4 Reasons the Christian Right’s Claims of Moral Superiority Over the Rest of Us Just Don’t Hold Water

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

When Bill O’Reilly recently tried to pin America’s spree of mass shootings on atheism rather than guns or mental illness, he hoped to tap a specific set of beliefs that is common among Bible believers— that morality derives from religion; that Born Again Christians are a light unto the world while atheists (who lack any basis for ethics or morality) spend their empty lives in pursuit of money and sex; that when Christians get raptured or otherwise lose the upper hand, America will descend into the orgy of sex, violence and anarchy depicted in the Left Behind books and movie.

This view feeds both righteous superiority and genuine anxiety among conservative Christians. Calvinists and other fundamentalists teach that humanity is “utterly depraved,” and that the only hope for our fallen world and for fallen individuals is the saving blood of Jesus. In the words of megachurch minister Mark Driscoll, “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had.”

In this view, the architects of America’s much lamented moral decay are godless atheists, and the growth of secularism means the growth of moral bankruptcy. Modernity is a grim slide into an end-times world where everybody lies, cheats, and takes whatever they can get. And here in America, this dark tide can be held back only by Christians in high places. 

But this common wisdom among right-wing Christians is being challenged by the public behavior of both the godly and the godless, by atheists who publicly embrace humanity’s moral core and spiritual quest; and by Christian leaders who keep getting caught, literally or metaphorically, with their pants down. The combination paints a picture that more than anything reveals our shared humanity—that the godless have their share of moral leaders and inspiring spiritual values, and the godly have their share of scoundrels. 

Atheists Bare Their Beliefs and Values 

Tired of being stigmatized and shunned, some atheists have set out to daylight the moral values they live by, and why. Some are specifically reclaiming words like morality and spirituality, which have long been owned by the religious sector. This summer, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson began screening A Better Life: Joy and Meaning in a World Without God. The movie follows a related coffee table book in which prominent atheists (and full disclosure: a few ordinary nonbelievers like me) discuss the values, loves, dreams and projects that give their lives purpose.

Small Sunday Assembly congregations around the world are continuing to experiment with building community around a three-part motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Blogger Neil Carter, a theology-trained former teacher, has amassed a following of thousands who read his wry, tender musings as he navigates being Godless in Dixie. Humanist chaplaincies like the Harvard Humanist Hub have been springing up on college campuses. Even the Satanic Temple (actually an atheist religion that eschews supernaturalism and embraces Satan as a literary rebel against tyranny a la Milton) has stepped into the public eye with a mission and a manifesto affirming broadly held humanistic values.    

Scandals Expose Hypocrisy, Rock Christianity 

Meanwhile, scandals have been hitting conservative Christianity, hard and fast. 

After Christian abortion foes launched a blood-and-guts media campaign based on staged entrapment interviews with Planned Parenthood staff, public opinion wavered. The campaign crumbled as forensic experts found 42 splicesincluding in “unedited” videos, rendering them useless as evidence. A seemingly unimpeachable witness, a disgruntled Planned Parenthood employee who claimed she had been forced to sell body parts, was impeached by past statements contradicting recent testimony, suggesting she was unreliable and a likely plant. Anti-abortion leaders found the moral high ground crumbling beneath their feet. 

Another Christian publicity stunt turned out to be fabricated by—to borrow a phrase from investigative journalist Chris Rodda—Liars for Jesus in the military. Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz has built his campaign around religious opposition to anti-discrimination laws, which some Christians claim violate their religious freedom and cause them to be persecuted. One ad features the story of Air Force Sergeant Phillip Monk who was fired by a lesbian superior for “expressing a traditional view of marriage”—except that he wasn’t. Oops. So much for the Bible’s prohibition against false witness. If Cruz had read some of the anti-Semitic, homo-slurring hate mail sent by military Evangelicals in the name of Jesus he might have been more wary.

A John Oliver August expose of televangelists exposed so much corruption, from multi-million-dollar tax-exempt parsonages, to personal trips on private jets, to manipulative but unfulfilled promises of healing, that if religion wasn’t exempt from truth-in-advertising laws the ministries in question would have their butts sued off. The wide blanket of “religious freedom” may provide legal cover for preachers like Robert Tilton or Joel Olsteen but it can’t cover the up the fact that their ministries stink of moral rot. Oliver launched his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, with dollars (and seeds and beef jerky) that flowed in from eager viewers, challenging the IRS to investigate—and not just Oliver.

