Monthly Archives: April 2011

C Rulon: Birth Control (History, Religion & Moral Zealotry)

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])


Planned Parenthood and other reproductive care organizations in the U.S. provide information and birth control to about 5 million women a year at over 4,600 health centers. Their efforts prevent over one million unintended pregnancies and several hundred thousand abortions a year. Furthermore, estimates are that for every $1 spent by our taxes for contraceptive care, taxpayers save around $4 in Medicaid costs for mother and baby in just the first year. Only about 3% of Planned Parenthood funds go toward legal abortions, none of which comes from taxes.

Yet in the spring of 2011, the GOP budget bill in Congress cut all funds to Planned Parenthood and these other reproductive care facilities. In Congress, religious, patriarchal and Libertarian ideologies are trumping fiscal responsibility, plus ecological sanity, plus humanistic compassion for the less fortunate. Thus, I thought that a quick historical review of birth control would be relevant at this time.

Early birth control attempts

With the discovery of agriculture came the accumulation of possessions, including wives and children. Dominant jealous males could never be sure they were the bio­logical fathers of the children they raised. So they created laws, customs and reli­gions which stressed the con­trol of female sexu­ali­ty. Virginity became prized; adultery by the wife often meant death.

Still, unwanted pregnancies were a persistent problem. Accord­ing to histor­ians Will and Ariel Durant (The Lessons of History -1968) most men wanted many chil­d­ren while their wives didn’t. Women secretly rebelled and have used an end­less vari­ety of means to reduce the burdens of preg­nancy—everything from magi­cal incan­­ta­­tions and pray­­ers, to extremely danger­ous abor­tions, to killing their new­borns. Through trial and error the early Greeks and Romans had com­pil­ed a num­ber of partially successful contra­ceptive tech­niques.

Yet, with the decline of the Roman world some 1600 years ago, much of this accumulated knowledge disappeared for more than a thousand years. The authorities during these long “Dark Ages” were often military men, or men of the cloth. The answers to all im­por­tant ques­tions were to be found in the Bible and other sacred commu­nica­tions with God. Piety was prized over advancing worldly knowledge; faith was consid­ered more reli­­able than reason. Ques­tion­ing the Church’s basic tenets was reli­gious heresy. Contraception was forbidden because God created sex for procreation only and because contraception would allow women to cheat on their husbands with­out getting caught. Life was often miserable, brutish and short.

Finally by the early 1800s, a growing body of informa­tion began to once again exist on how to prevent unwanted preg­nancies. By the mid-1800s Good­year’s discovery of vulcan­ized rubber led to mass-produced condoms and diaphragms. As printing and photographic technologies im­proved and as literacy increased, pamphlets on birth control began to be published and widely cir­culated. But powerful opposition grew.

Moral zealotry and patriarchal politics

In Victorian America proper women were expected to relinquish all claims to any source of sexual enjoyment, since “only whores and harridans were interested in sex.” Women were continuously bur­dened with unwanted pregnancies. Powerful patriarchal and reli­gious forces in league with zealous moral crusaders opposed birth control. One such moral crusader was Anthony Comstock. He was able to convince a like-minded U.S. Congress in 1873 to order the U.S. Post Office to confis­cate all “obscene” lit­erature in the mail. This included any information describ­ing birth control. By 1905, this law had been extend­ed by Congress to also punish the receivers of any birth control information. Com­stock personally con­duc­ted a reign of moral terror in the United States for some 40 years. He was appointed as a special agent for the U.S. Post Office and given the right to open any mail for inspection and to personally decide what was ob­scene. Entrapment was one of his favor­ite methods. Com­stock would regularly write physicians pretending to be a sick and frail mother of many children and begging the doctor for contraceptive informa­tion. Those doctors who responded were arrested and freq­uently fined or imprisoned.

Margaret Sanger

Given all the powerful religious, patriarchal and political forces against birth control, how did it ever become legal? Partly because of the tireless efforts of people like Margaret Sanger (1879-1966). As a nurse, Sanger became hor­ri­­fied at the plight of poor women who ex­peri­enced con­tinuous risks of preg­nancy and who often re­sorted to dang­er­ous and frequently self-in­duced abor­­tions. Sanger could see no reason why women should have to sacrifice sex in order to avoid unwanted preg­nan­cies. To make matters worse, the law required that mar­ried women must give themselves sexually to their hus­bands or risk los­ing financial support. This made abstinence by women difficult, if not impos­sible.

In 1914, authorities confiscated a pamphlet called Family Limitation that Sanger had published discussing sex education, venereal diseases and contraception. Faced with nine counts of mailing obscene material and a possible 45 years in jail, Sanger fled to Europe. (This pamph­let was eventually translated into 13 languages and had a total circulation of over 10 million.)

While in Europe Sanger’s quest for a safe birth control technique led her to the Netherlands where the dia­phragm had been developed and was dispensed by doctors and mid­wives. It was simple, inex­pensive and fairly reliable. Sanger smuggled the diaphragm back to the United States when she returned in 1916. By then her birth control efforts had become well-known and widely supported, so the govern­ment decided not to prosecute.

In the same year, Sanger and her sister opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. It was in Brooklyn. On the first day, a line of women stretched around the block. Close to five hun­dred women were seen in the first 10 days. Sanger and her sister were then arrested for “maintain­ing a public nuisance,” the clinic was closed and they each spent 30 days in jail. The New York State Supreme Court upheld their convictions.

Sanger bat­tled the wide-spread mentality which equated birth control with obscenity and sin. She battled patriarchal politicians, reli­­gious leaders and moral zealots. She battled the apathy of the medi­cal pro­fession. She fought numerous court battles and played a key role in the early Planned Parent­hood move­ment. Through all of this, Sanger repeat­edly argued that women must have the right to con­trol their own bodies, their own repro­ductive history. Other­­wise they are reduced to little more than government con­trolled asexual reproductive ma­ch­ines. Sanger was deter­mined, as she put it, “to put the United States of America upon the map of the civilized world!”

The backlash against Margaret Sanger was vicious and is still found on anti-birth control web sites. She was called a racist and proponent of orgies. She was accused of advocating the abortions of Blacks. She was even accused of inspiring Adolf Hitler to murder socially undesirable people.

Contraception and the AMA

In the 1920s contra­ception came under the strict control of the medical pro­fes­sion, which initially made little attempt to change the restrictive laws and also avoided clin­ical studies of contra­ceptives. Condoms could only be sold for the preven­tion of disease. Thus, contraceptive quackery and bogus formulas became big business. By 1934, only one medi­cal school in six was re­ported as giv­ing any regu­lar in­struction on contracep­tion. Finally in 1935 a federal court ruled that con­tra­ceptives could be legally adver­tised and ship­ped through the mail. Two years later the AMA finally recog­nized birth control as part of med­i­cal service. In 1938 an organization which came to be known as the Planned Parenthood Feder­ation of America was formed. Yet it still took another decade for contraceptives to become reasonably available and medically and ethically accepted.

The Pill

In 1960 mother­hood was still being preached in the pulpit as the noblest calling for women. Marriage was for the primary purpose of rearing a family. A childless couple or a one child family was still seen as a sorrow or a sign of selfishness. Then in 1960 the first birth control pill was introduced. With a failure rate under 5%, the pill seemed the perfect equalizer, free­ing women for the first time in history to enjoy sex with minimal fear of pregnancy. Many social observers have argued that the “pill” was crucial to the rise of the modern feminist movement. In a society that made child care a female responsibility, a woman who could not predict when she would bear children was in no position to make serious plans about anything else. Even if she wanted children and cherished the role of mother, she lacked real control over the course of her life.

Major birth control laws

In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court over­turned anti-birth control laws still remaining in three states, which outlawed contra­ception for married couples. By so doing, the Court was in effect confirming that married couples had the constitu­tional right a) to not have child­ren at all and b) to have sex for reasons other than pro­cre­ation. Still, it took another six years (1972) be­fore the Court extended its ruling to single adults.

