Transcript of Richard Dawkins’ speech from Reason Rally 2012

(I loved this speech!)

The following is the text of Richard Dawkins’ speech at the Reason Rally, held Saturday, March 24, 2012 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The full video of the speech can be found here.

What a magnificent, inspiring sight! I was expecting great things even in fine weather. In the rain — look at this: This is the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing.

The sharper, critical thinkers among you may have discerned that I don’t come from these parts. I see myself as an emissary from a benighted country that does not have a constitutional separation between church and state. Indeed it doesn’t have a written constitution at all. We have a head of state who’s also the head of the Church of England. The church is deeply entwined in British public life. The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over.

How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it’s come close to that.

How could anyone rally against reason? How is it necessary to have a rally for reason?

Reason means basing your life on evidence and on logic, which is how you deduce the consequences of evidence. In a hundred years’ time, it seems to me inconceivable that anybody could want to have a rally for reason. By that time, we will either have blown ourselves up or we’ll have become so civilized that we no longer need it.

When I was in school, we used to sing a hymn. It went, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be.” After that the hymn rather went off the rails, but those first two lines have inspired me. It is a thing most wonderful that on this once barren rock orbiting a rather mediocre star on the edge of a rather ordinary galaxy, on this rock a remarkable process called evolution by natural selection has given rise to the magnificent diversity of complexity of life. The elegance, the beauty and the illusion of design which we see all around us has given rise in the last million years or so to a species — our species — with a brain big enough to comprehend that process, to comprehend how we came to be here, how we came to be here from extremely simple beginnings where the laws of physics are played out in very simple ways — The laws of physics have never been violated, but the laws of physics are filtered through this incredible process called evolution by natural selection — to give rise to a brain that is capable of understanding the process, a brain which is capable of measuring the age of the universe between 13 and 14 billion years, of measuring the age of the Earth between 4 and 5 billion years, of knowing what matter is made of, knowing what we are made of, made of atoms brought together by this mechanical, automatic, unplanned, unconscious process: evolution by natural selection.

That’s not just true; it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it’s true. And it’s almost too good to be true. How is it conceivable that the laws of physics should conspire together without guidance, without direction, without any intelligence to bring us into the world? Now we do have intelligence. Intelligence comes into the world, comes into the universe late. It’s come into the world through our brains and maybe other brains in the universe. Now at last — finally — after 4 billion years of evolution we have the opportunity to bring some intelligent design into the world.

We need intelligent design. We need to intelligently design our morals, our ethics, our politics, our society. We need to intelligently design the way we run our lives, not look back to scrolls — I was going to say ancient scrolls, they’re not even very ancient, about 800 BC the book of Genesis was written. I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don’t despise religious people; I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”

Electromagnetic spectrum runs all the way from extremely long wave, radio-wave end of the spectrum to gamma waves on the very short-wave end of the spectrum. And visible light, that which we can see, is a tiny little sliver in the middle of that electromagnetic spectrum. Science has broadened out our perspective of that section to long-wave radio waves on the one hand and gamma rays on the other. I take that as being symbolic of what science does generally. It takes our little vision — our little, parochial, small vision — and broadens it out. And that is a magnificent vision for what science can do. Science makes us see what we couldn’t see before. Religion does its best to snuff out even that light which we can see.
We’re here to stand up for reason, to stand up for science, to stand up for logic, to stand up for the beauty of reality and the beauty of the fact that we can understand reality.

I hope that this meeting will be a turning point. I’m sure many people have said that already. I like to think of a physical analogy of a critical mass. There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point, we’re approaching that critical mass, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everybody will realize, “I can come out, too.” That moment is not far away now. And I think that with hindsight this rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road.

And I will particularly appeal to my scientific colleagues most of whom are atheists if you look at the members of the National Academy of Sciences about 90 percent of them are non-believers an exact mirror image of the official figures of the country at large. If you look at the Royal Society of London, the equivalent for the British Commonwealth, again about 90 percent are atheists. But they mostly keep quiet about it. They’re not ashamed of it. They can’t be bothered to come out and express what they feel. They think religion is just simply boring. They’re not going to bother to even stand up and oppose it. They need to come out.

Religion is an important phenomenon. Forty percent of the American population, according to opinion polls, think the world — the universe, indeed — is less than 10,000 years old. That’s not just an error, that’s a preposterous error. I’ve done the calculation before and it’s the equivalent of believing that the width of North America from Washington to San Francisco is equal to about eight yards. I don’t know if I believe that 40 percent figure. It stands up as being apparently so from about the 1980s. But what I want to suggest you do when you meet somebody who claims to be religious ask them what they really believe. If you meet somebody who says he’s Catholic, for example, say “What do you mean? Do you mean you just want that tie as Catholic? Because I’m not impressed by that.”

