Thursday, January 28, 2010

US Grants Asylum to ... Germans? For Home Schooling?

Political persecution is an awful thing, a sign of a corrupt government that can't stand on its own two feet, and has to kill or torture its critics rather than foster democracy. That's why the United States, and all civilized democracies, have a long and honorable tradition of granting asylum to victims of persecution.

It seems that in Tennessee, teaching science also qualifies, along side torture and murder, and the German Government is guilty of this awful crime!

A German family was granted political asylum in the United States, justified because of political "persecution" by the German government. This persecution consisted of nothing more than the government teaching science and history, things that every child should know.

It's a double insult: the asylum process, which was designed to foster open democracies, dialog and to spread knowledge, is now being used to prevent children from learning. How sad.

This is a recurring theme in conservative religions. People who believe in impossible things, like creationism, have to shun honest dialog and real knowledge, because with real knowledge, their beliefs don't hold up. Again and again, I find myself writing on this topic, but it seems to be a never-ending story. In Saudi Arabia, a university is censored. In Texas (and many other states), Christians try to suppress real science. And fundamentalists actively claim that rational thinking is misguided.

This German family has fallen victim to one of religions oldest memes, which teaches its victims to shun learning. It's ironic, that religions are, in a sense, doing the same thing as corrupt governments: They stifle dissent, and block real learning.

The Tennessee judge who granted asylum to these Germans is almost certainly a fundamentalist Christian, and has mixed his religion with the law. I hope his decision is appealed and overturned. It sets a dangerous precedent for American science, and trivializes the whole idea of political asylum, which should be reserved for real political dissidents who are in genuine danger.

Burqas: When Human Rights and Religion Collide

How do you feel about the proposed ban on full veils (burqas) for women in France?

I confess I have mixed feelings. Sex and religion are the two most controversial topics in the world, and when they mix, it's always an explosive topic. When you throw in the oppression of a minority (which seems to get mixed up with religion anyway), it's like dropping a match into the mix.

Years ago, my youngest son had a school teacher who wore Muslim garb and kept her head covered. Not a veil, but still she was covered from head to foot all the time. I found it sad. She was an African American, so was very likely a convert from a Christian upbringing, and I respect the fact that many African Americans are turning away from Christianity since it is so strongly associated with slavery in America. Yet, I found it sad that this woman, who represented two of the most oppressed minorities in America, would voluntarily wear clothing that represents the oppression of women.

On the one hand, I subscribe to the ideal set forth in our Constitution, that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. I've written about separation of church and state many times. France has similar laws, but theirs have provisions for public safety, and those provisions are being used to justify the proposed ban on burqas.

On the other hand ... The burqa came from a culture that oppresses and degrades women, where women are treated as property. It is supposed to allow for modesty, and the claim is that modern women wear it voluntarily. But I don't buy that argument.

I believe the truth is that most women who wear a burqa are under the control of a strict man (at best), or possibly in an abusive relationship. These women are not modest, they're property.

And on top of the religious and sexual aspects of the burqa, there is the issue of public safety. We humans are extremely good at detecting threatening or abnormal behavior simply by looking at one another. The burqa can easily become a terrorist tool, where women, or even men, load themselves with bombs, then mask their faces so that nobody can see that they're nervous (or that the person is really a man).

I don't see any clear answer to this one. If the world were a simpler place, with less violence, the freedom to wear a burqa would be no problem. But the reality is far more complex.

Here's one more link in closing, an imam in Paris who agrees with the ban.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boycott Mel Gibson

As if to top his own worst moment, Mel Gibson (or is that Gibbon? No, monkeys have more dignity...) is being a jerk again. It's time for everyone to boycott Mel Gibson, particularly his new film (The Edge of Darkness) coming out this week. It's time to send a message to the money people in Hollywood, to tell them that hate speech, hypocrisy and discrimination are bad business, that these actions have consequences, and that decent people of all religions or no religion won't tolerate Gibson's behavior.

He's been a jerk before, and now the trend continues. In a disgusting interview (here's the video), he won't even take responsibility for his own actions. As the reporter says, Gibson has never actually apologized in a meaningful way for his anti-Semitic remarks, and his weird religious views, combined with his hypocrisy, are offensive to just about everyone.

We all make mistakes, but the true test of a moral person is admitting it, and trying to make it right. I'd actually have more respect for him if he just came out and said he hates Jews. By worming away from these accusations (but note the failure to deny them, which speaks louder than words...), Gibson not only looks guilty of anti-Semitism, but also looks like a weasely coward.

There are lots of other good movies. Go see Avatar again! But skip Gibson's new one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Morality: Stirring up the Catholic News

Apparently I've graduated into the ranks of real bloggers. We start off talking to ourselves, then we slowly build an audience, then we get a modest readership, a few people answer us. But we keep slogging away, wondering if the day will ever come that we have an actual impact on anything. Well, last Tuesday was apparently my day.

I responded to a Catholic blogger, Matt Archbold, who wrote a snide and condescending blog about atheists in the nation's oldest Catholic newspaper. He criticized atheists for forming their own Haitian charity, claiming atheists have no real morals and are just trying to emulate Christians.

Normally Mr. Archbold gets a dozen or so comments, and almost all are from Catholics and other Christians. But last Tuesday, he was inundated by comments from other atheist readers as outraged as I was, and it appears these were mostly my readers.

I was also very pleased at the lively debate that broke out between the few Christians who normally respond to Mr. Archbold's blogs and the atheists. There was some great stuff there, from the origins of morality to the circularity of arguments for God's existence. And it wasn't the flame war, name-calling fest that you sometimes see – these were good, solid debates.

I doubt we converted any Christians last week, but you never know. For every Christian who wrote, there were probably 100 who were just readers. A lot of Christians are normally insulated from honest debate, only exposed to the dogma of their own religion. But last week, they got a dose of real debate, a glimpse of honest, rational thinking rather than appeals to their faith, fears and desires.

Maybe it made no difference, but maybe it did. Maybe there's one more person out there today who is reading non-Christian philosophy for the first time.

And that's why I'm here. Not necessarily to convert religious people, but to at least ask them to think about religion, to ask questions, and to understand that there are two sides to every question.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is America Too Nice for Christianity to Survive?

Are you a positive person, or a negative person? Is your life full of joy, or misery? Are you mostly happy, or mostly sad?

I happen to have a pretty good life, and since you own a computer and have time to read blogs like this, you probably do too. Sure, I have a few troubles, but I have food to eat, a roof over my head, and my family and friends do too. Life is good!

So if you're a happy person, why would you adopt a negative religion, one that preys on people's misery?

I re-read the short blog I wrote about the "GOD IS" posters that Christians are putting on New York subways, and was startled by the ad's contents. Pure negativity. The GOD IS campaign is nothing more than an appeal to our misery. And I wondered, is this what Christianity is? Is this why Christianity is slowly dying?

If this is the best Christianity has to offer the subway riders of New York City, then Christianity is in deep trouble. Take a good look at what's actually on those ads that the Christians are placing on the subways:
God is there when no one else is
God is husband to the widow
God is the one with your answers
God is aware of your struggle
God is the one who loves you
God is able to protect
God is willing to help
God is a good listener
God is a father
God is able to protect
What disheartening negativity! Is everyone really so miserable?

I don't know about you, but none of these thing appeal to me. Sure there are bills to pay, but a struggle? Hardly. And God has answers? To what? God is willing to help? I'm doing pretty well on my own, thanks. God is a good listener? Yeah, but so far I've gotten pretty good advice from family therapists when loved ones died or I had family problems.

The Christianity memeplex, that complex web of ideas and sayings, evolved during a time in humanity's history when most people were, in fact, pretty miserable. Half of our children died, mothers died in childbirth, sickness, disease, and hunger were rampant. In good years there was plenty, and in bad years everyone starved.

Against this backdrop, when people were miserable, Christianity probably looked like a pretty good answer. Life sucks now? Just hang in there, worship Jesus and Yahweh, and in a few years when you die, life will be unimaginably good. All of your babies and children who died? They're up there, waiting to greet you when you die.

This is what the memetic approach to religion is all about: Understanding why people want to believe things, how these religious memes became so incredibly powerful. These are ideas that had over 2000 years to evolve, adapted, and they became incredibly appealing.

Ideas evolve, survive and are passed on because people want to believe them. Truth only becomes a factor when the majority of people can tell that an idea is impossible. And if you're miserable, these Christianity memes are pretty darned appealing.

Unfortunately for Christianity, the ecosphere is changing. The environment in which it evolved was harsh, and these negative ideas were well adapted to that environment. But as life gets better, these memes find themselves in an unfriendly new place.

Christianity evolved these "negativity memes" – the promise that God will help you out of your misery – during a time when people were truly miserable, and needed something to give them hope. But, while there is plenty of sorrow left in the world, many of us today no longer lead lives of misery. Life is good, and the Christian memeplex of misery is no longer relevant.

That is why Christianity is inexorably disappearing in the developed world. Places like Germany, France and England, where most people are healthy and prosperous, have very high rates of atheism, in some cases over 50%, and Christianity is falling to stunning lows.

The Christians need to reevaluate their memeplex if they want to survive. The "GOD IS..." campaign is straight out of the past, and just doesn't have the appeal it used to. Life is too good in America for Christianity to survive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pat Robertson on Haiti: Bad Theology Too!

I thought I was done with Pat Robertson, but I found this, and it's so good I just have to share it. It's a letter to the editor (the actual author is Lily Coyle of Minneapolis). Enjoy!
Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating.

I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle.

Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox – that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it – I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings – just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan
What can I say? The author says it all. Not only is Pat Robertson mean spirited and ignorant of science, he also doesn't even know his theology. Who would have guessed?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catholics Nasty about Atheist Haitian Charity

Update: (1:17 PM Pacific Time) After a firestorm of criticism, Mr. Archbold has cut off comments to his blog and deleted most of the replies, including my first comment, which you can still find below.

Update 2 I received an email from the NCR's editor explaining that the comments were cut off automatically because there were too many, as an automatic anti-spam block. They adjusted their database and restored the deleted comments.

Matthew Archbold over at the New Catholic Register wrote a snide and offensive blog this morning, criticizing Richard Dawkins and all atheists for setting up a atheist/humanist charity to help Haitian earthquake victims. If this were some random blogger, I'd pay it no mind. But this is the oldest Catholic newspaper in the United States. In a nutshell, Archbold claims:
  • Dawkins is ... intent on proving that atheists can be as good as Christians.
  • [Atheists are] desperate to prove that they’re as good (and usually better) than us religious types.
  • Dawkins is only proving that he can be good without acknowledging God.
  • Atheists can't define good and evil, and are only borrowing from Christianity.
And Archbold closes with this:
But we’re glad for the help anyway. Thanks.
Got that? We're glad for the help. We. The Catholics and Christians are in charge here! I guess God, after causing this earthquake that may have killed upwards of 200,000 people, has assigned the Roman Catholic Church to fix the mess that He created. And we atheists are welcome to help out a little if we like. This is offensive in the extreme.

Here's what I wrote on Archbold's blog comments:
First, each and every one of your claims has been resoundingly refuted long ago, by Mr. Dawkins himself and many others. You should take the time to research the target of your essays before you publish them. Second, in this crisis, I applaud EVERY organization, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or any other faith, that helps. The last thing we should be doing is criticizing one another’s charities. And third, would you give your donation through a Muslim organization if none other were available? I doubt it. Why do you think an atheist would want to sponsor the Catholic Church’s efforts? We could go into all of the problems suffered by the Church over the last few decades, and illustrate why an atheist might not want to donate, but that would be counterproductive to the real cause: Getting help to Haiti. Shame on you for posting this snide essay. You should instead be encouraging any and all of your fellow humans who want to help.
Mr. Archbold owes everyone, not just atheists, an apology. This is a time to pull together. This is a time when atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, everyone, should work to save Haitian lives, not criticize each other. If there's competition, it should be friendly and good spirited.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New God Campaign on NYC Subways

I guess the Christians are fighting back. The Atheist/Humanist ad campaigns deserve a reply, so a Christian Group is placing 1,000 "God Is..." ads in the New York subways.

These ads have a large "GOD IS" in the center, surrounded by things like "there when no one else is," "aware of your struggle," "incredible," and many more. All of the very best Christian God memes, those incredible self-replicating ideas that we all want so much to believe.

