Letters

Tom Flynn, in his Op-Ed “A Modest Proposal: Get Religion Out of the Charity Sector” in the December 2017/January 2018 issue, says he can’t see how denominational charities can maintain their identities if they steer their fundraising activities far outside of their own communities.

Does that mean religious charitable organizations will refuse money from heathens? I doubt it. I’m sure they don’t care where the money they raise comes from. If Satan himself wrote them a generous check, would they not cash it?

Besides, are those who contribute money after receiving mail solicitations ever queried about their religious beliefs? Of course not!

As for myself, my preferred guide for contributing to charity is Emily Dickinson’s poem “Not in Vain”:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,I shall not live in vain.

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Her vision of compassion is universal, not selective! And when we too wish to lessen suffering, shouldn’t we unburden our minds of deism or secularism and all the other “isms” … and just let the light of compassion guide our hearts to make us generous in offering help to as many of our fellow creatures as we can?

David Quintero

Monrovia, California

Tom Flynn responds:

It isn’t a question of whether a denominational charity would cash Satan’s check. The question is whether, as Americans lose interest in the traditional denominations within Christianity—as seems to be happening—traditional denominational “silos” can long sustain a quilt of largely redundant denominational agencies (Lutheran Agency for This, Methodist Agency for That, Catholic Agency for the Other Thing). Each such agency draws much of its funding from solicitations carried on in the denomination’s churches. As those churches grow emptier, I expect that the pressure on those agencies to abandon their denominational labels and consolidate will become irresistible. As secularists we should welcome this process and even seek to accelerate it when an opportunity arises.

Fake News

Like other partisan articles condemning fake news, Shadia B. Drury drifts from neutrality into instructing readers how they should vote. “Be Reasonable. Vote Democratic.” might as well substitute for her title “The Silver Lining in Fake News” (FI, December 2017/January 2018). No one except a few crazies swallowed the fantasy that linked Hillary Clinton to a pizza parlor child-trafficking ring in Washington, D.C. The implication by omission that few substantive issues took precedence over this idiotic burp in the election is a bridge too far.

For the record, I voted for Hillary Clinton and believe Donald Trump challenges the limits of incompetence both as president and as a human being. Still, the pronouncement that “the Republican Party … makes no secret of serving the interests of the wealthiest in society” poisons the well with Democratic boilerplate rooted in early- to mid-twentieth–century affiliation with industrial labor unions, a once powerful working-class constituency that has become marginalized over the past fifty years.

The current trends driving Republican and Democratic “agendas,” now more than ever, need to be brought under scrutiny as both parties move closer to a status quo center, advanced notably by New Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, with their shifting positions on globalization, free trade, corporate interests, Big Banks, Wall Street, bailouts, welfare, and many other ambiguous issues. Admirably, Ms. Drury calls for debate based on factual evidence and reasoned perspectives. Let’s not preempt comprehensive debate with good vs. evil campaign shibboleths.

Jim Valentine

Woodland Hills, California

The Fight for Our Philosophy

The time is coming—perhaps sooner than many would like to think—that science shall have completely navigated the human genome, thus making genetic engineering a practical reality. We shall have seized control of our own biological evolution. At this historic point, what becomes of our DNA will no longer be a random process but rather the product of our philosophical deliberations especially in the areas of political and ethical thought. Our options will be before us: either we will continue in a democratic society by our own good faith efforts, or we will sink into the abyss of a controlled and thoroughly complacent genetics caste system such as envisioned by author Aldous Huxley in Brave New World.

Even the most cynical of “philosophy jeering” scientists must admit this in the interest of intellectual honestly. Science brings us the facts. But we do not live by the facts. We live by our values, which we are constantly testing against the facts.

I submit that there has never been a time when it has been so urgent to study philosophy at a higher academic level. The future of democratic life may well depend on it.

John L. Indo

Houston, Texas

The Corruption of Philosophy?

Prior to reading Tom Flynn’s article “The Corruption of Philosophy?” in the December 2017/January 2018 edition of Free Inquiry, I’ve occasionally read comments in scientific periodicals about the negative effects that Templeton Foundation grants have on any scientific research that the Foundation gets involved in. Flynn’s article is the best wrap-up of the Templeton Foundation’s negative impacts on philosophy and science that I’ve read.

It reminds me of a rather unpleasant surprise that I recently had when I discovered that one of my favorite science programs, National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. You can see that sponsorship listed on the “Science Friday” website at https://www.sciencefriday.com/about/.

That sponsorship raises questions about how the Templeton Foundation’s sponsorship might be affecting the “Science Friday” programming, and it also raises questions about how many other science efforts such as “Science Friday” the Foundation has its tentacles into.

I really enjoy Free Inquiry! Keep it coming!

Bob Winckler

Wasilla, Arkansas

I read with dismay Tom Flynn’s imaginative but false reconstruction of my editing of The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism. He accused me of a stealth assault, one that I snuck by a deluded editor at Blackwell. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few years ago, I read a rich and suggestive defense of naturalism and ethical naturalism by Owen Flanagan, Hagop Sarkissian, and David Wong. I wrote to the authors lamenting the lack of civil dialogue and even discussion across worldviews and invited them to use their essay as the opening in a book to examine naturalistic and theistic world- views. They graciously agreed. I secured theistic respondents and sent a proposal, for a book tentatively titled Naturalism and its Discontents, to Blackwell.

While Blackwell didn’t have a series into which that book would fit, the editor liked the essays and the idea of civil dialogue and so suggested it be developed into a Blackwell Companion volume. Contributors to the volume were informed of the nature and origin of the book. It should be noted that the vast majority of the authors are non-theists and that most consider themselves naturalists. It seemed valuable to include authors who identify as non-theist but offer reasons why they aren’t naturalists. And, although the Blackwell editor and I decided to jettison four of the five original critics of naturalism, one remained in the final volume (with an entirely new chapter written in accord with Blackwell’s companion
guidelines). I didn’t dictate content, and I couldn’t have predicted that some of the non-theists would reject naturalism or defend accommodationism. To be sure, the book includes, for example, naturalists on mathematics and persons. However, I invited a non-naturalist (but not a theist) on mathematics, a view we deemed important for the book. And I invited an atheist, non-naturalist with some sympathies for dualism; again, we thought that important.

In short, the book offers what I wrote in the introduction (hidden from no one):

Naturalism is part of an ongoing and fundamental debate in contemporary philosophy. To present it without criticism seemed imprudent. … like pretty much all of philosophy, we hope the reader gets some sense of philosophy as exploration, as trying out this or that route, all the while lacking a clear map or even sense of destination.

Curiously, Flynn bases his imaginative reconstruction and criticisms on a misleading review of the book and not on the book itself. Both the reviewer’s and Flynn’s criticisms suggest that they are not genuinely committed to free and open inquiry, one that includes both defenses of and responses to their own deeply held views.

Two questions: Would or should one publish a companion to Kant with essays only by enthusiastic Kantians? Would or should one publish a companion to theism without essays by atheistic critics?

I do concede and regret the triumphalistic language in my JTF proposal; that was a relic of the original volume I had proposed. Since I am a principled pluralist and determined non-triumphalist, I regret the thought, let alone including it in a proposal. I apologize for the excess.

However, the book, under the guidance of the Blackwell editor who clearly informed me of the aims of Blackwell companions, took on its own considerably more exploratory life and flavor. It includes, contra the reviewer’s claim, powerful defenses and developments of naturalism, some criticisms of naturalism mostly by non-theists, and a few theistic critics. Non-naturalists do not get the last word. No one does.

The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism, with its wide variety of views, is I believe surprisingly rich and wide and deep, exhibiting the kind of intellectual exploration and openness to criticism demanded of free and open inquiry.

Flynn offered me up as the poster child of the Templeton Foundation’s “corruption of philosophy.” Here is my imaginative reconstruction of his article. Free Inquiry was eager to prove that the Templeton Foundation is corrupting the youth. So they engaged Flynn. After searching through hundreds of grants, Flynn found an objectionable one—the smallest grant in the history of the foundation. He then falsely claimed that I stealthily deluded the editor of Blackwell. Finally, Flynn made many false claims about the book, apparently without having read it. Sounds more like confirmation bias than case closed.

Dr. Kelly James Clark

Senior Research Fellow

Kaufman Interfaith Institute

Grand Valley State University

Tom Flynn replies:

James Kelly Clark is disingenuous when he suggests that “After searching through hundreds of grants, Flynn found an objectionable one.” Readers may recall that I spotlighted eighteen questionable grants in my article entitled, um, “Eighteen Templeton Foundation Grants.” (I could have included many more if not for space constraints.) I did note that the relatively modest grant to Clark was the smallest of the eighteen grants I profiled, and the one that gave the strongest impression of possibly deceptive intent. If it is also, as Clark suggests, “the smallest grant in the history” of the Templeton Foundation, we must take his word for that.

Clark is correct that I quoted liberally from FI columnist Russell Blackford’s review of Clark’s anthology. I found it compelling that a philosophically literate reviewer who knew nothing about Clark’s grant history detected a strong anti-naturalist agenda in the work. Clark asks, “Would or should one publish a companion to theism without essays by atheist critics?” Actually, that happens frequently. Consumers of a survey work like The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism expect a thorough introduction to its topic, but not necessarily an exhaustive discussion of all of its pros and cons—there is, after all, the whole rest of the literature for that. I think most users expect survey works to emphasize entries that treat their subject matter favorably. In part, that’s why I find Clark’s anthology so disturbing. Students who peruse a Blackwell Companion as critical of its subject as this one was may come away thinking that the case for philosophical naturalism must lie in tatters, when that is far from the case.

Clark describes a convoluted path for the development of his anthology, a common enough occurrence in academic publishing. Yet I salute his frankness when he writes, “I do concede and regret the triumphalistic language” of the Templeton grant proposal from which I quoted, and describes it as “a relic of the original volume I had proposed.” If this is true, then perhaps it is the Templeton Foundation, rather than Blackwell, which should feel that it didn’t get what it signed up for. That makes it all the more curious—as I noted in my article—that the Templeton Foundation so quickly approved Dr. Clark’s proposal for another, larger grant.

Gore’s Sequel

In Edd Doerr’s critique of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel, he points out that Gore ignores overpopulation, access to contraception, and abortion rights (“Al Gore’s Good but Incomplete Sequel” December 17/January 18 issue of Free Inquiry).

But while he recommends we pursue our contributions to fight climate change, Doerr himself fails to mention the major contribution to carbon pollution: our country’s perpetual war machine. Our planes, ships, and bombs overwhelm all other emissions of carbon. See “Elephant in the Room: The Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Footprint,” online at www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/23. This article points out that the United States demanded that all of military operations be exempted from the Kyoto Accords. Then the U.S. Congress passes a resolution exempting the military from any energy reduction or measurement.

This makes any of our individual reductions rather futile. I have yet to see this issue addressed in any books or articles on the subject of climate change.

Could Free Inquiry address this in a future issue?

Robert Mooney

Edmonds, Washington

God’s Interview

Stop the mindless promulgation of the selfish “Golden Rule”!

I enjoyed the December 2017/January 2018 edition of FI as usual, including Douglas Whaley’s “An Atheist Interviews God.” I would like to comment, however, on the author’s touting of the Golden Rule, which “God” in the article states as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “God” then explains that by not committing certain despicable atrocities to women and children and others, “the Earth would be a much better place.” “God” is right in his sentiment but refers to a different, negative version of the Golden Rule, i.e., how not to treat others, (á la Confucius, Analects XXIII), a form of the rule with which I can agree.

The universal acceptance of the (positive) Golden Rule, and it’s pervasiveness in secular/humanist literature, has baffled me for decades. I don’t want you to treat me the way you want to be treated. Please treat me the way I want to be treated if you can! The Golden Rule is flawed because it is primarily selfish, and no one actually uses it without automatically modifying it. In practice people ascertain what the other wants, and then acts accordingly, recognizing that people are dif
ferent. It’s not I like vanilla ice cream, so you will all eat vanilla ice cream.

Imre G Toth, MD

Bolton, Massachusetts


Tom Flynn, in his Op-Ed “A Modest Proposal: Get Religion Out of the Charity Sector” in the December 2017/January 2018 issue, says he can’t see how denominational charities can maintain their identities if they steer their fundraising activities far outside of their own communities. Does that mean religious charitable organizations will refuse money from heathens? …

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