Humanism, Doubt, and Optimism

LAWRENCE KRAUSS has had an extensive and impressive career in theoretical physics. He received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he has taught at Yale and Case Western Reserve University. Krauss is currently Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department at Arizona State University, where he also directs the Origins Project.

Hailed by Scientific American as one of the rare scientific public intellectuals, Krauss is a regular contributor to publications like The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, and he has authored or co-authored over three hundred scientific papers. He co-starred beside Richard Dawkins in the 2013 documentary, The Unbelievers, and appeared in the Discovery Channel’s How the Universe Works. Krauss is the author of ten popular books, including the international bestseller The Physics of Star Trek (1995) and the New York Times bestseller, A Universe from Nothing (2012). Throughout his work he has been a staunch advocate for science education, a firebrand for the cause of scientific humanism, and an active defender of the freethought movement.

Lawrence Krauss has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received numerous prestigious awards and accolades. The following is adapted from his speech in acceptance of the Humanist of the Year award, delivered at the American Humanist Association’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

 

Permit us to question—to doubt, that’s all—and not to be sure…. It is our responsibility…to proclaim the value of this freedom, to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed, and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.

—Richard Feynman, 1988

BEFORE I BEGIN I would like to thank the American Humanist Association for this remarkable award. The list of past awardees includes many intellectual heroes of mine, and to join that list is truly one of the greatest honors of my life. Moreover, the context of this award, humanism, means a great deal to me, because humanism characterizes the spirit that I have tried to use as a guide in my personal, professional, and public activities.

That spirit, to me, can be summed up as follows: It is up to us determine the nature of the way in which we carry out our lives, using a combination of reason, intelligence, and compassion. No one is taking care of us but us. Bad decisions produce bad consequences, and we must take responsibility for them, and, if possible, take actions to mediate or alleviate them. Whether or not the future for our children is better than the past is up to us.

We are, of course, constrained in our actions by the cumulative historical impact of ignorance and greed and the struggle for power, often accentuated by governments or churches whose interests may lie in permeating myths that build support for the status quo and squelch calls for change. As a result, if we want to change the future for the better we must be prepared to encounter numerous obstacles. But I am a theoretical physicist trained to worry about possibilities, not practicalities. Moreover, I would argue that if we don’t first imagine a possible future, we can never implement the practical steps that might make it a reality.

So tonight, I want to suggest that humanism offers the world one of the most important drivers of change that can improve our future, and in so doing I may express an optimism that seems naïve. Nevertheless I am emboldened by the recent experience in this country regarding gay marriage. In spite of what some of the media might suggest, and what middle-aged senators may say, the issue of gay marriage is a done deal. Why? If you speak to a young person my daughter’s age, they don’t understand what the problem is. Almost all of them have friends who are gay, or they know gay couples and they cannot understand what the previous generation was concerned about. If the public and legal debate isn’t over right now, it soon will be. When the next generation grows old enough to vote, to judge, to represent the media, and to run for office the debate will surely be over.

This would have been unheard of a generation ago—indeed, merely a decade ago. How could change happen so quickly?

Lawrence Krauss with students at the AHA's 2015 Annual Conference in May

Lawrence Krauss with students at the AHA’s 2015 Annual Conference in May

Max Planck once said that science advances one funeral at a time. And what he meant was that old theories may never die, but old theorists do, and when they do, they take their theories with them. A new generation is always more comfortable dispensing with old ideas than are their predecessors.

So, I want to argue here that it is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition, and its chokehold on supposed morality. And it is possible to imagine such a future soon. We are never more than a generation away from change. The key is reaching the next generation when they are young.

There has happily been a great deal of discussion of late about the importance of encouraging children, particularly young girls, to go into careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (so-called STEM subjects). From an economic perspective, it is good for the country, because in the twenty-first century those countries without a workforce with STEM skills will quickly fall behind the curve. It is good for the world, because the challenges of the twenty-first century, from global warming to energy production and storage, will require technological innovation as well as institutional changes at the global level. And it is good for girls and young women, because these careers will help empower them, raise many out of potential poverty, and free them from subjugation by men.

But exposing children to science is far more than merely providing them with Lego sets and playing “sink or float.” Moreover, providing a set of facts is not the primary purpose of education. Its primary purpose is teaching how to distinguish between fact and fantasy, along with how to derive facts by questioning and testing, and where to go to access reliable data.

The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything, to not be satisfied with unsubstantiated claims, and to be skeptical of a priori beliefs, either their own, their parents’, or their teachers’.  Encouraging skeptical thinking in this way, as well as directing a process by which questions may be answered—the process of empirical investigation followed by logical reasoning—helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.

And there is overwhelming evidence that one of the key collateral benefits of a more scientifically literate populace is that the seeds of religious doubt are thereby planted among the next generation.

The late Christopher Hitchens once said that religion poisons everything. While there is ample room to debate Hitchens’ bold statement, even people who take a less extreme view must admit that in the current climate religion is poisoning the political process in many places throughout the world.

The brutal terrorism of ISIS is merely one extreme. In this country numerous Republicans are now tripping over themselves to move to the right of the religious right—with the recent freshman class of the U.S. House reported to include a former Navy Seal who claims Hillary Clinton is the Antichrist, another who claims recent “blood moons” are fulfilling biblical prophecies, and another who proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse.

The purpose of education may not be to destroy religious belief, but surely, as Richard Feynman alluded to in the quote I opened with, its purpose is to encourage doubt. In that arena we are sorely falling short.

At least one significant factor arises from the unwillingness, enforced by terror in much of the Middle East and political correctness in the United States, to openly ridicule in the public arena patently false and nonsensical claims, as long as they are religious claims.

This is particularly important in the current climate associated with satire of the type represented by Charlie Hebdo, because very few Americans support openly questioning or satirizing religious beliefs, even though they would be loathe to stifle questioning, debate, or even ridicule in almost any other area in the public arena. In a Pew survey published in May of last year, the number-one negative trait listed for possible presidential candidates by adults in the United States was atheism. Some 53 percent indicated that they would be less likely to vote for an atheist for president, more than would be similarly inclined if the potential candidate had never held public office, had had an extramarital affair, or were gay or lesbian.

P14-sunAvoiding confrontations with religion is not restricted to politics. Many scientists and teachers do it, too. Recent studies—including a comprehensive national survey in 2007 by researchers at Penn State University—show that up to 60 percent of high school biology teachers shy away from adequately teaching evolution as a unifying principle of  biology. They don’t want to risk potential controversy by offending religious sensibilities. Instead, many resort to the idea, advocated by the late Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”—separate traditions of thinking that need not contradict one another.

Those in the public sphere who have openly questioned the need for God, or the consistency of religious doctrine with empirical evidence, are most often dismissed as strident. Sadly, many of those who express such a reaction are not religious fundamentalists but fellow scientists. The claim is made—indeed a claim I myself used to make—that if scientists openly question the existence of God then we will alienate those who already view science as the enemy of faith, further hardening their stand against the teaching of concepts like evolution, the Big Bang, or even climate change and making it more difficult to break down barriers to education.

But by arguing in public (in many cases against their own internal views) that science presents no challenge to religious belief, my colleagues are being disingenuous. While science cannot falsify the vague postulate that there may be purpose to the universe, nevertheless the specific claims of the scriptures are, in many cases, empirically falsifiable, and those that are have been falsified.

“Non-overlapping magisteria” has a nice ring to it. The problem is that there are many religious claims that not only “overlap” with empirical data but are incompatible with it. As a scientist who also spends a fair amount of time in the public arena, if I am asked if our understanding of the Big Bang conflicts with the idea of a six-thousand-year-old universe, I face a choice: I can betray my scientific values or encourage that person to doubt his or her own beliefs.

Scientists who argue that we shouldn’t focus on these embarrassing contradictions are misrepresenting the key facet of science that Feynman so extolled. Science, at its basis, encourages open expressions of doubt, and progress often occurs by disproving the accepted wisdom of the previous generation. It also seems inconsistent to have no problem ridiculing the claims of astrology, even though a significant fraction of the public believes these claims, while arguing that it hurts the cause of science to suggest that various religious tenets are poorly founded in reality.

Without demeaning the thoughtful faithful, we shouldn’t shy away from publicly accepting that many of the specific claims of the sacred books of the world’s major religions are not valid. One not need turn to the numerous contradictions with known physics and cosmology—after all, many of these books were written before we knew the earth orbited the sun. There are simpler falsehoods, from the existence of domesticated camels in the time of Abraham, to Muhammad’s famous night journey to a mosque in Jerusalem in spite of the fact that there were no mosques in Jerusalem at the time, to the fact that one of the central holy books of the Mormon faith—an Egyptian papyrus translated into the book of Abraham—is now known to merely describe the burial rites for Ra.

There may be places in the world where one risks decapitation for questioning certain religious claims, but in a rational world it is hard to argue that questioning these, or a host of others of dubious repute, should be viewed as inappropriate. Education at its heart is inseparable from teaching doubt.

It is good to be skeptical, especially about ideas you learn from perceived authority figures. Recent studies even suggest that being taught to doubt at a young age could make people better lifelong learners. That, in turn, means that doubters—people who base their views on evidence, rather than faith—are likely to be better citizens.

Last year, writing in the New York Times, the political scientist Brendan Nyhan explained how “identity often trumps the facts.” We would rather reject evidence than change our sense of who we are. Knowledge is comparatively helpless against identity: as you grow better informed about the issues, you just get better at selectively using evidence to reinforce your pre-existing commitments. A 2014 Yale Law School study, for example, demonstrated that the divergence between religious and nonreligious peoples’ views on evolution actually grows wider among those who are familiar with math and science. Describing Nyhan’s work in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova summarized his findings by writing that “it’s only after ideology is put to the side” that the facts become “decoupled from notions of self-perception.” If we want to raise citizens who are better at making evidence-based judgments, we need to start early, making skepticism and doubt part of the experience that shapes their identities from a young age.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, an AP-GfK poll revealed that less than a third of Americans are willing to express confidence in the reality of human-induced climate change, evolution, the age of the earth, and the existence of the Big Bang. Among those surveyed, there was a direct correlation between religious conviction and an unwillingness to accept the results of empirical scientific investigation. Religious beliefs vary widely, of course—not all faiths, or all faithful people, are the same. But it seems fair to say that, on average, religious faith appears to be an obstacle to understanding the world.

And it is an obstacle that may begin early. Last summer a new study published in the journal Cognitive Science claimed to find a significant difference in the ability of children as young as five and six years old to distinguish fact from fantasy, depending upon their past exposure to religious education, in church or parochial school. The children with religious training (coming from many different religious backgrounds) were less able to judge that characters in fantasy stories were fictional rather than real compared to children with no such exposure. Unfortunately, the methodology of the study was badly flawed, but I suspect a good scientific study would be likely to demonstrate something similar, and I encourage better scholars to carry out such studies.

By planting the seeds of doubt, education offers the best opportunity to immunize children against the intellectual virus that is associated with dogma and superstition in the world today.

Of course, science class isn’t the only place where students can learn to be skeptical. A provocative novel that presents a completely foreign worldview, or a history lesson exploring the vastly different mores of the past, can push you to skeptically reassess your inherited view of the universe. But science is a place where such confrontation is explicit and accessible. It didn’t take more than a simple experiment for Galileo to overturn the wisdom of Aristotle. Informed doubt is the very essence of science.

Some teachers shy away from confronting religious beliefs, because they worry that planting the seeds of doubt will cause some students to question or abandon their own faith or the faith of their parents. But is that really such a bad thing? It offers some young people the chance to escape the guilt imposed upon them simply for questioning what they’re told. Recently I received an e-mail from a twenty-seven-year-old man who is now studying in the United States after growing up in Saudi Arabia. His father was executed by family members after converting to Christianity. He says that it’s learning about science that has finally liberated him from the specter of religious fundamentalism. The same week, I received an e-mail from a young man who lives in Indiana; he feels isolated and damaged because of the reaction of his friends and family to his rejection of religion and his love of science. I get e-mails like this regularly. We owe it to these young people to help them feel, as another young letter-writer put it, that “I’m not the only one who has these thoughts.”

Is it naïve to imagine we can overcome centuries of religious intransigence in a single generation through education? Maybe. But as Nelson Mandela said about going from prisoner to president in the span of a generation, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” The stakes are too high not to try, as Feynman warned us a generation ago:

It is our responsibility to leave the men of the future with a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we, so young and ignorant, say we have the answers now, if we suppress all discussion, all criticism, saying, “This is it, boys! Man is saved!” Thus we can doom man for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination.

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  • Ronny

    LMK is right,religion chains people to bronze and iron age thoughts, ideas and beliefs, and how tight or short that chain is depends largely on which faction of which religion one belongs too. indoctrinating children with beliefs, esp those that stand against education, is an abuse of power, not withstanding the detrimental effects it can have on a child’s education and career prospects. Religion must be separated from education, esp science, and only be included in history or literature.
    Further more, Intelligent design needs to be professionally disputed, it needs to be taken apart piece by piece, and shown for the falsehood and propaganda that it is, a concerted effort should be put to this task, clear cut science must oppose every point of false data.

    • Robert Davidson

      Misinforming people about religion also needs to be kept in check – Krauss’ misleading people about spiritual practice is just as damaging as intelligent design activists misleading kids about biology.

      • kazoo

        What does Krauss say that is misleading?

        • Robert Davidson

          There is an implied linking of myth and superstition (I think that would be found problematic by most scholars of mythology), an equating of belief with assent to propositions (not recognising the many more nuanced ways that the concept is used in actual practice, as will be found in scholarly discussions of how religion actually operates, as well as of course the nuances of religious philosophy, quite a separate question). In short, he is way out of his depth, and says many things that will make the experts in the various fields (eg. anthropology, sociology, philosophy, theology, the arts) wince, as it does me.

          • johnolephart

            Sorry Robert but you are wrong. Although theistic scholars and students may make much of shades of meaning, the rank and file do not. In the U.S. there is a strong majority of believers who take the Bible as literal truth and use it to inform their (and everybody else’s) daily lives as a mundane code of behavior. Knowing people like you who do make nuanced distinctions and who understand the power of metaphor, it would be nice to assume you are the religious norm. You ain’t.

            Too often we have heard the belief in the immorality of private sexual proclivity justified as “it’s the Babble!” best expressed loudly with dilated eyes as if the obvious truth of the statement were obscured by deafness. Even polls this year, cited by Krauss above, show a widespread belief in and certainty of magical thinking. The superstitious highway is supported in this country by the Christian Bible and it’s unquestioning adherents. We should be slow to point the finger at other countries where they harbor similar certainties based on other quasi-historical writings by mostly unknown authors.

            For me, religiosity had its chance and came up far short as a respectable alternative for reality. I agree that it is a form of abuse to subject children to the teachings of Christianity.

            Whatever possessed our cultural predecessors to swallow a doctrine that we were all created by a sadistic tyrannical super-being who is okay with sending millions of innocent untutored souls to eternal everlasting torment, BUT the “punishment” can be averted by being subjected to a ritualized waving of two fingers and Latin incantations—if you are a Baptist you can skip the Latin but you have to go along with an uncomfortable dunking? Why is this said to be true? Because the super-being had a son and tortured him to death. Follow? This same doctrine, that our forbearers bought, says that a monster of Stalinistic proportions, responsible for many, many deaths and widespread unbelievable suffering can get off Scott free using the same magic finger-motions and Latin chanting or dunking. These people who bequeathed this nonsense to our grandparents: what were they thinking? The only appropriate response to such diabolical (yes) belief is ridicule followed by a Bronx cheer and loudly disrespectful laughter.

          • Robert Davidson

            I think you’ll find sociologists of religion will differ from your opinion about the way people practice religious faith.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            You are a monster of course with your views.

    • sonneofmanisrael

      A tie to God chains people to bronze age and iron age thoughts? You are a totalitarian free gas thinker with those ideas. You control the gas: the air.

  • Those in the public sphere who have openly questioned the need for God, or the consistency of religious doctrine with empirical evidence, are most often dismissed as strident.

    I think anyone who stereotypes religious people as terrorists and bigots, equates religious belief with gender-based discrimination, and fantasizes about religion magically disappearing within a generation, deserves to be dismissed.

    • PissedOffCanuck

      Well that is your opinion and though I may disagree with it you are certainly entitled to it.

    • Aaron Clarke

      Wow, weird, it’s almost like that’s not what he said at all. He specifically pointed to “thoughtful faithful” people as being not the problem, and rather cites the nutjobs who really ARE nutjobs. And yes – religious belief does result in gender-based discrimination a LOT of the time.

      • He specifically pointed to “thoughtful faithful” people as being not the problem

        He didn’t say they weren’t a problem, he simply said we shouldn’t demean them while we point out that their ideas aren’t valid. It’s that distinction-without-a-difference that we expect others to accept: “I’m not ridiculing you, I’m just ridiculing everything you hold dear. Lighten up!”

        And yes – religious belief does result in gender-based discrimination a LOT of the time.

        I’m not convinced this is an evidence-based belief, but rather something we like to believe is true because it tells us what we want to hear. Misogyny and homophobia are indeed bad things, and certainly there are right-wingers who love to couch their bigotry in religious language. However, the notion that they result directly from religion is a bit too simplistic for my liking. If I mention that high-profile scientists used to claim there was evidence that African-Americans are an inferior race, could I then say that scientific inquiry results in racial discrimination? Or when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it just a completely different shoe?

        Krauss mentioned Bendan Nyhan’s research that showed “identity often trumps the facts,” but then he dismisses the idea. Well, I think it’s important to see our own flaws in thinking just as clearly as we see those of others. We’re never as objective or skeptical as we like to think we are. What we believe conditions what we consider facts and evidence, not the other way around.

