Richard Dawkins – The Root of All Evil?

February 10, 2006

Richard Dawkins is professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University. The recipient of a number of awards for his writing on science, including the Royal Society of Literature Award and the LA Times Literary Prize, he has also been awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday Award for the furtherance of the public understanding of science. In a recent poll in the United Kingdom, he was named Britain’s leading public intellectual. He is the author of a number of critically acclaimed books, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Devil’s Chaplain, and The Ancestor’s Tale.

In this interview with DJ Grothe, Dawkins discusses his newest work, a two-part documentary series for British television entitled The Root of All Evil?, in which he challenges what he calls “the process of non-thinking called faith.”

Also in this episode, noted ex-muslim and best-selling Islamic scholar Ibn Warraq explores the recent worldwide riots over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed as a terrorist, Point of Inquiry contributor Lauren Becker explores “defensive driving maneuvers” in a world where so many drive by faith and not by sight, and DJ Grothe talks with Derek and Swoopy, hosts of the wildly popular podcast Skepticality, exploring the use this new medium to advance the critical, pro-science view in our society.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, February 10th, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiry is 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. Every week on point of inquiry, we look at some of the fundamental beliefs of our culture focusing on three areas. First, there is pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we concentrate on what’s called complementary and alternative medicine. Third, on point of inquiry, we really look hard at the intersection of religion and science in our society on issues surrounding science and nonbelief. We do this by drawing on the Center for Inquires relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, we are going to be joined by Richard Dawkins, considered Britain’s leading public intellectual and a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford. Later in the show, I’m really pleased that we’ll be talking with Derek and Swoopy, host of the popular podcast Skeptic Carletti about getting skepticism out there in this new medium. And we’ll have a thought provoking commentary by Lauren Becker. But first, I’d like to discuss the recent controversy over the cartoon criticizing Islam with noted critic of Islam, Ibn Work, author of Why I’m Not a Muslim. Welcome to Point of Inquiry. Thank you. Recently there these conflagrations around the world, riots and protests that have led to embassies being stormed and even deaths all over cartoons, cartoons that ran in the Danish press depicting Muhammad criticizing Islam for being a violent religion. What do you think about all of this? 

First of all, let me just make a kind of academic remark concerning whether representation is allowed in Islam or not. It really isn’t just a question of representation in Islam. There are conflicting and contradictory traditions within Islam. There’s nothing in the Koran, for example, against the depiction of humans. There are several Hadith that’s say it traditions which recount the acts and deeds of the prophet, which are often interpreted as being interdictions on the reproduction of humans because they’re supposed to compete with God. He’s only God who has the creative function. But these traditions are contradicted by account see in work. So Islamic history, in fact, the earliest biography of the Prophet, which predates any of these Hadith tells the story of how Muhammad, the Prophet entered Mecca, asked destruction of idols and pictures which were found in the Kaaba, which is the central point of the pilgrimage to be destroyed, except for two portraits, one of Jesus and the other one of Mary. He asked them to be preserved right from the beginning. Islamic civilization. You had representation even of the prophet. So there are literally hundreds of miniatures. These miniatures, in fact, one of the glories of Islamic art show the prophet, including the face of the prophet. 

There are even rare illustrations to the Koran which depict the prophet with his face clearly shown is the main grievance of the Muslim protesters that the face or image of the prophet was shown or that the prophet was ridiculed and dishonored in the cartoon with the Salman Rushdie affair. 

Many Muslims were taking to the streets without having read a single word of the book Satanic Verses by Rushdie. And this is a similar case with these cartoons. Many of the people in the lynch mob took to the streets and had never seen any of the cartoons. But the just the very idea they were told there was a rumor that the prophet in some way had been mocked, had been ridiculed, had been satirized, and that was enough to to get the mobs going, the fanaticism going and being whipped up. I think it’s is quite depressing. But in many of the governments and the Islamic countries have not asked the people to calm down. 

In fact, the Iranian government has encouraged violence, wants the death penalty for cartoonists. And of course, the other thing is this sheer hypocrisy of the governments in the Middle East, because they are on a daily basis, publish cartoons of Jews, which are the most horrific kind. But philosophically, of course, I’m not saying that if the Muslims start drawing cartoons of Jews and so on, then we should stop our traditions either. No, this is a perfectly legitimate right to the Danish cut. Louise, first of all, we’re acting within Danish law. They were exercising their freedom. Freedom of the press, freedom to criticize, freedom to criticize religion is absolutely fundamental. Right. It’s a fundamental principle of human rights, of democracy, of secularism. We have this right to criticize, to mock, to satirize, to prick the pretensions of politicians to to rage against tyranny. Satire has a very long tradition in the in the West from Aristophanes quintillion Petronius lists in the Cilliers onwards to to the modern period. The French have a very long tradition of anticlerical humor. And then in recent years, we had the American and read Serranos Photograph the Piss Christ, which provoked Christians. Prestons didn’t like it. But there was nothing like the kind of reaction we’ve had to these cartoons. 

Do you think it’s ironic that Muslims in their rioting are rioting the charge that Islam is a violent religion? 

Exactly. They don’t see the irony. I don’t think they have a sense of humor. By all accounts, there was a man holding up a picture in one of these demonstrations, a placard saying behead all those who say Islam is a violent religion. Whether he was being s he was being serious. Not I don’t know. Yeah, you never know. I’m not sure that they understand irony or self deprecation of that kind. Thank you. Even work for being on point of inquiry. Okay. Thanks a lot. 

I’m David Capsule, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and an associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. Free Inquiry is the council’s flagship publication and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary as a leading journal of secular humanist thought and opinion. The February March issue is now on shelves and better bookstores and can be ordered online from w WW Secular Humanism dot org. Or by calling our toll free number one 800 four five eight one three six six. This issue features an excellent article by biblical scholar Hector Avalon’s entitled Twisting Scripture, which looks at how various translation of Christian texts diverged not only from one another, but from publicly accepted views of what the Bible supposedly says. It’s truly an eye opening piece of critical biblical study. Please pick up a copy or call us for a complimentary issue of free inquiry and support freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor. I really like you to see what we’re all about. So give us a call at one 800 four five eight one three six six mentioned point of inquiry and ask for your free copy today. 

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Richard Dawkins is professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. The recipient of a number of awards for his writing on science, including the Royal Society of Literature Award and the L.A. Times Literary Prize. He’s also been awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday Award for the furtherance of the public understanding of science. In a recent poll in the United Kingdom, he was named Britain’s leading public intellectual. He’s the author of a number of critically acclaimed books, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker on Weaving the Rainbow, The Devil’s Chaplain and the Ancestors Tale. He’s joining us today on point of inquiry to discuss his newest work, a two part documentary series for British television entitled The Root of All Evil, in which he challenges what he calls the process of non-thinking called faith. Welcome to a point of inquiry, Richard. 

Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be on a show that discusses such important issues. 

Let’s begin by asking, why is an evolutionary biologist and professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford so hell bent on criticizing religion and belief in God? 

