Sunday, June 29, 2008
As the quotes on this page illustrate, the claim that America was founded on Christianity is a myth. Many of the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War leaders were Deists, and upheld a firm separation of church and state.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The Pope's chief astronomer says that life on Mars cannot be ruled out.
Writing in the Vatican newspaper, the astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, said intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space.
Father Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory near Rome, is a respected scientist who collaborates with universities around the world.
The search for forms of extraterrestrial life, he says, does not contradict belief in God.
The official Vatican newspaper headlines his article 'Aliens Are My Brother'.
'Free from sin'
Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates.
Asked about the Catholic Church's condemnation four centuries ago of the Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo, Father Funes diplomatically says mistakes were made, but it is time to turn the page and look towards the future.
Science and religion need each other, and many astronomers believe in God, he assures readers.
To strengthen its scientific credentials, the Vatican is organising a conference next year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin.
By KENNETH CHANG
An experiment on the Phoenix Mars lander showed the dirt on the planet’s northern arctic plains to be alkaline, though not strongly alkaline, and full of the mineral nutrients that a plant would need.
“We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past, present or future,” said Samuel P. Kounaves of Tufts University, who is leading the chemical analysis, during a telephone news conference on Thursday. “The sort of soil you have there is the type of soil you’d probably have in your backyard.”
Mars today is cold and dry, and the surface is bombarded by ultraviolet radiation, making life unlikely, but conditions could have made the planet more habitable in the past. Plants that like alkaline soil — like asparagus — might readily grow in the Martian soil, provided that other components of an Earth-like environment including air and water were also present.
The preliminary findings from Phoenix do not answer whether life ever existed on Mars (or might still exist somewhere underground), only that conditions, at least at this location, are not the harshest imaginable. The soil, taken close to the surface, was similar to what is found in parts of Antarctica, Dr. Kounaves said. The soil elsewhere on the planet could well be very different; even the soil farther down in the ground could turn out to be acidic or otherwise vary in composition.
The Phoenix is capable of performing the same chemical analysis on three more samples.
In a different experiment, a tiny oven heated another sample of the Martian soil to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, which released water vapor. “This soil clearly has interacted with water in the past,” said William V. Boynton of the University of Arizona, the lead scientist in this experiment.
Dr. Boynton said he could not say when the liquid water was present or even where it was. The moisture might have come from dust particles that had blown there from other parts of Mars. “At this point, it is difficult to quantify what was given off,” he said.
The oven experiment also found carbon dioxide vapors, not surprising because the planet’s thin atmosphere is primarily carbon dioxide. The data have not revealed any carbon-based compounds.
The Phoenix mission is not directly looking for life on Mars, but rather whether conditions for habitability ever existed. In the wet chemistry experiment, water was mixed into the soil to produce Martian mud. Then the apparatus performed the same sorts of tests that gardeners use to test the condition of their soil.
The pH level was between 8 and 9, Dr. Kounaves said. The pH, or potential of hydrogen, reflects the concentration of hydrogen ions, or acidity, of a substance and usually varies between 0 and 14, with 7 considered neutral. (The water of Earth’s oceans, for comparison, has a pH of 8.2.) The experiment also found the presence of magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride ions in the soil.
“There’s nothing about it that would preclude life,” Dr. Kounaves said. “In fact, it seems very friendly.”
Texas justices throw out jury award after teenager alleged church ordeal
FORT WORTH, Texas - The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices found that a lower court erred when it said the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God's First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion did not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress triggered by a "hyper-spiritualistic environment."
Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members' actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.
But the church's attorneys had told jurors that her psychological problems were caused by traumatic events she witnessed with her missionary parents in Africa. The church contended she "freaked out" about following her father's life as a missionary and was acting out to gain attention.
Abuse and false imprisonment?
The 2002 trial of the case never touched on the religious aspects, and a Tarrant County jury found the Colleyville church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl. The jury awarded her $300,000, though the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth later reduced the verdict to $188,000.
Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable "would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs."
But Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, in a dissenting opinion, stated that the "sweeping immunity" is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and extends far beyond the Constitution's protections for religious conduct.
After the 2002 verdict, Pleasant Glade merged with another congregation in Colleyville, a Fort Worth suburb.
A message left for the church's attorney Friday evening was not immediately returned, and calls to two numbers listed in Schubert's name went unanswered.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Intelligence is a predictor of religious scepticism, a professor has argued. Rebecca Attwood reports
Belief in God is much lower among academics than among the general population because scholars have higher IQs, a controversial academic claimed this week.
In a forthcoming paper for the journal Intelligence, Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, will argue that there is a strong correlation between high IQ and lack of religious belief and that average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 countries.
In the paper, Professor Lynn - who has previously caused controversy with research linking intelligence to race and sex - says evidence points to lower proportions of people holding religious beliefs among "intellectual elites".
The paper - which was co-written with John Harvey, who does not report a university affiliation, and Helmuth Nyborg, of the University of Aarhus, Denmark - cites studies including a 1990s survey that found that only 7 per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God. A survey of fellows of the Royal Society found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God at a time when a poll reported that 68.5 per cent of the general UK population were believers.
Professor Lynn told Times Higher Education: "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God."
He said that most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence - and their intelligence increased - many began to have doubts and became agnostics.
He added that most Western countries had seen a decline of religious belief in the 20th century at the same time as their populations had become more intelligent.
Andy Wells, senior lecturer in psychology at the London School of Economics, said the existence of a correlation between IQ and religiosity did not mean there was a causal relationship between the two.
Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck, University of London, said that any examination of the decline of religious belief needed to take into account a wide and complex range of social, economic and historical factors.
He added: "Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response."
Alistair McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian theology at the University of Leeds, said that Professor Lynn's arguments appeared to have "a slight tinge of intellectual elitism and Western cultural imperialism as well as an antireligious sentiment".
David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability - or perhaps willingness - to question and overturn strongly felt intuitions."
Rob Hood, commentator on The Conservative Voice thinks that the Mars Phoenix probe is a waste of money - Read it here
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Washington gives us little in his writings to indicate his personal religious beliefs. As noted by Franklin Steiner in "The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents" (1936), Washington commented on sermons only twice. In his writings, he never referred to "Jesus Christ." He attended church rarely, and did not take communion - though Martha did, requiring the family carriage to return back to the church to get her later.
When trying to arrange for workmen in 1784 at Mount Vernon, Washington made clear that he would accept "Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists." Washington wrote Lafayette in 1787, "Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church that road to heaven which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest and least liable to exception."
Clear evidence of his personal theology is lacking, even on his deathbed when he died a "death of civility" without expressions of Christian hope. His failure to document beliefs in conventional dogma, such as a life after death, is a clue that he may not qualify as a conventional Christian. Instead, Washington may be closer to a "warm deist" than a standard Anglican in colonial Virginia.
He was complimentary to all groups and attended Quaker, German Reformed, and Roman Catholic services. In a world where religious differences often led to war, Washington was quite conscious of religious prejudice. However, he joked about it rather than exacerbated it. Washington once noted that he was unlikely to be affected by the German Reformed service he attended, because he did not understand a word of what was spoken.
Washington was an inclusive, "big tent" political leader seeking support from the large numbers of Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers in Virginia, and even more groups on a national level. He did not enhance his standing in some areas by advocating support for a particular theology, and certainly did not identify "wedge issues" based on religious differences. Instead, in late 1775, Washington banned the Protestant celebration of the Pope's Day (a traditional mocking of the Catholic leader) by the Continental Army. He deplored the sectarian strife in Ireland, and wished the debate over Patrick Henry's General Assessment bill would "die an easy death."
Washington was not anti-religion. Washington was not uninterested in religion. He was a military commander who struggled to motivate raw troops in the French and Indian War. He recognized that recruiting the militia in the western part of Virginia required accommodating the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Dutch Reformed members in officially-Anglican Virginia. He was aware that religious beliefs were a fundamental part of the lives of his peers and of his soldiers. He knew that a moral basis for the American Revolution and the creation of a new society would motivate Americans to support his initiatives - and he knew that he would receive more support if he avoided discriminating against specific religious beliefs.
In the Revolutionary War, Washington supported troops selecting their own chaplains (such as the Universalist John Murray) while trying to avoid the development of factions within the army. Religion offered him moral leverage to instill discipline, reduce theft, deter desertion, and minimize other rambunctious behaviors that upset local residents. It was logical for Washington to invoke the name of the Divine, but it may have been motivated more by a desire for improving life on earth rather than dealing with life after death.
Wahington understood the distinction between morality and religion, and between toleration of differences and full religious liberty. Washington's replies to messages from Jews and Swedenborgians showed he was not merely accepting the differences of religion, tolerating those who had not chosen the correct path. Instead, he endorsed what Jefferson would later define as a "wall of separation between church and state."
Washington used generic terms with his public requests for divine assistance, to the extent that his personal denomination must be classified as "unknown." That vagueness has not stopped Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Unitarian Universalists from claiming him as a member, and has invited others to identity him as a Deist. Washington was a man dedicated to creating national unity, not an exclusionist seeking to identify and select those with correct beliefs for reward in this life or the next. It would have been inconsistent for him to seek to blend the westerners and the Tidewater residents, the Yankees from the north and the slave-owning planters from the South, into one national union - while at the same time supporting narrow religious tests for officeholders, or advocating the superiority of one religious sect over another.
The obelisk we call the Washington Monument is clad in white limestone. When illuminated at night, it glows white. It stands out from the dark background because of the artificial light we project on it; there is no natural light corning from the stone. If we projected a colored light, we'd see the tall Washington Monument as an object glowing with color. Similarly, many writers project onto Washington's life a set of religious beliefs - and see a reflection of what they project.
Mason Locke Weems manufactured stories to establish Washington as a pious Christian, a man who suceeded in part because he prayed for God's blessing. Weems was a parson, and his inaccuracies (including the moralistic "I can not tell a lie" tale about cutting down a cherry tree) have shaped the perspective of Washington for two centuries now. Many modern writers still repeat second-hand information of questionable reliability to describe Washington as a traditional Protestant. The individuals who describe Washington's life as one marked by prayer and steady attendance at church are often advocates of a religious perspective, proselytizing the perspective of a particular denomination or at least trying to shape American society so more people attend church regularly.
At times, they cite the generic proclamations issued as a public leader to portray Washington (or even Jefferson!) as a mainstream Christian, and to define the United States as a Christian Nation. Some of those who emphasize the personal faith - or faithlessness - of elected officials use it as a partisan issue. The Moral Majority led by Rev. Jerry Falwell was clearly allied with the Republican Party, and both Jimmy Carter and Pat Robertson used religion as part of his campaign for the presidency.
In modern America, many religious leaders consider personal salvation to be fundamental to the strength/survival of American society. The debate about the morality of elected officials has been intense since the realization that Lyndon Johnson lied about the status of war in Vietnam and subsequent Presidents have demonstrated publicly their own lapses, particularly Presidents Nixon and Clinton.
Those who attempt to project a religious theology upon Washington often seek to connect theological beliefs with civic benefits, assuming morality is based on religion. In contrast, Madison and others crafted a government that could succeed even if Americans were not angels, thanks to a balance of powers. Jefferson and other "natural law" theorists assumed that individuals in a mature society would follow a common set of ethical principles, independent of the different religious beliefs held by individuals.
Washington was a man focused throughout his life on gaining honor and respect. He acted in public settings with some personal distance, even coldness, to reduce the likelihood of some informality reducing the respect he sought from others. So it is likely that he would desire political leaders today to also earn respect through moral, virtuous behavior - even at some personal cost to their comfort level.
However, there is little in Washington's life to suggest he would support a political movement based primarily on a moral agenda. To make such a claim requires that we project a light upon the monument of Washington, then look at our own reflected light and claim its source to be Washington. The "myth of Washington" created during his life and shortly thereafter by Parson Weems is not static. Even today, Washington's life can be re-shaped when necessary to fulfill the agenda of a modern mythmaker...
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian George Carlin, a counter-culture hero famed for his routines about drugs and dirty words, died of heart failure at a Los Angeles-area hospital on Sunday, a spokesman said. He was 71.
Carlin, who had a history of heart and drug-dependency problems, died at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica about 6 p.m. PDT (2 a.m. British time) after being admitted earlier in the afternoon for chest pains, spokesman Jeff Abraham told Reuters.
Known for his edgy, provocative material, Carlin achieved status as an anti-Establishment icon in the 1970s with stand-up bits full of drug references and a routine called "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." A regulatory battle over a radio broadcast of the routine ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the 1978 case, Federal Communications Commission vs. Pacifica Foundation, the top U.S. court ruled that the words cited in Carlin's routine were indecent, and that the government's broadcast regulator could ban them from being aired at times when children might be listening.
Carlin's comedic sensibility often came back to a central theme: humanity is doomed.
"I don't have any beliefs or allegiances. I don't believe in this country, I don't believe in religion, or a god, and I don't believe in all these man-made institutional ideas," he told Reuters in a 2001 interview.
