Category Archives: Religious Fanaticism

My Brother’s Keeper? Compassion Predicts Generosity More Among Less Religious Individuals

My Brother’s Keeper
( Posted by Yasmin Anwar-UC Berkeley on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 14:1)
UC BERKELEY (US) — The highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics, and less religious people, according to new research. In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings, which are published in the most recent online issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.
“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” says University of California, Berkeley, social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study.
“The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”
Compassion is defined in the study as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others, which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.
While the study examined the link between religion, compassion and generosity, it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others. However, researchers hypothesize that deeply religious people may be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than their more non-religious counterparts.
“We hypothesized that religion would change how compassion impacts generous behavior,” says study lead author Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student.
Saslow, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Francisco, says she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, nonreligious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.
“I was interested to find that this experience—an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers—was replicated in three large, systematic studies,” Saslow says.
Three experiments
In the first experiment, researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults. Those who agreed with such statements as “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them” were also more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as loaning out belongings and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train, researchers found.
When they looked into how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in such ways as giving money or food to a homeless person, non-believers and those who rated low in religiosity came out ahead: “These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals,” the study found.
In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two brief videos, a neutral video or a heartrending one, which showed portraits of children afflicted by poverty. Next, they were each given 10 “lab dollars” and directed to give any amount of that money to a stranger. The least religious participants appeared to be motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger.
“The compassion-inducing video had a big effect on their generosity,” Willer says. “But it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.”
In the final experiment, more than 200 college students were asked to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games” in which they were given money to share—or not—with a stranger.
In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount.
Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.
“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer says.
In addition to Saslow and Willer, other co-authors of the study are UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner, Matthew Feinberg, and Paul Piff; Katharine Clark at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and Sarina Saturn at Oregon State University.
The study was funded by grants from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging, and the Metanexus Institute.

Above article originally from
My Brother’s Keeper? Compassion Predicts Generosity More Among Less Religious Individuals
Laura R. Saslow
Robb Willer
Matthew Feinberg
Paul K. Piff
Katharine Clark
Dacher Keltner
Sarina R. Saturn
Past research argues that religious commitments shape individuals’ prosocial sentiments, including their generosity and solidarity. But what drives the prosociality of less religious people? Three studies tested the hypothesis that, with fewer religious expectations of prosociality, less religious individuals’ levels of compassion will play a larger role in their prosocial tendencies. In Study 1, religiosity moderated the relationship between trait compassion and prosocial behavior such that compassion was more critical to the generosity of less religious people. In Study 2, a compassion induction increased generosity among less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals. In Study 3, state feelings of compassion predicted increased generosity across a variety of economic tasks for less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals. These results suggest that the prosociality of less religious individuals is driven to a greater extent by levels of compassion than is the prosociality of the more religious.

14 May 2012
The findings of the research by is very much my experience. The most religious people I know talk about family values, morals and compassion ad nauseam, yet their actions never match their words. At times of illness, death in the family or just in general none of them has ever shown any signs of helping in a practical way, asking about the other person or showing empathy. And when they do communicate it ultimately is to convert or convince someone that reading the bible or placing one’s faith in Jesus is the only help required.
Yet, when it comes to themselves, they expect help and compassion to be forthcoming from their family and friends. Then, when they no longer require others assistance it invariable was God who helped because ‘God will provide’ is their modus oprandi. In keeping with this they justify not being there for others because according to their logic God only helps those who have faith. And because good deeds do not get you to heaven, according to the ultra relgious, only faith in Jesus and God does, they have absolutely no qualms in being self-righteous and blind to the needs of others.

Dominionists and their ‘Holy War’


Is the Australian Christian Lobby dominionist?

Chrys Stevenson ABC Religion and Ethics Updated 23 Sep 2011 (First posted 19 Sep 2011)

Is there sufficient evidence to suggest that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is at the forefront of the ideological holy war called "dominionism"?

Is there sufficient evidence to suggest that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is at the forefront of the ideological holy war called “dominionism”?

Comments (38)

Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon is a religious extremist. Let’s not mince words – he’s a nutter. Conlon wants Australia to become an Islamic nation, ruled by sharia law. In an interview with the Australian in January 2011, he said:

“One day Australia will be ruled by sharia, no doubt … That is why non-Muslims are worried, because they know one day they won’t be able to drink their beer, they won’t be able to eat their pork and they won’t be able to do their homosexual acts, because one day they know they will be controlled.”

For all his big talk, it’s unlikely Conlon’s dream will ever be realised. He has no power or support – even within his own religion. In fact, he’s seen as such an embarrassment to the Muslim community, he’s reputedly not welcome at the Lakemba mosque.

Conlon is certainly never invited to Parliament House so the Prime Minister can assure him his interests are being protected by her government; that privilege is reserved for a group of Christian extremists with much the same goal – to infiltrate our government and public institutions in order to impose their narrow religious views on the rest of us.

