In which I get testy and respond to a believer

I get tons of emails like the following, and usually I just bin them. But something about this one—its arrant ignorance, its patronizing tone, and the ludicrous “your friend” signature, ticked me off, and so I responded. I couldn’t help it: laws of physics. My short essay he’s responding to appeared in John Brockman’s edited volume This Idea Must Die (2015), and the idea I wanted to die was “free will”.

I’ve redacted the name of the sender out of kindness:

Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2017 2:35 PM
To: Jerry Coyne
Subject: this idea must die
Dear Professor Coyne
      I read what you said in This Idea Must Die.
      You can go to the Proquest Newspaper Database and read an article by Richard B. Freeman in the July 20, 1986 New York Times. A massive study by Harvard sociologists found that churchgoers are much less likely to commit crimes than non-churchgoers.
      You shouldn’t preach atheism if it is going to raise the crime rate.
      A Harvard sociologist named Robert Putnam wrote a book a few years ago called “American Grace” in which he discussed his research that found that religious people are much more likely to donate money to charity, even to secular charities, than atheists are. See pages 445-465. That of course is logical. There is no logical reason why an American atheist should care about people starving in Africa. If we save their lives, that will not benefit America in any way. If they die, that will not hurt America in any way. The atheist thinks, “I didn’t bring that guy into the world. Why is it my responsibility to feed him?”
      China has an atheist government. What do you see there? Massive corruption and brutal tyranny. The atheists who rule China are logical. They care only about themselves and a few friends and relatives. In Russia, you see the same story.
Your friend, NAME REDACTED

When I say this guy is a “believer”, that’s an assumption. If he’s not, he’s even worse, for then he’d think that a religious myth should still be promulgated because it makes people behave better. (This is the “Little People Argument”.) That, after all, is what belief in Santa is supposed to do: make you behave well.

My response:

From: Jerry Coyne
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2017 2:55 PM
Subject: RE: this idea must die

Do not write me again, please. You don’t care whether religion is true; only if it has “good effects” (you don’t seem to mention the bad ones, like oppression of women, terrorism, and so on and so on. Would you prefer to live in atheist Sweden or religious Iran?).

As for atheist countries being bad ones, why don’t you check out the Western atheist countries not corrupted by ideology, like Sweden and Denmark? Nearly everyone there is an atheist, and they are moral and well functioning countries. In fact, the correlation between atheism and the United Nations Happiness Index is POSITIVE: the most religious countries have the unhappiest people.
I’ve blocked your address in my email, as you won’t listen; people like you tend to want a correspondence, and I don’t want to hear from someone as ignorant as you again.
And you’re clearly not “my friend”; how snarky can you get?
So sue me: I’m a bad person.


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    As for your closing line, I’m having my attorney draw up some papers right now!

  2. Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    “… his research that found that religious people are much more likely to donate money to charity, even to secular charities, than atheists are.”

    Is that actually true? Or is it just that (1) religious people give to churches (which wrongly count as “charities”); and (2) religious people exaggerate how much money they give to charity when self reporting (in the same way that they usually exaggerate their church attendance)?

    I’ve not read the book pointed to, but would be interested in any proper studies of this.

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      If you remove the religion giving to itself, donating money to your own church, then it’s even.

    • Leigh
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I wondered about the same thing — people counting as charitable giving the tithes they give to their church. As the non-religious population grows I wonder what ratio of religious to non-religious will trigger a demand to end the tax give-aways religions receive. I’d love to see an analysis of the real cost of these subsidies.

      • Doris Fromage
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        The fact that churches are excused from paying their fair share of taxes has resulted in an annual tax revenue shortfall of $71 *billion* dollars each year. That means that all the rest of us are having to pay an average of $1000 more per family just so Christians can have their stupid little private clubhouses.

        You can read all about it at “You give religions more than $82.5 billion a year” – it’s online.