Hell bent on putting it a bit strongly. I think if we took those two things separately, an evolutionary biologist, professor, the public understanding of science, and it is true, of course, that a majority of respectable theologians are very happy with evolution. But on the other hand, in the United States, something like 50 percent of the population does not believe in evolution. And that still is a religious reasons. So an evolutionary biologist has every reason to be hell bent. If I was as a professor of public understanding of science. Well, science is about what’s true. I do care passionately about the truth. I care passionately about the freedom to try to understand what is true about the universe. And I do see religion as a kind of organized opposition to finding out objectively what is actually true about the universe. It seems to me to be a competitor in the field, always has been. And that’s another reason to be hostile to. A third reason to be hostile has nothing to do with evolution or science. It’s just that I’m a citizen of the world. And if you look around the world, you’ll see a great deal of bad things going on, which I believe are directly attributable to blind faith. 

You may not be hell bent on criticizing religion or belief in God, but certain segments of American Christianity seem to think you’re hell bent on it, that you maybe have an ax to grind. You’re attacked and ridiculed and Christian activist training videos in sermons, in magazines and newsletters. Is does this enter into your motivation at all? Are you doing some sort of payback, in other words, by putting out this documentary? 

Well, no. I mean, I wasn’t I didn’t I didn’t know about that. I had no idea that I would see this. All those things you suggest obviously better things to do than read those papers and read those websites and listen to those stations, whatever they are. So, no, there’s no question of payback. On the contrary, I suppose if if I am indeed attacked in all those places, there must be a reason in the past. And so presumably they’re attacking me because I already have been saying things that they don’t like. 

You’ve written that the theory of evolution, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection makes it intellectually defensible to be an atheist. Are you implying by that that it’s intellectually indefensible to believe in God and evolution at the same time as, as you said, many religious. Many liberal religionists anyway do? 

I do think that is a bit of a problem with reconciling evolution with theism. I should emphasize yet again. Of course, there are very many individual evolutionists who are theists and therefore have a lot of people that there is no contradiction. 

I find a sort of contradiction in that somebody who is deeply steeped in Darwinism, what it stands for, recognizes that it is a thoroughly satisfying explanation in terms of simple units of explanation for things which are very, very complicated and would otherwise be seen as exceedingly improbable. So if I could put that another way, the world is full of improbable things of which living thing is the most spectacular. Throughout history, religion has been the main explanation for the existence of those improbable things. I’m thinking of things like eyes and ears and brains and things like that. Now, Darwinian evolution came up with a better explanation because a more equal. The more parsimonious explanation and it’s an explanation which really, really works because it starts with ultimate simplicity. It starts with a very, very simple beginning. And it works out by gradual degrees to the sort of complexity, improbability, elegance and beauty that we see in the living world. And that has been invoked in the past as apparent evidence for religion. Now, because we have that marvelously economical explanation that causes us to turn a lens on the God explanation itself, and that lens, rather pitilessly exposes the fact that God, any sort of God capable of being what gods are cracked up to do, any sort of God would have to be a very, very complex entity of exactly the same kind as we need to explain. And as Darwinism uniquely does explain. So the old question, who created God? That question’s always been there. But it sort of rubbed in with redoubled force by having your consciousness raised by evolution, because in Darwinian evolution, we really do have a brilliant explanation for the origin of complex, statistically improbable things of which God would be a supreme example. So I find that that anybody who is deeply steeped in Darwinism has had that consciousness raised, and that tends to undermine to cut to cut down all likelihood that God could possibly exist. 

Richard, a lot of people think that it’s intellectually indefensible to not believe in God. You just defended that. It’s persuasive to me. But a lot of people make the argument that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer. What do you say to that? Is this a matter of faith or is it just on the evidence? 

It is just on the evidence. It certainly is not a matter of faith. I mean, if one is trying to make the case that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as to be a believer, then you would have to say that that’s true of anything that one might postulate, not just the God of the Bible, but Soul and Wertheim and Apollo and the flying spaghetti monster in all those things. You cannot actually disprove. But I don’t think anybody would want to say it’s a matter of faith that there’s no such thing as a flying spaghetti monster. It’s the onus is on people who would want to believe in the flight to get him to to find evidence that is there. And exactly the same thing is true of Thor Apollo. You and your. 

Your recent two part documentary, The Root of All Evil, is rather hard hitting the reviews, the stir that it’s caused in it. You argue that religion is a serious contender as the root of all evil, that that religion is responsible for things like war, hatred, terrorism, child abuse. These are examples of the evil that religion rots. But I should ask you, aren’t those evil things what people might do tend to do? Whether or not they are religious? 

Yes. I mean, first of all, I should say that the title root of all evil was not mine. And I actually fought vigorously against it, against the television company. And they insisted on it. I managed to get them to insert a question mark at the end, which was also a concession to my misgivings about this, what I regarded and still do regard as an indefensible title. Religion is certainly not the root of all evil. 

No single thing is the root of all anything. But I do think you can make a case that religion is the root of a great deal of evil, certainly throughout history. And certainly today, if you look at the causes of wars and similar conflicts, you can say that in many cases they are due to, for example, economic disputes or national vendettas or something of that sort. And that is true. But for a start, it’s very often the case that the only label that people manage to find to tie onto themselves and to their enemies are religious label. If you take Northern Ireland, for example, which is close to my home, if not yours, one could say that the dispute in Northern Ireland is only superficially between Protestants and Catholics. It’s really about economic and political grievances, which go back actually hundreds of years. And that’s kind of true. I mean, when IRA gunman murders a Protestant, he he’s not thinking to himself, take that transubstantiation that marry a logical bastard. He’s thinking to himself, take that. You representative of a group who killed my father or my brother or my best friend. So it’s a vendetta against the other lot, but how you identify the other lot? Well, in South Africa, it might have been race or the southern states of America at one time, it might have been race. But in Northern Ireland, there is nothing but religion. I mean, they speak the same language. They look the same. Address the same. They talk the same. The only label for the tribal vendetta in Northern Ireland is religion. So to put it another way, if you could wave a magic wand and abolish religion, there would be no way of identifying whether you’re on this side or on that side and waving a magic wand you wouldn’t need to do. By the way, what you would need to do would be to abolish tribal education, abolish schools which have which are Catholic only schools or Protestant only schools. Because if you think about it, those sectarian schools, did they go back generations? You are going to a school for, let’s say, Catholics and your your parents went to Catholic schools and your grandparents went to Catholic schools. And the people you were fighting went to Protestant schools for that number of generations. No wonder we have tribal vendettas when children are segregated at birth and then sent to segregated schools in that way. 

You talk about religious education in the second program of Root of All Evil, the second episode. You say that you’re very concerned about the religious indoctrination of children. And one of the lines of argument that you use in this documentary is actually to call religion a former child abuse, to say that it’s a form of child abuse, to call a child a Jew or Christian when he isn’t old enough to make decisions about these fundamental beliefs about the universe. You say you wouldn’t call a five year old a capitalist or a Marxist. But let me ask you, is it also form of child abuse to call a five year old, a Briton or an American? 

