Did Atheist Physicist Lawrence Krauss’s Questioning of a Religious Person Cross a Boundary into Intolerance?

Physicist Lawrence Krauss, in a recent brief essay for Scientific American, recounts what happened to him when he asked, in a public forum, a simple question of a religious man. Krauss wanted to know how the man reconciled his religious views with his scientific views.

A reasonable question. No big whoop, right?



Last May I attended a conference on science and public policy at which a representative of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave a keynote address. When I questioned how he reconciled his own reasonable views about science with the sometimes absurd and unjust activities of the Church—from false claims about condoms and AIDS in Africa to pedophilia among the clergy—I was denounced by one speaker after another for my intolerance.

Remember that. Simply asking a religious person to give an account—a justification—of his or her beliefs is intolerant. It is a form of shaming. Everybody knows that religious justifications are, if not poor, then highly personal, and so you must not ever ask such a question. It’s embarrassing. It’s like being the little boy at the parade who points and says loudly:

The emperor has no clothes!

If it doesn’t come up, everything can go along smoothly. And so the—“Why do you believe what you believe?”—question must never be asked, or at least not pressed. It’s rude. And it is a person’s right, when it comes to religion, to just believe anything, however ridiculous or cognitively dissonant, and be left the fuck alone about it. To declare one’s belief, if one chooses to do so, is sufficient, and if it is done, then, from that moment forward, others must fall into a hush and back off about it. That’s called good manners.

Got it, Lawrence Krauss?

Don’t ask, don’t tell.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Did Atheist Physicist Lawrence Krauss’s Questioning of a Religious Person Cross a Boundary into Intolerance?

  1. Mike says:

    Are there any rules for discourse in our society anymore?

  2. Gunlord says:

    Again, to be fair, Dr. Krauss just says he was “denounced by one speaker after another for [his] intolerance.” Without an actual transcript of the proceedings, it’s hard to tell whether this is the truth or just hyperbole. For all we know, being denounced by “one speaker after another” actually just means several speakers telling him that “this isn’t a round-table on Catholicism and its problems, this is a discussion about science and public policy, let’s try to keep it on topic.”

    Again, Dr. Krauss is probably telling the truth, but before we get nice and full of ourselves going on about how this is proof of how unjustly one of our atheist/rationalist/whatever comrades was treated and how the religious emperor “has no clothes,” et cetera, et cetera, it would be advisable to know what was actually being said rather than just one side of the story.

  3. santitafarella says:


    Your criticism is fair. I take it to heart. There are two sides to every story. I like to get worked up, though. : )


  4. Philip Hawes says:

    I am sorry but some of you “smart” people are fools. The stupid physicist was denounced because he committed a logical fallacy (excuse my spelling if I made a mistake). Anyway someone can believe in a creator but not believe in what those who have worked for “churches” have done.
    I don’t believe Jesus had magic powers but I believe the Bible is a very good source of wisdom and history. The Bible translation into English that we are familiar with has many mistakes. Jesus was a good person, NOT a GOD man. But that does not logically mean there is no God.

    Dworkin (Did I spell the poor fool’s man correctly?) wrote a book and is supposed to know about physics, yet he made silly mistakes. Big ones I might add.

    Give me a forum and you shall hear the word of God as he gives it to me.


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