And then, of course, there’s the ongoing scandal surrounding Ashley Madison, the matchmaking site for would-be adulterers hacked by possible extortionists who released member names to the public. Early controversy focused on the membership of Christian patriarchy leader, Josh Duggar, whose teen pattern of molesting younger girls—and the family’s response—recently cost his parents their multi-million-dollar reality show. “Family values” politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, who flaunt their Christian credentials and lament how gays and feminists are destroying marriage appear to have lost their voices when it comes to adultery, a sin that—in contrast to gay marriage or abortion—the Bible unambiguously condemns.  

Moral Decay or More Transparency?

Have traditional Christianity’s claims of moral superiority always been mere conceit, now visible to all, or has something changed? Certainly the internet has made it harder to live a double life or hide hypocrisies, or to protect the faithful from outside information. I wrote about this in “Religion May Not Survive the Internet.” But there’s also reason to believe that Bible-believing Christianity once worked better than it does today as a guide for individual and community behavior:

  • Archaic sex and gender scripts drive hypocrisy. As gender roles and intimate relations become more flexible in modern society, the rigid Iron Age sex script gets harder and harder for Bible-believing Christians to impose, not only on society at large but even on themselves. Trying and failing, young Evangelicals vow abstinence until marriage but instead engage in impulsive, high-risk sex (because planning and protection would signal premeditation). Pastors, priests and patriarchal men—who often find the old script equally impossible—pay queer prostitutes, exploit their positions to fondle children and female parishioners, and fill the coffers of Internet porn providers, all the while loudly condemning the sexual obsessions of gays, women and youth.
  • Clinging to creationism drives rabbit hole reasoning. As evolutionary theory gets incorporated into computer science and the next wave of engineering and even manufacturing, creationists find themselves backed into a corner, needing to cast aspersions on the whole scientific enterprise(with a peculiar corollary emphasis on undermining climate science). More and more, the only way to preserve and protect a biblical world view is to engage in self-deceptive rabbit hole reasoning—a very bad habit for any individual or group that hopes to be a moral light in the midst of humanity’s darkness.
  • The quest for political power drives corruption. The fusion of conservative Christianity and conservative politics into the Religious Right has corroded Christian values and priorities in America and soiled Christianity’s good name. In the words of Sean Illing, “This unholy union of religion and politics has proven disastrous, particularly in the era of PACs, which allow economic libertarians to manipulate conservative Christians for political purposes.” Politics is a notoriously ruthless no-holds-barred affair in which power corrupts—sometimes absolutely. Right-wing candidates and politicians who tout their close relationship with God may baptize their own reputations, but they simultaneously foul the Church.
  • Bibliolatry drives moral stunting. As culture continues to evolve and moral consciousness deepens, the tribal, racistsexist worldview of the Bible writers appears ever more cruel and morally stunted. Bible literalists, who insist on treating ancient texts as if they were the literally perfect word of God, and their own interpretation of these texts as if it were the only one possible, end up coming across the same way. As their views become less appealing, young people motivated by an honest search for truth and compassion find the Church less and less appealing, leaving those with other priorities to wave the Christian flag.

In sum, conservative Christians are being Left Behind morally and spiritually; and they have responded by looking for love—and answers and power—in all the wrong places. If they find that Americans increasingly turn elsewhere for inspiration and moral values, maybe they should do a little soul searching instead of pointing the finger at atheists.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

 

See:http://www.alternet.org/belief/4-reasons-christian-rights-claims-moral-superiority-over-rest-us-just-dont-hold-water?akid=13434.123424.Klc0Lz&rd=1&src=newsletter1041798&t=8

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Lawrence Krauss: Teaching Children Creationism Is Child Abuse

IFD!

IFD!

Source: Patheos

Author:Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

Taking a stand for kids, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss argues teaching children

is a form of child abuse.

 

Krauss, appearing on the “The Weekly,” an Australian satirical TV news show, stressed the importance of teaching children critical thinking skills.

After that, host Charlie Pickering brought up the fact that Krauss had previously stated that teaching children creationism is a form of child abuse. Krauss doubled down on his claim, noting:

But it’s true. I mean, there are different levels of child abuse. It’s like not allowing your children to have medicine, not allowing you children to be vaccinated, for example, is child abuse, because you are doing them harm.

Krauss went on:

In some sense, if you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.

Krauss is correct. Preventing children from learning the truth about the world, like teaching children that creationism is an acceptable scientific explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, is a mild form of child abuse.

Previously, in 2013, while appearing on The David Pakman Show, Krauss acknowledged that teaching creationism to children was not on the same level of abuse as sexual assault, but insisted it should still be considered abusive because it puts children at a disadvantage.

Krauss said:

If you’re introducing it (creationism or Intelligent Design) as reality, if you’re telling your kids the world is 6,000 years old, and they shouldn’t believe scientists because there is no way humans are related to other animals, and don’t believe any of that stuff you learned in school, or take you kids of out of school because they are learning something, then it is like the Taliban at some level, which is an extreme form of child abuse.

Earlier this year, Krauss, and another leading scientist, Richard Dawkins, advocated for the intellectual rights of children, arguing children should be allowed to develop as critical thinkers and be protected from religious indoctrination.

It seems clear to many rational people that forcing children to accept the religious superstitions of their parents can be a form of child abuse. And it follows that teaching children Biblical creationism as a legitimate scientific alternative to the theory of evolution is an example of such child abuse.

Yet if we are to accept this claim, what are the implications for social policy? Should the government step in and protect children from the religious superstitions of their parents?

Or should parents retain the right to force their religious beliefs upon their children, even when those beliefs are demonstrably harmful to the education of the child, as is the case with the teaching of creationism?

And what about religious schools, as well as homeschoolers, engaged in the explicit task of indoctrinating children?

How does society protect children from the damaging excesses of religion?

How does society defend a child’s right to a proper education, even if that education violates the sincerely held religious beliefs of their parents?

Lawrence Krauss is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is a professor of physics and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is also the author of the bestselling book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.

-See : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2015/07/lawrence-krauss-teaching-children-creationism-is-child-abuse/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=progressivesecularhumanist_070315UTC010724_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=49021464&spUserID=MTIxNzQwMzMwMDkyS0&spJobID=720353225&spReportId=NzIwMzUzMjI1S0#sthash.uAxQKf25.dpuf

 

Teaching evolution in Kentucky—with accommodationism

Author:whyevolutionistrue

Emphasis Mine

When I first gave a talk at the University of Kentucky in 2010 (could it really have been five years ago?), I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Krupa, a biologist and natural historian with wide interests, and with a reputation as an excellent teacher (see here for my visit to his lab).

Krupa has now written an article in Orion called”Defending Darwin“, which has also been abridged in Slate. It sums up his experiences of teaching introductory biology for 20 years in a state where resistance to evolution runs high. (I learned that when a group of religious students removed all the posters advertising my talk about the evidence for evolution, and the biology students had to put the posters back up—twice!)

Krupa decided early on to heavily infuse his introductory bio course with evolution—just as E. O. Wilson did when he taught a similar class at Harvard (I was a t.a. for that course for two years). And it works, for it’s exactly what Jack Brooks did in Introductory Zoology at William and Mary—the course that set my feet on the path of evolutionary biology. After beginning with a lesson on what a “theory” really means in science, Krupa bravely waded into the waters of evolution. And he faced strong resistance from some students, especially when he talked about human evolution. (As most of us know, lots of religious people don’t mind evolution so much—until it tells us that our own species evolved, too!):

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

. . . The story of [human] evolutionary history captivates many of my students, while infuriating some. During one lecture, a student stood up in the back row and shouted the length of the auditorium that Darwin denounced evolution on his deathbed—a myth intentionally spread by creationists. The student then made it known that everything I was teaching was a lie, and stomped out of the auditorium, slamming the door behind him. A few years later during the same lecture, another student also shouted out from the back row that I was lying. She said that no transitional fossil forms had ever been found—despite my having shared images of many transitional forms during the semester. Many of her fellow students were shocked by her combativeness, particularly when she stormed out, also slamming the door behind her. Most semesters, a significant number of students abruptly leave as soon as they realize the topic is human evolution.

Ceiling Cat bless those who teach evolutionary biology in the South! Well, I never faced that kind of resistance, but I’ve taught most of my life in Chicago, not the South. But what this clearly shows is that many people’s opposition to evolution rests largely on the claim that humans evolved by the same processes as ferns, squirrels, and squid. I think it was Michael Ruse who said that what keeps people awake at night is not worrying about the fossil record of other species, but the idea that if humans evolved, where can we find morality?

Krupa’s lesson plan, as outlined in his piece, is very good, and I’m sure his course is terrific. I have just one beef, and it’s based on this:

AFTER A SEMESTER filled with evidence of evolution, capped off with a dose of evolutionary medicine, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case. There are those who remain convinced that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Knowing this, I feel an obligation to give my “social resistance to evolution” lecture as the final topic.

This lecture lays down the history of the antiscience and anti-evolution movements, the arguments made by those opposing evolution, and why these arguments are wrong. I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are the Episcopal Church, Lutheran World Federation, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, United Unitarian Universalists [JAC: those are largely atheists!], Roman Catholic Church, and the American Jewish Congress. In fact, 77 percent of all American Christians belong to a denomination that supports the teaching of evolution, and several high-profile evangelical Christians are ardent defenders of it, including former President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health. Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged the existence of evolution in an article he published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, in which he argued that the body evolved, but the soul was created. Pope Francis has made it clear that he accepts evolution as well.

This lecture should put students at ease knowing that religion and science need not be at odds. Of all the lectures I give, this one provokes the most discussion after class. And yet it often results in students expressing concern that I might not be saved. I never say anything about my personal religious beliefs, yet it is assumed I am an atheist. One student told me she hoped I could find God soon. When I again pointed out that John Paul accepted evolution—and he certainly wasn’t an atheist—the student countered that Catholics aren’t Christians. Several simply let me know they will be praying for me and praying hard. One student explained that as a devout Catholic he had no choice but to reject evolution. He accused me of fabricating the pope’s statements. When I explained that he could go to the Vatican website for verification or call the Vatican to talk to a scientist, he insisted that there was no such information available from the Vatican. He then pointed his finger at me and said the only way he would believe me is if Pope John Paul II came to my class to confirm these quotes face-to-face. The student then stomped out, again slamming the auditorium door behind him.

I can well understand Jim’s motivation here. After all, if most of the resistance to evolution comes from religion (and that’s something the students should be told), why not try to defuse it by telling them that it doesn’t have to be that way? In other words, at the end of his course Krupa becomes an accommodationist, telling students all the ways that religion isn’t in opposition to science. And that’s where he goes off the rails.

Yes, lots of religions publicly accept evolution, but many don’t. Does Krupa mention the Southern Baptists? And even those faiths whose doctrinal statements do accept evolution harbor many parishioners who don’t. Take Catholics, for example. As I say in Faith versus Fact, “Nevertheless, 27 percent of American Catholics cling to biblical creationism, believing that humans were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since.” Does Krupa mention that? If 77% of American religions embrace evolution, how come 42% of all Americans are young-earth creationists when it comes to human evolution? (That figure rises to 73% if you take all Americans who think that God had a role in evolution.) Do they reject the dictates of their faith? Apparently so.

So what Krupa is telling his students is only a partial truth. Francis Collins, for example, has argued publicly that innate morality could not have evolved, but must have been vouchsafed us by God. Does Krupa mention that? No, because he’s on a mission to harmonize evolution and faith.

And as for Catholicism, well, I mentioned that many Catholics are young-Earth creationists. But even the Vatican itself isn’t totally down with evolution. It maintains, for instance, that humans, unlike every other creature, were endowed by God with a soul somewhere in the course of evolution. Krupa admits that, but does he explore the scientific problems with such an assertion? And does he tell them that the official stance of the Vatican is that Adam and Eve were historic figures, the progenitors of all humans—and that this flatly contravenes the findings of modern science? I could refer the Catholic student who confronted Krupa to Catholic websites affirming this. The fact is that many religions, including Catholicism, can be comported with human evolution only by either watering down our naturalistic view of evolution (and saying, “Yes, yes, God could have made some mutations”), or turning those religions into pure exercises in metaphor.

Finally, telling students that religion is compatible with evolution is a theological view, not a scientific one. Yes, Krupa’s motivations are good here, but he’s still skirting the First Amendment by telling the students what religion says, and—in my view—doing so in a distorted way. My opinion is that while it would be okay for Krupa to tell the students that almost all resistance to evolution in the U.S. comes from evolution—for that’s simply a fact—it’s not okay for him to twist the data on religion to suggest that there’s no inherent conflict between faith and fact. Remember that 64% of Americans have said that if science comes up with a fact that contradicts one of the tenets of their faith, they’ll reject the science in favor of their faith.

Lest you think that I’m being too hard on Krupa here, let me add that I have exactly the same objection to professors who tell their students that evolution is incompatible with religion. That, too, is a theological (or philosophical, depending on your take) add-on that shouldn’t be taught to students in a science class. When David Barash taught that incompatibilism to his evolution students at the University of Washington, I objected as well. Regardless of your desire to make students accept evolution by comporting it with religion, that is an exercise not in science, but something else. It may work (Barash does recount one student who was “converted” this way—the first case I know of), but it’s straying far away from science. I wrote a book asserting that science and religion are incompatible, but I don’t mention those views that in my evolution course.