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    That preaching atheism will raise the crime rate is one of the top crazy statements this guy makes. I would say just the opposite and include that atheists are at the front of the line for gun control in this gun crazy country. All the religious folks simply pray a lot after each shooting as they did after the shooting at the ballpark the other day.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Some Republican pol even said God made the shooter miss – at least to the extent that Scalise wasn’t killed. That’s not a very awesome god.

      • colnago80
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        No, Scalise wasn’t killed immediately but he ain’t in good shape as his wound was very serious.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        I saw one interview with one of the not so wise man republicans, and this guy says to the reporters — I just wish I had my gun at the ball park. So the answer always is, not enough guns. Also, overlooking the fact that there were people there with guns but the nut still shot some people.

        • Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. And although I’m not a betting man, I would give odds that the security people were better shots than the dumb as stones republican legislator.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            Yes, you could take that to the bank. And very likely better batters considering the outcome of the game – Democrats 11 Republicans 2.

            • Merilee
              Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

              To be fair, some of the Republican players were in the hospital…🐸

              • Martin Knowles
                Posted June 17, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

                That must be because God wanted the Democrats to win…

  4. Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    It’s a well known fact that we atheists are very underrepresented in the prison population <1% iirc

  5. Blue
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I have a request, Dr Coyne: may I keep in a safe online place Your Response — and, if you want me to use some paraphrasing of it, then I shall; — and then use Your Response as and for my own — when I, too, get such angering muck sent me — which, too damned often, I .do. get such inanities and mendacities sent to me ?

    Please ?

  6. Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    “… an article by Richard B. Freeman in the July 20, 1986 New York Times. A massive study by Harvard sociologists found that churchgoers are much less likely to commit crimes than non-churchgoers.”

    I’ve just googled that article. The only bit about church attendance is (note the bit in parentheses):

    “… a significant proportion of black youths were taking steps to escape from their poverty status. These youths tended to go to church more often than others (though their professed religious beliefs were not markedly different from others) …”

    Which says that religious belief does NOT affect things. It only says that (poor, black) Christians who attend church more tend to do better than (poor, black) Christians who don’t attend church.

    It also gives no indication of the size of this effect. It doesn’t say “much less”, it says “tend”, and it doesn’t even mention “crime”.

    (And I bet you’d find the same correlation between Christians who attend *any* organised community event versus Christians who did not.)

    • rickflick
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Thanks for digging that up. The result is not unexpected. The ignorant writer was speaking through his anal sphincter about the world as he wishes it was.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        I agree with you rickflick.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      He’s also wrong about Russia. Russia is no longer atheist. In fact it’s extremely religious. I’ve just written a lengthy post on the topic:

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        I think he’s wrong about Russians too. All the Russians I’ve met recently were very nice people, sociable and friendly to strangers (like me) who didn’t speak a word of Russian.

        I didn’t notice them being particularly religious, like nobody said ‘grace’ before eating for example.

        For what two weeks’ acquaintance with the country is worth…

        (drive-by posting from Lauterbrunnen)

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Hi! I hope the trip is going well. They’re not religious in that way. They’re not big church goers either. It’s the attitudes of the average person that are aligning with the Orthodox Church. However, this is a country where telling the truth about how you feel isn’t always advisable, and it’s possible too that they gave responses to Pew that they know the government would prefer them to give.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            Well, not speaking Russian, I can’t really comment on that.

            The trip? – yes thanks, with just a couple of minor glitches to enliven things, but successfully overcome now.
            (Like for instance, French rental car companies will not accept a credit card unless it’s the type with embossed lettering, because that’s the only sort of card their machine-that-takes-the-security-deposit will read. Saved after a half day’s delay by the discovery of my old (expired?) card in my baggage which is that style. I thought it would/should have been cancelled when they issued the replacement. Maybe it had and the rental desk were so desperate to get rid of me they didn’t ask the obvious question.)

            But by then my reserved Fiat 500 (which is the right size for old village streets and alpine passes) had gone so they ‘upgraded’ me to the worst yet – a Jeep Renegade. It’s yuuge. I’ve christened it Hannibal.


            • Heather Hastie
              Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

              Ha ha! Good name. I suppose it’s at least better than one of his elephants!