Carlin, who wrote several books and performed in many television comedy specials, is survived by his wife Sally Wade, and daughter Kelly Carlin McCall.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
But apparently it isn't settled. There are Americans who believe that the earth is only about 6,000 years old; that human beings and all other species were brought into existence by a divine Creator as eternally separate variations of beings; and that there has been no evolutionary process.
They are creationists—they call themselves "scientific" creationists—and they are a growing power in the land, demanding that schools be forced to teach their views. State legislatures, mindful of the votes, are beginning to succumb to the pressure. In perhaps 15 states, bills have been introduced, putting forth the creationist point of view, and in others, strong movements are gaining momentum. In Arkansas, a law requiring that the teaching of creationism receive equal time was passed this spring and is scheduled to go into effect in September 1982, though the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on behalf of a group of clergymen, teachers, and parents to overturn it. And a California father named Kelly Segraves, the director of the Creation-Science Research Center, sued to have public-school science classes taught that there are other theories of creation besides evolution, and that one of them was the Biblical version. The suit came to trial in March, and the judge ruled that educators must distribute a policy statement to schools and textbook publishers explaining that the theory of evolution should not be seen as "the ultimate cause of origins." Even in New York, the Board of Education has delayed since January in making a final decision, expected this month [June 1981], on whether schools will be required to include the teaching of creationism in their curriculums.
The Rev. Jerry Fallwell, the head of the Moral Majority, who supports the creationist view from his television pulpit, claims that he has 17 million to 25 million viewers (though Arbitron places the figure at a much more modest 1.6 million). But there are 66 electronic ministries which have a total audience of about 20 million. And in parts of the country where the Fundamentalists predominate—the so called Bible Belt— creationists are in the majority.
They make up a fervid and dedicated group, convinced beyond argument of both their rightness and their righteousness. Faced with an apathetic and falsely secure majority, smaller groups have used intense pressure and forceful campaigning—as the creationists do—and have succeeded in disrupting and taking over whole societies.
Yet, though creationists seem to accept the literal truth of the Biblical story of creation, this does not mean that all religious people are creationists. There are millions of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews who think of the Bible as a source of spiritual truth and accept much of it as symbolically rather than literally true. They do not consider the Bible to be a textbook of science, even in intent, and have no problem teaching evolution in their secular institutions.
To those who are trained in science, creationism seems like a bad dream, a sudden reveling of a nightmare, a renewed march of an army of the night risen to challenge free thought and enlightenment.
The scientific evidence for the age of the earth and for the evolutionary development of life seems overwhelming to scientists. How can anyone question it? What are the arguments the creationists use? What is the "science" that makes their views "scientific"? Here are some of them:
• The argument from analogy.
A watch implies a watchmaker, say the creationists. If you were to find a beautifully intricate watch in the desert, far from habitation, you would be sure that it had been fashioned by human hands and somehow left it there. It would pass the bounds of credibility that it had simply formed, spontaneously, from the sands of the desert.
By analogy, then, if you consider humanity, life, Earth, and the universe, all infinitely more intricate than a watch, you can believe far less easily that it "just happened." It, too, like the watch, must have been fashioned, but by more-than-human hands—in short by a divine Creator.
This argument seems unanswerable, and it has been used (even though not often explicitly expressed) ever since the dawn of consciousness. To have explained to prescientific human beings that the wind and the rain and the sun follow the laws of nature and do so blindly and without a guiding would have been utterly unconvincing to them. In fact, it might have well gotten you stoned to death as a blasphemer.
There are many aspects of the universe that still cannot be explained satisfactorily by science; but ignorance only implies ignorance that may someday be conquered. To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
In short, the complexity of the universe—and one's inability to explain it in full—is not in itself an argument for a Creator.
• The argument from general consent.
Some creationists point at that belief in a Creator is general among all peoples and all cultures. Surly this unanimous craving hints at a greater truth. There would be no unanimous belief in a lie.
General belief, however, is not really surprising. Nearly every people on earth that considers the existence of the world assumes it to have been created by a god or gods. And each group invents full details for the story. No two creation tales are alike. The Greeks, the Norsemen, the Japanese, the Hindus, the American Indians, and so on and so on all have their own creation myths, and all of these are recognized by Americans of Judeo-Christian heritage as "just myths."
The ancient Hebrews also had a creation tale—two of them, in fact. There is a primitive Adam-and-Eve-in-Paradise story, with man created first, then animals, then women. There is also a poetic tale of God fashioning the universe in six days, with animals preceding man, and man and woman created together.
These Hebrew myths are not inherently more credible than any of the others, but they are our myths. General consent, of course, proves nothing: There can be a unanimous belief in something that isn't so. The universal opinion over thousands of years that the earth was flat never flattened its spherical shape by one inch.
• The argument of belittlement.
Creationists frequently stress the fact that evolution is "only a theory," giving the impression that a theory is an idle guess. A scientist, one gathers, arising one morning with nothing particular to do, decided that perhaps the moon is made of Roquefort cheese and instantly advances the Roquefort-cheese theory.
A theory (as the word is used by scientists) is a detailed description of some facet of the universe's workings that is based on long observation and, where possible, experiment. It is the result of careful reasoning from these observations and experiments that has survived the critical study of scientists generally.
For example, we have the description of the cellular nature of living organisms (the "cell theory"); of objects attracting each other according to fixed rule (the "theory of gravitation"); of energy behaving in discrete bits (the "quantum theory"); of light traveling through a vacuum at a fixed measurable velocity (the "theory of relativity"), and so on.
All are theories; all are firmly founded; all are accepted as valid descriptions of this or that aspect of the universe. They are neither guesses nor speculations. And no theory is better founded, more closely examined, more critically argued and more thoroughly accepted, than the theory of evolution. If it is "only" a theory, that is all it has to be.
Creationism, on the other hand, is not a theory. There is no evidence, in the scientific sense, that supports it. Creationism, or at least the particular variety accepted by many Americans, is an expression of early Middle Eastern legend. It is fairly described as "only a myth."
• The argument of imperfection.
Creationists, in recent years, have stressed the "scientific" background of their beliefs. They point out that there are scientists who base their creationists beliefs on a careful study of geology, paleontology, and biology and produce "textbooks" that embody those beliefs.
Virtually the whole scientific corpus of creationism, however, consists of the pointing out of imperfections in the evolutionary view. The creationists insists, for example, that evolutionists cannot true transition states between species in the fossil evidence; that age determinations through radioactive breakdown are uncertain; that alternative interpretations of this or that piece of evidence are possible and so on.
Because the evolutionary view is not perfect and is not agreed upon by all scientists, creationists argue that evolution is false and that scientists, in supporting evolution, are basing their views on blind faith and dogmatism.
To an extent, the creationists are right here: The details of evolution are not perfectly known. Scientists have been adjusting and modifying Charles Darwin's suggestions since he advanced his theory of the origin of species through natural selection back in 1859. After all, much has been learned about the fossil record and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, ethology, and various other branches of life science in the last 125 years, and it was to be expected that we can improve on Darwin. In fact, we have improved on him. Nor is the process finished. it can never be, as long as human beings continue to question and to strive for better answers.
The details of evolutionary theory are in dispute precisely because scientists are not devotees of blind faith and dogmatism. They do not accept even as great thinker as Darwin without question, nor do they accept any idea, new or old, without thorough argument. Even after accepting an idea, they stand ready to overrule it, if appropriate new evidence arrives. If, however, we grant that a theory is imperfect and details remain in dispute, does that disprove the theory as a whole?
Consider. I drive a car, and you drive a car. I do not know exactly how an engine works. Perhaps you do not either. And it may be that our hazy and approximate ideas of the workings of an automobile are in conflict. Must we then conclude from this disagreement that an automobile does not run, or that it does not exist? Or, if our senses force us to conclude that an automobile does exist and run, does that mean it is pulled by an invisible horses, since our engine theory is imperfect?
However much scientists argue their differing beliefs in details of evolutionary theory, or in the interpretation of the necessarily imperfect fossil record, they firmly accept the evolutionary process itself.
• The argument from distorted science.
Creationists have learned enough scientific terminology to use it in their attempts to disprove evolution. They do this in numerous ways, but the most common example, at least in the mail I receive is the repeated assertion that the second law of thermodynamics demonstrates the evolutionary process to be impossible.
In kindergarten terms, the second law of thermodynamics says that all spontaneous change is in the direction of increasing disorder—that is, in a "downhill" direction. There can be no spontaneous buildup of the complex from the simple, therefore, because that would be moving "uphill." According to the creationists argument, since, by the evolutionary process, complex forms of life evolve from simple forms, that process defies the second law, so creationism must be true.
Such an argument implies that this clearly visible fallacy is somehow invisible to scientists, who must therefore be flying in the face of the second law through sheer perversity. Scientists, however, do know about the second law and they are not blind. It's just that an argument based on kindergarten terms is suitable only for kindergartens.
