World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says flat-out that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality.
Those pronouncements came during the buildup to this week’s Starmus Festival at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where Hawking and other scientific luminaries have gathered for rounds of talks, tours and elbow-rubbing.
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo engineered an exclusive interview with Hawking, and headlined its report with his views on the origins of the universe.
In the past, there’s been a tiny bit of ambiguity: In “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking writes that the discovery of a unifying set of scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.” But in a follow-up book about the quest for the theory of everything, titled “The Grand Design,” Hawking said the mechanism behind the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary.
El Mundo’s Pablo Jauregui asked about those two references to God in one of the questions he prepared for Hawking to answer, and here’s the scientist’s response:
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
Hawking addressed the issue more delicately several years ago when he told Reuters that he was “not religious in the normal sense,” and said “God does not intervene to break the laws” that He decreed. Since then, however, there’s been a lot more theorizing devoted to the origin of the universe. Hawking now believes that an approach known as M-theory will eventually reveal the grand design of the cosmos.
“In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind,” Hawking told El Mundo.
After an airman was unable to complete his reenlistment because he omitted the part of a required oath that states “so help me God,” the Air Force changed its instructions for the oath.
Following a review of the policy by the Department of Defense General Counsel, the Air Force will now permit airmen to omit the phrase, should they so choose. That change is effective immediately, according to an Air Force statement.
“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in the statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.
“The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now. Airmen who choose to omit the words ‘So help me God’ from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so.”
The issue gained national attention in early September after a letter from the American Humanist Association outlined the case of an airman stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada who was unable to complete his reenlistment after striking out the phrase in question on a form. The AHA said it was prepared to sue on religious freedom grounds unless the airman was allowed to reenlist without saying the phrase. The requirement, the AHA argued, violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The issue drew attention to a previously unnoticed rule change: The rules governing the Air Force’s enlistment oaths used to include a note stating that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” That exception quietly disappeared in October 2013, after which the Air Force required the inclusion of the full oath for any enlistment or reenlistment.
Now, the airman’s paperwork “will be processed to completion,” the Air Force statement said.
“We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed our client has a First Amendment right to omit the reference to a supreme being in his reenlistment oath,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in an emailed statement.
In swaths of Syria now controlled by ISIS, children can no longer study math or social studies. Sports are out of the question. And students will be banned from learning about elections and democracy.
Instead, they’ll be subjected to the teachings of the radical Islamist group. And any teacher who dares to break the rules “will be punished.”
ISIS revealed its new educational demands in fliers posted on billboards and on street poles.
The Sunni militant group has captured a slew of Syrian and Iraqi cities in recent months as it tries to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, spanning Sunni parts of both countries.
In the letter, ISIS said alternative courses will be added.
It also said teachers must erase the phrase Syrian Arab Republic — the official name of Syria — and replace it with Islamic State, which is what ISIS calls itself.
Educators cannot teach nationalistic and ethnic ideology and must instead teach “the belonging to Islam … and to denounce infidelity and infidels.”
Books cannot include any reference to evolution. And teachers must say that the laws of physics and chemistry “are due to Allah’s rules and laws.”
The letter ends with a firm warning:
“This is an obligatory announcement, and all violators will be punished.”
200 Syrians killed in one day
The brutal advances of ISIS in Syria come as the country grapples with a three-year civil war with no clear victor in sight.
At least 200 people were killed on Tuesday alone, the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It said about 60 were killed by regime airstrikes.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, meanwhile, said terrorist attacks in Damascus, Hama and Homs left at least three civilians dead.
In all, the United Nations estimates more than 190,000 people have died in the violence between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebels seeking an end to four decades of al-Assad family rule.
An unusual religious headwear battle has hit a boiling point in Surrey, B.C., where a “Pastafarian” is fighting for his right to wear a colander in his driver’s licence photo.
Obi Canuel, who is an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, says the Insurance Corporation of B.C. is denying him the right to be able to wear the spaghetti strainer on his head.
The 36-year-old says he believed he would be able to wear the kitchen accessory when he renewed his licence last fall because ICBC affirms the right to religious expression.
But, the insurer disagreed. In a letter, they told him “there is no religious requirement that prohibits you from removing the colander for the purpose of taking the photo to appear on your driver’s license.”
ICBC said its religious head covering policy strive to strike a balance between respect for the driver’s religious beliefs and a need to preserve the integrity of the licensing system.
The company said it would not issue a new driver’s licence with the colander photo, but encouraged him to go into any office and have a free colander-free photo taken – and a new licence would be issued.
“The truth is sometimes I have the spiritual inkling to wear the colander and I don’t think ICBC should be making decisions about what kind of religious headgear is appropriate or not,” Canuel told CTV Vancouver.
Strangely, a photo of Canuel wearing the exact same strainer on his head was approved for his new B.C. Services card.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was created nine years ago by a U.S. man to satirize certain aspects of creationism. It follows a belief that an undetectable flying pasta creature created the universe after “drinking heavily.”
As it gained popularity in the media, the Flying Spaghetti Monster became a symbol against intelligent design used in the public education system.
At least four countries, including the U.S., allow Pastafarians to wear colanders in their driver’s licence photos.
Canuel documented his struggles with ICBC in a YouTube video titled “Dear ICBC: Where is my license?”
It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defence that it had been consensual sex.
But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an honour killing in the case – against the young girl. The mullah offered to marry his victim instead.
This past week, the awful matter became even worse. On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.
The case has broader repercussions. The head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter here where the girl took refuge, Dr. Hassina Sarwari, was at one point driven into hiding by death threats from the girl’s family and other mullahs, who sought to play down the crime by arguing the girl was much older than 10. One militia commander sent Sarwari threatening texts and an ultimatum to return the girl to her family. The doctor said she now wanted to flee Afghanistan.
The head of the women’s affairs office in Kunduz, Nederah Geyah, who actively campaigned to have the young girl protected from her family and the mullah prosecuted, resigned May 21 and moved to another part of the country.
The case itself would just be an aberrant atrocity, except that the resulting support for the mullah, and for the girl’s family and its honour killing plans, have become emblematic of a broader failure to help Afghan women who have been victims of violence.
The result challenges hopes that Western aid and encouragement can make lasting headway on behalf of Afghan women, particularly in remote parts of the country where traditional customs are still stronger than modern law. Here, Taliban insurgents and pro-government elements often make common cause in their hatred of progress in women’s rights, most of which has come about with international funding and pressure.
Most of the anger in Kunduz has been focused not on the mullah but on the women’s activists and the shelter, which is one of seven operated across Afghanistan by Women for Afghan Women, an Afghan-run charity that is heavily dependent on American aid, from both government and private donors.
“People know this office as the Americans’ office,” Sarwari said. “They all think the shelter is an American shelter. There isn’t a single American here.”
“WAW is not American-run,” said Manizha Naderi, its executive director. “Every single staff member is an Afghan. They are from the communities we work in. Our only concern is to make sure women and girls are protected and that they get justice.”
As the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has accelerated, rights advocates are seeing a sharp difference in their funding.
“We already see the signs of losing the support of the international community,” Geyah said in an interview before she resigned. “No one’s funding new civil society programs anymore. None of the foreigners show up anymore; they’re all in hiding. And I think what gains we have achieved the last 13 years, we’re slowly losing all of them.”
The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Koran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but he claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.
The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life because of a delay in getting medical care.
After the two women’s officials began speaking out about the case, they started receiving threatening calls from mullahs – some of them Taliban, others on the government side – and from arbakai, or pro-government militiamen. One of their claims was that the girl was actually 17, and thus of marriageable age, not 10.
Photographs of the girl that Sarwari took in the hospital clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds. Few Afghans have birth records, and many do not know their precise ages. But the girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed, saying she had not yet started menstruating or developing secondary sexual characteristics.
In the photographs, which Sarwari displayed on her laptop computer recently, the girl has alabaster features and inky black hair cut in a pageboy style. She lay in her hospital bed under a quilted blanket with cartoon characters on it.
Geyah said she showed photos of the girl to government officials and prosecutors to prove that she was much too young to have consented. Sarwari said, “We wanted to give her a face, to make her real to them.” Geyah said: “I went to the hospital when they brought her there. I was sitting next to her bed when I overheard her mother and aunt saying that her father was under tremendous pressure by the villagers to kill the girl because she had brought shame to them.”
Honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker. Human rights groups say about 150 honour killings a year come to light, and many more probably go unreported.
When Sarwari, who is a pediatrician, arrived to pick up the girl at the hospital, a crowd of village elders from Alti Gumbad, the girl’s home village on the outskirts of the city of Kunduz, were gathered outside the hospital; the girl’s brothers, father and uncle were among them. Inside, Sarwari encountered the girl’s aunt, who told her she had been ordered by her husband to sneak the girl out of the hospital and deliver her to the male relatives outside.
“She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Sarwari said.
Efforts to reach the girl’s relatives by telephone were unsuccessful, and insurgent activity around Alti Gumbad made the village too dangerous for journalists to visit.
“The girl’s family gave us a guarantee that they would not harm her,” said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, head of the Kunduz police criminal investigation division. “We would not hand her back unless we were sure.”
In the hospital room, the doctor found the girl’s mother holding her child’s hand, and both were weeping. “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” Sarwari quoted the mother as saying. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.”
Even mothers here often believe that there is no choice but to kill rape victims, who are seen as unmarriageable and therefore a lifelong burden to their families, as well as a constant reminder of dishonor.
“Their men feel they have to wash their shame with blood,” Sarwari said.
The doctor took the girl away to the shelter. Afterward, Sarwari and several women’s affairs officials were threatened by the girl’s family and by other mullahs.
“They call me and curse me, and threaten to kill me and my family, and say they know where I live,” Sarwari said. “They say, once your American husbands leave Afghanistan, we will do what we want to you.” (Her husband is an Afghan doctor and war veteran.)
Sarwari has accused prosecutors and religious officials of siding with the accused rapist and ignoring the child’s plight.
“There are a lot of powerful people behind the mullah,” Sarwari said. The girl’s family knows they cannot do anything to Amin, she said, but “the girl is easy. They can get to her; she’s their daughter.” She said she feared the girl would either be killed, or forced to recant her accusations against the mullah.
Women for Afghan Women arranged for the girl to get medical treatment, and after she healed, she was returned to the shelter in Kunduz, about two weeks ago, until the police returned her to her family last Tuesday. Those caring for the girl said she had been terribly homesick and wanted to return to her family, but no one had the heart to tell her they had been conspiring to kill her.
The Pew Forum’s religious knowledge survey included 32 questions about various aspects of religion: the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism. The average respondent answered 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions correctly. Just 2% of those surveyed answered 29 or more questions correctly (including just eight individuals, out of 3,412 surveyed, who scored a perfect 32); 3% correctly answered fewer than five questions (including six respondents who answered no questions correctly).
The scores on individual questions ranged from 8% to 89% correct. At the top end of that scale, at least eight-in-ten Americans know that teachers are not allowed to lead public school classes in prayer, that the term “atheist” refers to someone who does not believe in God, and that Mother Teresa was Catholic. At the other end of the spectrum, just 8% know that the 12th-century philosopher and Torah scholar Maimonides was Jewish, and 11% correctly identify Jonathan Edwards, viewed by many scholars as the pre-eminent American theologian, as a preacher during the First Great Awakening, a period of heightened religious fervor in the 1730s and ’40s.
Overall, the three groups that perform best in this survey are atheists and agnostics (who get an average of 20.9 out of 32 questions right), Jews (20.5 questions right on average) and Mormons (20.3 questions right). Looked at another way, 27% of Jews, 22% of atheists and agnostics, and 20% of Mormons score in the top 10% of all respondents in overall number of correct answers to religious knowledge questions, getting at least 26 questions right. As will be discussed in detail later in this report, these groups display greater religious knowledge even when education and other factors are held constant. Mormons outperform Jews as well as atheists and agnostics on questions about the Bible but do not perform as well as the other two groups on questions having to do with world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
White evangelical Protestants answer an average of 17.6 religious knowledge questions correctly. Though white evangelicals have lower scores than Jews and atheists/agnostics overall, they do significantly better on questions about the Bible. White evangelicals correctly answer an average of 5.1 out of seven Bible questions, compared with 4.4 among atheists and agnostics and 4.3 among Jews. Mormons answer almost six of the seven Bible questions correctly on average.
White mainline Protestants and white Catholics each closely resemble the public overall, getting about half of the 32 religious knowledge questions right on average (16 for white Catholics, 15.8 for white mainline Protestants). Those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” answer an average of 15.2 questions correctly. Black Protestants answer an average of 13.4 questions correctly, and Hispanic Catholics get 11.6 right on average. Scores on this survey are higher among whites than among blacks or Hispanics even after controlling for other factors linked with religious knowledge, including education and religious affiliation.
The remainder of this section analyzes religious knowledge within the following subject areas:
The Bible: Five questions on the Old Testament and two on the New Testament.
Elements of Christianity: The Bible items plus questions about Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, Protestant teaching about salvation through faith alone, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther and the First Great Awakening.
Elements of Judaism: The five Old Testament items plus questions about the Jewish Sabbath and Maimonides.
Elements of Mormonism: Three questions on the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon.
Knowledge of world religions: Items on the Jewish Sabbath and Maimonides (Judaism), Ramadan and the Koran (Islam), nirvana and the Dalai Lama (Buddhism), Vishnu and Shiva (Hinduism), Greek mythology (Zeus) and the religious composition of India, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Atheism and agnosticism: Definitions of each term.
Role of religion in public life: Questions on separation of church and state and constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools.
Knowledge of nonreligious topics: Nine questions on politics, science, history and literature.
The survey included seven questions about the Bible, tapping people’s knowledge on five topics from the Old Testament (the name of the first book of the Bible, the Ten Commandments and the identities of Abraham, Job and Moses) and two topics from the New Testament (the names of the four Gospels and the birthplace of Jesus).
Old Testament Questions
Nearly two-thirds of the public (63%) correctly name Genesis as the first book of the Bible when asked this question in an open-ended (not multiple-choice) format. More than eight-in-ten white evangelicals (85%), Mormons (85%) and black Protestants (83%) get this question right, as do roughly seven-in-ten atheists and agnostics (71%). By comparison, fewer than half of Catholics (42%), including 47% of white Catholics and 29% of Hispanic Catholics, are able to name Genesis as the first book of the Bible.
A slim majority of the public (55%) correctly says that the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is not one of the Ten Commandments. More than eight-in-ten Mormons (81%) answer this question correctly, as do roughly two-thirds of white evangelicals (67%) and more than six-in-ten white Catholics (63%), atheists/agnostics (62%) and Jews (62%). By contrast, less than half of white mainline Protestants and black Protestants (49% each) get this question right.
Of the three Old Testament figures asked about in the survey, Americans are most familiar with Moses. Overall, more than seven-in-ten Americans (72%) know he was the biblical figure who led the exodus out of Egypt; 92% of Mormons and about as many Jews and atheists/agnostics answer this question correctly. Eight-in-ten white evangelicals correctly identify Moses, as do roughly three-quarters of black Protestants (73%) and about two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (68%) and Catholics (65%).
Compared with Moses, Abraham is less well-known, with 60% of all Americans correctly identifying him as the biblical figure who was willing to sacrifice his son’s life for God. Fewer (39%) identify Job as the biblical figure known for remaining obedient to God despite extraordinary suffering.
Oh, it’s ok guys, he didn’t know raping kids was a crime. What a relief.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.
During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.
Yet according to documents released Monday by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.
In a 1984 document, for example, Carlson wrote to the then archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John R. Roach, about one victim of sexual abuse and mentioned that the statute of limitations for filing a claim would not expire for more than two years. He also wrote that the parents of the victim were considering reporting the incident to the police.
In a statement, Gabe Jones, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said “while not being able to recall his knowledge of the law exactly as it was many decades ago, the archbishop did make clear that he knows child sex abuse is a crime today.”
“The question does not address the archbishop’s moral stance on the sin of pedophilia, which has been that it is a most egregious offense,” Jones said.
Anderson took Carlson’s deposition as part of a sexual abuse lawsuit in Minnesota involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, Minn.
The plaintiff in the case, only identified as “Doe 1,” claims to have been abused in the 1970s by the Rev. Thomas Adamson at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park, Minn.
Later in the deposition, when asked about an incident of alleged sexual abuse of a minor by another priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Rev. Jerome Kern, Anderson asks Carlson:
“But you knew a priest touching the genitals of a kid to be a crime, did you not?,” referring to what a 1987 church memo said about the alleged incident.
“Yes,” Carlson replied.
Carlson went on to admit that he never personally reported any incidents of sex abuse to the police, though he encouraged parents to at least once.
Carlson also said that even in 1996 he did not know that pedophilia was a disorder that couldn’t be cured.
“I did not know that, but as a pastor, I was becoming increasingly concerned,” Carlson said.
With regard to the history of sexual abuse in the church, Carlson seemed to suggest he did the best he could at the time.
“I think in everything we do, once we’ve experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better,” Carlson said. “I think we did a pretty good job.
“Obviously, based on some 25 years later, I would do it differently.”
Anderson then asked, “Don’t you think you should have done it differently then?”
“I did what I did,” Carlson replied.
“I think counselors made mistakes. I think people in general made mistakes. I think the archdiocese made mistakes,” Carlson went on to say.
“I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn’t. I don’t think we fully understood. I don’t think public school administrators understood it. I don’t think we realized it was the serious problem it is.”
But over and over, throughout the deposition, Carlson claimed to not remember answers to questions posed by Anderson — for a total of 193 times.
Anderson asked Carlson if there was any physical condition or illness that was impeding his memory.
“I can’t make either a psychological or a physical diagnosis, other than to say I have had seven cancer surgeries. Each time, I received some kind of chemical to put me out for that. If that’s impeded my memory or not, I have no idea,” Carlson answered. “My concern is that what I say to you would be accurate.”
Anderson has also taken Carlson’s deposition for a priest sexual abuse case scheduled for trial July 7 in St. Louis. That deposition is under seal.
According to Anderson, Carlson was involved in handling sexual abuse cases in Minnesota for 15 years.