Weaning People off Religious Belief Is a Sales and Marketing Problem

One day, people will look back on humanity's religious past and laugh, says skeptic and science writer Michael Shermer.

Michael Shermer: I don’t think the day is coming soon when we’ll look back that people who believe in God, you know, that was a silly age, although some of us look at this that way now. But clearly the numbers are, you know — we’re not in the majority yet but the fastest growing group, the fastest growing religious group so called is the nones. The N – O – N – E – S people. Check the bock for no religious affiliation. Now they’re not necessarily atheist or agnostics or skeptics, but they are not affiliated with a religion. And so on one level, I don’t care what somebody believes as long as they leave me alone and they don’t interfere with my rights. They don’t try to kill me and bother me. I mean the JWs, the Jehovah Witnesses, they come to my door once in a while. The Mormons come to my door once in a while. It’s kind of amusing. I invite them in and give them a copy of Skeptic magazine and they’re like uh, we better call the head guy to come down here. That’s relatively harmless, but clearly we see with Islam and the problem of Islamic terrorism, religion has to be reformed. It absolutely does.

I don’t worry about the Jains or Jews or most Christians causing societal problems anymore because they’ve gone through the reformation enlightenment, age of reason, the scientific revolution. They came out the other side mostly nonviolent. And Islam hasn’t — so I think if we reform Islam and then start to wean people off belief in the supernatural altogether. You can’t do it by fiat, but we can inculcate it into people’s thinking critical thinking about everything including God. Throw God into the mix. That’s just another supernatural belief. And that’s what those of us who work in this area are trying to do. You know there are different strategies. You can be aggressive about it like Richard Dawkins and Hitch [Christopher Hitchens]. You know they’re pretty anti-theist. That works in some cases, but not other cases. Other areas people need to be reeled in slowly, gently. But that’s just a sales and marketing problem, you know. How should we sell our product best? Should we call it this or we use the red logo or the blue logo? You sort of product test those things and see what works. But we all share this overall goal. In a century or two, I think it’s possible no one will believe in God anymore or almost no one. And that will be good for society.

One day, people will look back on humanity's religious past and laugh, says skeptic and science writer Michael Shermer. That's not merely evidenced by the fact that atheists are among the most rapidly growing minority groups in American society, but also because Islam will sooner or later experience the same kind of secular reform we've seen in Christianity and Judaism.

Why so gassy? Mysterious methane detected on Saturn’s moon

Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.

Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • A new study looked to understand the source of methane on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
  • The scientists used computer models with data from the Cassini spacecraft.
  • The explanation could lie in alien organisms or non-biological processes.
Keep reading Show less

CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

Android has won the phone world war

A global survey shows the majority of countries favor Android over iPhone.

Credit: Electronics Hub
Strange Maps
  • When Android was launched soon after Apple's own iPhone, Steve Jobs threatened to "destroy" it.
  • Ever since, and across the world, the rivalry between both systems has animated users.
  • Now the results are in: worldwide, consumers clearly prefer one side — and it's not Steve Jobs'.
Keep reading Show less

UFOs: US intelligence report finds no aliens but plenty of unidentified flying objects

A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.

Photo by Albert Antony on Unsplash
Surprising Science

On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast