Monday, November 21, 2005

Philosophy of Woody Allen

As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' -- probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?

How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?

I am at two with nature.

I can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.

I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.

I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.

If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.

If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.

Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought-- particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things.

It is impossible to experience one's death objectively and still carry a tune.

It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off.

It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.

Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon.

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all.

My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.

Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.

On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down.

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?

Thought: Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.

To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.

What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.

When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room.

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

What if nothing exists and we're all in somebody's dream? Or what's worse, what if only that fat guy in the third row exists?

The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won't get much sleep.

It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Perhaps the REAL Christians Are Waking Up

I wouldn't expect the racist, hateful, bible thumpers to wake up, but at least the mainline churches are speaking out. At last!

As much as I feel that religion is the root of war, I also learned in my Catholic upbringing that Christians are supposed to be the good guys.

Good Reads:

Bush Support Eroding as Christians Condemn Iraq Involvement
9/11 And The Sport of God by Bill Moyers
Can Jim Wallis save God from the Right?

Monday, August 29, 2005

What Would Jesus Do?

The following letter to the editor was in the Los Angeles Times on August 24, 2005 in response to Pat Robertson's fatwa to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

If Christ were alive today he would be demanding that everyone receive healthcare at no cost, for starters. Remember: "Heal thy sick". Lawmakers not only commit the "sin" of compromise but completely disregard this important teaching. And I don't suppose Pat Robertson would be walking beside Jesus while advocating murder.

While the immoral Iraq war is being conducted and the president sleeps with the "money changers," Christ exists only as a brand name to many of these politicians. True followers of Christ's teaching would be standing with Cindy Sheehan right now.

I am thoroughly convinced that if Jesus returned to Earth, Bush and the fundamentalist Christians would crucify him (or maybe just send him to Guantanamo).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bible Course Becomes a Test for Public Schools in Texas

August 1, 2005
Bible Course Becomes a Test for Public Schools in Texas


HOUSTON, July 31 - When the school board in Odessa, the West Texas oil town, voted unanimously in April to add an elective Bible study course to the 2006 high school curriculum, some parents dropped to their knees in prayerful thanks that God would be returned to the classroom, while others assailed it as an effort to instill religious training in the public schools.

Hundreds of miles away, leaders of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools notched another victory. A religious advocacy group based in Greensboro, N.C., the council has been pressing a 12-year campaign to get school boards across the country to accept its Bible curriculum.

The council calls its course a nonsectarian historical and literary survey class within constitutional guidelines requiring the separation of church and state.

But a growing chorus of critics says the course, taught by local teachers trained by the council, conceals a religious agenda. The critics say it ignores evolution in favor of creationism and gives credence to dubious assertions that the Constitution is based on the Scriptures, and that "documented research through NASA" backs the biblical account of the sun standing still.

In the latest salvo, the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group for religious freedom, has called a news conference for Monday to release a study that finds the national council's course to be "an error-riddled Bible curriculum that attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles."

The dispute has made the curriculum, which the national council says is used by more than 175,000 students in 312 school districts in 37 states, the latest flashpoint in the continuing culture wars over religious influences in the public domain.

The national council says its course is the only one offered nationwide. Another organization, the Bible Literacy Project, supported by a broad range of religious groups, expects to release its own textbook in September.

According to Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum, which published "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide" five years ago, "The distinction is between teaching the Bible and teaching about the Bible - it has to be taught academically, not devotionally."

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools says its course "is concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students."

"The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society, and that approach is altogether appropriate in a comprehensive program of secular education," it says.

Elizabeth Ridenour, a commercial real estate broker who said she formed the nonprofit organization in 1993 after deciding that she had long been "duped" into believing the Bible could not be taught in public schools, said the course has stayed within legal limits. "Our teachers are not to say, 'This is the truth,' or that the Bible is infallible," she said. "They are to say, 'This is what the Bible says; draw your own conclusions.' "

But in Odessa, where the school board has not decided on a curriculum, a parent said he found the course's syllabus unacceptably sectarian. He has been waging his own campaign for additional information on where it is being taught.

"Someone is being disingenuous; I'd like to know who," said the parent, David Newman, an associate professor of English at Odessa College who has made a page-by-page analysis of the 270-page syllabus and sent e-mail messages to nearly all 1,034 school districts in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network, which commissioned its study after the vote in Odessa, is sharp in its criticism. "As many as 52 Texas public school districts and 1,000 high schools across the country are using an aggressively marketed, blatantly sectarian Bible curriculum that interferes with the freedom of all families to pass on their own religious values to their children," it said.

In one teaching unit, students are told, "Throughout most of the last 2,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western world have accepted the statements of the Scriptures as genuine." The words are taken from the Web site of Grant R. Jeffrey Ministries' Prophecy on Line.

The national council's efforts are endorsed by the Center for Reclaiming America, Phyllis Schlafly's group the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, among others.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other groups have warned school districts against using the curriculum because of constitutional concerns.

Mike Johnson, a lawyer for the national council, cited a 1999 legal opinion by four lawyers calling the course permissible under constitutional guidelines.

Apart from a showcase school in Brady, Tex., the national council does not disclose the schools using its course because it wants to spare them the disruption of news media inquiries, Ms. Ridenour said.

Only a summary of the course is available on the Internet, and printed copies cost $150.

A highly critical article in The Journal of Law and Education in 2003 said the course "suffers from a number of constitutional infirmities" and "fails to present the Bible in the objective manner required."

The journal said that even supplementary materials were heavily slanted toward sectarian organizations; 83 percent of the books and articles recommended had strong ties to sectarian organizations, 60 percent had ties to Protestant organizations, and 53 percent had ties to conservative Protestant organizations, it said.

