Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Harvesting cash

December 17, 2009

Seeing so many of these “Harvest” bumper stickers everwhere, I felt obliged to to comment on a particular story. Apparently, demons are responsible for taking money away from charlatan, conman, preacher, Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church. So, he is asking for a little help.

The headline of the appeal for donations reads: “Will you help me take back what the devil stole?”

He really needs help.

When asked to comment yesterday, Parsley’s World Harvest Church issued a statement saying the recession caused a decline in member giving in 2009, which has led to a fourth-quarter deficit of $3 million despite a 30 percent reduction in the budget.

That’s quite a deficit. Wait, also we have:

This year, the church settled for $3.1 million with a family whose son was spanked at its day-care center in 2006, to the point his buttocks and legs were covered with welts and abrasions.

The boy, then 2, said he was spanked with a “knife” by a substitute teacher. His parents, Michael and Lacey Faieta, believe it was a ruler.

Clearly nothing suspicious going on there. That nasty demonic recession has had effects not even I could have forseen.

Bible oddities

September 3, 2009

Not too much time to post today, so I’ll leave you to ponder one of the many strange inexplicable stories from the Bible. This come from the book of Mark, chapter 14. Judas has just betrayed Jesus to a multitude sent by the chief priests, elders, and those totally bad-ass scribes. Jesus says basically, “Dude, you guys saw me everyday and could have taken me anytime. Why this way? Can’t we all just get along?”. O.K., he didn’t say the last part, but mentions something about the “scriptures need to be fulfilled”, although which ones exactly he doesn’t say. This does beg the question, if they knew who he was, as Jesus implies, why did they need Judas to identify him? I guess we need a plot device to heighten the drama. Immediately after this, we have verse 51 (my Revised Standard Version).

And a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Ooookay. Until now, I don’t think we have ever heard about this young linen-clothed man, and we never hear about the young man, now sans linen cloth, again. So, there’s a story in there somewhere, just waiting for somebody to bring it to life.

A prayer for South Carolina

September 1, 2009

Recently, in Columbia City, South Carolina, at the urging of possible mayoral candidate Tameika Isaac Devine, a resolution to open city council meetings with a prayer was unanimously passed with no discussion. It should go without saying that this totally violates the separation of church and state and thoughtlessly tramples over the sensibilities of those present who may not share the religious beliefs espoused in whatever magic words are incanted. Did I say thoughtlessly? No, Devine did put some thought into it.

Devine says she was surprised that City Council had not been starting its meetings with an invocation. “And I totally respect the whole separation of church and state,” she says.
But Devine says council members have an important job to do — the will of the people.

“And I think starting with an invocation gives you that importance and sets that tone,” she says. “But it’s definitely our desire to give voice to a diverse group.”

Although Devine does seem to have some dim glimmering that there is such a thing as separation of church and state, it is clear that she is pretty unclear on the concept. But to be fair, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and offer a prayer that can be used in the city council meetings that will reflect the diverse system of beliefs and non-beliefs of all humanity.

Dear God and Jesus Christ our Savior, we know you are a jealous God whose name is Jealous, so please forgive mention of all these other gods and give us your blessings anyway. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. O Allah, you are all great and merciful so we submit (and really we didn’t mean to pray to Jesus above, really). Lord Krishna, please aid us in our cosmic journey to put our city in harmony with the cosmos. Ganesha, please remove obstacles from the paths to reach our goals for our city. Lakshmi, please give us luck in our plans and make us beautiful and wealthy. Agni, we offer oblation, please don’t burn us. Vishnu, please help us create great plans, and Shiva, let us destroy old unworkable plans so we may begin anew. Great Spirit, help us in our hunt on this vision quest. Lord Buddha, help us make the city such that all our people can escape the endless cycle of suffering, perhaps by adding more light rail to ease traffic congestion. Jah, we promise to legalize ganja to let people engage in spiritual quests. Satan, thanks for getting us into that whole “Tree of Knowledge” thing; it’s working out pretty well. Athena, give us wisdom. Thor, please don’t strike us with lightning, and Loki, please don’t start causing mischief in our fair city. Blessed be the Goddess, by whichever name you know her, and may her blessings be bountiful upon us. We recognize the way of the Tao, which if can be named is not the eternal Tao. [insert appropriate incantations from other faiths, Judaism, Sikh, Bahai, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. etc. here]. Finally, we acknowledge that it is possible that none of these gods or goddesses exist so you should quit worrying and enjoy your life.