No, I don’t think that because they are just statements of fact about where the child was born. But to call a child a Marxist or a capitalist or a or a hierarchy and monetary that is committing the child to an opinion about economics, which the child couldn’t possibly have because it’s too young. And I think that religious labels come under that heading. If it were the case that when we talked about a Catholic child, everybody understood that for you mean is a child of Catholic parents, which actually, of course, is all you reasonably couldn’t as a child is too young, then that would be OK. If that this is a Catholic job, if everybody realized that only mean that the child, the Catholic parents, then your parallel was saying this child is and that is an American only child would be valid. But something about calling the child a Catholic child implies that the child is has either has already bought into or is going to buy a whole lot of theology, which is different from the theology of a Protestant child. And I think, therefore, the parallel with calling it a Marxist child or a Keynesian child is valid. 

Calling a child a Catholic child implies that that child will be indoctrinated and grow up as a Catholic, believing the teachings of the Catholic Church. Is there a way around that? 

I think it might be a place where you might start to question the automatic rights of parents to dictate the nature of their child’s education. In extreme cases, we sort of already do. I mean, there was a famous court case. This particular matter of the Omeish, I think it might have been in Pennsylvania, I think. No, I forget which state it was in maybe maybe Ohio, where a group of I think the local state government brought a case against some Amish parents who were refusing to allow their children to be educated because they said it was against their religion to let children be educated beyond the age of twelve or something of that sort. And it actually went all the way to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court, I believe, went the wrong way. I think the Supreme Court upheld the right of Amish parents to prevent their children from being educated, whereas the state government I was like, remember which state it was the state government dealt with. It was the right of the child to be educated, even against the wishes of the parents. And I mean, that’s obviously a difficult case since the Supreme Court went the opposite way to the states court. But it does seem to me to be a difficult case that we ought to be thinking about very carefully. Should parents have the right to dictate to their children what their opinions should be about life and the cosmos and morality? Because that’s in effect, what you’re doing when you say this child is a Catholic child or this child is a Muslim child. 

Right. It’s more than just a theological indoctrination. A lot of people send their children to religious schools because they want their children to develop what they think are a healthy set of values of birth, correct. View of right and wrong. You say that there’s morality apart from religion, but a lot of people disagree. How can children be taught what’s right and wrong without religion? 

There’s something they odd, isn’t there, about the idea that right and wrong comes from religion. I mean, in extreme cases and I’ve actually met this in some religious people, they really do seem to think that you can only get right and wrong from the sort of carrot and stick that heaven and hell, the promise of heaven, the threat of hell provide. And so if they’re implicitly saying if it wasn’t for being frightened of God, I wouldn’t be a good person. And some of them even say, if you don’t have God, what’s to stop people from murdering and raping and stealing? Well, that doesn’t really say very much for the morality of the religious person who is saying that many of us who are atheists are certainly no less moral, certainly no more likely to murder or steal or rape. And we don’t have to have a spy camera, whether a divine spy camera or a human by camera looking at it in order to refrain from doing this, in order to lead moral lives. That is perfectly respectable, philosophical, secular discipline of moral philosophy. Which has over centuries been working out moral principles which can be based on fundamental principles like the greatest good is the greatest number. For example, it’s not the only one to be based. And I think that we actually get our morals from somewhere quite different. 

If you postulate the idea that people get their morals from, say, the Ten Commandments, from Scripture, then if that were really true, then we’d be we’d still be stoning adulteresses to death. We’d still be stoning people to death for breaking the Sabbath. It’s perfectly clear that we don’t, as a matter of fact, guess our morals from scripture. It’s also clear that the overall social consensus of what is treated is right and what created is wrong. Change is not just over centuries, but over decades. In during my lifetime, people in Britain have changed from being predominantly racist to being predominantly. Well, let’s say very conscious of the dangers of racism and very alert to racist language when they hear it. That’s happened during the decade that I’ve been alive. And over centuries, of course, things changed much more. We now did do slavery. 

We now don’t torture Southern whites. So there is a kind of moving to the concept of what is moral and that moving consensus moves on in parallel throughout the civilized world independently of religion, owing nothing to scripture. After all, those people who still try to defend scripture as moral will point to those verses in the Bible which do say moral things, and they will ignore those verses in the Bible, which say horrible things like stoning adulteresses to death. We cherry pick the Bible. We pick and choose which verses to follow and which verses not to follow. How do we carry this? Obviously an off on switch of ground because that’s self denying. What we do is we carry a on the basis of something else, which is this general liberal consensus which moves on through the centuries and through the decades that I was talking about. Well, if you couldn’t use that general liberal consensus in order to decide which verses of the Bible to adopt and which verses of the Bible to ignore, you couldn’t cut out the Bible together, cut out the middle man and just go straight for the liberal consensus, which is what we already doing anyway. 

So you don’t need religion to be more on children don’t need to go to religious schools in order to learn right from wrong. But again, talking about a religious education, you accuse religious schools of slipping religious superstition back into science. As you know, last month and in the United States, a Bush appointed judge named John Jones made an emphatic, a really decisive ruling against the teaching of intelligent design and high school science classes. He called it a religion, not a science. And he actually called the idee advocates liars for pretending it was science. But don’t you think people have the right to believe whatever they want to believe and to have their children be taught what they want them to be taught? 

Well, first, I’d like to express my appreciation of Judge John Jones was a magnificent judgment. What beautiful language. Breathtaking inanity. That’s a wonderful phrase. But to your question, does they have a right? Of course, everybody has a right to believe what they want. Nobody’s questioning that. Shouldn’t children have a right to be protected in their science classes from material that has nothing to do with science being smuggled into science classes on religious grounds? That seems to me to be a right, let alone a constitutional matter, which in the United States, of course, it is in Britain, if not in Britain. Guess he has a constitution and there and there certainly is no constitutional separation between church and state. So the law is less clear in this country. But in America, it’s absolutely clear that there is the the constitutional separation of church and state. And Judge Jones is absolutely right to diagnose so-called intelligent design has nothing to do with science. It is creationism. It is religion. And children have a right to be protected in their science classes from it. 

I want to let our listeners know that you can purchase a copy of Richard Dawkins book The Devil’s Chaplain at our website Point of Inquiry, Dawg. Richard, you focus on a few examples in this documentary of the worst that religion has to offer. You interview Muslim extremists. Fundamentalist Christians know religious political extremists, Christians, Jews, fundamentalist Jews, people who have religious views opposed to the modern scientific outlook. Even talk to someone who seems to support the murder of doctors who perform abortions just now. A couple months ago, you talked about cherry picking Bible verses, but aren’t you cherry picking? I mean, don’t most religious people have used that in general, don’t conflict with science and that aren’t threatening to the welfare of society? Are you just finding the worst examples of religion? 

Yes, that could be a. Point, I have met that criticism and what others say about it is two things. First, the extremists that I interviewed, Pastor Ted Haggard of Colorado Springs estimates. Conspicuous example. He may be an extremist to you and me. He may be an extremist, too educated people. However, in George W. Bush, America, he is mainstream. Ted Haggard is mainstream. I mean, he has a congregation of tens of thousands. He’s the head of I forget what it’s called, the American Evangelical Alliance or something like that, which has a membership of 30 million. And you will find a very large number of Christians, perhaps the majority of Christians in the United States who would regard Ted Haggard as absolutely mainstream. So although I was criticized for not interviewing sensible religious people like archbishops and bishops, the chief rabbi, things I did actually we did invite the Archbishop of Canterbury and the cardinal archbishop of Westminster and the chief rabbi of all England to be interviewed. All of them declined for good reasons. I did interview the bishop of Oxford, who was as delightful as those three, no doubt would have been if they wanted to be interviewed. So it wasn’t all a matter of interviewing nutcases. But I come back to the previous point, which is that the nut cases, at least in the context of Bush’s America, are mainstream. I think I’d add one other thing, which is that although even if I had been cherry picking, even if I had been saying, look, these are examples of the evils that can flow from religion, I did try to make the point rather forcefully that it’s not a matter of saying here are these bad people, they are religious, therefore religion is bad. That would be illogical. And I hope I didn’t do that. What I was trying to say is that religious faith, because it discourages questioning, because it is not based on evidence, because it is more or less by definition, I believe it. Because I believe it. Because I believe it. And I’m not going to be argued out of it. That in itself is dangerous. And even moderate religious people, even archbishops and popes and moderately religious people who bring children up to believe that faith is a virtue and that you don’t need evidence that you are somehow virtuous if you just simply believe something because you have faith, that attitude makes the world safe for its people. Because if you don’t buy into the idea that faith is a virtue and you don’t need to justify your faith, if your faith just somehow be ring-fence against path because it is faith, then that makes the world safe for extremists and even for very extreme extremists who resort to violence. 

Richard, I want to play a clip from your documentary. This is Ted Haggard, who, again, you said is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and he seems to accuse you of something. I want to play the clip and then we’ll talk about it afterwards. 

We fully embrace the scientific method as American evangelicals. And we think as time goes along, as we discover more and more facts, that we’ll learn more and more about how God created the heavens. And the scientific method clearly demonstrates that the world is four and a half billion years old. And you accept that? Yeah. You know, what you’re doing is you are you are accepting some of the views that are accepted in some portions of the scientific community as fact. Where in where, in fact, your grandchildren might listen to the tape of you saying that life that you don’t want to bet. Sometimes it’s hard for a human being to study the ear or study the eye and think that happened by accident. I think if I. Did you say by accident. What do you mean by accident that the eye just formed itself? Who says it did? Well, some evolution is not a single one that I’ve ever met. Really? Really. You obviously know nothing about the subject. Or maybe you haven’t met the people. I have. But you see, you do understand. You do understand that this issue right here of intellectual arrogance is the reason why people like you have a difficult problem with people of faith. I don’t communicate an air of superiority over the people because I know so much more. And if you only read the books. I know. And if you only knew the science assigned to, then you would be great. Like me. Well, sir, there could be many things that you know well. There are other things that you don’t know well. As you age. 

You’ll find yourself wrong on some things. Right on some other things. But please, in the process of it. Don’t be arrogant. 

Richard, is it arrogant for science to say that religion is wrong and this or that point or that it’s harmful in this or that way? He seems to be arguing that science should just stay out of religions business. 

I think that when Ted Haggard was speaking then, wasn’t he saying I was arrogant for teaching him about science? I think I was just saying I had just said to him something about evolution and how he was simply wrong on evolution, which is, after all, science. And he was describing me as arrogant. So it’s rather the boots on the other foot. I mean, the territory we were in was my territory of science. And so if anybody was being arrogant, that it was him. But I would also like to add to that that although on the face of it, it might seem reasonable to say that scientists should not venture into religion territory. 

Does religion really have a legitimate territory when they’re talking about intellectual matters? I mean, what actually is the intellectual content of religion that is worth arguing about anyway? I haven’t an answer to that and it’s not up to me to provide one. But my suspicion is that whereas science is something that one really can be an expert in, that one really can have knowledge of and therefore can in some sense be legitimately arrogant about does religion really have any content, a tool that such that one could say he is an expert in it? I mean, you obviously can be an expert on the world’s religions or the history of religion or something of that sort. That’s a good, respectable subject. But to be an expert in religion itself, what is it exactly? You’re an expert. 

If you’re saying there’s no content, no epistemological content to religion, there’s nothing actually to know because you’re an atheist. 

Since my position and I would get the order is that there are no God, then what is the content in religion? Obviously he thinks that there is a God or that he thinks that there is a content. But as far as an atheist is concerned of opposition is there is no God and that removes the content that we could be expected to be expert in. How can you be an expert in something you don’t believe exists? 

Richard, you get back to the documentary. Are you saying that all religions are the root of all evil or just the Western monotheisms, the fades of Abraham, Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Could you imagine a religion that doesn’t cause evil? 

Well, I, first of all, must repeat that the title Root of All Evil was not my title. Right. 

The apostle Paul originally came up with it. 

Yeah, well, he was talking about money and I and I would not attempt to defend the proposition that religion is the root of all evil. As I said, nothing is the root of all anything. But you asked me about whether it’s just the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, which is evil insofar as it is. I think that pretty bad. I mean, I suspect that Buddhism, little if I know about it, is probably a lot better. I know next to nothing about Hinduism and about the ancient Greek and Roman and no religions. I only really know about what I really know about Christianity, but I think that the other two Abrahamic monotheistic religions are similar. They all derive from the same book, the Old Testament, which is a deeply evil book. I mean, it really is a disgusting book. And they get a lot of their horror, their horrific qualities from that. Of course, there are many good Christians and Muslims and Jews around today. But they’ve achieved that by abandoning the horrible parts of the holy book rather than by adopting it. Even, by the way, the Christian New Testament is pretty horrific when you think about the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, which is the idea of redemption, atonement, the idea that Jesus died for the sins of Adam and Eve and the sins of all of us, whether born or yet unborn. And the idea of punishing somebody for sins. The idea that God felt an obligation to punish not just somebody but himself or there’s some that everybody says is a bizarrely disgusting idea that God wanted to forgive us our sins. Why didn’t he just forgive them? 

And in any case, who was he trying to impress? He was judge and jury as well as sacrificial victim. I mean, it really is the most bizarre as well as disgusting idea. 

Richard, is there anything redeeming in religion? Anything positive you can say about it? 

A great many individual religious people are very good people and a great many individual atheists are very good people, and they’re bad on both sides as well. I suspect that some of the goodness in good religious people might well be a father and. Inspired by their religion. I’ve known a large number of extremely nice clergymen who are generous and kind and self sacrificing. And it could well be that some of that comes from, for example, emulating the individual Jesus, who I think was a genuinely good man far ahead of his time. In an article called Atheists for Jesus Loves to quote, somebody gave me a T-shirt with Mom. So, yes, I mean, I think that’s true. A great deal of charitable work is done by religious charities when there’s a hideous disaster like this tsunami in Indonesia, for example, religious charities collected enormous amounts of money. It’s very easy for religious charities, of course, because they get privileged treatment, taxwise. So if you want to set up a charity that’s not a religious charity, you have to jump through a whole lot of hoops. Whereas if you want to set up a charity and you can say you’re religious, you just sail through like a breeze. So it’s not that surprising that religious charities should do good. You could say a similar thing, by the way, about another of the apparent benefits of religion, which is great art and music. Some of the greatest art in the history of the world. Some of the greatest music in the history of the world. And it is poetry has been inspired by religion. And once again, you could say, well, they did have financial advantages. Great composers and great also tend to take commissions. They tend to get less of it in a medieval and Rene Feldstein’s. The money was with religion and it was the church who was the paymaster. So you painted or you composed what they wanted you to paint or compose. So, you know, we shall never know whether if Haydn had been commissioned to write the evolution oratorio rather than the creation oratorio, it might have been as good. And if Beethoven had, instead of composing the irrevocable symphony, had to compose the Galaxy Symphony might have been even better. 

Richard, do you see religion persisting? Do you think there will ever be a day when religion doesn’t have the kinds of negative effects you’re talking about in your documentary? 

Well, I think I do see it persisting. There was a time when I wouldn’t have something like that. But it things seem to me to be getting worse, certainly getting worse in America at the moment, and suddenly they’re getting lost in the Islamic world. So but I do think that these are just blips. I think if you look at the long sweep of history, then the overall trend is in the right direction. I think that any trend you could expect to be thought to sometimes as the whether we could get a religion that was not evil probably could. I mean, some people have even suggested that the word religion should be broadened. 

And it doesn’t necessarily have to mean supernatural. I mean, religion does other things in human psychology apart from cater to supernatural superstition. And there have been scientists who have thought about trying to make a kind of religion a substitute for science teachers. And Huxley did. I think I said a good enough does in a way, I think Carl Sagan occasionally mentioned it, nothing to do with supernaturalism. These are the only atheists. 

And so by the traditional definition of religion, the consensus definition, it’s not a religion. But you’re talking about changing the definition, not to use the word religion. 

But I think it’s confusing. But I mean, what there are seven thought I must have. And if somebody wants to redefine a religion, then it’s their privilege to do so if they can persuade everybody else to join them. Right. 

You’re on record as as being somewhat in favor of maybe as Einstein in religion or a Spinoza’s religion. 

It’s true that Einstein described himself as a religious man and often use the word God, but it’s equally clear that by God, Einstein did not mean anything supernatural and he just meant he used the word God as a as a figure of speech, as the personification of a metaphor for that which we don’t understand. Did God have a choice in the way the universe was? I think that word means. Could the universe have been other than the way it is? Does God play dice again? I think that word means what it really means. This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. He was just using God as a as a personification of the deep unknown. Now, he called himself a religious man and he called himself there, too. And in that same sense, I’m religious, that I’m spiritual. But I think it’s confusing and misleading. Is the word religious? Because most people think religious does mean supernatural. And that’s the real battle I think, that we have on our mind and in America. 

It’s it’s more than confusing. It’s unstrategic when Christian political activist. Say that Athie ism or evolution or secular humanism is the state supported religion in the public schools and therefore unconstitutional according to the notion of separation of church and state? Yes, indeed. So on that last point, you do see light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel. 

Yes, I think so. I think put your faith in sources. I think that any trend is not an absolute disgrace. Smooth, linear trend. There are spikes in it and today. And that’s what they’re going through at the moment, especially in America. And Will, they’ll come through. 

I want to conclude by asking you if people are persuaded by your argument against religion. If people read your writing in, they’re moved by it. Can they do anything to make a difference, a difference on the side of science and reason? 

Well, I think there’s something a bit equivalent to what happened with homosexuals coming out of gay. I think that in America, certainly there is an enormous number of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secularists. Right. And many of them don’t come out. Many of them are closet secularists. But they are hugely numerous. They far outnumber most individual religious right. 

It’s the second largest belief group or as as the case may be, nonbelief group in America after Catholic. 

Yes. Well, I mean, that fact really does deserve to be very much better known than it is. 

And if it were well known, somebody like George Bush Senior couldn’t possibly get away with that outrageous remark about atheists not being patriotic citizens, that whatever it was. 

Right. They don’t deserve citizenship. 

That’s right. Obviously thought that they were a tiny minority, whereas the Jewish lobby, for example, is enormously powerful in American politics, although the number of actually religious Jews is a tiny fraction of the number of secular. So I think that we need a lot of consciousness raising, a lot of people to come out and encourage other people to come out. A lot of people to speak out and not just go along with this sort of consensus that what everybody’s religious and I’m sorry, I can’t actually join you, but my apologies. No doubt you’re a much better person than I am. I mean that we should not let people do that. I think we should come out and be proud of our AC ism and speak out and encourage others to. And I think it’s one of those phenomena where you have a critical mass and once to assess the number of people come out, then there’ll be a flood. 

Richard, thanks very much for being on point of inquiry this week. 

Thank you very much indeed. 

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And now a point of inquiry. Contributor Lauren Becker offers rationalists, free thinkers and skeptics some thoughts about defensive driving. 

The other day, I drove by a church billboard near my home that proclaimed this bit of wisdom go by faith, not by sight. I instantly worried that all the drivers around me would take the message to heart and close their eyes quickly. I prepared for extreme defensive driving maneuvers. Simple and stupidly dangerous homilies like this are one of the reasons we reasonable people get so annoyed by the faithful around us. They may survive their trip to work or through life for that matter, and attribute it to great faith and the guiding hand of God. But in reality, the rest of us have been running around working extra hard to protect them and the world from their blindness in reality. Going by faith and not by sight is a terrible way to go. We are in a period of great distraction. As more and more people choose to go by faith and not by sight. The rest of us must spend more and more energy and time. Not to mention money, planning and executing extreme defense measures to make up for their voluntary myopathy. I’m not talking about the inconvenience of a post office being closed on Sunday. I’m talking about religious and ideological views that inhibit reason and perpetuate grief and suffering across the globe. For example, if your faith tradition tells you that sex is bad and that condoms promote sexual activity, the first thing you do when you get into power is stop funding medical facilities that distribute condoms that will stop sex. You think in reality, of course, sex happens anyway. But now because people lack cheap and accessible protection, more disease is spread. And more women get pregnant. Many may look for abortions, which also, because of your faith, are even more deadly. Or more children are born unwanted and lacking care. Going by faith rather than cite causes suffering. Or how about this? It’s election time again. And your faith tells you to vote for someone who believes in the same God that you do, because that automatically makes him a good man. Never mind policy positions, past performance or job qualifications. You cast your vote for a fellow faithful and not just you, your pastor, your church. Entire congregations around the country sponsor rallies, register voters and volunteer countless hours to make this man of God the leader of the free world. In reality, your faith has made you gullible. You have been manipulated into electing a delusional, impressionable man whose policies and influence have brought war, poverty, debt and torture back to the dinner table discussion every night, going by faith rather than cite causes suffering. Perhaps your faith tells you that you are God’s chosen people. That anyone who does not follow your God is an infidel and should be wiped off the face of the earth. Accordingly, you set out to convert the world. In reality, a diverse humanity can’t possibly believe in the same God. So you spend your life creating widows and orphans, destroying nations, destroying lives, going by faith rather than sight causes suffering. Marx said religion is the opiate of the people. Oh, well, it’s still so benign. Add some TV cameras, nuclear weapons and delusions of grandeur and faith becomes the methamphetamine of the masses, destroying reason, moderation and self-control and an all out crusade to supply its addiction, to feed its own righteousness. When religious followers act under the influence of faith, they force the rest of us, reasonable people to become the designated drivers. So because we do care about humanity, we put our own plans on hold. Find a safe way home and then begin to clean up the mess that faith has left behind. Historically, after periods of widespread suffering and destruction, people do say enough, we are being unreasonable and it is making us miserable. Let’s think of a better way. There must be something more to life than suffering. And there it is. The faithful, tempted by the promise of a blissful afterlife, believe that this life, this one here on Earth, is entirely about suffering. It’s not supposed to be happy. It’s a trial, a proprietary test that must be endured in order to get a passing grade into heaven for them. Suffering is part of God’s plan. There is a huge difference between those of us who find inspiration in the life around us and those who look for hope or meaning in an afterlife. It’s the difference between people who own their home and people who are just renting. If this life is our own and not just a loaner from God until we make it to the next one, aren’t we going to take better care of it? Are we going to accept a life of suffering? If it’s the only one we have? Without a God to take care of us, to rescue us, to bribe us, we must surely be more responsible. There’s no landlord to replace the carpet when we spill our teeth. Shouldn’t we be more careful? Shouldn’t we fix that leaky faucet? If this isn’t just a starter home away side on the road to a bigger and better neighborhood, wouldn’t it be nicer if we repainted and planted a garden? Now, no sooner than we had the bulbs in the ground, somebody driving by faith instead of site has popped the curb and run riot through the daisies. More suffering. More work. More money. Should we build a defensive barrier next time? Reason is once again on the defensive, and there are two great problems with this. First, as any good coach will tell you, you cannot win a game by always playing defense. The best you can do is not lose. There is an important difference between not losing and winning is the difference between being alive and living. Is the difference between enduring and thriving? Is the difference between faithfully waiting it out until the next life or doing everything you can to make real improvements? Now. Second, this distraction with faith is a colossal waste of human potential. Every time another generation is raised on faith instead of reason, everyone has to go around the circle again, throwing time, money and lives at the same problems, the same battles, the same wars. What new wonders could we achieve if we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every 30 years? What suffering could we ease if we lived in this life and focused our passion on reasonable solutions rather than wishful thinking? The human mind is an amazing, calculating and creative tool on an open road when it’s free to pursue its natural potential. We get Shakespearean sonnets. Da Vinci machines, libraries and universities. A cure for polio. Galilean satellites, civil liberties and democratic governments. A walk on the moon. And an ode to joy. That’s right. Not an ode to God. Not an ode to faith and suffering. An ode to joy. Drive by faith, not by sight enough. How much further could we progress if we didn’t have to repeatedly swerve and dodge to avoid blind drivers? We just might get beyond suffering and make it to joy. 

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You are listening to point of inquiry. Visit us online at point of inquiry. Dot org. 

I’m very happy to have our next guests on point of inquiry, if you’re into podcasting at all, you’ve heard of Derik and swoopy hosts of the popular podcast Skeptic Carletti. They’ve single handedly gotten the skeptical pro science view promoted to an audience that the national skeptical organizations have been banging their heads trying to reach. Their show was limelight. It in an address by Apple founder Steve Jobs when he was talking about the podcasting revolution. And it’s garnered considerable national media attention. More importantly, from my point of view, skeptic Khalidi has shown that science and skepticism are hip, proving that even though it’s often given short shrift in the mainstream media, it surely can garner the interest of young people, tech savvy early adopters of this new broadcast medium. Welcome to Point of Inquiry. Jerricans swoopy. 

Well, you make it sound like that’s so cool. 

Is that what it sounds like to be on this end of the earth? 

That’s neat. Yeah, because it’s kind of like every time we talk to somebody, you know, else, it’s just that’s the coolest thing about podcasting. Yeah. It’s bringing skepticism to this great big audience, but it’s such a fantastic audience all the way around. 

And when we bumped into you at the podcast or Calne in North Carolina, you were minor celebrities. People were just really excited to meet you. And and you really have quite a following. Let me begin by asking you, both of you, why you started skeptic. Here you are, citizen skeptics. Did you just decide that there should be a skeptic podcast? 

Well, actually, I used to be in rate radio, so I always liked doing this type of stuff. Then one day I saw a mentioning about podcasting and a magazine think was wired. And I was like, what is that? And I looked around and I found Adam Curry like everybody else. And I said, This is kind of neat. When I worked at the CDC, I did something like podcasting. 

And so they’re just approached me and he said, hey, there’s this really cool new thing that’s going on. He said, we have to do a show. And I said, well, yeah, but what would it be about? And of course, I’d just turn to the kinds of things that, you know, we would have continual long discussions about. It made sense. Like, well, we find this interesting and we’re not finding enough outlets of other people talking about it. And so why don’t we? And it turns out that there were plenty of people out there that wanted to listen to it. It’s what some of our other guests that we’ve had on our show called the the Silent Majority. 

Right. These are new people, not people traditionally affiliated or volunteering for the National Skeptical Organization. Exactly. 

I think there’s even I it’s not too much to call it. Maybe a small fear. It’s not always easy to be a skeptic. And so I think a lot of people don’t come up and we get a lot of people say, yeah, I’m I’m working on being a skeptic. I’m it’s kind of like being out of the closet, sort of. 

Right. It’s interesting. You said being out of the closet earlier this episode, Richard Dawkins, I wouldn’t say admonish be encouraged. All of the listeners, a point of inquiry, everybody out there concerned about these issues to do just that, to just come out of the closet as a skeptic, as a critical Inquirer free thinker, looking at how popular your show has been, it seems like it’s been easier for the skeptical while this pro science point of view to get out there in podcasting than in traditional media, in traditional media. You always have the skeptic last five minutes of the documentary or something. Why do you think it’s easier to get it out there in podcasting? 

Well, I think the main reason is that, you know, like if you try to do this in radio or TV, you have to go through, like, all those basically that the suits, you know. Right. And it’s based on ratings and money. 

So it’s a lot easier for us to do a show where about things that we like. And it doesn’t matter who likes it, there’s there’s no restriction. 

We can say what we want to say. That isn’t, of course, mean that there’s you know, there’s that podcasting is lawless because it certainly isn’t. But, you know, we have nobody telling us what we can’t and can’t say. Right. It’s self-regulating. It is. The entire industry is. Now, if you look at some of the trend in podcasting now towards that evil word monetization, we encountered it when we were, you know, extremely, extremely popular. Not that we’re not still but back last fall when we were, you know, on the items, you know, top ten, top five, number one for a little while. And then we were getting such a big audience, everybody was saying, well, use this. Use this opportunity. Get yourself some, you know, advertising or sponsorship. And we put feelers out there. And just probably as in traditional medium, it’s. Not a subject that advertisers want to embrace. Which is fine with us. We don’t. We don’t need that. We’re doing it because we believe in it and because it’s something that we want to talk about. 

Right. You’re wanting to get the word out. I think one thing the success of your podcast has shown is that even though these subjects are ignored by the traditional media, you can gain quite an audience for skepticism, for humanism, for this point of view. 

And, you know, I think the the myth busters actually were the ones that paved the way for people to listen to shows like ours. 

Do you think that some of it might be because the medium itself, podcasting is so techie that that geeks, self-described geeks, computer savvy people, not to mention all the really cool, hip early adopters, a new technology that these people are more predisposed to skepticism than the general public? 

Absolutely. But what helped us a lot in the early days of podcasting, podcasting being sort of that, it’s like it was a giant in-joke. It was a very small community. And the people who are listening to podcasts were those techie people. And the joke was, well, if everybody’s doing their own podcast in this community, who’s listening? And so at the beginning, it was like that. So what we did that helped us gain our audience and gain an audience that isn’t necessarily of that particular early adopter category was that we went out to the already established skeptic forms that were out there because the Web is thankfully another, you know, good place to discuss those kinds of views with a certain amount of anonymity. So people do come out of the woodwork like on the Jay Rath and other popular forms. We went into those forums and said, hey, we have this thing and it’s called a podcast. And that was usually the biggest question is what is a podcast? And people who didn’t know what you could do, you know, I said, well, no, it’s Internet radio. Well, it really wasn’t Internet radio. So we brought in a lot of people who didn’t know what podcasts were to our show. And, you know, they’ve since discovered that there are so many other topics out there. But techie helps. But finding your audience if you have such a niche subject like skepticism helps, too. 

Now to our listeners, I’d like to mention that you can find a link to Skeptic Colonies program on our Web site, point of inquiry, dot org swoopy. And Eric, what’s been the most surprising thing about this last year or so of podcasting? The skeptical outlook. 

I think we talk, Olof, a lot. Don’t you think about how easy and how how willing people are in that? I mean, really huge, like you all just talk to Richard Dawkins. We are. You know, it’s it’s huge. But I mean, that that we talk to people like James Randi on a regular basis, that we talk to Tom Flynn on a regular basis. Yeah. That, you know, the people in the skeptic community that are to traditional big names in science and secular humanism, they’re very free with their time. And they are so pro this kind of thing because they realize how great it is to bring this to a wider audience and that we’ve been able to talk to those people. Has been a huge surprise to us. Now. 

In terms of your programing now, I’d like to talk about the content of your show. Do you feel that there’s an obligation for you to present both sides of every issue? Or is there? Do you think there’s enough pro paranormal, pro fundamentalist programing that you’re fine with offering? Just our skeptical, our humanist perspective. 

I don’t have a problem only showing our side of the issue. 

Well, we discussed it because several people said, well, there are all these, you know, quacks or hoaxers or why don’t you get somebody like a Kevin Trudeau to be on your show? And we realized that it would. It’s just it’s beating your head against the wall and you have to say disingenuous things. And it usually breaks down into an argument. And I think more good comes out of presenting the facts as we have them. When you’re arguing for your side as opposed to arguing against somebody else’s, I think it’s much more productive. And that’s what we continue to do. 

For years, skeptics, at least the leaders of the contemporary skeptic movement, have mostly stayed out of looking skeptically at religion, except in cases where religion made an empirical claim like someone published a study, that prayer worked. In this instance or or something like that. But it seems like these days that skeptics are what they’re coming out as, atheists or skeptics about God. Bright’s secular humanists. Is this an area that your show’s going to treat more in the future? 

Well, if you listen to or if you read our feedback e-mail, we’re already doing it too much, according to our listeners. And honestly, you have to think about everything that everybody says and, you know, throughout the high and the low. And you can’t please everyone all the time. But then again, it’s about being true to ourselves. And we’ve never espoused any one particular viewpoint as being correct, unless, as you say, when something is purported as being harmful or helpful. Well, that that we might especially every time we talk to Tom Flynn, boy, does the mail come here. Yeah. And Bob Carroll to we just on our latest show, posted one of the interviews that our friend David Federline got from the amazing meeting and the amazing meeting. It was a it was a huge touch point at a lot of the discussions there. 

Exactly. That it’s becoming too skeptical of religion. Yeah. Yes. Where has discussion about UFOs and Bigfoot gone? Now it’s all about religion. 

And in God, it’s a big deal. I mean, if you look at the world, some of the biggest issues around the world come back to religion. 

I agree because it’s so much in the forefront right now. I mean, people don’t. It’s not. It’s part of your government. It’s part of your children’s school curriculum. It’s part of everything. And that’s why I think it’s so needs to be addressed. 

And I think what you guys show in Europe, ASOS and what I think most of the skeptic movement shows is that skepticism doesn’t mean cynicism. Skepticism just means you withhold belief until you have good evidence. You’re not out there railing against this or that belief system. You’re not calling people idiots. You’re not fighting with people. You are. You’re just not shying away from looking in to questions. 

Absolutely. Because, in fact, we we got an a voice comment from somebody and we’re going to talk to him further about what he thinks because he claims to be. Well, I’m sure he is a Christian, but also a skeptic. Right. And he is anti intelligent design. And he is he is pro skepticism and critical thought. But yet he still labels himself as a Christian. And it comes to the point that I often discern that there is a difference between faith and there is a difference between religion and there’s a difference between all of those things. And a church and a church is a business oftentimes. And that’s one of those things you have to look at very critically. And and religion is altogether a different kettle of fish and someone’s personal faith in whatever it is that they feel. I mean, I have I have faith in science. And I think that’s probably could be categorized as just as strong as anyone’s faith in God. The nice part I feel about my faith in science is that I see my results every day. 

And one could argue that the leap of faith you’re taking is a much smaller leap of faith than the leap of faith others take when they believe in this or that ancient religious tradition. Although I’m not I don’t want to be too cheeky in that response. 

The other thing is you have to question a lot of those kinds of faiths when they talk about some of the things that are going on in the world right now with radical versions of those faiths are advocating death and advocating terrible things. And so, you know, why wouldn’t you question that? Why wouldn’t you question a belief system that tells you that you should hurt other people just because they don’t think the way you do? 

You know, I think you guys emphasize that you can question while still being respectful while still honoring a person’s right to believe what he or she wants to believe. But but you cherish what I think we cherish here at the Center for Inquiry that no questions should be off limits, no issues taboo. Let everything out on the table. Let’s look at everything. And when someone martial’s forth a public policy argument and says, hey, it’s based on my personal religious faith, and that can’t be questioned. But then they’re offering public policy recommendations that they say should be beyond scrutiny. Well, that’s that’s bad policy. You should be able to look into any recommendation and really see if the evidence supports the claims. 

Well, for example, as happened in many public schools, one of the school systems here locally to us went over the intelligent design thing. And we’re about to choose that Darwinism should not be taught. And they did go so far as putting stickers on science books. And all of that was was a big deal. And we you know, we talked about that and we fought out against that in terms of science. However, I just heard on the radio yesterday that there is a bill in our state legislature. Now you’re in Atlanta. Yes, in Georgia. And I’m not sure if it’s the Atlanta school system. I, I just heard it briefly, but I found it very interesting that there is there is a bill in our state legislature to allow the teaching of the Bible history and Bible studies as a high school elective class. And that’s perfectly that’s their choice that they can choose to take with their optional credits. That doesn’t interfere with their required science credit or the required English credit. I say go ahead. I said it’s a book, study the book do that if you’re choosing to do so. I’m absolutely for that because it’s interesting to find out what other people think. And the only way that you can find out what other people think is to study it. 

Right. I couldn’t agree with the both of you more. There’s nothing more fascinating to me than the study of religion. And I think you would agree that the proper role of religion in education is the study of religion, not the indoctrination in a religion. Absolutely. All right. Let’s move on to another topic, which is just podcasting in general. Where do you see it going in the future? Some people are saying this is going to be, you know, this is going to overtake cable as the preferred way that people get their favorite shows. 

It is for me, but I realize that I do live in a technology bubble to some degree. And the thing about podcasting is that it has very small niche areas. You can get shows on absolutely everything. And that’s what people want. People want their entertainment in small bites and they want what they want. And they they want to throw away all the. Extraneous content and podcasting allows you to do that kind of like a TiVo, you you subscribe to the content you want. 

Where where did the two of you see Skeptic Carletti a year from now? 

Wow, that’s a hard to hard to say because why don’t you give our listeners a little background about what happened last fall? 

Well, let’s see. We began skeptically. We started researching it in February last year and we worked on our setup for a long time and hemmed and hawed and got to going on it and posted our first show in early May. And we were going along our merry little way and podcasting exploded when I tunes made it part of their package. And we found ourselves getting a huge listening audience. And that was fantastic. And just as you mentioned in the intro, Steve Jobs had us as one of these keynotes about I think it was about the Nano, that particular keynote. But talking about the explosion of podcasting. We were up there with, you know, CNN and some pretty big names. And we were pretty excited. And actually, the very day we saw that Derek had hemorrhagic stroke that was caused by undiagnosed hypertension. So he was he was in intensive care and in a pretty dire strait for quite a while. And he was in the hospital for two months. And he’s been he was in inpatient rehab for a long time. And now and now he’s he was doing Full-Time Outpatient Rehab and now he’s doing part time. Yeah. But as far as as recovery from his stroke to being in a coma for, you know, many weeks and and everything, he’s doing fantastic. It still astounds me. And that’s that’s science right there. That’s you know, that’s the power of science right there. 

To me, the whole event was I was at dinner and then the next thing I knew, I was waking up. I don’t know where I was. And I was in the hospital, you know, and and I found out there was like, what, two or three months later? 

Well, that you really figured out everything. I did. It took a while to digest. Yeah. So the brain is amazing thing. We’ve learned a lot about it. But it was a small bump in the road in terms of producing skeptically. But it was very huge in terms of learning about what the podcasting and the skeptic community really are made of the most amazing people. And what’s really cool about that even more is that these are people who are kind and who reached out and who did all of these amazing things for us during this period of time, not because of any ideology that’s forced upon them, but because they’re just good people. Right. And so we were gearing up, but we’re doing more shows than than we were for a while. And I think maybe, you know, in the next year, we’ll just continue to grow. But if Scheps Carletti was a year from now, just what it is right now, I’d be perfectly happy. When we started, I don’t know. There were old Internet radio shows and programs and things out there for skeptics. But as far as skeptical podcasts, I think we might have been the only one at the time. Yeah, I agree. Yeah. And it’s grown and super. 

Even now it’s grown. 

It is. It is. It’s fantastic. And I. I love it. I mean, some people, you know, have have said, well, you know, they’re they’re they’re taking your bag. And I’m like, no, you know, the more the merrier. You know, the the more that we can get the message out there. And it’s great because we get we just had a promo that we played on the last show from a couple of people called Willan Iris. And they are secular humanists and they just talk about everyday stuff, but they talk about, you know, those things from a secular humanist point of view as parents. And we love that. So we’re way behind them. It’s it’s great to see the more voices we have out there, the louder are, you know, combined voice will be. And that’s what we need, because more than ever, it’s really important. 

I think your show really paved the way for what we’re doing here at point of inquiry. 

Oh, well, you guys are fantastic. It was it was so great to see you come along because it just it’s it’s another piece of the puzzle. I think it’s more like I kind of think of playing inquiry is is more grown up and, you know, a little more professional. And we’re a little more, you know, wild and schizophrenic. And it’s it’s great to have that to point to for especially the more established skeptics who are a little set in their ways. You know, they they’re not always thrilled with the way that we do things. And I can say, well, you know what, if we’re not entirely for you, you should check out this because you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. 

You know, right here, if you saw how we goof off and the point of inquiry studio, you wouldn’t really think we’re all too grown up. I appreciate you saying that. That’s fantastic. I think that the the growth of the skeptic movement allows for there to be all these voices, these concomitant voices, you know, kind of singing the chorus together. Now, that’s a horrible metaphor, but you get what I’m saying. 

Well, I think I think it’s it’s bleeding out. I think it’s bleeding out very slowly. People like Jon Stewart, who has have a lot of great authors on his show. Right. And I you know, and Jon Stewart’s show is wildly popular. We love it. It’s our favorite way to get the news. And that kind of thing is so huge. I’m sure that you get that with your campus outreach, that those are the people that kids identify with. And and if that kind of thing can get that big, then, yeah, those people are out there. And, you know, the more that it becomes. Okay. You know, I, I, I it has the potential to really change the way that that things happen, especially in this country. 

Before you go, what’s something that the two of you would tell our listeners they can do if they’re interested in getting involved in skepticism? 

Almost every state has a skeptic society on the local level. And if you don’t have one, start one, but you can go to a place like Meetup and create your own group. Things like that are our really great way to do it. Look for online forums, start subscribing to all the great publications. I know quite a few free inquiry, obviously, but there’s lots of publications out there that I didn’t even know were out there until I really started looking. And, you know, you can you can get in at the grassroots level, but you can also go, you know, to something like the amazing meeting, which used to be quite a small gathering. And from what I understand this year, I mean, they they pretty much sold out. They had like 900 people there. And this isn’t cheap to go to. 

It really seems to be growing exponentially. Our recent conference of the Council for Secular Humanism at the Center for Inquiry here was a couple of months ago had over 800 people from around the world. My point is this message really seems to be appealing to more and more people. You mentioned free inquiry, skeptical acquire magazines. You encouraged our listeners to get involved at the local level. That is the best advice I think you could give to a listener who wants to get involved in skepticism on the inside cover of every issue, a skeptical Inquirer magazine. There’s a listing of some of these local skeptical groups all over the country that psychology has helped found over the last 20 years. So that’s great advice. And I I guess I should also mention that the Center for Inquiry is now in the process of financing and funding and really supporting it at a high level. This growing network of what we’re calling Center for Inquiry Communities. So anyone interested in that can, of course, go online and explore that further. Derek, Hoopy, thank you so much for being on point of inquiry. 

Thank you so much for having us. Yeah. Thank you. And so you’re going to have to return the favor. 

I think we will definitely. Maybe we’ll even get Thomas Donnelly, who really does everything from start to finish behind the scenes here at point of inquiry to actually come in front of the mike. That’d be great. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Paranormal Goes Primetime Vatican hosted conference on Intelligent Design, More clinics to offer alternative medicine. Christian Fundamentalism Drives U.S. Extremism. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. What 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 a Center for Inquiry on campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you are just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We host regional and international conferences, offer college courses and conduct nationwide campus outreach on our Web site. You’ll also find information regarding our new representation at the United Nations and important national media appearances. We could not pursue these projects without your support. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one. Or visiting w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to expand our reality based community. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week to hear my discussion with Joe Nicole, Cyclopes senior research fellow, about aliens and alien abductions. Views expressed on point of inquiry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our website point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnally and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz of Inquiries. Music is written and composed by Michael Palin. Contributors include Tom Flynn, Lauren Becker, Paul Kurtz, Benjamin Radford, Joe Niccolò, David Capsule and Sarah Jordan. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

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.