We just ran a poll by a foundation in Britain in which we took those people who ticked a Christian box in the census — and by the way, that figure has come down dramatically. we just took the people who ticked the Christian box and we asked them “Why did you tick the Christian box?” And the most popular answer to that question was “Oh, well, I like to think of myself as a good person.” But we all like to think of ourselves as good people. Atheists do, Jews do, Muslims do. So when you meet somebody who claims to be Christian, ask her, ask him “What do you *really* believe?” And I’ll think you’ll find that in many cases, they give you an answer which is no more convincing than that “I like to be a good person.”

By the way, when we went on to ask a specific question of these only 54 percent: “What do you do when you’re faced with a moral dilemma? Where do you turn?” Only 10 percent turned to their religion when trying to solve their moral question. Only 10 percent. The majority of them said, “I turn to my innate sense of goodness” and the next most popular answer was “I turn to advice from relatives and friends”.

So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!
Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

I want to end now on what my colleagues from the Richard Dawkins Foundation said. I am an outsider but we have been well-staffed in America and we’re going to spread the word along with our colleagues in other organizations throughout the length and breadth of this land. This land which is the fountainhead, the birthplace of secularism in the world, as I said before. Don’t let that tradition down. Thank you very much

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Silent No More!

And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I deem the essential principles of our government. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected.
Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation.  But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?”      -John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.  Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.” -John Adams

“The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession.”
                        -Spoken by Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis

“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.  Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated.  I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”
                            -George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, 1792

“. . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”  Benjamin Franklin
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Tolerance.  For three years now I have been an atheist, after over 35 years of being a born again Christian.  What have I had to learn like I never had to learn before?  Tolerance.

When I was a Christian I thought nothing of not only proclaiming what I believed, but arguing about it, vehemently, sometimes even rudely.  Everyone else’s beliefs were wrong and mine were right.  And often I had other people back me up on it too, because mine was the acceptable, popular opinion.  I was indignant if anyone disagreed.  I couldn’t remotely entertain the thought that I might be wrong, or that my mother could be wrong, or her mother, or the church leaders I had grown up listening to and believing every word.  And the BIBLE!  The unblemished Word of God.   His might–at my fingertips if only I believed hard enough.  The “good book” that Christians arm themselves with in defense against Satan. 

I remember as a child I had cards in a box and each card had a bible verse on it.  I would memorize the card, and once I did, I’d put it aside and then memorize the next.  Until I could say one verse after the next correctly, and in order.   I did this because the church I went to preached that Satan is repelled by bible verses.  So I learned them.    And they sounded right to my young ears.

And of course they did.  They were cherry picked for the impressionable young.  There was none of the darker verses found throughout the bible. Nothing about burning witches or about women being forbidden to speak or ask questions in church, etc. 

At bible camp we sang our songs over and over, both morning and night, celebrating, among other things, having been “washed in the blood” or being “under the blood”–(a hold-over from the blood baptisms of pagan Mithraism Christianity replaced–where followers stood under a grate while above them a bull was sacrificed.).  To this day I can sing every song we sang then–I remember every single word.  Because that is part of belief.  It starts out as an idea.  It is repeated in verse and in song.  It is memorized.  It takes root inside your head –becomes a way of thinking and habit…until you forget when it started or where it came from.  That’s when you accept it’s always been, and it is true, absolutely true, so true that everyone should know!   Or so I thought.  Someone at some time must have done their research to prove it’s all true–so I didn’t have to–again, or so I presumed.  I just…accepted that the bible was history, and the tales in it–about real people.  But really, were they?   Did people like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John… actually exist?  Jesus too?   No one seemed to question it in my little bible-camp world.  I never heard anyone at my church or at that camp question if these characters in this book ever lived at all?  No one asks this.  No one asks WHO exactly wrote the bible, or why, or who hired them to write it?  For what purpose?  What was the agenda?

As a Christian the religious holidays were wonderful. Filled with fellowship and wonder and reverence and even hope of the promise the birth represents, and the sacrifice on the cross represents.  I walked around with a cross around my neck.  I was never a bible thumper but I was a Christian and I loved getting the warm and fuzzy Christian spam emails I got, and if anyone asked me oh sure, then I’d talk about my faith because then I knew it was safe.  Here was someone who would agree with everything or most everything I did.  I could talk and they’d nod their head and then they’d talk and further feed my belief, strengthen my delusion that this whole thing really is true.

