Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Scientific Study Said WHAT?

I was listening to an NPR program a couple of days ago about how 2011 has been a year for scientific take-backs. Some of the supposed discoveries of recent times, such as zeroing in on a cause for aging, have gotten second looks by the scientific community. Some of the conclusions of these studies were rethought in 2011. Unfortunately, such news adds fuel to the anti-science flames that burn in the hearts and minds of some fundamentalist Christians. They want desperately for science to fail so that they can claim a victory for their dysfunctional religious theories like creationism. But these latest headlines do not cast doubt on the scientific process. There is no cause for scientists to hang their heads in shame. Quite the contrary: The news story on NPR shows how science works, and works very well. That is what science does; it corrects itself and moves on.

In today's world of blogs and up-to-the-second headline updates the pressure on the news media to report the latest scientific discoveries is tremendous. And the pressure on researchers to produce is equally intense. If you are a government-funded scientist working to discover something new or prove a favorite hypothesis, it is very tempting to report the positive results of a study you have conducted. And it is equally tempting for media to publish the results of scientific studies prematurely. That's because the consumers of information, the American public, are eager to find the answers to those vexing problems of life: How to slow the aging process, the best new drug therapy to treat X disease, the next new technological gizmo coming over the horizon. But what the media, and the public, seldom realize is that most of the scientific studies that are published in the mainstream media have not been published in peer-reviewed science journals yet. Some never get published in peer-reviewed science journals. Yet they are eaten up as a smorgasbord of facts by the general public. Then, after further scrutiny reveals flaws in the data or errors in procedure, the public gets irritated by the whole process and eventually becomes jaded and detached.

The researchers doing the studies may not have done anything wrong from a scientific standpoint. But the premature release of information, especially when accompanied by unverified conclusions, eventually can lead to distrust of the scientific process by the public. The scientific method is the best way of finding answers to nature's puzzles. But when researchers start forming their conclusions too early and leaking them to the public, they only do science a disservice. The proper manner by which the public should be informed of scientific research is to wait until after a study or an experiment has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Even then the caveat is to assume that any findings are tentative until they have been verified by independent researchers. Even after repeated verification, conclusions in science cannot typically be assigned a certainty of 100 percent. Science works by the process of inductive reasoning, which almost never yields 100-percent certitude. But that's fine; if a theory is useful in predicting outcomes it is a perfectly satisfactory theory. Its value is in its usefulness.

So when you read about the latest scientific discovery or about the results of a new study, drill down into the details of the story to find out if it is a single study that has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, or is it the end result of multiple research projects that is embraced by the scientific community as a whole? Be wary of the former, and understand that at some point, the rosy picture often painted by single studies often fades quickly.

Friday, December 30, 2011

How the French Influence English

This blog entry is not on one of my usual topics of religion or politics, and I am not even complaining about anything. It's just a subject my daughter and I have played around with recently and I thought it noteworthy.

Have you ever noticed how adding the modifier "French" in front of a common word sometimes makes it sound so much better? Here are a few examples. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Toast vs french toast
Kiss vs french kiss
Bread vs french bread
Cut vs french cut
Dip vs french dip
Manicure vs french manicure
Horn vs french horn
Pastry vs french pastry
Hens vs French hens
Braid vs french braid
Wine vs French wine
Maid vs French maid
Poodle vs french poodle
Doors vs french doors

Some people might be tempted to add french fries to the list, but in common usage, saying "fries" implies french fries unless preceded by another modifier, such as home fries or curly fries. Also, some of these items have little to do with the country of France or with French culture and most do not even need to be capitalized. French cut, for example, refers to a style of lengthwise cutting of vegetables. Use a capital letter only when the item refers to something actually associated with the country of France and is not part of a common phrase.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Real Meaning of Christmas

What exactly is Christmas and why does it have an entire season devoted to it. Most holidays get a single day; Christmas gets a whole month.

Charlie Brown, that affable but misunderstood Peanuts character was struggling with that question in the 1960s cartoon classic. Near the end of the program, Linus, the most insecure of the Peanuts bunch, swallowed his insecurities long enough to march out on the stage, in the spotlight, and recite a bible verse from memory. It was the biblical account of the birth of Christ.

It was not, however, the Christmas story. Linus mentioned nothing about Christmas in his monologue. The bible mentions nothing about it anywhere in any of its verses. So what is it?

I would think the world was about to come to an end if I ever made it through the entire month of December without hearing someone say something like, “It’s time we started remembering the true meaning of Christmas,” or “Let’s put the Christ back in Christmas.” Others are appalled that we sometimes abbreviate Christmas as Xmas.

Of course, the people who say that are most likely not familiar with the history of the holiday. The Greek word for Christ begins with an X, and that is where the abbreviated form Xmas originally came from.

But when was Christ ever in Christmas? I mean, officially, it never happened if you go back to the source, the bible. Nothing in the bible tells us to honor Jesus’ birth. In fact, it was considered improper to celebrate anyone’s birth in the first centuries of the Common Era.

But the early Catholic Church was having some growing pains. The Romans celebrated their god Mithras back in those days to celebrate the return of the sun god in the sky. This happened in late December just after the winter solstice.

Church leaders were shrewd. They knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to compete head on with such a well-established pagan practice. So they infiltrated it. As with all other Christian holidays, Christmas is a co-opted corruption of a pagan festival. The church made up a holiday to commemorate the birth of Christ and called it Christ’s Mass. Never mind that Jesus was not born in winter, they needed it to coincide with the solstice.

So, originally, Christmas was a public relations ploy by the early church to infiltrate an already-established religious practice.

Now, let me quickly point out that I’m not against Christmas at all. It is still my favorite season of the year because it’s a time when families seem closer and the atmosphere is festive. What can be wrong with that?

But Christmas is, by and large, a secular holiday, not a religious one. It does not have its roots planted in the Christian bible. Churches embrace it because it presents an opportunity to provide outreach more so than at most other times of the year. But even most bible scholars will acknowledge the whole baby-in-a-manger story even as told in the bible is at least partly apocryphal.

So celebrate Christmas as you always would. But just keep in mind its true roots. They have more to do with public relations than with Jesus. That part of Christmas, which is really its true meaning, is still intact.

Friday, December 09, 2011

My Top 10 Christmas Songs of 2011

I'm one of those people who loves Christmas music. Yes, I'm an atheist, but Christmas has a very strong secular side, which is really the only side I ever cared much about anyway. Granted, there are some very lovely Christmas hymns. Much of classical music was written in honor of someone's imaginary friend in the sky. That doesn't make the composers any less talented nor the songs any less able to produce goosebumps. However, my favorite Christmas songs are of the secular variety. Whether religious or secular, I have compiled a list of my top 10 Christmas songs for 2011. You won't find "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," or "Jingle Bells" among my top 10. I don't care much for the kiddie songs. You also won't find any latter day pop or rock Christmas tunes. Christmas songs must first and foremost sound Christmasy. They must evoke emotions or bring back memories. They must feel like Christmas and put me in a Christmas mood. So, in reverse order, here are my favorites.

10. "Somewhere in My Memory" by John Williams

This is the classic theme song from the movie Home Alone, by John Williams. Some songs simply have a Christmas feel about them, even before you hear the lyrics. This is one of them.

9. "When Christmas Comes to Town" by Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore

This is a sweet and beautiful little Christmas song from the movie, Polar Express. It is sung very competently by two children.

8. "All Through the Night" by Olivia Newton John

I love this duet version. It's not officially a Christmas song, but one of the lyrics is changed slightly to make it one. It is a traditional Welsh folk lullaby.

7. "I'll be Home for Christmas" by Michael Buble

Written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent from the point of view of a WWII soldier, it was made popular by Bing Crosby in 1942. It's mellow and melancholy and certainly evokes a lonely Christmas feeling.

6. "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole

The is a classic Christmas favorite written in 1944 by Mel Torme. It is subtitled "Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire." It's mellow and beautiful and has always been a favorite of mine.

5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by James Taylor

Judy Garland sung the original version of this song in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. Later, Frank Sinatra recorded a version with modified lyrics. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, it has become one of the most-recorded Christmas songs in modern times.

4. Ding Dong Merrily on High by Blackmore's Night

I love the song, but I especially love this version. This group does it in contrapuntal style, reminiscent of Pachelbel's Canon. It's a beautiful rendition.

3. Christmas Canon by Trans Siberian Orchestra

Speaking of Pachelbel's Canon, the Trans Siberian Orchestra performs a brilliant vocal version of this Baroque favorite that is just right for the holidays.

2. Song for a Winter's Night as sung by Sarah McLachlan

This song was written by Gordon Lightfoot and has been recorded by several artists. In my opinion, the very best version is the one performed by Sarah McLachlan and appears on the soundtrack of the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Although not technically a Christmas song, McLachlan's version evokes a quiet, melancholy feeling with its ethereal quality and haunting accompaniment.

1. Christmas Time is Here by Vince Guaraldi Trio

This song, of course, was featured in the 1965 TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, but has since been recorded by numerous artists. It is the quintessential feel-good Christmas song. It brings back memories of Christmas past. It evokes a feeling of childhood. And its haunting and melancholy melody brings a sense of Christmas nostalgia and coziness like few other Christmas songs can produce. There are lots of good versions out there, including by Diana Krall, Kenny Loggins, Mel Torme, and my favorite, Sarah McLachlan.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Physical Media

Remember CDs and CD players? Of course you do. Most people still have them. CDs are still sold at Walmart last time I checked. But in a few short years, that question will sound less out of place, because physical media, like the compact disc, will soon become relics of a by-gone era.

I remember a few years ago when I had CD towers in my living room to store all my music. I didn't own as much music as most teenagers do these days, but I owned enough CDs to need a couple of storage towers for them. Before that, it was vinyl. I remember having to tape a nickel onto the turntable armature because one of my Eagles albums would skip in one spot. The nickel provided enough weight to dig through the obstruction in the groove. The more I played my records, the lousier they sounded. When CDs came out, that was no longer an issue. But they still had to be stored away. I also hated having to rifle through my collection to find the one CD I wanted, then open the jewel case and put in the disc, only to have to get up and put the damn thing away after it got finished playing. I know; it seems like a minor annoyance, but it was an annoyance just the same. But now all my music is stored neatly on my computer, and in the cloud, so I no longer have to bother with those awkward jewel cases.

Once upon a time, if I wanted to listen to a particular song, I would have to, a) be at home, b) want to listen badly enough to get up out of my seat and find the CD, c) put it in the player, d) get back up and put the disc away afterward. These days, when I want to listen to a particular song, I push a couple of buttons and it doesn't matter where I am. If I'm at home, I use the computer. If I'm in my car, I use my iPhone connected to the car's audio system, or if I'm at work I can use the computer there or my iPhone connected to my work computer's audio system. I can listen to the music stored on the devices or stored in the cloud. It makes little difference; it's the same music playing at the same quality. All my audio systems have sub-woofers and decent speakers so I get the full effect no matter where I am. And if I'm not at any of those three places, if I'm at the mall, for example, I just pull out my ear buds which are always in my hip pocket. So who needs physical media, anyway?

With movies, it's a little different. I have a Blu-Ray Disc player and I still have a substantial DVD collection. But movies are quickly joining music in their non-physical form. Until recently I could turn on the TV and watch a Netflix movie through my Wii system. The problem is, most of the titles available on Netflix for steaming are not the titles I care anything about seeing. I typically rent (or sometimes buy) new releases. And there are very few new releases available to stream on Netflix. I can also choose to rent them from my satellite provider's On Demand service. Those really are new releases, but I hate spending seven bucks to watch a movie On Demand when I'm used to paying a dollar to rent a movie from Red Box. Red Box occasionally offers some new releases, but not many. To Red Box, a new release is really just an old movie that they have recently added to their library. Those are not new releases and shouldn't be labeled as such. So I usually just wait the couple of days it takes to get a movie through the mail from Blockbuster (since I dropped my Netflix service after their price increase).

But I believe the future for movies at home will be services such as the ones that let you buy a movie and then download it to your computer. You can store it on your hard drive or send it to the cloud. In other words, movies will be sold and distributed exactly the way music files are distributed now. And we don't have to wait for the future; it's available right now. It just is not as well known or as widely available through the number of vendors that music files are today. But that will change. And then, DVDs will join CDs in the attic or basement storage bins.

As for books and printed media, those too are on their way out. I no longer buy paper books. I buy them for my Kindle. If a title is not available for Kindle, I wait until it is. Eventually, all titles will be released electronically and on physical media simultaneously. The same is true for newspaper and magazines as well as directories and phone books. I haven't used a real phone book in a decade. I haven't ordered a magazine subscription in longer. I don't buy newspapers. All of those are available online or through my Kindle. Even the old stuff is available in some cases. I can go online and search the archives of Popular Science all the way back to the days before my mom was born. I can even check out the old ads.

Physical media has not yet become totally archaic, but it's on its way. Probably within this decade, all forms of physical media will join vinyl. It will be published for collectors or for those who hold tightly to their books and CDs for nostalgia reasons. But the mainstream media will be totally electronic in all its forms. And even though I'm well into my sixth decade of life, I stand firmly with the new generation of media users. I say good riddance to physical media.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

If You Just Believe

I love watching Christmas movies and I love listening to Christmas music. It gives me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling of wintertime coziness. But there is a theme running through many holiday movies and songs that, although is intended to raise the spirit, might not be the best message to send to children, or to anyone for that matter. The theme is to "just believe" and somehow everything will work out.

In Josh Groban's song, Believe, it ends with the refrain, "if you just believe" sung repeatedly. The Christmas movie, Polar Express, is dedicated to strengthening a childhood belief in Santa Claus. In Miracle on 34th Street, a young Natalie Wood chants lightly "I believe, I believe. It's stupid but I believe," with the hope that believing will somehow make a difference. In the movie, it apparently does. The list of movies and music that stress that believing works miracles is almost endless. But it must be remembered that holiday entertainment is not always reflective of real life.

I taught my kids about Santa Claus, too. Like most parents of young children, mine grew up believing in the jolly old man. While I don't think it is necessarily an unhealthy tradition, sometimes the message can carry over into adulthood, but with a different focus of faith. Although children stop believing in Santa somewhere around age 8 or so, most kids in the world continue to be fed false information about other things they can believe in. They go to church or Sunday School where they learn that, in order to live forever in heaven, they must believe in another unseen entity, God. But, unlike with Santa Claus, God offers no tangible rewards in exchange for belief. Whereas kids hear about Santa mostly during December, they hear about God or Jesus throughout the year. By the time they are adults, some may not even question whether or not a belief in God is based on anything plausible. Belief in God may or may not be a strong part of their lives, but when asked, they always answer in the affirmative, "Yes, of course I believe in God."

But look back over all of human history. Look what people have accomplished. Suppose you were placed in charge of building a pyramid, like one of those in Egypt. Could you do it? Could you direct the building of a modern skyscraper? Could you design and build a rocket ship that would send people into outer space? Could you design the plans and calculate the trajectory of a space probe that could be launched from Earth, sent in orbit around the sun, kick off the gravitational field of two or three planets, and settle into a circular orbit around a moon of Saturn? Could you design a microchip that tells a car engine how to regulate itself? Could you build a car?

Humans have learned, on their own, how to do all these things, most of which are simply taken for granted. But no one person could begin to do them all. We learn from doing, and we learn from mimicking ourselves. We stand on the backs of giants who came before us, and we become taller giants. We have learned to feed six billion people on earth with our agriculture. We have learned how to communicate instantly on a global scale. We can go from one place on Earth to almost any other place on Earth within one day. When you think about human accomplishment, it's amazing what we people have learned to do.

And through all that accomplishment, God has not lifted one finger to help us. We did it all on our own. Some people believe in God; some do not. Some may have thought God was helping, but others accomplish the same thing without such a thought. We are what we are and we can do what we do because humans have evolved to be that way. God had nothing to do with it. In fact, a blind faith in God or gods has done nothing but hold us back throughout history. One can only wonder how advanced society would be if a belief in God had not entered into our psyche. We would likely be centuries ahead of where we are now in discovery and scientific progress. But thanks to the stifling effect of religion, humankind has been held back. Johannes Kepler refused to publish his book on planetary orbits until he was on his death bed for fear of repercussions from the Church. Galileo was placed under house arrest and forced to recant his discoveries. The perfectly valid scientific theory of evolution is under attack by Christian conservatives who actually believe that the world is 6,000 years old. Blind faith does nothing but hold us back. It might give some of us momentary comfort, but so can meditation.

In this season of enhanced faith, go ahead and enjoy the movies, music, and TV programs that cater to our fancies. Just remember, when the season is over, the only real faith we should have is faith in each other, and in the human race.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The End of Science?

A few months ago, researchers in Europe thought they had discovered particles called neutrinos going faster than light, something that is impossible according to Einstein and every other physicist working in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The notion that nothing moves faster than light is the underlying principle of physics and one that is put to use in technology every day. So obviously, the researchers had to be given a do-over. So they refined their measurements, sent the neutrinos outward through hundreds of miles of rock to their detectors in another country, confident that their earlier experiment would be verified. And, much to the amazement of the skeptics, they got the same results. Their neutrinos did appear to be moving slightly faster than the speed of light.

Of course, that is not the final word on the matter - nowhere near it. In science, experimental results must be corroborated by other scientists working in different laboratories. This is especially true if the initial results run contrary to expectations. So are the neutrinos really moving faster than light or did the good folks at CERN, where the experiment took place, overlook something? The next few years will probably reveal a definitive answer on that. But there's a larger question lurking in the background. If, indeed, it is eventually discovered that the CERN researchers were correct that some neutrinos do move faster than light, then does that new fact open a gash in science itself. Does it mean that science can no longer be trusted? Could it mean that other scientific theories are also incredibly wrong, even the theory of evolution? Will it herald the end of science?

Obviously, those who are already naysayers with regard to scientific facts will have a field day with the discovery. They will not only ask those tough questions about the fallibility of science, they will answer them. Their answers will be that, no, science cannot always be trusted, that science does not have all the answers, and more importantly, doing science may not even be the best way to find the answers. And, unfortunately, the lay public will eat this stuff up. The average American's knowledge of how science works leaves much to be desired, so the more sure-sounding answers of the religious fundamentalists are easier to swallow. Most Americans are not fundamentalists, but with the feeble public relations initiatives coming from the scientific community, the tiger in the room will be the voice of the religious right.

Has science suffered a major blow, especially if the particle physicists at CERN are right after all? The resounding answer is no. The process of science is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. Let's compare: In a situation where the religious conservatives are shown absolute and corroborated proof that one of their religious theories is wrong, say that the earth is only 6,000 years old, would they, A) accept the answer and change their theory to comply with the new data, B) ask for even more corroboration before deciding to change their theory, or C) reject the proof and stand firmly behind their old, discredited theory? Well, the answer, of course, is C. I know this because that is not a hypothetical situation. It has already happened.

But with science, even before anything is corroborated by independent research, when something unexpected is discovered, it makes world headlines. Instead of being distraught, most scientists are eager to find out what's going on. And, instead of throwing out the results, shoving them under a rock, or rationalizing them away, they embrace the results that seem to disconfirm long-held principles and attempt to explain them within the methods that science uses for discovery. As the science deniers will often say, science is sometimes wrong. But without the acceptance that sometimes science gets it wrong, science could not progress. It would be stuck in the mud with no chance of making real progress, much like conservative religion.

And another important point that will be overlooked by the religious zealots is that even if it is proved that some neutrinos can travel faster than light, it doesn't mean that the old theory of light is completely wrong. It just means it is wrong in certain, special circumstances. Did we throw out all of Newton's laws of motion when Einstein came along and reinvented physics? Of course we didn't. Newton's laws are still the mainstay of most physics textbooks. They work, all the time, within the parameters of everyday life, or even within all conceivable circumstances outside the very fast or very large. When quantum mechanics came along and showed that it was impossible to measure the exact position and the exact momentum of a particle at the same time, did that mean we could no longer use ballistics to calculate the trajectory of a missile or a football in play? Obviously it did not. It just meant that physicists, working under very special circumstances that deal with the incredibly small, had to start thinking differently about subatomic particles.

Unlike religion, science has no dogma. Granted, sometimes an individual scientist will hold an almost dogmatic view of a pet hypothesis. A famous example of that is Einstein. For the first half of his life Einstein made brilliant discoveries that changed physics forever. But during the last half of his life he worked doggedly to disprove quantum theory. He could not reconcile in his own mind the implications of quantum physics, so he spent the last years of his life looking for a theory of everything that did not include quantum physics. He would have died a miserable failure had it not been for his earlier brilliance. But even someone as popular, brilliant, and persuasive as Einstein couldn't stop scientific progress with dogmatic ideas. Physics moved on and left Einstein behind.

So even if it is proved that some neutrinos can travel faster than light it doesn't mean that your GPS will suddenly stop working. The science that went into making that GPS work is still valid. But under very special circumstances that so far has not affected our daily lives, physicists might have to revise their predictions based on the speed of light. And in the same way, it doesn't mean that the theory of evolution might be wrong. It has nothing at all to do with evolution, but since evolution is also a part of science, those who already deny evolution will make the connection. Evolution, like the theories of physics, is also a scientific theory. And as such, it is always open to scientific scrutiny. No scientist worth his salt will say that the theory of evolution is set in stone and cannot be revised. But what is exceedingly unlikely is for everything that has already been proved about evolution to turn out to be wrong. Just like the speed of light is a constant when it comes to our everyday world, regardless of the CERN discoveries, it will remain a fact that all living organisms on Earth have a common ancestor. Every species, including humans, has evolved into what it is today. And, in practical terms, that's as much a fact of science as the speed of light.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Debating a Christian Apologist

I have been debating via e-mail with a Christian apologist called VL Vawter. It has so far been stimulating and engaging. Our responses to each other have been rather long and thorough, so I have decided to include them here as PDF files. They have not been edited for public consumption.

I started the conversation with a short essay refuting several key doctrinal claims within Christianity and, in fact, providing some reasons why I do not believe in God at all, let alone the Christian God. VL replied with a detailed, 88-page response. I then replied to VL with a 26-page rebuttal. I have not included my original essay since VL quotes from it extensively in his reply. Included are his reply and my rebuttal to that.

Our conversation has not ended as he has told me he plans to reply to my rebuttal essay. When he does, I will post that here. Please feel free to comment freely on either essay.

VL - Why Christianity
VL - Why Christianity (Part 2)

My Reply

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Obama Should Offer Campaign Deal on Jobs Bill

Once again the Republicans in the Senate have obstructed a bill that would create thousands of jobs across the country. The bill is part of Pres. Obama's American Jobs Act that was already shot down in the Senate, so the president decided to send it through piecemeal.

When 100 percent of Senate Republicans vote down a bill that will create jobs and is paid for, it only means what at least half of all Americans, according to one poll, already know and what everybody ought to know, that Republicans don't care about jobs; they only care about getting Obama out of office. They want him out so badly that they are willing to throw the economy under a bus to do it. Well, their plans may backfire. America is on to them.

Here's an idea. Since Republicans want Obama out of office so badly, Obama should make them a deal: Pass the American Jobs Act intact or with only minor adjustments and he will not campaign at all for reelection, not for himself and not for any other Democrat. If the Republicans accept his offer, then America wins because we'll have a job-creating bill passed. Obama keeps his promise not to campaign, but he gets reelected anyway because voters know the truth about why he is not campaigning. If the Republicans reject his offer, Obama wins in 2012 anyway because he not only gets to campaign, but the current status quo of Republican recalcitrance will continue and voters will hold them accountable for turning down a deal that would have created jobs. And it will show voters that the president is putting country before politics by offering to put a moratorium on his reelection campaign.

Sure there's some risk; anything can happen in a year. So the president should wait until sometime early next year to make his offer. But it would create a win-win situation for the president and a no-win situation for the Republicans.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fact Deniers are Hurting America

Once again I found myself having to defend a very-well-established scientific theory to a bunch of knuckleheads on an Internet forum. Nobody has to defend quantum theory, relativity theory, or the atomic theory to religious nut-cases, because they don't see these as threats to their precious bible. But evolution is different. God said he made all living creatures in six days so that must be the truth. Except that no one has any evidence that God said any such thing.

Evolution is not pseudoscience or imaginary. It is one of the best-supported theories in all of science. It is just as valid as theories about gravity, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Evolution theory is based on the same scientific principles as all the other scientific theories that fundamentalists happily accept. In fact, fundamentalists have no problem using all the life-enhancing products of science, even evolution science. Yet they still reject evolution, even though they don't really know anything substantial about it.

Evolution has been thoroughly tested for more than a century and has withstood the test of time. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is factual. At least 97.5% of biologists worldwide accept evolution as fact. Most of the others are bought and paid for by creationist organizations or Ken Ham. I dare say there are far fewer people who call themselves Christian that believe the bible is the literal word of God. The vast majority of Christians worldwide have no problem accepting evolution as fact. That includes the pope, his cardinals, bishops, and priests. That includes the United Church of Christ. It include Disciples of Christ. It includes the United Methodists. It includes the Episcopalians. It even includes the more moderate Baptists.

Now, I know that some people will come back with the standard reply that these are not "true" Christians. The fact is, conservative fundamentalist Christianity hasn't really been around that long. Going back to the ancient Christian scholars, it was understood by almost all of them that the bible was allegorical, not literal. A literal interpretation of the bible didn't really catch on until the 19th century.

Even a little consideration of what Genesis is saying should tell anyone with half a brain that a literal creation is utter nonsense. It's very disturbing to me that so many Americans (yet very few people anywhere else in the world) believe that this bible nonsense is really true. Its especially disturbing to me because I'm a biology teacher and I have to spend considerable time each year trying my best to un-brainwash my students. It makes me sad for these kids, and not fair to them that their parents fill their heads with superstitious nonsense. It's not at all surprising that America fails so badly when comparing its science education to the rest of the modern world.

If this kind of religious zealotry continues much longer, I fear for America's future. It's fine if someone feels the need to believe in a god, but when a belief in God necessitates the denial of facts, that's when a nation is headed for trouble. It's unfortunate, but true.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Zygotes have Rights Too?

It really pisses me off when a certain faction of society tries to limit the rights of everybody else by trying to force their own limited view of morality onto society as a whole. There are lots of examples but the abortion issue is one of the most contentious. And with few exceptions, it's the right-wing, evangelical Christian crowd that is the fondest of making everyone else toe the line of morality, or at least their morality. But I am very confused as to how they think the whole thing works when a woman terminates a pregnancy, or even if it terminates spontaneously. According to most fundamentalists, life begins at conception. They believe the soul is attached to the body at the moment the sperm attaches to the egg.

But that creates quite a quandary once the aborted fetus gets to heaven. Will heaven be populated by the souls of a bunch of wandering fetuses? Most evangelicals believe that at the end of time, our bodies will be resurrected. But what about fetuses that were aborted early? What about embryos? Embryos come before fetuses. They are smaller than a peanut and about the same shape. After the resurrection will heaven be flooded with peanut-shaped embryos with wings fluttering about like little butterflies? None of them will be old enough to have experienced anything at all in life. There were no memories formed, no bonds with family, most likely no sensations of any kind, and yet according to fundamentalists their souls will be in heaven with the rest of them.

And what about a zygote? A zygote is a fertilized egg before it has had a chance to divide even once. After cell division starts it becomes an embryo. Later, it becomes a fetus. But what if the egg gets fertilized and then it dies? Or what if the morning after pill kills the fertilized egg before it has a chance to divide? Do zygotes have rights, too? Will heaven also be filled with winged zygotes flying around, completely equal with all the executed murderers who got "saved" while on death row?

Those who believe life begins at conception just haven't thought it through. It's a serious subject, otherwise it would be outright comical to imagine what happens to aborted embryos and fetuses in heaven. And it's just as comical to think that people actually believe this crap. Except that they do, and they have a loud voice in society that tries to force everyone into compliance with their delusions. Embryos are not little humans. They are connected to a living, breathing woman who has been granted societal rights. Embryos have no such rights, and for good reason.

The abortion debate is silly. It makes no sense to a rational mind. It would make more sense to have a debate about what the cut-off point is of where an abortion should be allowed, as long as everyone agreed that the abortion itself was the woman's decision. Some people might lobby for the cut-off point to be the moment the baby, after it is born, takes its first breath. That is the position supported by Scripture.(Gen 2:7) Or is it? According to Numbers 3:15-16 a baby isn't really a human until it is one month old. So according to this view, killing your baby before it is a month old should be perfectly fine. Of course, I do not advocate for either one of these biblical views. Some may advocate for the point where the umbilical cord is severed. Some would lobby for the actual birth itself, when the baby's body is completely out of the birth canal. I side with those who claim abortion is fine only prior to the point of viability, when the baby could survive on its own even if premature. That would be right around the six-month mark of pregnancy. It's a decent compromise. But to draw the line at conception makes no sense either from a practical point of view or from a biblical one.

Now, there are those who can point to other verses of the bible that tend to contradict the two I mentioned above. But that just go to show you can't really use the bible to prove a point, because on every single topic you're debating, the bible takes up multiple positions and is basically useless as a tool to prove a point. So taking the bible completely out of the debate, there is no reason whatsoever to oppose the right of a woman to choose an abortion other than just trying to stick one's nose into somebody else's business. And that's really what it's all about for the conservatives. They just can't be happy campers unless they're messing with someone else's personal freedoms.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Truth about Truth

I was having good conversation at my weekly CFI Sunday Social when the topic for discussion turned to truth and whether or not it exists outside our human perception. As a left-brained, science-oriented teacher, my position was that of course truth exists. It doesn't matter whether we know what it is or understand even how to arrive at it, but truth certainly does exist. My point was that everything can be boiled down to a series of dichotomies until you get back to the original truth, that we may never actually understand as humans. The two individuals I was debating had a different perspective. Truth has as much to do with our perception of what is real. And it is not always so black and white. There are shades of gray surrounding many issues and sometimes there is no single truth.

But I was unsuccessful at getting them to understand that I was not talking about a spectrum of opinion on one topic or another. I was talking about ultimate truth: How did we get here? Why then instead of another time? What is the answer to the time equation? Why are the laws of the universe the way they are? I'm pretty certain all these questions can be linked to a single, underlying truth that astrophysicists have been searching for, for a long time. This kind of truth exists. Certainly, there are shades of meaning when it comes to smaller ramifications of the truth. Does God exist or doesn't he? That is a dichotomy. God cannot almost exist, or exist in principal. He exists or he doesn't. But within that dichotomy can lie a spectrum of opinion: We can be theists, agnostics theists, agnostic atheists, hard atheists, etc. That says a lot about what we think, but it answers nothing at all about the truth: Does God exist or not? The truth seldom affects what we think about it. And how we believe doesn't affect the truth. Let's also not mistake our search for the truth for the truth itself. Take evolution for example. Either organisms on Earth change over time until they become a different species, or they don't. But let's not confuse whether or not macroevolution and microevolution are two different phenomena with the basic truth that species evolve. We can argue process. We can even argue truth. But none of our opinions and arguments about what is true changes whether or not something actually is true.

While I was in the middle of making that point, I detected that one of the other participants was feeling a little put off or uncomfortable that I was being recalcitrant. To her, it must have seemed as though I was a closed-minded fool. So the fellow across from her at the table jumped in and quickly changed the subject to a conversation about coffee. I was a little offended because it was like I didn't even exist from then on, even when I went along and said something about their new favorite subject, Dunkin' Donuts coffee. So I changed tables and started listening in on a discussion about the NBA. I wasn't at all interested in that so I decided to call it a morning. At least I have a blog that allows me an opportunity to conclude my thoughts, whether anyone takes them seriously or not.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Science Supplies the Answers

I don't know of any scientist that would claim that science has all the answers. But what scientists will claim is that science is the best thing we have to acquire the answers - real answers, not wishful-thinking answers. The problem is with the implication that since science doesn't know everything then we still need to look to God for the answers. No we don't. We just need to keep applying science to the question.

There may be questions of nature that science will never be able to divine answers to, but that doesn't mean we should stop looking and default to the God answer, because when you do, then you're stuck not only with no answers but with the defeatist notion that there can be no answers other than God. That's the big difference between having a scientific world view and a religious one. With religion, you don't need to look further than God for any answer to any question. Therefore, discovery is moot. Science, on the other hand, has given us the answers to all we know. It is a train of discovery. If we ever discover the answers to everything, science dies. But long before that, God will have been dead a long time.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Top 10 Fallacies of Fundamentalists

Fundamentalist Christians have a skewed view of the world. They live in a world where facts are irrelevant and evidence is what you find in the bible. Because of this slanted approach to reality, fundamentalist beliefs are riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and scientific inaccuracies. Here is my countdown of the top 10 fallacies believed by fundamentalists:

10. The world is about 6,000 years old. It and everything on it were created in six literal days.

The only possible way this could be true is if God also created the evidence for an old earth when he created everything else. He would have had to create the fossils and then arrange them in order of complexity. He would have had to create the daughter elements produced by radioactive isotopes in situ. He would have had to create the ancient varves underneath the lake beds in Australia and the layers in the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica complete with pollen grains of ancient plants and he would have had to create the light beams in transit between the distant galaxies and the earth. And the purpose of all this extra creation? To throw us off so that in the millennia to come scientists would falsely believe that the world is much older and the faithful would have to either believe this worldly baloney or have the strength of their faith to deny the evidence and keep believing. In other words; God tricked us so that only the gullible or the stupid would go to heaven.

9. God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

Epicurus had it pegged centuries before Jesus was born. An omniscient, omnipotent, and infinitely-loving god is incompatible with the presence of suffering in the world. And there is no way to rectify the situation. All Christians can offer are lame analogies or make up excuses and contrivances for God like, "The lord works in mysterious ways." It also presents a conundrum in logic to say a being is both omniscient and omnipotent. An omnipotent being can do anything, including change its mind. But an omniscient being knows everything, including the future, so he would know beforehand if he were going to change his mind. Therefore, was his mind actually changed?

8. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

The problem with that is that Jesus is supposed to be divine and eternal. How can a perfect, divine being suffer? And even if he did suffer in body, so what? He was supposedly present with God in heaven from the beginning and after he died he went back to heaven to be with God again, so where is the sacrifice? In order to sacrifice something, the thing you're sacrificing has to be lost or destroyed. What was destroyed in the Crucifixion/Resurrection scenario? Nothing.

7. Atheists are angry and mad at God.

Some atheists might be angry. So might some Christians. But if atheists are angry it isn't because they are atheists. And how can they possibly be mad at something they don't believe exists. Those who appear angry might better be described as frustrated. Some of us continue to be frustrated with the fact that so many people we know are still laboring under the delusion that a personal, loving God exists and they use that "knowledge" to inform their decisions, some of which might affect the personal liberties of the atheists.

6. Prayer works.

Prayer cannot possibly work. It can not only be shown that prayer requests are not answered any more often than what would occur by random chance, but even by the Christian doctrine itself, prayer cannot work. Christians believe (because the bible says) that God's will is always done. So if you pray for something that is already God's will, your prayer will seemingly be answered. But since God's will is always done, you would have gotten the same answer even if you had not prayed for it. If your prayer is not part of God's will, then your prayer won't be answered at all. So either way, prayer is useless and never results in God changing his mind to satisfy your desires.

5. The bible is the inerrant Word of God.

Yeah, right. And I have this bridge in NYC I'll sell you cheap. I can't list them all here, but take a look at this vast collection of biblical contradictions for starters. And it's no better when it comes to stating scientific facts. It says, for example, that insects have four legs, that the earth has four corners, and that Jesus could see all the kingdoms of the world from atop a mountain in the Middle East.

4. The end is near.

The end (Second Coming, Rapture, End of Days, whatever you want to call it) has been near for the last 2000 years. The first person to predict the end was Jesus himself. He told his disciples that some of them would still be alive when God established his kingdom on Earth. The Apostle Paul thought it would happen within his lifetime. And ever since those days, Christians have been waiting and praying for the end of time. There's probably not been a generation pass that Christians didn't think would be the last generation. And it's still going on today. The reason it hasn't happened yet is because it's never going to happen. It's a false belief and those who believe it are deluded.

3. Quoting Scripture is the best way to save lost souls.

From the number of bible verses I get quoted to me I'm sure this one must be true. "Only a fool says in his heart, There is no God." I hear that one all the time. I reply, "Yes, but a wise man says it right out loud." Quoting the bible to an unbeliever in an attempt to convince him of God is like quoting Clement C. Moore to someone in order to prove the existence of Santa Claus. There is nothing in The Night Before Christmas that would convince a skeptic that Santa Claus is real. Similarly, nothing in the bible is evidence that God exists or that Jesus is his son.

2. Believing in evolution (or global warming or the Big Bang) takes just as much faith as believing in God.

Faith is a strong belief without evidence, or in the face of evidence to the contrary. It's often spouted that atheists have faith too - faith that the sun will rise in the morning or faith that a dropped object will fall. That's not faith. It's belief supported by vast amounts of evidence. I know the sun will come up tomorrow because it always has. More importantly, I can go look up the mathematical equations that describe celestial orbits and I can prove the sun will come up with math. We know evolution is true because we have facts and evidence that supports it. We can make predictions based on those facts and evidence and the predictions always hold up. Fundamentalists want Creation taught in science classes. I would almost say go ahead and teach it side by side with evolution if I knew teachers would do it fairly. That's right - list all the empirical evidence for evolution on one side of the board and list all the empirical evidence for Creation on the other side and let the students decide which view has more actual evidence supporting it. Evolution would require more space than the board has. Creation would require no space at all, because there is no evidence.

1. God exists.

Of course it all boils down to this. There is a strong belief among all Christians that the personal God of the bible exists and that Jesus is his son. That belief is why they are called Christians. But why do they believe it? Pick out any single fundamentalist Christian and drill down into the reason he or she believes. They may have a variety of answers - they believe in the bible; they were raised that way; they had a personal experience with the Holy Spirit - but all of those reasons are houses of cards. There is zero corroborating evidence that anything substantial in the New Testament is true. There is lots of evidence that supports the notion that much of it was forged, that none of the Gospels were written by the man whose names appear in the titles, and that it was compiled centuries after the supposed facts by a committee of arguing bishops whose main goals were political. Personal experiences with the Holy Spirit can be easily explained away as normal, natural hallucinations or by a form of mass hysteria. The mind can play lots of tricks that seem real, but which are only natural occurrences. What it really all boils down to is how you were raised. If you were born in the American South, odds are really good that you are a Baptist. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, odds are excellent that you are a Muslim. And someone born in India is likely to be a Hindi. You believe what your parents, friends, and pastors taught you. But they only believe what they do for the same reason. If the entire premise is faulty, then any beliefs that come from it must be wrong. Using historical analysis, textual criticism of the bible, and scientific inquiry, it can be proved that the original premise of Christianity is probably false. Therefore, any and all beliefs deriving from that premise are equally invalid.

Of course, as the demented house therapist said on the original Miracle on 34th Street, when you attack someone's delusions they become violent. With fundamentalists, their knee-jerk reaction to contradictory facts is to dig deeper into their faith and hold on for dear life. Facts and evidence are useless against delusions. But those who are more open minded or who are still trying to make up their minds about religion may benefit from the facts. And this countdown just presented 10 of them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Separating Fact from Nonsense

As a science teacher I always have a lesson or two near the beginning of my 8th grade science course on the difference between fact and opinion. On one of my guided practice handouts, for example, I might list several pieces of information and ask the students to write whether or not each represents a fact or an opinion. A sample list might include:

A clear sky usually appears blue.
A blue sky is very pleasant to look at.
The rosebush has thorns.
Carbon is an element.
The girl in the picture is very pretty.
Science is easier than math.

Most adults can easily pick out the facts in this list. Items one, three, and four are facts; the others might apply to you but not necessarily to everyone else. Therefore, they represent opinions. But I could have added a third possibility to the mix. I could have asked them to choose among fact, opinion, and belief. I could have added items to the list such as:

God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected to save the souls of mankind.
Every word of the bible is true.
Allah is the one true god,
Mohammad was the highest prophet.
Every word of the Koran is true.

If I asked them to choose among fact, opinion, or belief, most people, including my students, would be honest enough to label those last examples as beliefs, even fundamentalists. But what if I left out the belief part and forced you to pick between only fact and opinion? Those should be the only two choices anyway; adding belief to the mix creates a false dichotomy. Either something is factual or it isn't, if it is specific enough in nature to be either true or false. Some things can be conditionally true, but when they are true, then at that moment and under those conditions, it represents a fact. So in the list above, including the religious statements, a devout Muslim would answer the last three as fact. But he would decide that the first three religious statements were opinion, and wrong opinion at that. On the other hand, a devout Christian would answer fact to the statements about God and Jesus but would say the Allah and Mohammad statements were opinion. Taking only the six statements related to belief, it is not possible for all of them to be fact, since some of them negates some of the others. For example, Allah cannot be the one true god if God exists as Father, Son, and Holy spirit. And every word of the Koran and the bible cannot be right since some passages in each book contradict what is said in the other. Since there is disagreement over the factual nature of the six religious statements, then the logical conclusion is that they represent opinion. If any of them represent fact, nobody knows for sure which ones do so. So it is each person's opinion as to which ones are factual.

And that is how belief differs from fact and from opinion. If something is an opinion, even the person who holds that opinion will usually admit that it is just that, an opinion. But those who hold a particular religious belief will make no such admission in most cases. To devout Christians it is a cold, hard fact that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross. To devout Muslims, Mohammad was the greatest prophet of all. To observant Jews there were no prophets beyond their Torah. And all three groups consider their belief as factual. Most ardent followers of one religion or another not only believe that their holy book is absolutely true, but that all the other holy books are patently false. Thus there is no contradiction of fact. If you don't believe the Koran is true then you don't have to take it into consideration when you claim that what the bible says is factual.

But truth has a quality to it that is often inconvenient for the believers. The truth stands as an independent entity. The truth is not affected by opinion or belief. Truth is truth independent of your belief to the contrary. Truth is also not dependent upon knowledge. Facts remain true whether anyone knows about them or not. When you strongly believe something is true but there is no way of knowing it for sure, or even in the midst of evidence to the contrary, it is called faith. In Christian circles, faith is a good quality to have. The bible strongly supports faith. But if you drill down into the nature of faith, you find it to be hollow and ugly. Does God exist? Was Jesus resurrected? Unless you know for sure, based on solid empirical evidence, then you don't really know the truth; all you have is faith. And, by definition, what you have is a strong belief in something for which you do not know the facts. You are taking an opinion and making the claim that it is a fact without any evidence to back it up. That is pretty much the definition of delusional. It is dishonest, and if you teach it to your kids, you are being dishonest with them.

Children learn to cope best when they can recognize the difference between fact and opinion. Some opinions are easy to recognize as such. But religious beliefs are mere opinions masquerading as facts. And when different versions of the facts collide, trouble often ensues.

In closing, let me include a list of cold, hard facts that my students learn are true sometime during the course:

Everything is made of atoms.
We really did land on the moon.
The earth is spherical and goes around the sun.
All life on earth really did evolve from a common ancestor.
The earth is 4.5 billion years old.
The universe is 13.7 billion years old.
Our universe began with a big bang.
Gravity exists.

And before someone jumps in with the claim that some of these are not really facts but theories, let me remind them that a scientific theory is something that is accepted as true and useful to virtually all scientists and can, for all practical purposes, be reported as factual even if small details of the theory still need to be filled in or improved. For example, the earth is 4.5 billion years old. But that figure was fine tuned downward from a previous estimate of 4.6 billion years. But that does not mean it might actually be only 6,000 years old though.

By the end of the course, if nothing else, my students learn how to recognize an opinion and how to distinguish opinions from facts, even opinions that pretend to be facts.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Open Letter to the Science Channel

Dear Science,

You are one of my favorite channels on television. I watch you on a daily basis. I also watch some of your sister channels, such as Discovery, Animal Planet, and Planet Green. That said, I do have some concerns and complaints. Sometimes you show programming that is not really about science. Shows such as Oddities and Junkies can't really be described as science shows. And especially shows like An Idiot Abroad has nothing at all to do with science.

I know, some of these shows are your most highly rated. Well, that's because people tend to like quirky shows better than they like shows about science fact. But if you choose to be the science channel, then you should show only programs that are actually related to science, shows like How do They Do It, How It's Made, Curiosity, Through the Wormhole, and Wonders of the Universe.

Some of your sister channels are also guilty of programming off topic. The Discovery Channel should be about discovering our world, not about motorcycles. If you insist on including programs such as American Chopper, why not add a new channel to your lineup called The Redneck Motorhead Channel. And what's with all the supernatural and ghost hunting sensationalist garbage on Planet Green? What does that have to do with a clean environment?

I appreciate that the Science Channel and Planet Green have resisted showing those annoying program-length commercials late at night. And I do appreciate having these educational channels available. I'm just afraid that you are starting to yield to the lowest common denominator of our society by compromising your programming. Please, let the programming match the name. Keep it pure. And put an end to some of the sensationalist programming or at least move it to a more compatible channel. Thank you.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We Don't Build Big Things Anymore

In the twenty-first century, things go lightning fast. I can send a message to someone in Australia in a matter of a few seconds. Cars speed around the track at Indy at more than 220 miles per hour. And today's computers are clocked in gigahertz. My first real computer, a Tandy, had a clock speed of about 6 megahertz.

But some things have actually slowed down. The speed of progress in such things as infrastructure projects and space exploration, for example, seem to take forever if they get done at all. And, though it might always have been the case, gridlock in Washington seems to make any kind of legislation take forever.

In 1930, for example, the ground was broken for the construction of the Empire State Building. It was finished 18 months later in 1931. In 1956, construction began on the Internet Highway System. Most of the important stretches were completed by the mid-1970s, though it took another 15 years to complete the entire system as originally conceived. So 35 years after the first shovel of dirt was turned, the Interstate system was finished. That seems like a long time, but it has taken 20 years just to build a few miles of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Mexico. When completed, it will be the longest north-south Interstate in the U.S. But when it will be finished is anyone's guess.

In 1962 Pres. John F. Kennedy set this country's space program in high gear, vowing to land a man on the moon within the decade. That was accomplished on July 20, 1969. It took only seven years to complete the moon project. These days, the U.S. isn't sending any humans into space at all, at least not in its own spacecraft. It has been almost 40 years since a human being has walked on the moon. That's an entire generation. And we've been nowhere else in space either outside Earth's orbit. What if the early explorers suddenly just stopped going anywhere because their home country's decided they didn't want to spend the money to send them places?

In the decade of the 1930s, the government put people to work on megaprojects such as the Hoover Dam, the Grand Coulee Dam, and most of the other dam projects in the West. Things seemed to get done in short order. We set forth goals to reach, and we reached them. Whether it was a barrage of skyscraper projects in New York, the nationwide Interstate Highway System, dams in the West, or the space program, we set the goals, we started the projects, and we completed them. Then we would set new goals. That cycle seems to have ended. Our infrastructure is aging. There has been no new and improved nuclear power plants built since the 1970s. It takes decades to build stretches of single highways. Our manned space program is nonexistent, and buildings don't get built as fast as they used to.

The new World Trade Center tower is still under construction after spending years in the planning stage. It is scheduled to be completed in 2013, seven years after groundbreaking. The Empire State Building took less than two years to build.

Why does it take us so long these days to get major projects accomplished, or even started? Part of the reason has to be the fault of Congress. Most public works projects must be funded by the government. And we don't want to spend any money these days, especially the Republicans. If projects don't get funded, they don't get built. Things are also slowed down by the Environmental Protection Agency. I'm all for protecting the environment, but sometimes these agencies get carried away with regulations and red tape. Finally, there always seems to be grassroots movements standing in the way of progress. The I-69 project in Indiana, for example, was delayed for many years due to law suits and protests by citizens groups who were against it for one reason or another, ranging from environmental protection to being against the sale of farmland.

Our economy is in shambles and the unemployment rate has been too high for too long. Funding infrastructure projects would help alleviate the unemployment problem and build a fire under our economy. It would also give us new bridges, roads, and other structures that are sorely needed. It's just too bad that the obstructionists in Congress, the Republicans, seem to always get their way.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Three Sides of the Abortion Debate

In the abortion debate there are two main positions: Pro Life or Pro Choice. I've already written at length about the misnomer of the former and the fact that it is really just a euphemism for Anti-Choice, since pretty much everyone is in favor of life, so this post is not about that. It's about the debate between the two opposing viewpoints concerning whether or not a woman should be legally allowed to have an abortion. The "Pro Life" crowd believes that their own superior sense of morality gives them the right to pass laws to prevent anyone else from choosing to have an abortion. And the Pro Choice group believes that, since there are intelligent people on both sides of the issue and since there is a debate with significant numbers on both sides, that no restrictions should be in place regarding a woman's choice to terminate pregnancy. I, of course, come down staunchly on the side of Choice.

What you don't hear much about in this debate is the sub-group of Pro-Choicers who go a step beyond choice. You hear people say things like, "I wouldn't have an abortion myself but I won't stand in the way of any other woman if she chooses to have one." But there are a group of people, though be it a minority, who are not only Pro-Choice but actually pro-abortion. These are the people who not only agree that women should have the right to choose, but that in many cases, having an abortion might be a really good idea. I am one of those people.

When my wife and I were having kids, back in the '80s, we decided in both instances of pregnancy that if we found out in advance that the fetus was seriously abnormal or that the child would be deformed in a manner that would make his or her life miserable (or our lives miserable) that we would terminate the pregnancy. There was not much room for discussion on the matter. One of us said it and the other one agreed instantly. I don't even remember who said it first, probably me.

In cases where a woman is pregnant, especially a teenager, who is troubled by her pregnancy, she should give serious thought to having an abortion. If you are pregnant and you have reason to believe your baby will be disabled, have an abortion. If you are troubled about having a child, and not just apprehensive that maybe you won't be a good parent, you'll probably do just fine, but really troubled that you are definitely not ready for motherhood, then by all means, abort it. And the sooner you do it, the better. First trimester abortions are little more than an expensive form of birth control. And it's not really that expensive if you go to a place like Planned Parenthood.

If you are worried that you would be committing murder, don't be. It is not murder. That's just the rhetoric of the Christian Right who have you spooked. If you don't believe me that it's not murder, go ahead and call a criminal trial attorney and ask him if you could be arrested for murder if you have an abortion. He'll tell you absolutely not. If you are worried that perhaps it's a sin and you'll go to hell, again, don't worry. That's just the Christian Right drumming it into your head again. There is no such thing as sin; it is something that the Church made up centuries ago to control the masses. There is morality, sure. But you get to decide what is moral based on your own good conscience (as well as federal and state laws). And there is no such place as hell, so you can't go there. Again, hell is a concept that was invented by the early church to keep people coming. It is all a scam. And it's been a scam so long that even the scammers no longer realize that it's a scam. You have nothing to fear from hell.

What you don't need to do is bring another unwanted kid into the world for me, a taxpayer, to help you raise. That's not fair to me, since I'm not the one who impregnated you. I'm not judging you; I'll leave that to the Christians. It's what they do best. Girls and boys of a certain age have sex. They always have; they always will. Maybe the abstinence-only sex education you were getting didn't drive home the message. It seldom does. What you needed was birth control. But if you're pregnant, that ship has sailed. If you are an unmarried teen, or a young woman without a good job or a stable relationship, then the best recommendation that anyone can give you is to have an abortion. And then after you have it, forget about it. It's really no big deal. It's not murder; it won't send you to hell and if close friends and family judge you harshly for it, then what you need to do is find better close friends. There's not much you can do about the family.

So to recap, there are really three positions when it comes to abortion: The anti-choice movement, the pro-choice but anti-abortion group, and the pro-abortion group. I stand proudly as a member of the latter and with good reason. It is the only choice that allows not only for freedom of choice for the individual, but also alleviates the depression and anxiety over having an abortion by the patient.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God's Role in Castastrophe

While thousands of fans waited for the main act to start on the main stage at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis Saturday night, a sudden and catastrophic gust of wind blew up and caused the rigging of the stage to collapse. It took two seconds for the scaffolding, which held up numerous lights and speakers, to crash to the ground. Several people were killed and many were injured.

Within moments, Twitter and Internet forums were abuzz with people urging prayer for the victims and their families. "PRAY, PRAY, PRAY for all the victims and families. That's all we can do," one post said. I know there is a sense of helplessness in situations like this. People want to help, but they don't know how or are not in a situation where they can. But what good does urging people to pray, or prayer itself for that matter, do?

You're going to send prayers to a god to help victims that he caused or allowed to become victims to begin with? Things like this are often called acts of God. So if God caused the stage to collapse on people, why would he then help them just because someone prayed? If God merely allowed it to happen, the same question still applies.

Unlike God, the good people who attended the concert ran to assist the survivors after the collapse. It was heartwarming to see people rush to the stage without thought for their own safety in order to save those who were trapped underneath. That wasn't God; it was humanity.

Of course some survivors are quick to thank God for their survival. How many TV interviews are there during which survivors thank their god for letting the scaffolding miss them and their families? Aren't they just so special? God reached his hand down from heaven and saved them from disaster and they are so grateful for it. But what about the people in the row next to them that were trapped under the stage with bones broken? Or what about the stagehands that were killed during the collapse? They must have lived dreadfully sinful lives for God not to have reached down and push them out of the way, too, right? I know people don't mean to be impudent, but they need to think before they speak. People don't have God figured out. They assume that if they survive a close call it must be because of God's or their guardian angel's protection. Isn't it more reasonable to believe that it was a matter of mere chance?

Why is it that God's behavior always looks exactly as though it was caused by chance? Could it be that maybe things really do just happen by chance and that God has nothing at all to do with it? Why does God always get the thanks for anything good that happens, but he never gets the blame for anything bad. Bad things are caused by Satan, or by demons, evil forces, or sin. God always gets a pass. Maybe bad things happen as punishment or because they are simply parts of God's plan that we don't understand. It's all a giant cop-out. People cannot conceive of why God would allow disasters to happen, but they know he is supposed to be all good, so they make up excuses for him.

These people need to face reality. If God does exist, he certainly does not care one bit for you, me, or anyone else. If he did, events that take place wouldn't always look so random. If it is impossible to tell the difference between random chance and God's behavior patterns, then one must realize that God is not interacting with us at all. That means he's either a deistic god or he doesn't exist. Either way, there's no need to pray to him.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Could the Bible be Used as Evidence in Court?

Billions of Christians from all over the world use the bible, and specifically the New Testament, as a basis for their faith. Some of them, the evangelicals, believe that the bible is not only a guide for their faith, but is literally the word of God and totally inerrant. They have no problem whatsoever in believing everything the bible says, despite its many contradictions and obvious mistakes in geography, history, and science. But despite some people’s unconditional faith that the bible is true, could it actually be used as evidence in a court of law? Could the bible be introduced as confirming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God who performed miracles and rose from the dead? Could it be used as evidence that God even exists?

Well let’s take a look at the rules of evidence for a criminal trial. According to Vincent Bugliosi, author and famous trial attorney, hearsay evidence cannot be admitted. The bible is clearly hearsay evidence because it is not relying on direct testimony from witnesses. The bible is composed of copies of copies of manuscripts that are long lost.

But even if we allow it latitude as hearsay evidence, there are more challenges to overcome. According to Bugliosi, before a piece of indirect evidence is allowed in, it must be authenticated. In other words, before a judge would allow a recording, a hand-written note, or a manuscript to be introduced as evidence, its authenticity as actually having been produced by its author must be verified. The authenticity of a hand-written note, for example, might be verified by a handwriting analysis. But how do we authenticate the bible? The short answer is, we can’t.

Take the four Gospels, for example. We can eliminate Mark and Luke almost immediately. Neither of them were disciples. They were not eyewitnesses to anything Jesus did or said. So their testimony is plainly hearsay. Couple that with the fact that no independent source can verify Luke or Mark as the authors of those Gospels. Their names are attached, but no claim is ever made of the authorship.

So let’s move on to Matthew and John. They were of Jesus’ disciples. So if they had written the Gospels, they could be counted as eyewitnesses to at least some of the claims about Jesus. But the Gospel of Matthew suffers from the same lack of corroboration as Luke and Mark. No one knows for sure that Matthew was the author. And many have argued that Matthew could not have authored it since he was most likely illiterate. And much of his text can be shown to be historically inaccurate. If it is inaccurate in some places, its trustworthiness is put into serious question.

That leaves us with John. Again, nobody knows for sure that John the disciple actually wrote the Gospel of John. Here, a claim is made of its authorship. But John was written around 90 – 100 CE. That means that if John did write it, he was very old and possibly senile. Speculation is that it may have been written by a close acquaintance who knew him and who took the liberty of writing for him. But even if that is so, it simply means that the book of John is entirely hearsay. We’re taking the word of an acquaintance of a man in his nineties telling stories that he remembers from a perspective decades after they happened. That means none of the Gospels can be authenticated. The faithful believe them because they want to believe them, nothing more.

What about the letters of Paul? Can they be authenticated? Well, of the 14 epistles attributed to Paul, seven of them can be thrown out of court almost immediately. When there is a question of authenticity, sometimes an expert witness is brought in to clear things up. In this case, the experts would be bible scholars. And almost all bible scholars agree that at least three of Paul’s epistles are not authentic. They are First and Second Timothy and Titus. Hebrews is anonymous but has traditionally been included as Pauline in origin. Most scholars believe, in fact, it was not written by Paul. The authorship of three other epistles is seriously questioned by scholars: Ephesians, Colossians, and Second Thessalonians. That leaves seven epistles that are generally agreed upon as being written by Paul.

So can we at least use these seven letters? No, not likely. The thing is, even if the letters are authentic, they are not written by an eyewitness. Paul did not witness any of the things he writes about. He, instead, relies on an obscure vision. How many courts do you think would allow someone’s hallucination in as evidence of a crime? Christians believe that what he saw was real and not a hallucination, but since we don’t have Paul available to question, a judge would be hard pressed to assume anything other than natural causes for Paul’s visions.

So even allowing some latitude for hearsay, the fact is that the bible cannot come close to being authenticated as bona fide evidence admissible in a court of law. Given its questionable authorship, the number of times it has been copied, the lack of any original manuscripts, and its fantastical claims of supernatural powers, it’s an amazement to me that anyone gives it any credence at all. It’s worth repeating: People believe the bible for one and only one reason – because they want to.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Open Letter to the People of Norway

Dear Norwegians,

You have just gone through a national trauma that should never be visited upon any nation, but especially not a free and tolerant nation such as you have. It is going to take some time for you to heal, but you will.

The thing to remember is that these acts of terror, although perpetrated by one of your own, do not reflect badly upon your country or your way of life. They reflect only on the delusional and twisted mind of the one responsible.

As everyone knows, on September 11, 2001, the U.S. suffered its worst terrorist attack in its history. It resulted in two wars that have lasted now for ten years. But this won’t be your fate because you were not attacked from the outside based on ideological differences between your national policy and the radicals in another country. All you will need to do at this point is decide whether your terrorist was really a lone wolf or if he had collaborators. Chances are, he’s a lone wolf. And he’s been caught. Your courts will deal with him.

Although you will never forget this tragedy, it is best not to dwell on it or its cause too much after your original period of mourning. It does not in any way change who you are as a people. You are a free, happy, tolerant, and progressive society. You use the term undertrykkelse (oppression) to describe situations in other countries. It does not apply to you. Your problem is not systemic within your political system. Rather, it is systemic within factions of the various religious regimes that exist in every country in the world. As such, the same thing can happen in any country that is tolerant of those who do not ascribe to fundamentalist religious sects.

In this case, the terrorist was a fundamentalist Christian. How do I know he was a fundamentalist? It is because only fundamentalists are deluded enough to do anything in support of their dogma. Fundamentalists of any religion cannot tolerate openness or diverse opinions.

The only cure for this kind of terrorism is to wipe out religious fundamentalism. That cannot be done through legislation or oppression, because that would, by definition, mean that your society has become less tolerant of diverse opinions. Even most fundamentalists would not stoop to terrorism, so they should be free to believe what they want. But it is the fundamentalist mantra that leads those who subscribe to the faith to act in an irrational and radical fashion. Fundamentalism provides the delusion that leads some people to do crazy things. Some people just behave crazier than others.

In the U.S. for example, some Christian fundamentalists murder abortion doctors. These murderers carry their religious beliefs to an extreme end, but had fundamentalism not deluded them to begin with, there would have been no reason to carry out their violent acts. Other fundamentalists in American are not violent, but they seek to overthrow the current form of government through legal means, such as infiltrating Congress, state legislatures, and school boards. Their common goal is to turn America into a Christian theocracy. Your terrorist also had the goal of overcoming your government and way of life and thus promote a more fundamentalist, reactionary form of government more in line with his delusions.

Most Christians will denounce him as a bad apple that is not a “true” Christian. But to fundamentalists, nobody is a true Christian unless they are also fundamentalists of the same stripe, unless they harbor the same delusions. To Pentacostals, Catholics are not true Christians. To the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, Presbyterians, Methodists, even other Baptists are not true Christians. A “true” Christian is only a person who believes the same brand of Christianity as the one doing the judging.

Religion in general is a dangerous concept because it breeds fundamentalism. And fundamentalism feeds delusions which lead susceptible people to perform violent, antisocial acts. Fundamentalism of one kind or another is free to thrive in an open, tolerant society such as yours.

So don’t blame your way of life or form of government. It is a model for the world. But as with other nations who have free societies, there is a price. The price is that highly deluded lone wolves can thrive, unnoticed. The lesson is to increase your vigilance. But don’t become paranoid. This degree of terrorism has not happened to your nation in modern history. There is no reason to believe that this strike is part of a trend. It is most likely an isolated case that can be treated as such.

Your nation is now in deep mourning for those who were killed and for the survivors that were traumatized. That is a natural process that will run its course. Your nation does not have to make any drastic changes because of it. It is not the fault of your system, but the fault of fundamentalism in general, and the only way to combat fundamentalism is through education, and your educational system is among the best in the world. There is little more you can do but live life as you always have and hope that it never happens again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reduce Political Gridlock with Term Limits

Politics is a dirty business. It was so even back in the days of the Founding Fathers. But I can't imagine what is going on in Washington now over the national debt is what the founders had in mind when they created this nation. The Republicans in the House have painted themselves into a corner. They made promises to the Tea Party knuckleheads that they cannot keep. Some of them wish they could be released from that corner but they also see that if they do what's right, they may no be reelected. So they do what's best for themselves instead of what they know is best for the country.

There is one very simple solution to political messes like this and it can be summed up in two short words: term limits.

Here is a proposal for a Constitutional amendment. First, limit the term of the office of president to one, six-year term. Some say that six years is too long for a really bad president to be in office. So, along with the six-year term, allow for a mid-term disapproval vote. In this election, if 60 percent of the voters dislike the way the president is doing his job, they could vote him out. If they do, the vice-president would then become president and a special election would be scheduled to replace him.

The the congressional representatives, limit them to a single six-year term, but stagger the elections so that members will begin their term every two years. That way there will always be a majority in the House that are not rookies. This is currently the way the senate is elected. And, for the senate, its members would be elected in the same way as now, except that they would be restricted to one term.

For those who want to serve for more than a single term, the law could allow them to run again after setting out for one election cycle. That's two years. This would also apply to the president.

With no hope of getting reelected without setting out for at least two years, there would be far less political grandstanding. The president and Congress would not have to stand firm on a bad promise because they would have nothing to lose politically.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Knowledge is Greatest Threat to Fundamentalism

Christian apologist Josh McDowell has a problem with the Internet. He sees it as anathema to Christianity. Why? Because it allows children and young people to gain knowledge and information, and to be skeptical. And McDowell sees this as a big problem.

This is what McDowell said in a speech, as reported by the Christian Post: “Now here is the problem. I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened.”

So the Internet leads to the abundance of knowledge and information, which in turn, causes people who have learned that knowledge and gained that information to become more skeptical. And that’s the problem?

Perhaps McDowell should partake of the Internet more himself so that he can learn how to be more skeptical instead of clinging to an ancient myth that is hopelessly out of touch with anything anyone needs today.

McDowell is right in his conclusions that the Internet has opened more young people up to skepticism. But his conclusion that this is a problem is laughable. Read what he is saying: Skeptical inquiry into the things we have always accepted without question is something to fight against. That shows the mindset of fundamentalist Christians. Never mind the facts; never mind that their beliefs might just be superstitious nonsense. We must protect our kids from learning anything they might use to work out the real solutions to life's problems. We must keep them deluded with dogma. We must fight against information. Facts and critical thinking skills are evil. And that's what they are learning on the Internet!

People like McDowell are anti-intellectual. And it’s people like him that compel me to keep blogging about the evils of fundamentalism. It's not that I think that somehow anything I say might cause a true fundamentalist to convert to reality. No, they've already drank the Kool-Aide. It's that I know young people who are still impressionable, along with those who are maybe Christians or from a Christian family but who are still open to reason, might still be persuaded by rational thought and reason.

I tell you the truth. Having faith in God means you have abdicated your powers as a human to understand the way nature works, especially if you have the faith of a fundamentalist. It means you will not be open to enough knowledge and information to make things happen. And that is the best lesson that young people can learn, that they have the power, they have the initiative, they can make real changes. A reliance on prayer and God is for those who have given up and are grasping at straws.

McDowell and those like him are worried that too much knowledge will weaken their cult. And they are right. Fundamentalism is a cult, just a very large one. And like other cults it has the potential to be very dangerous. Fundamentalism hampers progress, quashes innovation, and condemns critical thinking. Fundamentalism is like a virus or a malignancy that spreads until it pervades society, devouring human’s natural tendency to explore and find answers to things that matter. The cure for fundamentalism is knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Before young people become indoctrinated into the delusions of people like McDowell, it is up to the freethinkers and to more liberal believers to provide them with the tools they need to resist. And one of these tools is the Internet. Fundamentalists are right to fear the free exchange of ideas. It is the only thing that will, in the end, win out against the repressive dogma of fundamentalism.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Christian Taliban in America

All across the country states are passing laws that restrict a woman’s reproductive rights. In state after state, including Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, New Jersey, and Texas states have passed or are trying to pass legislation that would restrict or eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood. In other states, such as Kansas and South Dakota, Republican legislatures have limited when and how a woman can get an abortion, even if she pays for it herself.

Republicans ran on a platform of job creation during 2010, yet none of them has done anything at all to improve the economy. But they can pass bill after bill that restricts the rights of people they believe are somehow less moral than they are. They happily pass constitutional amendments against gay marriage and they are more than eager to pass laws restricting a woman's right to free choice concerning her own body. This is government interference to the extreme (and from so-called small-government conservatives no less).

When reasonable people can disagree vehemently over a principle then neither side should be able to force compliance by the other to its own view. The progressive opinion is to allow a woman the right to choose, regardless of one's own belief about abortion. The conservative opinion is to restrict her freedom so that it complies with the views of the conservative philosophy. It's mad and it's not right.

Even the name of the organization that seeks to outlaw all abortions is a misnomer. They call themselves Pro Life. I don’t know of anyone who is not pro life, even those who favor abortion. Those who favor abortion are pro abortion not anti-life. Those who would prefer to leave decisions on abortion up to the women involved are called Pro Choice. So what the Pro Life crowd really needs to explain is why they are not called what they really are, anti-choice. But they prefer the euphemism.

And don't give me this crap about they're only protecting the rights of the baby. That's kind of what the reasonable people on both sides of the issue are disagreeing about. First of all, it's not a baby; it's a fetus, or an embryo, or a zygote, depending on how long it's been since conception. And it has no rights, other than the right the host grants it. If she wants to take it full term, then it has rights. And that’s the way it should be.

Conservatives are running roughshod over women’s rights because they are stuck in this Christian dogma that informs their actions. But even a Christian can use the bible to prove that the life of a person does not begin at conception. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) So according to the bible, the soul is planted at first breath, not at conception, not even at birth. This is not to confess any personal respect for what the bible has to say about modern life. Is has nothing at all to say about it. But since fundamentalist Christians use the bible to inform all their actions then if they understand their own bible, they should not have a problem with abortion.

It brings up an interesting question. Are conservatives REALLY all that concerned about the rights of an embryo? They seem to no longer give a crap about it once it is born because then they are more than willing to take away mother-infant programs that would help it survive its first few months as a real human. They care not whether or not is has health care insurance. No, once it's born, it can take care of itself for all they care. No, it’s not really about the life of the unborn; it’s about power, power over women and power over everyone who does has a different view of morality than their own.

Fundamentalist Christians have an agenda: To turn America into a Christian theocracy. They want a Christian version of Iran or Pakistan. And if we keep electing these conservative fundamentalists with their twisted view of morality and revisionist take on history, one of these days their desires will be met.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is the Bible the Word of God?

In a recent Gallup poll, nearly a third of all Americans (30 percent) say they believe that the bible is the literal word of God, that is, the bible is word for word what God meant to say. Drilling down into the poll results, though, it is revealed that those who are most likely to believe that the bible is the literal word of God are those who have the least amount of education. That's not surprising, since even a modicum of higher education requires a certain amount of critical thinking, and when one applies critical thinking skills to the bible, it becomes abundantly clear that God could not have written it (or dictated it).

First of all, if you believe the bible is the literal word of God you must answer the question, Which bible? Is it the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version? The list of bibles goes on and on. They all differ in important ways, but they certainly are not word-for-word translations of the original texts. None of them are. So which bible is the literal word of God? If you say it is the original manuscripts, fine. But we don't have any of the originals. The best we can do is translate copies of copies of copies. So if the original manuscripts were God's word, all we have is an approximation of what he said, and that's even before we translate it.

And as far as translations go, it is almost impossible to translate any document word for word and still come away with a coherent sentence. For example, take the French expression, "Tu diras bien des chose chez toi." Translated literally, it becomes "You say well some things at your house." The meaning, however, is closer to, "Give my regards to your family." So a word-for-word translation of any document, including the manuscripts of the bible, would quickly lose all semblance of meaning.

Some will claim that it's not the individual words that matter but the meaning, just like in the French translation above. That's fine for simple, non-doctrinal phrases, but what about the more important matters of doctrine. Who gets to decide what the authors really meant? Once a translator writes down what the original author meant, his own understanding of that original meaning becomes part of the translated meaning. So the information you get is a mixture of the original author's meaning and the translator's interpretation of it.

But it's even worse than that. Even before the translators got their hands on the manuscripts, scribes were charged with making copies of them for publication. Most scribes did a good job. But, in addition to the normal transcriptional errors, some scribes also added words of their own. Most meant no harm by it, but sometimes a manuscript they were copying became so worn or damaged that they couldn't make out what a word, a sentence, or a whole passage said. In those cases, they would make up what they thought it said. Occasionally, the parts they made up were embellished with bits and pieces of their own agendas. Given these problems in copying and translating the manuscripts, even if we assume that the original was God's literal word, we can't even come close to that with our modern English translations. And given the doctrine that God is perfect and omniscient, God would have seen that coming and made allowances for it. Somehow, he would have made it known what his word is today. Any god worth his salt would have the power to do that. Bottom line: The bible is not the literal word of God.

Another 49 percent of Americans believe that the bible is the inspired word of God. The stories, they say, can't be taken literally, but the meaning is there. The bible is a book of spirituality that reflects the meaning of what God intended for us to know. This is what most of the more educated Christians believe. But there are problems with this view of the bible as well. One of those problems is the same one that dogged the literalists' view of the bible, and that is which translation best reflects what God meant?

But just as important, no matter which translation one uses, it becomes clear that even in matters of doctrine the bible doesn't even agree with itself in many places. Taking just one example, look at two accounts of what happened during the Crucifixion, one account from Mark and one from Luke. Mark says that the curtain in the temple was torn right at the moment of Jesus' death. This symbolism is generally taken to show that the author of Mark was bracketing Jesus' ministry between the times of his baptism, when the heavens split open, and the time of his death, when the curtain split open. (For the purposes of this comparison, we can ignore the fact that, in an age when they didn't use clocks and didn't have cell phones how anyone could have known when the curtain was ripped.) It also symbolizes that God is now accessible to the people directly instead of through a Rabbi once a year. (The temple curtain was meant to cordon off a room where God resided once per year in order to send messages to the people through the Rabbi in Chief, so to speak.)

But the Gospel of Luke says that the curtain was torn before Jesus died. This symbolizes that Jesus' ministry is a more powerful testament to God than the whole of Jewish tradition. It's one last attempt to nullify the powers of the Sanhedrin. So the same event is described by two authors and embellished with two different symbolic meanings, both doctrinal. Which one did God actually mean if he inspired the meaning? Of course this is just one of many such inconsistencies in the bible that have significant differences in doctrine. And that is one reason why there are so many different denominations within the Christian religion.

So the bible certainly cannot be the literal word of God, but there are problems in interpreting it as the inspired word of God, too. So what is the bible? The most likely answer is that it is a book of fables and legends. That is the answer given by 17 percent of those polled by Gallup on this question. It is the minority view, to be sure. In a country where Christianity runs rampant, it is no surprise that 80 percent of those polled believe that the bible is in some way the word of God, whether literal or inspired. But when looking at it from a perspective of reason and logic, and not merely devotion, one can see that the bible is most likely just a collection of fiction mixed with a bit of ancient history.