        • kazoo

          …”high-profile scientists /used/ to claim….” Precisely. And after study and research and the analysis of empirical evidence, scientists no longer make that claim. The facts, the evidence, came to trump the bias and the myth. That is the point Krauss is making: Facts will win out. What is scary, of course, is that there are many people–often abetted by big organizations–who intentionally ignore facts (because they clash with their identity/ideology) or attempt to discredit facts or put myths on equal footing with facts. This trend, which is very prevalent in America and something of a hallmark of the religious right (not to mention big business, which spends huge sums to challenge facts, to create doubts in Americans about the verifiable dangers of smoking, chemicals, pollution), is very disturbing and very dangerous.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Bien dit–& can never be said often enough, til the brain-precariat wakes to grim reality…our voices, once feeble, are en route to majority status by mid-century, even in this Vale of Neander, acc. to latest surveys & datanalysis [videlicet MLTT, simplicial sets, groupoids, homotopy types, etc].

  • Kompani

    No video?

    • dokoni

      Yeah, video please, ain’t nobody got time to read!

      • Kompani

        I have lots of time to read but I do like watching and listening to Lawrence Krauss as he is a superb orator and communicator, and very humorous, which doesn’t convey itself in a written copy of his speech.

      • Nick

        Reading it is faster than warhing a video…

        • dokoni

          Maybe, but I can listen to the audio and multi-task. YOLO man

  • Ronald Ventola

    WHAT A GUY!!!!

    • Robert Davidson

      Good scientist, terrible philosopher

  • vg2neptune

    Kudos to Professor Krauss!

  • Angela Dunne

    Fantastic speech. Read it all with Mr. Krauss’ voice and enthusiasm too XD

  • Hannu Märijärvi

    In 2015 we’re reading an article about a speech instead of listening to the speech itself?

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      All media ‘flumenate’, so to speak…

  • Krauss seems like the type of guy who would have made a great physics professor: he’s enthusiastic, straightforward, and irreverent. But he’s a cheerleader for a field that describes absolutely nothing about the human condition. As far as Krauss is concerned, humans don’t even enter into the picture except as theorists and researchers, when they’re suddenly all-important. His misuse of the Plato’s Cave analogy in the “Greatest Story Ever Told” video shows this perfectly: in Krauss’s reformulation of the idea, there’s a reality out there, whether or not humans are there to perceive it, and we’re lucky we’re here to “discover” it. Nowhere does he acknowledge that humans created the symbolic language that scientists use, and interpret scientific data with the weight of personal and cultural realities behind them.

    This goes against the pre-Internet version of popular science writing, when authors like Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Loren Eiseley described how our understanding of natural history was inextricably linked to ideas and systems of power prevalent during human investigation. Natural history is the history of human understanding, and our understanding of human evolution has evolved as our culture evolves.

    Krauss and Dawkins never miss an opportunity to trash Stephen Jay Gould, even though he’s no longer around to defend himself. Dawkins (in Unweaving the Rainbow) ostensibly raked Gould over the coals for mistakes in his book on the Burgess Shale fauna; both Dawkins and Krauss have described Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria idea with disdain, often enough that it has become New Atheist dogma that the idea has no merit. Much of their rancor probably stems from professional jealousy, because Gould was a much better writer and had a much broader cultural imagination than either Dawkins or Krauss. But the real reason Krauss is still deriding Gould (and does so even in the speech above) is because Krauss is pushing a hyper-idealized conception of science completely free of human bias or limitations, and Gould represents the old-fashioned notion that science is a human endeavor riddled with the same cultural baggage as any other.

    • kazoo

      So are you suggesting that religious ideas–cooked up by people fearing their mortality–should be accepted or granted equivalency with science because humans conceived them? Should we teach creationism in schools just because a lot of people still believe in that silliness?

      • Robert Davidson

        Religious ideas are not empirical. You don’t dismiss Shakespeare because there was no such person as Mercurio. And you don’t dismiss Mozart because he “cooked up” melodies (I hope you don’t anyway). Krauss is a perfect demonstration of why we need to listen again to the voice of C.P. Snow on the Two Cultures – he is sorely in need of some culture.

        • Don Dehart Bronkema

          Snow’s metaphor is obsolescent at best; the 2 cultures have been inseparable from the beginning [videlicet Experimental Neurology 101].

          • Robert Davidson

            And yet scientists continue to blunder their way in areas of culture, a great specimen being Krauss who apparently feels free to comment in areas where he has very little knowledge.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Colleague Krauss’s argument is unrebuttable in logic or evidentiary terms–he’s just not religious–get used to it!…if you think the kosmos has meaning or purpose, the rising tide of secularism since the Principia [1687] will be demoralizing, but in a generation or two, searching for ‘divine’ absolutes will seem as bizarre as the god-multitudes of Greco-Roman times…the challenge is fanaticism: those who try to impose their values by force majeure must be resisted at the price of life or disfigurement [viz. Nobelista Malala Yusefsay]…we tremble to contemplate the Biblical despair en route now that we can transmit single gene defects to entire host-species…agents of infection [malaria, dengue, yellow fever, the poxes, tropical vermiforms] can, in principle, be obliterated in one or two seasons…pigmentation, hair texture, somatype, physiognamy, mitachondrial function, immune resistance & memory can be altered in stirps at will…atheist-humanists insist upon close regulation & cautious roll-out, but imagine the sheer satori of a society guaranteeing genetic optimization & probabilistic lifespans as birth-rights!…purging heritable defects will be vital for denizens of outposts like NASA’s Colonia Martialis or crews & settlers during interstellar exploration at Kardashev II or III levels…we are witnessing the transition from H. semper unsapiens et suicidens to H. transcendans elysio…the GOP will try, but science can’t be stopped short of global calamity…quod erat loquitur!

          • Robert Davidson

            The Hellenistic god pantheons certainly don’t seem bizarre to me – they feel rather familiar after living in India. Religion is not shrinking, it’s growing. People need mythos and spirituality, and can’t live on bread alone.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            But what kind of bread? Half-baked? What we require is social meaning–role, connection, purpose, a noble cause to sacrifice for…but the empyrean? no–not of necessity, tho some are wired that way…the circuits of transcendance & ‘spirituality’ are situated in the upper-right parietal…stimulated there by a mili-amp probe, even atheists sense a weird, inchoate immanence, easily mistaken by naifs for Deity…never in the lab or anywhere else, however, did this boy-preacher experience a flicker of spiritual sentiment…Freud & sundry others have explained the evolutionary function of divinities; we must set them aside now as parlous distractions from our destiny in the Mens Galactica.

          • Robert Davidson

            I would suggest that rather than setting aside these cultural riches, we need them more than ever. Not credulity, but transcending of the ego. The arts, including religion, are more important than ever.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            All the arts, culture generally & exquisitely refined ethical standards rooted in sacrifice–yes, a fortiori–to enrich heavily tek environs, where Man, w/in your lifetime, will be turned inside-out…comparative study of religion is essential to teach us what not to do/think/say/believe…but religiosity, no–& metafizic is a snare & a delusion–satanic at its worst…would you hold out to stirps false hope of meaning is a pitiless kosmos?

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Gould should not be relied upon uncritically as a cicerone; no argument has ever defeated the primacy of materialism; give up all fantasies of meaning or telos…we live & die w/o apparent purpose [vide ontological conundrum or abandon comment].

  • S.McBride

    What an excellent speech!A real breath of fresh air,particularly when contrasted with the unscientific,irrational,discriminatory and religiously fundamentalist comments made by certain well known Republicans.It is,of course,correct to say that science cannot explain everything about the universe and organic life,in all its forms.It never has been able to and perhaps never will,totally.However,there are no “natural”limits to scientific knowledge, which increases exponentially over time.Therefore,no so-called mystery is immune from rigorous scientific investigation which,one day,could yield a satisfactory non-supernatural explanation.In the Middle Ages and even later,people believed that disease and natural disasters were inflicted by an angry divinity and sought out scapegoats to blame for God’s wrath.Organised religion did not disabuse their flocks of this notion and it was microbiology and the earth sciences which eventually provided humanity with proven natural explanations.I,for one,am glad that science did not rest on its laurels and allow these natural phenomena to remain mysteries.I am confident that mankind will continue,in the long run,to follow the evidence and that nothing about life and its origins will remain outwith scientific scrutiny.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Verbose, but correct!

  • Carl C

    I was there and I liked the speech, but the real sparkle came with the questions and answers. I would have enjoyed this recap more if at least some of that had been included.

  • Bob

    Wow! Loved it!

  • Barry Robert Benton

    Lawrence M. Krauss, the guy who any thoughtful person would relish having lunch with. I’m so glad he’s alive. He says things for me, better than I every could.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Hear, hear! Avaunt kindergarten science & Bible-oney!

  • mdhome

    The religious indoctrination of children should be called what it is: child abuse.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      This quondam boy-preacher says “Hear, hear”!

    • Robert Davidson

      The neglect of education of children in their cultural heritage is something that is very worrying. This includes, of course, an appreciation of the majestic richness of our religious traditions.

      • mdhome

        And that would be your religion, of course, not any of the other ten thousand religions of the world. The only reason you have your religion is because of birthplace. Your religion would of course force other people to believe as you do?

        • Oscarthe4th

          Actually, Robert didn’t say that. Nor is there any reason in the message to assume that.
          Many Christians, quite probably the majority in the US, do not see their faith as the sole source of wisdom in the world. They may see it as the best, but that’s very different. It allows the individual to learn from others.
          The same is true for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus. Yes, there are people in each religion who make it the sole source of wisdom and take that logic to the ugly extremes mentioned many times in these posts–including mine.
          But to lump everyone in a given religion into that same intolerant boat is in itself intolerant.

          • mdhome

            I didn’t lump any lumps together, only was stating you want to indoctrinate your kids and others as many as you are able. Richness of religious traditions??? HAH!

          • Oscarthe4th

            Respect it or not, religions are the only fields of knowledge that stretch back over hundred or even thousands of year. You many not like the presuppositions, but that’s a big data set (more precisely, a big set of stories and precepts, some of which are dated. some abhorrent, and some pretty amazing)..

            There is much to think about within them.

        • Robert Davidson

          Not at all – belief has very little to do with religion, and all traditions have something to say, just as there’s no reason to dismiss hip hop just because you’re into Carnatic music.

  • The old adage ‘science progresses one funeral at a time’ is true but the rationale provided is false. It is far too common for the theories of scientists to become viewed as laws or worse dogma once that original scientist has passed. I’ve been fortunate to have this expressed to me by a number of famous Nobel physicists, Pauling, Schawlow, Teller.. all of whom bemoaned as octogenarians and nonogenarians the fact that so many ideas they has posited as mere metaphorical place holders for things they could not explain became solidified into dogma as their students became professors, and their students became professors… By the time the third generation of professorial students dutifully took notes the metaphorical place holders (often created over the third or fourth round of collegial drinks) had become laws of physics without affirmation other than time and repetition. It seems in all aspects of humanity if a story is told often enough it becomes the ‘truth.’

    • Liam781

      I think a good working virtue for humanism is epistemological humility, and with that a constant willingness to see how humanists can have their own dogmas and sacred cows that cannot be questioned easily, where doubt is also feared. This comes from a recognition that humanism does not of itself offer a cure from the general limitations of being human, but acknowledges them.

      • sonneofmanisrael

        Also, there is the dicta in humanistic law that a human being is a legal unit. Sell outs!

    • Arijit Thakur

      I agree that the doubts expressed or suspicions maintained by revered teachers can become doctrines with devoted pupils at a later date even when the pupils have not found conclusive evidence to back those ideas scientifically. Ideas may or may not die with their originators but the society changes generation by generation. As Mr. Krauss has rightly said, his daughter’s generation does not seem to understand what the previous generation’s problem with gays and lesbians was.

      Most of the changes taking place in our society today are related to religion conceding ground to science (religion conceded ground to politics in early modern times, e.g. the establishment of the Anglican church or the work of Machiavelli, religion conceded ground to art at a slightly later date, e.g. the works of Bernini or William Blake). However, religion does not change (it claims to be the eternal solution to all man’s problems and anything that claims to be eternal cannot agree to change), its practitioners do. Christianity has not changed but Christians have changed. Hinduism has not changed but Hindus have started changing (I have been born and brought up in India’s most socially liberal state, West Bengal – I know). The biggest problem with Islam is not that it has not changed (it was neither expected nor was possible to change), but that Muslims refuse to change.

      Religious people’s refusal to change makes religion the last resort of all scoundrels who – for selfish reasons – want to maintain the status quo. In fact, religion becomes the instrument of holding on to power in the hands of crafty rulers and agents of unification for the disoriented minds. Religion, because of this one flaw, becomes so many things that are not ‘godly’.

  • jansand

    Since I have never been religious and have had discussions about religion with kids of my own age from the age of about six, the accepted beliefs promulgated by religion have always struck me as bizarre whenever they arose. As I matured I was sure that what struck me as weird nonsense would be discarded in people who became adult and therefore, when I reached higher education I was surprised and dismayed to discover that the rigidity of acceptance remained in individuals who I had assumed would have acquired better judgment. I finally learned that religion has nothing to do with logic or education or even superior intellect, but rather with internal sense of safety in premanufactured traditional rules of behavior and general world views and accepted paradigms.

    To face the world as it seems to me to exist requires the ability to recognize and accept a level of constant and consistent insecurity and to understand that only by this acceptance can one reach into the miasma of various probabilities and try to nurture those most promising into dynamic reality can one attain some sort of temporary life stability. Religion, and even standard scientific understanding frequently offers at least somewhat useable dynamics out of authority and general acceptance but the advance of modern science and technology has interpenetrated much of the fossilized religious concepts so that one can be faced with the personal necessity of rejecting in totality one or the other. This type of traumatic demand to leap into the insecure and unknown produces real problems in both established scientists and people who adhere to religions. That is why old people have to die off with their misconceptions to permit progress. In a strange parallel, evolutionary variations also must disappear when they cease to confront the changing environment to good effect.

    One can merely glance at human social behavior with its general violence and mass killings of millions both currently and throughout all of history to accept that the interactions of power and subjugation supplemented by petrified religious and other social beliefs has been a total constant. And the dominance of the human species has now reached the stage that neither the general environment nor the beneficence of the better side of human behavior can long withstand this consistent assault without evoking inevitable complete catastrophe. I do not see the likelihood of a change for the better.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Agree…man’s adaptations to grim reality are many, but =ly feckless, confronted as he is by greed, ignorance, power-mania & malevolence-at-scale…if H. transcendans is to be ‘human ‘at all, he must be tempted by evil…only robots suffer no moral confusion; Mr Data, the ultimate android, was thus ipso facto non-human…bottom-line: approach superior entities w/caution til we’re sure “To Serve Man” is not a cookbook.

      • jansand

        But more likely a dildo

    • Clayton

      Most humans in history have been religious of one flavor or another. Atheism is a rare exception.

      • jansand

        The useful discipline of science is also a novelty. It seems humans do have a possibility to change and the current expectations that humans are extremely deft at planetary suicide may be thwarted by that possibility, although it looks unlikely.

        • Clayton

          Science is pretty old. We were building pyramids, roads, bridges, sewers, and war ships thousands of years ago.

          I was commenting on your being surprised that people in college were religious. You shouldn’t be surprised. Religion is the rule, atheism the exception, all through human history.

          • jansand

            Although technology has significant relationships to science, it is a mistake to confuse one with the other. Technology can look to science as a key to extending its range but science demands a paradigm to extend pragmatism into abstract theory. It posits the absence of forces that are unobservable and a lack of teleological control in the universe. It is this latter which severs it totally from religion. I matured in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s wherein enough general knowledge of the universe was clearly suggestive to the educated mind that unobserved superbeings were totally unrequired.

  • Krauss should get an award for ingenious fallacies of equivocation. Universe from “nothing” my eye! The argument in his opus is no better than this:

    Warm beer is better than nothing.
    Nothing is better than sex.
    Therefore: warm beer is better than sex!

    “The quantum vacuum is a type of something. It has properties. It has
    energy, it fluctuates, it can cause the expansion of the universe to
    accelerate, it obeys the (highly non-trivial) equations of quantum field
    theory. We can describe it. We can calculate, predict and falsify its
    properties. The quantum vacuum is not nothing.” Luke Barnes

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Cute…the Barnes quote is a bit sloppy, but essentially correct as a description of ‘ultimate reality’, as perceived by Krauss, respondent & everyone else in the discipline of quantum physics…it’s better validated than ANY other theory or law in science, incl. general relativity, as colleague Einstein admitted [tho he hated it]…the quantum substrate is ‘quasi-extant’ everywhere & under all test-rubrics: it’s counter-intuitive, that’s why lay-folk reject it…en passant, however, it’s consistent w/Susskind’s view that the kosmos could be an infinite regression of nested Matryoshka holograms…quod erat loquitur!

  • restyles

    The speaker asks us to question everything. I question the claim that scientific progress is related to human progress. It is a myth that as we become more technologically advanced our society will become “better”. I also question the idea that the accumulation of knowledge is related to intelligence. Intelligence is perhaps a faculty (what that faculty is I don’t know) that can act within the field of knowledge but it is not the field itself.

    • The Wet One

      So, you’d like to go back to the days before Germ Theory?

      Which is a glib question. Not all human progress is material. But a whole lot of human material progress (like the control of infectious disease and flying) is because of science. And if most of your kids not dying of preventable disease isn’t progress (even if it is mere material progress), I’m afraid you and I have nothing to talk about.

      Of course, the human condition remains what it is in respect of many, probably most things, but there has been a real change brought about by science. Even if humanity has been removed from the centre of the universe.

      • restyles

        I don’t question technological advancement. What I do question is the relationship between technological improvement and human/societal improvement. Is a society with airplanes better than one without? Do antibiotics make a person more compassionate? And yes I agree that these advancements are “mere material progress” as is germ warfare and carpet bombing? Can humans fundamentally change before we destroy the earth? I don’t know. But I don’t see how science will help us.

        • kazoo

          Krauss isn’t suggesting that science makes the world better in every way, though it certainly does in many ways. Rather, he is saying that widespread belief in religious myths, in false information, can impede progress and have harmful effects. All one has to do is examine the cultures of religious extremism, or religious zealotry, around the world, and the point is proved. There are numerous countries, and millions of people, with Middle Age mindsets. The Middle East is teeming with religious craziness, and that is a major reason why the region is such a mess.

          • restyles

            Human progress is also a myth. Scientific innovation does not lead to better human beings. Neither does religion.

          • Crenando

            “Scientific innovation does not lead to better human beings” Less lead paint means less intellectually disabled kids. Computers and credit systems may give easy access to self actualization for many people who may live in deprived poverty.

            “Neither does religion.” All religions are somewhat cohesive bundles of oral traditions that display a moral and ethical system of some sort. A person who knows nothing of philosophy or any of the humanities would be improved by reading a bible, which is a fine piece of literature that is only a little bit bloody and patriarchal.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Scripture is a poor cicerone to conscience or conduct…read again!

          • restyles

            Didn’t science give us lead paint to begin with? It’s true that humans would be healthier with clean air and water and unprocessed foods. But can science slove these problems which it help create? I don’t think it can, so far science and technology has made it possible for 6 billion people to live on earth with 2 billion living in abject poverty. But even if it could would it make us better human beings?

            As for the bible, or any book, it is not the writing that is important but how it is read. Many have read the bible with mixed results.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Are we worse off now than during the floruit of Athens, Alexandria, Bagdad, Toledo, Firenze?…we have far surpassed them–on ethical & intellectual fronts…we are still too ignorant, too vicious–but hang in for the 22nd Century, featuring mind & memory uploaded to H. transcendans elysio et martialis.

          • KRDavie

            That depends upon how you define ‘progress’. Also what are ‘better human beings’? Science is alone in producing an improvement in living standards most widely distributed, regardless of whether or not it produces ‘better human beings’, whatever you may define that phrase to mean.

            And I would claim that religion does in fact produce worse human beings. Somebody once said something along the lines of: ” there are good people who do good things and bad people who do bad things, but for real evil you need religion.”

          • restyles

            Science has improved living standards for some but it has also made it possible for the earth’s population to grow to an unsustainable 7 billion people with about half living in poverty.

            As for “better human beings,” the article, from what I can see, mentions the human qualities of reason, intelligence and compassion. If these qualities are simply material processes than I’m sure science will develop some kind of genetic, chemical and/or psychological conditioning technology that will lead us into a brave new world society.

            However the article also dicusses the importance of doubt or the questioning of authority which I believe both science and religion are lacking. Religion in perhaps more obvious ways but easier to doubt while scientific authority is more subtle and I would say more difficult to challenge.

            For example, while I do recognize that the theory of evolution is a workable scientific model, I also see how this model has become an authority to many, immune from all doubt. That we call this theory Darwinism and some find the need to put stickers of walking fish surrounding the word Darwin on the back of their cars should make any doubting person shudder.

            Technology progresses, from the hand axe to the laser, but the users of those tools, to my observation, do not progress pschologically. To make one last provocative statement; reason, intelligence, compassion and doubt do not progress, they exist outside the field of evolution.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            That applies a fortiori to the regions twixt Rockies & Appalachians–& infra Mason-Dixon.

        • Don Dehart Bronkema

          Whether H. semper unsapiens survives should be clear by mid-century [v-a-v CO2, methane hydrates/clathrates, deforestation ad inf]; a rise in mean global temp of more than 2C [3.6F] is ineluctable [likely 5-7F, absent crash-decarbonization]…a Toba-like plunge to 600-1000 breeding pairs [per 72 KYA] is not impossible…we crawl the corniche of incipient extinction…if we live, tho, prep for genegineered H. transcendans elysio [vide N. Bostrum & colleagues, Oxford Institute].

        • KRDavie

          ‘Do antibiotics make a person more compassionate?’

          Maybe not, but they surely could make him or her more alive. If you’re dead from some disease that antibiotics could have arrested then your degree of compassion doesn’t matter much.

          ‘But I don’t see how science will help us’

          There isn’t much else that will in the long run!

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Study, then comment!

      • restyles

        Study what? Why?

        • Al_de_Baran

          Ignore that blowhard. Apparently someone showed him Pound’s letters from the asylum and he became an instant epigone.

        • Don Dehart Bronkema

          Neither of us is qualified to comment on anything, absent substantial familiarity w/the the subject or problem…the kosmos is not what it appears–quite the contrary [see other rmx for clarification]…the vast bulk of supposed Truth is mere taste or opinion…respondent makes no claim [for example] to have penetrated the ontological conundrum or mastered the empirical, or determined [neurologically] why Man persists in tribalism, or seeks power, wealth & sensual gratification–before sacrifice & wisdom…respondent, quondam boy-preacher, is a militant atheist & techno-humanist for good reasons…sarbat da bhala.

          • restyles

            If you are trying to communicate something to me you are doing a poor job.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Be less certain…but shoulder on…to the Void.

  • Ted Schrey Montreal

    I tend to be perplexed when people of the teaching variety justify a notion by pointing out that the cohort of, say, one’s daughter’s age have no problem adopting it. Aren’t those people supposed to be more ignorant than their teachers?

  • Roderick Rees

    There is a fundamental question that never seems to be asked: Why is there religion? Religion is a human activity that is influenced by all the human qualities, good and bad, and bad religion seems to be more influential – but why do people have religions?

    I suggest it is for a simple reason, that religion offers a reward. There are many kinds of possible reward, seized or accepted according to individual personalities or needs, but (as we see with ISIS/ISIL/DAASH) the worst is when the individual claims that God has authorized him to treat others badly. There is no reason to give any respect to that form of religion. On the other hand, those pathological forms need not lead us to dismiss quieter and more “spiritual” forms if they offer comfort and do not lead to abuse. The story of Christ’s temptation by the devil shows that a personal search for political power should be rejected by Christians – why do we not hear that from clergymen?

    • restyles

      And humanism offers the reward of progress, of a future that will be better than the present. It is a romantic ideal with the same potential destructive force as religion.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      The ‘quieter’ forms are equally deleterious in the long haul, as we scrabble up from ignorance, greed & power-madness to wisdom & satori in the Mens Galacta…

  • Robert Davidson

    It would be great if people like Krauss took the trouble to understand religion before holding forth. Such trouble often ensues when writers go way beyond their expertise.

    • Oscarthe4th

      He understands what some people do, or deny, in the name of religion, particularly when it comes to education. It’s oppressive.
      Is that the totality of religion? Of course not. As an example, in most religions there is a wealth of experience on how to try to be just and compassionate is a universe that does not seem all that just, or compassionate. That’s not something science easily provides–though it may provide tools (such as medicines) that aid in those goals.
      Also, strong religions have threads of doubt within them, at least when it comes to the ability of humans to truly understand their worlds and truly act compassionately. Those threads can lead to the acceptance of the new, when the new proves itself.
      But the most visible and pernicious religions right now are sworn enemies of doubt. New ideas are potential enemies to frisked, vetted, and if necessary, exterminated. They are minorities within their faiths, but the other people within the same faiths seem to have a lot of trouble countering them.

      • Robert Davidson

        His understanding seems very shallow, however. I continue to wonder why scientists feel free to comment in areas where they are so clearly lacking in any expertise or even basic understanding (eg. the concept of faith).

        • Crenando

          “the concept of faith” There’s nothing to understand, human psychology is very simple and remarkably tribal. All religious faith is blind, besides the “spiritual practices” that are actually sensible in daily life.

          • jansand

            One must be, at minimal, cautious about what is accepted as sensible. I have spent a good deal of my rather long life in conflicts about what seems sensible to others but seems idiotically comic to me.

          • Robert Davidson

            The trouble with dismissing complex concepts as simple is that you will misunderstand.

        • jansand

          The general concept of faith is to maintain belief without evidence, The basis of faith is the acceptance of authority without question. Religions demand faith without question because much of what they advocate has little if any basis of confirmation in observed reality. Although much of religion advocates respect and delight of humans for each other that respect is most frequently allocated only to those who accept the hierarchy of authority of that particular religion. There is also a very strong element in many religions that demand punishment for those who question any of the precepts of that particular religion and the rejection of doubt is basic in that area. And this problem is most evident in the unrestrained brutality between fanatical religious believers so evident in the world today.

          Any discipline is subject to the demand for rejection of doubt and the total respect for authority and scientific disciplines also suffer from that problem because science is a very diverse and complex area and it is a very rare scientist who is well versed in every aspect of science. As with religions, science therefore must depend to a large extent on a trust that the body of knowledge of science retains inherent logic and evidence. New concepts in science also frequently have great difficulty in being accepted because of the human tendancy to respect hierarchical authority. But here lies the huge difference between religion and science. Religion almost always remains unchanged throughout history and the dependence upon ancient texts and authority is rarely if ever challenged. Science is striking in its progress in accepting new paradigms and even very odd seeming views of reality such as quantum theory but which has a strong basis in experimental confirmation. As far as I know, no scientist who has proposed rejecting or changing fundamentally accepted ideas has ever been imprisoned or brutalized or murdered for making claims that would shake the foundations of accepted theories. The contrast between science and religion in this is most apparent. This is because religion has no recourse but brutality to defend its beliefs. Science merely requires acceptable evidence.

          • Robert Davidson

            I think you’ll find that’s not how philosophers and anthropologists who study religion see faith. Rather, the concept appears to be much more concerned with trust, love and commitment, and you will be hard pressed to find a scholar expert in religion who sees religious traditions as primarily concerned with assents to propositions. However, feel free to prove me wrong with some citations of scholarly literature that supports a departure from this consensus.

          • jansand

            Since I am neither a philosopher nor an anthropologist but merely someone who has interacted with a good many people over the nature of belief and how it is substantiated I do not need academic viewpoints to validate my conclusions. Nevertheless I am always willing to alter my opinion from anyone who can redefine faith with rational indications of another way to apprise it. Trust and love, after all, are merely emotional terms to indicate acceptance of belief without rational evaluation.

          • Robert Davidson

            I think you’ll find the scholarly literature differs from the simple equating of faith with credulity. There is a reason we have experts, and it’s not a good idea to pretend we know better – that’s what leads to climate change denial, creationism etc etc.

          • Al_de_Baran

            I would add that you have a very philosophically naive view of the concept of “evidence”, as do most advocates of Scientism (although I am not necessarily classifying you among these last).

          • jansand

            You seem to be claiming that science is not based on verifiable and trustworthy evidence. What then is its base? Many current working technologies are engendered by scientific discoveries. How do you account for their success if there is no validity in the scientific processes?

          • Al_de_Baran

            My earlier reply will likely never appear because it contains some innocuous links, and therefore appears to be stuck indefinitely in “moderation limbo”.

            So… My claim is that the concept of evidence is extremely complicated and multifaceted, and that what counts as evidence often depends upon the historical Zeitgeist. For an overview of the complexities and nuances involved, look up and read Michael Antony’s “Where’s the Evidence?”, available online at Philosophy Now, and the book review “Evidentialism and its Discontents” at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

            At a minimum, these two examples (from among many possible ones) reveal how out of their depth Krauss, his comrades, and their amen corner are when they invoke the concept of evidence. Your own posts are usually more sophisticated, so I am somewhat surprised to see you endorse the simple-minded notion of evidence bruited about here.

          • jansand

            I cannot respond sensibly without investigating your offered sources, but in general, the ambiance of science is so solidly invested in my own general feel for reality in contrast to what I most politely consider religious bullshit that there is very little possibly for me to seriously consider acceptable in religious reasoning. I am not well read in philosophy nor do I have much background in academic discourse on the subject. To frame it analogically, science chickens lay eggs that are exceedingly nourishing and the only things I can detect withing the shells of religious chicken’s eggs are farts.

          • Al_de_Baran

            Well, ignore the contrary arguments, if you like. My point regarding the complexity of the concept of evidence remains.

            In any case, religion versus science to me is a false dichotomy. What I reject is the psychology that underlies the mentalities of fanatical adherents of both perspectives.

            In other words, I am not religious, either, and that is why I also reject the spurious religious substitute known as Scientism. As Nietzsche once observed (paraphrasing from memory), “You say you believe in the necessity of religion. Be sincere! You believe in the necessity of the police!”. Substitute “laws of nature” for “religion”, however, and you find the same primitive underlying perspective and values.

            If I criticize advocates of Scientism more vociferously than I critique religionists, that is because I find the former’s epistemological arrogance both more absurd and more dangerous. “Dangerous” because, pace Hegel, the hand that inflicts the wound is not necessarily able to heal it. Humans are mere children, beings in their intellectual and moral infancy. Putting advanced science and technology into the hands of humans at their current state of development is akin to setting a chimpanzee in front of an atomic weapons launcher.

            To shift the animal metaphor, “science chickens” have laid the eggs that will hatch into the destruction of life Earth via climate change, a theme that I know from your other posts is dear to your heart. Right-wing fundamentalists today may obstruct a proper view of the problem, but please don’t insult our intelligence by claiming they are the source of it. That honor belongs to short-sighted scientists and their equally short-sighted capitalist/industrialist allies.

            It sometimes amuses me to think that present-day humans are an experiment launched by an alien intelligence to see whether a creature with grossly imbalanced intelligence might discover a way to right itself once that imbalance has come to endanger his species (as well as many others). The experiment remains ongoing, but current trends suggest the outcome is obvious. So, back to the drawing board! Let’s see whether the Demiurge, or random natural selection, or intelligent aliens, or God, or whatever, can come up with something better, next time, as the Cosmic Game continues.

          • jansand

            There is indicated here a major confusion about science and the behavior of humans who are put in charge of human destiny. Those in power are not in the least sense scientists and are almost entirely involved in the hugely misunderstood general human behavior which endorses their wealth and control. To hold science responsible for the insane behavior of the powerful is a gross error and inexcusable in someone involved in examination of scientific discipline.

          • Al_de_Baran

            There is no confusion whatsoever on my part, but considerable prevarication on jansand’s

            Science is a human endeavor, and as such inextricable from power relations, politics, and general self-seeking. It is not pure, idealistic, and separable from its socio-economic context. To suggest otherwise brings us full circle to the point about naïveté with which I began this exchange, and with which I will now end it.

          • jansand

            I am terriby sorry, but that science is useful in obtaining power makes it no more inextricable from the functions of power than religion or technology or philosophy or any of the arts or, perhaps, stamp collecting or cooking. since each may be utilized in the mechanisms of obtaining or applying power but the conceptual disciplines of each of these activities is strictly separate from the drive for power. alone. To see prevarication in this understanding is, without a doubt, rather gross confusion. There is no doubt that the studies of dinosaurs or mollusks or the patterns of crystals or the arrangement of stars falls well within the domain of science but to presume each is made for the reasons to obtain power strikes me as rather loony.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            You are a genuine lost soul.

          • jansand

            Considering the accomplishments of the souls that claim to be found, I accept that as a compliment.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            Aren’t you a snark aswell. Try get over your self.

          • jansand

            Google led me to the definition of snark as one who is ill tempered. No temper was involved in my evaluation of those with “discovered” souls, merely an observation of the envelope of religious efforts in the current world.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            snark meant in this case sarcastic. You are really quite ill tempered beneath your very mumbling efforts. Look it up again.

          • jansand

            Do I detect a modicum of snarkiness in your reply? How in the world can you detect whether I mumble or shout in this silent medium?

            I am commenting out of honesty and realistic observation of current events which, at minimum, are not reassuring. Please be ware that my only emotion is amazement at your attitudes.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            The jumble of your observation are like mumbling to me. You have yet to hear what I have said by reading the words aloud which essentlially end up saying “who are you to say there is no God?” WORDS IN PRINT ARE NOT SILENT. Read shouting. Aloha!

          • jansand

            Well, to get directly to your question. the only answer that makes sense to me is “Who is anybody who either affirms or denies God?” I m not deciding for either you or the world, I am deciding for myself, since I must live my own life in the way that makes sense to me. It is me who you must convince to your convictions and so far you have failed. You can tell me you really don’t care which only means you have failed but don’t take it to heart, nobody else has succeeded either. If this comes through as a mumble, so be it.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            Your failure is not mine. You are convicted of the sinne of ignorance of thyself. I never said I did not care. You put words of your head in others’ mouths. As you seem to despise any wisdom but your own, one again, Aloha!
            And those who cofess Jesus Christ for the remission of sins are many steps ahead of you.

          • jansand

            Ahaa. That clarifies nicely your mind set. I apologize for misjudging you. I assumed there was more to you.than the standard religious idiocy.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            You sad man.

          • jansand

            Absolutely. Sad and disappointed. Good that you can at least grasp that.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            Here is a little revelation or you. It is written: I know thy workes, that thou art neither cold nor hot, I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarme, and neither cold nor hot, I wil spew thee out of my mouth:
            Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and haue need of nothing: and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poore, and blinde, and naked.

          • KRDavie

            It may be that there is a relatively small number of people, who might justifiably be called ‘scholars’ of religious faith, who are indeed as imbued, as they are concerned, with ‘trust, love and commitment’.

            Unfortunately for we who have to share this planet with the religious zealots in their majority these are are concepts that seem not to be too much of a guiding principle. The reverse is more often more evident. One only has to see the evidence in both the USA and the Middle East of that.

          • Robert Davidson

            No, no, that’s not what I mean – I mean those scholars who study how religious practice is carried out (and there is no call for scare quotes – I mean genuine scholars). When you get familiar with this literature, it quickly becomes clear that the notion of faith equating to credulousness is simply inaccurate in actual practice.

          • KRDavie

            Fair enough; but ‘the notion of faith equating to credulousness is simply inaccurate in actual practice’ means, I think, that they’re (i.e.the scholars) actually not religious themselves: the essence of religious faith is surely ‘credulousness’ isn’t it?

          • Robert Davidson

            I think if you investigate the scholarly literature, you’ll find that what I’m describing is accurate – that credulity is often confused with faith, but that it doesn’t match how religious practice is actually experienced by people. The etymology of the words used for faith, eg. belief, credo and others are suggestive in this regard – they are all to do with devoting the heart, and not to do with assenting to propositional thoughts.

          • Robert Davidson

            Oh and yes, the scholars I’m describing are those who study how religions are experienced, and they may or may not be religious themselves.

        • jansand

          As has been indicated, much of the brutality and callousness out of the major religions originate in fanatical minorities within that faith but that does not mean that they can be discounted. The major problems of all social interaction within humanity originates in minority factions. Criminals, psychotic murderers, hackers, power hungry and callous government officials, corrupt businessmen and legislators, and theseday, the very rich and powerful whose only basic motivations are to increase their wealth and power whatever the consequences comprise only a small minority of humanity but they are the focus of dynamics of catastrophic damages to humanity and to the entire planet. Minority status does not indicate a lack of huge danger.

          • Robert Davidson

            True, but it’s important to focus on the actual causes rather than being sidelined and disempowered to make change. Clearly politics is the driving force behind dangerous religious zealotry, and it’s foolish to focus on religious practice rather than politics in seeking change (just as one doesn’t castigate all sexual practice when trying to fight rape or paedophilia).

          • jansand

            Somehow that relates to the arguments made by the gun lovers who claim it is not the guns responsible for the mayhem shootings, it is the people who pull the triggers. Without guns there would not be triggers pulled and without psychotic religious fanatics there would not be religious driven brutality.

          • Robert Davidson

            I think people would find any way to exercise tribalism in the face of political struggle, oppression and division. It only takes allegience to a soccer team to stir up tribal violence – you don’t need religious association. Take away all religion and there will be no reduction in violence imho – something else will simply occupy the space that tribalism hijacked religious traditions for.

          • jansand

            The predisposition of humans for violence is very obvious and I do not claim that elimination of soccer nor the elimination of religion would nullify this predisposition. Nevertheless, both those sports seem quite stimulating for the dynamics of violence. Perhaps eliminating soccer is not such a bad idea after all. One step at a time.

          • Robert Davidson

            As long as it’s not replaced by gridiron.

          • jansand

            It is difficult for me to conceptually deal with the intense emotions involved in sports. My emotional makeup is devoid of the common dynamic of competition. I have never attended any games of baseball or ice hockey and only one game of football many years ago wherein I was completely bored. I have long suspected I may be a robot inserted into human civilization for observation by aliens although medical examinations have revealed nothing.

          • Robert Davidson

            I can relate, haha

          • sonneofmanisrael

            And without science there would have been no Hiroshima. come one, you wordy non secuitur of a writer, please come up with something besides the rediculous cliches you present to prove you have no understanding.

          • jansand

            And, of course, it is entirely possible that measles or smallpox would have made Hiroshima unnecessary. To confuse the use of science with the attitudes that scientific concepts engender is a pretty elemental error. Most of the scientists involved in the development of nuclear power were deeply shocked and horrified that the brutal idiocy of Truman in murdering hundreds of thousands of innocents to stamp superior American military power on the face of humanity so misused their creation.

          • jansand

            Since our interaction seems to be dipping into emotional ammunition
            it might be sensible to clear up approaches to a conversation of a bit higher
            value.

            It’s obvious that we each have installed within ourselves a
            very firm emotional and intellectual base of how we assemble a viewpoint to
            make sense of the world and we differ widely on the basic nature of our
            experiences.

            The aspects of yourself, which seem clear to me, is your
            confidence in the large body of literature out of traditions of ancient beliefs
            and myths and assumed histories of the moral and tribal and social mores recorded
            in books that have been handed down through several thousand years and the many
            discussions by men who have been accepted as learned and thereby considered
            trustworthy authorities on which you are confident you can base your most
            fundamental beliefs. In my reading I have discovered that studies of historical
            writings, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics give no confirmation to the Biblical
            histories so I distrust a good deal of it.

            Governments and much of legal authority down to the present
            day have, to a great degree, accepted these authorities as well and have
            applied restrictions throughout history
            enforcing conformity to these traditional beliefs. It is only within the last
            couple of centuries that doubts and confrontations about many of these old
            traditions have gained sufficient popularity to become somewhat accepted in
            some sectors of society although many places in the world have remained static
            in this respect.

            This is not an attempt at insult, it is merely an
            observation. Belief in a controlling deity is basically a growth out of a sense
            that the universe is conscious or directed by consciousness and has a purpose.
            Humans often react emotionally to adverse events and stubborn non-conformity of
            objects to behave as expected with the assumption of intent on the part of
            these non-sentient situations and objects and this seems to be inherent
            psychology for many humans. A God in absolute control of the universe seems to
            me part of this basic psychology. Many humans exult in the human possession of “free
            will” which exempts them from the demands of cause and effect and whose basis
            is in religious doctrine which permits a God to punish those consciously
            disobeying God’s commands. In this, religious restriction is closely patterned
            on the social restraints of a human legal system and is very different from the
            laws of nature which punishes only ignorance and stupidity and inability to
            conform to the requirements of an ecology.

            Science makes no suppositions to the existence or
            non-existence of an all controlling entity. If and when such an entity can be
            verified by observation and experiment it will no doubt be accepted. So far,
            this evidence has not been noted. All observed phenomena either conforms to
            scientific expectations or is set aside to await integration into the systems
            that are known or can be fitted into reasonable speculation. To assume an all
            controlling being that can, at will, violate all known and accepted laws of
            nature would be to destroy the understood inherent integration of all known
            phenomena and make the entire body of science invalid.

            Religion is, in effect, a kind of legal system whose supreme
            ruler is God and the practices of prayer involve special pleading on the part
            of an individual to violate the course of events in the favor of the pleader or
            merely confirmation that the supplicant is in good relations with the God, a
            kind of loyalty oath.

            As an atheist I can observe that those believers’ behavior
            is basically no different in general than non-believers since people who
            severely damage decent relationships to other humans or to the strictures of
            society demanding conformity to rules necessary for good community are
            frequently religious.

            Religions in general are severely biased towards the
            benefits of humans and commonly, towards male humans. As an atheist I am
            strongly driven with empathies towards all living things, human or otherwise
            which can put me into trouble with the basic laws of nature which demand that
            each individual preserves its continuity and does its best to reproduce its
            successful set of genes whatever the effects on other things alive. It’s not
            quite that simple but it’s a struggle I must deal with throughout my life.
            Religion would be of little if any use in that difficulty.

  • Al_de_Baran

    “The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything, to not be satisfied with unsubstantiated claims, and to be skeptical of a priori beliefs, either their own, their parents’, or their teachers’.”

    Indeed, and that also includes skepticism toward those who preach the religion-substitute of Scientism, that ugly transmogrification of a method into a metaphysics.

    The likes of Krauss are all for doubt and skepticism when the targets are those that these persons approve. But Newton forfend that anyone turn a skeptical eye toward the metaphysical presuppositions and epistemological pretensions of modern science. At that point, one gathers, Krauss draws a very convenient and hypocritical line.

  • john8

    Education is to promote doubt and question everything? It is to laugh. Public schools
    don’t teach the conservative side of anything. There can be no
    questioning of Darwinism or discussion of the scientific facts that don’t support it, there can be no discussion of or explanation
    of the Bible and it’s actual teachings, there can be no questioning global warming or hearing the opposing view. So what are the kids able to doubt and question? Religion and morality and capitalism – the things he is against. Krauss wants a system that won’t let those who disagree join in any more reindeer games, he promotes doubt with one hand and squashes it with the other (all in the name of tolerance I suppose). But when he defines morality, when the individual is god, anything goes.

    I am in favor of everything being taught (at least the major viewpoints) so that open and genuine questioning and debate can take place, so children can be free to decide for themselves what is right, so that the stupid anti-science beliefs can be exposed rather that banished (everyone knows that a strong position welcomes debate). Krauss acts as if the Church and conservatives are in charge of education and are suppressing doubt. This is nonsensical, the Church and conservatives have no voice in the schools. The teachers who are afraid to speak up are the religious ones, who doubt naturalistic Darwinism, who believe natural causes drive the climate, who would dare to even think that homosexuality might be against nature.

    Based on his reasoning, the next generation should be loudly questioning same sex marriage and homosexuality (how is this an issue of science anyway?). Not if he is in charge. Based on his reasoning the growing number of children who have a secular, atheistic inherited worldview should be hearing opposing views. Not if he is in charge. I take that back, they will hear the opposing view as Krauss presents it, with little resemblance to the actual beliefs of his opponent.

    He also puts forward debate tactics that have little to do with the truth – stereotypes (eg women who don’t pursue career = subjugated by men), conflates points in order to tear down his opponents, declares everyone “must admit” all religions are the same. He cites a study then admits it was “badly flawed” but then says is was probably true anyway. This passes for genius? He is a humanist clergyman. He pines for a system that does the same thing that he claims is wrong with it.

    • Oscarthe4th

      It is one thing to encourage doubt, another to teach how to doubt. A good education should do both.

      Doubting global warming without evidence should not be in the school, at least not in a science class.

      I would not mind students being taught the evidence, including the arguments against. If they are, students will learn that most of it points to the conclusions that nearly all climatologists support. The phenomena is real; humans are a major cause, and the impact is going to be profound (How profound is a much more contentious area of debate.)

  • FredO

    Krauss seeks to hijack the cultural authority of science to destroy religion, and asserts a deep conflict between the two. The conflict is really metaphysical (meta=”beyond” physics), i.e. between materialistic and theistic worldviews, and it’s really cowardly to hide behind science as he does.

    The fact is that many of the greatest scientists in history, with many examples down to the present day, have been theists. That’s not an argument from authority and it’s not a proof of God, but it’s a devastating refutation of the idea that there is some fundamental conflict between religion and science.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Thanks for metadefinition…

    • jansand

      There is no way to confirm that there is no God since a being so superior to ourselves has means to make its presence undetectable to our perceptive capabilities. But to use a superior being as a basic mover in our universe is to deny the necessity of integrating phenomena into a consistent interacting self sustaining totality and undermine the intensive coherent procedures basic to science. You either believe in a super magician, or you integrate the mechanics of the universe into a coherent interactive pattern so that the magician becomes superfluous

      • sonneofmanisrael

        Nay.

        • jansand

          Sorry, but a three letter negative sound merely indicates disagreement with no explanation. It has no power but to indicate discomfort.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            I reject humanism as another failed concept of existence and am not superstitious. I reject every word the previous aurthor said with: ” nay.”

          • jansand

            Your rejection is acknowledged but, as I indicated, it only conveys a personal choice with no presented backup of anything I might consider for agreement or discussion. I am helpless to make any worthwhile consideration.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            Good. Humanism is helpless in the face of what is in man.

          • jansand

            Since religion has been at it for several thousand years and has not stopped the misery and brutality and humanism has bee trying for the last couple if hundred years and obviously not doing well, I’d be very interested in whatever else you can suggest. Or perhaps you’ve merely given up entirely. If so, I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            It is pointles to discuss with you because you will not let nay be nay or yea be yea. You want to pound the nail in again and again in hopes that some idea will stay put. I am living, not giving up. What are you driving at with your blanket description of religion. Western Civilization has it all over Islam for everything. Islam has contributed nothing positive to mankind for over 1,000 years since it sacked the Byzantine Empire.

          • jansand

            Thanks for getting more explicit, Tou are now clearly involved in defending the religions of the West against the current practices of Islam. I am a bit unsure, but you seem to feel the Western world is quite satisfactory as is with its massive poor, with it’s major interest devoted to gaining monetary wealth instead of more basic satisactions, whatever the consequences to huge numbers of people suffering from ignorance, diseases, lack of necessary basics, frightful meaningless wars, and progressive destruction of the ability of the entire planet’s ability to sustain all life. This seems to strike you as very acceptable and the only obstacle to your personal satisfaction seems to be the Islamic religion. That is a much clearer characterizatin of your “nay” than the word itself which is a mmere verbal groan.

            I believe I have made it clear that the basic concept of a religion which includes a God is unacceptable to me as a fundamental concern. It seems to me a fundamentally not useful nor necessary idea. I did not distinguish between Christianity or Islam in this matter since both contain doctrines which strike me as fantasies which cannot be either validated or totally denied and, to my mind, are best ignored. In this I agree with the author of the article.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            And you have to put words in my mouth to satisfy your heathen predelictions. Islam has not solved any of the modern problems you suggest. Furthermore the mass exodus from that war torn horror show demonstrates a social failure of historic proportions. To me it is not about a man’s religion, but his duty to God, himself and his fellow man with particular instruction to avoid vanity. Since you are a pretender to greater knowledge with your atheistic stance, your viewsare by necessity exceedingly short sighted and temporal. Argue all you want, you are still just one vote with few joiners.

          • jansand

            Aside from your obvious angry disdain for my point of view, it seems we disagree fundamentally on the acceptance of the existence of a God. Since you present no convincing evidence of a God’s existence it seems you cannot help me in that matter. And oddly, in my opinion, you seem openly welcome to the war violence now providing much of the violence and misery in the current world. I am not arguing with you since that would be futile, merely attempting to discover what you believe and why. I cannot see what prompts you to believe in what impresses me as a fantasy abut a God and your open ciontempt for me does not help me to change my point of view. Too bad. It seems I must look elsewhere to settle the matter of the existance of God.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            Look within. If you have no spirit, then so long. It is not contempt for you but no one can do for you what you will not seek in scripture or Law

          • jansand

            Language is rather unfortunate in many ways in not being very clear as to the meaning of many words. A long time ago spirit referred concretely to actual breath and this is why, even today, there is an appeal to a deity when one sneezes, Obviously the word has changed greatly in your reference but still remains quite elusive. I have spent a good deal of time in a rather long life perusing the jungle of my internal composition and if there is this somewhat undefined quality of spirit hidden in the dense growth it has so far eluded me. I take some comfort in that this mystified mental state of inner lack resides in several billions of other humans who are, nevertheless, quite decent and bright people. There are all types of people both in religious and in non-religious humans so this inner knowledge of this vague element seems not critical in being an admirable person. Perhaps it is a talent, somewhat like an ease in solving a Rubic’s cube. I am not very good at that, either.

          • sonneofmanisrael

            I read your comment a lot because you cry out for the elusive spirit which is in every breath you take, but does not resonate to your soul. You are like those in the Book of Job who darken counsel with words without wisdom. Research shows that the billions you say lack spirit actually believe they do. You just make it up as you go along?

          • jansand

            Anyone who shouts about wisdom hovers, to my observation, in a miasma of insubstantial nonsense. What seems wisdom in one circumstance quickly dissipates in the winds of time and experience. Job is rather fascinating as a tale of superbeings experimenting with a test animal to see which way it might jump. One of the more revolting Christian myths.

            If you are interested in statistics Google can provide the numbers in the present Earth population who are without religious belief.

  • Walid Saba

    From another Ottawa U/Carleton University alumni: thank you for a great article!

  • jansand

    Taken from a point of view of a very general difference between science and religion, religion has, at its base, the animistic attitude that the universe itself has motivation and is personified by an individual or by multiple individuals of a godly nature. The early religions involved multitudes of godly personalities in astronomical bodies, in trees and rocks and mountains and rivers and other bodies of water etc. Gradually these super entities agglomerated into a single god who originated and controlled everything and was driven by the same emotions and desires as a living creature. Thus good and evil could be indicated by satisfaction or dissatisfaction of this superbeing and from that the valuation of all human motivations and actions and social behaviors. Inorganic behavior such as falling objects and growth and various material characteristics were characterized by the desires of these things to perform in certain ways.

    Science de-animized the universe and saw the universe activated by forces of no personality or intent and therefore robbed the world of “good” and “evil” outside of the social realm. The universe itself had no human type intentions for even the most catastrophic occurrences and, outside of social forces, completely removed the rewards and punishments of any supposed super beings. Specifically, within the precepts of the theory of evolution, there is no hierarchy of creatures. Humans are not superior to oysters or bumblebees or mice and would not survive if they were constricted to live within the ecological demands required for these creatures to maintain themselves. Each creature was designed by its environment to live and prosper and when those requirements changed, the creatures adapted or succumbed. Humanity has developed to enlarge the range of accommodations it can manage to confront ecological demands but all living creatures including human have limits to that accommodation possibility and humans, stupidly, are twisting their environment to the extent that human survival is becoming questionable within the coming few decades. This is neither good nor evil, merely a consequence of occurrences.

    Science makes no judgments as to right and wrong, it merely, within its limitations, describes actions and consequences. Religion, on the other hand, is oriented towards social evaluations which is a totally different paradigm.

  • Clayton

    tl;dr.

    Video or even audio would be nice.

  • sonneofmanisrael

    To deprive a modern reader of English the language and instruction contained in the 1611 Kng James Version of the Holy Bible is to cut education down to superstition, screwy science, pirated histories and at present: political confusion in the United States.

  • gwbnyc

    Scientific American was once a great magazine before it went dumbed-down and sophomorically political. Not for everyone, but a great magazine.

  • John August Gronau

    How is Lawrence M. Krauss a Humanist when he believes that philosophy is a fraud? This fraud would include moral philosophy, Ethics and philosophy of psychology but also the rational/ empiricism on which science depends. Humanism requires more than a scientific outlook or mere atheism. Humanism is a philosophy. So, how is it that an anti-philosopher is even considered for this honor?