Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Feed Address for Over Coffee

Over the past several years, this Over Coffee blog has been available for subscription from my own Web site. I have moved the blog to Blogger.com's site for a number of reasons. The bottom line is, the old feed will no longer include any new posts. Please change your reader to grab the feed from:


Some have already been using the above feed source. If so, no need to change. For the others, sorry about the inconvenience.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Debating a Christian about God's Existence

It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Jesus’ birthday.

Well, no, not really. Nobody knows when Jesus was born. Nobody even knows for certain IF Jesus was born. There were lots of Jesus’ in those days. It was a common name. But I’m talking about THE Jesus. There is no solid evidence, outside the bible, that the Messiah Jesus existed, let alone what day he was born on.

The early Church adopted December 25 as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ because it was already being celebrated by the pagans as the day the sun starts turning back north in the sky.

Anyway, some might think this is the wrong time of year to be writing a blog on the subject of the existence of Jesus or even the existence of the Christian god, but what better time? The Christian god does not exist. Now, I’m not saying that God does not exist. I don’t know for sure either way. But the characteristics of God as given to him by Christians are impossible. That god can be ruled out by simple logic.

So, let’s assume I’m talking to a Christian who believes the bible is true. I’m trying to prove to him that his god does not exist. He, of course, is never going to cave in to my logic. But ignoring the truth doesn’t make it go away.

Here is how that conversation might go:

Me: Is it your belief that God created humans?

Christian: Yes, of course He did.

Me: Why did he create humans?

Christian: He is a god of love. He created us so that He could love us and so that we could love Him.

Me: Does he expect to love us forever, or only temporarily, until we die?

Christian: He is an eternal god. He wants to love us forever.

Me: So why doesn’t he just allow us all to go to heaven, regardless?

Christian: He wants us to decide for ourselves to accept him, through Jesus Christ. He gives us free will so we can choose.

Me: Is God omniscient? Does he know everything?

Christian: According to the bible, He is omniscient and eternal. He is Alpha and Omega.

Me: Does he know in advance what our decision will be in the end, to accept him or not?

Christian: He knows everything, even that. But he still allows us to decide.

Me: What if we decide not to believe in him or to accept Jesus?

Christian: Well, those who aren’t saved will go to hell.

Me: What’s hell?

Christian: Many Christians believe it is a place of eternal torture and agony. Others believe it is simply living forever in the absence of God

Me: So, what you’re saying is that we get to choose, but he already knows what our decision is going to be?

Christian: Yes. We are choosing for ourselves; He gave us free will. But since He is omniscient, he knows how we are going to choose.

Me: Since he is eternal, did he know before he created me that I was going to decide not to believe in him?

Christian: Yes, He knew before He created us what our decisions were going to be, but He still makes Himself available to all of us.

Me: So if god knew in advance of our creation whether or not we would decide to believe in him and whether or not to choose Jesus as our savior, then he already knew that many millions of people would not choose him, right?

Christian: Yes, He knew.

Me. And your main premise for god creating us in the first place was so that he could love us and we could love him forever, right?

Christian: Yes.

Me: Then if he already knew, before he created me, that I was not going to accept him, and if those who don’t accept him go to hell, then he knew in advance, before he created me, that I was going to be damned, yet he created me anyway?

Christian: Yes, but He gives us the chance to change our minds. His spirit works within all of us at one time or another and we get to choose to ignore it or accept it.

Me: The bottom line is, if he knows what we are going to do in advance then whatever we choose is already known to him. If we change our minds, he already knows that, too. Knowing what our choices will be, and knowing that many will not choose to accept him, even knowing who they are, He created them all anyway. He created them to be condemned. So your original premise, that god created us to love forever, is in error.

Christian: But, well, uh, the Lord works in mysterious ways. We don’t know everything. God is a god of love and he gave us free will, but it’s up to us to love him and choose him.

Me: So now you’re talking in circles. You have nothing new to say and no good answers. I win. Your god does not exist.

You see folks, you can believe whatever you want. Maybe there is a god. Maybe there isn’t. But the god of the bible cannot exist because the premise for his creation is faulty. Maybe god is not omniscient. Maybe he knows a lot but not everything. Maybe he’s powerful, but not omnipotent. Maybe he can’t create a rock so heavy that even he cannot move it, because I just created such a rock in my logic above.

Whatever you choose to believe, it would be nice if it could be supported by rational thought. The god of the bible cannot be.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Atheist Signs Annoy Believers

You can drive down almost any street in any small town, big city, or along any country road and sooner or later you will see a sign proclaiming “Jesus Loves,” or “Jesus is Lord,” or listing a bible verse, usually “John 3:16.” You’ll see Christian messages on church placards or read some bible verse on a bumper sticker.

But when someone puts up a sign that says something as innocuous as “Reason’s Greetings” people get all bent out of shape. It happened recently in Las Vegas, of all places. One resident of that city said, “If I had a ladder I would have climbed up there and pulled it down myself,” speaking about a billboard, funded by a local atheist, that read, “Yes Virginia, there is no god.

“I'm a Christian, I believe in God, and I didn't like it,” the angry resident added.

Well, tough. I don’t like all the Christian crap I have to read every time I go for a drive. That offends me, too. But I acknowledge that people have a right to their beliefs and they have a right to put up signs (assuming they’re put up legitimately; many are not). So if Christians have to read the occasional secular message put up by those who value reason over superstition, well that’s just too bad.

Christians do not own this country. This country was not founded as a Christian nation, despite rumors to the contrary. And atheists have just as much right to put up secular messages as Christians have to put up their drivel.

Across the country, in Asheville, North Carolina, a newly-elected city councilman was sworn in without using the phrase “So help me God.” He didn’t put his hand on the bible either. Some residents don’t like it and say that he was seated unlawfully because the North Carolina constitution requires officeholders to believe in God.

Even if that it so, state law permits officeholders to affirm rather than swear by God. And such state constitutional requirements are a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits any religious test before taking office. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in a 1961 case.

So regardless of who it offends or makes uncomfortable, secular humanists have every bit as much right to express their beliefs, or lack thereof, as Christians. It’s just that Christians have had carte blanch control over so much of this country for so long, they are loathe to share that control with non-believers.

Following the 9/11 terrorist strikes, which were religiously-motivated, many Americans have re-examined their religious affiliations. The attacks were horrendous. But if any good has come from their aftermath, it is that Americans are more secular than ever. Religion is a boil on the ass of America and it needs to be lanced.

Many, if not most religious folks are honest, decent citizens and I hold them no ill will. But I detest anyone who tries to undermine the freedom of speech of those who are non-religious. Too many religious people have a sense of superiority because of their religion. I’ve seen and heard it too often.

But non-believers are the fastest-growing group in America when it comes to a belief system. Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, or whatever label you want to give them, they are becoming more numerous as most Christian denominations see their ranks dwindling. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Christians are still in the majority and they still want to control the flow of information.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Golfers are not Athletes

My son and I were having lunch at the Slippery Noodle a couple of days ago when our discussion turned to Tiger Woods. No, we didn’t discuss his philandering. The ramifications of his marital fidelity should be between his wife and him.

Both of us agreed, however, that the decision by the Associated Press to name Woods as Athlete of the Decade was quite a reach. Personally, my choice would be for Peyton Manning. Yes, I live in Indianapolis and am biased that way, but come on, Tiger Woods, really?

First of all, I will stipulate that Woods is probably one of the greatest professional golfers of all time. He personally has brought golf into the public limelight more than any of his contemporaries and probably more than any of the historical golf champions, including Arnold Palmer. That said, we’re talking about golf, not tennis, not football, not even pole vaulting, but golf. Are golfers really athletes?

I personally do not play golf, except occasionally on Wii. And I do not wish to disparage anyone who does play the game. All I’m saying is that it is a game, not a sport and its participants are not athletes.

I know; maybe I’m getting caught up in semantics. But I don’t think so. Let’s take a look at what an athlete is and what a gamer is, shall we?

An athlete has to be in top physical condition. A gamer might be in top physical condition, but it’s not really necessary. When an athlete competes, his normal pulse rate increases to at least 120 beats per minute during the peak of his physical exertion while playing his sport. A gamer can play just fine with a pulse rate of less than 100.

And then there are the differences between sports and games. Sports require athletic prowess. Games do not. An 80 year old man with a pot belly can play golf if he is in reasonable health. I’d like to see him play four quarters of football.

Most sports also have another factor. They have an opponent trying his or her best to stop you from reaching your goal. Team sports have the opposing team members. Tennis has the person on the other side of the net trying to return the ball where you can’t reach it. But golf has no external opposing forces, at least none caused by those against whom you are playing.

In that sense, golf belongs in the same category of physical games as bowling and billiards. Sure, you have opponent players, but none of them are allowed to disturb your play. While playing pool, your opponent is not allowed to grab your stick while you’re making a shot. You bowling opponent shouldn’t scream in your ear while you’re sighting your ball. And in golf, your opponent is not allowed to even make noise, let alone do something as drastic as knock the ball off course while it is heading for the hole.

Compare that to a true competitive sport such as basketball, where opposing players are definitely allowed to knock the ball out of your hand or steal it away from you. Even in a sport as mild as baseball, the pitcher tries his best to pitch you a ball that you can’t hit, and the outfielders grab the ball out of the air so you can’t advance bases.