Abortion laws began to change in sev­­eral states. By 1972, an esti­mated 600,000 le­gal abortions had been per­form­ed in the U.S., most­ly in New York City. Then in 1973 came the famous Roe v. Wade deci­sion. The U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 7 to 2 le­g­al­ized abortion through­out our coun­try. But primarily because of a never-ending powerful Catholic Church backlash, legal abortions today are only being performed in 13% of all the counties in the U.S.

In 1999 emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) was finally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for women 18 and over with a doctor’s prescription. In 2006 it became available without a prescription and in 2009 the age was lowered to 17. Girls under 17 can obtain a prescription. In Darfur in 2007 Amnesty Inter­national, an international human rights organi­zation, sup­ported the right of women who had been gang raped to have access to emergency contra­ception. In response, the Vatican sus­pen­d­ed all finan­cial aid to Amnesty International and called upon Catho­lics world­wide to boycott the organization.

Some final thoughts

In poor countries infan­­ticide and child abandon­ment are still common. Each year, un­plan­ned preg­nan­cies result in hun­dreds of thou­sands of deaths from botched abor­tions and from pregnancy-related complications, with millions more being rushed to hospitals. Tens of millions of unplan­ned children are born. Family units are weakened. Poverty increases. Untold millions of children are aban­doned to the streets. Millions die each year from malnutrition, con­tam­i­nated water and cur­able dis­­eases. World popu­­la­tion continues to grow. Ecological and social systems continue to disintegrate.

Thus, an investment in the education and the economic and reproductive health of women would provide one of the greatest ben­e­fits to huma­n­ity imag­inable. What other mea­sure could make such a con­tribu­tion to the health and well being of so many families and to the social and ecological stability of global societies, yet only cost each of us in the affluent world a few dollars a year? The trivialization of women’s issues as something tan­gential to the “really important issues” is really the trivialization of humanity itself.

“Empowerment of women is vital to achieving peace and security, improved living stand­ards and respect for human rights.”

— Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, U.N. (2007)

C Rulon: Birth Control (Political, Patriarchal & Religious Opposition)

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Powerful MEN still oppose birth control

Historically (and still today) there remain many reasons held by men in political and religious power for opposing the R & D of better contraceptives, birth control education, and the dispensing of birth control methods:

a. Religious/moral: Sex is a seri­ous and sac­red act reserved for re­pro­duction in marriage. Unwanted preg­nancies out­­side of marriage were divine punish­ments for illicit sex. If birth control were al­lowed, how could God punish immoral, loose women?

b. Blocking God’s plan: We all re­ceive our right to life direct­ly from God. We are all planned in His eyes. If a woman be­came pregnant it was meant to be. A baby was a gift from God. “Be fruitful and multiply,” the Bible tells us. Therefore, using birth control is interfering with God’s plan for us. It allowed hu­mans in­stead of God to de­cide when there should be con­cep­tion.

c. Reducing us to ani­mals: Scrip­ture warns us that pleas­ures of the flesh are sinful (1 Cor. 6:18-20). Birth control would encourage women to have sex just for fun and this would reduce them to mere ani­mals.[i] (Men, of course, weren’t expect­ed to control their “animal drives.”)

d. Loss of respect: Birth control could cause husbands to lose re­s­pect for their wives, considering them mere instruments of selfish en­joyment and no long­er their res­pect­ed and beloved com­pan­ions.

e. Collapse of society: Birth control could undermine social sta­bi­l­­ity. If women could have sex without fear of pregnancy, why get mar­ried in the first place? Indeed, having sex with­out worry could lead us down that slip­pery slope to pro­mis­cuity, pornography, mor­al de­cay, devi­ant sex­ual prac­tices, bro­ken homes, and finally the ulti­mate col­lapse of so­ciety.

f. Natural roles for men and women: Motherhood is the noblest calling possible for women. Mar­riage is for rearing fam­ilies and pro­vid­ing com­fortable, clean, spiritu­ally uplift­ing homes for hus­bands returning from the dog-eat-dog world. Women served best in the home and were not meant to com­pete with men for jobs, money and power. It wasn’t natural.

“The low status of women and girls is one of the most damaging, wasteful and immoral defects of society today”

—Dr. H. Mahler, former Director-General of the World Health Organization for 15 years

Current birth control battles

1984: The Reagan administration canceled all U.S. fund­ing of Inter­­national Planned Parent­hood, an organization that pro­vided family planning services to over 130 nations. Behind this decision was an agreement reached with the Vatican.[ii]

1992: The Bush administration ordered all birth control infor­mation removed from 275,000 copies of an already printed health care book being sent to federal workers because it might be seen by their children.

1993: The pope declared that using con­doms or the birth con­trol pill could be a mortal sin, even if a mar­ried couple was using con­doms because one partner had AIDS. (17 years later the pope announced that using condoms was a lesser sin than spreading AIDS.)

1994: The major­­ity of House Repub­licans voted to elimi­nate all U.S. funding for in­ter­na­tional family plan­ning programs. They also voted to exclude a number of ex­treme­ly effec­tive contraceptives (the pill, Nor­plant and the IUD) from federal health care cov­erage, claiming that these con­tracep­tives could cause abor­tions by preventing fertil­ized eggs from implan­ting in the uterus.

1995-2006: The Republicans gained control of both houses of Con­gress. Over 85 motions were passed that con­tinued to erode teen­age girls and women’s access to reproductive health services. Severe fund­ing cuts were impos­ed on U.S. family planning assistance to poor countries. The House of Representatives approved an amend­ment that would deny U.S. family planning funds to any foreign organization that even partici­pated in debates over abortion in their own countries (the global gag rule).

1997: Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) spon­sor­ed a House amendment that would eliminate all U.S. fund­ing for inter­national family planning programs. Al­though it was even­tu­ally defeated, the major­ity of House Republicans supported it.

1998: Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) spon­sor­ed a House amendment that would bar federal health care plans for federal employees from pay­ing for the pill, Norplant, Depo-provera and the IUD because, he claimed, they were “baby pesti­cides.” Almost 200 mem­bers of the House sup­ported his position!

1998: The Vatican attempted to stop the distribution of the “morning after pill” to the Bos­nian Muslim women in Koso­var refu­gee camps who had just been bru­tally raped and had already lost every­thing, including their loved ones. Arch­bishop Flynn referred to the aid workers who were offer­ing these pills as perpe­tra­tors of vio­lence.

1999: House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) claimed that youth violence was a re­sult of day care, the teaching of evol­ution, and ‘working mothers who take birth control pills.’

2000: At the United Nations Conference on Women, the Vati­can and delegates from a handful of fundamental­ist coun­tries (Libya, Al­geria, Iran, Sudan, Nicaragua and Paki­stan) blocked language that would have called for ac­cess to birth con­trol for women around the world.[iii]

2001-2008: The Bush Administration saw to it that abstinence-only sex education, despite its effectiveness being thoroughly discredited, received around $1.3 billion in funding. This funding was only available to those states that agreed to NOT teach about contraceptives as well. Eventually 25 states turned down the funding.

2002-2008: The Bush Administration withheld a total of $235 million in congressionally approved funds for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The UNFPA sup­ports volun­tary family planning and reproductive health care pro­grams in 154 countries worldwide. In 2007 a record 181 U.N. member states contributed to the UNFPA.

2007: An amendment was presented in the U.S. House of Representatives that would have required one-third of all the money allocated for President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief overseas to be spent on abstinence-only programs. The amendment was narrowly defeated: Yes (200), No (226).

2007: In Darfur, mass political gang rapes had been occur­ring for some time. Amnesty Inter­national, an international human rights organi­zation, sup­ported the right of those raped women to have access to emergency contra­ception and abortion. They empha­sized that they were dedi­cated to upholding basic human rights, not specific theologies. In response, the Vatican sus­pen­d­ed all finan­cial aid to Amnesty International and called upon Catho­lics world­wide to boycott the organization.