In November 2003 the National Alliance of Christian Leaders (NACL) held a summit to “develop a strategic blueprint for a discipled Australia.” According to Helen Woodall, the editor of New Life Christian Newspaper, the goals agreed upon included:

“… unity in truth; recognition of Christ’s authority in the church, family, individual and government; … legislature to force Christian values; … the kingdom permeating the structures of society; biblical government.”

How is this any different from Siddiq-Conlon’s extremist agenda?

Welcome to the wacky world of Christian dominionism – a movement which aims to see the breakdown of secular society and all the nations of the earth ruled by Biblical law.

Dominionism goes beyond Christians exercising their democratic right to be politically active. Dominionists aim to dominate the political process – to exercise “a disproportionate effect on the culture.”

As Sara Diamond, author of Roads to Dominion explains, this religious philosophy holds “that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.” Indeed, dominionists believe that achieving this aim is a prerequisite for the second coming of Christ.

Dominionism has already made huge inroads into every aspect of American government and society and is now spreading its tentacles across a number of third-world countries. In 2003, Republican representative Chris Shays complained that, under the influence of American dominionists, his party, “the party of Lincoln” had become a theocracy.

They say when the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. And so it is with dominionism. Now an international movement, dominionism is thriving in Australia.

From local parents and citizens associations to regional councils, from our previously secular state schools to state government departments and even within Parliament House, Canberra, this particular clique of evangelical Christian extremists is working quietly but assiduously to tear down the division between church and state, subvert secularism and reclaim this nation for Jesus.

But, is there sufficient evidence to suggest that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is at the forefront of this ideological holy war?

In order to achieve their aim, dominionists plan to infiltrate, influence and eventually take over seven key spheres of society: business, government (including the military and the law), media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.

This strategic approach to “taking territory” is part of the Reclaim 7 Mountains movement, to which the ACL subscribes. If it wasn’t so serious – and it if wasn’t working – it would be funny.

This is ideological (or spiritual) rather than military warfare, but it’s war, nevertheless. Lance Wallnau, a leading exponent of the 7 Mountains strategy describes it as a “template for warfare.” It seems to be no coincidence that the ACL board recruited highly experienced professional military strategists (Jim Wallace and David Yates) to lead the organisation and its youth wing, Compass Australia.

It’s only fair to acknowledge that the ACL has stated clearly its aim is not an Australian theocracy. And yet the ACL clearly has its roots in dominionism, having been formed as an offshoot of America’s politically motivated Christian Coalition of America. In true dominionist vein, Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition wrote:

“There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshippers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers and homosexuals are on top?”

Despite a name-change and a make-over, the Australian Christian Lobby maintains close ties with dominionist organisations throughout the world – not least through its own board and staff.

ACL board member, Pastor Ric Benson, for example, was formerly involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. Dr Bill Bright, the founder of this international ministry, is known as one of the architects of the dominionist movement in the United States. Bright is also acknowledged as the inspiration behind the “7 mountains” movement.

Accordingly, the strategy of Campus Crusade Australia, outlined on their Australian website, envisages: “… a growing wave of leaders building movements of disciples who make disciples impacting the world.”

This same strategy is reflected in the ACL’s Compass Australia program. Directed by former ACL chief of staff, David Yates, Compass identifies young evangelicals in schools and universities and mentors them into positions of influence.

In conceiving the idea for the Compass program, says Yates, the ACL was “thinking about 15 to 20 years down the track, who will be in the media, education, politics, law, and history?”

“If you can get through government and policy makers then it can influence laws and it can have a disproportionate effect within the culture,” he explains.

This is text book dominionist strategy. And, looking at Yates’s background it’s not surprising. Yates, a military strategist, was the ACL’s chief of staff before launching Compass Australia. Formerly, Yates led the Australian branch of Darrell Furgason’s Centre for Worldview Studies – a Canadian-based dominionist group.

Furgason is also associated with Summit Ministries – but more of that later. According to Furgason, a major problem with today’s Christians “… is the secular/sacred dualism in their minds. They don’t know how to shape the country biblically in economics, politics, law from a biblical point of view.”

It was David Yates who led the 2003 National Association of Christian Leaders (NACL) summit which set about developing a strategy to realise a “Biblical government” with a mandate to “force Christian values” on the Australian public through legislation. Military strategist Yates returned to the NACL in 2004 with a strategic “matrix” for “discipling Australia.”

If this sounds like some kind of extreme left-wing conspiracy theory (and I’m well aware that it does!) take a look at the website for the NACL where the dominionist rationale is clearly laid out:

“Either Christian morality or Humanist amorality will prevail. Christians must be in positions of leadership to decide which it will be. Said one Christian politician, ‘I didn’t believe Christians should impose our traditional moral values and ideals on those that opposed them, so I did nothing, and they in time imposed their immorality on me … If we do not support the legislation of Christian morality, we allow the legislation of humanist immorality.”

When Yates stepped down as the ACL’s chief of staff, the role was taken on by Lyle Shelton. The ACL could hardly have found a candidate with a finer dominionist pedigree.

Lyle Shelton is the son of Ian Shelton, pastor of Toowoomba City Church, a “transformation” ministry which grew out of the now defunct Logos Foundation, a cultish group closely associated with dominionist and reconstructionist theology.

