Saturday, December 15, 2012

If the Shooting of Kids doesn't Cause Change, Nothing Will

This time it's much different. We've had mass shootings many times over the past few years and all of them were tragic. But this time most of the victims were innocent little kids - and a lot of them. This time something has to be done, and everybody knows what that something is.

There are those who say we have a culture of violence in this country and that is what contributes to these tragedies. I can't argue against that hypothesis because violence in video games, on TV, and certainly in rap music is ubiquitous. Who knows how much desensitizing the culture of violence has produced. But regardless of how much the culture of violence contributes, it couldn't contribute to any shootings if nobody had access to guns.

Some say it is because we have expelled God from our schools and if we only could bring prayer back into the classroom, the violence would surely stop. This hypothesis is irrational, naive and, frankly, incredibly stupid. For one thing, God has never been expelled, nor has prayer. Kids can pray all they want in school. So can teachers and administrators. The only thing they can't do is to organize a formal prayer in school and on school time. Secondly, I challenge anyone to provide me with any empirical evidence that prayer solves anything at all, other than perhaps making the believer feel better about himself or herself. It's a way to convince yourself that you're doing something without actually doing anything. Prayer is simply lazy. And if God could have prevented such tragedies but did not only because somebody didn't pray enough or pray from the right spot then what kind of evil god is he? No matter how much or little anyone prays in school, the only thing that would have prevented the shooting is if the perpetrator had no access to guns.

Some people say we need to stop stigmatizing the mentally ill so that they will find it easier to seek professional help. Maybe there are some people who are in denial about needing help, but is this what we're going to blame gun violence on? No matter how deluded or mentally challenged a person is, he is harmless to others if he doesn't have access to guns.

What we need to do is stop beating around the bush and place the blame squarely where it belongs. We have a gun culture and it is far too easy for almost anyone to get guns. Nobody needs a gun except the hunter who actually hunts to supply food for the table. If that is a lifestyle choice then maybe these people do need a shotgun or hunting rifle. But that's it. There is no reason whatsoever for anyone to own a handgun or any kind of automatic or semiautomatic weapon.

In my opinion, the Supreme Court misinterpreted the Second Amendment when it decided that states could not ban the purchase of guns. The phrase is clearly present for all to see: "...a well-regulated militia...." We no longer depend on a well-regulated militia to defend this country, and without that dependency, there is no necessity to own a gun. And if that's how SCOTUS is going to interpret it then what we really need to do is completely repeal the Second Amendment. We've repealed amendments before (the nineteenth, for example), so it is not without historical precedent. It needs to happen quickly and decisively.

I'm not naive enough to actually believe a repeal of the Second Amendment is at all likely. But it is what it will take, or something very close, to prevent mass shootings in the future.

Maybe we do have a culture of violence in this country, but without easy access to guns, a culture of violence kills no one. Maybe we should look more closely at helping those who are mentally ill to seek help. But without guns, the mentally ill can't shoot anybody can they? And without easy access to guns, those buffoons like Mike Huckabee would have less opportunity to spew their ridiculous notions about blaming lack of prayer in schools for all of society's ills.

Obama made it clear that something needs to be done, even if it is not politically expedient. I sincerely hope he has the guts to push for gun control legislation during his second term in office. Maybe he needs to draw a line in the sand now and make the midterm election a single-issue poll: Do Americans want uncontrolled gun access or do we want to grow up and decide that ownership of most types of guns is not necessary nor advisable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If I Made the Laws

It's time for a little bit of fantasizing about a country that is guided by the laws that I would put into place and those that are in place now that I would repeal. Here we go....

1. In a land filled with my laws, no citizen would be allowed to own any hand gun or assault weapon of any kind. You could own rifles and shotguns meant for hunting. If you are a collector, you can get a collector's permit to own other kinds of guns but you cannot use them. The Second Amendment would be repealed.

2. Gays and lesbians would be allowed to marry with full benefits thereof.

3. Anyone could marry as many wives or husbands as they wish.

4. Marijuana would be legal to grow and purchase and it would be highly taxed and regulated.

5. All laws based purely on biblical morality would be repealed. This includes so-called blue laws that still exist in many states.

6. Prostitution would be legal and it would be taxed and regulated.

7. All churches and religious institutions would be taxed.

8. No public funds would be used to support a religious institution, including the use of vouchers to pay for private education at a church school.

9. No laws would be passed making it illegal to perform any activity that does not have a victim.

10. Finally, an overarching law would be passed that would make any activity legal except those that would infringe the rights of others, with the lone exception of gun ownership.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

If I were a TV News Producer

I get almost 100 percent of my news from two sources: Television and the Internet. But I am continually annoyed at some of the stuff they put on TV news these days - stuff that really isn't news at all. So sometimes I think I would make a much better news producer than the professionals they have in charge now.

Here is the way a decent local newscast should look:

The emphasis would be on positive stories about new things happening in town, such as what new businesses and restaurants are opening, if there are any new features being promoted by the city or state, and what activities are there that might be of interest to a large number of local residents.

Next most important topics would be breaking news (which, in some cases, might be the headline story, of course). But the emphasis here would be on merely reporting the facts of the story. If what is happening is visual, such as a fire or storm damage, then show a video of it. But I don't need to see a video of a reporter talking endlessly about what happened with shots of road signs or raindrops splashing in a puddle.

If a crime is involved I don't need to hear an interview with someone who is the next door neighbor of the suspect, telling us how unexpected it is to find out his neighbor's a criminal. I don't need to see a maudlin interview with a tearful victim; we all know the state of mind a tragedy can invoke. Simply stick to the facts of the story and move on.

A good local TV news program would have human interest stories that center on things that might affect a large number of viewers. I don't need to see any tearful reunions of a soldier coming home unexpectedly; that only affects his friends and family, not me. Instead, show stories about positive community events or people doing things that might affect the city as a whole or a large part of it.

I like to see stories about how new technology is being introduced or how people are using it. I would like to see more stories about science, nutrition, and health matters.

I also think that political news is important. However, one thing that both local and network news departments do is try to force a balance on both sides of an issue when there really is no balance. If Republicans are acting crazy, call them out on it and stop trying to present it as simply politics in general where both sides are doing the same thing. If Democrats are acting crazy, report it as such, but don't try to dig up something crazy about Democrats just because a Republican did something that is in-your-face crazy just for the sake of balanced reporting. Everybody understands the fact that the Republican Party these days includes a bat-shit-crazy element so there is no need to try to balance that out.

One example of this is the faux debate about the age of the earth. There is no debate. Instead, there are religious nuts and right-wing crazies who believe the world is a few thousand years old vs. the truth. Don't report it as "scientists say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old." Simply report it as "the earth is, indeed, 4.5 billion years old." Report factual news as factual. If there is a building burning it would not be reported as, "the fire department claims a building is burning." Show the same respect for scientific facts.

At the same time, however, if there is a single scientific study indicating something new or controversial, report it as such, not as a fact. A single study does not a fact make. Once the study has been peer reviewed and verified by other studies, then it can be reported as a valid theory or even as factual if enough evidence backs it up. But giving too much credence to single studies only makes people not trust science if and when that study is shown later to have been wrong.

There, that's the way a newscast should look as I see it. Cut down on all the maudlin human interest stuff. Report facts as facts. Don't interview people to get their feelings or opinion; only interview them if they have facts to reveal. Don't try to force balance on a story where no real balance exists. And get the science right.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rubio Still Doesn't Quite Get It

Last week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told GQ Magazine in an interview that he didn't know how old the earth was. "I'm not a scientist," he said. "I can tell you what the bible says." He went on to say it is "one the of great mysteries."

Well, no it isn't. We know, and he should know, how old the earth is. I've known it since my 7th grade science class. It's 4.5 billion years old. Every school child should be able to answer that question better than Rubio did.

He, apparently, finally understood that when a few days later he clarified his response. He now says that there is no scientific debate over the age of the earth and that it has been established, by science, that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. So why didn't he say that in the first place?

Rubio is a Roman Catholic, which, by the way, accepts scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and about evolution. But he also is a Republican, so he has to keep the wacko wing of his party in mind when he speaks, because wackos tend to vote. So he said, although he accepts that there is no scientific debate and that the earth's age has been established, he said there remains a theological debate and that people of faith must be free to make up their own minds about whether they believe or not what scientists say about the age of the earth.

Well, that's true. But if I have made up my mind that the moon is actually made of green cheese does that make it a reality that the moon is actually made of green cheese? By the same token, if people of faith make up their minds that the age of the earth is only about 6000 years old does that make it so? The age of the earth is what it is, not what you believe it is, not what you wish it were. Scientists do not say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old because that is what they believe in or because that is what they hope for. They started from scratch, not knowing. Many even assumed, at the beginning, that the earth was only a few thousand years old, because most earth scientists were Christians, like almost everyone in Europe back then.

But unlike religion, science uses empirical methods to get at the truth, and if those methods reveal something different from what was believed, scientists must reluctantly accept that evidence, especially if it is verified over and over again.

So, Rubio may have been right when he said there is still a theological debate over the age of the earth. He may have been right when he said everyone must make up his or her own mind about what they believe. But what was wrong about even his second, clarified answer to the question was that he still insists that the dichotomy between what scientists have proven and what the faithful believe is a legitimate one, deserving of equal attention in the public square. There certainly is a dichotomy of thought, but it is not equal. One side is the Mississippi River, the other side is Cripple Creek. If you want to know what really happens in nature, ask a scientist. If you want to be comforted in your own beliefs, ask an evangelical Christian. But the two answers you get are not equally valid if it's the truth you seek.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Isn't it about Time Voting went Digital?

It's 48 hours after the polls closed in Florida and they are still counting the votes. CNN has not declared a winner in that state yet because the votes are so close. Florida doesn't matter this year; President Obama has already won. But it could have mattered, just like it did in 2000 when we didn't know who was going to be president until December.

Obama says, "We need to fix that." But will we finally get around to fixing the problem of long lines at precincts, some with voters waiting hours to cast their ballots? Will we fix voting irregularities, problems with extra-long ballots, voter registration snafus, and attempts at voter suppression? How can it be done?

One way that I advocate in the staunchest manner is to allow voter registration and actual voting to take place on the Internet. Voting online would mean that long lines at polling places would be a thing of the past. It would mean an end to paper ballots. It would mean that voting would no longer be an inconvenience.

Right now, in Indiana, if you're not already registered you need to go to the voter registration office or a license branch in person to register, at least 30 days before election day. If you then want to vote early, you have to go downtown, pay to park, walk through metal detectors in the City County Building, then wait in line to vote. If you'd rather wait for election day and vote in your precinct, you need to first find out where the voting is going to take place the physically go there, wait in line, and vote.

But with Internet voting it could work like this: Go online to the site of the Federal Voter Registration Agency (which doesn't exist right now). User your tax identification number or social security number to register online any time during the year prior to election day. Then within, say, 30 days of election day, you could log on to the voting site and cast your ballots for federal office elections, such as for president or senate. In this scenario, election day would be nothing special, just the last day in a series of days that you could vote on your computer.

As for state elections, states could follow suit and set up their own voting sites which could be linked to the federal site. All voting could be done electronically in the privacy of your own home at your own convenience. There would be no more counting of ballots. Votes would be counted automatically and instantly, and we would know who won every election as soon as the pre-set time limit is up, say 6:00 PM on "election day."

As for the worry some people express about privacy or fraud, there would be no more danger of fraud or violation of privacy as on any other secure Web site, such as those used by banks, credit card companies, and the IRS. If paying your taxes, getting a loan, paying your bills, and earning a college degree can take place online in a safe and secure manner, why not voting as well?

For those who do not have access to the Internet at home, there could still be polling stations set up during election days, such as in libraries and county offices. But, really, anywhere that lets you get on a computer could be a polling place. I see no downside, other than the initial expense to set it up and the constant droning of the obligatory nay-sayers who always come out of the closet every time someone suggests making progress. But they will get used to it and eventually embrace it, like they did the automobile - that futuristic contraption that would put livery stables out of business. We have learned to live without livery stables; we can learn to live without paper ballots, chads, and long lines at the polling places.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Drilling Down into Abortion Fight

The controversy over abortion in this country has been brought to the forefront recently by the inane and outrageous comments of some in the GOP. Although the Republican Party Platform condemns abortion in all cases, some party members even go beyond that. Last summer, for example, Senatorial candidate Todd Akin of Missouri said that he was against abortion even in cases of rape because women who were victims of “legitimate rape” probably couldn’t get pregnant because the female body has a way to shut it down. More recently, Indiana Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock said that even a pregnancy that resulted from rape should be continued because it is “what God intended.”

It is hard to understand how anyone could hold such outlandish opinions, but it is even harder to understand how so many of the GOP rank-and-file voters could rally behind these meatheads and still give them their vote. But when I give it some deeper thought, there are a couple of reasons why they might still get elected. For one thing, Republicans who vote for them might disagree with their extreme views, but they want to see GOP control of the Senate. They think that by abandoning the candidate it would mean the Democrats would retain control of the Senate. A second reason that GOP voters might support the loony tune candidates is because they, themselves, are also loony.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying anyone who agrees that abortion is wrong is loony, even though I do disagree vehemently with their position. What I’m saying is that anyone who takes a moral stand against any action and then tries to affect public policy based on their moral compunctions, especially when those compunctions are far from the mainstream, might be considered to be a bit loony.

Those who believe that abortion should be illegal because they believe that life begins at conception and that the termination of pregnancy by the woman is tantamount to murder claim that they are only sticking up for the unborn baby because it can’t stick up for itself. Drilling down through all the rhetoric, though, we find that there is only one underlying point that is being arbitrated between the anti-choice and the pro-choice groups. Anti-choice people (I refuse to use their euphemism, pro-life.) believe that the fetus is a living human being with all the rights and privileges afforded to those who have actually been born. I say that opinion is misguided. I would even go so far as to call it a bullshit notion. Here’s why.

Pro-choice proponents counter by saying that the fetus is totally and utterly dependent on the woman who is its host – the mother. Anti-choice people say that even after it is born it is utterly dependent on the mother, too. But it is not. That is a fallacy, a red herring. Once that umbilical cord it cut, the mother can, if she wants, give up that baby without even looking at it. The baby is certainly dependent on someone to provide it with the necessities of life, but not necessarily on its mother. It’s dependent upon some human but the mother can choose not to be that person.

But when the fetus is growing inside a woman’s body, it is dependent on THAT woman alone because it is actually attached to her. The fetus and its host are inseparable. The host of that fetus, if she desires to keep it, must make many changes in her life to accommodate the fetus inside. Therefore, the woman should have much more say in whether or not she wants to continue supporting that fetus, who, up until a point at least, has no ability to have any input.

Now, once the fetus reaches a certain point, where it could possibly survive outside its mother, then the fetus should be given greater consideration. Maybe, beyond that point, the mother’s health or life should be limiting factors. That takes place around the beginning of the third trimester. But before that point is reached, the host mother should retain complete control of the decision-making process.

Anti-choice people who are Christians might claim that the fact that the fetus has a soul, supplied to it by God at conception, should limit the mother’s choice in the matter. But that comes down to a matter of theology. They have a right to that opinion. But that opinion is not shared by all and it is not an opinion that I agree with. Since I do not believe in a biblical soul, I find those views to be a little archaic, even silly. But I respect the rights of others to have those opinions. What I don’t respect is the desire of the religion right to turn their theology into public policy.

I have a big problem with anyone who tries to instill their religious views into public policy. How is that any better than the other way around, if I advocated electing someone who would support mandating my opinion onto everyone else, regardless of their beliefs? What if I believed that all women on welfare should be prohibited from having a baby and if they got pregnant the government should enforce an abortion? I don’t really believe that, but hypothetically, I could take that position. That position would be equivalent to the anti-choice crowd trying to force their belief system on others through legislation. They believe abortion is murder therefore everybody else must comply with their belief. It makes no sense.

But even here in 21st-century America, we’re still dealing with senseless people advocating senseless policy based on some anachronistic religion that shouldn’t have any application in modern life. That’s my opinion; far be it from me to enforce it on anyone.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Things We Know

The bible was written in the days before science, when everybody believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon, and stars all circled it in the heavens. They believed that the stars were pasted onto the firmament by God. They believed the heavens were fairly close to the ground, so close that they could even build a tower to reach it. They believed God controlled the motions of the sun, moon, and stars. If God wanted to, he could even stop their motion, as he is described as doing in the Old Testament so that his people could finish their marauding.

So it was not at all hard to believe that God could have created the earth in six days and that the earth is only a few thousand years old. There was certainly no evidence against it.

But today, in the space age, we know better. We can actually observe and measure things like the age of the earth or the earth's orbit around the sun. We can tell from observation and mathematics that the stars are not simply lights hung on a firmament but are actually far away suns. We know precisely how big the earth is and how big the sun is and we know it is a million times bigger than the earth.

But we also know a lot more than that. We know for a fact that stars are clustered into galaxies and we know that galaxies are all moving away from each other. We know that, far from being the center of everything, the sun and earth are not even the center of our own galaxy of stars. We know that if you look at a piece of the sky the size of a dime held at arms length with a powerful enough telescope that within that tiny section of sky can be seen hundreds of thousands of distant galaxies.

God did not make the universe for us. That notion came from the day when everybody thought we were the center of God's creation, back when it would have made sense for a creator to have created us all for his own amusement.

Most modern Christians do not hold on to those old ideas of six-day creation. More than half believe that life on Earth evolved, although most say it was with the hand of God guiding that evolution. But at least those are the Christians who don't turn a blind eye to the facts and evidence.

But some Christians, the evangelicals, still hold to the ancient notion that God created the earth for us in six literal days. They still believe that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old. And they still refuse to believe that living organisms have evolved and are still evolving.

But to hold on to such a belief requires that these people turn a blind eye to proven facts. It requires they remain closed to accepting the scientific evidence that runs contrary to their archaic beliefs.

Creationists are fond of quoting the long odds that would allow humans to have evolved by chance. But what about the even longer odds that the predictions made by scientific theories have been proven accurate? Take for example the big bang theory. Back in the 1950s a man by the name of George Gamow predicted, through manipulations of Einstein's equations, that if the universe was actually created in a big bang then that primordial explosion would have left a microwave fingerprint in the sky. Not only that, he could tell us the properties of this radiation. It should, in fact, have a black-body temperature signature of 2.7K and it should permeate the sky in every direction equally.

In the '50s, scientists were working on Quantum Theory and didn't have time to fool around with measuring cosmic microwaves, so Gammow's prediction went untested for about 10 years. But in 1965, two scientists working for Bell Labs on a completely different project accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave radiation that Gammaw had predicted. When other scientists over the years verified their discovery, they were awarded the Nobel Prize. Not only was the radiation coming from all directions equally, but the temperature of it fit precisely with the mathematical prediction made by Gammow years earlier.

So, either the universe really was created in a big bang, or the precise temperature of the universe, 2.73K just happened to be exactly what a scientist predicted by accident. It could have been any temperature at all, but it turned out to match the prediction exactly.

This is just one isolated example of many, many such examples of science predicting measured reality. Evolution theory, Quantum theory, the Big Bang theory, the Theory of Relativity, etc. all have made astoundingly accurate predictions about nature. Intelligent Design or Creationism have not made a single verifiable prediction about nature. Yet evangelical Christians believe wholeheartedly in them and denounce proven theories such as the big bang or evolution.

The proofs of science can be verified by anyone with the right equipment and enough knowledge. There is no secret club you have to belong to or oath you have to take to be a scientist. You simply have to follow the scientific method: Ask a question and search for the answer by following protocols designed to eliminate bias. And then once you find the answer, you have to accept it even if you don't like it.

That's what science is and that's the advantage it will always have over religion. The things we, as humans, now know boggles the mind. A few hundred years ago we were just beginning to come to terms with gravity. Today, we know (and can show we know it with mathematics and observation) what the exact temperature of the universe was a millionth of a second after the big bang. Plus we know that there was, indeed, a big bang. These things are no longer just speculation. We KNOW them and can prove them, to anyone who cares to listen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What I Should have Said Was....

When I was a college freshman I hung out with a group of three or four friends, most of whom were Jesus Freaks. Some of them, however, were freakier than others. I remember this one conversation that took place around the lunch table in the cafeteria, which everybody on campus called Saga, because that was the name of the company that ran the food service.

One of my friends, Claudia, was a little on the quirky side. So it shouldn't have surprised me what she said. But after she said it, my view of conservative Christians began to crystallize. Besides Claudia and me, there were two other guys at the table. I can't even remember their names. But one of them performed a mock toast: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die!" Then Claudia said it. "I would like to die tomorrow. Actually, I would like to die today!"

My other friend asked her why she wanted to die. "Because my body does things I don't want it to do. It gets sick; it feels sad sometimes."

I don't remember the rest of the conversation. I just sat there, being struck by the audacity of what she had said and wondering if she really meant it. What I actually said was - nothing. I just listened and wondered.

What I should have said was: "Claudia! If you think that dying would be better for you because you get to go meet your God, then why don't you just go ahead and kill yourself?"

Imaginary Claudia: "Because I don't want to mess with God's perfect plan for me. He has a plan for me and I have to see it through."

Imaginary Me: "Do you know what God's plan for you is?"

Imaginary Claudia: "No, of course not. Nobody knows God's divine plan."

Imaginary Me: "What if God's plan for you is for you to kill yourself today? And by not killing yourself you're actually screwing up God's plan!"

Imaginary Claudia: "Bite me!"

Another scenario I play out in my head goes something like this:

Real Claudia: "I'd like to die today!"

What I should have said: "Claudia, why? What is it about your religion that makes you want to die at such an early age?"

Imaginary Claudia: "The sooner I die, the sooner I get to go meet my Savior."

Imaginary Me: "But what if your religion is wrong? Have you considered that possibility?"

Imaginary Claudia: "It's NOT wrong. I have the bible as my proof!"

Imaginary Me: "But what if the bible is wrong?" How do you know it is correct, because it says it is? What if what you believe is wrong and the Presbyterians are right, or the Catholics, or even the Muslims? If you're wrong, you go to hell. So why put all your eggs in one basket?"

Imaginary Claudia: "I have faith that what I believe is true. I feel it in my heart."

Imaginary Me: "Have you ever felt anything in your heart that turned out not to be true or beneficial? What if the religion-shaped basket you put your eggs in turns out to be wrong? The Muslims have the Koran, which informs their beliefs. And they believe just as strongly that they are right. They have just as strong of faith as you do. You believe they are misguided or that they haven't yet been exposed to your truth yet, but they believe the same thing about you and your religion. Both can't be right can they? But both can be wrong. And you're actually going to sit there in all your religious smugness and wish death upon yourself based on what you feel in your humanly fallible heart?"

Imaginary Claudia: "Bite me!"

There, I'm glad I finally got that off my chest!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Some Special Needs Students Taking Up Resources

I expect that some people who read this will think I'm a heartless bastard for writing it. But that's ok. It still makes perfect sense in a reality-based world.

Everybody knows that our public education system is financially strapped. Everybody knows that the U.S. is cranking out below-average science and math students compared to other industrialized nations.

So why are we spending millions of dollars going through the motions of educating special needs students who will never be productive members of society?

See, I knew some people would take that the wrong way. What I mean is that, despite the fact that their parents do not want to hear it, there are some children who are so severely challenged mentally and physically that they will never be able to live anything like a normal life on their own. At the schools where I've taught, there are students who are so challenged that they can't eat on their own, write their names, or string words together to make a sentence. And I'm not talking about pre-schoolers. These are middle- and high-school students.

Some of the students require a full-time teacher all by themselves. These are not babysitters; they are certified teachers who are paid anywhere between $35,000 and $65,000 a year for their services - to a single child. This is on top of funds needed to supply classrooms with special equipment and materials to service these children.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we, as a society, should turn our backs and not help to support them. If they need to be cared for during the day and if the parents can't afford this care, we should take care of them - but not at school and not by faculty. Perhaps a specialized nursing-home environment would be better suited to their needs.

I've never been a big fan of what they used to call mainstreaming. Today it is referred to as inclusion. Kids with special needs are forced to sit through normal classes if they are able to handle it, even though there is little chance that they will learn much from a normal classroom environment. That, in itself, wouldn't be so bad except that inclusion students often require the presence of a second, special education teacher in the classroom, even if there are few students. And it also sometimes causes a distraction because it often takes the classroom teacher's time away from teaching the students who have a better chance of benefiting from that time.

I've heard the arguments the other way. And I'm certainly not targeting those students who have the capacity to learn enough to be contributing members of society some day. But I do believe there are better and less expensive ways to take care of those young people who will never be able to live on their own, get a job, and pay taxes due to a severe mental deficiency. I'm not saying sweep them under the rug and forget about them. I'm just suggesting that there are too many resources pumped into trying to educate these children who have little hope of providing any return on that investment. Those resources should be spent on the students who will be more likely to benefit from them.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rules for Condiment Use - Get it Right, People!

I'm going to step away from politics and religion for a moment to blog about something much more important - condiments. I don't typically eat at McDonald's; it's probably been months if not years since I had one of their burgers, but we were going to have a later dinner tonight so I thought I would drop by to get a burger and fries to hold us over.

I ordered a double cheeseburger. When I got home I opened it up to see what they had put on it and found pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Before I could eat it, I had to take off the pickles, remove as much of the ketchup and mustard as I could scrape off, and replace it with mayonnaise. I would have added some chopped onion but I didn't have any. So let's take a look at these condiments one at a time:

Ketchup - There are only two proper uses for ketchup and being on my hamburger isn't one of them. Ketchup may be used on fried potatoes, such as french fries, Tater Tots, or hash browns. It is also fine to use ketchup on meatloaf as long as you pour it on before cooking. That's it! Ketchup belongs on nothing else!

Mustard - This is a fine condiment, but again, not on my hamburger. Use it on hot dogs or bologna sandwiches all you want, but keep it off the burgers.

Pickles - These sour little disks should not be put on anything. Keep them completely away from my burgers and sandwiches. If you must have a pickle, eat one of the pickle wedges that are sometimes placed on your plate next to a sandwich.

Onions - I like mine chopped, not sliced. But sliced will do if that's how they come. I also like mine cut from the center of the onion, not from around the edge. Raw onions are much better than grilled onions, but as long as the grilled onions are chopped they're not too bad.

Mayonnaise - Truly the king of all condiments is mayonnaise. It's good with almost anything, especially on burgers. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for french fries. It is particularly yummy when mixed with equal parts ketchup (for dipping, not for placing on burgers).

Lettuce - I didn't mention lettuce before because my burger didn't come with it. And that's good because I would have had to remove it. If I want lettuce I will have a salad. And then I will only eat the bits of it that stick to the good parts of the salad, like the cheese, onions, meat, eggs, olives, or mushrooms. No sandwich should ever be defiled by lettuce, not even a BLT.

So there you have it - my rules for condiments. There may be some people who disagree with me. And that's fine; people are entitled to their own opinions, even if they're wrong!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bible Stories vs. Facts: Choose Wisely

When I relate a bible story, such as of Noah’s Ark, and ask legitimate questions about the logistics of carrying off such an even, even for God, what I often get as a reply from Christian fundamentalists is that they would prefer to believe the biblical account, regardless how unlikely it might seem, than to believe that everything came into existence by chance from clouds of cosmic dust.

When stated in such a way, it almost seems as though it’s a decision between two highly unlikely scenarios, but since one of them is written in the bible and the immortal soul might be in jeopardy, then the obvious choice would be to believe the bible story. And if both accounts of creation had an equal amount of evidence, or no evidence at all, to back them up, I would understand why people might opt to believe in the Noah story or the Adam and Eve story, or whatever. But all is not equal. There is evidence to consider, even if you are not privy to that evidence.

The story of Creation in Genesis, for example, has God creating everything in the universe in six literal days. He waited until day 6 to create humans. Many years later, after God became upset with human behavior (even though after his perfect creation he called it “good”) it took him an elaborate plan involving one family building a huge boat, taking well over 100 years to finally rescue a pair of every animal species on earth (or 7 pair, depending on which chapter of Genesis you believe). Surely the creator of the universe could have just waved his hand and eliminated all the humans in one fell swoop, but as I’ve been told before, you can’t apply logic to the bible.

The scientific theory of creation, however, is different. It started with a big bang that happened 13.7 billion years ago and has taken that long for life on Earth to evolve to its present state. And yes, there is a certain amount of random chance involved, though there is much more than just chance to consider. Selection pressure is also involved and we know how that works.

But if you believe that these are two disparate but equal scenarios to explain creation, think again. The scientific view actually has empirical evidence to back it up. The biblical view does not. I say empirical evidence because that means it is measurable, verifiable, and repeatable. And that means that anyone at all, given enough intelligence and the right equipment, can verify for themselves the claims of the scientists. You don’t have to take some scientist’s word for it. You don’t have to listen to a scientist or researcher and then choose to believe either him or the bible because they are both making claims from revelation. No. On one hand, you are asked to simply believe an ancient story that has been handed down for generations. On the other, you are asked to believe in a verifiable, testable scientific theory (which, by the way, does not mean a guess in science).

So if you still choose to believe in the ancient myth as opposed to real scientific evidence that you, yourself, could verify if you took the effort, then you put yourself in an utterly indefensible position. This is especially true if you decide to accept as valid all the scientific theories that make your world better but which do not conflict with a biblical fairy tale. Think about it. Make a rational choice.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Role of Government as Envisioned by the Parties

Back in the 1880s and '90s our free-enterprise economy was running rampant. It created an America with no middle class. There were a few people who were very rich - the business owners, the CEOs, the upper management - and there was the vast majority of rabble who lived off the crumbs of the rich - the workers who had virtually no rights. The biggest businesses merged and formed monopolies meaning they could charge anything for their products. The competition that keeps free enterprise going was nearly non-existent.

Thankfully, politicians back then, especially Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, put a stop to it. Congress enacted several laws and the presidents enforced those laws through the courts. Competition returned to the marketplace and the middle class began to grow.

But what if government had not acted? What would it have been like today if capitalism had been allowed to run amok throughout the 20th century? It would be like the whole country was run by a few giant pyramid schemes, with a few ultra-rich people at the pinnacle and the rest of us trudging around the base.

In the middle of the 20th century, our environment was in grave danger. Rachel Carson and others warned us about the silent springs to come if we didn't do something about air and water pollution. Big factories were belching toxic smoke into the atmosphere and dumping chemicals and sewage into the steams and lakes. Soot covered the newly-fallen snow, speckling it with black.

Then, the government stepped in and despite dire warnings that forcing businesses to clean up their act would drive them into bankruptcy and reduce productivity, laws were passed requiring factories to install scrubbers on their smokestacks. Regulations were put into place limiting the types and the amount of waste products that could be pumped into the waterways. Businesses complied and they did not go bankrupt. Profits continued to soar and the environment was cleaned up.

In the 1970s it became apparent, through scientific research, that chlorofluorocarbons were destroying the ozone layer, which protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. These gases primarily came from aerosol cans and air conditioners. The government wanted to enact regulation that would outlaw these ozone-destroying gases and industry balked, claiming it would put them out of business or send them into bankruptcy because any alternative to these gases would be far too expensive.

But the government acted anyway. Regulations were put into place to limit chlorofluorocarbon usage in consumer products. Other nations joined in and signed a treaty, the Montreal Protocol, that assured the use of this damaging substance was seriously curtailed.

Had governments not taken control of the situation and put into place heavy regulations, we may not have an ozone layer today. We would all need to wear sunscreen or protective clothing even for the shortest walks.

The point I'm trying to make is that government regulation is good and proper and in many cases quite necessary. Republican politicians want to do away with nearly all government regulations and allow the marketplace to take care of business on its own. The GOP wants to lend a helping hand to those who have already become very successful. Those who have not can just try harder.

There is only one area in which the GOP would like to grow government influence - in people's bedrooms and doctors' offices. Here, they want to make sure that the government has the final decision on whether or not a woman can get an abortion or even use birth control. They do this because they want all of us, no matter what our religion or personal beliefs, complies with their version of biblical morality. It is a major step toward the establishment of an evangelical Christian theocracy in America.

The Democrats, on the other hand, want appropriate regulation where such regulation is proper. They want government to help lend a hand to those who are struggling. And they want government to secure the human rights that everybody is entitled to share, including health care.

Republicans don't care about anyone else's health as long as they have made enough money to take care of themselves. They say they believe in equality of opportunity, but they forget that opportunity does not exist for those who need a hand up and can't get it.

There is a role for government in people's lives, but it's not to force compliance with old-fashioned religious morals. It is to provide for the public welfare, like it says in the Constitution. Democrats want to do that. Republicans just want a government that will help their own best interests.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do Zygotes have Rights Too?

There is one underlying issue surrounding the abortion debate. Here is the question: Is a zygote (or embryo or fetus) a living human being worthy of the same inalienable rights as those who have been born? If you say no, then you probably don't have a problem supporting a woman's right to an abortion. If you say yes, then you are entitled to not have an abortion. What you are not entitled to is to force your belief on women who are not you.

There are reasonable and intelligent people on both sides of the issue. I can respect your right to believe that life begins at conception. What I expect in return is a reciprocal respect for those who do not share your conservative beliefs.

There is a huge difference between the two beliefs on when human life begins other than a disagreement over that moment. The difference is that most conservatives who strongly believe life begins at conception want to force other women to bow to their moral compunction about abortion and they want their beliefs on the issue to be compelled by law. But those who believe a fetus has no rights are not forcing the Right-to-Lifers to get abortions. If those who do not support abortion feel bad that so many fetuses are being aborted, well that's just too bad. The Constitution does not protect you against feeling bad.

And that's the whole issue regarding evangelical Christians. The Constitution grants us as human adults rights that children and fetuses don't share. Even the bible makes that distinction. You may disagree with which rights a fetus ought to share, but your disagreement does not give you the right to force compliance on those who disagree with you.

According to polls about half of Americans believe that abortion is ok, at least under some circumstances. I personally believe abortion should be unrestricted by law under any circumstance as long as the fetus is not yet viable. And my opinion is just as valid as yours. More importantly, my opinion does not restrict your rights not to have an abortion. Can you give women the same promise?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Voting Against One's Own Prosperity

Mitt Romney has picked his vice-presidential running mate - Paul Ryan. That means Romney has also chosen to support Ryan's fiscal policies. Suddenly, the race has become ideological. And what is that ideology?

Basically, Ryan's policy with regards to the poor and middle class is to just let them get old and die. Rich people can always afford health care. Ryan's idea is to provide the elderly poor with government vouchers in place of Medicare. They can then use those vouchers to purchase insurance in the open market. But Ryan also wants to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. That means the insurance companies will no longer have to accept patients with pre-existing conditions. Many elderly people have pre-existing conditions. In addition, the insurance companies are in business to make a profit. They won't be able to make much profit from the elderly because they get sick more often. Therefore, their insurance premiums, assuming they can even find a company to insure them, will be unaffordable. It will cost way more than their vouchers will be worth.

But that's ok with Romney and Ryan. Maybe the poor should have worked harder and gotten rich, like them. Conservatives don't seem to realize that it takes more than hard work and effort to get rich. If all it took was hard work there would be a whole lot more rich people in this country.

In addition to their fiscal conservatism the dysfunctional duo are also extreme social conservatives. Romney is a practicing Mormon, which means he not only believes all the mythology of standard Christianity, he adds another layer of mysticism on top of that. If Romney and Ryan get in office, there will no longer be a war on women or a war on science. Those battles will have been won. Conservative moral principles will be the law of the land. Women will no longer have reproductive choice. Gays can forget about getting married. There will be zero progress on global warming and who knows what kind of pseudoscience will be permitted in high school science classes.

It's a scary prospect and it's sad to know that so many middle class voters will actually cast their votes for this pair. That will, of course, be a vote cast against their own future prosperity and personal choices.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Virgin Mary Shows up in Some Lady's Vagina?

The faithful have been flocking to this small Alabama town to witness what many call a miracle. Billy Bob Begley discovered it while he was making love to his wife, Sue Ann, three days ago. When he went down on her to give her cunnilingus he saw what appeared to him to be the Virgin Mary right there in Sue Ann's vagina.

"It's truly a miracle," Billy Bob said. "I almost put my tongue inside the Blessed Virgin." Instead, he told his wife to hold her position while he whipped out his iPhone to snap a picture of it so he could upload it to Facebook. "The response has been amazing," Begley said. "We've had more than 75,000 views since I put my wife's vagina on the Inter Web," he said.

Asked how she feels about all the publicity, Sue Ann just said, "It's a real blessing. I have the Blessed Vagina right here between my legs and I'm proud to let the world look at it." Asked if having the image of the Vagina Mary between her legs would have any impact on her sex life, she thought for a moment and said, "I'm not sure yet." But Billy Bob was quick to exclaim, "Naw! Now I get to make love to two women at the same time, and one of them will always remain a virgin! It's a turn-on sent from heaven."

The Begley's are Baptists, so they do not worship images of Mary the way most Catholics do, but they admit that it is, indeed, a miracle sent from God. "God wanted to send us a message," Sue Ann said. "I think he wanted to tell me that my vagina, and by extension all women's vaginas, are holy and that they should be freely shared among men.

"I think it's just the image itself, Sweetheart, not your actual vagina that should be shared," Billy Bob corrected. "Anyway, we are very proud to share this image with the world and hope it brings peace and love to the planet."

The priest at the local Parish had a different take on the image. "I can't say whether or not it's a miracle," Father Guido said. "All I know for sure is that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Maybe this young lady's vagina is blessed; I just don't know."

The Begleys said their home will be available for viewing every day next week after 5:00 PM. "That's when I get home from work," said Billy Bob. "I don't really want strangers viewing the Blessed Vagina while I'm not at home."

From a page on my Web site.

Friday, August 03, 2012

That's Really a Sport?

I'm not a big sports fan, but like everybody else, I do tune in once in awhile to one of the Olympic events. I tend to favor the women's sports because, obviously, I'd rather look at attractive, scantily-clad young women than muscular hunks.

I am puzzled, though, as to why some sports are included in the Olympics and others are not. I also question why some events are even classified as sports. Baseball was once an Olympic sport. Now it's not. I don't like baseball, but to me it would make much more sense to include baseball than an event such as synchronized swimming.

To me, some sports barely make the definition of sport. They're sports in the academic sense only. Real sports are those like track and field, swimming, diving, gymnastics, and even boxing, though I can't stand boxing. At least it really is a sport, though the lowest common denominator of all sports. It's what happens when other, more organized sports, break down due to a disagreement. A fight often breaks out at a hockey game, but almost never does a hockey game break out at a fight.

Then there are the team sports like soccer, volleyball, and water polo. Those are real sports, even though, like badminton, water polo looks like it should only be played at picnics. And it's too bad more countries don't participate in football, the real football, not soccer. Football would make a great addition to the Olympics.

But of all the lame events that are included in Olympic competition, the lamest has to be dressage. It's not a sport. It is barely sport-like. The horses do all the work. Compare that to, say, gymnastics. Young people train several hours a day for years in order to hone their skills for the big event. You could probably learn how to take a horse through its routine in a couple of weekends. I know; I'm probably exaggerating. But seriously, the two events are hardly comparable with regard to their value as sports. It would make more sense to me if Tiddly Winks was included as an Olympic sport.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Our Immortality in a Computer Program

The singularity is a subject that gets bandied about in the scientific (and science fiction) community quite frequently. The singularity refers to a point in time when artificial intelligence becomes better than natural human intelligence. It is the point when computer programs will be better able to design other programs than we humans will. It is also a time in which human brains will be able to interface with artificial intelligence agents so as to, perhaps, attain a kind of immortality.

At this moment, a Russian mogul has hired a group of developers to work on attaining human immortality by 2045. He has his people designing artificial holographic bodies to house our brains. At the end of life one can opt to transfer their brain into one of these bodies to continue on indefinitely.

I'm a big proponent of immortality. It's unlikely we will be able to perfect anything like it as long as we are stuck in our organic bodies. We may, indeed, increase life expectancy to 200 years or more within the next century or so, but immortality is probably not going to be possible.

Sci-Fi aficionados imagine a time when we will either be able to transplant our brains into an artificial body, such as an android, or to simply download all our thoughts, memories, and personality into such a body. This seems to be similar to what the Russian mogul is trying to do for real. But I think, to achieve true immortality, we need to take a different tack.

In my view, we need to work on a way to transfer all human thought, memory, and personality into a computer-like memory. But instead of then transplanting those memories into an artificial entity, such as an android or hologram, we just need to incorporate it into a sophisticated computer program. The solution to immortality seems to me to be strictly a software problem. We don't need any hardware other than the computer that runs the program. We won't need any artificial sensory organs, limbs, or methods of movement. Nothing ever has to move outside the mainframe of the computer that houses our essence within its memory.

There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which a holographic image, a character in a Sherlock Holmes novel named Moriarty, gained sentience and then wanted to be let out of the holodeck. Of course, that would be impossible because once out, there would be no projection systems to keep the holographic image intact, so it would be lost. But Moriarty took control of the ship and held it hostage until the Enterprise crew could figure out how to keep him alive outside the holodeck. The solution was so bizarre the crew decided to trick Moriarty into accepting it by making him think he was being launched off the ship in a shuttlecraft when, in fact, he had been captured in a miniature holodeck with no projection system. There was no physicality to his existence any longer; he was merely a program running forever in this miniature computer, but to him, he was unaware of his predicament. He thought he was free and could travel the universe at will in his little space ship.

That's what we need to be working on. Once we are able to transfer our sentience into a computer's memory, and have a computer that is sophisticated enough to interact with our essence, we will at that point be able to live forever, as though we were actually living. In fact, we would be merely a computer program running in a mainframe somewhere along with hundreds or thousands of other such programs. Ideally, the computer should be launched into orbit so that power failures and terrorism would no longer be issues.

We don't need any physical body. The essence of who we are will have been captured in computer memory and be integrated into a the computer's software. To us, it will appear as though we have bodies, but we can pay our programmers to create whatever kind of body we desire. We can create our own futures at the end of our lives. And they can be futures far better (or at least different) than the real lives we have already lived. It may seem bizarre, but to me, it is a far better scenario than winking out of existence forever, which is most likely the plight we all face today, except for those lucky enough to make it to the singularity.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Does Romney Believe In?

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a practicing Mormon. As such, one must conclude that he believes in the edicts of the Book of Mormon, an addendum to the Christian Bible. So he not only believes what the bible teachers, but also what the Book of Mormon teaches. So what exactly does the Book of Mormon teach? What does Romney believe in?

As already mentioned in a previous post, Romney believes in the power of magical underwear to protect him. But beyond that he also believes that it is mandatory that he tithe to the church. Christians also tithe, but for them it is only highly recommended. To a Mormon, not tithing means you don't go to heaven. In fact, Romney tithes well over the required 10 percent. His contributions to the church have been nearly double that amount.

Romney believes, because he's a Mormon, that Native Americans are actually the descendants of ancient Jewish tribes who, somehow, made it to the New World long before Columbus, or even the Vikings. He must also believe that horses, steel, and wheat were all commodities that existed in ancient America, even though history shows that they were introduced by Europeans.

Romney believes that God is a resurrected man who lives on a planet orbiting the star Kolob. He believes this god had sex with many wives to produce spirit offspring and that all humans are inhabited by one of these spirits, the spawn of God.

Mormons, and presumably Romney, believe that a 19th century charlatan named Joseph Smith found "golden tablets" in a cave in New York. These tablets contain the history of Jesus' ministry in America contemporaneous with his ministry in the Middle East. Smith apparently was magically able to decipher the ancient Egyptian language in which the tablets were inscribed and produced the Book of Mormon in 1830. But no one (other than Smith) has ever seen these tablets or even any evidence that they existed. Romney apparently does not care about lack of evidence, though.

Some of the Mormons' most beloved leaders, including Brigham Young, believed that if a man marries a black woman he should be killed. And, of course, until it became politically unwise, Mormons also believed that a man should have more than one wife. I'm not suggesting Romney believes this, but it is part of his church's dogmatic history. Joseph Smith was supposedly commanded by God to take 33 wives, some of them young teenagers and some were already married.

He believes that heaven consists of three levels and that the level your spirit enters after you die depends entirely on how good you were while living. But even the most evil Mormon might get into the lowest level of heaven, called the telestial heaven. Hell is reserved for those few who constantly reject Mormonism and who do evil against it.

Now these are things that all practicing Mormons, including Romney, actually believe. This is on top of the silly fairy tales that fundamentalist Christians also believe, such as original sin came from the first woman ever created listening to a talking snake and that one man and his family built a wooden boat big enough to house a pair of all the creatures on Earth.

If someone believes this mythology and takes it seriously, are they really someone who should occupy the White House and have their finger on the nuclear button?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Magic Underwear to the Rescue!

When Obama took over as president, the economy was the worst it had been since the Great Depression and it was getting worse. I don't think too many people will argue with that assertion. Today, the economy is still weak and many people are still out of work, but in comparison, it is much better than it was four years ago. The latest bit of good news is that home prices are starting to rise again. Jobs have been created every month for more than two years straight. No, it's not happening as fast as we would all like, but much of that is thanks to the intransigence of the congressional Republicans.

Now, Mitt Romney wants to be president and as his one and only credential, he lists his business experience at Bain Capital. Well, good for him. He has some experience in running a company. That does not necessarily translate into running a country where cooperation is more important than manipulation.

But, from my point of view, Romney's economic policies, ethereal as they are, are not his main problem. Romney is a practicing Mormon. That should send a red flag high up anyone's flagpole. Romney believes in the power of magical underwear. He is a follower of a 19th century con artist and fraud.

People are free to believe whatever they want in America, and they are free to seek public office, but that doesn't mean the public has to take them seriously. How can anyone who believes in Mormon mumbo-jumbo be taken seriously about any other views he holds?

Nearly all of our presidents have been Christians, at least in word. And Christians also believe in a lot of superstitious nonsense. But the Mormons have taken an already ludicrous belief system, Christianity, and turned it into something completely ridiculous. They've piled madness on top of superstition, and if Romney is elected, we will have as president of the United States of America a person who seriously believes that he is being protected by magical underwear. If there was nothing else wrong with the guy, that would be enough to dissuade me from voting for him.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Domestically Paired Couple by Any Other Name...

I am all for equal rights for gays, including getting married if that's what they want to do. However, that said, I believe there is a way around this whole debate over whether gays should be allowed to get married that would probably satisfy all but the most ardent stickler on either side. This isn't my idea, or it isn't new. But I believe it should be the direction that the gay marriage debate ought to take.

Homosexuals want to marry because it gives both parties in the relationship the same rights that married couples now enjoy, both in terms of the tax code and for employment benefits. They also want to be recognized as a married couple by society. But isn't it possible to grant gay couples all those rights without actually calling it a marriage?

Conservatives say they want the "institution of marriage" preserved because, to them, marriage is something that is sanctioned by God. So it really, then, becomes an issue of semantics. Why not keep the definition of "marriage" as a union between one man and one woman that is sanctioned by God. Marriage can then be something performed by and sanctioned by the church. If a denomination does not approve of gay marriage, they would have the right not to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples. For gay couples, we could call it something else, such as a "domestic partnership." A domestic partnership would be sanctioned by the government and would require a domestic partnership license. But a marriage would only be sanctioned by the church, and the couple getting married would still need to get a marriage license. Legally, however, it would be equivalent to a domestic partnership license. Denominations that have no problem with alloying gay couples to marry can still, if they wish, call it marriage.

If an atheistic or agnostic heterosexual couple would prefer to get a domestic partnership license rather than a marriage license, that would be their decision to make.

So, for those who are against gay marriage, they would get to retain their definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. And for the gay couple, the domestic partnership would grant them all the legal rights and protections that being married now does. Also, if a gay couple wanted to have a wedding ceremony and even call it "getting married" there would be nothing to prevent them from doing so. It's just that everybody's legal license would read either "domestic partnership" or "marriage" and they would be legally equivalent.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Pro Rights or Anti Rights?

Let's compare:

Pro-Life - It means you do not believe it's right for a woman to have an abortion. It also means you oppose giving any woman, even those who do not share your belief, the right to have an abortion if they choose. It restricts the rights of others.

Pro-Choice - It means you may or may not believe that abortion is alright. It does mean you agree to allow others to freely choose what to believe and to act on it or not accordingly. No rights are deprived or restricted.

Creationism - It means you believe that the earth and all life on it were created in six literal days, less than 10,000 years ago. It also means you oppose teaching anything other than this belief in science classrooms, despite having absolutely no evidence to back up your belief and despite the mountains of accumulated evidence to the contrary. Children's rights to a good science education are hampered.

"Evolutionism" - It means you accept the scientific evidence at face value because you know it is based on empirical data. It means you agree with allowing actual science educators to develop the science curriculum and include all the latest evidence within it.

Anti-Gay Marriage - It means you believe that being gay and acting upon those feelings constitutes a sin against God. It also means that you do not support granting the freedom to get married to any same-sex couple. It might also mean that you believe that homosexuality is an abomination that must be stamped out.

Pro-Gay Marriage - It means that you accept the rights of others to choose the sex of their life partners and to participate in legal marriage. It means that you believe those who oppose gay marriage have the right not to marry a person of the same sex. No rights are forbidden to anyone.

Anti-Public Health Care - It means that you do not believe that those who cannot afford to pay to go to a doctor or hospital when they are ill should stay sick or die because you do not intend for one dime of your tax dollars to go to pay for someone else's health care.

Pro-Public Health Care - It means that you realize that you don't get to pick and choose line items to support with your tax dollars and that the government's job is to take care of the public welfare, which includes granting those who cannot afford it a health care plan. You believe that a healthy America is good for society and if paying for it with tax dollars goes toward that end, so be it.

Pro Gun Rights - It means that you believe everyone should have the unlimited right to own any sort of weapon and to carry it in public or in private as they wish. It also may mean that you believe it's ok to collect weapons to use against the coming chaos that will reign when the government collapses and anarchy sets in, despite more than 200 years of history showing that will not happen.

Anti Gun Rights - It means you believe the Second Amendment applies to a time when America relied on private militias to defend itself and that in today's society certain types of weapons are inappropriate for private ownership, including automatic weapons and handguns. It means you probably don't have a problem with the ownership of hunting rifles or shotguns. And, yes, it means you agree to restrict certain rights to own weapons because you believe it's a sound trade-off for a safer country. It means you agree with the premise of restricting the rights of Americans to shoot each other.

In the above examples, the conservatives and Republicans are on the side of restricting or removing people's rights in every case but one. It shows that progressives or Democrats are on the side of granting personal rights, except one - the one that allows people to own the weapons with which to shoot each other. So if you're a proud American who appreciates freedom, guess whom you should vote for in the next election!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Sorry is Romney for being a Bully?

When you're a schoolkid the world is divided into two camps. You are a bully or, as Jean Shepherd so adeptly put it, you are "one of the nameless rabble of victims." I was in the latter category. Drilling down a bit further, though, you find that the victims can be subdivided into those who are merely annoyed at being bullied and those who are terrified. Again, I was the latter.

I had two main bullies throughout my school career. In elementary school, his name was Stanley. On more than one occasion Stanley made me late for class as he chased me through the streets surrounding my school and refused to let me pass. I guess it didn't bother him at all that he was also making himself late. Then in junior high school, there was Allen. He liked to poke people with sharpened pencils. And hardly a day went by that he didn't remember to threaten me with some sort of violence.

There were other, minor bullies along the way. But these are the two I remember most, because they seemed to be perpetual. The others were transient, or less frightening. And in hindsight, I'm not sure I had good reason to be so terrorized by either of them because in all the years I was bullied by them, neither of them ever actually beat me up. They were simply amusing themselves at my expense.

Decades later, when we were all in our 30s or 40s, both of my schoolyard bullies apologized to me. One had become a born-again Christian and as such was verging on becoming even more annoying to me with his Jesus talk than he ever was in elementary school. The other became a firefighter. And he, Allen, once confessed to me that his decision to become a public servant and first responder was motivated by the guilt he felt for having been a bully in school. It was an act of contrition. It wasn't just me he bullied, although at the time it sure seemed like it. He related horror stories of how he may have actually ruined lives because of his actions as a kid.

His confession really meant a lot to me. Here is a man who felt pain himself for having brought pain to others and set out to make it right in a palpable way. He now unselfishly gives back to the community he once terrorized. And he has become a respected citizen.

This past week, the Washington Post broke a story about bullying. The story details former students of a prep school have come forward to reveal that presidential contender Mitt Romney was once a schoolyard buly, too. When confronted with this old news, Romney basically excused himself, implying that he was just a teenager pulling a prank. He then offered a half-hearted apology to those he might have hurt or offended. "Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” he said. Compare that conditional apology ("...if anybody was hurt by that or offended...") with the deeply-motivated act of contrition by my former bully, Allen.

Another difference is that Stanley and Allen were simply motivated to be bullies because it amused them. It was twisted and sad, but they apparently did not hate their victims. I actually believe if their victims had all been absent on the same day they would have been disappointed. And even in the process of bullying me Stanley would sometimes yell out, "Oh come on. I'm just playing!" But Romney was motivated by sheer hatred. He and his bully buddies chased another student down. His friends held him down while Romney actually cut his hair. Apparently, his hair was too long for Romney because it made him look like a girl. The Post story also told of other times that Romney had made fun of students because he thought they looked or acted gay.

If Romney's attitudes toward homosexuals has changed, if he does not loathe them as much as he did in his youth, he missed his opportunity to set the record straight. Instead of offering a half-baked conditional apology why didn't he take the opportunity to not only show real remorse over his actions but come out strongly against bullying, and specifically bullying of gay students? He could have said, for example, something like, "I regret, terribly, what I did to those classmates of mine. It was a terrible thing and I have to live with myself every day, knowing what I did to them. I want to offer my sincere and humble apology to all those I hurt and I want to try to make amends the best way I can. I'm not that person anymore and I don't like that part of the person I used to be. I only hope those who were victims of my cruelty can forgive me." That would be an apology with meaning. But that isn't the kind of apology that was given. The conclusion that begs to be drawn is that Romney still feels the same way about homosexuals now as he did then. But his bullying methods have changed to a more socially acceptable form of trying to limit people's rights through the process of law instead of holding them down and cutting their hair.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Evolution: Prove it to Yourself

One of the methods I use in my biology class when we are on the topic of evolution is to teach it in a way that allows students to prove to themselves that evolution is the only method that makes sense when it comes to explaining the diversity of life on Earth. Whatever evidence I am talking about at the time can be turned into a how-would-you-do-it puzzle for the students.

For example, take the fossil record. Everybody knows about fossils, the remains and traces of ancient forms of life. But to creationists, fossils simply represent a part of God's creation that no longer exists. If you look at how fossils are sorted in the rock layers, however, there can be only one explanation: evolution.

With regard to the layering of sedimentary rock, I start by making an analogy to bed covers. If you make your bed with a top sheet, a couple of blankets, a comforter, and a bedspread, it is easy to see why the sheet is on the bottom and the bedspread is on top. You built them up from the bottom in chronological order. The same is true of rock layers. In an area of undisturbed rock, the oldest layers will be on the bottom. Therefore any fossils contained in the rock layers will be sorted with the most ancient fossils on the bottom, the deepest layers. More modern fossils will be toward the top.

So here's the question I pose to students: If all living creatures on Earth were created as is and at the same time, what would the fossils in each layer of rock look like compared to the fossils in other layers? Sometimes it takes them a second or two, but the answer is always the same: "They would all look alike." And, of course, that is correct. The fact that there are different fossils in different rock layers means that the animals and plants that made them changed over time. Couple that with the observable fact that fossils in more ancient rock layers are always representative of more primitive creatures and the conclusion is simple: Creatures changed over time from simple to more advanced. In other words, they evolved.

I know that, in their desperation, Christian apologists have devised their own answer to the sorting problem. Apparently, they were sorted in the Genesis Flood. But even if we allow that floods tend to sort out different types of sediments (and presumably, fossils), they were sorted in the wrong direction. More advanced animals tend to be larger than the very simple forms of life, and flowing water always sorts with the largest sediment on the bottom. Actual sorting is the exact opposite of the way it would be if fossils were sorted by a flood. Gradual change over time is the only cogent theory that explains the observation.

I also tell students that evolution could easily be proved wrong if someone could show a fossil of a modern mammal in the same layer as a fossil of a dinosaur. But in more than 150 years of searching, nothing like this has ever been found.

Going on to comparative anatomy, I can pose a small thought experiment: Suppose you were asked to construct a working replica of a bird wing, a human arm, and a whale flipper so that each replica would perform as the real ones do. You are not at all restricted in the amount or type of materials you can use. The question is, would you build the three replicas using the exact same structure for its frame or would you, instead, choose a structure that makes sense for the needed function? Obviously, the more thoughtful students suggest using a framing structure that is specific to the function, so that the arm and hand would need to be made of more parts than, say, the whale flipper. For economy, you could conceivably construct a flipper using perhaps six rigid pieces of metal connected with hinges. But with a human arm and hand, you would need to use significantly more parts to get the intricate movements you needed.

In nature, however, a human arm, a bird wing, a bat wing, a dog leg, and a whale flipper are all constructed using the same number of bones connected together in the same way. From an engineering standpoint it makes no sense, and my students understand that, because from the puzzle I presented, they figure it out for themselves. Nature's way makes no sense if you assume that each form of life was created separately and did not evolve. But if you assume that all living creatures evolved from a common ancestor, then it makes perfect sense. The only plausible explanation for what is observed in nature is that creatures evolved from a common ancestor, and my students are taught to figure that out for themselves using their own critical thinking skills and logic.

Then I ask them this hypothetical query: Suppose you are an engineer and you are given the task of building a robot. The robot has to be able to do these chores: "taste" food, detect sounds, detect light and identify objects from it, and make sounds. In that case, you would give your robot all the following mechanism: a microphone, a speaker, a camera, a liquid chemical sensor. But now I tell them that, after a time, the robot would no longer need to detect dissolved food substances so they will no longer need the chemical sensor. Assuming their robot has a unified design, which method would be more efficient to accommodate the change in desired functionality: 1) to just leave the sensor in place but turn it off, or 2) to redesign the robot from scratch so that the chemical sensor is left out, then re-build the robot? Obviously, most students just say leave its tongue in place and turn it off.

In nature, humans and other animals have organs that they should not have. Humans have wisdom teeth and body hair. We also have a coccyx (tail bone) and an appendix that we would be better off without. Horses have tiny vestigial toe bones. Whales and snakes have hip bones. Ostriches have wings. These are all organs we have but don't need, much like the robot with a chemical sensor that has been deactivated. So why do we have them? Well, why does the robot have the chemical sensor? It's because at one point it needed one and it would have been an inefficient process to remove it when it's usefulness was over. With vestigial organs, animals have them because they were useful to our ancestors, and our living animal cousins may still use them. Some herbivorous mammals, for example, have a cecum, the homologous structure of the human appendix. It is used to aid in the digestion of certain plant material. The ancestor of horses had toes instead of hooves; the fossil record bears this out. The fossil record also indicates that the ancestors of snakes and whales walked on land. And the ancestors of ostriches could fly.

When the question of why these animals have organs they don't need, after being given the robot challenge, students could answer the question. They have the organs because they once needed the organs. But we evolved.

I go on, over the course of the lesson, to ask similar questions about why the human embryo needs to grow gill slits and a tail and why at one point it has a 3-chambered heart. Why must the human embryo go through the stages of a fish and a reptile, only to have those structures turn into something else as the embryo grows? The only plausible answer again is evolution. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I don't say it in class but the only reason a god would have to make us in this fashion is if he were a deceptive god who wanted to deceive us.

Of course, the clincher when it comes to evidence for evolution is DNA. Fossils were once the primary evidence supporting evolution, and they're still important. But we could prove evolution even without fossils based solely on DNA analysis. Fossils simply corroborate the DNA evidence. In the same way that DNA can be used to positively identify a criminal suspect (or a parent in a paternity suit), it can also be used to show exact relationships among different species, living or extinct. Today, using genetics, "family" trees known as cladograms can be used to show the relationships among living organisms and their ancestors. For those who have allowed themselves to learn about this amazing field of research, it truly is the final death knell for creationism or intelligent design. Again, I obviously do not say this to my students because everybody is allowed to believe what they want, but any creationist who wants to persist in his delusion of creation, he should never allow himself to learn the details of archaeological genetics, because if he does, he will no longer be a creationist.

Monday, April 02, 2012

How Religion Quashes Scientific Discovery

Using God to Fuel Discovery

Child: Mom, what is a rainbow?

Mother: A rainbow was placed in the sky by God after the Great Flood as a promise to Noah and all his descendants that He would never destroy the earth by water again. Now, every time you look at a cloud and see a rainbow, you can be reminded of God's promise.

Child: Oh, that's nice. So God is never going to destroy us again?

Mother: I didn't say that. God promised never to destroy the earth by water again. Next time he's going to use fire.

Child: Oh, I see. Mom, isn't God supposed to be perfect in every way?

Mother: Why yes, dear, He is.

Child: Then why does He have to keep destroying His creation and starting over? Why couldn't he have gotten it right the first time?

Mother: Eat your peas!

Child: Mom, what are the stars made of?

Mother: I don't know. I've never been to one. God put them there to rule over the night sky.

Child: I hate the dark. Couldn't God have made them brighter?

Mother: Just eat your damn peas and hush!

Using Science to Fuel Discovery

Child: Mom, what is a rainbow?

Mother: A rainbow is caused when sunlight shines through the tiny water droplets inside a cloud. The droplets bend the light, because light bends when it strikes certain objects. But different colors of light bend different amounts, so when white light from the sun, which is a mixture of all the colors, gets bent, the colors spread out and makes a rainbow.

Child: Cool! What else causes light to bend?

Mother: Light bends when it goes from one clear substance, like air, into another substance, like water. That is called refraction. It also bends when it goes around sharp corners of objects. That's called diffraction.

Child: Silly Mom, light can't go around corners. It goes straight, right?

Mother: Normally it goes straight. But when it strikes a very sharp corner the different colors can bend a little. Hold two fingers up to that light and squint your eye to look between the slit made by your two fingers. See those dark lines?

Child: Yes, what is that?

Mother: That's called a diffraction pattern and its caused by the light bending around the corners of your fingers.

Child: What if I get a piece of clear film and draw tiny lines real close together and let light shine through. Would light bend around those lines and make a rainbow?

Mother: Try it and see!

So the child made a diffraction grating and spent hours experimenting with different ways that light could be diffracted through his homemade kaleidoscope. But he noticed that when he held it up to fluorescent light, it didn't make a complete rainbow. Some colors were missing. So he asked his mom about it.

Child: Mom, why do I get a strange-looking rainbow when I look at fluoescent light through my grating?

Mother: Flurescent light does not produce a continuous spectrum. The coating on the inside of the bulb glows only in certain wavelengths of light.

Child: So do other things also only allow certain wavelengths of light to pass through them?

Mother: I think you're probably right. Why don't you do an experiment to find out?

So the child, with his mother's supervision, vaporized various elements and compounds and shined white light through them after capturing the vapors in a flask. Sure enough, different gases produced rainbows with certain colors missing. The child made a chart showing which colors were missing from different elements and compounds. He then mounted a better diffraction grating to his telescope, connected it to a camera, and let it capture starlight. He could see dark lines in his rainbow as captured from the stars. He concluded it was because the star must be made of certain elements that glow with that particular pattern of light, so when he compared the starlight to his list of elements, he found that what stars are mostly made of was the element hydrogen, with a little helium too.

Child: Mom, I know what the stars are made of! It's hydrogen and helium!

Mother: That's what other scientists have discovered too, dear. Good work!

And that is how religious belief quashes scientific inquiry. Why bother seeking real answers if the only answer you care about is that "God did it"?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

In Praise of My Smart Phone

When I was in my teens, I was interested in science, specifically weather. I even toyed with the notion of becoming a meteorologist. I eventually chose to be a science teacher. But back when my hobby was weather observing, one of the instruments I dreamed of having was a weather radar. Of course, nobody had their own weather radar, except NOAA. Nobody has their own radar even today, but nobody really needs one. They have the next best thing: The Internet.

Around 1990 I discovered that there was a piece of software I could buy for my computer that would allow me to display weather radar images on my screen. I just had to dial up the service and wait several seconds for the image to load. It was a highly-pixelated, 30-minute-old map image of radar echos, but it was better than nothing.

Today, of course, anyone with a smart phone can access up-to-the-minute radar images in high resolution from anywhere they happen to be at the time. It just takes the right app.

During the same period of time that I was pining for my own weather radar, I was listening to my favorite music mixes on a newfangled medium called 8-track tape. Dad was a musician and he liked to record his music in his home studio, so he actually had an 8-track recorder, so I could easily create personalized song mixes. I listened to 8-track in my car, but while at home, I played vinyl albums. But in my fantasies, what I dreamed about was a sort of home jukebox where I could just push a number of buttons to schedule playback of my albums in whatever order I wanted without having to get up and change the disc.

In the mid-'80s, along came CDs to replace vinyl. The 8-track had long been gone, having been replaced by cassette tape. But that forced me to always listen to the songs in the same order. So the CD was a vast improvement because most players allowed me to shuffle the playback. It was closer to my jukebox wish, but I still had to get up and change CDs every once in awhile, even with my 10-disc changer.

One of the other music-related fantasies I had right after I got my first CD player was to have a player that didn't have any moving parts at all. I figured the only thing holding that up was that computer memory was incredibly expensive back in the late '80s. Not anymore. Today, of course, I can take my entire music library with me on my smart phone and listen to it anywhere in high-fidelity. It's a far cry from my old 8-track player that was installed under the dash of my green pick-up truck.

Back in the late '60s I had a portable transistor radio. It would pick up only AM stations and you had to hold it in a certain position for best reception. It came with an earphone, a single plastic speaker-like device that fit in one ear and sounded awful. But that's what we had to work with. Today, on my smart phone, I have an app that lets me listen to any of thousands of terrestrial radio stations from all over the world, and the reception is always perfect, as long as I'm within the 3G reception range or within reach of Wi-Fi. And with a pair of modern ear buds the sound is quite awesome.

I once played the game of Pong on my black-and-white TV with a Coleco game machine whose only sound effect was a beep. Today, I can play Angry Birds on my Smart Phone with MIDI music and in color. I once thought that having a cordless telephone in my house was pretty cool. I could almost walk around the block without losing reception. Today, with my cell phone, I can start a conversation in the living room and continue talking while I get in my car and drive for miles, even across the country. When I was a sophomore in college, I thought our electronic calculator in the science office was fascinating. My smart phone has a calculator that will perform even better tricks of mathematics. When I was in high school I loved to take pictures with my new Polaroid camera I had gotten for Christmas. The film was expensive so I had to be careful what I took pictures of. These days, I can take high-resolution pictures on my smart phone, even video in HD. When I first started driving I liked collecting road maps. I would go to the filling station and get one of their free ones every time I would visit another state. Today, I can call up a map of anywhere in the country and get driving directions. I can also view 3-D map images of almost any place on earth, all with my smart phone.

None of this is news, especially to anybody who owns a smart phone. I haven't commented on any of my phone apps other than to just list and describe them, because smart-phone technology is awesome enough on its own. But I compare them to the things I could only dream about having in my youth because the comparison is striking. The smart phone has fulfilled almost all of my youthful technology fantasies plus it has things I couldn't have imagined back then.

I don't think most people think much about the capabilities of their smart phones. I use mine to pay my bills, transfer money to my bank account, read the news, watch video, play games, check movie listings, listen to music, communicate using text, communicate with face-to-face video, keep track of appointments, surf the Internet, pay my parking meter, look up word definitions, listen to pronunciation of words I've looked up, look up things in the encyclopedia, take pictures, record video, read books with my Kindle app, find movies at Redbox locations, record memos, get map directions, and even talk on the telephone. All this can be done with a piece of electronics that can easily fit in my hand and is no thicker than a slice of Spam. While I'm busy doing all that with my cell phone, I also typically just take it for granted. But as a real geek when it comes to technology, when I think about it, it never ceases to fascinate me that I can carry that much power in the palm of my hand. I think back to the pre-computer age that I grew up in and I can appreciate what science has wrought when it turns into technology. It amazes me so much, sometimes I just have to write about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Can't Just Choose Your Beliefs

If you put all the thousands of different, and in some cases incompatible, doctrines of Christianity in a crucible so that every single disagreement among the various sects and denomination is vaporized, what you're left with is a handful of basic core beliefs that all Christians, whether fundamentalist or liberal, believe in. They believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah, Son of God); they believe that accepting Jesus as your Savior is your ticket to heaven, and of course, they believe that God actually exists as an all-powerful, omniscient and personal being. But in writing these things, it occurs to me that some of the fringe Christians even have trouble with some of these. Universalists believe that all will go to heaven, at least eventually. Some ancient sects of Christians believed that Jesus was just a great teacher and was not divine. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that at least the vast majority of modern Christians believe at least these three things.

All Christians also believe, to some degree, in the the authority of the bible. Some believe that it is literally true and universal; others believe that it is mostly allegorical, but the reason they all share their core beliefs is because those beliefs are prescribed in the bible.

As a nonbeliever I take issue with all these core beliefs that Christians share, but I'm most concerned about the second one in the list above. Christians say that you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and accept him as your personal Lord and Savior. It sounds simple enough. All the other commands that are found in the New Testament are descriptive (such as in Acts), or prescriptive to a particular church that has gone astray in some way, such as in Paul's epistles. But the act that makes you a Christian is not how you behave but what you believe. The theory is that if you truly believe in Christ then the Holy Spirit will enter you and guide your behavior as well as provide you comfort. But first comes the believing - faith.

There is one major flaw in this logic: What if someone can't believe. For the most part, what you believe is not so much chosen by you as it is thrust upon you. Mostly it depends on the culture you were raised in. If you were born and raised in the American South, odds are very high that you will be an observant Christian and will have no problem at all believing in Jesus as the Son of God. If you were born and raised in New England to parents who are professors at Harvard, odds are that you will have a tougher time of believing anything the bible says about Jesus' divinity. If you were born and raised in Saudi Arabia you would most likely believe that Jesus was just a minor profit. And regardless of where you were born, if you can step back and look at all the religions of the world from a neutral position, you might decide that all of them are bogus, relics of a superstitious era that no longer exists. In this case you would view the bible as a quaint, yet potentially very dangerous, holdover of an earlier age.

In essence, then, what you believe is shaped over time by your environment and is not a matter of instantaneous choice. How can you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior if you already believe that there is no personal god, or that Mohammad is the savior of mankind, or that Vishnu is one of the gods you need to follow? That's not to say that people can't change their minds, but in most cases, a mind change of that magnitude normally requires that a good reason be provided. But different people are compelled to act based on differing degrees of evidence. Those who lack critical thinking skills can be swayed much more easily than those who take the time to think things through more thoroughly.

If a friend told you a story of how he was abducted by space aliens and given a code of ethics that, if followed, would guarantee an eternal life of bliss would you believe him without an enormous amount of evidence? What if this friend wanted to persuade you to follow his alien code of ethics, which included a rejection of all earthly religions and an oath to affirm a belief in the alien society, would you choose to follow his advice? A rational, thoughtful person would tend to believe the friend may have been high on drugs or was having some sort of psychotic breakdown. A dullard from Podunk, Arkansas might be tempted to join up, except that he, like most other Podunkians, already have a delusion to follow - Christianity. The upshot is, most people, no matter what their current religious affiliation, would reject the friend's effort to convert them. That's because most people can't simply choose what to believe without compelling evidence. And some people's belief systems are so ingrained that even evidence to the contrary is useless.

I understand the concept of Christianity; I was born into a Christian family and raised as such. I have been baptized, as an adult, and lived most of my adult life with an open mind about Christian beliefs. But in looking back, most of what I admitted to believing was simply lip service. I wanted to believe in an eternal life in heaven. It still is very appealing to me. I would like to have the joy and peace of mind that most claim come with believing is Jesus Christ as Savior. But, alas, I know too much. I know that there are too many people in the world who belong to a host of other religions that make the same claims about their beliefs as Christians claim about Christianity. I can step outside the bubble of the religion I was raised in and see that all religions are basically equal. None of them have evidence to back up their claims. All of them expect a belief in a supernatural entity. And all ascribe things to this entity that can more readily be explained by science, using only nature. No matter how much I would like to believe in a benevolent god who offers everlasting life, I can't actually believe it because I know better. There are hundreds of really, good, solid reasons why I can't believe in the Christian doctrine. The only reason I have FOR believing is a promise of an eternal life of joy. But it's a hollow promise with no evidence to back it up.

So when Christians come up to me and tell me that they will pray for me so that my eyes will be opened to the truth, I tell them it was the truth that turned me away from a belief in superstition in the first place. It is not up to me to choose to believe. If it were, I would choose that option. But in the same way that you can't simply choose to believe in Santa Claus (because you know he's not real) I can't choose to believe in the Christian god, or any god for that matter. And it is unreasonable for A Christian to assume that a nonbeliever, or someone who has a different religious delusion, can simply choose to believe in their god. And if there were a god, he would already know how unfruitful it would be to ask someone to just believe.