2009: President Obama overturned the “global gag rule” and signed legislation which increased funding for international family planning to $84 million. In addition, Obama reinstated low cost birth control availability at college health centers and at some 400 clinics serving low-income women. He also moved to rescind the Bush adminis­tra­tion’s “con­science” clause which allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and the morning-after pill if doing so offend­ed their relig­ious beliefs or moral convictions. Not a single Republican in either the House or the Senate supported Obama.

2009: A report from Population Action Intern­atio­nal estimat­ed that more than 200 million women in the devel­op­ing world were still denied birth control, resulting in over 50 million unin­tended pregnancies, 140,000 pregnan­cy-related deaths, about 500,000 orphans, and 22 million abortions yearly. The GOP controlled U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Finance wasn’t fazed. They approved an amendment to the health care reform package that would provide $50 million through 2014 for abstinence-only education and would bar funds from being used for contra­ception education.

2011: The GOP budget bill in Congress cut all funds to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive care facilities in the U.S. These facilities provide information and birth control to about 5 million women a year at over 4,600 health centers. Each year, over one million unintended pregnancies and several hundred thousand abortions are avoided. The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that for every $1 spent by our taxes for contraceptive care, taxpayers save around $4 in Medicaid costs for mother and baby in just the first year. Only about 3% of Planned Parenthood funds go toward legal abortions, none of which comes from taxes.[iv]

Some final thoughts

We have become the only an­imal to ever be able to sepa­rate sex from pregnan­cy. Every child can now be a wanted child. Yet, power­ful anti-birth control religious and poli­tical patriarchal forces continue to be effective in redu­c­ing contra­cep­tive research, edu­­­ca­tion and avail­abil­ity. For dec­ades adver­tise­ments for con­tra­­cep­tives on primetime televi­sion have been blocked and teens across our country have not been ade­quately edu­cated about contraceptives. In­stead, they’ve been taught to “Just Say No.” As a result over one-half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are still un­planned. Our teen pregnancy rate is now two to six times higher than in the coun­tries of Western Europe.[v]

[i] The evolution of continuous sexual availability of human females has been con­si­dered by evolution theorists to be criti­cal for mate bonding, for female survival and for the survival of the young. In fact, non-reproductive sex is believed by some theorists to be as impor­tant for our humanity as was our mastery of fire and language. These findings are con­trary to those conserva­tive religious teachings that tell us that God only wants us to have sex in marriage for repro­duction. To have sex only when pregnancy is possible would be, indeed, to act just like an animal.

[ii]Bernstein, C. 1992. “The Holy Alliance.” Time, Feb. 24.

[iii]The Holy See and Women’s Rights: A Shadow Report on the Beijing Platform for Action and Catholic HMOs and Reproductive Health Care. Published by Catholics for Free Choice. (

[iv] Time, March 14, 2011, p. 66.

[v]A 2006 Columbia University study found that 88% of teenage girls who took “virginity pledges” eventually had premarital sex and were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did, making them vulnerable not only to unintended pregnancies but to sexually transmitted diseases. See .

A Discussion: Why does religion persist?

Chuck opened the discussion:

By the late 19th century it was believed by some leading intellectuals that with in¬creased education and improved standards of health and economic well being, our classical religious orthodoxies would be replaced by a humanistic civilization based on compassion, reason and science. Yet, even though the scientific revolution has invaded our lives at almost every level and has discredited many sacred dogmas and religious myths, religions still flourished. Religious loyalties still persist.


Chuck: Why should we be surprised? After all, humans still fear pain and loneliness. Most still find it hard to accept death as a finality. We still look for some ultimate divine purpose to our lives; we want all our suffering to have some higher meaning. We also marvel at how this universe and life came into being. And, of course, many of us want to believe what we really want to be true. Logic and scientific evidence are seldom enough to dislodge personal beliefs and prejudices, particularly if these beliefs offer great comfort and even joy. Our mind’s capacity for self-delusion is enormous! In fact, E. O. Wilson of Harvard even hypothesized the predisposition to religious belief may be the most complex and powerful drive in the human mind, an innate and possibly irreplaceable part of human nature.

Adrian: Chuck, your thesis foists the entire justification for the popularity of religion on the individual’s needs and wants rather than also seeing religion as a very effective behavior controlling institution. The sociologist Durkheim noted that it isn’t so much the individual’s spiritual neediness that promotes adherence to religion so much as the State’s recognition of religion [through the fear of hell and damnation] being one of the most powerful forces of public deception and social control.

Juan: I would guess that Adrian is at least partially right. Those who rule or govern always seek effective instruments by which their power my be increased or at least maintained. Some religious institutions surely fill the bill. But what Adrian wrote applies only to those religions which emphasized eternal suffering in hell for sins and wrong doing, primarily Christianity. Many of the world religions do not emphasize this other-worldly punishment (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, some forms of Judaism, etc.). Hence, people’s adherence to those religions could hardly be motivated by their fear of hell. But in those cases where the religion emphasizes the punishment that awaits most souls (primarily Christianity), Adrian is probably right in saying the kings, emperors, and other state leaders made use of the religious institutions to add to their control of people. Christianity closely aligned with the powers of the king (or the state) is a great instrument for those in power and in privileged positions (church hierarchy).

[Will Durant in his Lessons of History, in the chapter on Religion and History, quotes Napoleon as saying that religion has kept the poor from murdering the rich. Durant offers the observation that since men are not equal in talent, many are doomed to poverty and defeat, and thus some supernatural comfort is hoped for.]

“Destroy that hope, and class war is intensified. Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down the other goes up; when religion declines Communism grows.” (p. 43.)]

Juan: Nevertheless, I believe people tend to overstate the degree to which people’s behavior can be controlled because of the fear of hell. Many psychologists, ethical historians, and moral philosophers have questioned the effectiveness of “fear of hell” as a form of behavior control and as an effective way of getting people to behave lawfully, morally and treat others well. In short, the threat of eternal suffering in hell as a modifier of behavior may be greatly over-rated. There is little or no reason for thinking that the countless criminals, thugs, murderous types in all classes who believed in the Christian doctrine on the afterlife behaved any better in terms of the law and morality than people who hold no such beliefs. People who are naturally inclined to treat others decently will do so, regardless of their religion. And those inclined to screw their neighbor (in the many ways that that is done!) will do so regardless of their religion.

Chuck: Jeffery Victor, a professor of sociology, writes that there is no doubt that powerful elite groups have used religion to manipulate the less powerful and to justify their vested economic interests. Today the Christian Right blames “Big government” for taking the Bible out of schools, for sanctioning murder (abortion) and encouraging homosexual “perversion.” Their allies in Congress receive considerable financial support from corporations that also see “Big government” as the enemy, but for different reasons. “Big government” makes laws that inhibit corporations from maximizing their profits —laws concerning equal pay for women, parental leave, work safety conditions, environmental protection, minimum wages, day care, health insurance. Such programs and laws drain money away from the wealthy and the corporations.

Juan: I would argue that there are a number of causal explanations for the continued ‘life’ of religions. Some are sociological in nature (societies and governments find religion useful), psychological (people feel a need for religious faith, religion cultivates unity and solidarity), habit and cultural inertia (religion has always been part of our lives) and maybe in some cases philosophical (a complete explanation of reality requires some form of religious faith). I’m sure you can come up with many more.

Adrian: Let me add to the discussion by sharing my “functions of spirituality” from the class I teach entitled Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion. I provide 5 such functions, each of which offers another explanatory facet of the tenacity of religion in this “enlightened” age:

1. Answer unanswerable questions (e.g. What is death? Why is there suffering? What fate awaits us? etc.).

2. Sanction human conduct (i.e. to break the law is a crime…(if you’re caught), but to disobey god is a SIN and NO ONE gets away with that. What king or emperor wouldn’t want a tiny cop in everyone’s brain?).

3. Promote social solidarity (to many people, especially those living in the anonymity of a vast urban center such as ours, church, temple, and synagogue “brothers and sisters” are the only “family” they have).

4. Explain the unknown (no religion or spiritual system worth its salt hesitates to tell us anything we need to know; and, if we back a religious leader into a corner with a tough question, they can always play the “joker” card: “Strange are the ways of the Lord,” or, “Humans are not meant to know those things,” or, as a priest once told me when I baffled him with a theological question, “You’ll find out when you die, Novotny!”