Apparently, Shelton Snr joined Logos in the early 1980s when Lyle was in his pre-teens. When the group folded in the wake of its leader’s sexual indiscretions, it was resurrected by Shelton in the guise of the Toowoomba City Church. Shelton Senior’s vision is for Toowoomba to become:

“a transformed city where all the spheres – sport/arts/leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law/police/judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, education – … come under the lordship of Christ.”

Compare this with the words of the late American dominionist, D. James Kennedy, from the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, and it becomes clear that Shelton and Kennedy sing from the same hymn book – although, perhaps, on different scales:

“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors – in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

This is the religious milieu in which Lyle Shelton, the ACL’s chief of staff, was raised. As an adult, Lyle went on to establish his own dominionist credentials. Far from rejecting his father’s extremist views, Lyle served as the youth pastor at his father’s church, before moving into politics.

For six years, Lyle was a Toowoomba city councillor. In August 2006, he ran, unsuccessfully, as a National Party candidate for the seat of Toowoomba North in the Queensland State elections.

Prior to joining the ACL, Lyle worked with Summit Ministries Australia, an offshoot of an American organisation headed by Christian dominionist, David Noebel.

In the 70s, with the communist threat fast diminishing, Noebel was among the first to employ anti-gay rhetoric as a new focus for fundamentalist fear-mongering – a strategy put to good use by the Australian Christian Lobby. According to Noebel in The Battle for Truth:

“[G]overnment exists not so much to create laws as to secure laws, to apply God’s laws to general and specific situations … False law-making – such as ‘concessions to the majority’ as a basis for the legalisation of abortion, homosexuality, pedophilia or incest – will not be tolerated by God.”

Summit’s clearly stated goal is to “prepare tomorrow’s servant leaders to engage and transform our culture.”

For some years, Summit Australia held a “biblical world view conference” in Australia. Far from distancing himself from this den of dominionists, Jim Wallace, managing director of the ACL, was on the programmes for 2006 and 2007 along with David Noebel and Darrell Furgason. Shelton was recruited from Summit to the ACL in 2006.

The Australian Christian Lobby is so intimately linked with dominionist theology it beggars belief that it does not subscribe to its aims. Nobody denies that, in a democracy, all citizens have a right to have their voice heard in the public square. But, the privileged role accorded to the ACL by our political leaders must now be questioned.

Just as responsible Muslims have distanced themselves from the lunatic ravings of Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon, it is time for the leaders of Australia’s mainstream Christian churches to publicly disassociate themselves from the right-wing, extremist, divisive dominionism of the ACL.

Perhaps, in their intimate association with the ACL, our government is conforming to the maxim, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” But, as citizens of a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-denominational, secular, democratic society, Australians – of all faiths and none – should “beware the enemy within.”

Erratum: The author acknowledges that, in the original text of this article, she mistakenly she mistakenly linked ACL Board member Tony McLellan with the Alpha Course. Ms Stevenson apologises unreservedly to Mr McLellan and to the Australian Christian Lobby for the error.

Read the response of Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, here.

Chrys Stevenson is a writer, historian and blogger.

Separation of Church and State II

Letter to Thomas Cooper

Jefferson’s letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, from Monticello, February 10, 1814.

ear Sir, — In my letter of January 16, I promised you a sample from my common-place book, of the pious disposition of the English judges, to connive at the frauds of the clergy, a disposition which has even rendered them faithful allies in practice. When I was a student of the law, now half a century ago, after getting through Coke Littleton, whose matter cannot be abridged, I was in the habit of abridging and common-placing what I read meriting it, and of sometimes mixing my own reflections on the subject. I now enclose you the extract from these entries which I promised. They were written at a time of life when I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way. This must be the apology, if you find the conclusions bolder than historical facts and principles will warrant. Accept with them the assurances of my great esteem and respect.

Common-place Book
873. In Quare imp. in C. B. 34, H. 6, fo. 38, the def. Br. of Lincoln pleads that the church of the pl. became void by the death of the incumbent, that the pl. and J. S. each pretending a right, presented two several clerks; that the church being thus rendered litigious, he was not obliged, by the Ecclesiastical law to admit either, until an inquisition de jure patronatus, in the ecclesiastical court: that, by the same law, this inquisition was to be at the suit of either claimant, and was not ex-officio to be instituted by the bishop, and at his proper costs; that neither party had desired such an inquisition; that six months passed whereon it belonged to him of right to present as on a lapse, which he had done. The pl. demurred. A question was, How far the Ecclesiastical law was to be respected in this matter by the common law court? and Prisot C. 3, in the course of his argument uses this expression, “A tiels leis que ils de seint eglise ont en ancien scripture, covient a nous a donner credence, car ces common ley sur quel touts manners leis sont fondes: et auxy, sin, nous sumus obliges de conustre nostre ley; et, sin, si poit apperer or a nous que lievesque ad fait comme un ordinary fera en tiel cas, adong nous devons ces adjuger bon autrement nemy,” &c. It does not appear that judgment was given. Y. B. ubi supra. S. C. Fitzh. abr. Qu. imp. 89. Bro. abr. Qu. imp. 12. Finch mistakes this in the following manner: “To such laws of the church as have warrant in Holy Scripture, our law giveth credence,” and cites the above case, and the words of Prisot on the margin. Finch’s law. B. 1, ch. 3, published 1613. Here we find “ancien scripture” converted into “Holy Scripture,” whereas it can only mean the ancient written laws of the church. It cannot mean the Scriptures, 1, because the “ancien scripture” must then be understood to mean the “Old Testament” or Bible, in opposition to the “New Testament,” and to the exclusion of that, which would be absurd and contrary to the wish of those |P1323|p1 who cite this passage to prove that the Scriptures, or Christianity, is a part of the common law. 2. Because Prisot says, “Ceo [est] common ley, sur quel touts manners leis sont fondes.” Now, it is true that the ecclesiastical law, so far as admitted in England, derives its authority from the common law. But it would not be true that the Scriptures so derive their authority. 3. The whole case and arguments show that the question was how far the Ecclesiastical law in general should be respected in a common law court. And in Bro. abr. of this case, Littleton says, “Les juges del common ley prendra conusans quid est lax ecclesiae, vel admiralitatis, et trujus modi.” 4. Because the particular part of the Ecclesiastical law then in question, to wit, the right of the patron to present to his advowson, was not founded on the law of God, but subject to the modification of the lawgiver, and so could not introduce any such general position as Finch pretends. Yet Wingate [in 1658] thinks proper to erect this false quotation into a maxim of the common law, expressing it in the very words of Finch, but citing Prisot, wing. max. 3. Next comes Sheppard, [in 1675,] who states it in the same words of Finch, and quotes the Year-Book, Finch and Wingate. 3. Shepp. abr. tit. Religion. In the case of the King v. Taylor, Sir Matthew Hale lays it down in these words, “Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.” 1 Ventr. 293, 3 Keb. 607. But he quotes no authority, resting it on his own, which was good in all cases in which his mind received no bias from his bigotry, his superstitions, his visions above sorceries, demons, &c. The power of these over him is exemplified in his hanging of the witches. So strong was this doctrine become in 1728, by additions and repetitions from one another, that in the case of the King v. Woolston, the court would not suffer it to be debated, whether to write against Christianity was punishable in the temporal courts at common law, saying it had been so settled in Taylor’s case, ante 2, stra. 834; therefore, Wood, in his Institute, lays it down that all blasphemy and profaneness are offences by the common law, and cites Strange ubi supra. Wood 409. And Blackstone [about 1763] repeats, in the words of Sir Matthew Hale, that “Christianity is part of the laws of England,” citing Ventris and Strange ubi supra. 4. Blackst. 59. Lord Mansfield qualifies it a little by saying that “The essential |P1324|p1 principles of revealed religion are part of the common law.” In the case of the Chamberlain of London v. Evans, 1767. But he cities no authority, and leaves us at our peril to find out what, in the opinion of the judge, and according to the measure of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion obligatory on us as a part of the common law.

Thus we find this string of authorities, when examined to the beginning, all hanging on the same hook, a perverted expression of Prisot’s, or on one another, or nobody. Thus Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate also; Sheppard quotes Prisot, Finch and Wingate; Hale cites nobody; the court in Woolston’s case cite Hale; Wood cites Woolston’s case; Blackstone that and Hale; and Lord Mansfield, like Hale, ventures it on his own authority. In the earlier ages of the law, as in the year-books, for instance, we do not expect much recurrence to authorities by the judges, because in those days there were few or none such made public. But in latter times we take no judge’s word for what the law is, further than he is warranted by the authorities he appeals to. His decision may bind the unfortunate individual who happens to be the particular subject of it; but it cannot alter the law. Though the common law may be termed “Lex non Scripta,” yet the same Hale tells us “when I call those parts of our laws Leges non Scriptae, I do not mean as if those laws were only oral, or communicated from the former ages to the latter merely by word. For all those laws have their several monuments in writing, whereby they are transferred from one age to another, and without which they would soon lose all kind of certainty. They are for the most part extant in records of pleas, proceedings, and judgments, in books of reports and judicial decisions, in tractates of learned men’s arguments and opinions, preserved from ancient times and still extant in writing.” Hale’s H. c. d. 22. Authorities for what is common law may therefore be as well cited, as for any part of the Lex Scripta, and there is no better instance of the necessity of holding the judges and writers to a declaration of their authorities than the present; where we detect them endeavoring to make law where they found none, and to submit us at one stroke to a whole system, no particle of which has its foundation in the common law. For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statute law, or Lex Scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it. If it ever was adopted, therefore, into the common law, it must have been between the introduction of Christianity and the date of the Magna Charta. But of the laws of this period we have a tolerable collection by Lambard and Wilkins, probably not perfect, but neither very defective; and if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. Another cogent proof of this truth is drawn from the silence of certain writers on the common law. Bracton gives us a very complete and scientific treatise of the whole body of the common law. He wrote this about the close of the reign of Henry III., a very few years after the date of the Magna Charta. We consider this book as the more valuable, as it was written about fore gives us the former in its ultimate state. Bracton, too, was an ecclesiastic, and would certainly not have failed to inform us of the adoption of Christianity as a part of the common law, had any such adoption ever taken place. But no word of his, which intimates anything like it, has ever been cited. Fleta and Britton, who wrote in the succeeding reign (of Edward I.), are equally silent. So also is Glanvil, an earlier writer than any of them, (viz.: temp. H. 2,) but his subject perhaps might not have led him to mention it. Justice Fortescue Aland, who possessed more Saxon learning than all the judges and writers before mentioned put together, places this subject on more limited ground. Speaking of the laws of the Saxon kings, he says, “the ten commandments were made part of their laws, and consequently were once part of the law of England; so that to break any of the ten commandments was then esteemed a breach of the common law, of England; and why it is not so now, perhaps it may be difficult to give a good reason.” Preface to Fortescue Aland’s reports, xvii. Had he proposed to state with more minuteness how much of the scriptures had been made a part of the common law, he might have added that in the laws of Alfred, where he found the ten commandments, two or three other chapters of Exodus are copied almost verbatim. But the adoption of a part proves rather a rejection of the rest, as municipal law. We might as well say that the Newtonian system of philosophy is a part of the common law, as that the Christian religion is. The truth is that Christianity and Newtonianism being reason and verity itself, in the opinion of all but infidels and Cartesians, they are protected under the wings of the common law from the dominion of other sects, but not erected into dominion over them. An eminent Spanish physician affirmed that the lancet had slain more men than the sword. Doctor Sangrado, on the contrary, affirmed that with plentiful bleedings, and draughts of warm water, every disease was to be cured. The common law protects both opinions, but enacts neither into law. See post. 879.

879. Howard, in his Contumes Anglo-Normandes, 1.87, notices the falsification of the laws of Alfred, by prefixing to them four chapters of the Jewish law, to wit: the 20th, 21st, 22d and 23d chapters of Exodus, to which he might have added the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, v. 23, and precepts from other parts of the scripture. These he calls a hors d’oeuvre of some pious copyist. This awkward monkish fabrication makes the preface to Alfred’s genuine laws stand in the body of the work, and the very words of Alfred himself prove the fraud; for he declares, in that preface, that he has collected these laws from those of Ina, of Offa, Aethelbert and his ancestors, saying nothing of any of them being taken from the Scriptures. It is still more certainly proved by the inconsistencies it occasions. For example, the Jewish legislator Exodus xxi. 12, 13, 14, (copied by the Pseudo Alfred § 13,) makes murder, with the Jews, death. But Alfred himself, Le. xxvi., punishes it by a fine only, called a Weregild, proportioned to the condition of the person killed. It is remarkable that Hume (append. 1 to his History) examining this article of the laws of Alfred, without perceiving the fraud, puzzles himself with accounting for the inconsistency it had introduced. To strike a pregnant woman so that she die is death by Exodus, xxi. 22, 23, and Pseud. Alfr. § 18; but by the laws of Alfred ix., pays a Weregild for both woman and child. To smite out an eye, or a tooth, Exod. xxi. 24-27. Pseud. Alfr. § 19, 20, if of a servant by his master, is freedom to the servant; in every other case retaliation. But by Alfr. Le. xl. a fixed indemnification is paid. Theft of an ox, or a sheep, by the Jewish law, Exod. xxii. 1, was repaid five-fold for the ox and four-fold for the sheep; by the Pseudograph § 24, the ox double, the sheep four-fold; but by Alfred Le. xvi., he who stole a cow and a calf was to repay the worth of the cow and 401 for the calf. Goring by an ox was the death of the ox, and the flesh not to be eaten. Exod. xxi. 28. Pseud. Alfr. § 21 by Alfred Le. xxiv., the wounded person had the ox. The Pseudograph makes municipal laws of the ten commandments, § 1-10, regulates concubinage, § 12, makes it death to strike or to curse father or mother, § 14, 15, gives an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, strife for strife, § 19; sells the thief to repay his theft, § 24; obliges the fornicator to marry the woman he has lain with, § 29; forbids interest on money, § 35; makes the laws of bailment, § 28, very different from what Lord Holt delivers in Coggs v. Bernard, ante 92, and what Sir William Jones tells us they were; and punishes witchcraft with death, § 30, which Sir Matthew Hale, 1 H. P. C. B. 1, ch. 33, declares was not a felony before the Stat. 1, Jac. 12. It was under that statute, and not this forgery, that he hung Rose Cullendar and Amy Duny, 16 Car. 2, (1662,) on whose trial he declared “that there were such creatures as witches he made no doubt at all; for first the Scripture had affirmed so much, secondly the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, and such hath been the judgment of this kingdom, as appears by that act of Parliament which hath provided punishment proportionable to the quality of the offence.” And we must certainly allow greater weight to this position that “it was no felony till James’ Statute,” laid down deliberately in his H. P. C., a work which he wrote to be printed, finished, and transcribed for the press in his life time, than to the hasty scripture that “at common law witchcraft was punished with death as heresy, by writ de Heretico Comburendo” in his Methodical Summary of the P. C. p. 6, a work “not intended for the press, not fitted for it, and which he declared himself he had never read over since it was written;” Pref. Unless we understand his meaning in that to be that witchcraft could not be punished at common law as witchcraft, but as heresy. In either sense, however, it is a denial of this pretended law of Alfred. Now, all men of reading know that these pretended laws of homicide, concubinage, theft, retaliation, compulsory marriage, usury, bailment, and others which might have been cited, from the Pseudograph, were never the laws of England, not even in Alfred’s time; and of course that it is a forgery. Yet palpable as it must be to every lawyer, the English judges have piously avoided lifting the veil under which it was shrouded. In truth, the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy; and even bolder than they are. For instead of being contented with these four surreptitious chapters of Exodus, they have taken the whole leap, and declared at once that the whole Bible and Testament in a lump, make a part of the common law; ante 873: the first judicial declaration of which was by this same Sir Matthew Hale. And thus they incorporate into the English code laws made for the Jews alone, and the precepts of the gospel, intended by their benevolent author as obligatory only in foro concientiæ; and they arm the whole with the coercions of municipal law. In doing this, too, they have not even used the Connecticut caution of declaring, as is done in their blue laws, that the laws of God shall be the laws of their land, except where their own contradict them; but they swallow the yea and nay together. Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland’s question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? we may say they are not because they never were made so by legislative authority, the document which has imposed that doubt on him being a manifest forgery.

( Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, from Monticello, February 10, 1814; Merrill D. Peterson, ed.,

Separation of Church and State I

A Teacher, a Student and a Church-State Dispute

The New York Times

New York Times

December 21, 2006

To the Editor:

People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs.

This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

New York, Dec. 19, 2006

The writer, an astrophysicist, is director of the Hayden Planetarium

Physics training influenced Richard Holbrooke’s approach to diplomacy

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson used the New York Times letters to the editor section to share a story about diplomatic titan Richard Holbrooke on the occasion of his passing on December 13.  Tyson noted that Holbrooke majored in physics for a time as an undergraduate at Brown University before switching to political science.

Tyson described a conversation the two had during a tour of the Hayden Planetarium in 2000.  When asked whether his physics training affected his diplomatic practice, Holbrooke responded “emphatically ‘yes,’ citing the physics-inspired approach of sifting for the fundamental drivers of a cause or phenomenon — stripped of all ornament. To get there, one must assess how and when to ignore the surrounding details, which can give the illusion of importance, yet in the end, are often irrelevant distractions to solutions of otherwise intractable problems.


The Perimeter of Ignorance

A boundary where scientists face a choice: invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge

Natural History Magazine

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

From Natural History Magazine, November 2005

Writing in centuries past, many scientists felt compelled to wax poetic about cosmic mysteries and God’s handiwork. Perhaps one should not be surprised at this: most scientists back then, as well as many scientists today, identify themselves as spiritually devout.

But a careful reading of older texts, particularly those concerned with the universe itself, shows that the authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding. They appeal to a higher power only when staring into the ocean of their own ignorance. They call on God only from the lonely and precarious edge of incomprehension. Where they feel certain about their explanations, however, God gets hardly a mention.

Let’s start at the top. Isaac Newton was one of the greatest intellects the world has ever seen. His laws of motion and his universal law of gravitation, conceived in the mid-seventeenth century, account for cosmic phenomena that had eluded philosophers for millennia. Through those laws, one could understand the gravitational attraction of bodies in a system, and thus come to understand orbits.

Newton’s law of gravity enables you to calculate the force of attraction between any two objects. If you introduce a third object, then each one attracts the other two, and the orbits they trace become much harder to compute. Add another object, and another, and another, and soon you have the planets in our solar system. Earth and the Sun pull on each other, but Jupiter also pulls on Earth, Saturn pulls on Earth, Mars pulls on Earth, Jupiter pulls on Saturn, Saturn pulls on Mars, and on and on.

Newton feared that all this pulling would render the orbits in the solar system unstable. His equations indicated that the planets should long ago have either fallen into the Sun or flown the coop—leaving the Sun, in either case, devoid of planets. Yet the solar system, as well as the larger cosmos, appeared to be the very model of order and durability. So Newton, in his greatest work, the Principia, concludes that God must occasionally step in and make things right:

The six primary Planets are revolv’d about the Sun, in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts, and almost in the same plane. . . . But it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions. . . . This most beautiful System of the Sun,

Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

In the Principia, Newton distinguishes between hypotheses and experimental philosophy, and declares, Hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. What he wants is data, inferr’d from the phænomena. But in the absence of data, at the border between what he could explain and what he could only honor—the causes he could identify and those he could not—Newton rapturously invokes God:

Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; . . . he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. . . . We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion.