Now that this prayer is ended, it is the end of the day and time to go home.

On second thought, maybe a city council should just focus on doing the city’s business.

A big hole in the ground

August 28, 2009
Pot of gold at at Grand Canyon

Pot of gold at at Grand Canyon

It was sort of a last minute thing, but we just spent a few days in the Grand Canyon from which we’re now back. A magnificent site. Besides the size, of course, one gets the impression of age. This is an ancient place. The Colorado river has worn away rock over millions of years to open up this expanse. The exposed rocks and formations are themselves ancient. We have near the bottom a group of layers called the Tonto group which consists of Tapeats sandstone (beach sand deposited around 550 million years ago), Bright Angel shale (calm water sediment from 540 million years ago), and Mauv limestone (sea sediment from 530 million years ago). Fossils from these layers include jellyfish, trilobites (some of which we saw in some of the exhibits, unfortunately the memory card on the camera was full), and others. Near the top is the Kaibab formation, which are old sea sediments from around 250 million years ago. Fossils here include trilobites, sponges, brachiopods, etc. In between there are deposits from swamps, flood plains, ancient rivers, etc. A snapshot of earth’s ancient history.

The corroborative techniques of radiometric dating, fossil layers, and other techniques all point to the same answers for the ancient ages. What about the canyon itself? How old is it?

As late as last year, a report pointed to a strong possibility that the canyon may have formed, or at least started forming, 55 million years ago. From the article:

The team believes an ancestral Grand Canyon developed in its eastern section about 55 million years ago, later linking with other segments that had evolved separately. “It’s a complicated picture because different segments of the canyon appear to have evolved at different times and subsequently were integrated,” Flowers said.

The ancient sandstone in the canyon walls contains grains of a phosphate mineral known as apatite — hosting trace amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium — which expel helium atoms as they decay, she said. An abundance of the three elements, paired with temperature information from Earth’s interior, provided the team a clock of sorts to calculate when the apatite grains were embedded in rock a mile deep — the approximate depth of the canyon today — and when they cooled as they neared Earth’s surface as a result of erosion.

Apatite samples from the bottom of the Upper Granite Gorge region of the Grand Canyon yield similar dates as samples collected on the nearby plateau, said Caltech’s Wernicke. “Because both canyon and plateau samples resided at nearly the same depth beneath the Earth’s surface 55 million years ago, a canyon of about the same dimensions of today may have existed at least that far back, and possibly as far back as the time of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago.”

Of course, some literal fundamentalist Creationists would like people to accept their hypothesis, if it could be called that, that the canyon was formed during Noah’s flood where it rained 40 days and more water that exists on our entire planet covered it for a period of time. So that instead of 55 million years towards which the evidence points, they would like to advance the idea that the canyon was formed in about a year, I guess. So here’s what I suggest to Creationists to test their ideas. Since the time scale suggested is so short, this should be easy. Scale model. Get some limestone (We’ll only deal with the top Kaibab layer here, to give a starting point) of some thickness, and perhaps combined with shale as well. Put on top of it the appropriately scaled volume of water. Allow it to drain for an appropriately scaled amount of time. This will probably 2 weeks to a month, depending on how much limestone you have and I’m too lazy to work out the numbers. It will be up to you to convince scientists that the appropriate amounts of rock, water, and time were chosen. See if you make a small canyon. I eagerly await your results.