While it’s true that sports such as downhill skiing or pole vaulting do not have rival forces working against them either, competitors are still considered athletes because they would be unable to compete if they were not in top physical condition. And participating in those sports still requires strenuous physical exertion. Not so with golf.

I can’t imagine the AP announcing a top-rated bowler or billiards champion as athlete of the year. And if they did, I would probably be writing this blog complaining about who they plan to honor with that title next – a golfer maybe?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mayan Shmayan; Go Ahead and Plan for 2013

Are we doomed in a mere three years?

On December 21, 2012, the earth and all its inhabitants will cease to exist. Well, that’s if you believe the hype surrounding one interpretation of an ancient calendar constructed by the Mayan civilization. That calendar follows a very precise cyclical pattern. And the cycles end on the first day of winter in the year 2012. That’s December 21.

The Mayans had a number of calendars. They are mostly based on their religion and deity. And when each of those calendars ended, they would begin again, even though in the Mayan culture, the end of a calendar often signified some kind of religious miracle or rebirth. The longest calendar is what we call the Long Count. It lasts 5,126 years.

The Long Count Calendar will run through its entire cycle and end on December 21, 2012. So there is no shortage of modern-day soothsayers who predict something dire will happen on that date, perhaps even the end of civilization. And with the Internet and all, the word gets around fast.

But I have a calendar hanging on my kitchen wall that will end on December 31 of this year. Should I be afraid? Of course not. I’ll just get another calendar to start off the new year.

But unlike our annual calendars, at 5,126 years long, the Mayan calendar has never ended before, at least not since it was conceived. So the Winter Solstice of 2012 will mark the first time the Mayan calendar will end. But why should anything special happen just because it’s an unusually long calendar?

Some claim that the end of the Mayan calendar happens to coincide with a cosmic event that only takes place once every 26,000 years – the Galactic Alignment. That is where the Winter Solstice aligns with the sun and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Maya may have been predicting just such an alignment with their Long Count Calendar.

But we are already in the alignment for the current 26,000-year cycle. The alignment takes about 32 years to complete. It started around 1980 and will continue through 2016 (assuming we will actually make it past 2012!). The most direct alignment with the Winter Solstice took place in 1998. So there is not much special happening on a galactic scale in 2012.

While it’s fun to speculate about such things, a few people seem to be obsessed with it. There are plenty of millennialists out there who long for their “Second Coming” to usher in a new age. But the fact is, there is nothing extraordinary predicted to happen in 2012 that would end civilization as we know it.

That’s not to say it can’t happen. There could be an undiscovered asteroid on target for Earth. There could be an eruption of a supervolcano. So, although it is possible that something could happen that would threaten or even end society in 2012, the probability is infinitesimal.

A lot of things could kill off our civilization, such as religious fundamentalism. But the Mayan calendar isn’t one of them. You can breathe easier.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Adventures in Windows 7

I finally purchased and installed a copy of Windows 7 on my desktop computer. But the whole process was not a very pleasant one. It started at Best Buy about three weeks ago when I saw a Windows 7 Family Pack box on the shelf. I have a desktop and two laptops in my house and the three-license family pack seemed like a good bargain. Unfortunately, the store was out. The box was for display only.

So a week or so later I checked online and it said the store in my area had the family packs back in stock. I thought that’s fine, I’ll just go down Saturday and pick one up when I have time. So I went back over the weekend, picked up the display box, and waited for 15 minutes in line. When I got to the counter, the lady said they had sold out that morning. So why didn’t they remove all the display boxes from the shelf?

Anyway, I trudged back home and started an Internet search to see if I could find a copy in my area. The Best Buy site didn’t even list them anymore. I saw that another e-store had them in stock for $143 so I placed my order. About three days later I got an email stating that they were also out of stock and they had no idea when they would be getting any more in.

I looked on Microsoft’s Web site and finally found a page that said the offer had ended. Ended? I didn’t realize it was a special offer. I thought Microsoft had finally come to its senses and started offering what Apple does with its operating system: A multi-user license at a discount price. I should have known better I guess.

Even on eBay, the cheapest I could find the family pack was about $225 and I was not going to spend that much. I wanted Windows 7, but if it meant settling for just a copy for my desktop, that’s the way it would have to be. So I found a new one on eBay for $84 and I ordered it.

A few days later it came in the mail. I installed it that evening. It took more than two hours for it to install. But first I had to uninstall several game programs from my HP games collection. They were interfering with the install. I didn’t mind; I don’t play games on the computer anyway.

After it installed, it wanted me to configure some options, which was difficult because my wireless mouse didn’t work. The wireless keyboard worked fine, but not the mouse. I rebooted after the options were finally entered and the mouse still didn’t work for a second or two, then it started. I was relieved.

But Windows 7 so far hasn’t been the panacea I had hoped for. I was having problems with Vista. I use the Media Share feature so I can listen to music on my AT&T U-verse television in my bedroom and I also use it to look at photos from my computer on the widescreen TV. But the photo function always caused an error message on the TV and the music would stop every so often to buffer itself.

But at least it was working somewhat. I spent two days on the phone with Microsoft technical support a few months ago. I couldn’t get it to work at all. The technician finally uploaded a patch to my registry that worked, but according to Windows Media Player 11, there was still an error somewhere.

I thought Windows 7 might fix it. But, even though I no longer get error messages when viewing photos, the pictures show up very tiny on the TV screen. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. And the music still has to pause to buffer, so that wasn’t fixed at all.

I will have to get used to the new taskbar layout. I guess it is ok. I did have to take the time to re-pin all my favorite programs to the start menu. And Windows Media Player isn’t exactly intuitive when you have to configure it to do anything other than play a music file, but the old version wasn’t any better.

The main problem with Windows, any Windows, is that it has not reached the level of user friendliness that makes it workable for everybody. I have been using computers at home for more than 30 years. I started with the TRS-80. So I know a little about computers and software. If I were computer illiterate or a novice, I might never have been able to configure Media Share to work on Windows 7 at all. My U-verse unit wouldn’t recognize the computer as being online until I decided to eliminate my connection to a Home Group, which I didn’t need anyway because it apparently allows easier media connections among all your computers that use Windows 7. And since I was too late to buy a family pack, only one of my computers got the upgrade.

Windows 7 might be better than Vista. I’ll find out soon enough. But Microsoft still seems to be a long way from a truly “plug-n-play” operating system. It would be nice if they could figure out how to build an operating system that could automatically recognize any problem and fix it without any user intervention. You could plug in any device and it would automatically find the right driver, and if none existed, it would somehow work anyway using some currently-mythological universal driver that could make anything run even if not optimally. The best operating system is one that you could talk to in regular English and it would understand what you wanted it to do. But, alas, that kind of operating system is probably decades away.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bible Writing 101 for the Almighty

When Galileo pointed his newly-improved telescope to the skies 400 years ago, he saw things he wasn’t supposed to see. He saw that the sun has blemishes; today we call them sunspots. He saw that the moon’s face was pockmarked. And, most importantly, he noticed that the planet Jupiter had little moons orbiting it with regular periods.

He wasn’t supposed to notice these things because, according to the Catholic Church, the earth was at the center of the universe and everything circled it. And, although the earth was imperfect due to the influence of humans, heavenly bodies were in the domain of God and were supposed to be perfect, not pockmarked and spotted.

So when Galileo started to make his observations public, the powers that be in the church hierarchy promptly called him to task. They demanded that he recant his heresy or be duly punished for it. He did recant, but he was still placed under house arrest for the rest of his life and forbidden to publish any more of this blasphemous claims.

In 1994, the Catholic Church basically said, “Oops, our bad.” I’m paraphrasing of course. But they did offer an official apology to the long-dead scientist.

It wasn’t that the church leaders of his day didn’t believe Galileo’s claims. He could prove it to them. They just had to look through the telescope themselves. They were smart enough to know that he was probably correct. They just didn’t want the word to get out to their flock; else the church would have had to admit being wrong for all those hundreds of years. That is something they could not do.

Today, though, the Catholics hold a much more open-minded view of science. In fact, just recently, the church sponsored a five-day conference on the possible existence of alien life forms in the universe and what the implications of the existence of such life would have for church doctrine. Or, perhaps, they just wanted to confer about how to make any aliens feel guilty.

The Vatican has its own astronomical observatory manned by an actual scientist. The pope has declared that the theory of evolution is a valid scientific principle and that only the soul was created by God.

That view has biblical backing. In John 4:24, Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." So if God created us in his image, he is talking about our spirit, our soul, our essence, not our bodies. Human souls, if they exist at all, might not have evolved; it's outside the realm of science to say so. Our bodies, however, did evolve. That fact is as certain as gravity.

Now compare the Catholic open-mindedness with respect to science to the tightly-closed-and-shackled minds of protestant evangelicals regarding the same subject. They believe, as the Catholic Church did prior to Galileo, that the earth is no more than about 7,000 years old and it was created in the span of six 24-hour days by God. No amount of scientific evidence to the contrary can shake their ill-founded belief.

In fact, there are members of the fundamentalist pack who make it their life’s work to dig up so-called competing “evidence,” which they claim supports their young-earth worldview. They, of course, disregard the vast majority of the evidence that goes against their claims, and they tweak the rest of it so that it seems to fit perfectly with their contentions.

But with regard to other matters of daily interest, the conservative churches don’t seem to mind if a couple uses birth control, as long as they are married of course. The pill is fine; condoms are fine. Abortion isn’t, but even some moderately conservative Christians are willing to allow abortion under some circumstances.

Not the Catholics, though. As the cast of Monty Python in The Meaning of Life put it, “Every sperm is sacred,” at least to the Catholic hierarchy. There can be no birth control, not even condoms, and absolutely, positively no abortions for any reason.

It’s funny how both these branches of the same religion, Christianity, can be so far apart in their beliefs on social issues. Why are Catholic leaders so accepting of science, even the science that once seemed to contradict their bible, and yet so backward when it comes to something as simple and harmless as the use of condoms?

On the other hand, why are conservative protestants so uptight about evolution even in the face of overwhelming supporting evidence, yet they have no problem with killing off vast quantities of sperm for the purposes of preventing conception?

Of course, the most reprehensible denomination would be one that combines the reluctance of Catholics to condone birth control with the inane anti-scientific stance of the protestant right. I’m sure such a denomination exists.

On the other hand, there also exist denominations that blend the Catholic’s acceptance of evolution with the typical protestant approval of birth control. In fact, most mainstream protestant denominations fall into this category, including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Disciples of Christ, to name a few.

My question is this: If all Christian denominations base their doctrines on the bible, which all claim to, and if the bible is supposed to be the infallible word of God, which many claim it is, then how can so many of them hold opposite beliefs on the same social issue?

Is the bible, the word of God, not clear enough? Oh wait, I guess it isn’t. So, a word of advice to the Almighty: If you decide to write another bible, write it yourself and make it lucid and timeless. Otherwise, you know that we humans are just going to screw it up again.

Now why would a perfect, omniscient being need to be told this?

Monday, November 09, 2009

H1N1 Causes Undue Alarm in Parents

by Shana Wilson

(This week's entry is by guest blogger Shana Wilson, who happens to share my opinion regarding the H1N1 pandemic and how the media may be responsible for bringing undue alarm to parents.)

The spread of the influenza virus, H1N1, also commonly known as the swine flu, has struck panic in many parents. Add into the equation that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get vaccinated, the panic level rises significantly. It's a simple case study of supply and demand. Alarmed parents demand vaccinations; therefore, there are vaccination shortages. It's a vicious cycle.

What if there were no reason to be alarmed? Take into account that the H1N1 virus is the latest in a series of winter illnesses that have recently spooked parents, such as SARS, the Bird Flu, and the West Nile Virus. This isn't to say that these illnesses aren't to be taken seriously, but only to put H1N1 in perspective. There will always be new diseases; panicking isn't the way to handle them.

Many experts argue that vaccinations aren't the way to handle childhood illnesses either. This would certainly help the H1N1 vaccination shortage for those parents who still want their child vaccinated. Author and pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon suggests these tips in keeping your child healthy during the winter months: make sure your child is getting a good night's sleep, make sure they wash their hands often, avoid too much dairy, refined sugar, and fried foods (which lower your child's immune system), support your child's immune system with herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and finally, don't panic if your child does get sick! Fevers are the best way for the body's immune system to become stronger.

Indiana has reported 317 cases of H1N1, resulting in 19 deaths. What's important to keep in mind is that these statistics are misleading. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 50 percent of H1N1 cases that become serious result from a pre-existing condition. This study included 500 children. According to the CDC, 75-80 percent of the children who died of H1N1 had underlying conditions.

This winter poses no greater threat than most others. Protect your family as best as possible and remember not to panic. Everything seems scarier without perspective.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bible Verses not Read in Sunday School

I used to go to church a lot. My church of choice was the First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. But I’ve also been to other protestant denominations including Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my day. Most of the sermons centered around the teachings of Jesus, as would be expected in a Christian church. The Pentecostal preachers really focus on the Book of Acts for some reason. Acts tells about how the early churchgoers practiced their faith; it has very little to do with what Jesus said or taught.

Many sermons are based on the writings of St. Paul. Here was a man who never met Jesus but could tell you everything in Jesus’ head. There are four Gospels in the bible, all written after Paul’s letters. But there is no Gospel of Paul. Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which his church would be built, but it turns out that Paul is the real foundation, at least in most churches I’ve attended.

And once in awhile, the pastor will go back to the Old Testament for the source of his sermon. They preach a lot from Genesis and a lot from the so-called books of prophecy. But I’ve never heard a sermon based on any of the following bible passages. I’m not saying no preacher has ever uttered them aloud, but if they have, it was probably in the context of trying to explain what God really meant to say. But it is God, after all. And it is the bible, God’s supposed word. Why does He have to be explained?

2 Kings 2:23-24 – “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.”

It would be difficult for a preacher to work into his sermon on this chapter why God would stoop so low as to kill 42 children for being childishly rude. And couldn’t God have just stricken them dead instead of sending bears to maul them to death? This is one sadistic creator of the universe.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 – “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.”

Ok, let me get this straight. To guys are fighting. The wife of one guy comes to and grabs the other guy’s testicles in order to stop him from killing her husband. Did this happen a lot? Were there any repeat offenders? Maybe that should have been one of the Ten Commandments in place of, I don’t know, “Thou shalt observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Not too many people follow that one anyway. But cutting off her hands seems a bit strict.

Malachi 2:3 – “Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces….”

This is God talking. I can’t think of any way in which a preacher could smooth this one over. I mean, if the Almighty gets so angry that he is compelled to smear feces on someone’s face and make him infertile, that’s sinking pretty low. Maybe the Lord was just having a rotten day.

The above passage comes from the King James Version, which some other versions also state similarly. But the New International Version cleans it up a bit. It states that offal from sacrifices will be spread on the faces. That’s still pretty bad, but probably not as bad a dung. The NIV was translated by fundamentalist Christians with the intent of bringing in more souls. In other words, the writers had a clear agenda, so it is no wonder they clean up the bible a little and remove some of the inconsistencies that are obvious in other versions.

Ezekiel 22:20 – “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”

This verse, obviously from the Larry Flint edition, could be a bumper sticker. I guess the preacher could elaborate on this one if he sent the kids off to the Sunday school rooms for cookies. I’m surprised the fundamentalists don’t demand the bible be banned from the bookstore for this one.

Oh, and here’s one for the Christians in the women’s liberation movement, if there are any:

1 Timothy 2:15 – “But women will be preserved through the bearing of children….”

Maybe some sleazebag could use that verse as a basis for a new religion. Their mantra: “Keep the women pregnant, for it will save their souls.” But a regular preacher of an existing religion would preach unto his flock that verse at his own peril.

I could go on, of course. The bible is a huge compilation, chock full of misdeeds and pornography. But you get the idea. If you’re a churchgoer, challenge your minister to center his next sermon on one of these verses that strikingly highlight some of the bible’s R-rated content.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fundamentalist Christians are Hypocrites

After living for years in a sort of religious limbo (no pun intended) I now call myself an atheist, not because I know there is no god, but because I do not believe in one. God might or might not exist; I have no way of knowing for sure, so I’m an agnostic atheist.

I used to call myself just an agnostic, and before that I called myself spiritual but not religious and before that I called myself a Christian because that’s how I was raised. But after reading Dan Barker’s book, Godless, I know that if I cannot specifically answer in the affirmative if someone asks me if I believe in God, then by definition, I’m an atheist.

Theists believe in a god. In the U.S. most theists are Christians. And most of them have no reluctance to tell me how wrong I am for not believing. I can point out that they only believe in one god, the Christian god, and therefore, are atheistic with respect to all other gods. What if they picked the wrong one? But logic doesn’t faze most fundamentalist Christians. They, after all, have their bibles.

It doesn’t matter that the bible is chock full of contradictions and horror stories of a vengeful god. It doesn’t matter that the bible has absolutely no independent historical corroboration. It doesn’t matter that not one word of the New Testament was written by a person who knew Jesus personally or witnessed any of the events they wrote about. None of that matters to Christians. They have their beloved bible, which is the unerring word of God. And how do they know it is? Well, obviously, because the bible tells them so.

Logic, reason, and rational thought don’t work at all with fundamentalists and their bibles. They can be the most reasonable, intelligent people in the world when it comes to all other aspects of their lives. Maybe they are whizzes at business or art or music. Maybe they have a photographic memory or are champions at playing Trivial Pursuit. But they are able to compartmentalize their daily, rational lives and keep all that separate from their religious beliefs.

It doesn’t matter to them that scientists have proved that all species of life on Earth, including humans, have evolved. They simply say, “Oh, it’s only a theory.” They don’t realize that, in science, a theory is as good as it gets. Theories have been proven, even though they can be modified by new evidence if necessary.

Fundamentalists say they have all the proof they need that God exists, in the trees, the flowers, a baby’s cry. It doesn’t matter one bit to them that everything they point to as proof of God can be explained perfectly well by science using only natural laws. It doesn’t matter to them at all that the personal feeling they have that God lives within them can be duplicated, and is duplicated, in other religions that they might call heathen religions. And those feelings can all be explained by neuroscience anyway.

I am often asked why I care what other people believe. I care, partly, because I am a teacher, and I like for people to understand how things really work. I at least like for them to be open minded enough to try to understand.

Mostly, though, I don’t much care that people believe in God. After all, if there were solid evidence, I could be convinced myself of God’s existence. I used to believe in God. So I get it. But what really bothers me is not their belief in God or even in Jesus, but that so many of them rule out what has been proven by science in favor of biblical mythology. And some of these people who rule out evolution as viable in favor of six-day creation find no problem accepting help when they need it from a doctor. Many medicines, such as immunizations and antibiotics, have been created based on the theory of evolution. Evolution is useful to scientists, and therefore, to everyone else.

If the religious fundamentalists would denounce the use of anything that comes from what they do not believe in – the theory of evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the earth and Cosmos – then I would say they are missing out on life, but at least they would not be hypocrites. But if they make use of any of these things, then they are, indeed, hypocrites. They use the advancements of science for their own benefit, even if those advancements could not have come absent the theory of evolution.

I say to all the fundamentalists who do not accept evolution as factual, despite 150 years of evidence supporting it then stop using the benefits of science. Live like the Amish. You should not accept the fruits of the labor of evolutionary biologists if you do not believe in evolution. You can’t have it both ways, unless you are a hypocrite. If you are a hypocrite, then you are being dishonest. And isn’t that what you would call a sin?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize often Given for the Effort

America does not exist in isolation. The isolationist policies that existed prior to World Wars I and II cannot work in the global economy of today. One can argue that they didn’t even work back then, since those wars might have been prevented by a United States that was more engaged in world affairs.

The United States, if we are to be a world leader, needs to have the respect of the nations we are leading. During the eight years of the Bush administration, we did not have that global respect. Our enemies loathed us to the point of actually attacking us, which enemies often do. But enemies are also often open to diplomacy. But the Bush administration wanted none of that.

Our friends did not respect us and often criticized the saber-rattling policies of the Bush administration. They were more than willing to stand behind us as we attempted to weed out terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but when we decided to invade a sovereign nation using the unproven excuse, which later turned out to be totally false, that Iraq was somehow tied to the 9/11 attacks and was hiding weapons of mass destruction, our friends mostly refused to go along with us. The countries that did back us did so tentatively and out of a sense of obligation, not admiration.

But in the few months that Barack Obama has been president, we have gotten our friends back abroad. The U.S. is still reviled by its enemies, but the rhetoric has been toned down and some of them are eager to engage with us in diplomacy. The nations of Europe, our staunch allies since World War I, are proud to have the U.S. as a friend again. We no longer stand as a monolithic war-mongering black-sheep nation. We are no longer a nation of peace that has gone rogue. No one has reined us in; we reined in ourselves, thanks to the policies and promises of our new president, Barack Obama.

So why did Obama win the Nobel Peace Prize? Some are wondering why. Some of Obama’s supporters are wondering why. And his detractors are out right livid that he won. Never mind that it speaks volumes of how the U.S. is perceived by the rest of the free world. Never mind that the award is a great honor to its recipient and his country. Obama detractors and the right-wing party of “no” can’t bring themselves to squeak out a limp congratulatory comment. It doesn’t matter to them that the prestige of America is rising again or that we are now seen as a peace-making nation rather than a war-monger. All they care about is that Obama has gotten an award he, in their minds, does not deserve.

But I don’t wonder why he received the Nobel Peace Prize, not after hearing the explanation from the Nobel Committee. He received it for his extraordinary push for worldwide diplomacy, for his effort to bring nations together to figure out common solutions for our problems, and for advocating a nuclear-free planet.

Prior to his nomination last February, Obama campaigned on abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide. He campaigned on creating a policy of diplomacy. Once in office, he abolished torture as a national policy and signed an order to close the constitutionally-questionable Guantanamo Bay prison facility. He stopped the saber rattling of the previous administration. And he opened up a dialogue with the rest of the world, including the Arab world, urging cooperation over condemnation to solve the world’s problems.

Some of Obama’s supporters, though happy he received the award, say it might have been too early. Maybe he should have been in office at least a full year before being nominated. And his detractors say he should turn down the award; they claim he hasn’t done a thing to deserve it. But the Nobel Peace Prize is not always given to accomplishments; it is quite often given for effort.

Pres. Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in creating the League of Nations, a world organization that was supposed to act to stop all future wars. There was no appreciable disconcert over the fact that he won the Prize, even though the League of Nations was a dismal failure. But Wilson’s effort was awarded nonetheless. If the Nobel Committee had waited to see if the League actually worked, Wilson would never have won the Prize.

Desmond Tutu of South Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his effort to end apartheid. Never mind that apartheid did not end until 10 years later. Was the Nobel Committee premature in that case, or should it have waited until after apartheid had actually ended? It awarded the effort.

Pres. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at bringing peace in the Middle East. If the Nobel Committee had waited until he succeeded, they would still be waiting to award him the Prize. Instead, they awarded his amazing effort.

After learning he had won the Peace Prize, Obama said he was humbled and that he didn’t feel he deserved to be placed in the company of previous winners. But he added this: “The Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It has also been used to give momentum to specific causes.”

While acknowledging that Obama’s achievements after only 10 months in office have been few, his efforts toward achieving lasting world peace have been awe-inspiring. After only a few months as president, he has finalized little in his bid for world peace, but he has put America on the right road to helping achieve it. It is a cause worth awarding.

A change of attitude can go along way, with individuals as well as countries. America has a new attitude, thanks to Obama. The rest of the world recognizes that. It’s just too bad the right-wing zealots who are automatically against anything Obama does or says or accomplishes are so busy hurling insults at our president that they refuse to acknowledge that the world might actually be a safer place now than it was a year or so ago, not so much because of specific accomplishments, but because of a change in attitude.

Only our enemies and those at home who call themselves conservatives do not understand why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s sad that the right-wing party of “no” has more in common with America’s enemies than it does with the aims of their own president.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Five-Second Rule: Myth or Reality?

Most people have heard of the five-second rule. It says if you drop a piece of food, such as a potato chip or an apple on the floor, and if you pick it up right away, within five seconds, it is still clean enough to eat.

Our science class at George Washington Community School decided to test this rule. No, we didn’t use each other to test the rule by eating dropped food to see who would get sick. We used the scientific method to perform an experiment to find our answer.

Experiments should always have a set of variables, the dependent variable and the independent variable. It should also have constants and a control. We used equal amounts of nutrient agar in Petri dishes as a constant. Incubation temperature and time of incubation was a constant. The control was a clean-agar dish that had not been smeared with dropped food. Our independent variable was the time we left the food on the floor – one piece for more than five seconds, the other piece for less than five seconds. The dependent variable was the number of bacterial colonies that grew on the agar after 24 hours.

We decided that we would use bite-size Hershey chocolates as one of our constants. We would simulate the dropping of the candies by rubbing one on the floor for three seconds and another on the floor for seven seconds. If the five-second rule is correct, the hypothesis would be that the candy left on the floor for only three seconds should contain significantly fewer bacteria than the candy left on the floor for seven seconds. However, some of the students decided to state a different hypothesis, that both candies would contain approximately equal numbers of bacteria.

Our procedure, after rubbing the candies on the floor for the specified amount of time, was to rub them on top of nutrient agar in the Petri dish for five seconds each. We then incubated the Petri dishes for 24 hours at about 85 degrees F. At the end of the incubation period, we found that both the five-second dish and the seven-second dish contained considerable numbers of bacterial colonies. We performed three trials, one for each class period. In two trials, the number of colonies was approximately equal. In one trial, the three-second dish actually contained more colonies than the seven-second dish. The control dish contained no bacteria.

We, therefore, concluded that the five-second rule was bogus and simply a myth. The hypothesis stated by students who said that both pieces of candy would contain considerable bacteria proved to be correct. It is not wise to eat any food dropped on the floor for any amount of time.

See a video of one student, Emily, performing the experiment on YouTube.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What's Up with the Czar Wars?

Republicans are at it again, bashing Obama for something that they let slide under George W. Bush. This time it’s about Obama’s appointment of so-called czars to advise him on various policy issues.

The word czar originally meant an emperor, like Caesar, which is the term’s root. Russia was ruled by czars for centuries. But it is not at all affiliated with communism or socialism, which is what some Republicans want us to believe. Czarist Russia ended with the revolution of 1917 when socialism took over.

Regardless of its history, today’s use of czar in America was coined by the news media as a lazy way of saying policy advisor. In this day of fast a furious sound bites, it’s much easier to say “drug czar” than to say “the policy advisor on drugs.”

Every president has had czars, some more than the current president. George W. Bush had so many czars that he even had to appoint a czar to oversee his other czars. He had a czar czar.

Even Franklin D. Roosevelt had a czar, a rubber czar. No he didn’t have a crisis of condoms; it was about how to get enough rubber to make tires.

So why is there so much backlash over Obama’s use of policy czars? The short answer is that Republicans have no fresh ideas of their own on any matter of policy, so their strategy is to attack Obama on every single detail of his presidency, no matter how picayune.

If he did not appoint any policy advisors, they would condemn him for that. They would say he is an inexperienced leader who should be appointing as many advisors as he can.

In reality, Obama is doing as president as he did when he was running for office. He is surrounding himself with experts on specific aspects of his job so that they can advise him from a position of knowledge and intellect rather than from cronyism, which our former president was guilty of.

It has been more than 10 months since the election and eight months since Obama took office. But from all the Obama bashing that is going on these days, you would think the campaign was still going on. Former president Jimmy Carter got it right when he said that much of the brouhaha stems from racial prejudice. Nobody will admit it, of course. But it does play a role. Just look at the signs being held up at the so-called Tea Party events. They are blatantly racist.

Maybe the mainstream Republicans simply disagree on policy, but the fact that so few of them have publicly scorned the ultra-right-wing segment of their party simply gives the racist rhetoric tacit approval and provides its purveyors with legitimacy.

Everyone has a right to speak his mind in America, even if it is spoken in an inappropriate manner. But having that right doesn’t mean that those who are more moderate in their viewpoints shouldn’t take steps to rein in the more extreme elements in their party. Not doing so makes the right-wing extremists the party’s official voice. But if that’s the voice they want, then they may have to live with even more disappointment next November.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Obama to Indoctrinate Schoolkids into Communism?

Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, conservatives have been crying and bellyaching over one thing or another. I guess that’s normal in a two-party system. Democrats complained a lot when George W. Bush was president. But then so did many Republicans. After all, Bush was a blithering idiot.

Obama is an intellectual and is very charismatic. Outwardly, he is a lot more like Ronald Reagan, although with much different policies. But regardless of his charisma, or maybe partly because of it, reactionaries are faulting him for everything from the economy to the swine flu.

But over the past week, a new controversy has arisen. As off the wall and silly as some of his detractors have been up until now, this latest controversy has to be one of the most outlandish non-issues ever brought up in the name of partisan politics.

The president wants to speak to schoolchildren at a time when they have started classes again following their summer break. He wants to tell them that education is important to their future and to tell them it would be best for them to stay in school and try hard. He wants to tell them that it is possible to rise above hardship as he did to become whatever they want to be.

It is not the first time a president has addressed an audience of schoolchildren. Ronald Reagan did it. He talked about taxes for whatever reason. George H.W. Bush did it, too. And as we all know, George W. Bush was reading to kindergarteners at the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After being told of the attack, he just continued to read.

But now, Obama’s plan to speak to the kiddies has drawn fire from the conservatives who claim he only wants to indoctrinate them into some socialist agenda. Normally, such far-right propaganda would be ignored by all except their own kind. But for a reason that is beyond my comprehension, the extreme right seems to have the ear of the moderate audience these days.

The moderates have started to believe the wing nuts on the right when they make far-fetched claims about Obama’s health care plan or his economic recovery plan. And now, the claim that Obama is trying to brainwash the nation’s children and turn them into socialists or communists has gone viral.

Parents are threatening to keep their kids home on Tuesday after Labor Day instead of sending them to school to listen to their president tell them to get a good education. Even some school administrators have said they would screen, delay, or even edit the broadcast.

This is craziness gone amok. Who would have believed that a simple address by the president directed at school kids and on the topic of getting a better education would be the target of so much controversy? Some have said the speech comes with lesson plans. Well, so what? It’s a speech about education. Lesson plans seems like a logical inclusion. Teachers are not under any obligation to actually use them. But providing supplemental materials is a good idea.

Whether you agree with the president’s policies or not, whether you like Obama as a person or not, doesn’t change the fact that he is the elected president of this country, and as such, he has every right to address whatever audience he chooses. He did not obtain his position as leader of the free world through a coup. He was duly elected to the office by a popular majority and a sizeable electoral majority, larger than either of George W. Bush’s margins. In fact, Bush lost the popular vote in 2000.

It is a fact, not an opinion, that conservatives tend to have less formal education than those on the progressive end of the political spectrum. And it is these same conservatives who want to keep their kids out of school so they won’t be exposed to a speech by their duly-elected leader. Could it be that conservatives are afraid that if their kids listen to Obama, stay in school, and become more educated than their parents, that they will jump ship and become Democrats?

It sounds logical, which is probably why it isn’t true. After all, a logical conservative is an oxymoron. Most of the far-right nut jobs wouldn’t know logic if it crawled up their pant legs and bit them in the ass.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to Debate a Christian

When I was a kid, I believed all the popular stories of the bible. I believed that Noah and his family really did build a big boat. I believed Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth. I believed that Eve spoke to a snake and that Jonah was eaten by a whale (although it turned out to be a big fish). The sad part is I believed most of these things at least a little all the way into my college years.

Lacking a single epiphany, I gradually started to question the literality of these biblical events. I was a science major in college. I knew that Noah could not have gotten a pair of all the world’s animals into a single boat. I knew Jonah could not have survived inside a giant fish for three days. But I was still open to the possibility of Adam and Eve, although I was dubious about the talking snake.

I also knew that the six days of Creation were not really six literal days. They were just the bible’s way of meaning periods of time. I certainly believed things evolved, because it’s hard to ignore scientific evidence if you’re not a fundamentalist. But I thought it was probably guided by God.

But when I was in my mid-40s, I did have a moment of epiphany. While talking to my pastor about a years-long crisis of faith, after spending 10 years going to church every week, reading the bible, praying, getting baptized, and trying to debate skeptics about the existence of God, it dawned on me that I was an agnostic. My pastor asked me what I believed, deep down. I replied I didn’t really know at that point. I told him I think God exists, but I know nothing at all about Him and I’m not sure how anyone else does either.

He told me I had stumbled on the right answer. I had been asked, and I had answered the $64,000 question. I was an agnostic who leaned toward believing. But if there actually is a god, nobody knows any more about what he is like or what he wants than I do. My pastor was, and is, a very smart man. Unlike many Christian leaders, he is open-minded and non-dogmatic.

Since then, my disbelief has grown as my belief has diminished. But I still do not call myself an atheist; that would mean I know too much about the God situation. It would mean, to me at least, that I know enough to know he does not exist. I don’t know that much yet. What I do know for sure is that I still know nothing at all about God or his existence. And I know enough to say for certain that nobody else knows either. I can say that because I do not have enough evidence to prove or disprove anything about God. And nobody has any more evidence than I do. Therefore, they can’t know either. Some only believe they know and they’re not shy about telling the world what they think they know.

So, over the past few years, and especially over the last few weeks, I have found myself in confrontational mode regarding religion. I was raised Christian and spent most of my adult life calling myself a Christian. Many of my family members are Christians. My mom is a Christian. Sometimes when we get together at family birthdays or holidays, a debate breaks out about religion. Sometimes it isn’t pretty.

I have found myself drawn into debates on Facebook, in the forums, about the existence of God, or whether the phrase “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, or whether “In God we trust” should be removed from our currency. I hear things like “This nation was founded on Christianity” all the time. I also seem to be the object of a lot of prayers from well-meaning but utterly self-righteous Christians.

Although I hold my own in these debates, I don’t really expect to win any converts. I am hopeful, however, that the lukewarm Christians or the fence-sitters will see the light of reason and not fall into the illogical abyss of Christianity.

Why do I care? I’ve been asked that a lot. I don’t really care what people I don’t even know believe. I respect their right to believe whatever kind of fairy tale they want, but don’t expect me to respect the belief itself. I care more what my family believes because I am close to them and I would like for them to be enlightened.

I’m a teacher. I can’t help but feel somehow threatened by ignorance. I can’t help but to try to correct people when they say something that is obviously incorrect, such as when they say this country was founded on Christianity. That is factually wrong. I teach science, so it bothers me that so many people prefer to believe the allegory in Genesis about God’s Creation instead of the evidence-based theory of evolution. It’s in my nature to try to set people straight, whether they want to be set straight or not.

So in an effort to make future debates easier, I have done some research. I’ve collected some counter arguments to some of the most popular claims of the evangelical Christians. I’ve produced some in-context quotes of our Founding Fathers proving that the U.S. is not really a Christian nation. And I’ve learned how to recognize straw-man arguments brought forth by Creationists and how to counter them with the truth.

It won’t make a bit of difference to the person I am debating. But, as I said, it might do those who have an open mind some good to read rational thoughts among the bible babble.

One thing I have noticed is that Christians love to quote the bible. They use it as their source of information and their one and only manual of attack. But what might not be so obvious to an innocent bystander is that almost all of their bible-based arguments are logically flawed.

For one thing, it is hard to take the bible seriously when it is so self-contradictory that you can use it to prove or disprove almost any contention. Here are just a few examples of how it is self-contradictory:

Take the first and second chapters of Genesis. They tell two completely different and mutually-exclusive stories of Creation. Fundamentalists often say that Chapter 1 gives a full account of Creation and Chapter 2 merely sums it up using different words, but that isn’t true. In Genesis 1:20 and 21 it says, “every living creature” is brought forth from the waters, including every winged fowl. But in Genesis 2:19 God brings forth “every beast of the field and every fowl of the air” from dry ground.

The order of Creation is completely different between the two biblical accounts, too. In Chapter 1, beasts were created before man; in Chapter 2, man was created before beasts. This may not seem too important a point, but it makes it difficult to reconcile obviously contradictory passages with the idea that the bible is literal and infallible. You can’t have it both ways.

The Genesis 1 and 2 contradictions are useful when debating a Creationist. But they are hardly the only biblical contradictions. There are contradictions within the Old Testament, contradictions within the New Testament, contradictions between the New and Old Testaments, even contradictions within the same book.

In Genesis, it tells us that God needed to rest on the seventh day of Creation. But Isaiah says that God “fainteth not, neither is (He) weary.” Matthew (19:26), “with God all things are possible.” But the Book of Judges (1:19), says that God could not drive out the inhabitants in the valley “because they had chariots of iron.” Apparently, God has trouble moving things made of iron.

When confronted with the fact that there is lots of evil in the world and God could do something about it if he wanted to, Christians are quick to point out that man has free will and that the devil makes evil. But God said (Isaiah 45:7) “I make peace and create evil.” So evil is God’s fault.

How about this one? “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt.7:l). And yet others must be judged? (1Cor. 6:2-4). And, “God is love.” He is “the God of Peace” (Romans 15:33), but in Exodus 15:3, “the Lord is a man of war.” The sheer number of contradictions could fill a book.

Evangelicals love using what they believe is logic to argue their point. Creationists are fond of saying that scientists think that complex life “just happened” or “came together at random.” This is a straw-man argument, one which attempts to refute a sound contention by refuting an extreme version of the contention.

Take the very banal argument against evolution that if you put a monkey in front of a word processor and have him type randomly forever, he still won’t type out A Tale of Two Cities by accident. A novel implies a writer. But evolution does not happen by pure random chance. There are selective pressures at work.

If you put a monkey in front of a keyboard and have him type at random until he accidentally types out the word “it” and then save it in a file, then have him continue typing until he types out “was” and save it in the same file, and so on, the monkey would eventually type out the first sentence of the novel, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” It would take awhile, but the monkey would, indeed, eventually type out the entire novel.

Arguing by begging the question or using circular reasoning is another favorite weapon in the Christian arsenal. But it isn’t an effective one. “The bible is the absolute truth.” How do you know? “Because it is God’s word and God doesn’t lie.” How do you know it is God’s word? “Because it says so in the bible.” It’s amazing how many otherwise rational people don’t pick up on this.

Many Christians argue using false cause reasoning. For example, “Statistics show juvenile delinquency is rising. Therefore, we need to post the Ten Commandments in public schools.” It’s a conclusion based on insufficient evidence. There is no proof that having the Ten Commandments posted in school will result in less juvenile delinquency.

Then there are the slippery slope arguments. A conclusion is assumed based on the happening of a single event. “If we take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge, it will eventually lead us to be a Godless nation.” Christians also use this type of argument to conclude that atheists and agnostics have no sense of morality because they have nothing to base it on. They don’t seem to realize that morality pre-dated the invention of God. Our morality is an evolutionary adaptation that keeps us from killing off our own species.

In the poll forums on Facebook, there are often large majorities that support a pro-Christian question. So a lot of debaters use the argument of popular sentiment as proof that their side is right. But just because an opinion is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct. A lot of people can be deluded. Slavery used to be popular. The only proof of an argument that is worth considering is empirical evidence.

And don’t forget that anecdotal evidence does not count. Evidence has to be repeatable and verifiable.

It is easy to stump a Christian with logic. But you probably will never change his or her mind. They are very good at cop-outs, such as “God works in mysterious ways,” or “God does things in his own time.” These are not proofs. When Christians start using these aphorisms, it means they have surrendered to logic; they just can’t admit it and still maintain their faith. But you will know that you have won the debate at that point.

There are many more types of fallacies that Christians often use to prove their point. All of them are flawed. An exhaustive list of fallacies can be found here. And a good source for bible contradictions is here. And you can find my assemblage of Founding Fathers quotes against religion here.

And, of course, if you are debating with a Creationist, some of your best sources of information are here.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My Confrontation with Spirituality

This column is going to be a little different from all the others I’ve posted. It is much more personal and relates an incidence regarding my wife’s death and how she communicated to me just before it happened. I’ve never related this story to anyone in detail, especially my thoughts on how I should have reacted to her message.

It was two days before Christmas, 2002. Donna had recently been released from a convalescent center following a serious leg fracture. She also had myotonic muscular dystrophy, which caused her to fall frequently. She had four leg fractures over a 10 year period.

I was frustrated. She was an invalid and a burden. I resented having to take her to the bathroom and bathe her. It was a hassle having to lug around wheel chairs or her motorized scooter whenever we would go out. The part that bugged me most was that she seemed to just expect to be helped without much gratitude. I don’t know.

I loved her very dearly, but I can’t say that I was in love with her. We married pretty much on a whim. The fact that I didn’t think I would have another chance if I passed up the opportunity to marry her didn’t help. Few girls showed much interest in me. Regardless, our 25-year marriage had its ups and downs, like any other, but as time went on and Donna became more and more of a burden as her disease progressed meant that the downs far outnumbered the ups.

About a week before she died, I remember becoming particularly frustrated after wheeling her to our small, wheelchair-inaccessible bathroom. I blurted out, “I just can’t do this anymore.” She didn’t respond. It wasn’t long after that when I was getting dressed in our bedroom and overheard our teenage son frankly telling his mother that she was about to die. I thought that seemed rather cruel, but I didn’t step in. I just listened. Donna responded that she was ready to go. It was not a hostile communication at all. They were just speaking very frankly to each other. I’m not sure why he felt she was about to die. After all, it was only a broken leg. But he seemed rather confident in his statement.

Then, on December 23, I took my son, daughter, and my daughter’s friend to Indianapolis to see the IMAX version of one of the Star Wars movies. On our way home, we stopped to eat at a sandwich shop and I took the opportunity to call home to check how Donna was doing. She didn’t answer. I thought it was odd so I called my mom to go check on her. When I called back several minutes later, Mom told me Donna was asleep and couldn’t be aroused. I assumed it was the medicine she had been taking for her headaches she had been having.

When we returned home, we tried to wake Donna, but to no avail. I knew at that time it probably wasn’t the medicine. We wet her face and she responded with head movements. It looked as though she was about to arouse, but she never did, so I called 911.

Then, she raised her left arm high above her head and pointed her finger upward. Mom was standing right next to her and I was watching from across the room. Mom assumed she was pointing at the poll lamp, gesturing that the light be turned off so it wouldn’t be in her eyes. Mom turned out the light.

But I knew the message had nothing to do with the lamp. Donna was telling us she was on her way to heaven.

She was a very religious person. We would often argue about religion. She was a fundamentalist; I was at that time a borderline agnostic. I had attended church for years and even been baptized, but I just wasn’t feeling it. She attended every Sunday and had found a church she really enjoyed. It was the same church I attended, which was not fundamentalist, but she loved the people.

But on the evening she died, I knew that she knew she was going to a better place and she wanted to let me know. I knew right away what she was telling me. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want my children and my fundamentalist mother to misinterpret my thoughts on Donna’s hand gesture. So I remained silent.

After she got to the hospital, she became completely unresponsive. She was still alive, but I knew she was gone by then. I remember hearing her snore loudly, and I knew that snoring while in a coma is a grave sign of impending death. A few hours later, after her CT scan revealed a massive brain hemorrhage, the plug was pulled and her body died.

To clarify, I can’t say for certain what she saw or felt when she was pointing her finger skyward. I believe that she was satisfied that she was going to heaven and was trying to tell me so. And whether it was real or just her dying brain synapses firing in response to elevated serotonin levels, who’s to say? I am fairly certain it was the latter.

But that doesn’t matter. In her mind, she was comforted in the minutes before her brain died. She knew she was going to heaven, and it doesn’t matter whether she really was or not. Either way, she was not in misery anymore. And, after a period of grief, I realized my burden had been lifted.

My regrets are that I didn’t treat her as well as I could have in the time before she died and that I didn’t just come right out and say what I knew she was trying to communicate during her final moments.

She officially died on Christmas Eve. I had bought her a necklace that had the birthstones of each of our children. She never got to see it, but she wears it in her grave. We spent 25 years together in a marriage that was not as loving as it should have been, mostly because of me. But I still miss her.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

In Science v. Religion, Science always Wins

The earth is the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, stars, and planets all circling around the earth in perfectly circular orbits. That was the view of Aristotle and Ptolemy and was the accepted view of all thinkers up until the time of Copernicus.

Copernicus suggested that the behavior of planets could best be explained if the sun was in the center of the universe, and not the earth. Copernicus was ridiculed for his blasphemy. That is because the bible clearly implies, or in some cases actually states, that the earth does not move and that celestial objects orbit it. Here are a few of such bible passages claiming a geocentric worldview:

"He has fixed the earth firm, immovable." (1 Chronicles 16:30)
"Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ..." (Psalm 93:1)
"Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken." (Psalm 104:5)
"...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast..." (Isaiah 45:18)
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
"So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day." (Joshua 10:13)

Johannes Kepler spent most of his adult life observing the motions of the planets. He concluded, based on reams of data, that the earth was a planet and that all planets orbit the sun in elliptical paths. Kepler did not publish his thesis until he was near death, for fear of being rejected as Copernicus was.

Galileo Galilei refined the telescope enough so that he could see moons orbiting the planet Jupiter and could see spots on the sun. He was one of the early heliocentrists, believers that the earth revolves around the sun. He was arrested by the Church and forced to recant his heresies. Pope John Paul II formally apologized to Galileo in 1976, claiming the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

You might think today that every schoolchild knows that the sun is at the center of the solar system and is but one of billions of stars in our galaxy, and that the earth and other planets revolve around it. But if you think that, you are wrong.

In 1967 Walter van der Kamp, a schoolmaster, started a movement reviving the notion that the earth is actually at the center of the universe. After van der Kamp’s death in 1988, Gerardus Bouw, an astronomer and cosmologist, took over. He still has many followers today who believe that, because the bible says so, the earth must be the fixed center of the universe.

Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other thinkers of ancient times also believed that the earth was flat. Again, this belief came from biblical passages as well as the fact that the earth looks flat when you’re standing in a field.

Here are some bible verses that imply a flat earth:

“[The King] saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth's farthest bounds.” (Daniel 4:10-11)
“Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory.” (Matthew 4:8)
“After this, I saw four angels stationed at the four corners of the earth holding back the four winds...” (Revelation 7:1).

Around 250 BCE, Eratosthenes, a Greek scholar, used trigonometry and observation to mathematically prove that the earth was a sphere. He even obtained an estimate of the size of the earth’s circumference, which was very close to the modern value.

Early sailors knew the earth was a sphere; after all, they sail around it. But common folks held on to their flat-earth views well into the 15th century. Even some of Christopher Columbus’s men were starting to get nervous when it was taking longer than expected to reach landfall.

But, again, today’s schoolchildren know that the earth is spherical. There are globes in almost every classroom. But also, just as with the geocentric view that the earth is at the center of the universe, there remain holdouts on the shape of the earth as well.

The Flat Earth Society has several thousand members who have developed an elaborate scheme that tries to prove the earth is flat. The scheme comes complete with the notion of a worldwide conspiracy that tries to brainwash the masses into believing that the earth is spherical. They base their arguments for a flat earth almost solely on the bible.

History is replete with examples of how science has been stymied by Christianity and other religions that base their truth on the bible and that don’t want to be bothered with the facts. And since the church has always been a very powerful player in world politics, scientific progress has often been hindered.

The big hot-button debate these days is between those who accept the scientific facts of the theory of evolution and those who claim that God created the earth and everything on it in six literal days. Again, the basis for the creationists’ beliefs is the bible, specifically the Book of Genesis. And, again, the basis of the scientists’ acceptance of evolution is, well, the evidence.

While there remains only a small fraction of the population that literally believes the world is flat or is at the center of the universe, almost half of all Americans believe in the biblical story of Creation. That’s kind of scary for a science teacher like me. It’s difficult to overcome dogma with facts.

But I am at least comforted in the knowledge that in every other case throughout history, science has won out over religious dogma eventually. One day, the story of Creation will be relegated to the backburner of biblical theses along with the flat earth and geocentric notions. I hope that happens sooner than later, since evolution is the foundation for the rest of biological science. But with so many politicians in this country embracing archaic religious mythology, I’m afraid true enlightenment won’t come anytime soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Christians Turned Me away from Religion

Once upon a time I was a Christian. I was a true Christian, not just in name only. I was not a perfect Christian, but then who is? I went to church every Sunday. I, in fact, attended several different churches from time to time as I tested the waters. I prayed. I repented. I was baptized. I sang the hymns. I made the offerings. I attended bible study. I read the bible on my own. I witnessed for Jesus.

I also was very interested in science. I became a science teacher with a master’s degree in biology. For many years, there was no conflict between my belief as a Christian and my acceptance of scientific facts. The two were not mutually exclusive.

But I was hammered continually by the fundamentalist wing of Christianity. They attacked me as not being a “true Christian.” They asked how I could possibly believe in something like evolution and still believe in God. They told me they would pray for my soul and for me to one day see the light.

But I knew for certain that the scientific method was not a spurious concept. I knew that there were many religions and, in fact, many different kinds of Christianity in the world. But there is only one science and it is the same everywhere in every country, regardless of political or religious culture. I knew science was self-correcting and that evolution had been proven in many different ways for decades.

But there they were, the fundamentalist Christians, attacking my beliefs and saying I was going to hell, even though I had repented and accepted Jesus and had done all the other things Christians are supposed to do.

I talked to my pastor about it. I was having a crisis of faith and needed his guidance. He assured me that these fundamentalists were in the minority and represented only a fringe element of Christianity. He told me that all the mainstream Christian denominations accepted the facts of science, including evolution.

But those words were small comfort to me. The fundamentalists might be in the minority, but they speak the loudest. And their minority status is now threatening to become a majority. Recent polls indicate that, while the number of Christians is dwindling, the number of fundamentalist Christians is increasing rapidly.

Eventually, I got tired of it. I started to wonder if I had been wrong. Since Christianity is so splintered, and since all the fundamentalist churches make the claim that theirs is the true religion, I started to apply logic to my beliefs. Before that, I had been able to compartmentalize my faith so that it not conflict with what I knew about science.

But the fundamentalists sparked an internal controversy. Although I had always believed that the bible was allegory, written as a guide to spirituality and not as a history book or a science book, I now started to wonder if there was any part of the bible that could be trusted.

I researched the bible. I discovered that it was compiled in the early fourth century by a group of Catholic cardinals who were working under duress from Emperor Constantine, who had recently been converted to Christianity in order to maintain easier control over his empire. I discovered that the inclusion of certain manuscripts was politically motivated. I learned that some manuscripts that were used by early churches were ordered destroyed, because they did not fit the new Catholic dogma.

Coupling that research with the intransigence and unintelligent blathering of the Christian right, I came to the conclusion that I wanted no part of it. I, as it turned out, was not a Christian. Christianity was associated with blind faith and lack of education. It was associated with a denial of facts. I wanted no part of it.

In fairness, not all Christians are uneducated morons. My pastor certainly did not fit that category. But even he once called himself a “Christian Buddhist.” He was a little uneasy with the title of Christian as well.

But the increase in the number of fundamentalists has, I believe, been one cause of why the number of Christians as a whole is decreasing. Christian fundamentalism has given Christianity a bad rap. It became a catalyst that caused me to eventually turn my back on Christianity. I believe it has caused others to turn away, too.

So maybe we freethinkers who have seen the light of day and no longer need to depend on an antiquated superstition owe these fundamentalists a debt of gratitude. They have pushed us away from religion, and we are better off because of it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Strength of Science

Sometimes scientists get things wrong. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Science is a process of discovery, analogous to the exploration of new lands by fifteenth-century sailors. Christopher Columbus originally thought he had discovered the East Indies when he landed in the New World.

So when science gets it wrong, that sometimes means the process has to start over or change directions. But that seeming weakness in the scientific process is actually one of its biggest strengths. Science is self-correcting.

Detractors of science, such as those who insist that evolution cannot be true since the theory has been riddled with hoaxes and wrong conclusions, are quick to conclude that these past mistakes have polluted the process, so that most if not all of the conclusions reached by the theory of evolution must be treated with suspicion.

They point to Piltdown man, which was a hoax, and Nebraska man, once thought to be a new species of early human, to justify their argument that all fossil evidence indicating a change from one species to another over time must be erroneous.

But the fact that scientists sometimes draw the wrong conclusions should in no way tarnish the valid scientific conclusions that have withstood the test of time and have been useful in furthering the understanding of how nature works. Everybody makes mistakes. The real test is whether or not those mistakes are eventually recognized and corrected. In science, they always are.

Take Nebraska man as an example. The story is often told that a fossil tooth was found by a farmer in Nebraska who sent it to the American Museum of Natural History. There, a paleontologist identified it as a species of early human. According to the story, it became widely accepted by scientists that this find represented a new species of human being.

In actuality, the paleontologist, Henry Osborn, first identified the tooth as possibly belonging to an ape. It actually turned out to be the tooth of a peccary, a type of wild pig. Other scientists were always skeptical of the claim that it was an ape, much less an early human. Peccary teeth are similar to human teeth, so the mistake was an honest one. But the fact that other scientists did not automatically accept Osborn’s conclusion and then went on to prove he was mistaken shows that although individual scientists might occasionally misinterpret the evidence, the scientific community requires much more validation before accepting that evidence as factual.

It is also true that sometimes scientists, when they believe they have discovered something important, grow fond of their hypotheses. Occasionally, there is even enough data and evidence in support of a hypothesis to actually call it a theory, even if it later has to be modified. In science, a theory is an explanation of a natural phenomenon that is supported by much evidence and has been verified by many scientists.

Take the Superstring Theory, for example. It is the theory in physics that says, in a nutshell, that all the particles in nature that make up the structure of matter can be thought of as tiny vibrating loops or strings of energy. The harmonics of these vibrations determine the type of particle it will be.

Superstring Theory grew out of attempts, which started with Einstein, to merge the two great theories of physics together into a “theory of everything.” Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity dealt very nicely with cosmic phenomena, such as galaxies and black holes. The Quantum Theory was equally adept at describing the very tiny, such as subatomic particles. But they were incompatible with each other.

So scientists worked for decades, trying to merge the two theories. They thought they had succeeded with Superstring Theory. The theory required a 10-dimensional universe and was described using complex mathematics. The problem was that, instead of a single equation, there were at least five equations that worked equally well at describing the universe. This was not an elegant situation. Five equations are too many when you’re looking for one.

A less popular competing theory added an eleventh dimension. But attempts by the small group of scientists supporting this 11-dimensional universe were ignored by the string theorists for more than a decade.

Finally, in a desperate attempt to save their theory, the superstring theorists added an eleventh dimension to their math. Not only did this work, it actually proved that the five earlier equations representing Superstring Theory were actually not separate mathematical descriptions for the universe, but were merely components of the larger eleventh dimension. Mathematically it all fit and has been dubbed Membrane Theory, or M-Theory for short. The one-dimensional strings were stretched into two-dimensional membranes.

It’s all quite esoteric, but the complex mathematics work perfectly well to combine Relativity Theory with Quantum Mechanics. It took more than a decade, but science once again corrected itself to come up with a better explanation of the universe.

This scenario is in stark contrast to those who claim that evolution and the Big Bang didn’t happen because the universe was created in less than a week by a supernatural creator. Called Intelligent Design, their proposal is not a theory because it was not developed using any part of the scientific method. It started with a conclusion, that everything was specially created. And that conclusion can never be modified, regardless of competing evidence.

Think about what would happen if science worked that way. What if Nebraska man had been accepted on face value by all scientists as being true? And what if, even in spite of additional evidence to the contrary, scientists continued to support the notion that Nebraska man was a human ancestor, even to this day? The truth would never be known. If science worked this way, there would be no such thing as new technologies. The world would fall back into the Dark Ages, or would never have emerged from them in the first place.

But science isn’t like that. It is self-correcting and dynamic. That is not a flaw that should be used to prove a weakness in science. Indeed, it is science’s greatest strength.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't Single Out Evolution as Bad Science

For the past couple of days I’ve been entertaining myself by taking part in the discussion forum attached to a Facebook opinion poll. The poll is really an overly simple one with only three options. It is called the Evolution vs. Creation Poll and the three choices are evolution, creation, or don’t know.

There are more than 18,000 responses so far and the results show that almost half pick evolution while about 44 percent pick creation. That is better than it could be, but it is not better than it SHOULD be. It never really ceases to amaze me how in the 21st century in a country that is still (barely) the world leader in technology that so many people still believe whole-heartedly in a quaint, antiquated story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how God created the universe and everything in it in only six literal days.

I know that the majority of Christians do not believe that the bible can be taken literally. I also know that most mainstream Christian denominations have no problem accepting evolution. But even with that knowledge, as a science teacher, it still disturbs me to know that there is still a very sizeable minority who do not accept the theory of evolution at all. They actually believe in the magical creation of the earth and all life in less than a week about 6,000 years ago. It’s depressing.

Public education in this country is not up to par with other industrialized nations. I do my part by devoting a lot of time to evolution in my science classes and to how science is supposed to work. But it doesn’t always take, because so many kids these days have grown up on biblical fairy tales. They stop believing in Santa Claus by the time they are 10, but they still believe in divine creation even as adults. Why?

I guess I know the answer to that question. It really is a multi-part answer. For one thing most people are afraid not to believe. They are afraid of going to hell. Hell is one of those places thought up by the early Catholic Church to keep people coming every week with their donations. Jesus never mentions hell. Some bibles translate his references to Gehenna as hell. But Gehenna is an earthly place, near Jerusalem. It has a long history in the Old Testament as a really bad place. It was like a garbage dump that was kept burning all the time. It is where they dumped corpses of criminals who had been crucified.

Jesus used Gehenna many times as a metaphor, the same way we might actually use the word hell as a metaphor for an extremely bad situation. For example, “Yesterday was a living hell for me.” It just means you had an extremely bad day. For a very interesting treatise on hell, go HERE.

Another reason people still believe in the allegories of the bible is that they have been taught them in Sunday school ever since they were young children. They believe the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and Jonah just like they also believe in Santa Claus. But because the children’s picture bibles have an actual adult counterpart that includes the same stories, they never get the message that these stories are only allegories (fables with deeper meanings).

Finally, when they get into high school and are (hopefully) taught science, which includes the teaching of the theory of evolution, they protest. I see it almost every year in my classes. I can’t tell them what to believe; all I can do is offer up evolution as a scientific theory that has been proven using real facts and empirical evidence. Then I proceed to list and explain all the evidence to them. I allow them, using methods of logical reasoning, to deduce for themselves what the evidence tells them. Most of them finally get it.

But it is an uphill battle when we have institutions like the Institute for Creation Research. It is a Christian apologetics organization. The bad thing is that it pretends to be science (Note the word research in its name). Its goal is to infiltrate public schools with its dogma by disguising it as science. Nothing it does involves scientific inquiry; its sole purpose is religious.

Then there are those who don’t see the importance of believing in evolution. They might be open minded to it. They might believe it but say it was directed by God. But to them it isn’t that important that they believe it. So why is it really important that people understand and accept the theory of evolution?

Evolution is the base theory of biology. It is the foundation. If you don’t accept evolution, it is difficult to understand any of the tenets of biology as well as other sciences, such as earth science or cosmology. If we, as a nation, fall short in educating our kids about science, then we lose our leadership role as a nation. We no longer will be a global factor in scientific research, inquiry, and technology. We will become a backward nation.

It is already happening. Most Europeans have no problem with the theory of evolution. They don’t understand why we backward Americans have a problem with it. Their children are being properly educated in science. And their schools don’t have to fight with the belief system of their students’ parents. Science teachers in America have sometimes received so much flack about teaching evolution that they no longer teach it, which is just what the Institute for Creation Research wants.

I hear the tired old rhetoric from conservative Christians that evolution is only a theory. A theory, in science, is more than a guess. It is a coherent and logical explanation of a natural phenomenon based solely on evidence and empirical data. It is widely accepted by scientists and, most importantly, it makes predictions about what should take place given a specific set of circumstances. Evolution theory is very good at being useful. Thank evolutionary theory the next time you get cured of an infectious disease or the next time you eat a vegetable or fruit that has been genetically enhanced through techniques obtained by studying the processes of evolution.

People want to reap the rewards of science. They hold scientists in high esteem, except for the one case of evolution. But evolution is no different from any other scientific theory. If you reject it based on nothing more than a belief system, then you must reject all science. That means no more going to the doctor, watching TV, eating modern food supplies, or using your computer. All science follows the same rules. Either believe in it or don’t. But don’t single out evolution as somehow being bad science. It’s simply science. And not believing it will not make it go away.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Poll: How the Public Views Scientists

A new Pew Research Center poll released July 9 is interesting in what it shows about the public’s perceptions about science and scientists compared to the views of scientists themselves on the same topic.

The good news is that the public holds scientists in high esteem, with 70 percent of respondents saying that scientists contribute a lot to the public’s well being. Scientists rank third, below the military (84 percent) and teachers (77 percent).

But even though people tend to view scientists in a favorable light, they still do not concur with them on some hot-button issues that are almost universally agreed upon by scientists. Take climate change, for example. Whereas 84 percent of scientists agree that the earth is getting warmer due to human activity, only 49 percent of the public believe the same thing. And there is a more dramatic schism between scientists and the public on the topic of evolution. Only about a third of the public (32 percent) believe that all living organisms, including humans, evolved by natural means from earlier forms of life, a full 87 percent of scientists believe it.

This brings up an interesting question. What is the source of the beliefs? Scientists tend to shape their beliefs based on things like empirical evidence, observation, and research. The public tends to base its beliefs on information it gets from politicians, the media, from church ministers, or just from word of mouth.

Take the evolution question as an example. A full 97 percent of scientists believe all life on earth evolved, with 87 percent saying that evolution occurred by natural means. Only 32 percent of the public believe evolution occurred by natural means and another 22 percent say evolution occurred, but was guided by a supreme being. Of those who claim a religious affiliation, only 19 percent of Protestants and 33 percent of Catholics believe evolution occurred by natural means, while 60 percent of those claiming no religious affiliation believe evolution occurred naturally.

But that is still a fairly wide disparity between the 60 percent of non-religious lay people and 87 percent of scientists who believe that evolution took place by natural means. The difference can be attributed to how and where the public gets its information. Again, scientists rely on facts and empirical data to form their opinions. The public gets is information from the media and from word of mouth. And there is a flow of information (much of it false) from the religious segment of the public to their non-religious acquaintances.

Even scientists blame the media in part for the public’s lack of good information on scientific topics. According to the survey, 76 percent of scientists say that the media does not do a good job distinguishing between well-founded scientific findings and those that are not. Typically, the media will report on the results of a single, small, and perhaps flawed scientific study as though those results represent a full scientific consensus. That can confuse the public especially when it is bombarded by conflicting results of several studies over a period of years.

Scientists do not accept the results of a single study until other scientists working in the field have confirmed those results with additional studies. Evolution and global warming have been studied by scientists for decades and those studies corroborate each other. But the public hears only two things: Scientists believe that global warming is caused by human activity or that organisms on earth have evolved, and conservative politicians say the evidence is lacking and no conclusions can be drawn. The media report both sides, in an effort to be fair and balanced.

But it really isn’t fair and balanced when comparing almost universal acceptance of an idea by those who have studied it for decades with the ideas of those who are not even in the field and whose agendas are political, religious, or personal. The public still sees equal treatment of both sides in the media and then must choose which side to believe.

Scientists also say that lack of scientific knowledge by the public is a hindrance. The survey indicated that 85 percent of scientists believe the public does not know very much about science. If the public’s science IQ were higher, people would find it easier to ignore media reports on flimsy research and they would be more adept at distinguishing well-founded scientific data from political opinion.

And that’s where a good science education comes in. The U.S. continues to lag behind other developed countries when it comes to educating its children in math and science. New priorities need to be established that will remedy that situation.

In the mean time, it is at least heartening to know that those who agree with scientists on the issues of global warming and evolution tend to be younger and more highly educated. So there may be some hope for the future after all.