Let me finish by saying that I have a lot of respect for Krupa’s drive to teach evolution to students who largely resist it, and for the enormous work he puts into his classes. I’m dead certain he’s a far better teacher than I am. But I think that Krupa should keep theology out of the science classroom. If students can’t be convinced that evolution is true from a simple presentation of the facts, let them go to their ministers and priests to find out whether and how it fits with their faith.

h/t: Joyce

No, Astrobiology Has Not Made the Case for God

IFD!

IFD!

Source: New Yorker

Author: Lawrence Krauss

Emphasis Mine

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published a piece with the surprising title “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” At least it was surprising to me, because I hadn’t heard the news. The piece argued that new scientific evidence bolsters the claim that the appearance of life in the universe requires a miracle, and it received almost four hundred thousand Facebook shares and likes.

The author of the piece, Eric Metaxas, is not himself a scientist. Rather, he’s a writer and a TV host, and the article was a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to resurrect the notion of intelligent design, which gives religious arguments the veneer of science—this time in a cosmological context. Life exists only on Earth and has not been found elsewhere. Moreover, the conditions that caused life to appear here are miraculous. So doesn’t that mean we must have come from a miracle at the hand of God? “Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?” Metaxas writes.

In response, I should begin by noting that the science of “astrobiology”—which, loosely stated, searches for signs of life elsewhere and explores the astrophysical and cosmological conditions that might allow for life to exist in our universe—is still in its infancy. Consensus on many issues has not yet been achieved, and the quality of work in the field varies significantly.

Still, what we have unequivocally learned over the past decade or so is, to paraphrase Hamlet, that there are many more things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in our imagination. The opportunities for the development of life in various systems, and the possible forms of life we know of, have exploded. Metaxas believes that our increased understanding of our evolutionary history implies that the origin of life on Earth is increasingly inexplicable. But the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

Let’s start with the first point raised in the Journal piece, which is that the more we have learned about our own evolutionary history on Earth, the more we appreciate the many different factors that may have been important in allowing that evolution. For example, we know that had Jupiter, with its massive gravity, not existed, asteroids and comets would have bombarded Earth throughout its history, disrupting the stable evolutionary development of multicellular organisms. Moreover, we know that if our sun were not in the outer part of our galaxy, life as it exists would have been impossible, both because of the impact of harmful cosmic radiation and because of gravitational perturbations that might easily have disrupted stable planetary orbits. The moon formed during a collision involving the nascent Earth, giving the planet the tilt that allows for seasonal variations and tides. Earth exists in the habitable zone where liquid water is possible. Liquid water was possible only on early Earth because of the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

By considering each of these many factors and imagining the probability of each separately, one can imagine that the combination is statistically very unlikely, or impossible. “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart,” Metaxas writes. “The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.”

Such a claim is fraught with statistical perils, however. The first is a familiar mistake of elaborating all the factors responsible for some specific event and calculating all the probabilities as if they were independent. In order for me to be writing this piece at this precise instant on this airplane, having done all the things I’ve done today, consider all the factors that had to be “just right”: I had to find myself in San Francisco, among all the cities in the world; the sequence of stoplights that my taxi had to traverse had to be just right, in order to get me to the airport when I did; the airport security screener had to experience a similar set of coincidences in order to be there when I needed her; same goes for the pilot. It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing.

This approach, of course, involves many fallacies. It is clear that many routes could have led to the same result. Similarly, when we consider the evolution of life on Earth, we have to ask what factors could have been different and still allowed for intelligent life. Consider a wild example, involving the asteroid that hit Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and a host of other species, and probably allowing an evolutionary niche for mammals to begin to flourish. This was a bad thing for life in general, but a good thing for us. Had that not happened, however, maybe giant intelligent reptiles would be arguing about the existence of God today.

An even more severe problem in Metaxas’s argument is the assumption of randomness, namely that physical processes do not naturally drive a system toward a certain state. This is the most common error among those who argue that, given the complexity of life on Earth, evolution is as implausible as a tornado ravaging a junkyard and producing a 747. The latter event is, indeed, essentially statistically impossible. However, we now understand that the process of natural selection implies that evolution is anything but random. Is it a miracle that the planet produced animals as complex as, and yet as different from, humans, dolphins, and cicadas, each so well “designed” for its own habitat? No. Natural selection drives systems in a specific direction, and the remarkable diversity of species on Earth today, each evolved for evolutionary success in a different environment, is one result.

Non-randomness is now understood to have a likely impact on the first appearance of life. For example, new insights into geophysical and chemical processes in extreme environments suggest that early Earth naturally favored the production of relatively large organic molecules. Moreover, we have continued to find in space the more sophisticated components associated with the evolution of life on Earth. The build-up of these complex precursors of life is, therefore, far from purely random. Furthermore, a recent interesting, if speculative, proposal suggests that, when driven by an external source of energy,matter will rearrange itself to dissipate this energy most efficiently. Living systems allow greater dissipation, which means that the laws of physics might suggest that life is, in some sense, inevitable.

Beyond this, two exciting scientific advances in recent decades have identified new ways in which life can evolve, and new locales where it can do so. First, we have discovered a surprisingly diverse group of new solar systems. And we now understand that, even in our solar system, there are a host of possible sites where life might have evolved that were long considered unlikely. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn may have vast oceans of liquid water, underneath ice covers, which are heated by gravitational tidal friction associated with their giant hosts. On Earth, scientists have had to revise old rules about where and how life can survive. The discovery of so-called extremophiles—life forms that can live in extreme acids, or under extreme heat or pressure—has vastly increased the set of conditions under which we can imagine life existing on this planet.

Another point raised in the Journal piece involves what appears to Metaxas as the impossible fine tuning of the constants of nature in order for us to exist. As Metaxas puts it:

Astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

It is true that a small change in the strength of the four known forces (but nowhere near as small as Metaxas argues) would imply that stable protons and neutrons, the basis of atomic nuclei, might not exist. (The universe, however, would—a rather large error in the Metaxas piece.) This is old news and, while it’s an interesting fact, it certainly does not require a deity.

Once again, it likely confuses cause and effect. The constants of the universe indeed allow the existence of life as we know it. However, it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around. We survive on Earth in part because Earth’s gravity keeps us from floating off. But the strength of gravity selects a planet like Earth, among the variety of planets, to be habitable for life forms like us. Reversing the sense of cause and effect in this statement, as Metaxas does in cosmology, is like saying that it’s a miracle that everyone’s legs are exactly long enough to reach the ground.

In fact, one of the most severe apparent fine tunings often referred to by creationists like Metaxas is that of the so-called cosmological constant, the energy of empty space that has recently been discovered to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate over time. It remains one of the biggest mysteries in physics, as it appears to be over a hundred and twenty orders of magnitude smaller than our theories suggest it could be. And if it were as large as the theories suggest it should be, then galaxies, stars, and planets would never have formed.

Is this a clear example of design? Of course not. If it were zero, which would be “natural” from a theoretical perspective, the universe would in fact be more hospitable to life. If the cosmological constant were different, perhaps vastly different kinds of life might have arisen. Moreover, arguing that God exists because many cosmic mysteries remain is intellectually lazy in the extreme. The more we understand the universe, the more remarkable it appears to be. Exploring how this remarkable diversity can arise by potentially simple laws has been one of the most successful, and intellectually beautiful, efforts in human history.

The “null hypothesis” is most often the default hypothesis in science. We reject the null hypothesis (namely that what we think is significant is simply an accident, or noise) only when we have clear evidence to back it up. Or, as Carl Sagan often repeated, extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Surely the God hypothesis—that some invisible intelligence that must be eternal (i.e. not designed) and not subject to the laws of nature created and designed the entire universe for the benefit of one particular species on one particular planet at one particular time—is extraordinary in the extreme.

My colleagues and I are optimistic that evidence for life, either elsewhere in our solar system or elsewhere in the universe, may be discovered in the coming decades. Of course, we can’t be certain, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is even more uncertain, but nothing we have discovered suggests that the possibility of life requires something supernatural.

In the meantime, both believers and non-believers are done a huge disservice when people promulgate biased and disingenuous claims that distort what current science implies and can imply about the universe. In a society in which the understanding of science is already marginal—and where, at the same time, the continued health of modern society as it meets the challenges of the twenty-first century depends, in some sense, on our ability to utilize our scientific knowledge, both to create new technologies and to help guide rational public policies—this is the last thing we need.

Lawrence M. Krauss is the foundation professor and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and the chair of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. His books include “The Physics of Star Trek” and, most recently, “A Universe from Nothing.”

see: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/astrobiology-made-case-god

Neil deGrasse Tyson Hit by Creationist Backlash for Explaining Universe Is Billions of Years Old

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

In the wake of the success of the “Cosmos” television series, which picked up four Emmy Awards earlier this week, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed politics, religion and science in a recent interview with AlterNet.

When I asked if the success of “Cosmos” had surprised him, Tyson said he had not anticipated the kind of coverage the show would get by entertainment sites and blogs. Because of the show’s major network backing and primetime slot, he said, it was covered like any other television show. He said this forced many entertainment writers to write about all sorts of science topics not often covered in these publications, exposing the show to a new and possibly unintended audience.