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                That was the analogy I had in mind, yes.

                I’m trying to be inspired by the example of the vivacious lady driver who expertly drove a big Mercedes bus over mountain roads from Latour de Carol (in the Pyrenees) to Perpignan. If she could do it…


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 20, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

                I hope after those dot dot dots we don’t see an “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted June 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                So far, Hannibal has remained unscratched (aside from a ding in the plastic bumper which pushed back out with the jack handle) and has not destroyed any smaller vehicles or villages. So far…


              • Heather Hastie
                Posted June 22, 2017 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

                That’s quite an achievement! Good luck for the rest of the trip! 🙂

  7. jeffery
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”- and, “little knowledge” is even MORE dangerous!

  8. Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Problem is that even if humans behave better because of their beliefs, this has nothing to do with whether or not the beliefs are true or false.

    Ditto, for people who behave worse because of their beliefs.

    It makes no difference how you define better or worse. And it makes no difference how you define true or false.

    Human behaviour that follows upon belief tells us nothing about the truth or falseness of the beliefs.

  9. J. Quinton
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    “You can go to the Proquest Newspaper Database and read an article by Richard B. Freeman in the July 20, 1986 New York Times.”

    Ah, well, if it happened before 1986 then it’s true for all time!

    One of the things I wish people understood about science is that it’s always provisional. Citing a scientific study — especially from 30 years ago — as though it’s authoritative for ALL TIME is an anti-science mentality.

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Science isn’t as fluid – a lot of things discovered hundreds of years ago are still authoritative today. If it hasn’t been disproven, it’s still (provisionally) true.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Indeed. Sociology and psychology still build on data from decades ago.

  10. wendell read
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Excellent response to an inane email. Thanks for posting it. As you jokingly say “the laws of physics made me do it” Let’s take it as a given and well proven fact: Free Will does not exist. Given this fact the logic seems inescapable: we should never be angry with anyone no matter what he does or says (I DON’T mean we should approve, of course not)

    If we were in a computer driven car and the computer malfunctioned causing our car to kill several people we wouldn’t be angry with the computer, it obviously has no free will. I am forced by this logic to believe that I should never be angry with anyone, but I find it impossible to avoid being angry when people behave in hateful and stupid ways.

    Any comments about this from you or any of your readers would be most welcome.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      My two cents worth.

      Our programming is different from that of a computer in that it’s not based on logic. So even though anger isn’t logical, we’re still going to respond that way sometimes.

      Also, there are probably occasions in the past where getting angry has worked, although usually that’s a bad way to achieve things of course. So our brains have learned it’s an effective response.

      Then there are the chemical changes from the fright we had in the car accident or whatever, and some people’s brains have never learned any other way to handle those changes than anger.

      • wendell read
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Heather for your reply. You explain why we as humans get angry (and computers do not), but logic seems to argue that we should no more get angry with an erring human that we do with an erring computer – NEITHER has free will. Although it does not come naturally, shouldn’t we discipline ourselves NEVER to get angry at another person? Our evolutionary history makes this difficult but shouldn’t it be our goal? If it is not our goal then possibly we are unconsciously attributing free will to the erring individual.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          I agree, we should get a lot less angry than many do and try to be a bit more understanding. Knowing we don’t have free will should make us more understanding.

          The place I would like to see this knowledge used more most is in the prison system. We should all be looking to places like Norway where prisons are much more focused on rehabilitation and it is recognized that the lack of freedom is the punishment. Prisons are much nicer places and prisoners are treated with respect. Prison terms are much shorter and recidivism rates are lower.

          I think the threat of prison is still needed because that can have an effect on behaviour, but society should be about building fences at the top of the cliff, not sticking ambulances at the bottom.

          Here’s quite a good YouTube doco on prisons in Norway:

          It’s in Norwegian, but has English subtitles.

          • wendell read
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

            Heather,you make the comment:

            “we should get a lot less angry than many do and try to be a bit more understanding.”

            I could not agree with you more!

