Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey Obama: Bush ALREADY Raised Our Taxes!

Hey, Senator Obama, here's a free "sound bite" for you.
McCain and Bush tell you they're cutting taxes, but instead, George Bush raised taxes more than any president in recent history. Trouble is, he's not taxing us, he's taxing our children and grandchildren.
Bush and McCain are like a guy who comes home with a big smile, and says, "Honey, I solved all our budget problems. Look at my new credit card! Now we can buy everything we need!" And when the wife raises a skeptical eyebrow, he says, "Don't worry, honey, this credit card is going to make me more productive, why, in five or ten years, you and I will be making so much money because of all the cool stuff this credit card will buy us, why, we'll pay it off, and be able to put a bunch of money in the bank!"

"But sweetheart," the wife replies, "maybe we should try just spend a little less. Maybe I could get a part-time job..."

"Nonsense! Earn and spend, stick to your budget ... I'm sick of that old, discredited liberal thinking."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Religion Virus: Atheist ethics, GUEST BLOG

Today I have the pleasure of bring you a guest blogger ... my son Leo (age 20) who has also contributed some comments to this blog. You know how it is: Teach your kids to think, and they start to argue with you ... Seriously, I'm pleased to present Leo's commentary on ethics.


Morals Without God?

I intend to make a compelling argument that morals can arise without the direct intervention of God. Because I was raised with open-mindedness, I cannot prove that they did arise without God, nor can I prove that He does not exist. Those beliefs are irrelevant to this explanation.

Let’s assume you believe that the earth is approximately six thousand years old. Consider this, if you looked at Adam 10 seconds after his creation you would have seen a man old enough to procreate. If you were a scientist, you would say “the earth is at least as old as that man.” And you would be wrong. If you looked at the vultures God created on the first day of their existence, undoubtedly you would have seen a few of them eat from dead animals. A scientist would say that because there are fully grown and dead animals, the earth has been here at least a few years. And again you would be wrong.

Now if God created a world that looked as if it has been here longer than it really has, why is it blasphemy to examine the evidence that is here before us? Didn’t God give us minds? And did he not give us a scientifically consistent reality to explore and understand. There is a wealth of evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and if this contradicts your believes then you need to accept that God made it look that way for a reason. To me it would seem that God has started us in motion as one would start a movie in the middle. Perhaps this was necessary to preserve certain principals of science so that we could study the world around us better.

Simply put, it is beneficial for us as a species to have morality. This assertion says that (if you can accept the aforementioned) without God, morality could arise as a survival trait. Help thy neighbor makes it so that in a time of crisis you may have aid from thy neighbor and vice versa. Here are some hypothetical classics from the world of game theory.

There is a village of ten people, they each have ten cows. The village only has one field which can support exactly 100 fully fed cows. If you add cows, they will all be smaller due to a lack of food. If one villager was to have an extra cow (now there are 101 cows on a field that supports 100 fully fed cows) all the cows would be underfed by approximately 1%. But that one villager would have 11 cows that are underfed by 1% as opposed to 10 fully fed cows. Now that villager has approximately the weight of 10.89 cows (11 cows each missing 1%.) Whereas the other villagers have the weight of 9.9 cows (99% times 10 cows) since each of their ten are now 1% lighter.

If all the villagers were to do this, they increase the risk that there cows will die. It is therefore in each person’s best interest to grow another cow. It is also in each person’s best interest for others not to. The best behavior for the good of the village is for people to think of others, and not themselves. If a species begins to do this, they can survive situations like this one. If they do not, some of them will have to die.

Imagine if you will that we created small robots that could replicate themselves. And we also made it so that some times one would make an “accidental” change to the next robots code (just one number in binary getting changed.) The majority of these changes would be either benign or harmful. But if we did it right, made enough of them, and could hang out for a few million generations, we might see different species of robot develop along many other interesting evolutions.

You do not need to believe in “real” species evolution to see that this is possible. In this hypothetical situation, it is plain as day that a robot species would be more likely to survive if they developed code that helped them to recognize their own species and help one another. Imagine a robot is interrupted while replicating, a good evolution would be one that tries again (we could call this parenting… something that not all animals have evolved to do.) The parenting bots might evolve a trait to be able to recognize their half finished replica… this may lead them to recognize one another. They might evolve to help one another find parts so that the parent didn’t have to leave the replica.