Of course, I suppose also for literal fundamentalists, the well known optical laws of refraction and reflection (see here or here) did not exist before Noah’s flood.

Gog, Magog, Iraq, and the mafia

August 21, 2009

So here’s a little sample of what happens when you make a interesting cocktail mix of politics and religion, especially bizarre religious mindsets. President Chirac recounts a story you may have heard before about the lead up to the Iraq war.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Well, there’s a huge contributing factor to what got us in Iraq. Dulled uncritical religious thinking. This is also consistent with all those Bible quotes from Rumsfeld, of course, fueling the fire for Bush’s self-proclaimed crusade. How many lives have been lost and how many resources have been squandered for Bush’s religious misadventure? Whatever the opportunity cost, it certainly has left us in a sorry state. As everyone should know by now, there were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was not allied with Al Queda, and Iraq posed no serious threat to us and now our economy is a mess. Although the latter is not entirely the fault of going into Iraq, but it certainly hasn’t helped.

So, what does what happened then have to do with now? You may recall America’s own dark little mercenary unit called Blackwater. It seems Obama is still funding this group. Why? There is a bit of information on one of the cofounders of Blackwater, Erik Prince, a crony of Bush. He is a big sponsor of and intimately related to that repressive group, The Family Research Council, known for wanting to disestablish public education, put prayer back in schools, and bigotry against gay people in regards to marriage. It was alleged (bottom of the wiki) by two Blackwater employees that:

Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

But wait, there’s more! We also have the C-Street Christian mafia, an organization in which Congress are members of, and which seems to act as a kind of white washing facade for all sorts of corruption. Here you can hear more about this insidious organization from author Jeff Sharlet (be sure to check out his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of
American Power
, a behind the scenes frightening look at what these power hungry self righteous tyrants are all about.

From American Atheist, we have a few tidbits of information.

Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ’s avant
garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but
also earthly laws regulating lobbying. In the Family’s early days,
they debated registering as “a lobby for God’s Kingdom.” Instead,
founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more
effective by working personally with politicians. “The more invisible
you can make your organization,” Vereide’s successor, current leader
Doug Coe preaches, “the more influence you can have.” That’s true —
which is why we have laws requiring lobbyists to identify themselves
as such.

Yes, super secret organizations wielding power behind the scenes. Because, you know, a healthy democracy just thrives on that stuff.

But David Coe, Doug Coe’s son and heir apparent, calls himself
simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through
the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived
for several weeks as a member of the Family. He’s a surprising
source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain
what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was —
or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate — he asked a young
man who’d put himself, body and soul, under the Family’s authority,
“Let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think
of you?” The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was
a monster. “No,” answered Coe, “I wouldn’t.” Why? Because, as a
member of the Family, he’s among what Family leaders refer to as the
“new chosen.” If you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.

So, if you are chosen by God, according to the Christian mafia, the normal rules of man do not apply. Well, of course, why didn’t I think of that earlier? If I get myself chose, I can do anything! Their self proclaimed role models are Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. A very powerful light needs to be shone on this group.

Yes, many people do not take their religion to this extreme. There are many moderates content to believe, go to church on various Sundays, and have a normal life. But, like a cancer, religious memes are not content to remain local and benign. Inherent in religious thinking are threats to a healthy democracy, and all humanity. Humanity, as a whole, needs to stop giving any religion a free pass and examine these beliefs critically. After all, even the moderates stand on the same foundation as those in Blackwater, the Christian mafia, and all the rest.

Thanks to Vjack at Atheist Revolution for the posting about this.

Disabling the Cain myth

August 20, 2009

There was a bit of stir in the blogsphere recently concerning a certain visit of freethinkers, scientists, and assorted godless heathens to a certain Creation “Museum”. The Creation Museum, located somewhere in Kentucky, of course stands out as a shining example, a tremendous monument to humanity’s ability to remain stubbornly and willfully ignorant, while still somehow retaining the ability to read. The event was sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance (Go here to get involved.) and was a resounding success, such as from the above links and here (with associated links), and elsewhere.

Other than that, I won’t say much about the visit as I was unfortunate enough not to go and much more about can be found elsewhere. I was sent a book from this Hall of Ignorance previously, which when I free up some time I hope to review a bit of here. A cursory glance reveals extremely poor and misrepresented science, lies, and ad hominem attacks against Charles Darwin. Wonderful. Now one of the items I saw when looking through the various blog reports concerning this Cargo Cult Museum was an entire panel explaining from where Cain picked up his wife. Given the absurd starting assumptions, the only possible answer is that his wife was his sister.

As luck would have it, I came across this very topic discussed at Not surprisingly, the author supports Ken Ham’s (the creator, if you will, of the afore-mentioned Baffle ’em with BS Museum in Kentucky) proposition. For a site advertising itself as showing God through science, I was surprised at how little science there was in this particular post. The idea is that man (an creation) was formed to perfection. Therefore no genetic flaws. So there will not be the genetic problems of inbreeding right from the start. These imperfections started multiplying after the so-called fall. So, at the time, marrying your sister was fine. I had seen further arguments elsewhere that this is consistent with the longer lifespans in the earlier parts of the Bible, presumably believing that genetic mutations necessarily lead to shorter lifespans.

The problem is that this is not how science is done. You don’t start with a conclusion based on an old book you think is right, and throw around some sciency terms, like genetics, in an effort to arrive at some self consistency. You might as well analyze the science in Lord of the Rings. You may get some cool ideas and interesting consistencies, but it is still fiction.

Let’s start with the idea of perfection, which I guess means no genetic defects, whatever that means. A genetic characteristic is beneficial ultimately in the “eye of the environment”, so I’m not really sure what this perfection entails at a reasonable level of precision. Certainly there are some defects which turn out to be harmful, some neutral and a few of which happen to be advantageous for a particular environment. I presume the biblical justification is that Adam was made “in the image of God”, since I can’t find any Bible references to Adam being genetically perfect. So God has genes, and specifically none of which are defective? Has anyone done a genome sequence of God to discover by how much we differ from genetic perfection? Or is being made in the image something different? Perhaps spiritual awareness? Would this entail knowledge of good and evil? God supposedly knew good from evil, but humans had to eat magic fruit to obtain this? So, perhaps not a perfect image? How did the introduction of sin lead to genetic defects and how can you test this? So right away our first assumption leads to more questions for which no clear answers are available.

At one time I did hear arguments that the old age (some to past 900, including Adam) to which people lived in the pre-flood era were consistent with the idea that human started with “perfect” genes before the fall. It is not at all clear to me how a lack of genetic defects leads to lifespans on the order of those mentioned in the Old Testament. I’ve seen no scientific evidence to support this. Other interpretations hold that the numbers associated with the long ages held only symbolic meaning, so not all Christians buy into a literal long lifespan picture presented by the Bible. That the earliest humans had the longest lifespans also flies in the face of available evidence (also mentioned in the discussion at the bottom of the page here). Note that the average life span in the Neolithic age, that is 9500 B.C., close to 5000 years before Creationists say we had the first human, was about 20.

So, how could this be made somewhat scientific? First thing to do is forget the Bible. You want independent evidence that will corroborate it, not by starting off with the Bible as your conclusion. Where is the evidence that the earliest humans had far fewer genetic defects? What predictions does this model lead to? Should we see an increase in the number of genetic defects through human existence? Should we expect a continuous rise in defects (accounting for systematic error due to pollutants in our industrial age)? If you want to take the approach that the earliest humans were living over 500 years of age, apart from old mythological stories, where is the actual evidence? Bone analysis can tell us something about age and we haven’t seen anything like the claimed ages in the Bible.

We do have bones from some of the earliest humans from 195,000 years ago. We also have the skeleton of a 25-35 year old woman from France who died about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, roughly 7000 years before death came into the world, according to Creationists.

Billboard theocracy

July 23, 2009
Suggested billboard

My own suggested billboard

From my home state of Florida, we have a call to arms for theocrats everywhere. A fellow by the name of Gregg Smith apparently want to bring our country back to God by invoking the fiction that this what the founding fathers intended. On his website, he writes:

“The Judeo-Christian foundation that the Founding Fathers established when America began is the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years,” said Kemple, president and sole employee of the local Community Issues Council, which paid for the Web site.

“The fact is, for the last 40 years, as anti-God activists have incrementally removed the recognition of God’s place in the establishment of our country, we have gone downhill.”

I’m sure he’ll be publishing some peer reviewed paper soon to provide support for the claimed cause and effect correlation. I wonder if in his paper, he will make note of the fact that the famous Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by congress in 1797, states in Article 11, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (emphasis mine).

So, essentially, Gregg Smith is putting up billboards with quotes from the founding fathers to support his contention that their intent was a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles (whatever that means). Never mind the fact that Jefferson was pleased with what he called the wall of separation between church and state. Never mind the fact that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and others were likely deists who strove to maintain no overlap between government and religion (remember, the no religious test specified in the Constitution?). In fact, in addition to ignoring history, Smith creates some of his own. On one billboard we have:

…carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

Washington never said this, but:

“I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form,” Kemple said. “However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.”

So, they are reduced to making things up. Very nice indeed. Next I’ll just claim that Rockefeller meant to leave me all his assets; it is something he could have done.

But, you know, although we are fortuitous that the founding fathers had the astounding insight to separate the state from religion, to argue that this was the right thing to do because they were the founding fathers is fallacious. It is argument from authority. If the founding fathers did, for the sake of argument, establish a theocracy, with religious tests in the Constitution and so on, this would be as wrong now, as it would have been the wrong thing to do then. If that had been the case, we would need to change it. History shows that societies function better when religion is kept out of the apparatus of the state (see here.).

Hat tip to PZ Myers.

Unscientific America, a nonreview Part 1

July 19, 2009
Stepping out

Stepping out

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Chris Mooney’s and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s latest book, Unscientific America. I have not yet read this book. I would like to, but burdened already underneath a huge reading list and too many projects, it is not likely I will have a chance to do so. So this, unlike other reviews of the book out there, will be a non-review. I think it is good that they have sparked some discussion, although much of the discussion seems to have been focused on the wrong things. From the review I linked to above, much of their discussion seems to not have been backed up with sufficient evidence and they don’t seem to have really addressed the root causes of the problem, if in fact, there is a problem.

They seem to lay part of the scientific illiteracy problem at the feet of the so-called new atheists. Apparently spending a couple of chapters to do so. The thinking seems to be that outspoken atheists alienate people and drive them away from science. They single out P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins as the poster children for this so-called bad behavior. There is a strong anti-science component in the U.S. There are people determined to undermine science education and public policy choices informed by good science. In strong part, this component is fueled by religious fervor and thinking. People like P.Z. Myers are addressing this, and rightly so. The muddle headed anti-critical thinking that is often inspired by religious thinking needs to be pointed out, and when necessary, mocked. One of the factors, according to their blog, Moony and Kirshenbaum, decided to leave science blogs was the “Crackergate” affair (Google it, if you haven’t heard about it. I’m too lazy to go digging around for that at the moment.). This just borders on the bizarre. It was not directed at them. In fact, the whole thing should have been merely a barely noticed minor blip on the “blog-dar”. The fact that it got so much attention speaks far more about the disproportionate reactions religious thinking inspires than anything Myers did. This fact seems to have been lost on Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