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      I believe it’s because much of our “moral” emotions are evolved, and because we know that people change their behavior in response to opprobrium. We know that. But when you get mad at an object that can’t learn, it serves no sdaptive purpose. I do try, however, to temper my anger when I absorb determinism, so I’m less angry at people than I used to be.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        My car made me mad because its air conditioning malfunctioned (turned out it was a rock in the condenser) and when I opened the door, it smacked me in the head. So I slammed its door really hard and called it a “piece of shit”.

        I thought later that it is a good idea the car wasn’t self aware or maybe it would have run me over. That’s the future, fighting with your car.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          At the point you decide to punish it by inCARceration up on blocks, you’ve definitely lost it. 😎

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

            It would be evil i CARnate

            • Mark Joseph
              Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

              There’s a CARcass joke in here somewhere…

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

                There are more cow puns than I thought possible.

      • wendell read
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        I well understand that our actions toward an erring person (if chosen wisely) may very well change their behavior for the good. Indeed a strong display of anger might very well push a person in a better direction. But what I am talking about is what is deep inside us, perhaps a feeling of anger that no one else is even aware of. It has no functional value. Shouldn’t we see such anger as an indication that we have not fully accepted the implications of no free will? Shouldn’t we then put forth sufficient effort and self discipline to rid ourselves of such anger and bring our emotions into harmony with the fact that free will does not exist?

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      The logic programmed into a computer is only as logical as that of the person or people who programmed it.

      • wendell read
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        What you say is of course correct. If a computer causes us harm we might be angry at the person who programmed the computer, but not at the computer itself. The person who harms us is as the saying goes a “meat computer”. A computer none the less. A functional belief in no free will seems to argue that we should not be ‘angry’ with this “meat computer” no matter how badly it functions.

        • Kosmos
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          As Jerry said above, your anger has a causal effect on the future behavior of the person you are mad at. Computers don’t (yet) have the ability to sense your anger.

          So to scold other people (at an appropriate non-exessive level) may be beneficial. Although it could be argued that it would be better to reason with them if possible.

          In some situations anger is probably beneficial. I think it was Sam Harris who gave the example that it would be detrimental to teach women in a self-defence class that their attackers don’t have free will.

          • wendell read
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            Without question, when we interact with individuals who are “evil”, harming society etc. our response to their misbehavior (if properly focused) may very well help them (motivate them) to shift course. No question about this. If it involves a display of anger, so be it. It is the right thing to do. But note, our goal is to “reprogram” them (using the computer metaphor). When we reprogram an erring computer there is no anger or hate inside of us. The very concept would be silly.

            Why then do we often have a hard time stifling this internal (non productive) anger when dealing with meat computers? Heather Hastie has given us some insight here: it is the effects of our evolution. This leads to an interesting conclusion: Science and Reason lead us to the conclusion that free will does not exist. The implications of this when dealing with “evil” people are obvious. Our evolutionary genesis however pushes us in the opposite direction: From evolution – “You are doing these bad things because you are an evil jerk. I hate you!” We attribute his evil to a conscious choice to do the evil we observe and we respond accordingly. The tension between our evolutionary induced way of evaluating evil people and the evaluation based on reason is interesting.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          That’s a very good point. It’s clear that human beings, as determined as their behavior may be, are emotional creatures. Determinism and emotion seem hard to reconcile.

          • wendell read
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

            As best I can see, the typical emotional response we have to the evil we observe is absolutely based on the concept that free will does indeed exist. Our emotional response is totally out of harmony with scientific knowledge. How do we change our emotional response to being in harmony with scientific knowledge? I don’t know!

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I think my first bristling would have been at this line: You shouldn’t preach atheism if it is going to raise the crime rate because it’s simply false, preachy and the little people argument.

    But, what bothered me more was the line about atheists not caring about other people like those dying in Africa. I should think that atheists care even more than religious people because atheists understand, more than anyone else, that this is it. There is no life but this one so we don’t like suffering. Further, this person should read more about how human behaviour and how we have evolved to empathize more greatly with those closer to us before he/she slams the Chinese.

    • Martin Knowles
      Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that line about atheists not caring reveals a despicable ignorance of human nature.The old argument that people send their kids to Sunday School to get morals as if we were blank slate sinners.

  12. Doris Fromage
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I would have found it irresistible to point out that the areas of our own country that have the highest concentrations of Christians and the highest density of churches – the Bible Belt – also have the highest rates of murder, violent crime, domestic abuse (including child abuse), out of wedlock pregnancy and childbirth, drug use, poverty, unemployment, STD infections, etc. Basically every measure of societal dysfunction is *HIGHEST* where there are the most church-going Christians.

    Also the article titled, “Praise the lard? Religion linked to obesity in young adults: Weekly church activities boost obesity 50 percent by middle age, 18-year study shows” – you can look it up online if you’re interested!

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    The UN recently decided that Norway was the happiest country, so I’ll focus here on them rather than Sweden or Denmark.

    The Eurobarometer Poll of 2010 indicates that in Norway

    22% of Norwegian citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”.
    44% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”.
    29% answered that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”.
    5% answered that they “do not know”.

    Large numbers of Norwegians are affiliated with state Lutheran church without actually subscribing to its beliefs- 71.5% of the population use it for baptism, weddings, and funerals, and are “on the books” as members but only 10% of the population attends church (less than the 22% who say they believe in God).

    The poll above was 2010, but in 2016 it was reported that in Norway

    “To the question “Do you believe in God?”, 39 percent responded “no” while 37 percent said “yes”. Another 23 percent of respondents said they did not know.

    The survey, which was sent to 4,000 Norwegians by post, marks the first time that non-believers outnumber the religious. Two years ago, the number of believers and non-believers was equal. When the question was first asked in 1985, a full 50 percent said they believed in God while just 20 percent did not.”

    Sweden comes out as more atheistic.
    Wikipedia reports that, “In a Eurobarometer Poll in 2010, just 18% of Swedish citizens responded that “they believe there is a god”, although a further 45% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”.[7] In a 2009 Gallup poll, 17% answered yes to the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”.[8] A survey found that only 15% of Church of Sweden members actually believe in Jesus, while another 15% identified as atheists, and a quarter as agnostic.[9] Less than 4% of the Church of Sweden membership attends public worship during an average week; about 2% are regular attendees.

    • Doris Fromage
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      A great article on the subject is “God Would Be An Atheist: Why can’t we all be Japanese? Religion fosters bad behavior” – available online.

    • Kosmos
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Like many others in Sweden I am still a member of the Church of Sweden despite having been an atheist for many years. We are just to lazy to do the paperwork to get out. 🙂 But I should get around to it. Would save me 300$ a year as well (automatically added to our tax bill). But I do like to attend special music events occasionally for the cultural experience. Anyhow, as the poll hints the Church of Sweden is so devoid of creed that I almost doubt if the church has an official stance whether Jesus actually existed.

      Sweden really is very atheistic, or at least non-religious. I very very rarely meet anyone who actually goes to church other than for the occasional family event like weddings.

      Although this have probably been offset somewhat with recent immigration waves from more religious countries.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        As an American, I greatly envy you your secular culture. Here it’s an issue.

  14. Frank Bath
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I can hear this fool’s response to Jerry’s reply. ‘Yeah, but…’

    • Martin Knowles
      Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Or worse, the classic “why are atheists so angry?”

  15. Tom
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Your writer has had the expected response and is now an innocent martyr in the cause of enlightenment.
    Select phrases can now appear as examples of atheistic intransigence and may be anxiously pored over by the Elect for any signs that redemption is still possible.
    In some ways it’s amusing.

  16. Doris Fromage
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Please note that Evangelical Christian radio host Bryan Fischer thinks it’s “a brilliant, brilliant idea” to tax *atheists* for NOT going to church. Add to that Pastor Dr. Joe Morecraft’s statements that atheists must be punished for their nonbelief by being enslaved by Christians: “in a Christian theocracy, an unbeliever will ‘lose his family, his property, and his freedom,’ and ‘“his energies, talents and life will not be used as he himself pleases, but in the service of wise people who work hard to benefit the community.’