A century later, the French astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon de Laplace confronted Newton’s dilemma of unstable orbits head-on. Rather than view the mysterious stability of the solar system as the unknowable work of God, Laplace declared it a scientific challenge. In his multipart masterpiece, Mécanique Céleste, the first volume of which appeared in 1798, Laplace demonstrates that the solar system is stable over periods of time longer than Newton could predict. To do so, Laplace pioneered a new kind of mathematics called perturbation theory, which enabled him to examine the cumulative effects of many small forces. According to an oft-repeated but probably embellished account, when Laplace gave a copy of Mécanique Céleste to his physics-literate friend Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon asked him what role God played in the construction and regulation of the heavens. Sire, Laplace replied, I have no need of that hypothesis.

Laplace notwithstanding, plenty of scientists besides Newton have called on God—or the gods—wherever their comprehension fades to ignorance. Consider the second-century a.d. Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy. Armed with a description, but no real understanding, of what the planets were doing up there, he could not contain his religious fervor:

I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace, at my pleasure, the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch Earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.

Or consider the seventeenth-century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, whose achievements include constructing the first working pendulum clock and discovering the rings of Saturn. In his charming book The Celestial Worlds Discover’d, posthumously published in 1696, most of the opening chapter celebrates all that was then known of planetary orbits, shapes, and sizes, as well as the planets’ relative brightness and presumed rockiness. The book even includes foldout charts illustrating the structure of the solar system. God is absent from this discussion—even though a mere century earlier, before Newton’s achievements, planetary orbits were supreme mysteries.

Celestial Worlds also brims with speculations about life in the solar system, and that’s where Huygens raises questions to which he has no answer. That’s where he mentions the biological conundrums of the day, such as the origin of life’s complexity. And sure enough, because seventeenth-century physics was more advanced than seventeenth-century biology, Huygens invokes the hand of God only when he talks about biology:

I suppose no body will deny but that there’s somewhat more of Contrivance, somewhat more of Miracle in the production and growth of Plants and Animals than in lifeless heaps of inanimate Bodies. . . . For the finger of God, and the Wisdom of Divine Providence, is in them much more clearly manifested than in the other.

Today secular philosophers call that kind of divine invocation God of the gaps—which comes in handy, because there has never been a shortage of gaps in people’s knowledge.

As reverent as Newton, Huygens, and other great scientists of earlier centuries may have been, they were also empiricists. They did not retreat from the conclusions their evidence forced them to draw, and when their discoveries conflicted with prevailing articles of faith, they upheld the discoveries. That doesn’t mean it was easy: sometimes they met fierce opposition, as did Galileo, who had to defend his telescopic evidence against formidable objections drawn from both scripture and common sense.

Galileo clearly distinguished the role of religion from the role of science. To him, religion was the service of God and the salvation of souls, whereas science was the source of exact observations and demonstrated truths. In a long, famous, bristly letter written in the summer of 1615 to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany (but, like so many epistles of the day, circulated among the literati), he quotes, in his own defense, an unnamed yet sympathetic church official saying that the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

The letter to the duchess leaves no doubt about where Galileo stood on the literal word of the Holy Writ:

In expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might fall into error. . . .

Nothing physical which . . . . demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. . . .

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

A rare exception among scientists, Galileo saw the unknown as a place to explore rather than as an eternal mystery controlled by the hand of God.

As long as the celestial sphere was generally regarded as the domain of the divine, the fact that mere mortals could not explain its workings could safely be cited as proof of the higher wisdom and power of God. But beginning in the sixteenth century, the work of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton—not to mention Maxwell, Heisenberg, Einstein, and everybody else who discovered fundamental laws of physics—provided rational explanations for an increasing range of phenomena. Little by little, the universe was subjected to the methods and tools of science, and became a demonstrably knowable place.

Then, in what amounts to a stunning yet unheralded philosophical inversion, throngs of ecclesiastics and scholars began to declare that it was the laws of physics themselves that served as proof of the wisdom and power of God.

One popular theme of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the clockwork universe—an ordered, rational, predictable mechanism fashioned and run by God and his physical laws. The early telescopes, which all relied on visible light, did little to undercut that image of an ordered system. The Moon revolved around Earth. Earth and other planets rotated on their axes and revolved around the Sun. The stars shone. The nebulae floated freely in space.

Not until the nineteenth century was it evident that visible light is just one band of a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation—the band that human beings just happen to see. Infrared was discovered in 1800, ultraviolet in 1801, radio waves in 1888, X rays in 1895, and gamma rays in 1900. Decade by decade in the following century, new kinds of telescopes came into use, fitted with detectors that could see these formerly invisible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Now astrophysicists began to unmask the true character of the universe.

Turns out that some celestial bodies give off more light in the invisible bands of the spectrum than in the visible. And the invisible light picked up by the new telescopes showed that mayhem abounds in the cosmos: monstrous gamma-ray bursts, deadly pulsars, matter-crushing gravitational fields, matter-hungry black holes that flay their bloated stellar neighbors, newborn stars igniting within pockets of collapsing gas. And as our ordinary, optical telescopes got bigger and better, more mayhem emerged: galaxies that collide and cannibalize each other, explosions of supermassive stars, chaotic stellar and planetary orbits. Our own cosmic neighborhood—the inner solar system—turned out to be a shooting gallery, full of rogue asteroids and comets that collide with planets from time to time. Occasionally they’ve even wiped out stupendous masses of Earth’s flora and fauna. The evidence all points to the fact that we occupy not a well-mannered clockwork universe, but a destructive, violent, and hostile zoo.

Of course, Earth can be bad for your health too. On land, grizzly bears want to maul you; in the oceans, sharks want to eat you. Snowdrifts can freeze you, deserts dehydrate you, earthquakes bury you, volcanoes incinerate you. Viruses can infect you, parasites suck your vital fluids, cancers take over your body, congenital diseases force an early death. And even if you have the good luck to be healthy, a swarm of locusts could devour your crops, a tsunami could wash away your family, or a hurricane could blow apart your town.

So the universe wants to kill us all. But let’s ignore that complication for the moment.

Many, perhaps countless, questions hover at the front lines of science. In some cases, answers have eluded the best minds of our species for decades or even centuries. And in contemporary America, the notion that a higher intelligence is the single answer to all enigmas has been enjoying a resurgence. This present-day version of God of the gaps goes by a fresh name: “intelligent design.” The term suggests that some entity, endowed with a mental capacity far greater than the human mind can muster, created or enabled all the things in the physical world that we cannot explain through scientific methods.

An interesting hypothesis.

But why confine ourselves to things too wondrous or intricate for us to understand, whose existence and attributes we then credit to a superintelligence? Instead, why not tally all those things whose design is so clunky, goofy, impractical, or unworkable that they reflect the absence of intelligence?

Take the human form. We eat, drink, and breathe through the same hole in the head, and so, despite Henry J. Heimlich’s eponymous maneuver, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. How about drowning, the fifth leading cause? Water covers almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface, yet we are land creatures—submerge your head for just a few minutes, and you die.

Or take our collection of useless body parts. What good is the pinky toenail? How about the appendix, which stops functioning after childhood and thereafter serves only as the source of appendicitis? Useful parts, too, can be problematic. I happen to like my knees, but nobody ever accused them of being well protected from bumps and bangs. These days, people with problem knees can get them surgically replaced. As for our pain-prone spine, it may be a while before someone finds a way to swap that out.

How about the silent killers? High blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes each cause tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. every year, but it’s possible not to know you’re afflicted until your coroner tells you so. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had built-in biogauges to warn us of such dangers well in advance? Even cheap cars, after all, have engine gauges.

And what comedian designer configured the region between our legs—an entertainment complex built around a sewage system?

The eye is often held up as a marvel of biological engineering. To the astrophysicist, though, it’s only a so-so detector. A better one would be much more sensitive to dark things in the sky and to all the invisible parts of the spectrum. How much more breathtaking sunsets would be if we could see ultraviolet and infrared. How useful it would be if, at a glance, we could see every source of microwaves in the environment, or know which radio station transmitters were active. How helpful it would be if we could spot police radar detectors at night.

Think how easy it would be to navigate an unfamiliar city if we, like birds, could always tell which way was north because of the magnetite in our heads. Think how much better off we’d be if we had gills as well as lungs, how much more productive if we had six arms instead of two. And if we had eight, we could safely drive a car while simultaneously talking on a cell phone, changing the radio station, applying makeup, sipping a drink, and scratching our left ear.

Stupid design could fuel a movement unto itself. It may not be nature’s default, but it’s ubiquitous. Yet people seem to enjoy thinking that our bodies, our minds, and even our universe represent pinnacles of form and reason. Maybe it’s a good antidepressant to think so. But it’s not science—not now, not in the past, not ever.

Another practice that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet it’s fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how it works. It’s too complicated for me to figure out. It’s too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.

What do you do with that line of reasoning? Do you just cede the solving of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who’s not even human? Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers?

There may be a limit to what the human mind can figure out about our universe. But how presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can’t solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or who will ever be born. Suppose Galileo and Laplace had felt that way? Better yet, what if Newton had not? He might then have solved Laplace’s problem a century earlier, making it possible for Laplace to cross the next frontier of ignorance.

Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem. Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes. We know when and where they start. We know what drives them. We know what mitigates their destructive power. And anyone who has studied global warming can tell you what makes them worse. The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms.

To deny or erase the rich, colorful history of scientists and other thinkers who have invoked divinity in their work would be intellectually dishonest. Surely there’s an appropriate place for intelligent design to live in the academic landscape. How about the history of religion? How about philosophy or psychology? The one place it doesn’t belong is the science classroom.

If you’re not swayed by academic arguments, consider the financial consequences. Allow intelligent design into science textbooks, lecture halls, and laboratories, and the cost to the frontier of scientific discovery—the frontier that drives the economies of the future—would be incalculable. I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. An anthology of his Universe columns will be published in 2006 by W. W. Norton.