It is my opinion that philosophy and morality created modern religion, not the other way around. It maybe in our best interest to grow another cow but we do not. Either out of instinct or the intelligence to realize that we will cause others to behave the same way we do not. Now there are countless examples to the contrary, but examples to the contrary do not indicate that something is wrong. Only that it is not always right. I believe that it is not always in our best interest to help others, and sometimes people choose not to help when they really should.

My point is this:
In a system where evolution occurs (such as robots that replicate) moral behavior can arise as an evolution and would be beneficial to its host. (If you believe in God) He made it look as if evolution has been taking place for a long time, perhaps longer than the earth has really been here.

If you believe that we are all created by God then you might consider the possibility that He created morality in a very systematic way, much like He created sunsets with the color of oxygen and love with chemicals in our brains. I certainly have no proof that He doesn't stick a soul or morals, but it is my belief that they are an evolved trait. Anyone who feels otherwise still should have some respect for a belief which they cannot prove. The difference is that my belief is based on what is before us today and is not easily contested by learned people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Praying to Legalize Discrimination?

The bad news: Hundreds of pastors in California are calling on their congregations to help pass a ban on gay marriage in California.

The good news: Their main weapon is prayer!

(I'm breaking from my "ethics" series to bring you this breaking story...)

Prayer gives many people comfort and strength, and unlike many Atheists, I have no problem with people who pray in times of trouble. They see it as a connection to God, I see it as meditation, and drawing on their own inner strength. I wish people who get strength from prayer could give themselves more credit for their accomplishments, but if prayer is their way of drawing on that inner strength, what's wrong with that?

On the other hand, I'm offended when people pray for God to intervene, to take sides in our worldly affairs. The idea that God, the purported creator of the Universe, really cares whether the home team wins the football game, is ludicrous. Asking God for help in a war against a Muslim country on trumped-up charges of having weapons of mass destruction is so offensive it's hard to know where to begin.

But when hundreds of pastors advocate prayer as their main tool in a campaign to legalize discrimination against gay couples, I'll encourage them to pray, and pray, and pray some more! Do it all day and night, and since prayer has obviously been so effective in the past (you know, stopping hurricanes, quenching wildfires, starting wars, or was that ending wars?), it will surely work to legalize discrimination in California. Why, if you pray enough, maybe God Himself will come down and cast his vote in the November election!

By the way, those of you who abhor discrimination of all kinds, including against our gay family members and friends, should buy a pair of Levi's jeans today. The Levis company has donated $25,000 to help defeat this offensive amendment to our state constitution.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Religion Virus: Atheist ethics, part 2

In yesterday's blog, I discussed how many (most?) people reject facts just because they don't like them. People, even intelligent and well-educated, are willing and able to deny evidence that is plain and irrefutable, simply because it conflicts with their beliefs. I wanted to start there, because that single problem creates a huge gulf between Atheism and Faith that may be impossible to bridge.

Today, I want to talk about this:
The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion. – Arthur C. Clarke
Many, perhaps most, people in the world today actually believe that morality originated with God, that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) invented morality. These religions have asserted, quite explicitely, that morality is impossible without God:
On the other hand, the Church has ever affirmed that [morality and Theism] are essentially connected, and that apart from religion the observance of the moral law is impossible.– Catholic Encyclopedia
In other words, this is no joke, nor is it Atheists' inferiority complex.

Let's see if we have this right:
  • Jews, Christians and Muslims invented morality; and
  • Atheists not only have no morality, they can never be truly moral.
At this point, everyone probably expects me to start ranting about the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, the crusades, yada, yada, yada. These examples, which Atheists love to document ad infinitum, demonstrate pretty clearly that religion does not guarantee moral behavior. (And of course, Christians love to talk about Hitler, Stalin, and other purported Athiests who have commited equally great crimes. And they're right too.)

These examples merely illustrate that religious people and Atheists are flawed, that they don't live up to their own standards. That is, religious people and Atheists are human, nothing more, nothing less. It may be interesting to the historian, but to the philosopher it is almost irrelevant.

The Roman Catholic Church's assertion is much more profound that this. It's one thing to know the difference between good and evil, yet be lured into evil deeds. But the Roman Catholic Church, and in fact all Abrahamic religions, make a much deeper claim: They assert that Atheists can never be truly moral. They claim that any morality found in an Atheist is merely copycat morality, learned by example from being immersed in a Judeo-Christian or Islamic society.