I love this stuff – meme wars. It's what The Religion Virus is all about, how memes compete with one another for our attention. Usually meme battles are subtle and hard to see, but these ad campaigns are totally in-your-face.

I hope the atheists and humanists do their part to keep this meme war going! Time for a new ad campaign!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pat Robertson on Haiti: Why Religion Hates Science

Pat Robertson's idiotic claim that God caused the Haitian earthquake got me to thinking about just how much religion preys on ignorance.

Consider for a moment what Robertson is really saying. He claims God was angry about the Haitians making a pact with Satan about 250 years ago, around 1800. Now earthquakes don't just happen – it's not like God stomped on the ground really hard and everything jumped around. No, this earthquake has been brewing for ... wait a second, since 1843 when the last earthquake struck Haiti! (It killed 10,000 people. Maybe that was God's first blow against these sinners.)

But wait, there's more – it seems God screwed up. He blasted the place a couple times before the Haitians made their pact with Satan! According to Wikipedia, there was a magnitude 7.5 earthquakes in 1770, thirty years before the Haitians' pact, and another before that in 1751 that flattened the city.

In fact, it turns out God had to start his revenge on the Haitians hundreds of millions of years ago, when He created the geology of the area!

But wait a second ... it's that very geological fault that raised Haiti from the ocean floor in the first place. So if God hadn't need to get revenge, there wouldn't have been a Haiti in the first place, the French wouldn't have colonized it, killed the natives, and brought African slaves there, and they wouldn't have had to make that pact with Satan. So God's revenge is also the cause? My head is spinning.

Of all the things I dislike about religion, its reliance on ignorance is the worst. People with even a modest education in science can't stomach this Biblical literalism nonesense. It's so silly it's laugable ... except that so many people believe it.

Worse, religious leaders count on the fact that most of their followers don't understand even the most basic aspects of science. And to ensure their own survival, they actively oppose education, because they know that their superstitions will wither in the face of facts.

Robertson's childish notion of God is just an extreme view of what most religions claim: God alters the laws of physics in the universe that He created, just to reward or punish humans. Here we are, on a tiny planet. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least 200 billion stars, and there are many billions of other galaxies, which means there are an estimated nine billion trillion stars total. That's a big universe, yet God is over here in this corner, willing to change the fundamental laws of physics for the universe just because we're praying for our football team to win.

This is why religiousness falls with education, and why evangelicals are so opposed to real science. Their millenia-old ideas just can't stand up to the truth.

Unfortunately, people like Robertson prey on ignorance, and they're good at it. Education is the answer, but it will take time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson, Coward, Runs From His Own Idiocy

Pat Robertson is a coward. I have a certain respect for evangelists, even the weird ones, who have the guts to say, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it!" But when they're both cruel and they don't stand behind their own words, cowardice is the right label.

Robertson's latest outrageous claim is that the horrifying Haitian earthquake, which killed as many as 50,000 innocent people, was God's retribution:
You know, Christi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon, the third or whatever. And, they got together, and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you, if you'll get us free from the Prince." True story. And, so, the devil said, "Ok, it's a deal," and they kicked the French out, you know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another, desperately poor.
Even the White House couldn't stomach Robertson's idiocy, and called it "stupid."

But the real story is not Robertson's idiotic remark, it's his two-faced cowardice. He won't even stand behind his own words. Here's what his spokesperson, Chris Roslan had to say once the smelly stuff hit the proverbial fan:
Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.
This is sheer spin-doctoring. There is no doubt what Roberson's quote means: The Haitians made a pact with the devil, and to punish them, God sent this earthquake, to add to all the other misery He has caused Haiti.

Robertson, you should either shut up, or have the courage to defend your idiotic ideas. And Chris Roslan, you should stop wasting your talent defending such an immoral man.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vatican Slams Avatar? HaHaHaHa!

You'd think the Vatican, with its long history of being on the wrong side of the facts (not to mention its reputation as a bastion of illogical thinking), would have the good sense to keep quiet when a SciFi pro-environment movie is rapidly climbing into the all-time number one slot as the highest-grossing movie in history. But then, why should the Roman Catholic Church break its two-thousand-year record of being wrong?

According to a report on Huffington Post, the Vatican news organizations claim Avatar is "flirting with the idea that worship of nature can replace religion – a notion the pope has warned against." Apparently the Pope is pro-environmentalism, but is afraid of it turning into some sort of neo-paganism. You know, where people worship some of the other of the 16,000 to 20,000 gods that humans have invented over the millenia rather than picking the right one. (In case you're confused, the right god to worship is the one called Jehova, Yahweh, Allah, El and a couple other names. Or maybe those were different gods, but we got confused. I don't know, ask the Pope, he's the expert.)

I don't know about you, but I'm not a guy who turns to the Vatican for advice when I'm deciding whether to see a SciFi movie.

In case you haven't seen it yet, Avatar is GREAT. We're going to see it again soon while it's still in 3D theaters. And see it in IMax if you can!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sarah Palin the Analyst - Doesn't that require a brain?

Fox "News" just announced they've signed Sarah Palin to join their crew of conservative news commentators. Good! Maybe that will get her out of politics ... forever.

But here's the part I don't get: "According to the multi-year deal, Palin will offer political commentary and analysis..." Wait a second. Analysis? Doesn't analysis require a brain? Hey Fox, I think you've made a mistake here.

But seriously, I am really concerned about this news. I was hoping that Sarah Palin would be a strong presidential candidate for the 2012 election, win the Republican nomination, and then go down in flames against Obama. But if she's going to be on Fox every day, she's going to make so many dumb and offensive remarks that she'll become unelectable.

The Republican leaders, those back-room guys who make the real decisions, aren't dummies. They want Sarah Palin to stir up the masses and rally the troops, but they would never let a loose cannon like her head their party. They'll use her while it suits them, but toss her aside when it comes to anything important.

That's too bad, because if she became the 2012 Republican candidate, it would have ensured Obama's reelection. Instead, the Republicans may find a strong centrist, then use Palin to calm down the angry right-wingers and bring them to the polls.

Maybe that's why Fox hired her – to ensure that she's unelectable. It's a great strategy. Those guys aren't dummies. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the guys running the Republican Party and the guys running Fox are the same guys.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yoga sex scandal reveals more quack medicine

I was about to give another "ho, hum" when I read of yet another sex scandal by a purported religious/spiritual leader. Ilichi Lee, a yoga leader, is accused of seducing his female followers ... what else is new? And even when I read that he's accused of bilking followers out of money using heavy-handed tactics, it was just another story. That's pretty much what all churches do, he just took it farther than most.

But then I read this on CNN:
Dahn Yoga teaches that what it calls brain wave vibration can ease some of the debilitating symptoms of illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis.
This is nonsense, pure bad science!

Religion disguised as medicine or science is inexcusable. My faithful reader know this a hot topic for me. (I've written about this before, also see Don Imus' cancer, or Christian Science, and schizophrenia).

Yoga, at least the popular activity that's practiced in America, is a great form of meditation and exercise, and teaches good lifestyle habits. What we call "yoga" is derived from Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, and emphasizes mind-body balance, peaceful contemplation, and meditation. These are all good things.

But when any religion claims to cure a disease, they're risking people's lives. Arthritis is merely painful, but ignoring diabetes can be deadly.

If I told you that you could improve or cure your diabetes using some unproved drug or technique, I'd probably be in trouble for practicing medicine without a license. Why are religions exempt from legal scrutiny and prosecution when they do the same thing?

Ilichi Lee, you should stick to seducing women and taking obscene amounts of money from your followers, but don't try to be a doctor, OK?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brit Hume Should Convert to Buddhism!

So, the conservative newsman Brit Hume thinks Tiger Woods should turn to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation?

I tell you what, Brit. How about if I have an affair with YOUR wife, and then I'll pray to Jesus to forgive me. And He will, won't He? You'll still be furious, maybe ready to wring my neck, but I'll be OK because Jesus will forgive me for having sex with your wife. Right?

Because that's what Jesus is there for, to forgive you Christians even when you don't deserve it. Jesus will make everything OK, even when someone like Tiger Woods is a complete jerk and destroys the lives of his wife and children.

Never mind how the wife and children feel, and whether they want to participate in this forgiveness fest. Jesus doesn't seem to care about them – all Tiger has to do is ask Jesus, and *poof*, it's all better.

And then when Tiger is absolved of his sin, maybe he'll decide he really likes Christian morals. He could follow Jerry Falwell's lead and hire a cheap hooker to take care of his needs. Or maybe be like Rush Limbaugh and get addicted to painkillers.

Or maybe, just maybe, Tiger should stick to his Buddhism, which teaches about karma and balance, and how life must be balanced. It teaches that your life will be how you make it, that if you make sadness, you have to live with it or make it right again, and if you are a good person, good will be attracted to you. In fact, maybe that's why Tiger is keeping a low profile right now, because instead of instant forgiveness from Jesus, Tiger realizes that his life is out of balance and he needs to put it back in order.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Japanese Whaling - Cruelty beyond belief

Every time I read another story of Japanese whaling, it makes my blood boil. For such an advanced, seemingly civilized culture, it is shocking and astonishing that they still allow this cruel, barbaric practice.

Warning: the descriptions that follow are disturbing.

Most of us don't want to know what goes on in animal-processing plants, but at least there is an attempt at humane slaughter techniques in most countries. But with whaling, it's torture, pure and simple. There is no humane way to kill a whale. Instead, the animals, which are known to be highly intelligent and social, are harpooned with an explosive device, which crushes their lungs. Then they suffocate in their own blood. Sometimes, the whales are hoisted onto the ship's butchering platform and cut apart before they are even dead.

The Japanese like to think of themselves as culturally and technologically advanced, but their whaling practices are a blight on their civilization. Whaling is something from centuries past, and should have died out long ago.

As humanity loses its childish religions, the ones that assert that the Earth was put here for our pleasure, and the animals for our unfettered use, we need to replace them with the rational ethics that thoughtful men and women have been refining for over two millenia, both in Europe and in the Far East. Japanese whaling might have seemed OK when there were emperors, kings, shoguns, knights, and peasants, and human life was cheap. But most of the civilized world has move on to a more ethical philosophy, one that recognizes that cruelty to any living creature is unacceptable.

Every Japanese citizen should hang his or her head in shame. Or better yet, speak up, and tell your lawmakers to end this horrifying torture of innocent animals.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Influenza and the Power of Religious Evolution

Welcome back, faithful readers! I'd like to tell you that my hiatus from writing over the New-Year holiday was because of all the fun I was having, but influenza was the real cause. Evolution is a marvelous science to study, but when I get hit with a new virus, I'm reminded just how deadly and relentless the battle for survival is.

And the New Year is a time to remind ourselves of the great battle of memes going on in our culture, the constant evolution of ideas, the "survival of the fittest" that pits science and rationality against faith.

One of the most subtle lessons of evolution is the incredible flexibility it provides. The Earth has experienced an astonishing amount of change over the last four billion years, causing almost every species that once lived to become extinct. Yet somehow, at every turn, something adapts and survives. Life is everywhere, from deep in the rocks to high in the stratosphere.

And so it is with religion. Its memeplexes have been evolving for somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 years, and during that time, most religions have become extinct. Human culture has changed, grown, been destroyed, rebuilt, and has taken just about every shape imaginable. Where once religion was needed to explain just about everything, now science fills that role. And yet ... irrational religious beliefs continue to survive. As each advance in human knowledge is made, religion adapts to accommodate it. It is a survivor, because that's what evolution does.

The problem with biological life is that good an evil are irrelevant. Nature has no feelings. Tapeworms survive and adapt just as readily as koala bears. One is (from our viewpoint) horrifying and ugly while the other is cute, but to evolution, both are equally successful.

And so it is with religion. Truth is only relevant if the average person can understand it. Any science that's beyond a high-school education is irrelevant. The Earth is flat? OK, that one's out because it's obvious. The Earth is 6,000 year old? That takes some serious understanding of physics, chemistry and geology, and so the religious memes evolve and adapt, truth goes out the window, and millions believe that Genesis is a true story.

So as we go forward in this new decade, let's remember that however brilliant science is, whatever new discoveries are made, and however carefully we try to explain them, the religion memeplexes won't go away quietly. Science has made tremendous progress, but harmful religious ideas will continue to thrive for centuries.

Evolution's power makes its own victory against irrationality a very distant hope.