    ‘Put him in somebody’s service where they can watch over him and make him do right even though he doesn’t want to do it.'”

    All these Christians who think slavery is a good thing never seem to envision themselves as the slaves. If they like slavery so much, let THEM be the slaves.

  17. Craw
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    A great fuss is made here about plagiarism, and how awful it is. But what about copyright? Like it or not that email was copyrighted, and it is an infringement to post it without permission.

    • Bruce Lyon
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      This seems like total BS. Example: Newspapers often quote emails and given the context it is pretty clear that they did not ask for permission from the ‘author’. Can you provide some evidence (link) that every email tweet etc is copyrighted?

      • Craw
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        I did not assert every tweet is copyrighted. I said email.

        From that page there is a link to a simpler summary pdf.

        “What Works Are Protected?
        Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are
        fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not
        be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated
        with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works
        include the following categories:
        1 literary works

        These categories should be viewed broadly. ”

        Publication is not required, notice of copyright is not required.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      “Like it or not that email was copyrighted”

      With respect, bollocks. If you send an email to somebody (without prior agreement of confidentiality) it’s entirely their business what they do with it. Quoting that email for the purpose of criticism would also come under ‘fair use’ provisions.

      The only issue is privacy and in this case, PCC didn’t identify the sender so that doesn’t arise.

      Next I suppose you’ll be arguing that posting a picture of a STOP sign is a breach of copyright…

      P.S. I am fully aware that I breached your copyright in quoting that line of yours. To plagiarise PCC, so sue me.

      • Craw
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        You are wrong. Read the .gov link I provided above. You are wrong about fair use too, since the whole email is quoted.

  18. Sastra
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    One of the problems with comparing churchgoers to nonbelievers I think is that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. One group includes only those people who belong to an organization which provides opportunities to volunteer and donate — and the other group is apparently formed with no such stipulation. Nonbelievers may, or may not, belong to a club, party, or volunteer organization.

    So such studies are basically contrasting “joiners” with “a mix of joiners and non-joiners.” And while non-joiners certainly do give to charity, it’s certainly possible that there’s a statistical correlation between organizations and the doing of good works.

    Perhaps there should be at least 4 groups: nonjoiner believers; nonjoiner nonbelievers; joiner believers; joiner nonbelievers. I suppose one should also divide joined organizations into religious and secular, and charity groups vs. interest groups. There are so many factors involved here, it’s not simple. Unless it’s carefully parsed out, I don’t think it’s possible to tell if metaphysical commitment entails extra commitment to the world.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      “…an organization which provides opportunities to volunteer and donate.”

      And sometimes it goes well beyond passively passing the collection plate. Churches exhort and threaten as well to pry loose alms or to enhance their church.

  19. Kiwi Dave
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Your ‘friend’ will be extremely pleased to learn that Sweden has recently imported significant numbers of theists from the Middle East who will doubtless raise Sweden’s morality and lower rampant Swedish criminality.

  20. Posted June 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Good reply, the non friend has a very simplistic take on the benefits of religion and I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him, like he fell into a lion’s den. 😈
    It is probably healthy with the amount of emails you get like this that you do get to vent when it takes your fancy and give hapless individuals something to think about… or not given what we know about believers.
    I have a question for him, are charitible donations motivated by the reward of heaven and guilt (an equivalence of being good) or true unadulterated empathy with the less well off?

  21. Benjay
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Santa is not Big Brother.

  22. Benjay
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    In fact, the correlation between atheism and the United Nations Happiness Index.

    Atheism is not good for science. It dulls people. Look at us a-writing letters to trolls.
    Correlation. Agnostics are most polite, see the Trilateral Commission’s niceness index.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      @Benjay I have searched [inc. their pdf meeting reports] for the individual terms “niceness”, “atheist” & “atheism” – nothing relevant found. Searching “agnostic” & “polite” is useless because those words are used in all sorts of contexts

      I have also google searched for “niceness index” outside of the above site with nothing worthwhile turning up that mentioned agnostics etc

      Can you supply a link?

      • Benjay
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        I maybe imagined that there was a niceness index? Nice Dreams is still a happy film.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          @Benjay so your response to JAC’s claim that there is a positive correlation between “atheism and the United Nations Happiness Index” is based on evidence you imagined?

          You should have just linked to Cheech & Chong in your original comment to save me the work of discovering you’re a troll

          • Benjay
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

            Testy. I believe in humour. Guy Diamond is real. His Wife buys him Trolls gear. The guy who invented troll dolls was a genius fisherman from? Google it, for us all. Lift our spirits.

  23. Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Some countries still have state religions and the state may collect fees for the church. As has been noted here, the listing of someone as a member of the state religion is no indication of the religious beliefs of the person.

    Christians in the United States may go to church functions and pay tithes or donate money to church-related causes, but that doesn’t mean they are kind and generous people to humanity at large. They also donate money for the purpose of proselytizing which may matter to them, but not necessarily to the people they think they’re helping. Ditto with missions and distribution of food to street people which is “paid for” by the hungry having to listen to prayers and/or sermons.

    • James
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Ironically, Denmark is one such country. As is my home in England. It’s facts like that – with both being more secular than the US despite having established churches – that make me question organisations like the FFRF (with the caveat that all I really know of them is from Prof. Coyne’s mentions here and elsewhere). It just doesn’t seem like a strict seperation of Church and State is where the battle lines should be drawn, based on examples like those. But maybe I’m trying to apply examples incorrectly – maybe there are materially different factors in the US that mean a Danish/English model couldn’t work and that that is an important line to draw.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        For a good account of religiosity and it’s opposite in the US, see Susan Jacoby’s “Freethinkers”, 2004 and “The Age of American Unreason”, 2008.

        By separating church and state, the US became a hotbed of competition among religious factions. This fostered more intense and diverse religiosity.

        • James
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Mmmm, that’s been my layperson’s (pun intended) view of it as well. By drawing a line in the sand one creates two opposing sides. Over here, for example, school prayer is not only allowed but actually compulsory. However the vast majority of schools simply don’t bother doing it. Rather than starting any sort of discussion we as a nation basically just tacitly decided to ignore that law. I’m not, don’t get me wrong, saying its a good (or even defensible) law. Merely that court cases, pressure groups, etc are only one way of addressing issues like that and there are successful models for approaching it other ways.

          But again, I’m not in the US so its entirely possible there’s a wealth of good reasons to make this in to a fight.

          • rickflick
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

            There are very good reasons for making it into a fight here in the US. Because of the competitive theological setting, many religious sects feel the need to impose their beliefs on the whole population. Thus, we struggle to suppress those sects by espousing a secular culture as an alternative to religious views of how society should be organized.
            Of course this arose as an issue because the founders of America notices that religion had a very deleterious effect on European culture for hundreds of years, and they decided to codify their fear in our constitution. They likely did not anticipate the deleterious effects of doing so.

            • James
              Posted June 16, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

              Ah. I think I misinterpreted your first comment and we were talking at cross purposes as a result. Not to worry – if that’s the worst thing that happens to me today I’ll call the day a success.

              I’m not sure I agree with you. But I’m also slightly worried that I might be about to end up in a situation where I’ve repeated several times that I’m not in the US and as such might not know some context and then, as soon as someone provides it, I say “No. That’s wrong” and ignore it. I’m going to do my best to avoid embarrassing myself like that by simply thanking you for your answer and promising to add the books you mention to my “to read” list.

              Pleasure talking to you.

  24. Dale Franzwa
    Posted June 17, 2017 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Jerry, and thank you folks for all your insightful remarks. Of course, you know you’re all going to hell? I’ll join you there as soon as I load up on hotdogs and mustard. Ought to be a fun time when we all get there. Don’t forget your pitchforks. See ya.

  25. Diane G.
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:42 am | Permalink


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