So let's summarize from yesterday and today:
  • Religion rejects facts simply because they're unpleasant or disagree with religious axioms.
  • Religion claims that Atheists can't have true morals.
With this foundation, is it any wonder that discrimination against Atheists is rampant?

And one final thought: Notice that, for both of the points above, it is the religious people who are the problem. Most Atheists have nothing against religious beliefs per se, unless they're harmful or discriminatory (although scientific techniques may be put to work on beliefs that seem implausible or that violate the physical laws of the universe). And an Atheist would never claim that religious people can't be truly moral, that Atheists are inherently more moral than a person of faith. Yet this is the Roman Catholic Church's official position regarding Atheist morals.

Tomorrow: The true origin of morality.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Religion Virus: Atheist ethics, part 1

Is evolution wrong just because we don't like the facts it predicts? This is one of the most persuasive, yet deeply flawed, arguments that religious apologists use to convince the "faithful" that there must be a God.

In the bookstore's philosophy/religion section today, I encountered a book with a provocative title, something like "The Ten Worst Ideas in History." (The real title doesn't matter, I don't want to encourage anyone to buy it.) Among his "ten worst ideas" was Darwinism, and his reason for including it – get ready for this – is that it predicts that animals and humans will behave "immorally."

This is an embarassing error of philosophy, that facts can be rejected simply because we don't like them. And worse, this purported expert in philosophy, a man with an extensive education, doesn't see just how absurd this is. Not only the author, but his agent, his editor, the publisher who agreed to take on the book, the bookstores that decided to put it on their shelves, and the people who buy it.

One of of Darwin's most profound insights had nothing to do with evolution; it was about science itself:
A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone.
This simple sentence encapsulates one of the most profound aspects of the scientific method: We must be open to the truth, no matter how unpleasant, or how much at odds with our beliefs.

Darwin's "heart of stone" does not mean a scientist must be cold and cruel, nor indifferent to the results of his/her work. Rather, Darwin was referring to the process of discovering the truth; while we are investigating, experimenting, and hypothesizing, we must take on a mantle of impartiality. We must shed our desires and preconceived notions, and let the facts dictate the truth to us.

It is only after we discover the truth that we can shed our objectivity and consider the moral and ethical implications.

(This is not to say we should conduct unethical science! Don't confuse unethical or cruel behavior with an open mind. The truth can be discovered with ethical experiments and investigations. But we must not let our ethics bias our discovery of truth.)

The author of this "Ten Worst Ideas" book is a scientific and philosophical illiterate. He completely rejects the most basic principles that were responsible for lifting humanity from our hunter-gatherer roots to modern civilization. The author started from a conclusion (that humans were inherently moral and good, presumably because God made us that way, and can be again), and asserts that it is "fact." With this "axiom," he can easily "prove" that Darwinism is inherently flawed, since Darwinism predicts that things like parasitism, racism, infanticide and other unpleasant behaviors are natural.

This, I believe, is one of the worst symptoms of the anti-science attitudes so prevalent today around the world. The people who buy these books are the same ones fighting to inject creationist drivel into our science curriculum, which will only increase the ignorance of true science.

An atheist is inherently better able to do science, because the atheist has no religion that s/he has to reconcile with the facts. The facts can speak for themselves.

Similarly, an Atheist's morals can be derived from natural principles, based on kindness, making the world a better place, and minimizing suffering. Atheists aren't saddled with "truths" that were dictated two thousand years ago by priests with a political agenda, by fictional beliefs about the human soul, by antiquated dietary laws, or by guilt-laden sexuality.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jumpy People are Religious?

Here's something weird, and interesting: Jumpy people, those who are easily startled, are much more likely to be politically conservative! And since political conservatives tend to be religious conservatives, it's probably true that people who are easily startled are more religious, too.

Many have claimed there's a genetic factor to religion, maybe this is a symptom? Those who are easily frightened may be more inclined to look for supernatural explanations? I don't know, it's just interesting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Pope's absurd position on euthanasia

At Lourdes, France, this week, Pope Benedict XVI told ailing pilgrims that we must accept death at the hour chosen by God! Wow, that's heavy. Let's see, that means I have to stop taking medicine, stop getting my broken bones mended, stop getting stitched up, no more vaccines ... I mean, if God intended for me to live, he wouldn't have let me get sick or injured in the first place! Right?

Then I figured it out! What a dummy I've been! His Holiness didn't REALLY mean accept death at "the hour chosen by God."

When life is good and God tries to kill us, we're supposed to RESIST His will. Vaccines? God tried to kill my kids with measles, mumps, whooping cough ... gosh, uncountable illnesses, but I foiled God's plan and got vaccines! Antibiotics? God apparently wanted my three children to be deaf, but I showed Him! Those antibiotics foiled God's will, and all three are fine musicians now, two of them professionals, with perfect hearing. So there, God! Broken bones? God put some ice on a sidewalk and made my son slip and break his wrist, but by golly I had it fixed anyway! Take that, God!

So as long as we're happy, and life is good, the Pope wants us to thwart God's will. But, when we're at the end, when there's no hope, and we're incontinent, in pain, all human dignity has evaporated, and all that's left is more suffering, followed by death, THEN we have to bow to God's will. I get it now!

So, what the Pope is telling us is we get to fight God most of the way, but in the end, God wins, and we have to suffer miserably and die without dignity. That makes sense to me!

Thanks, your Holiness, for clarifying that! I sure was confused.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin: Pentacostal yet Supports Cruelty to Animals

I'm a pretty aloof, intellectual guy when I write these blogs, but tonight I was nearly in tears watching a horrifying video of Arctic wolves, writhing in agony after being shot in the gut from by a hunter in a helicopter. This horrifying cruelty is not only condoned by Sarah Palin, she worked hard to exploit and expand a loophole in the Federal Airborne Hunting Act so that more of this barbaric, inhumane, and immoral hunting could take place in Alaska.

Warning: This is not for the feint of heart. This video is real footage of wolves being hunted, shot, and dying a slow, agonizing, bloody and horrifying death. All civilized humans should be shocked by this practice. It doesn't take religion to see that this is inexcusable barbarism.

Take a look at your family dog. Go into the kitchen, grab a twelve-inch butcher knife, and stab your dog through the gut. Now get some really loud frightening machine and chase your family pet with it, out the door and down the street, away from his home and family, leaving a trail of blood. Watch it writhe in pain, as its guts are torn apart, fear and confusion in its eyes, until it finally, mercifully, dies from blood loss.

This is not some sick creation from a horror film. This is reality, people. This is what our Pentacostal candidate, Sarah Palin, stands for. Your dog is no different than the thousands upon thousands of wolves and bears that are shot for sport, with Sarah Palin's blessing and help, every year.

Humans are the most humane carnivores on the planet. Although our livestock industry is often criticized for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, we do one thing right: We kill our animals instantly. Most prey animals suffer an agonizing death in the teeth and claws of their captors. Have you ever stepped on a nail? Gotten a twelve-inch slice with a razor? Had your skull crushed? Your neck broken? That's what carnivores do. By contrast, most livestock raised by humans is killed with little or no pain. Their tiny "souls" are just snuffed out in an instant, before the pain signals can even reach their brains.

There was a time when humans were just another carnivore, albeit one made more efficient by tools and weapons. But as we became civilized, the need to inflict tortuous pain on an animal so that we could eat became a thing of the past. We learned how to raise domestic animals, and how to slaughter them humanely, quickly and painlessly. We also made moral and ethical advances, and recognized that unnecessary suffering by our livestock was wrong. We have laws that are for the most part enforced, to that ensure humane killing methods are followed; when occasionally a slaughterhouse is found violating these laws, and making the animals suffer, there is widespread, justified outrage.

Yet, we still put up with hunting, and helicopter hunting is among the most brutal forms. A hunter on the ground can get a clear shot and a "clean" death, meaning the animal only suffers pain and agony for a short time. A helicopter hunter, in a moving platform, blasts away until he inflicts an agonizing, crippling injury on the animal, then the pilot chases the animal until its collapses from exhaustion, at which point the helicopter lands, and the hunter finally puts and end to the torture by shooting the animal at point-blank range.