Among those included are books by David Barton, on the council's advisory board and the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, who favors "biblical inerrancy," said William Martin, a Rice University historian and the author of the book "With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America."

Ms. Ridenour said the course was revised six months ago. But the freedom network's study concludes that the curriculum's section on science teaches creationism with no mention of evolution.

The course's broad statements about the Bible being the blueprint for the nation are askew, said Mr. Haynes of the Freedom Forum, part of a nonpartisan ecumenical group promoting the Bible Literacy Project textbook. "If the Bible is a blueprint for the Constitution," he said, "I guess they haven't read it," referring to the Constitution.

Some of the claims made in the national council's curriculum are laughable, said Mark A. Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who spent seven weeks studying the syllabus for the freedom network. Mr. Chancey said he found it "riddled with errors" of facts, dates, definitions and incorrect spellings. It cites supposed NASA findings to suggest that the earth stopped twice in its orbit, in support of the literal truth of the biblical text that the sun stood still in Joshua and II Kings.

"When the type of urban legend that normally circulates by e-mail ends up in a textbook, that's a problem," Mr. Chancey said.

Tracey Kiesling, the national council's national teacher trainer, said the course offered "scientific documentation" on the flood and cites as a scientific authority Carl Baugh, described by Mrs. Kiesling as "an internationally known creation scientist who founded the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Tex."

The battle of the Bible course is not over in Odessa, where John Waggoner, a real estate appraiser, presented petitions with 6,000 signatures in support of the Bible class - many of them on printed forms of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools - to the school board of Ector County at its April meeting.

The assistant superintendent, Raymond Starnes, said he wanted to examine the Bible Literacy Project's textbook before recommending one for the 2006 school year.

Ralph Blumenthal reported from Houston for this article, and Barbara Novovitch from Odessa, Tex.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sins of the Scripture

Religion in America: A Christian thorn speaks out
Posted 7/19/05
By Caroline Hsu US NEWS
As the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, Jack Spong ordained the first openly gay Episcopal priest in 1989. He has claimed that over 50 percent of Roman Catholic priests are gay and that even the Apostle Paul was homosexual. For these and other opinions, his opponents have called Spong a heretic. His latest book, Sins of the Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (HarperSanFrancisco), brings a new round of criticism.

From the article:

Q. Why did you write The Sins of Scripture?

A. Texts in the Bible are being used to hurt, oppress, and denigrate. The Bible was quoted to support slavery and segregation, to hurt Jews, and to not educate women. Today, I see the Bible being used politically for all sorts of evil things. We have a president who wants to quote the Bible to condemn homosexual people. Somebody from within the heart of the religious community needs to speak out against it.

Q. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

A. There are nine passages in the Bible dealing with homosexuality. Leviticus 18 and 20 say a man who lies with a man as with a woman is an abomination and both shall be put to death. If you're going to cite that, you should read all of Leviticus. It also says if you talk back to your parents, you should be put to death. If you cuss, don't observe the Sabbath, or worship false gods, you should be put to death. Even people in the right wing like the Jerry Falwells and Jim Dobsons, they can be pretty vicious, but I don't know anybody who would call for an execution of homosexuals.

Q. But if not the Bible, where can people turn for guidance?

A. Would you go to a doctor who practiced medicine between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 135? The Bible believed that epilepsy is caused by demon possession and a deaf mute has a devil tying his tongue. The Bible assumed the whole life of a person existed in a sperm of a man and the woman contributed nothing but nutrients. The Bible assumed Earth was the center of the universe and the sun rotated around it. We almost put Galileo to death for that, and today we engage in space travel. The use of the Bible as something you can quote with final authority on something about which the Bible knows nothing is ridiculous.
This is an article worth reading. Good points.

Friday, July 15, 2005

On Wizards and Witches

Benny (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) has identified the latest form of evil spreading across the world. That vile form is blasphemy is...(drum roll please)...Harry Potter!

Benny wants to get in on the culture wars. I can't blame him. There's some great publicity involved for sure. From Yahoo/AP:

Pope disapproves of Harry Potter, letters suggest

Pope Benedict believes the Harry Potter books subtly seduce young readers and "distort Christianity in the soul" before it can develop properly, according to comments attributed to him by a German writer. Gabriele Kuby, who has written a book called "Harry Potter - Good or Evil," which attacks J.K. Rowling's best selling series about the boy wizard, published extracts from two letters written to her by Benedict in 2003, when he was a cardinal.

Kuby, a devout Catholic, had sent him a copy of her Potter critique and he wrote to thank her, according to a passage from one of the letters published in German on her Web site.
"It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly," Benedict wrote, according to the excerpt. A Vatican official was not immediately able to comment on the remarks attributed to Benedict, who is currently on holiday in the Alps. Reuters was unable to reach Kuby by telephone.

The sixth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," is due to be published on July 16, with millions of copies already shipped to stores around the world. After Benedict was named Pope in April, his own writings shot to the top of the German book charts and dislodged the most recent book in the Potter series from number one. The Vatican had previously appeared to approve of the books, saying they helped children to understand the difference between good and evil.

Kuby maintains the opposite, listing among 10 arguments against Harry Potter: "The ability of the reader to distinguish between good and evil is overridden by emotional manipulation and intellectual obfuscation." In one of the letters, Benedict gives Kuby permission to publicize his opinion. "Somehow your letter got buried in the large pile of name-day, birthday and Easter mail," he writes. "Finally this pile is taken care of, so that I can gladly allow you to refer to my judgment about Harry Potter."