5. Explain reality (theology, including cosmology and philosophy in general, constitute “grand theories” that encompass the whole of cosmic order and the virtual entirety of social structure. Anything anyone wants to know is answerable using theological dogma. It’s all there; whatever you may need to know).

Chuck: Many a ruler has found (or believed) that it was much easier to exterminate the enemy if the enemy were defined as evil, immoral, and ungodly. To be strong, it was believed, a society must cultivate citizens with a fanatical devotion to its values and its interests. Citizens must believe that their society is an incarnation of truth and goodness, that their nation is beloved by God, and that its enemies are evil. Fundamentalist religion has been one key to a strong and lasting nationalism. Religion also makes people more inclined to accept death, war, sacrifice, and authority.

Steven Hawking Declares Philosophy is Dead – But is it really?

In the opening paragraphs of their recent book on scientific cosmology, The Grand Design, Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow make the declaration that science, not philosophy, is the agent of our quest for knowledge. But having made this reasonable assertion, they push further by declaring that “philosophy is dead.”

As an unqualified general statement about all philosophy, this is a very questionable statement; but even more surprisingly, the authors show by their theorizing in the book that a form of philosophy that surely is not dead; namely philosophy as done by scientists themselves.

Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow open their book, with these inspiring words:

“..humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?”

Then they make some surprising remarks, disparaging philosophy:

“Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”

Following this they offer their view that “scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

They conclude their opening remarks by stating the purpose of their book:

“The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances. They lead us to a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago.”

The remark that “philosophy is dead” reads like a categorical statement. Many readers have been surprised that the authors did not qualify this claim; e.g., aspects of traditional philosophy are no longer relevant, such as speculative metaphysics. Surely the authors are aware that there remain many aspects of philosophy that are not entirely dead: e.g. ethics, philosophy of religion, of science, of mind, political philosophy, and such.

The authors hint as to what they might have in mind by the “philosophy is dead” statement when they follow with the statement that “philosophy has not kept up with developments in science.” This helps a little to clarify their disenchantment with philosophy, but it seems that here this is another questionable claim on their part. First, it is not clear what one could mean by a ‘blanket’ statement regarding all of philosophy. Philosophy, like the science, is comprised of a variety of people and intellectual activity. It may be true that some people who call themselves ‘philosophers’ have not kept up with developments in contemporary science; but some most assuredly have: e.g., those philosophers working in the philosophy of science, e.g. Adolph Grunbaum and Victor Stenger in physics, Daniel Dennett in evolutionary biology and in the cognitive sciences. So, at the very least, Hawking and Mlodinow should have qualified their claim that “philosophy has not kept up with developments in the sciences” to read instead that some philosophers have not kept up with developments in the sciences.

Most of us can agree that “scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” Surely with respect to new discoveries and knowledge of nature and culture, science leads the way. One does not have to embrace a form of ‘scientism’ to agree with this statement. But this statement does not require that one reject all philosophical work as irrelevant to the quest for knowledge that the sciences represent. There remains a role for philosophers, even if it is only the secondary role of clarifying, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating some of the results of scientific discoveries and theories.

But the more interesting criticism of the authors disparagement of philosophy comes when we notice that, after declaring that philosophy is dead, they turn around and give us a good dose of ‘philosophy’ as they present “a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago.” This “new picture” of reality is not one which they develop on strictly scientific grounds, but involves the sort of inference and extrapolation that many would call philosophical thought.

It is easy to find selections in the book which show that the authors engage in drawing inferences, theorizing, and extrapolating as they give us an alternative picture of reality. Can these activities that extend beyond science proper be interpreted as a philosophical activity of sorts?

Admittedly, scientists can draw inferences from their data, make interpretations and theorize without necessarily having it be cases of philosophical speculation. I don’t assume that every time that Hawking and Mlodinow make interpretations or theorize from their data and observations they are engaging in philosophy. But some of their theorizing and extrapolations resemble the activity of philosophy: interpretation, theorizing, and going beyond the data of science to draw more extensive conclusions.

Let’s consider some of what they write. They adopt what they call a theory of perceptual experience which they call “model-dependent realism” in which the world that we perceive results when “our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the real world.” From this they conclude that we don’t observe a world independent of the interpretative structure of our brain:

“There is no way to remove the observer – us – from our perception of the world, which is created through our sensory processing and through the way we think and reason. Our perception – and the observations upon which our theories are based — are shaped by a kind of lens, the interpretive structure of our human brains.”

They may think that this ‘theory’ is just a straight extrapolation from the facts of the brain processes underlying perception, but this ‘theory’ has resemblance to an epistemological theory in philosophy; e.g. a Kantian analysis of the phenomena of experience. Moreover, the fact that one can draw alternative inferences from the facts of those brain processes consistent with a common-sense realism is further indication that the authors advance a philosophical theory regarding perceptual experience.

Their philosophical position – an epistemological position – is underlined when they suggest a skeptical view of the possibility of having an undistorted view of reality. They raise the questions: “Do we really have reason to believe that our objective reality exists? What is the true, undistorted view of reality?” That there answer is a negative one is implied by their use of the goldfish bowl analogy: as the goldfish inside the fish bowl have a distorted view of the world outside the fish bowl, so we have a view of the external world which is distorted by our sense faculties and brain processing.

“Do we really have reason to believe that our objective reality exists — the curved gold fish bowl analogy — What is the true, undistorted view of reality?”

What they write concerning “scientific determinism” is another case in point.

“[The book assumes] the concept of scientific determinism…. There are no exceptions to the laws of nature. …we are no more than biological machines and free will is just an illusion.”

It is probably true that all scientists hold to the view that there are no exceptions to the laws of nature; but it not true that all scientists and philosophers of science infer from this a philosophical determinism which denies that “free will is just an illusion.” when one means by ‘free will’ the ability to make choices and realize some freedom of action. To think otherwise is to adopt a particular philosophical interpretation of ‘free will’ as a special faculty of mind which is not affected by the laws of nature. An alternative philosophical position is one that sees ‘scientific determinism’ to be compatible with our ordinary sense of freedom and choice. One can recognize the importance of our biological ‘machinery’ and yet see humans as more than automatons or mere biological machines. To reject this compatibilist position , as the authors do, is to take a philosophical position on the issues of freedom and determinism.

When they take up the question of alternative models of reality, the authors surely appear to engage a philosophy of science:

[Consider two models: (1) the world is only a few thousand years old or (2) the world is 13.7 billions years old] One theory may be more useful, but “neither model can be said to be more real than the other. A model is a good model if it is elegant; contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements; agrees with and explains all existing observations; makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they’re not borne out.”

In short, they apply criteria to evaluate competing models of reality. But when they do this, they are not doing science, but they are doing something ordinarily done by philosophers of science.

Finally, we find the abstract theories of the universe which the authors affirm, theories which certainly have the look of a scientifically-based metaphysics.

“We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.”

“The idea that the universe does not have a unique observer-independent history might seem to conflict with certain facts that we know.”

“The universe does not have a just a single existence or history, but rather every possible version of the universe exists simultaneously in what is called quantum super-position.”

“The histories that contribute to the Feynman sum don’t have an independent existence, but depend on what is being measured. We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us. The idea that the universe does not have a unique observer-independent history might seem to conflict with certain facts we know.”

It is obvious that the authors find a scientific basis (quantum physics, scientific cosmology) for these surprising theories of reality. But the thinking that draws the theories surely is a close kin to philosophical thought.

In conclusion, philosophy is not dead but very much alive when we look for the right forms of philosophy. And some of the more interesting type of philosophy is being done by scientists themselves [1], including the authors of The Grand Design.


[1] Contemporary scientists who have done very impressive philosophical work include Taner Edis, The Ghost in the Universe (philosophy of religion, ..of physics, .. of evolutionary biology), Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate (philosophy of mind, epistemology, social philosophy), and Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop, (philosophy of mind, of self).