To lift the argument a notch above the kindergarten level, the second law of thermodynamics applies to a "closed system"—that is, to a system that does not gain energy from without, or lose energy to the outside. The only truly closed system we know of is the universe as a whole.
Within a closed system, there are subsystems that can gain complexity spontaneously, provided there is a greater loss of complexity in another interlocking subsystem. The overall change then is a complexity loss in a line with the dictates of the second law.
Evolution can proceed and build up the complex from the simple, thus moving uphill, without violating the second law, as long as another interlocking part of the system — the sun, which delivers energy to the earth continually — moves downhill (as it does) at a much faster rate than evolution moves uphill. If the sun were to cease shining, evolution would stop and so, eventually, would life.
Unfortunately, the second law is a subtle concept which most people are not accustomed to dealing with, and it is not easy to see the fallacy in the creationists distortion.
There are many other "scientific" arguments used by creationists, some taking quite cleaver advantage of present areas of dispute in evolutionary theory, but every one of then is as disingenuous as the second-law argument.
The "scientific" arguments are organized into special creationist textbooks, which have all the surface appearance of the real thing, and which school systems are being heavily pressured to accept. They are written by people who have not made any mark as scientists, and, while they discuss geology, paleontology and biology with correct scientific terminology, they are devoted almost entirely to raising doubts over the legitimacy of the evidence and reasoning underlying evolutionary thinking on the assumption that this leaves creationism as the only possible alternative.
Evidence actually in favor of creationism is not presented, of course, because none exist other than the word of the Bible, which it is current creationist strategy not to use.
• The argument from irrelevance.
Some creationists putt all matters of scientific evidence to one side and consider all such things irrelevant. The Creator, they say, brought life and the earth and the entire universe into being 6,000 years ago or so, complete with all the evidence for eons-long evolutionary development. The fossil record, the decaying radio activity, the receding galaxies were all created as they are, and the evidence they present is an illusion.
Of course, this argument is itself irrelevant, for it can be neither proved nor disproved. it is not an argument, actually, but a statement. I can say that the entire universe was created two minutes age, complete with all its history books describing a nonexistent past in detail, and with every living person equipped with a full memory; you, for instance, in the process of reading this article in midstream with a memory of what you had read in the beginning—which you had not really read.
What kind of Creator would produce a universe containing so intricate an illusion? It would mean that the Creator formed a universe that contained human beings whom He had endowed with the faculty of curiosity and the ability to reason. He supplied those human beings with an enormous amount of subtle and cleverly consistent evidence designed to mislead them and cause them to be convinced that the universe was created 20 billion years ago and developed by evolutionary processes that include the creation and the development of life on Earth. Why?
Does the Creator take pleasure in fooling us? Does it amuse Him to watch us go wrong? Is it part of a test to see if human beings will deny their senses and their reason in order to cling to myth? Can it be that the Creator is a cruel and malicious prankster, with a vicious and adolescent sense of humor?
• The argument from authority.
The Bible says that God created the world in six days, and the Bible is the inspired word of God. To the average creationist this is all that counts. All other arguments are merely a tedious way of countering the propaganda of all those wicked humanists, agnostics, an atheists who are not satisfied with the clear word of the Lord.
The creationist leaders do not actually use that argument because that would make their argument a religious one, and they would not be able to use it in fighting a secular school system. They have to borrow the clothing of science, no matter how badly it fits, and call themselves "scientific" creationists. They also speak only of the "Creator," and never mentioned that this Creator is the God of the Bible.
We cannot, however, take this sheep's clothing seriously. However much the creationist leaders might hammer away at in their "scientific" and "philosophical" points, they would be helpless and a laughing-stock if that were all they had.
It is religion that recruits their squadrons. Tens of millions of Americans, who neither know nor understand the actual arguments for or even against evolution, march in the army of the night with their Bibles held high. And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason.
Even if I am right and the evolutionists' case is very strong, have not creationists, whatever the emptiness of their case, a right to be heard? if their case is empty, isn't it perfectly safe to discuss it since the emptiness would then be apparent? Why, then are evolutionists so reluctant to have creationism taught in the public schools on an equal basis with evolutionary theory? can it be that the evolutionists are not as confident of their case as they pretend. Are they afraid to allow youngsters a clear choice?