It's disgusting. Why does it take an Atheist to point this out?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religion is INCOMPATIBLE with Science

Fundamentalism threatens to return America to third-world country status, to make us a third-rate also-ran. If Christian fundamentalists have their way, in fifty years, China and Europe will be the world's centers of scientific leadership and economic power, and America will be the country that once was great. And by "fundamentalism," I don't mean the American stereotype of some Iraqi waving a rusty old musket, I'm talking about the ultra-right American Christians, who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Science is the opposite of fundamentalism. How can a scientist go to work in the morning, have an open, inquisitive, logical mind all day long, and then go home at the end of the day to then study a religion that contradicts facts s/he knows to be true? Hold beliefs that are plainly wrong? It's impossible. Those who choose a fundamentalist faith cannot be scientists, and those who choose science cannot be fundamentalists.

(Before any of you jump in with Francis Collins' book, The Language of God, don't waste your time. Collins is an embarrassment to scientists everywhere. He may be an expert geneticist, but as a philosopher he'd be sent back to kindergarten. It's a disgrace.)

Fundamentalism wouldn't be a problem if it stayed in the corner, away from politics, where it belongs. As long as fundamentalist ideas are kept away from our schools, and our national public policy, they're harmless. But the fundamentalist religions also have a meme that says, "Spread me!" They don't have a live-and-let-live policy; rather, fundamentalist Christians (and Muslims, but in America it's the Christians that count) believe that we all have to adopt their religions. They want their beliefs to control our society and be enshrined in our laws.

And that's what is starting to drive us back to the dark ages. Religion has been making more and more inroads into American politics, and one of their success stories is that they've severely damaged the science curriculum in American schools. I've been stunned at the ignorance of some of my children's college-age friends in basic scientific principles, stuff that was taught to all kids of my generation.

Fundamentalism begins by teaching anti-rationalism. At an early age, the children of fundamentalists are taught to reject logic, to accept a vast mythology on faith alone, and to ignore glaring flaws and contradictions. Whenever faith contradicts facts, children are told to that faith wins, that they must ignore the evidence that is plainly before their eyes. When the faith contradicts itself (like, why are there two conflicting versions of Genesis??), they are told that their faith isn't strong enough yet.

If they want to believe that stuff, fine. But when they start damaging our schools, and interfering with our public policy, that's where the danger starts.

Today we live in a wonderful world of engineering marvels and medical "miracles." I'm 54 years old, an age that in a Shakespeare play was called an old man, yet I take a vigorous march up the mountain by my home 4-5 times every week. My neighbor drives a gas/electric hybrid car. Yesterday I read about a private company testing a rocket engine for space flight. The CERN Large-Hadron Collider, a true marvel of science, was fired for the first time a couple days ago.

Not one of these marvels could have been invented in a fundamentalist society.

I like living in an America that leads the world in technology and invention. I've devoted my career to science and medicine. It would be a shame if, in fifty years, the America that my grandchildren will inherit is a third-world country, made so by Christian fundamentalists who deny science, and forced their mythology on the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Atheists: Teach the Children

vjack over at Atheist Revolution wrote an excellent challenge that we should all heed: Be an Atheist Activist in 30 Minutes a Week. If you care about the world you live in, I hope you'll read it and take it to heart.

But, I would add my own suggestion to his: Focus on children.

This is one of the best "tricks" that The Religion Virus has evolved in its arsenal of memes. In virtually every major religion in the world, religious training starts almost in infancy, as soon as a child learns to speak. Most religions advocate immersion of the child in a religious culture, such that religion permeates school, home, work, and even play.

And with good reason: Religions that have evolved this teach-our-children-young idea are immensely more successful than those that don't. Children's minds are highly evolved to soak up information, to take in all the lessons possible from their parents, because human survival relies on our incredible ability to pass vast amounts of information to our children via language. If a religion misses the opportunity of youth, it usually will miss completely.

This is borne out by the facts: Most children follow the religion of their parents, or one very closely related to it. It is rare for, say, a Jew to become a Baptist, or a Muslim to become a Hindu. If religion were truly a rational, logical choice that people made, based on an objective analysis of each religion's teachings, then one would expect that Christians would have Muslim children, Jews would have Baptist children, and Atheists would have Hindu children. But this rarely happens. Teaching religion to children is one of the most important memes in the arsenal of every major religion.

We Atheists need to adopt this same meme. Over and over, I see bloggers and authors (including me!) aiming their blogs and books at adults. But adults rarely change their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their religion is without factual foundation and full of contradictions. When we argue with them, we're mostly wasting our time.

It's the children that are important. "Give me the boy, and I'll give you the man," is the famous quote by St. Ignatius, way back in the sixteenth century, and is more true today than when he said it.

Religions know this, apparently far better than atheists. What is the biggest battle they're fighting in America today? To keep secular teaching away from their children (and yours). Religious parents of all faiths know all too well that if their children are exposed to modern science, accurate history lessons, psychology and sociology, the child is far more likely to become a deist, agnostic or atheist.

Atheist activists need to adopt this same meme. Children must be shown, beginning as early as possible, that the world is not a mysterious, magical place full of angels and demons, with a voyeuristic god that watches your every move, but rather is a wonderful result of physical processes that are well understood. Children need to be taught the beauty of physics, the "magic" of chemistry, the vastness of the universe, and the wonderful insights of psychology and sociology.

Children also need to learn about natural ethics. They need to know there is a real philosophical foundation for humanist morals, rather than some god who merely dictates obsolete, contradictory and even horrifying laws that we're expected to obey without question.

So, take vjack's advice: Become an activist for thirty minutes a day. But focus your efforts on our children, where the future lies. Redouble your efforts to fight the teaching of creationism in school. Write letters to your newspaper in support of a modern science curriculum. When you talk to your children's friends, don't be afraid to tell them you're an atheist, in a frank and matter-of-fact manner, and be ready to answer their questions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin: The REAL Bush Clone

I try to keep this blog about religion and atheism, but this morning's news was just too much.

SARAH PALIN, not John McCain, is the Bush clone. A New York Times article has a subtitle that says it all: "Palin's sharp elbows transformed town."

The article documents how Palin turned Wasilla, a congenial small Alaskan town, into a divided community. When she arrived, the town was run by cooperation and consensus; by the time she left, her "polarizing single-mindedness" had split the town in two.

It began with the election itself, which Palin won by introducing irrelevant, polarizing, national issues into small-town politics. Abortion rights, her ultra-conservative religious views, her membership in the National Rifle Association – all of these things played a big role in her campaign, even though they are virtually meaningless when it comes to running a town of 9,000 people. "We will have our first Christian mayor," became a rallying cry for her supporters.

Personally, I just can't see how being a Christian has much to do with whether to approve a new Target store, or which streets should be paved, or whether the teachers should get a raise. And it's hard to imagine how her membership in the NRA would help, either. But help it did, to get her elected, that is.

Once elected, the fun really started. The town had been run by a non-partisan, professional city manager, but Palin turned it into an us-versus-them polarized city. She demanded the resignations from city employees who had supported her opponent in the election, something unheard of in the small town. The public works director, the police chief, the city planner, even the museum director! All were fired.

Then the real bombshell: Palin ordered that nobody was to talk to the media without Palin's permission.

Does any of this sound familiar? Palin is the real Bush/Cheney clone, not McCain. Palin's record for dividing her constituency, and for being secretive and controlling, would make Bush proud. McCain has a lot to learn from Sarah Palin if he's going to fill George Bush's shoes!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Abraham was a Pagan?

Were the Jews actually pagans?

I was watching an old TV rerun of The Bible the other day, and my eyelids started to get heavy. Suddenly, I was shocked to find I'd been transported back in time, four thousand years, to the very village of Abraham and Sarah. What an opportunity, to meet the patriarch of all Western religion! I was so excited. Not only is Abraham the spiritual father of all Muslims, Christians and Jews, but Abraham and Sarah got to personally meet God. And there was Abraham, right in front of me! I was so full of questions, I hardly knew where to start.

"You must have been overwhelmed in the glow of God's love and kindness!"

"Actually, he was pretty harsh," said Abraham, stroking his beard. "You know, you have to be pretty careful what you say when He is around. He's got quite a temper."

"A temper? But He is a forgiving, loving God!"

Abraham gave a chuckle. "Who told you that, son? You should see what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah! And that business telling me I had to sacrifice my son, and only stopping me at the last second? That wasn't much fun."

"No, I suppose not. But he is God Almighty, and who are we to question His reasons, right?"

"Almighty?" Abraham looked a bit perplexed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know, He is the one and only God, He created the universe, and His infinite wisdom and ways are sometimes too mysterious for us poor humans to understand."

Abraham looked at me like maybe I was crazy. "Are you sure we're talking about the same Lord?"

"Of course!" I replied. "You are Abraham, right?"

"That's me. But my Lord never said anything to me about being almighty, or really smart. I mean, he couldn't even find Adam and Even in the Garden when they hid from Him! Did He tell you He was almighty?"

"No, but everyone knows it!"

"Well, son, it's news to me. Around here our Lord helps us with wars and such. He's pretty good at a raining down burning sulfur, confusing our enemies, spreading plagues, you know, stuff like that. But that's about it."

"But, wait!" I was confused. "Doesn't he help you with all of your prayers?"

By now, Abraham seemed to be pretty convinced I was loony, but he was my host and kept humoring me. "Actually, that's a bit of a problem. Our Lord is pretty jealous, and he doesn't want us worshipping the other gods. But that's kind of tricky. I mean, what are we supposed to do when we need some rain?"

"Pray to the Lord, of course!"

"And what good would that do? The rain is one of the other god's jobs."

"Other gods?" I was shocked. "You mean, you worship other gods?"

"No! A deal is a deal. But that's the problem. We have all sorts of gods who could help us. Sometimes we need rain, fertility, love, all sorts of things. But our Lord put us on the straight and narrow. I made a covenant with Him - we're to pray only to our Lord, and ignore the other gods. In return, he's going to take good care of us. But it's hard, we've been worshipping those other gods for so long..." He looked kind of wistful.

"But ..." I didn't quite know what to say. This was shocking! Could Abraham be a polytheist? I had to ask. "You don't believe in those other gods, do you? I mean, they're false gods!"

"Who told you that? Of course we believe in them! They've protected and helped us for time immemorial! That's why it's been hard for me to get my people to worship only the Lord. They just can't see how our Lord, the God of Armies, can help us with all the other things we need. A lot of my people are afraid that if we stop worshipping the other gods, they'll take vengeance on us. But I'm in charge here, and I told everyone in no uncertain terms to toe the line. Our Lord made a deal, and He is going to keep it, so we'll keep our part too."

By this time, I was practically dizzy with confusion, and the sky began to spin. I suddenly woke up, saw George C. Scott on the TV, and realized it was all a dream. But ... what about all that stuff Abraham said in my dream? I guess the Israelites really were pagans!

It makes sense, I guess. Why would they have to swear their loyalty to Yahweh, if he was the only guy in town?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Greenland Ice Cores: Let's See Creationists Explain This One!

Ice cores drilled from Greenland's glaciers provide amazing, direct, obvious, and seemingly irrefutable evidence that Creationists are just plain wrong. It's one of the coolest, and simplest, bits of evidence I've ever seen, and it utterly refutes Creationist's claims. It's hard to imagine a Creationist explanation of Greenland's ice cores that isn't an obvious farce.

Each year, a new layer of snow falls on Greenland, and the weight of the upper layers slowly compresses the lower layers into dense snow, hard-pack, and finally at a depth of 50 to 150 meters, into solid ice. These layers of ice are like a tree's rings, one layer per year. And here's the good part: The Greenland ice sheet is 2,000 to 3,000 meters thick and records almost 110,000 years of snowfall!

If that isn't enough, the first 12,000 years are visible to the naked eye, and beyond 12,000 years the annual layers are easily detectable by analytical tests.

GISP2 ice core at 1837 meters depth with clearly visible annual layers.
(From Wikipedia: Ice Core)

Not convinced yet? It gets even better. Humanity's written history goes back a few thousand years, and records events like volcanic eruptions, dust storms and big climate changes. These events are captured in the ice as dust, pollen, and changes in oxygen isotope ratios (which are proportional to global temperatures). When we compare the story told by the ice, it matches our historical records exactly. In other words, there is independent proof that the Greenland ice sheet accurately records the Earth's history for thousands of years.

STILL not convinced? Well consider this: The only way the ice sheet's record could be interrupted is by gaps, not by insertions. You could imagine, for example, that a really warm summer melted a bunch of the snow, erasing the top layers. But if that happened, the bottom layers would be older, not younger, that an ice sheet without gaps.

And one last nail in the coffin of a Creationist explanation: Greenland's ice cores match Antarctica exactly. If you want to explain the layers as some sort of weird weather or catastrophic event, you have to claim that the exact same event happened in two places, almost half way around the world from each other, at the exact same times, over and over again to create 110,000 layers of ice that exactly match.

Ok, creationists, how do you explain 110,000 years of ice accumulation in Greenland?

Sarah Palin's 17-year-old Daughter Pregnant???

It's hard to know what to say about this announcement... Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant!