Fence-Sitting Agnostics

By James Haught

James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back, as he opens in No Qualms (Ed., published on 2018, July 18, i.e., when he was 86), “I’m quite aware that my turn is approaching. The realization hovers in my mind like a frequent companion. My first wife died ten years ago. Dozens, hundreds, of my longtime friends and colleagues likewise came to the end of their journeys. They number so many that I keep a “Gone” list in my computer to help me remember them all. Before long, it will be my turn to join the list.”

[Ed., Thank you, Jim, truly.]

A half-century ago, billionaire investor Sir John Templeton was the Warren Buffett of his era – and he felt strong religious urges. He made public declarations like:

“God is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures, but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”

Templeton thought the Nobel Prizes ignored religion, so he created a bigger jackpot for holy people: The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

(I always wanted to take a photo of an abandoned church that had been turned into a bookstore, and submit it for the “progress in religion” prize.)

Later, the award name was changed to “Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities.” (Whatever “spiritual realities” are.)

At first, the Templeton Award went mostly to religious figures like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Watergate felon Charles Colson, Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright and various theologians. Then it veered to major scientists who didn’t denounce supernaturalism. They reaped million-dollar bonanzas. The prize is high-prestige, presented by Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace.

Biologist Jerry Coyne said the Templeton Awards are designed to “give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science.” Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Martinus Veltman wisecracked that winning a Templeton is “bridging the gap between sense and nonsense.”

The latest winner is a brilliant Brazilian physicist, Marcelo Gleiser, who denounces atheists and calls himself an agnostic. He told Scientific American:

“An agnostic would say, ‘Look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god. What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?’ But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about.”

Dr. Gleiser accuses atheists of violating the scientific method by declaring flatly that God doesn’t exist, yet they can’t offer direct proof that he isn’t real.

The Templeton Foundation apparently gave him $1.5 million for taking a hard stand for agnosticism, against atheism.

Well, the Brazilian physicist is correct – you can’t find scientific evidence to disprove gods, devils, fairies, werewolves, vampires, angels, heavens, hells, and all the rest of the supernatural spectrum. No clear lines of proof lead to solid conclusions. Supernatural questions simply are unanswerable.

Aztecs once sacrificed humans to an invisible feathered serpent. Nobody today can prove scientifically that the invisible feathered serpent didn’t exist. But that’s a pretty good hunch.

Intelligent people have wisdom, and can make common-sense judgments without provable evidence. They can decide that Santa Claus is a make-believe fantasy, although they lack clear scientific proof of it. The same for leprechauns, poltergeists, etc. – all the way up the supernatural ladder to gods.

Actually, there’s clear proof that an all-loving, all-powerful Father-Creator god doesn’t exist. It’s called “the problem of evil.” Such a merciful deity wouldn’t have created hideous diseases or natural tragedies, and do nothing to save people from them. And he wouldn’t have designed nature to be a bloodbath of carnivorous slaughter. That clinches it for me. It doesn’t disprove a cruel god, but it wipes out a compassionate one.

Finally, the Templeton Foundation must be near desperation in its quest for “spiritual realities.” If it gives $1.5 million each to scientists who call themselves agnostics instead of atheists, it’s approaching the bottom of the barrel.

Link here at Daylight Atheism.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Fence-Sitting Agnostics

  1. I believe the extremely dishonest word ,Islamophobia’ was created by a recipient of the Templeton Prize; a Canadian scholar named Taylor.

    What is dishonest about Islamophobia is it points to the wrong people. People who are afraid that Islam may derail one of their clan from their journey to paradise are usually ignored. People who think of Islam as just another Abraham derived political superstition are called racists. Even when you point out that Islam is not a race, but simply another Middle Eastern religion that even ex-Catholic Irish folk singers can join.

    Are ex-Muslims Islamophobic?

    • I believe the extremely dishonest word ,Islamophobia’ was created by a recipient of the Templeton Prize; a Canadian scholar named Taylor.

      The word has been used in English for at least a hundred years, and in other languages (like French) for longer than that. It has nothing to do with Charles Taylor.

      What is dishonest about Islamophobia is it points to the wrong people.

      That’s complete nonsense. IF the word were being used for the wrong people, then the problem would still be with the usage, and not the word itself. But in reality the word is usually not being used for the wrong people.

      Oh, sure, you can find isolated examples of the word being used incorrectly, but you can also find examples of words like “homophobe” and “racist” used incorrectly. It is a powerful word, and like any powerful word, it will be exploited sometimes. But just because some asshole has played the “you’re the real racists!” card, that doesn’t mean we should throw the word “racist” away, so how does it make any sense to throw the word “islamophobe” away?

      The line that “islamophobe” is being used for the wrong people is just bullshit pushed by people who’ve been labelled by it (or, more often, their fans), and are pissed off because of it. In almost every case, it’s pretty easy to find why they deserved the label.

      People who think of Islam as just another Abraham derived political superstition are called racists.

      No, they’re not. Racists are called racists. However, racists often deny they’re racists and pretend they’re just thinking of Islam yet as another superstition.

      There is a connection between racism and islamophobia, of course. It’s pretty plain to see if you just listen to islamophobes, or look at their actions. For example, there are plenty of stories of Hindus and Sikhs being targeted by islamophobes… now how do you make that mistake if you’re just thinking of their beliefs or political superstitions? Trick question, because we all know the answer: they just assumed “brown people, therefore Muslim”. Indeed, there have even been several cases of Hispanics being attacked by islamophobes, because they sorta-kinda looked Arab. Again, if islamophobia has no connection to racism, how could that possibly happen?

      Because nuance doesn’t exist in discourse anymore, I’m forced to spell out the obvious corollaries to what I just said: Not all racism is islamophobia, and not all islamophobia is racism. There’s a large overlap, large enough that it’s not wrong to generalize and say islamophobia is just a form of racism, but that’s just a generalization.

      Are ex-Muslims Islamophobic?

      That would depend on the ex-Muslim. Most aren’t. Some very much are. The ones who make a living out of trashing Islam tend to be.

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