Vatican officials earlier this year condemned Dan Brown's Catholic conspiracy bestseller "The Da Vinci Code." Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in March blasted the book as an absurd distortion of history, saying it was full of cheap lies and Catholic bookstores should take it off their shelves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Evolution: Just A Theory, Parts One & Two


It's been eighty years since the Scopes Monkey Trial yet the war between Evolution and Creationism lives on. I admit I don't know that much about Darwin's theory of evolution. Maybe that's because I slept through biology class in high school and managed to fulfill my science requirements in college with environmental science, not biology. Anyways, getting to the point . . . it appears that the Evolution vs. Creationism debate is growing wider, with the troops of Creationism gaining strength. Here's what's going on in Dayton, TN, the home of the Scopes trial:

As the town prepares for its annual re-enactment of the trial here eight decades later, debate over teaching evolution lives on. Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, said it is increasingly difficult to teach American students the basics of evolution. "We have been facing more anti-evolution activity in the last six months than we have ever faced in a comparable period before," Scott said Friday. In Kansas, the state school board could change science standards to include criticism of evolution. In Cobb County, Ga., labels describing evolution as a "theory, not a fact" were required in some textbooks before a court overturned the order.

Is the orthodoxy of religious-minded people so threatened by evolution that they must censor Darwin's theory in the classroom? Conversely, why do science-minded people treat evolution as pure fact and adhere to it as if it were religious dogma?

Have no fear creationists, the Vatican is now officially on your side. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, staked out the Catholic Church's position on evolution in a NY Times editorial:

EVER since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith. But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

The Catholic Church has always been a little more open minded towards evolution than have the Christian fundamentalists. However, with Pope Benedict XVI, we can probably expect to see more critical rhetoric towards evolution from the Holy See. After all, this is the man who believes modern philosophy is a poison to the minds of believers. The pope has argued that the ideologies spawned from the secular philosophical tradition of Marx, Darwin, and Freud have kicked the concept of "God" to the gutter and have "sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind" (Moynihan, 44).

Evolution is a theory, not scientific fact. Creationism, a.k.a. intelligent design, is also a theory. How can you prove that God created the world except for the fact that it is written in the Bible?

Agitprop takes no real stand in this battle of The Culture War. In my mind, Creationism and Evolution are perfectly compatible: God created the world, and then slowly let it evolve on its own.


The Evolution vs. Creation debate is huge right now, so I thought I'd give a second offering of Evolution: Just A Theory. Evolution is just a theory, like, a krispy kreme is just a donut. Ok, bad analogy, I digress. But in the comments section of my first post, res publica raises some great points:

The problem with the "just a theory" rhetoric is not that it isn't true. Rather, it plays on the public's lack of understanding of scientific method and terminology. In the strict scientific sense, there is no "step up" from theory to something like "law" or "fact". . . These "ID" guys are just pimping the distinction that exists in COMMON useage between "theory" and "fact".

In part one, I failed to mention the difference between a theory of Evolution and a theory of Creation. The creationist crowd is playing semantics here and exploiting public ignorance about the scientific method. The Linkmeister argues that the Catholic Church is abusing the definition of the word theory since a theory is "a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena."

Creationism (a.k.a. intelligent design) is also a theory--one that is rooted in religious and cultural explanations of the world rather than a product of the rigorous scientific method. The early humans made up stories about gods who created the universe in order to provide meaning and structure to their lives. After all, religion is a cultural explanation of the world, so, Creationism belongs in anthropology class. Moreover, humans have always explained the concept of God in human terms. One can't possibly describe something that is divine in human terms.

Some scientists do cling to evolution as if it were religious dogma. Could we reconcile the angst between Evolution and Creation? Now I have stated previously, that in my mind, both evolutionary and God-centered accounts of the universe are compatible. John F. Haught helps articulates my views pretty right on in his book God After Darwin. The following is from a review of Haught's book in America, The Catholic Magazine:

God After Darwin continues this argument, but focuses mainly on remedying a major theological deficiency. "To a great extent," writes Haught, "theologians still think and write as though Darwin had never lived. Their attention remains fixed on the human world and its unique concerns. The nuances of biology or, for that matter, of cosmology have not yet deeply affected current thinking about God and God’s relation to the world." In contrast, Haught takes Darwin and his "dangerous idea" seriously, contending that the whole notion of God as "source of order" or "designer" of the cosmos has to be rethought. Why? Because if we fail to rethink our notion of God-as-designer, we run flat-footed into the problem of evil. It will seem that God must oversee a process of incredible waste, death, pain and horror. In short, God runs the horror show of the "survival of the fittest," and if that is the case God must be careless, indifferent and close to diabolical (with a preferential option for the strong). For this very reason, for many scientists, atheism is the logical correlate of
evolutionary science.

Lance Mannion echoes this sentiment and how it applies to Catholic religious practice:

The Church's teaching that God guided evolution is not a competing theory to natural selection. It is a statement of faith to be held onto in the face of the fact of evolution. And as such it's a lesson to be learned from the priest in the pulpit not the teacher in your kids' biology class. It is fine for a Catholic to accept the fact and still keep the faith. Unless you don't have faith in your faith to survive an encounter with a fact.

So it's the fundies, not necessarily the Catholics, that are horrified about evolution being taught to their children. There is always more room for debate in Catholicism than fundamentalist Christianity. When you have a black and white view of the world and believe that literal truth is contained in only one book (The Bible) then of course you wouldn't like science or evolution or reality. But The Green Knight gets to the point of the matter, similar to what Haught was arguing:

This is the theological sticking point. The question, if you think that God exists and that species have evolved over time, is whether God directs every step of the process or whether random variation is an integral part of the process, or possibly is the process as created by God.Frankly, the Green Knight doesn't understand why the idea of random variation in evolution should be such a challenging notion, even to someone who believes in an omnipotent God. After all, look at all the random events that happen all the time, every day. Why should one aspect of reality be singled out as a place where random events are just unthinkable? Just because an omnipotent God could micromanage everything in the universe doesn't necessarily mean She does. While claiming to represent the church's usual teachings, the Cardinal is inventing big chunks of theology on the fly.

God must be a blind watchmaker who created the world and let it evolve on its own. He/she/it is not up in some cloud heaven tinkering with the universe all day long. That concept is foolish at best.

Ok. I forgot where I was going with all of this. Oh yeah! Keep evolution in schools! But if you want to teach Creationism in the schools then you better teach every creation story from every culture possible: Babylonian, Buddhist, Chinese, Christian, Mormon, Greek, Hindu, Hopi, Inca, Mayan, Navajo, Zoroastrian . . .

Monday, July 11, 2005

Creationism special: A battle for science's soul

10:00 09 July 2005 news service (Registration Required)
Debora MacKenzie

ON 10 July 1925, a drama was played out in a small courtroom in a Tennessee town that touched off a far-reaching ideological battle. John Scopes, a schoolteacher, was found guilty of teaching evolution (see "The monkey trial - below"). Despite the verdict, Scopes, and the wider scientific project he sought to promote, seemed at the time to have been vindicated by the backlash in the urban press against his creationist opponents.

Yet 80 years on, creationist ideas have a powerful hold in the US, and science is still under attack. US Supreme Court decisions have made it impossible to teach divine creation as science in state-funded schools. But in response, creationists have invented "intelligent design", which they say is a scientific alternative to Darwinism (see "A sceptic's guide to intelligent design"). ID has already affected the way science is taught and perceived in schools, museums, zoos and national parks across the US.

In the US, Kansas has long been a focus of creationist activity. In 1999 creationists on the Kansas school board had all mention of evolution deleted from its state school standards. Their decision was reversed after conservative Christian board members were defeated in elections in 2002. But more elections brought a conservative majority in November 2004, and the standards are under threat again.

This time the creationists' proposals are "far more radical and much more dangerous", says Keith Miller of Kansas State University, a leading pro-evolution campaigner. "They redefine science itself to include non-natural or supernatural explanations for natural phenomena." The Kansas standards now state that science finds "natural" explanations for things. But conservatives on the board want that changed to "adequate". They also want to define evolution as being based on an atheistic religious viewpoint. "Then they can argue that intelligent design must be included as 'balance'," Miller says.

In January in Dover, Pennsylvania, 9th-grade biology students were read a statement from the school board that said state standards "require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence". Intelligent design, it went on, "is an explanation for the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view". Fifty donated copies of an ID textbook would be kept in each science classroom. Although ID was not formally taught, students were "encouraged to keep an open mind".

“Proposed school standards redefine science to include supernatural explanations for natural phenomena”
These moves are part of numerous recent efforts by fundamentalist Christians, emboldened by a permissive political climate, to discredit evolution. "As of January this year 18 pieces of legislation had been introduced in 13 states," says Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which helps oppose creationist campaigns. That is twice the typical number in recent years, and it stretched from Texas and South Carolina to Ohio and New York (see Map). The legislation seeks mainly to force the teaching of ID, or at least "evidence against evolution", in science classes.

The fight is being waged on other fronts as well. Scott counts 39 creationist "incidents" other than legislative efforts in 20 states so far this year. In June, for example, the august Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC allowed the showing of an ID film on its premises and with its unwitting endorsement. After an outcry, the endorsement was withdrawn - officials insisted that it was all a mistake, although the screening did go ahead (New Scientist, 11 June, p 4).

Also in June, a publicly funded zoo in Tulsa, Oklahoma, voted to install a display showing the six-day creation described in Genesis. The science museum in Fort Worth, Texas, decided in March not to show an IMAX film entitled Volcanoes of the Deep Sea after negative reaction to its acceptance of evolution from a trial audience. The museum changed its mind after press coverage evoked an outcry, but IMAX theatres elsewhere in the US have not screened science films with evolutionary content to avoid controversy. Since 2003 the bookstores at the Grand Canyon, part of the US National Park Service, have sold a young-Earth creationist book about the canyon, repeating the creationist assertion that it was formed by Noah's flood.

“Creationists depict evolutionists as a cultural elite, out of touch with American society”
Anti-Darwin campaigners have not won everywhere. A Georgia court ruled that stickers describing evolution as "theory not fact" must be removed from textbooks. A bill in Florida that might have allowed students to sue teachers "biased" towards evolution died. And Alaska rewrote its school science standards to emphasise evolution. But religious fundamentalists have succeeded in insinuating a general mistrust of evolution. "Creationists depict evolutionists as a cultural elite, out of touch with American society," says Kenneth Miller of Brown University in Rhode Island.

Creationism has had less cultural impact in Europe, but in the UK some state schools are incorporating it into science classes. The English education system allows private donors to invest in the refurbishment of state-funded schools in deprived areas, in return for controls over what is taught there. Emmanuel College at Gateshead in north-east England opened in 1990, financed by millionaire car dealer and Christian fundamentalist Peter Vardy. It teaches both evolution and creationism in science classes and, school officials say, lets children make up their own minds. Little notice was taken until 2002, when Vardy proposed opening more schools. A second opened last year in Middlesbrough, and a third will open near Doncaster in September.

Last September, Serbia briefly banned the teaching of evolution in schools. It changed its mind days later after scientists and even Serbian Orthodox bishops spoke out. There was also uproar over creationism in the Netherlands. The Dutch have several sects that teach creationism in their own schools. But in May, Cees Dekker, a physicist at the Delft University of Technology published a book on ID, and persuaded education minister Maria van der Hoeven that discussion of ID might promote dialogue between religious groups. She proposed a conference in autumn, but dropped the plan after an outcry from Dutch scientists.

In Turkey there is a strong creationist movement, sparked initially by contact with US creationists. Since 1999, when Turkish professors who taught evolution were harassed and threatened, there is no longer public opposition to creationism, which is all that is presented in school texts. In another Muslim country, Pakistan, evolution is no longer taught in universities.

“What is happening is a political effort to force a change in the nature of science itself”
Fundamentalist Christianity is also sweeping Africa and Latin America. Last year Brazilian scientists protested when Rio de Janeiro's education department started teaching creationism in religious education classes.

The fear among creationism's critics is that a pattern is emerging that will culminate in a new wave of creationist teaching. They are worried that this will undermine science education and science's place in society. "The politicisation of science has increased at all levels," says Miller. "What is happening is a political effort to force a change in the content and nature of science itself."

THE MONKEY TRIAL (from above)

In 1925, John Thomas Scopes was a 24-year-old physical education teacher at the secondary school in Dayton, Tennessee. He was put on trial after confessing to teaching evolution while acting as a substitute biology teacher - something Tennessee had recently made illegal. The so-called "monkey" trial became a media circus and struck a powerful chord in American society.

The reasons are still with us. Natural selection provides an explanation for the origins of living things, including humans, that depends entirely on the workings of natural laws. It says nothing about the existence, or otherwise, of God.

But to many believers in such a God, if humans are just another product of nature with no special status, then there is no need for morality. Worse, evolution with its dictum of survival of the fittest seems to encourage the unprincipled pursuit of selfishness. At the time of the Scopes trial these were not merely academic concerns. The first world war had convinced many of the brutalising effects of modernity.

Scopes lost. The newborn American Civil Liberties Union paid his $100 fine and planned to appeal to the US Supreme Court, where they hoped laws like Tennessee's would be declared illegal. They were thwarted when the verdict was overturned on a technicality.

In Dayton, though, it appeared that Darwin had won. The anti-evolutionists and rural, religious society generally had been held up to nationwide ridicule by the urban press covering the trial. As a result there were few overt efforts to pursue such legal attacks on evolution for decades.

But for some historians Scopes was no victory for Darwinism. The prosecutor, populist politician William Jennings Bryan, was seen as speaking for the "common people". Those people, repelled by an alien, arrogant, scientific world that seemed opposed to them and their values, developed a separate society increasingly bound to strict religious laws. Before the trial, evolution had not been an important issue for these people. Now it was. For many Americans, being in favour of evolution is still equated with being against God.

Debora MacKenzie

Thursday, June 30, 2005

On Religion

Last night we watched Morgan Spurlock's new television show 30 days. I typically hate reality shows but I found this show to be wildly entertaining and educational.

In this particular episode, a Christian man from West Virginia went to live in Dearborn, Michigan as a Muslim for 30 days. Dearborn has the highest population of Muslims in the United States, and has had some controversy about Muslim prayer calls broadcasted over loudspeakers throughout the city. This Christian man struggled as he was forced to live with a Muslim family, dress like a typical Muslim man, learn Arabic, and attend prayer services five times a day.

What struck me was the Christian man's reaction to having to pray in the Muslim prayer services. He felt as if he was betraying Jesus by praying to "the Muslim God". His narrow-minded view of religion got me thinking about religious conservatism in general. Religions don't have their own separate gods although they may claim that theirs is the one true God. There is only one god which various religions explain in their own culturally-sanctioned ways.

I don't pray that often, but when I do, I ask God for strength and a clear mind. To me, God is an energy source that is present throughout all creation. God is not white. God is not a man or a woman. God does not have gender. The problem with all organized religions is that it try to pin down the definition of God and say "we have the definitive answer and everyone else is wrong".

How can humans explain the divine in human terms? That is virtually impossible. We are bound by the limitations of human language. We can't even begin to express the layers of divine complexity that do or do not exist. To experience God (or whatever you want to call it) I prefer to look at a beautiful meadow, sunset, or ocean waves, as opposed to worshiping in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Devil's Music

Pope Benedict XVI's views on rock n' roll in 1985:

"Rock music seeks release through liberation from the personality and its
responsibility ... [it is] among the anarchic ideas of freedom which today
[1985] predominate more openly in the West than in the East. But that is
precisely why rock music is so completely antithetical to the Christian concept
of redemption and freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence music of this type
must be excluded from the Church on principle, and not merely for aesthetic
reasons, or because of restorative crankiness or historical inflexibility. Rock
music seeks release through liberation from the personality and its
responsibility ... [it is] among the anarchic ideas of freedom which today
[1985] predominate more openly in the West than in the East. But that is
precisely why rock music is so completely antithetical to the Christian concept
of redemption and freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence music of this type
must be excluded from the Church on principle, and not merely for aesthetic
reasons, or because of restorative crankiness or historical inflexibility."

Basically, rock music promotes anarchic freedom (the kind I like). The pope thinks freedom means strict obedience to God and Church. I guess I'll have to burn my Hotel California album. I never really liked the Eagles anyways.

Well, the pope's view of freedom is better than that of President Bush who thinks freedom means invading sovereign countries and killing non-Christians. I think Orwell described both Ratzinger's and Bush's views on freedom when he said Freedom is Slavery.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Santorum Blames Liberals for Priest Pedophilia

Good ol' Catholic Boy Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) just can't keep away from his obsession with sexual behavior. Two years ago he compared homosexuality to "man on dog" bestiality. Now he is delving into pedophilia--the holy kind.

Thanks to John at Blogenlust I learned of this story at Capital Buzz:

In an op-ed for Catholic Online, Rick Santorum writes that "When
the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no
excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic,
political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the

So Rick Santorum doesn't think that the people who committed these crimes are
to blame? Isn't that an affront to the victims? For some of Santorum's
other interesting insights, check out John Baer's column in the Philadelphia Daily News from last week.

Call Rick Santorum at 202-224-6324 and make him explain himself. Ask him why he thinks culture is more to blame for the sex abuses than the people who committed these crimes.

Santorum: Recipient of The Asshole of the Year Award

Of course it's not the fault of the priest who molests a young child. It's those damn liberals! Their amoral political and cultural views must have rubbed off on some priests prompting them to molest young children. If those liberals weren't around then the Catholic Church would have never experienced such a damning scandal.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Well, this is my first post here at Was Blind But Now I See. First I'd like to thank BlondeSense Liz for the opportunity to blog here. I mostly write about politics, media and war over at my main blog Agitprop. I occasionally touch on themes of religion and the culture wars, but this blog will give me a forum to direct all of my religion-themed posts for now on.

I attended twelve years of Catholic school, from first to twelfth grade during the 1980s and 1990s. Catholic schools are mostly filled with lay people and it seems all the nuns have disappeared. I only had one nun which was for sixth grade. But I remember her firecracker style and learned not to mess with an old lady and her yard stick.

I don't really practice my religion anymore and I don't attend Sunday mass. That doesn't mean I don't pray or communicate with God. I just have my own way of doing it and do not like institutional religion. But we'll get into all that personal faith stuff at a later point. My experience with Catholicism entitles me to write a bit about the Church and its deeds and/or misdeeds.

I have nothing against religion in general. My major grievance is when religion is used to support the agendas of ignorance, hatred, oppression and war. We've seen a lot of this nonsense lately as we have a proud fundamentalist Christian president who starts wars because God tells him to. I also have a problem with the Catholic Church as an institution. Not only is it a static dogmatic gentlemen's club, but it has promoted and committed some of the worst atrocities throughout history.

If one were to take Catholicism at face value, you would see an enormous theological tradition which promotes life, peace, brotherhood and social justice. All good stuff right? But the Church as an institution has never properly implemented this philosophy. They get hung up with the totalitarian aspects of the dogma like obedience, piety and guilt.

I guess my goal here is to focus on some of the good aspects of the Church as well as be my usual snarky and anarcho-cynical self when approaching this large topic.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

By John Rennie
Scientific American
June 18, 2002

Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.

Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage.

To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom.

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty--above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

"Survival of the fittest" is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction. That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In a pioneering study of finches on the Galápagos Islands, Peter R. Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild [see his article "Natural Selection and Darwin's Finches"; Scientific American, October 1991].

The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time--changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant's studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms--such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization--can drive profound changes in populations over time.

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries. For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not--and does not--find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too. If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.

It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents. Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.

Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent. In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist of the University of Washington surveyed thousands of journals in the primary literature, seeking articles on intelligent design or creation science. Among those hundreds of thousands of scientific reports, he found none. In the past two years, surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University have been similarly fruitless.

Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. Those papers, however, rarely attack evolution directly or advance creationist arguments; at best, they identify certain evolutionary problems as unsolved and difficult (which no one disputes). In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.

Evolutionary biologists passionately debate diverse topics: how speciation happens, the rates of evolutionary change, the ancestral relationships of birds and dinosaurs, whether Neandertals were a species apart from modern humans, and much more. These disputes are like those found in all other branches of science. Acceptance of evolution as a factual occurrence and a guiding principle is nonetheless universal in biology.

Unfortunately, dishonest creationists have shown a willingness to take scientists' comments out of context to exaggerate and distort the disagreements. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals--which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould's voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.

When confronted with a quotation from a scientific authority that seems to question evolution, insist on seeing the statement in context. Almost invariably, the attack on evolution will prove illusory.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.

The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, "If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?" New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct. The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth.

The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.

Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science's current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.

The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.

More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.

On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.

Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses.

Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism's DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features. Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species.

Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well. Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.

Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. The most widely used definition, Mayr's Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations--sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed). Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership.

Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection--for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits--and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.

Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs. A flock's worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found. A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition [see "The Mammals That Conquered the Seas," by Kate Wong; Scientific American, May]. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies. They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds--it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group. Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.

Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships. Geneticists speak of the "molecular clock" that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution.

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features--at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels--that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.

Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye's ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye's evolution--what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)

Today's intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different. They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution.

"Irreducible complexity" is the battle cry of Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. As a household example of irreducible complexity, Behe chooses the mousetrap--a machine that could not function if any of its pieces were missing and whose pieces have no value except as parts of the whole. What is true of the mousetrap, he says, is even truer of the bacterial flagellum, a whiplike cellular organelle used for propulsion that operates like an outboard motor. The proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. The possibility that this intricate array could have arisen through evolutionary modification is virtually nil, Behe argues, and that bespeaks intelligent design. He makes similar points about the blood's clotting mechanism and other molecular systems.

Yet evolutionary biologists have answers to these objections. First, there exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, so it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work. The sophisticated components of this flagellum all have precedents elsewhere in nature, as described by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and others. In fact, the entire flagellum assembly is extremely similar to an organelle that Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, uses to inject toxins into cells.

The key is that the flagellum's component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution. The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego. So some of the complexity that Behe calls proof of intelligent design is not irreducible at all.

Complexity of a different kind--"specified complexity"--is the cornerstone of the intelligent-design arguments of William A. Dembski of Baylor University in his books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch. Essentially his argument is that living things are complex in a way that undirected, random processes could never produce. The only logical conclusion, Dembski asserts, in an echo of Paley 200 years ago, is that some superhuman intelligence created and shaped life.

Dembski's argument contains several holes. It is wrong to insinuate that the field of explanations consists only of random processes or designing intelligences. Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. Some of the complexity seen in organisms may therefore emerge through natural phenomena that we as yet barely understand. But that is far different from saying that the complexity could not have arisen naturally.

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)

Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.

Link to original story

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Creation Stories

Below is the first of 2 creation accounts in the bible. The folks in Kansas believe that the bible trumps science because science can't be proven. Scientists believe that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old and the universe may be about 15 billion years old or so. Creationists have all sorts of theories but the mouthiest ones in the US are claiming that the earth and universe are about 6,000 years old. The earliest christian philosophers pondered creation and their views can be found here. Even these "flat earthers" surmised that it was pretty far fetched to take Genesis literally. I'm curious how they teach carbon dating in public schools in Kansas. Just in case you forgot, here is the first creation story with some notes.

Genesis 1

1 In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
(Scientists may disagree what "God" is but something made the universe happen.
2 the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
(the primordial ocean according to the ancient Semitic cosmogony.)

while a mighty wind
( literally, "a wind of God," or "a spirit of God")
swept over the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
(God doesn't make the sun until the fourth day. This could be metaphorical light.).

4 God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.
(Seems to be describing the rotation of the earth around the sun. The world at that time was thought to be flat and the center of the universe.)

5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." Thus evening came, and morning followed--the first day.
(In ancient Israel a day was considered to begin at sunset.)

6 Then God said, "Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other." And so it happened: 7 God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. 8 God called the dome "the sky." Evening came, and morning followed--the second day. (God doesn't say how good this is.)

9 Then God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear." And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. 10 God called the dry land "the earth," and the basin of the water he called "the sea." God saw how good it was. 11 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it." And so it happened: 12 the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. (The earth brings forth the vegetation because the sun hasn't been created yet. There is no photosynthesis. In the next creation story, Genesis 2, God creates the plants after the humans.) God saw how good it was. 13 Evening came, and morning followed--the third day.

14 Then God said: "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, 15 and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth." And so it happened: 16 God made the two great lights, the greater one (sun) to govern the day, and the lesser one (moon) to govern the night; and he made the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.19 Evening came, and morning followed--the fourth day.

20 Then God said, "Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures, and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky." And so it happened: 21 God created the great sea monsters and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems, and all kinds of winged birds. God saw how good it was, 22 and God blessed them, saying, "Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth." 23 Evening came, and morning followed--the fifth day.

24 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds." And so it happened: 25 God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was. 26 Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." 27 God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

29 God also said: "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; 30 and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food." And so it happened. 31 God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day.

Genesis Chapter 2

1 Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. 2 Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.

Below is the 2nd Creation Story in the Bible. It predates the first one.

Genesis 2:4-25
(This section is chiefly concerned with the creation of man. It is much older than the narrative of Genesis 1:1 -2:4a . Here God is depicted as creating man before the rest of his creatures, which are made for man's sake.)

4 Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. At the time when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-- 5 while as yet there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil, 6 but a stream was welling up out of the earth and was watering all the surface of the ground--

7 the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
God is portrayed as a potter molding man's body out of clay. There is a play on words in Hebrew between adam ("man") and adama ("ground"). Being: literally, "soul."

8 Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
Eden: used here as the name of a region in southern Mesopotamia; the term is derived from the Sumerian word eden, "fertile plain." A similar-sounding Hebrew word means "delight"; the garden in Eden could therefore be understood as the "garden of delight," so that, through the Greek version, it is now known also as "paradise," literally, a "pleasure park."

10 A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is excellent; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
Rises: in flood to overflow its banks. Beyond there: as one travels upstream. Branches: literally, "heads," i.e., upper courses. Eden is near the head of the Persian Gulf, where the Tigris and the Euphrates join with two other streams to form a single river. The land of Cush here and in Genesis 10:8 , is not Ethiopia (Nubia) as elsewhere, but the region of the Kassites east of Mesopotamia.

15 The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. 16 The LORD God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden 17 except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." 18 The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." 19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. 21 So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

22 The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, 23 the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."
There is a play on the similar-sounding Hebrew words ishsha ("woman") and ishah ("her man, her husband").

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
One body: literally "one flesh"; classical Hebrew has no specific word for "body." The sacred writer stresses the fact that conjugal union is willed by God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The USA Does Not Sustain A Culture Of Life. Here's Why...

Bush has declared that we Americans support a culture of life just like the Pope. Well we don't. The culture of life refers to a consistent ethic of life. The consistent ethic of life does not separate the abortion issue as the most important life issue nor the euthanasia issue. All the life issues go together. You can't value one life issue over another. The late great Cardinal Bernardin, a wonderful activist theologian made great inroads into the debate about the sanctity of life. The top scholars and theologians don't have a grading system.

One of the reasons you cannot separate abortion from the culture of life issue and why bush is completely out of line and off base when he says he's in with the catholics, is because you cannot sustain a society that values all life when your very society is the largest creator of nuclear weapons on the planet! Whether we like it or not, we must be very subconsciously afraid as a people. We are paranoid. We are the most paranoid nation in the world. We're more paranoid than the Cubans. We kill each other with guns more than anywhere else on earth, a vast number of people care more about their right to bear arms than just about anything else, we invade countries, we execute people on flimsy evidence, we have a sordid history of lynching, we systematically opress women, black and minorities... so it's only natural that we'd have a high abortion rate too. We simply don't value life in this country. You can't pick and choose which lives to value. It's not fair and it doesn't make sense.

What kind of culture of life do you have if people are working full time jobs and they are still poor and their kids aren't getting a proper education? Bush thinks it's cute that a mom has to work a couple of jobs to feed her family. How quaint. At least she didn't have an abortion. How come she can't support her family on one job in the greatest industrialized nation in the world?

We wonder why we have high crime rates and murder. Why work at McDonald's when you can make more money selling drugs? Sure it's risky, but at least you can afford some bling that you saw peddled on corporate TV. You didn't learn enough at your school to get a job anywhere else. Some want to force women to have unwanted babies but no one wants to see that that woman or that child sees a doctor. Once the baby is born, no one cares about it anymore. And isn't it strange that our great country has such a high infant mortality rate?

Pope John Paul II unlike george bush called upon scientists to work towards the promotion of life rather than the destruction of life. The USA is creating even more weapons of mass destruction right now. Who is bush planning to invade next? Why are the pharmaceutical companies making drugs to make men more virile? We have plenty of people being born. There is no reason to have 6 kids in this day and age. We don't need kids to milk the cows. The earth's population is about to explode, thank you very much. Why not try to take care of the ones who are already born? Why not take away the fear of the unknown and the fear of war and poverty so that women won't even have to think about abortion?

Why aren't they making drugs to make women less susceptible to breast cancer instead of war machines? War is more profitable I suppose. The breast cancer rate is 1 in 7 where I live. Why? No one knows why women are dropping like flies on Long Island. Luckily the men here can stay hard for hours thanks to modern medicine. But we are in the top 10 of overpriced real estate. One can barely afford to live here. Where are our priorities?

I am not at odds with the church's teaching about a consistent ethic of life at all except that I believe that people should learn how to avoid pregnancy in the first place because abortion shouldn't be used as birth control. In many instances that is a little baby being aborted, not just a clump of cells. It's traumatic for women too. So why not promote birth control, for goodness' sake! Other people's morality is not an issue right now when we are the killingest nation on earth. Who cares about morality when our country is producing nuclear weapons, raping and pillaging the land, depleting natural resources, melting glaciers, letting its own people starve or die because they couldn't afford to see a doctor even though they have a job, or they can't even afford to buy antibiotics because a healing dosage costs over $100, we're killing innocent people abroad, training poor or ignorant young men to do their dirty work and allowing our schools to fall behind the rest of the industrialized countries...

We have to work as a society to erase fear, to eliminate poverty and weapons while building a culture that truly values all people. Then and only then can any one claim without sounding ridiculous that America is a country that cares about human life.

Once humanity begins to regard the already born as worthy of dignity and human rights, there will be a marked change in the abortion rate. When differences are settled by negotiation rather than brute force, the regard for human life will change. When people put down their guns, the politics of fear, and the love of money, the culture of life will flourish. Until then, the killing will continue.

The worst part of it is that the conservatives have adopted the jargon for the culture of life when in fact it is the liberals who have always embraced the culture of life. Liberals are not pro-abortion. Being "pro-choice" is just about as pro-abortion as "Pro-life" is about pro-life when you vote republican.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

New Rules


The culture of life applies to all life.
If you claim to be christian then act like it. Especially in public

No more hypocrisy. You cannot be selective about whose life you want to defend. All life is sacred in a culture of life.

The culture of life also covers lives of those who are not Americans. That includes the lives of innocent people being killed and tortured by American and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The culture of life also includes the genocide in Darfur.

The culture of life means no wars. Only in the event that our country was literally invaded by another country should we resort to using combat and weapons.

The culture of life also includes birth mothers and children who are already born just as much, if not more so than embryos. This means that birth moms and already born children need healthcare, affordable housing, a living wage, decent schools and a life free from poverty. No one should be poor in a democracy. No one should be forced to be born and then live in abject poverty. It makes baby Jesus cry.

A culture of life does not tolerate the death penalty. Thou shall not kill. (If you are a christian, then you believe in divine justice.)

The culture of life includes proper education. Well educated people take better care of themselves and others. Consolidating school districts will see to it that those in poor communities have greater opportunities and a better chance to rise up from their poverty. Those who will rise out of poverty have less chance of becoming involved in criminal activities. Less criminals equals less jails and less tax money spent on judges, guards, etc.( Jesus would have wanted us to help those who live on the fringes of society plus we have the added bonus of being less likely to be mugged.)

The culture of life means feeding the poor. Poor kids should get free breakfast and lunch in the schools. Hungry kids can't learn. Hungry kids do not always seek to better themselves. Hungry kids may turn to a life of crime. Everyone pays for crime. A culture of life does not tolerate an obese nation where some people are going to bed hungry!

The culture of life also includes the after life. End tax cuts to the wealthy to save their souls. Their camels won't fit through the eye of the needle if we keep enabling them to amass more wealth. Baby Jesus cries every time a rich person takes another tax cut or finds another loop hole therefore not pulling his weight in society and furthering himself from everlasting life.

The culture of life means if you are going to pull out all the stops and drag out your Christ on the Cross statue then you had better know what it means to be christian or shut the hell up:

Matthew: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

UPDATE: Copy The Beatitudes and hand them out to your christian friends as well. Sometimes they all need a little reminder.

Cross posted at Blondesense