The Power Of Light Works
July 2019
LightSail 2 is changing its orbit using only the power of sunlight. The Planetary Society announced this week that their LightSail 2 solar sail is working well, and actually raising the orbit of the spacecraft as it travels around the Earth. According to mission managers, they've been able to raise the orbit of the spacecraft by about 2 kilometers at the high point of its orbit. Unfortunately, they'll only be able to go for about a month before the sail dips into the atmosphere at the low point of its orbit and it crashes.
Sci-Fi Writers Include Religion
October 2018
At his appearance at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, John Scalzi said that it is important that science fiction writers include religion in their universes, "When 5 billion people out of 7 billion very strongly have professed religious belief of some sort or another, to ignore it, minimize it or just say it doesn't matter is foolish," he said.
Atheists in Foxholes
Ben S
An oft-quoted saying, certainly I have encountered it many times, goes: "There are no atheists in foxholes." This is supposed to indicate that an atheist will, if placed into a life and death situation, turn to some deity or other for assistance. Well let's put some perspective onto the quote, shall we? If a person is an atheist then they simply do not hold to the tenets of any religion, it would be foolish to claim that such a person would automatically convert to religion when in fear of their life. Clearly, I don't mean the situation faced by Galileo, being tortured until you acknowledge the truth of a religious message is rather stacking the deck in the theist's favour. In fact, just for future reference, if you torture me until I agree to pray to your god, you can stop at the threatening language part, I promise to crumble instantly under the threat of severe pain.

Atheists in Foxholes Which religion would an atheist choose to join when in the foxhole? Why would they pick that one in particular? Given that these religions are essentially mutually exclusive, how could an atheist, the definition of an unbiased individual under these conditions, pick a faith. How indeed would an atheist know enough of the required observances in order to join a religion if they weren't currently or previously practicing it in some form, after all religions seem to require some knowledge of their activities rather than just a generic "OK, I believe, already!"

Where would an atheist find answers to these questions, while charging around a battlefield? Would an intelligent deity accept such a 'deathbed' conversion anyway? What if a dying atheist was administered the last rites by a passing priest? Would that count? Even if the wounded man didn't believe? What about the other way around? What if a dying Catholic was sent on his way with a few words about oblivion from a helpful atheist?

There is actually one place where there are very few atheists (though obviously not none). In the USA they gather detailed statistics on membership of faiths, possibly to set the appropriate level of advertising revenue for the gaps between sermons, and the one place where you practically never find an atheist is prison. Amazing, really, atheists are vastly less likely to be prisoners than theists. Now to be fair this may have little to do with belief itself. Atheists are more likely to be highly intelligent, more likely to be well educated, more likely to be well paid than theists, clearly the prison population is not rife with affluent middle-class university graduates with stellar IQs.

As a small aside, in a nation as utterly obsessed with material possessions as the United States, I would be prepared to bet that a large number of prayers are directed towards accumulation of wealth. Maybe people pray to win the lottery, pray that their job-interview goes well, pray they get that promotion. Since atheists are, on average, wealthier than theists, wouldn't that suggest that prayer isn't terribly effective?

Back to the main point. Why, in fact, is it always a theist claiming that atheists and foxholes are mutually exclusive? Surely, they aren't in a position to know. They would know that they in a foxhole wouldn't choose that moment to become atheist; in all honesty I'd be surprised if they did, it seems a no-win situation as the bullets fly.

Actually, it's quite easy to see atheists in foxholes; there are places where they are almost constantly under attack. You see atheists are routinely attacked by theists. Tom Lehrer once sang that "The Protestants hate the Catholics and the Catholics hate the Protestants, the Hindus hate the Muslims and everybody hates the Jews." Well he may have found some truth amid the humour but ask most theists and the people they really hate are atheists. In the USA there have even been attempts to argue that it is permissible to discriminate against atheists because they hold to no faith or creed and are thus not protected by the laws stating that all faiths must suffer no discrimination. If atheism isn't a faith, the argument goes, then we can discriminate to our heart's content.

In Europe we don't see such things so often but across the pond things are getting out of hand. Some atheists feel that they can't admit their lack of faith because it would impact their prospects, social life or relationships. Imagine being the one who goes to church and sings the hymns because it's expected of you, all the time knowing the pointlessness of the exercise. Imagine having prepared answers to any question coming up in conversation about your beliefs, knowing that you are planning to lie to your friends, family and colleagues should they ask the wrong question.

Try to understand the misery of being cursed with an inquisitive mind when surrounded by the ignorant and narrow-minded. Imagine the strain, the pain this could cause. So the answer to the theist is simple. Vast numbers of atheists are in foxholes all the time, in some areas it may be the natural environment in which to find one, these foxholes aren't physical but personal and mental and every bit as unpleasant as the ones cut onto a muddy slope.

Don't repeat this tired old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes at the same time as preparing another volley of artillery to keep them there.

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It turns out that the word 'atheism' means much less than I had thought, it is merely the lack of theism. It is not a philosophy of life, and it offers no values. It betrays nothing of morality or motives.
Dan Barker