Nevertheless, Mooney and Kirshenbaum do a service on at least helping to spark some discussion on addressing scientific illiteracy. I don’t think a case is clearly made that it is a growing problem, but I think we are probably safe in assuming that we, as a nation, are not as literate in science as we could be. I think there is some discussion to be had on just how literate is enough. Not everyone is going to be needing to figure out how to do lattice gauge calculations, or what have you. Certainly, as a representative democracy, we need to be able to carry on a public discussion about climate change, recognize the need for vaccines, alternative energies, and so forth. There are several contributing factors to anti-science thinking in the U.S. Religion is one of them. The other is that same democratic spirit that made helps to define our national character. “I don’t need no ivory tower scientist to tell me how things work!”. Yankee ingenuity, all of us are equally capable, no elites necessary. I personally know several people where these traits combine to make the perfect storm. “Creationism is just another viewpoint! It should be taught in the schools on at least equal footing!”. These are factors about which very long discussions can be had and perhaps we’ll explore these further in future posts (I’ve already hit on these a few times myself), though feel free to tackle them in comments.

The suggestion that Mooney and Kirshenbaum make is to pave the way for an increased number of literate science communicators, modeled after Carl Sagan. Get scientific ideas out to the public and help them understand what we’re doing, and how things work. Chad Orzel, over at Uncertain Principles is running with this ball. I certainly agree that it is important to get ideas out there. To enable people to see a little better how the world works, and how it effects daily lives and public policy. It is an important mission. Of course, in fact, there are plenty of good science communicators out there already. There is Chad Orzel, of course. We also have Phil Plait, Sean Carroll, et al, P.Z. Myers (linked to earlier), Jennifer Oulette, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ken Miller, and many more. My first thought is not that there is a lack of good science communicators, but many are lost in the white noise of everything available on all the different available media. With a few exceptions (Phil Plait on Coast to Coast radio, for example), one has to seek these guys out. There is a preaching to the choir effect where those who are interested and motivated by science will find these good communicators. We have to nurture the interest, and I think this starts with a good education, along with something that will engage imagination and curiosity.

So to start with examining such matters, and to throw in a few thoughts, I’ll look to myself as an example. What motivated me to go into science? What were the initial seeds? One of course, was museums. Visiting air and space museums and natural history. Another was the movie 2001, A Space Odessy”. I had no idea what this movie was about as a kid, but the awesomeness of space exploration was firmly transfixed in my mind and inspired me to learn all I could. Another factor that contributed to my motivation was the lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Getting humans to the moon, and then back, was a stunning achievement, not only for America (after all, it was a competition with the Soviets), but for all humanity. This motivated many young minds at the time into studying science and engineering.

It is now 40 years after this stunning achievement. Friday night, I saw nothing on T.V. celebrating this. Aside from a few obligatory film footage shots on CNN this morning and a good article in the LA Times, the media have been relatively quiet. Is this part of the problem? What can be done now to make the type of inspiration stemming from Apollo 11 part of our national fabric?

Dancing with the broom

June 6, 2009

Over at Evidence for God, one of those religious sites I check out once in a while, there is an intriguing article on human worth and what the Bible has to say about it. The sermonesque story begins on a cleaning person sweeping the floors of a laboratory and apologizing for getting in the way of “important” scientists, saying in effect that she was “dancing with the broom”. The author correctly points out as a society, we seem to place the lion’s share of importance on movie stars, athletes, politicians (and scientists too we hope!), and so on. The point is then made that in God’s eyes we are all equal and Jesus said that he himself came to serve. That the greatest is the least and least is the greatest and so on. That we should try to see our fellow humans in this light. This is similar to other interpretations about parables where Jesus tells his disciples that when they do things to others they do so to him. The relevant interpretation that I am thinking about is that we all have a Christ-like nature.

There is a tremendous amount wrong and even atrocious with most religions and Christianity specifically. However, there are a few gems that can be picked out of any religion, and with a little polishing, the idea of equality of human nature and helping others is one of them. It is a good moral instruction with which I believe most of us can agree. But here is a major difference. The writer of the afore-mentioned article writes:

The reason why we are to act without partiality is because God Himself does not show partiality towards individuals. So, the Christian is to serve others on the basis of the strength God supplies, so that all glory goes to Him. God values all human beings equally, since we are all created in His image. Even though we are created in the image of God, we have all strayed from His morally-perfect image, and so need a Savior to be declared Holy and acceptable to God by faith in Jesus Christ, in order to gain entrance into heaven. However, once we enter that state, our station in heaven will be based upon our record of service to others in this life. So, it seems likely that the famous people on earth might be the broom pushers in heaven, while the lowly are given the highest honors.

No, we do not need a God to justify acting towards others with impartiality. Why is it not enough to recognize each others basic humanity? To recognize our common shared heritage of several billion years of evolution and the shared progress of civilization. Why is it not sufficient to be self-aware enough to recognize our own imperfections and inabilities but to know our strengths and how they can be used to help others in this fantastic journey of humanity. To know that others too will also not be perfect but will have abilities that perhaps we lack? That each of us contributes to the human experience. Grow when we can, self correct, learn, move forward, ever onward. In the indifferent eyes of the cosmos, we are all the same and insignificant. We all stand humbled by the amazing (yet ever more comprehensible) complexity of life, power of shifting continents, power of the sun, and a cosmos stretching out billions of light years and containing billions of galaxies. In the face of all this and all there is yet to learn, what we have is each other. Each of us an amazing complex arrangement of star dust.

That science and religion thing again

May 3, 2009

In a recent study coming out, a conclusion is being made that most scientists do not abandon their faith. Professor Ecklund, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rice University surveyed 300 scientists over 3 years and found:

Less than 5% of scientists have no faith at all. 35% claim to be “spiritual atheists” which they define as having a belief in something larger than themselves. This group has rather eclectic views, using a bit of Eastern religious thought integrated with scientific thought as foundation for that belief. 68% of scientists on the whole have some sort of compatibility in their beliefs with science and religion. 50% of them are committed to their religious faith.

This contrasts with previous surveys of the National Academy of Science members, where:

The authors report “near universal rejection” of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Overall, 93 percent of NAS scientists do not profess a belief in God (72.2 percent disbelief, 20.8 agnostic), and 92.1 percent do not profess a belief in immortality (76.7 percent disbelief, 23.3 percent agnostic). Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2 percent and 69.0 percent respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79 percent and 76.3 percent respectively.

(from Nature).

It is not said what type of scientists Ecklund interviewed, but I do not that a lot of social scientists are religious. I suppose if one were going to churches to find scientists to interview, you would find some bias towards religious belief. I suspect her sampling was better than that though, but I would be surprised if she interviewed very many natural scientists.

In any case, from my point of view it doesn’t matter very much. I have known a few religious scientists who were quite good, even excellent, in the scientific area of expertise. Ken Miller, of Brown University, is a good example. But when it comes to religion, the rigor that they bring to scientific investigations, they check at the door. Compartmentalization. The beliefs go without the thorough examination that characterizes their professional lives. Perhaps it is the sense of community and tradition that they don’t feel the need to probe too deeply. If these beliefs are not being used to justify controlling others or harmful behaviors (as is too often the case with the religious minded), than it is not really a problem. As the article states, many of the scientists recognize the validity of evolution and maintaining high science standards. I presume they (of the Christian persuasion anyway) see the creation myth as metaphor or something. This begs the question of when does one stop unraveling biblical metaphors before the whole thing becomes undone?

But if religious scientists were to apply the same exacting standards to religious beliefs that they do to their professional work, what would they find? That if a God did or occasionally does intervene in the workings of the universe, the scientific tools they have for their work are perfectly capable of investigating such. Scientific method and secular reasoning totally dismantle (well, to 99% certainty anyway, if I were given to throwing out numbers) any such supernatural notion. What about a noninterventionist Deistic God? Not only do we have no reason to guess such a being exists, what use would it be?