First, the creationists are somewhat less than honest in their demand for equal time. It is not their views that are repressed: schools are by no means the only place in which the dispute between creationism and evolutionary theory is played out. There are churches, for instance, which are a much more serious influence on most Americans than the schools are. To be sure, many churches are quite liberal, have made their peace with science and find it easy to live with scientific advance — even with evolution. But many of the less modish and citified churches are bastions of creationism.
The influence of the church is naturally felt in the home, in the newspapers, and in all of surrounding society. It makes itself felt in the nation as a whole, even in religiously liberal areas, in thousands of subtle ways: in the nature of holiday observance, in expressions of patriotic fervor, even in total irrelevancies. In 1968, for example, a team of astronomers circling the moon were instructed to read the first few verses of Genesis as though NASA felt it had to placate the public lest they rage against the violation of the firmament. At the present time, even the current President of the United States has expressed his creationist sympathies.
It is only in school that American youngsters in general are ever likely to hear any reasoned exposition of the evolutionary viewpiont. They might find such a viewpoint in books, magazines, newspapers, or even, on occasion, on television. But church and family can easily censor printed matter or television. Only the school is beyond their control.
But only just barely beyond. Even though schools are now allowed to teach evolution, teachers are beginning to be apologetic about it, knowing full well their jobs are at the mercy of school boards upon which creationists are a stronger and stronger influence.
Then, too, in schools, students are not required to believe what they learn about evolution—merely to parrot it back on test. If they fail to do so, their punishment is nothing more than the loss of a few points on a test or two.
In the creationist churches, however, the congregation is required to believe. Impressionable youngsters, taught that they will go to hell if they listen to the evolutionary doctrine, are not likely to listen in comfort or to believe if they do. Therefore, creationists, who control the church and the society they live in and to face the public-school as the only place where evolution is even briefly mentioned in a possible favorable way, find they cannot stand even so minuscule a competition and demand "equal time."
Do you suppose their devotion to "fairness" is such that they will give equal time to evolution in their churches?
Second, the real danger is the manner in which creationists want threir "equal time." In the scientific world, there is free and open competition of ideas, and even a scientist whose suggestions are not accepted is nevertheless free to continue to argue his case. In this free and open competition of ideas, creationism has clearly lost. It has been losing, in fact, since the time of Copernicus four and a half centuries ago. But creationism, placing myth above reason, refused to accept the decision and are now calling on the government to force their views on the schools in lieu of the free expression of ideas. Teachers must be forced to present creationism as though it had equal intellectual respectability with evolutionary doctrine.
What a precedent this sets.
If the government can mobilize its policemen and its prisons to make certain that teachers give creationism equal time, they can next use force to make sure that teachers declare creationism the victor so that evolution will be evicted from the classroom altogether. We will have established ground work, in other words, for legally enforced ignorance and for totalitarian thought control. And what if the creationists win? They might, you know, for there are millions who, faced with a choice between science and their interpretation of the Bible, will choose the Bible and reject science, regardless of the evidence.
This is not entirely because of the traditional and unthinking reverence for the literal words of the Bible; there is also a pervasive uneasiness—even an actual fear—of science that will drive even those who care little for fundamentalism into the arms of the creationists. For one thing, science is uncertain. Theories are subject to revision; observations are open to a variety of interpretations, and scientists quarrel among themselves. This is disillusioning for those untrained in the scientific method, who thus turn to the rigid certainty of the Bible instead. There is something comfortable about a view that allows for no deviation and that spares you the painful necessity of having to think.
Second, science is complex and chilling. The mathematical language of science is understood by very few. The vistas it presents are scary—an enormous universe ruled by chance and impersonal rules, empty and uncaring, ungraspable and vertiginous. How comfortable to turn instead to a small world, only a few thousand years old, and under God's personal and immediate care; a world in which you are his particular concern and where He will not consign you to hell if you are careful to follow every word of the Bible as interpreted for you by your television preacher.
Third, science is dangerous. There is no question but that poison gas, genetic engineering, and nuclear weapons and power stations are terrifying. It may be that civilization is falling apart and the world we know is coming to an end. In that case, why not turn to religion and look forward to the Day of Judgment, in which you and your fellow believers will be lifted into eternal bliss and have the added joy of watching the scoffers and disbelievers writhe forever in torment.
So why might they not win?
There are numerous cases of societies in which the armies of the night have ridden triumphantly over minorities in order to establish a powerful orthodoxy which dictates official thought. Invariably, the triumphant ride is toward long-range disaster. Spain dominated Europe and the world in the 16th century, but in Spain orthodoxy came first, and all divergence of opinion was ruthlessly suppressed. The result was that Spain settled back into blankness and did not share in the scientific, technological and commercial ferment that bubbled up in other nations of Western Europe. Spain remained an intellectual backwater for centuries. In the late 17th century, France in the name of orthodoxy revoked the Edict of Nantes and drove out many thousands of Huguenots, who added their intellectual vigor to lands of refuge such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia, while France was permanently weakened.
In more recent times, Germany hounded out the Jewish scientists of Europe. They arrived in the United States and contributed immeasurably to scientific advancement here, while Germany lost so heavily that there is no telling how long it will take it to regain its former scientific eminence. The Soviet Union, in its fascination with Lysenko, destroyed its geneticists, and set back its biological sciences for decades. China, during the Cultural Revolution, turned against Western science and is still laboring to overcome the devastation that resulted.
As we now, with all these examples before us, to ride backward into the past under the same tattered banner of orthodoxy? With creationism in the saddle, American science will wither. We will raise a generation of ignoramuses ill-equipped to run the industry of tomorrow, much less to generate the new advances of the days after tomorrow.
We will inevitably recede into the backwater of civilization, and those nations that retain opened scientific thought will take over the leadership of the world and the cutting edge of human advancement. I don't suppose that the creationists really plan the decline of the United States, but their loudly expressed patriotism is as simpleminded as their "science." If they succeed, they will, in their folly, achieve the opposite of what they say they wish.
( Isaac Asimov, "The 'Threat' of Creationism," New York Times Magazine, June 14, 1981; from Science and Creationism, Ashley Montagu, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 182-193. )
Saturday, June 21, 2008
STUDY SHOWS DEVOUT U.S. SUFFERS GREATER SOCIETAL ILLS THAN MORE SECULAR NATIONS
Occasionally we non-believers have our suspicions about the negative impact of religion on modern societies confirmed with statistical data and hard evidence; and when we do, we ought to shout it from the rooftops. However, this time the ring of truth for our oh-so-religious country has a decidedly dissonant tone.
It’s kind of hard to celebrate the fact that the U.S. has higher rates of murder, suicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, STD infection, and infant and juvenile mortality than other more secular nations like the U.K., France, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries. But those are the cold hard factoids according to a paper published in the Journal of Religion and Society based on several studies which have shown that “the least religious countries are the least dysfunctional,” based on the measuring sticks mentioned above.
So, essentially, it’s safe to conclude that despite the highly religious nature of this nation, such an atmosphere does not appear to be conducive to fostering the moral and ethical basis for a healthy society. And what a blow this ought to be for the godlovers across this land. But they will of course either choose to ignore or just happen to remain blissfully ignorant of these findings.
Social scientist and author of the paper Gregory Paul used a wide range of surveys including data from Gallup polls, the International Social Survey Program, and other research sources to obtain his conclusions.
It’s perhaps a good idea to close this post concerning the information presented in said study with some words from a related article in The Times UK and directly from the author himself of these conclusions:
These conclusions and the conditions which led to them can, no doubt, be interpreted as a Pyrrhic victory for atheists in this country. One can hope, though, that the tide is turning in favor of secularism.
How do you think atheists should react to this information?
Friday, June 20, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The beginning of this movie is evolution for dummies.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Half a Savior too little
by: Rich Rodriguez
by: Rich Rodriguez
On a given Sunday morn,
All the towns’ children gather.
To learn a tale of a savior born,
Of which there was no father.
They sing and praise this man god’s name
Though they know not how to read;
And read it not, is the lesson learned,
Since those that do are free and leave,
The unpleasantness of the sanctuary.
Those that escape are often ostracized
By those who can’t see through their eyes;
They waste their time looking to the sky
And miss this one true paradise.
But in the town of Milton’s Pit,
There lived a boy who questioned it.
He tried but could not understand,
How life could form without a man.
For he had learned in Biology,
That two were required for progeny.
And in this act did forty-six,
Young chromosomes exchange and mix.
The building blocks of a brand new life,
So saith his teacher Mrs. Blythe.
He then cried out” how could this be,”
“For Mary gave but twenty-three”
“Did the Holy-ghost impart the rest?”
“Or did ole St. Matthew write in jest?”
“Perhaps it’s just a mystery?”
“No, no, no, no it’s plain to see,
This is no tale from History.”
“They cannot get me to believe,
This tome of childish fantasy.”
more to come...