Tyson was not as shocked by the backlash the show garnered from certain religious and political groups, mainly creationists who took issue with Tyson’s insistence on discussing evolution, the Big Bang theory and the history of scientific discovery. Their criticism of the show did not bother Tyson at all. “You have to ask yourself, what are the numbers behind the people making these claims? Someone like Ken Ham [owner of the Creation Museum] has beliefs that are even crazy to many Christians.”

Ken Ham’s criticisms came in the form of a weekly review on his website Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization. Ham’s comments gained some attention from the media and were often answered by science writers all over the Internet.

But Tyson wondered how Ham was even able to get anyone’s attention. He speculated it had something to do with Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

“Everyone knew Bill Nye, but almost no one had heard of Ken Ham,” Tyson said. “But after the debate [Ham] realized he had some media attention. You have to wonder—if that debate never happened if he would have even bothered covering the show at all?”

Tyson said he has no interest in addressing the claims AIG made against him or the show.

“What I say is not an opinion,” Tyson said. “Life is too short to debate people’s opinions. There is an old saying, if a debate lasts more than five minutes, both sides lost.”

This is the reason Tyson says he doesn’t debate. “My publicist wanted to set up a series of debates with me about Pluto, but I don’t care that much—call Pluto a planet, call it a planetoid, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Just make sure that whatever you call it, you are doing so informed.”

Tyson said as an educator, his goal is not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think and provide them with scientific facts. It’s up to them to decide what to do with this knowledge. “I am not a totalitarian, I don’t want to tell you what to believe. I want to provide you with the tools and evidence to arrive at your position on your own, and if you disagree with me, that’s fine, as long as your disagreement does not harm others.”

Tyson was seemingly verging on a more political discussion, though he has stayed guarded on his political leanings. “I have opinions and I lean one way over another, but I am not here to share my opinion or tell someone how they should vote,” said the scientist. He also had a fear that his fans could adopt his opinions simply because Tyson had stated them and not because they arrived at the same conclusions on their own.

Tyson has a long history of not openly endorsing any political party. He believes that science is apolitical, and politicians should come to scientists for information when it is in regards to public policy. “One thing that brings me great sadness is when a scientific discovery that should be apolitical is politicized, and suddenly people are choosing sides on their own and not consulting with scientists.

He reminded me that the National Academy of Sciences was formed for this very purpose. If politicians needed to gather scientific information in order to write public policy, they would reach out to NAS, but today they choose sides that only seem to serve them personally.

When you cherry-pick information to serve a need, there is a problem,” he said, referring to politicians who ignore evidence that does not support their political position or religious beliefs.

While Tyson says he does not like to tell people what to believe, he has spoken out against many types of science denial, especially on episodes of “Cosmos” in which he addressed issues like climate change and discussed that you can really take it to climate deniers by hitting them where it hurts most, their wallets.  Tyson insisted he was providing the overwhelming evidence in support of the anthropogenic global warming theory, not simply by telling people it was true, but by showing them how we know it’s true and the significance of its impact. Tyson’s mission is to educate as many people as he can to think critically and to arrive at their conclusions and beliefs informed. He knows he cannot make everyone agree, but believes that if people are making informed decisions about science, we have a chance of making fewer bad decisions with the knowledge we have.

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/neil-degrasse-tyson-hit-creationist-backlash-explaining-universe-billions-years-old?akid=12153.123424.6B9vC_&rd=1&src=newsletter1016414&t=4&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

When Neil deGrasse Tyson Says ‘Evolution’ on National TV, Creationists Go Into Full Panic Mode

Source: alterNet

Author: Dan Arel

If there is one topic in each week’s Cosmos that sends the Christian fundamentalists into a frenzy, it is evolution.

You see, scientists understand that most sciences cannot be done correctly if you ignore the scientific fact of evolution. Yet, week in and week out, creationists critique the job Tyson and his team of writers are doing, callling them speculative and misleading.

Creationists would have you believe that Tyson and his crew are force-feeding viewers a story of evolution dreamed up in the minds of those who simply want to refute God and spread atheism.

Calling evolutionary biologists names such as “evolutionists”—a word not used outside of the creationists sphere—is an attempt to demean the science as nothing more than a religion; ironically, the very thing they are trying to sell you on.

This week’s episode, titled, “The Electric Boy” was about scientist Michael Faraday. Faraday’s study of electricity led to some of the biggest discoveries and inventions in the history of mankind, ranging from the electric motor to the discovery of electromagnetic waves that surround just about everything.