C Rulon: Is a Nuclear War Inevitable?

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

Throughout recorded history humans have used war as the ultimate arbiter for acquiring, defending and expanding—some 14,000 major and mi­nor wars; over one bil­lion people killed.

“War is one of the constants of history and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,411 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.”

—Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968)

But 65 years ago a quantum jump in warfare took place—the atomic bomb. Soon the nuclear genie was out of the bottle. More and more countries were eventually able to build or acquire nuclear weapons. North Korea and Pakistan. Soon Iran? There is even a nuclear black market that attracts terrorist groups. Yet, a full-scale nuclear war would destroy civilization and threaten life itself. Even a “limited” nuclear war could escalate into a full-scale one, as could a conventional war among the superpowers. At some point, if civilization is to flourish, loyalty to 200 individual nation-states must be enlarged to include a new over-rid­ing loyalty to humanity as a whole. But, can we do this? Does our brain carry within it the potential to peacefully resolve fundamental conflicts? According to historian Will Durant, history isn’t encouraging:

“Some conflicts are too funda­mental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged ne­gotiations (if history may be our guide) subversion would go on. . . Such interludes of widespread peace are un­natural and exceptional; they will soon be ended by changes in the distribution of military power.”

—Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968)

The world’s political and military leaders, we would hope, know that a nuclear war would be catastrophic. But our brain—a brain that evolved from an ape brain—is prone to nationalistic pride, dis­trusting those who are different, and obeying charismatic authority figures (even monoma­niacal insane ones). It’s prone to conforming to the behavior of the masses like good sheep, even displaying ideological fervor.

Now mix in grotesque global economic disparities. Add overpopulation pressures, resource shortages, local ecological collapses and global climate destabilization. Stir in willful ignorance, stu­pi­dity, relentless greed, fear, selfish­ness, indiffer­ence, lust for power, primal religious conflicts, entrenched racism, and virulent xenophobia. Sprinkle on more fear, plus our brain’s tendency for simplistic solutions and paranoid emotional respon­ses. Whip it all together and shove it into history’s oven of nightmares. Yes, our political and military leaders must know that a nuclear war would be catastrophic, but. . . .

Nobel Prize-winning philosopher Arthur Koestler observes in the book, Brain, Mind and Behavior:

“The trouble with our species is not an overdose of self-asserting aggression but an excess of self-transcending devotion, which manifests itself in blind obedience and loyalty to the king, country, or cause…One of the central features of the hu­man predica­ment is this overwhelming capacity and need for identifi­cation with a social group and/or system of beliefs, which is indifferent to reason, indifferent to self-interest, and even to the claim of self-preser­vation.”

Emeritus physics professor Mark Perakh, author of the book, Unintelligent Design, adds his resigned rage:

“Most probably the 21st century will see devastating wars and enormous explosions of barbarism. Humans as a species are the most stupid of all animals. There is hardly anything more stupid than a war, but humans seem to be unable to live without it. The struggle between reason and obscurantism… is just a footnote to the idiocy of wars that humanity sinks into with an inevitable regularity.”

Our existential dilemma

The detonation of even a small fraction of our nuclear weapons could likely result in the greatest catastrophe in human history, one that could unravel much of civilization as we know it and even push us to the brink of extinction. Thus, our policies of nuclear deterrence must never fail. Never! Never! No failure. Ever! Yet, year after year the roulette wheel of human conflicts continues to spin and the minute hand on the doomsday clock ticks closer to midnight.

Is a nuclear war inevitable? Well, one formidable obstacle to lasting peace is the mili­tary-industrial complex, itself. All military organizations are trained to fight, to kill. Also, they must have actual or potential enemies in order to justify their budgets. Hence they are designed to be very in­effective at negotiation and compromise, critically important skills we need on this planet today. Somehow we must catch onto this and recognize that one of the greatest con­flicts in the world today is between the mili­taries of the world and the human species.

“U.S. weapons manufacturers actively pro­mote the sale of their products to foreign nations irrespective of human rights abuses, type of government, or aggressive actions against neighboring states.” “…Members of Congress see military spend­ing as a big public works job program­—and a source of juicy pork for their states and districts.”

—The Defense Monitor & Center for Defense Information bulletins

For the first time in human history the fate of our entire species is in the hands of a very few decision makers. Do their evolved brains really have what it takes to survive at so dangerous a juncture, to not, sooner or later, make the fatal decision?

“The mind resists involvement with horror as, in a normal person, it resists preoccupation with death. And in consequence we leave the issue of nuclear arms, their control and their conse­quences to the men who make horror their ev­eryday occupation. It is a reckless, even fatal, delegation of power.”

—John Kenneth Galbraith

End Times Theology

And then there are the tens of millions of Americans who believe in biblical apocalyptic fatalism or Armageddon theology—that Christ can’t return until after World War III. They believe that this “final” war will start in the Middle East and spread and that the eventual des­truc­tion of Earth is inevitable. . .except for them, the Saved. Such End Times biblical beliefs have the poten­tial for being deadly in the hands of true believers in the Pent­a­gon, in the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, in Congress, and in the Execu­tive Branch. After all, why negotiate for peace in good faith if God’s apocalypse is at hand? Effective disarmament talks might even interfere with God’s timetable for the world. So, tens of millions of Christian Americans who might other­wise be working and praying for peace are now hoping that nuclear Armageddon and the Second Coming will happen in their lifetime.[i]

According to Dr. Gerald Larue, Profes­sor Emeritus of Archae­ology and Near Eastern Studies, Uni­versity of Southern California, Armageddon theology portrays an angry, des­truc­tive God who requires absolute blind obedience from those who would be among his chosen ones. In that very demand are the elements of irresponsibility and destruction for the human species. Finally, to quote Blaise Pascal,

“Men never do evil so com­­pletely and cheer­fully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Some closing thoughts

We can no longer sit back and risk blind patriotism, ultra-nationalism, or religious fanaticism erupting in violence. All over the world are trouble spots that could some day escalate into a nuclear catastrophe. Never before has the United States been less secure. The absurdity and tragedy of the human species worldwide wasting over a trillion dollars a year on militarization, to say nothing of the hu­man talent diverted from the real problems of sur­vival on our ecologically endan­gered planet, is deeply and profoundly depressing to me. But it will be us, the “naked ape”, who are responsible for the demise of our species, if it comes, not the divine fulfillment of some apocalyptic plan prophesied in an ancient book.

“The unleashed power of the atom has changed every­thing save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

—Albert Einstein, 1946

[i]In 2004 at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, Bill Moyers gave his much reproduced speech on Armageddon Theology, easily found on the web. For the entire text, go to

C Rulon: Nuclear War

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])


Headlines in recent years have focused heavily on nuclear weapons in North Korea and Pakistan, plus Iran’s attempt to join the “nuclear club”. And most recently, horrendous nuclear meltdown problems in the earthquake-tsunami-damaged nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan have seriously elevated global concerns over radioactive fallout and contamination. Thus, the current relevance of this paper.

Nuclear death toll

In August, 1945, the United States exploded a sin­gle nuclear fission bomb over Hiro­shima and another over Nagasaki. Both cities were destroyed, 125,000 Japanese were kil­led outright, and within months another 100,000 had died from in­jur­ies and radioactive fallout. Yet, today, each of our Trident sub­marines has the firepower of about 200 Hiroshima bombs, or eight times the fire­power released in the entire six years of World War II! The total nuclear arsenals of the world (deployed weapons and reserves), is now estimated at around 23,000, or roughly 2000 times the total firepower used during World War II.[i] Thus, despite our considerable arms reductions over the last two decades, we still have the capacity to obliterate all human life many times over.


The meltdown of the nuclear fuel in the Chernobyl power plant in Russia in 1986 erupted in a radioactive cloud that spread out over most of Europe. Up to 18 tons of reactor core fuel was spewed into the atmosphere, releasing 50 times as much radio­active material into the air as was re­leased at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia was left with 27 ghost towns and cities too contaminated by radioactivity to be occupied in the foreseeable future and with 80,000 square miles that must be evacuated for thousands of years. The Chernobyl reactor core will remain dangerously radioactive for billions of years!

Yet, if just one Trident II submarine released its ars­enal of nuclear weapons, the radio­act­iv­ity re­leased into the atmosphere would be equi­valent to several thousand Chernobyl disasters. Fol­lowing even a “limited” nuclear war, the high levels of radioactivity from fallout would contami­nate most food and water supplies world­wide and would slowly and painfully kill over a billion or so people along with their farm animals and wild­life.

Toxic smog

All metal in a 3.5 mile radius from the blast center of a one megaton nuclear bomb would vaporize or melt. Out to 7 miles, all rubber and plastic would ignite and burn. Incineration of oil tanks and refineries, along with stor­age tanks of hazardous chemicals, rub­ber pro­ducts and anything else that can burn would produce toxic smog which could cover much of the Northern Hemi­­sphere. Extreme­ly acid rains and acid fogs would be com­mon. In addition, the heat from the nuclear blast would chemically unite the oxygen and nitrogen in our air to form oxides of nitrogen. Once in the stratosphere, the toxic smog plus the oxides of nitrogen would destroy much of the remaining ozone layer which absorbs most of the harmful ultraviolet light from the sun. As the ozone is destroyed, ani­mal life on land would go blind and skin cancers would skyrocket.


Most sanitation facilit­ies would be destroyed, people’s nat­u­ral resis­tance would be drastically lowered and antibiotics, plus most 20th century medi­cine would be largely unavailable. Thus, deadly in­fect­ions and global epidemics (plague, cholera, typhoid, dysentery, etc.) would return with a vengeance. Swarms of rapidly producing insects and rod­ents would damage remaining food supplies and spread disease.

The medical effects of a one megaton explo­sion on Los Angeles

If a single one-megaton nuclear war­head were drop­ped on Los Angeles, one to three million people would be killed outright and several million seriously injured.[ii] For comparison, The United States suffered a total of around one million casual­ties in our Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined. There is no identifiable event in human history in which millions of people were killed or seriously injured in one place in one moment.

Then there would be hundreds of thousands to millions of temporary “survivors” who, before dying horribly over the next several days to weeks, would have extensive third-degree burns and/or suffer crushing injuries of the chest, abdomen and limbs; skull fractures; spinal cord in­juries; multiple lacerations, hemorrhage, shock, blindness, ruptured lungs and acute radiation sickness. Many more would die over the next several months as a result of disease, radioactive damage, toxic smog and/or human violence. Longer-range problems would include raging epidemics spawned by millions of decomposing human corpses, lack of safe water and an explosive growth of insect vectors. There would be essentially no hospitals, ambulances, pain killers, safe water, medics, lab equipment, X-rays, blood, burn centers, or drugs available for any of the seriously injured.

A call to medical responsibility

When asked by the White House in 1981 to devise a plan for medical disaster planning following a nuclear war, representatives from two organiza­tions, Phy­si­cians for Social Responsibility and Internat­ional Phy­sicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, res­ponded that, as physicians, scientists, and concerned citizens, they were alarmed by an inter­national climate that increasingly presented nuclear war as a “rational” possibility. These professional organizations felt impelled to renew the following warning, based on medical and scientific analysis:[iii]

a. Nuclear war, even a “limited” one, would result in death, injury, and disease on a scale that has no precedent in the history of human existence.

b. Medical “disaster planning” for nuclear war is meaningless. There is no possible effective medical response. Most hospitals would be destroyed, most med­ical personnel dead or injured, most supplies un­available. Most “survivors” would die.

c. There is no effective civil defense. The blast, plus the thermal and radiation effects would kill even those in shelters and the fallout would reach those who had been evacuated.

d. Recovery from nuclear war would be essentially impossible. The economic, ecological, and social fab­ric on which human life depends would have been de­stroyed in much of the world.

Leaders of these organizations maintained that any physician who even assisted the U.S. Govern­ment in such “disaster planning” would be committing a pro­foundly unethical act, since their participation would create the illusion that meaningful survival would actually be possible. In 1985 the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some final thoughts

All of the mega-tonnage in our nuclear arsenals would yield but a fraction of the power of the asteroid that triggered the global mass extinct­ion 65 mil­lion years ago. Yet, Earth recov­er­ed in 5-10 mil­lion years and went on evolving new species. Ice ages have covered most of Europe and North America, yet evolution con­tinued on. Bacteria will survive nuclear wars, as will mil­lions of insects. Also certain to survive will be blue-green algae, at one time the dominant form of life on this planet. They can sur­vive in boiling water, or the intense cold of liquid he­lium. They can survive in the salt water of the Dead Sea and the parched dryness of deserts. And they can survive high exposure to nuclear radiation. But humans cannot; we will be gone.

Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould reminded us over 20 years ago in his book, Wonderful Life, that if through our greed, stupidity, narrow reli­gious beliefs, indifference, or what­ever, we destroy our chance to survive as a viable soc­ial species (and even take most other species with us as in a nuclear war), the Earth will bleed, bandage up and continue on, evolving new life forms over the next tens of millions of years. But the human species with all of its bril­liant sci­entific discoveries, its music, art, “smart” wea­pons and thousands of different religious sects will be gone forever. Tens of millions of years from now there will be few traces left of the damage once caused by the naked ape that emerged from the trees to rule planet Earth only a few seconds ago in the infinity of space and time.

[i]> Between the 1960s and 1980s, an intensive arms race took place between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1986 the arms race reached its peak. At that time the two superpowers together had over 70,000 nuclear weapons in their arsenals. The total explosive power of these weapons would have been enough to annihilate the world and almost all its living creatures approximately 25 times over.

[ii] A one megaton nuclear bomb has the explosive power of one million tons of TNT. Most warheads are smaller than one megaton, although bombs as large as 60 megatons have been tested.


Scant justice in our world, especially in Supreme Court Decisions.

Supreme Court justices are people too, and they make mistakes like any other ordinary mortals. — LA Times, 4/2/2011, Carol J. Williams

The skeptic who observes world events can tell you that our world that has little justice for the average person. It is easy to conclude that there is little or no fair play for most people. Consider just a few examples of gross injustice: the gross disparity of wealth, with the greater numbers being miserably poor; the disparity in living standards between people of rich and poor countries; the millions subject to corrupt and incompetent governments; the millions imprisoned because of political persecution and religious discrimination. We could continue the list indefinitely; but this is enough to make the point.

There is much injustice in the world. This does not even take into account the historical injustice and misery that people have suffered through the centuries.

“Well,” an optimist might reply, “in the USA there is justice.” Yes, today many Americans enjoy justice and high quality of existence. The system treats them fairly and allows them to realize a comfortable life style; many even prosper and become wealthy. But, again as any observer of contemporary society can tell us, justice and the good life is not granted to everybody. There’s a disparity of wealth and opportunity; and the law has not always been applied fairly and humanely. [1]

But, our optimist, might reply, “In the US we have our great Constitution, which two hundred and thirty five years ago, established a representative form of democracy and a society which goes a long way toward realizing justice for all.

Yes, for all its faults and shortcomings, the US Constitution is an admiral document which has stood the test of two centuries and provided inspiration for democracies around the globe. But as Timothy Ferris argues in his book, The Science of Liberty, the US Constitution, like the American Republic itself, is a social experiment. There are no guarantees that our constitutional republic will be a complete success. The Constitution itself must constantly be interpreted and applied to changing conditions and challenges. This is the function of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.

How have the courts performed? To the extent that one function of our constitutional government is to improve the prospects of justice for all citizens, how have our courts done in their work of interpreting and applying the constitution to changing conditions and social-political challenges? Not so well according to two newspaper reports that came out in April of 2011.

Two Los Angeles Times (4/3/2011) stories illustrate how badly the Supreme Court can do in applying to the constitution to cases bearing on the just treatment of groups of people or individuals.

First, we have a study of five very bad decisions by a group of legal scholars. The Los Angeles Times reported on a gathering of legal experts who examined a number of bad decisions of the Supreme Court.

A high-powered gathering of legal scholars at Pepperdine’s law school look at five decisions widely considered the worst in the court’s history. The rulings are presented as learning opportunities as well as thwarted justice.

“The legal scholars …examined the high court’s “Supreme Mistakes” —five decisions widely considered the worst in the court’s history.”

Consider four of these five infamous cases of the court.

The ones resulting in great injustice to individuals or groups are as follows:

1) The high court’s decision in Dred Scott vs. Sandford in 1857 held that the descendants of slaves weren’t entitled to U.S. citizenship or the protections of the Constitution, including Scott’s claimed right to sue for his freedom in the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was forbidden.

It was a deeply racist opinion that goes far out of its way to warmly embrace the institution of slavery,

— Daniel Farber, a UC Berkeley law professor who said the decision arguably led to the Civil War and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

2) Plessy vs. Ferguson, the 1896 ruling that upheld a Louisiana law requiring the racial segregation of railway passengers.

3) In Buck vs. Bell in 1927, fear and prejudice drove the high court to uphold a Virginia law allowing the sexual sterilization of institutionalized people.

4) Korematsu vs. United States, the 1944 high court ruling upholding the evacuation order against Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Akhil Amar, a Yale University law professor, traced a historical tendency of the Supreme Court to accommodate racism among three of the … cases dissected by the scholars.

“These cases show that the Supreme Court does make mistakes, that the justices aren’t infallible. They show that the justices will be subject to the same interests and pressures of society at the time they make decisions as any other American.”

— Tom Best, acting dean of Pepperdine’s law school.

Secondly, we have a few cases in which the Supreme Court, in all its collective wisdom, has decided against defendants who served prison terms for crimes they did not commit.

This trend in court decisions was cited in another recent LA Times article:

Supreme Court shields prosecutors in wrongful convictions Though new DNA testing has shown hundreds of convicts to be innocent, the court has protected prosecutors from lawsuits and balked at letting prisoners reopen cases.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau of LATimes – April 3, 2011

Among the cases cited by Savage are the following:

A recent case in which, by a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the high court threw out a jury verdict won by John Thompson, the Louisiana man who had sued the New Orleans district attorney after he spent 14 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. [This] .. decision protects a district attorney’s office from being sued for a series of errors that sent an innocent man to prison.

Another case in which an innocent man, from Arizona, was sent back to prison for raping a child when the Supreme Court ruled he had no right to evidence that would later set him free.

In another case an innocent man, from Louisiana, was convicted of murder and came within weeks of being executed because prosecutors had hidden a blood test that later freed him.

The two men were linked at the Supreme Court last week by Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that criminal defendants have no right to “potentially useful evidence” that “might” show they were innocent. (Mr. Scalia apparently does not see justice and fair play as relevant to his interpretations of the constitution.)

The journalist states that

since the 1990s, the advent of DNA evidence has swept across the American criminal justice system and revealed that hundreds of convicted prisoners were innocent. Yet, throughout that time, the Supreme Court has shielded prosecutors from claims that they hid evidence that could have revealed the truth and has been reluctant to give prisoners a right to reopen old cases.

Yes, it would be comforting to think that, at least in our legal system in the United States, justice is upheld. However, a look at the history of court decisions might lead us the conclude that ‘justice’ and fairness is not what the Supreme Court is about.

[1] The historian will remind us that US history is not an enviable one with respect to justice and fairness for all. The massacre of the native Indians and the destruction of their cultures in the name of white, European Christianity attest to some of this bloody, unjust history. We can add the good old institution of slavery, followed by a racially segregated and racially discriminating society, along with a history of injustice and discrimination directed against the poor, workmen and families. In terms of history, justice has been rare, if evident at all despite what Americans like to think.

C Rulon: Fascism is Political Fundamentalism – Fundamentalism is Religious Fascism‏

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

In recent years, the term “Islamo-fascism” has appeared in editorials and op-ed pieces. But what exactly is fascism? In an essay titled “Fascism Anyone?” Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to fascist regimes.[1] I’ve summarized his article below. Heated opinions vary considerably on how “fascist” the United States has become.

1. Powerful Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic slogans, sym­bols and songs. Flags are seen every­where.

2. Obsession with National Security over human rights: Fascist governments use fear as the primary tool to control the masses. The government becomes the master, not the servant, of the people. Fear of enemies and the need for security trumps human rights. The public is often willing to fore-go civil liberties in the name of patriot­ism and believed safety. The police are given more and more power to enforce laws. The long incarceration of possible enemies without Constitutional protections is instituted. Torture becomes approved.

3. Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are wide­spread domestic problems, the military is given a dispropor­tionate amount of government funding, while the domestic agenda is neglected.

4. Rampant Sexism: Governments are male-domi­nated. Traditional gender roles become more rigid. Oppo­sition to abortion rights is high.

5. Controlled Mass Media: The media becomes increas­ingly controlled, direct­ly or indirectly, by the govern­ment. Censor­ship increases.

6. Religion and Government Become Intertwined:
A fascist government will often co-op the most powerful religion in its nation as a tool for manipulating public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology become increasingly common from government lead­ers.

7. Corporate Power is Protected: The industrial and business aristocracies of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial power elite.

8. Labor Power is Suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist govern­ment, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

9. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and who use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon for national resources and even treasuries to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

10. Disdain for Intellectuals: Fascist nations tend to promote open hostility to higher educa­tion, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested.

11. Fraudulent Elections: Elections in fascist nations are either a complete sham, or manipulated by smear campaigns against all opposition. Assassinations may even take place.

Fundamentalism is religious fascism; fascism is political fundamentalism

The above list of fascist characteristics will be familiar to students of political science. But this list should also be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the social and political agenda of religious funda­mentalisms worldwide. Dr. Britt writes that it is both accurate and helpful for us to under­stand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of our brain that have always been the default setting of our species—amity toward the in-group, enmity toward out-groups, defer­ence to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with territory, and so forth. It is that brutal default setting that civilizations have tried to rise above. But civiliza­tion has always been a fragile thing and has to be achieved over and over again.


C Rulon: The Christian Right, Atheists & Societal Dysfunction

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life and Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Christianity and Societal Dysfunction

What are we to make of the fact that the most religious demo­cracy in the world, the U.S., exhibits substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than do societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics?[1] In particular, what are we to make of the following facts?

—Teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. are 4-10 times higher than those in the less religious Western European countries and are highest in our Bible belt states where only abstinence is taught.

—The United States leads the world in teen suicides and gun deaths.

—Six out of the seven states with the highest 2003 homicide rates are Bible belt states.

—The divorce rate in many parts of the Bible belt is roughly 50% above our national average.

—College-age students in religious schools were found to cheat on tests just as much as students in nonreligious schools.

—The divorce rate for Mormons—renowned for their emphasis on strong families—is about the same as the national average.

—In the past ten years the cohabitation rate for unmarried couples in two Bible belt states increased by 125% compared to the national average of 72%.[2]

—Most of the violent criminals in our jails claim to believe in God and the 10 Commandments.

—There is a consistent, positive correlation between reli­gious affiliation, church attendance and doctrinal orthodoxy and ethnocentrism, dogmatism, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity and prejudice against Jews and blacks.[3]

So, could it be that the Christian Right in America is actually part of the problem instead of essential for the solution? Some, of course, have attempted to discredit these findings with ad hominem attacks and by generating their own data. Others remind the skeptics that God likes to test the faithful. History tells us that no matter how damaging the evidence, it can always be twisted and neutralized by the true believers.

On the other hand, what are we to make of the following facts?

—Regardless of religion, most humans love their mates and child­ren, take care of their fami­lies, pay their taxes and aren’t trying to cheat their neigh­­bors or start wars.[4]

—Gays and les­bi­­ans are just as moral as the next guy; so are the tens of millions of women who’ve had abor­tions, plus all those Americans for choice; so are all those instruc­tors who teach evo­lu­tion and human sexuality.[5]

—Excellent contraception, emergency contraceptive pills and early safe abortions have been hailed as a huge scientific and pub­lic health success story, as well as a so­cial tri­umph for women’s rights in a world where compulsive pregnancy is still all too common.

—Secular humanists and atheists are often blamed for all that’s currently wrong in America. Yet, they make up less than 15% of our pop­ulation, whereas 85% of those elected to Congress (the halls of power) claim to be Christian.

Q. But on the other hand, what have atheists ever done for humanity?

C.L.R. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in all those gods worshipped by one recently evolved species on planet Earth. Non-theistic scientists such as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, James Watson, and Carl Sagan all made enormous scientific contribu­tions. So have many members of the presti­gious National Academy of Scientists, over 90% of whom are non-theists. On the other hand, fundamentalist Christian and Islamic beliefs today are tragically under­min­ing our scientific and democratic institutions and threatening us with apocalyptic wars.

Q. Wait! Weren’t atheists responsible for some of the greatest crimes in human history? Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao come to mind.

C.L.R. Sure. But the problem with Nazism, fascism and the like was not the rejection of religious dogmas and earthly gods per se. It was the joining of absolute power with dogmatic and murderous ideologies. Besides, let’s not forget that the anti-Semitism that finally culminated in the Nazi Holocaust was a direct inheritance from Christianity.

Of course, tyranny can accompany leaders who are religious or not. But how many wars have been fought in the name of atheism? NONE! As Richard Dawkins puts it: “Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief?” On the other hand, over the centuries innumerable wars and just about every cruelty and atrocity known to humans have been justi­fied in the name of one religious belief or another.

In fact, in many ways the ideologies of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Hitler resemble fundamentalist religions in that they were dogmatic and fanatical to the core and held beliefs that were irrational and scientifically disproved. As Sam Harris observed: “Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok…”

Q. Still, isn’t it true that Stalin and Hitler killed more people than did the Crusades and the Inquisitions?

C.L.R. Yes, but only because the Europe of the 20th century had far more people and far more lethal weaponry. If the Crusades were held today, possibly hundreds of millions would die. And with the rise of militant Islam in an age of nuclear weapons, hun­dreds of millions might die.

Q. But, with atheism doesn’t morality break down and every atrocity become possible?

C.L.R. Over the centuries just about every cruelty and atrocity known to humans already has been justified in the name of this god or that. The Bible, itself, is filled with laws and commands from the Hebrews’ tribal god that would be considered immoral and even barbaric in civilized society today. Religious beliefs have led many Christians over the centuries to commit a long litany of what today would be considered horrendous crimes — from the slaughter of all women and children in enemy villages, to the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the Thirty Years War, to the burning of witches, heretics and Jews.

On the other hand, millions of non-theists live moral lives. Sweden (where only 20% believe in a personal god) has one-sixth the teen preg­nancy rate as we do. Its citizens also give ten times as much money per capita to help the world’s poor as do Americans.

[1]Journal of Religion and Society, Sept. 2005 (a publication of Creighton University’s Center for the Study of Religion)

[2]“Bible Belt Couples ‘Put Asunder’ More’, New York Times, May 21, 2001.

[3]Reported in Michael Shermer’s book, The Science of Good and Evil, 2004.

[4]There are many common moral precepts that humans of every religious or non-religious persuasion seem to share. They are recognized as essential to the survival of any human community. Christianity certainly has no monopo­ly on these values. Humanistic ethics and beliefs can be found at html;; Examples include being honest, sincere, dependable, res­ponsible, not harming others, making positive contributions, being fair, cooperating, helping your neighbor, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and so on.

[5]Wulff, D., 1991, Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Views; Ross, M., 1950, Religious Belief of Youth; Hirschi,T., and R. Stark, 1969, “Helfire and Delinquency,” Social Problems, 17: 202-213; Reiss, B.F. 1980. “Psychological Tests in Homosexu­ality” In J. Marmor (ed.), Homosexual Behavior, pp. 296-311. New York: Basic Books; Russell, D., 1986, The Secret Trama: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women, Basic Books.

C Rulon: Does teaching evolution spread immorality & godlessness?‏

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life and Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

For three decades I taught evolutionary biology to college students. Occasionally a student would approach me with religious concerns regarding evolution, God and morality:

My pastor says that teaching students about evolution is teaching them the atheist agenda that there is no God — that teaching evolution can only lead to moral relati­vism and chaos — that teaching evolution has been a major reason for the spread of homosexuality, athe­ism, immoral sex, abortions and drug abuse — that if you teach people that they came from monkeys, they’ll act like monkeys. Is any of this true, Professor Rulon?

Below are some of my responses, accumulated over the years:

1. Evolution is taught in science classes not because it’s part of some “atheist agenda”, but because it’s one of the most impor­tant and wide-reaching scientific discoveries in the history of civilization. Almost all scientists in the U.S. and throughout the world accept our 4 billion year biological evolution because the evidence is so strong. To teach biology without evolution would be like trying to teach English without grammar.

2. Tens of millions of Christians and many Christian faiths in the U.S. have accepted our long evolutionary history as God’s way of creating.

3. “Homosexuality, atheism, immoral sex, abortions and drug abuse” obvi­ous­­ly existed long be­fore our biological evolution was discover­ed, much less taught to students. Besides, homosexuality is not spreading. Nor are the sexual activities of gays seen as evil in compassionate, scientifically informed socie­ties. Today, many Chris­tians in the U.S. Congress support gay rights. In addition, being a non-theist today is no longer the abomi­na­tion it once was. In fact, close to one billion people globally now see the demise of antiquated religious super­stitions as a good thing. Remember, most of us were raised athe­ists when it comes to some­one else’s reli­gion. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Christians don’t accept the Hindu gods, or Allah. Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith.

Also, whether or not mas­turbation, oral sex, non-marital sex, co-habitation, using birth control and having an abortion are im­moral is truly in the eye of the beholder. These “eyes” have become increasingly liberal as humanistic ethical systems have begun to replace “Hell and Damnation”.

Furthermore, abortions have declined in those countries that pro­mote in-depth sex education, easily available contraception and emer­gency contraceptive pills — the same countries that teach evolution in the public schools. Many Christian members of Congress support abortion choice, as do numerous public health and medi­cal associations, plus dozens of religious organi­zations.

4. Some people will undoubtedly behave in immoral ways on learning that we evolved, just as some did on learning that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Others, freed from anti-rational dogmas, will live more enriched lives. Most will continue to muddle through.

5. Evol­utionary biologists, have an impressive history and reputation for tell­ing the truth in their areas of expertise. In stark contrast, creation “scientists” have no such reputation. By purposely misquoting scientific experts, dredging up long discredited hypotheses and telling selective half-truths, these biblical literalists have displayed a moral integrity as tattered as their scientific credibility.

6. Secular humanists are being blamed for all that’s currently wrong in America. Yet, they make up less than 15% of our pop­ulation, whereas 85% of those elected to Congress (the halls of power) claim to be Christian. Furthermore, Texas, a very Christian state with “Abstinence Only” sex education programs, has one of the highest rates of unwanted teenage pregnancy in the country. Also, the divorce rate in many parts of the Bible belt is roughly 50% above our national average.

7. There is no causal connection between teaching about evolution and immorality. People who accept evolution come from a rich variety of politi­cal, economic and reli­gious back­grounds. The large majority are not junkies, commu­nists, or atheists. In W. Europe, the acceptance of evolu­tion is much more widespread than in the U.S., yet W. Europe remains quite civilized. In fact, Sweden (where evolution is widely taught and where only 20% believe in a personal god) has one-sixth the teen preg­nancy rate as we do. Its citizens also give ten times as much money per capita to help the world’s poor as do Americans. On the other hand, American prisons are filled with criminals who claim to believe in God, but who know very little about evolution.

8. The idea that one must believe in the biblical god to be moral in the first place and that this god provides the sole foun­dation for moral­ity is false. The world is full of skeptics, agnostics and atheists who live good and decent lives. So do billions of people who belong to other religions. So do gays, lesbians, and women who’ve had an abortion, as do teachers of evo­lution. They have as strong a sense of right and wrong as do Christians.