If i ever came across a Jewish person, or atheist or anyone who was obviously not a believer, like someone wearing a turban or veil, oooh, I’d feel indignant inside.  I wouldn’t want to start up a conversation with them because…well, two reasons.  One, what did they know?  They were the lost.  The unsaved.  The ignorant.   And two…they might know more about their religion or beliefs than I knew about mine and I didn’t want my precious beliefs I hadn’t bothered to research, threatened in any way!  I didn’t want to look foolish, or have to be put on the defensive or hear the painful words said that MY beliefs are not true!  I didn’t want to be insulted by hearing someone say my Heavenly Father doesn’t exist or his Son who DIED for my sins…doesn’t exist!  That kind of thing offended me, angered me, deeply upset me.  So I avoided talking religion to these people–and in fact avoided people like this completely. I even avoided reading any books or articles by non-Christians which might challenge or put into doubt for me, my “faith.” I didn’t want to doubt, or question. I wanted to be like a little child as the bible commands, and blindly BELIEVE without question as good Christians do.

That was then.   Fast forward to now and I am an atheist.  Suddenly I notice how often people talk about their beliefs as if they think everyone agrees with them.  Suddenly people are making a big deal about whether our current President is a Christian or not–while I’m thinking, what difference does THAT make when most of our founding fathers were not!

Learning to not defend my new non-beliefs has been difficult, because I grew up quick to get indignant and angry and upset any time anyone attacked my Christian beliefs.  But to defend my new beliefs as a secular person who doesn’t believe…that’s wrong.  That’s offensive to the majority–to all those Christians who, just like it once offended me, get angry and upset and take it personally when they hear anything contradictory or like an outright challenge to their beliefs.   So really, it’s ok for Christians to broadcast what they think and believe and why.  That’s called witnessing.  It’s trying to spread the good news.  It’s a wholesome, happy message of hope.  A positive message. So it’s okay because since it’s so positive, how can it possibly offend anyone?  Right?

Well, it does!  I didn’t realize it’s a two way street, not just a one way street, until I found myself at an intersection and changing directions.  It IS a two way street and believe it or not, people who don’t believe in Christianity or the Christian god do still feel all the same burning passions inside them for whatever it is they do believe, be it belief in another religion, or belief in science, in evolution, in preserving the balance of nature, of being humane to each other and to animals.  Whatever the belief, it is close to the believer’s heart.

So when we have Conservative Republicans fighting to be nominated, and they’re busy vocalizing about how America is a Christian nation…which it isn’t and never has been…it basically says to all the rest of us who are not Christian, get the hell out, you aren’t wanted here.

There’s a Reason Rally on March 24th, 2012–a coming out celebration for Secularism.   Why?   Really, why?  What do people who don’t believe in God have to defend?  To cry foul over?   To get indignant about?

How about the fact this is our country too?  And we love our country too?  And we aren’t deceived by the bullshit they’re feeding the mainstream  that this country was founded by Christians–when we know perfectly well it was not.   This is our country too, and yet can a secular person, someone who does not believe in god or gods, have any hope of running for President?  No.  And how come that is?  Since when has the word “Christian” become the replacement word for words like wholesome, kind, compassionate, honest, ethical, caring, fair, gentle, forgiving, merciful, loving or good?

For a very long time people with no beliefs have felt no need to speak out.  For a very long time atheists and agnostics and pagans and heathens or whatever else you want to call us–infidels–whatever, have held our tongues and allowed the religious to walk all over those of us who don’t believe.  To silently smile and meekly try to change the subject rather than disagree and risk hurting someone’s feelings or upsetting someone.   But now we have the Religious Right trying to tell all of us that we are all of us Christians, and their puritan ideas of what is right and wrong, should be accepted by us all!   We’re back to that old song and dance again about how women should have babies if they get pregnant, whether or not they want to, and women should not have insurance coverage for birth control–which of course will mean so many more unwanted babies coming into the world with parents who can’t afford them.

I think it’s time to speak out.  I think it’s time that the secular population join together and protest our right to not believe, our right to not have to be silent just because our opinion is the less accepted, minority one, our right to not be governed by doctrine that seeks to keep our society in the dark ages, women under the dominion of men, and further allow our planet’s overpopulation crisis to multiply.

In my view such religious doctrine that abortion is murder (which the bible does not say, by the way), and the people or organizations like the Religious Right who seek to make war against women and take away their rights over their own futures–their own bodies, are one of the main reasons why  why our planet’s environment is so out of whack now–why we have too many people and not enough food–and why we have killer storms in parts of the world where they have never been before.

So it’s not just for the sake of our pride, and our desire to be counted as patriotic Americans too.  Nor is it just for the purpose of defending/preserving our human rights.  It’s for the sake of our planet, and for the sake of the advancement of science and understanding–the only weapons we have to defend ourselves, against ourselves.

REASON RALLY! I WISH I COULD GO!

The below article describes better than anything I have read  before, just exactly WHY I feel the desire to defend what I believe as a non-believer, and so I wanted to share.  Oh, and incidentally, I think it is WRONG that non-believers are deemed unelectable just for not believing in supernatural beings!

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201203/reason-rally-secular-coming-out-celebration

 

Reason Rally: A Secular Coming-Out Celebration

Nonbelievers are finding solidarity like never before
Published on March 14, 2012 by David Niose in Our Humanity, Naturally

 

In a show of solidarity that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago, thousands will be flocking to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on March 24 in celebration of secularity. The Reason Rally, a day-long event featuring notable entertainers and speakers and attracting busloads of nonbelievers from all over the country, could be a watershed moment for the secular movement. 

The lineup for the day includes a mix of entertainers, public intellectuals, and representatives from various secular groups. All events are free. The band Bad Religion will be performing, and the crowd will also hear from comedian Tim Minchin, popular skeptic and debunker James Randi, and author and scientist Richard Dawkins. Lawrence Krauss, author of “A Universe from Nothing,” whose ideas inspired Miley Cyrus to tweet on the issue (thereby sparking a backlash from enraged Christian fans), will also be on hand, along with many others, to address the secular festival.

 The event is not a protest and certainly not a religion-bashing affair, but instead can be best understood as a coming-out party for an entire movement. This has caused some to belittle the rally, suggesting that demographic unity around the notion of disbelief is itself nonsensical. Such critiques, however, only reflect a failure to understand what fuels the modern secular movement.

It is very true that many Americans—even many who are themselves nonreligious—see the idea of personal secularity as somewhat insignificant. That is, even many nonbelievers rarely consider emphasizing their religious skepticism—their secular worldview—as a primary means of identification. Ask a typical American nonbeliever to describe her basic lifestance, for example, and she may use terms like “liberal” and “feminist” and “environmentalist,” and perhaps numerous others, before reaching any identifier that would raise the issue of religious skepticism.

For many in recent years, however, personal secularity has become an increasingly important aspect of their identity, a clear way of describing one’s basic lifestance in the midst of a political and cultural landscape that has become an anti-intellectual wasteland. As such, the Reason Rally, as its name suggests, can be seen as a public manifestation of the secular trend that vehemently opposes America’s descent into irrationality.

Ironically, the primary root cause of the growing secular movement is the Religious Right. Because politically mobilized religious conservatives have become such a visible force in America, nonbelievers increasingly feel the need to assert themselves as a demographic. Whereas America’s seculars previously went about their daily business without openly displaying their naturalistic, reason-based identity, this indiscreet approach has required rethinking in the face of religious conservatives constantly claiming moral superiority, attacking church-state separation, and tainting public policy . 

Indeed, as the Religious Right has consistently grown in influence for over three decades—to the point that religious fundamentalists are now routinely elected to office in much of the country and are even serious contenders for the presidency (while open nonbelievers are unelectable)—many who are personally secular have come to realize that they can no longer keep their religious skepticism in the closet. As modern America listens to high-profile conservatives talk seriously about limiting access to not just abortion, but now even birth control, the notion of reason has suddenly become important, an affirmative means of standing up and pushing back against faith-based absurdity.

Thus, the Reason Rally.

Some, still feeling uncomfortable with open displays of secularity, insist that we should go back to those days when religion was simply a non-issue, when polite public discussions avoided questions of religion altogether. The Religious Right, however, has made that impossible, and therefore those who are indeed secular are increasingly standing up to demand that the over-the-top exaltation of religion stop, that Americans carefully consider how counterproductive it is to stigmatize secularity in the modern world. 

Thus, the cry of the seculars: We don’t believe. We won’t leave. Get used to it!

Hang on America: On March 24—rain or shine—Secular Americans are coming out.

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Dave will be tweeting from the Reason Rally all day on March 24