elevated rather than a less elevated media. So, of course, I immediately when I read that, I went out and threw away all my video games. 

Well, let me remind our listeners that you can get a free sample copy of the current Free Inquiry magazine by calling one 800 four five eight one three six six one 800 four five eight one three six six. And finally, we have a new department only in free inquiry that we have the first installment from from Ibn Warrick. Right. 

Yes. That’s our Islam Watch Department. That’s going to be a feature in each issue of free inquiry. It’s been work is perhaps the best known critic of Islam. He comes from the Indian subcontinent and it is of an Islamic background himself. He’s an independent scholar. He wrote his his breakthrough book was called Why I Am Not a Muslim. And since then, he has written or edited a string. I think there’s five or six of them in print now. Very good quality scholarly books looking at things that basically Western scholars haven’t paid attention to since the 19th century, including what we know, which is actually a fair amount about how the Koran was. Assembled how the traditions surrounding Mohammed actually came together and, well, Islam has a biography as all religions do it. It didn’t come down from heaven in a single piece. In his initial installment, Ebb and War talks about something rather ironic. About four years ago, he was actually the first to recognize the implications of some cutting edge scholarship by a biblical scholar named Luxembourg. Dr. Luxembourg’s thesis was that important parts of the Koran were being misread because we were making the wrong assumptions regarding which language it had originally been composed in. And according to Luxembourg’s thesis, which had been work popularized and presented first on the Web and later in an article in The New York Times, the little passage telling people who are martyred for the faith in jihad that they will go to heaven and have the perpetual attention of 72 virgins. Well, if you translate that on the assumption that that passage was originally written in the ancient languages Syriac, which appears to be the case, in fact, those are 72 grapes or perhaps raisins, not not an unwelcome reward at the end of a long journey through a hot desert, but perhaps not what some of today’s jihad warriors might have in mind. 

Now, if our assumptions are correct, there are pretty disappointed by now. Imagine. Yes, I would think so. Well, Thomas, thank you very much for your insights into this current issue. Once again, I’ll remind our listeners that you can get a free sample copy of the current issue of a free inquiry at one 800 four five eight one three six six. And we’ll be back to talk to you, Tom, about it the next issue as soon as that’s on the shelves. Thanks very much, David. Look forward to it. Thank you. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. Judge Roberts record shows long crusade against church state separation. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. One adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community who could have imagined that reality would need defenders. The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values by becoming a friend of the center today. Whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine or Center for Inquiry on Campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting WW w. That Center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

You are listening to point of inquiry. Remember to visit us online at w w w dot point of inquiry dot org. From our Web site you can access guest bios, segment transcripts, contact information and links to sites of interest mentioned during the show. Again, the address is w w w dot point of inquiry dot org. 

Thanks for listening to this premiere episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for a discussion about skepticism and debunking with the world’s leading paranormal investigator, Dr. Joe Niccolò. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Contributors include Sarah Jordan, Naum, Alan Tom Flynn, David Capsule, Ben Radford, Thomas Donnelly and Lauren Becker. I’m your host DJ Grothe questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry or or visit our Web site at point of inquiry dot org. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.