How on earth could creationists be upset with electricity? Well, Tyson had the audacity to mention that Faraday’s discoveries helped us explain how birds navigate the globe using the earth’s electromagnetic waves, and that their brains are evolutionarily wired for such a task.

Writing for Answers in Genesis, the young earth creationist’s organization, Elizabeth Mitchell writes:

“Evolutionists assume our existence and the existence of birds must have an evolutionary explanation. Yet molecules-to-man evolution—depending as it does on both the spontaneous emergence of life from non-living elements and the evolution of organisms into new, more complex ones—demands that we believe things that violate the laws of nature (e.g., law of biogenesis).”

One can assume these words are barely Mitchell’s, as they puppet the same narrative week after week. First they claim scientists “assume” these evolved traits, ignoring the evidence behind the claim, and then quickly move on to false naturalistic claims such as broken laws of nature.

What Tyson is saying in this episode is far from controversial; in fact, you would find it very challenging to locate scientists who would want to debate Tyson’s bird claim because it is so well understood.

Conceding to this, however, would destroy the very foundation of creationism, the foundation of lies and misinformation.

Mitchell continues:

“God did indeed equip birds and many other animals with a seemingly uncanny ability to navigate.”

For someone claiming scientists are full of assumptions, it’s fantastic to see Mitchell confidently speaking to what some invisible creator did or did not do.

Creationists are creating their own weekly controversy over Cosmos and its host, Tyson. Modern science is so damning to their ancient claims they have to openly attack even the most fundamental sciences and try to dupe their followers into believing that Tyson and the Cosmos team are trying to fool them.

Instead, creationists could have celebrated this episode featuring two prominent scientists, Michael Faraday and James Clark Maxwell, who were very devoted to their Christian faith. Faraday’s religious beliefs were even discussed, though complaints that Maxwell’s faith was ignored (as it wasn’t relevant to the story) have driven both Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute mad with anger.

Tyson did not demean their faith and only showed that these great men accomplished great things. Faraday’s legacy will live on forever in his discoveries and through his now annual lecture series started in 1855, the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institute in Great Britain.

But AiG found the feature on these lectures just as offensive as the claim that birds are an evolved species:

“As the Cosmos program took a visual hop through history noting prominent presenters at these events, we see the devout creationist Christian Faraday himself featured in 1855, followed by a parade of prominent evolutionists: evolutionary astronomer Robert Stawell Ball, eugenics proponent Julian Huxley, evolutionary anthropologist Desmond Morris (who rather than addressing the biblical account of how suffering entered the world says the Christian God must be a “monstrous designer”), evolutionary naturalist and Darwinian TV promoter David Attenborough, and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins.”

In fact, it is AiG that parades these names falsely for their readers. Calling Julian Huxley a “eugenics proponent” is meant to encite rage at the thought of the eugenics experiments ordered by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, while ignoring the fact that Huxley spoke out against extreme eugenics. While history has taught us enough to understand that any use of eugenics is wrong, in Huxley’s time this was simply not the case.

Then they attacked their all-time favorite punching bag and number-one enemy, Richard Dawkins. Anyone who has watched Dawkins’ amazing Christmas Lecture would know he did not attack or demean religion, and simply displayed the amazing powers of science.

AiG saw the inclusion of these scientists as a shot at religion, when in fact the “Cosmos” team selected a group of well-known lecturers who would give credibility to the series. It had nothing to do with bashing religion, as the show didn’t even highlight each speaker’s beliefs. Only AiG did that.

Creationists are upset because just as in the show “Cosmos,” the Royal Institutes series does not give time to creationists to spread false scientific claims backed by nothing more than biblical scripture. We are once again left with jealous fits of rage at Tyson and his brilliant team of writers for sharing evidence-based scientific discoveries with the world. Science wins the day again, as evidence is shown to once again matter more than faith.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/when-neil-degrasse-says-word-evolution-tv-creationists-go-full-panic-mode?akid=11818.123424.4lWOG9&rd=1&src=newsletter993484&t=5

Lawrence Krauss Interview

Source:  about.physics.com

Author: Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I had the privilege of meeting with acclaimed cosmologist and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the evening of Monday, April 7, 2014. We met at Wexner Auditorium on the campus of Ohio State University, prior to a showing of his documentary The Unbelievers (in which he co-stars with famed atheist and zoologist Richard Dawkins). Our discussion, though brief – I was the only thing standing between Dr. Krauss and his dinner – covered a wide range of intriguing topics. A summary of the interview is also on the website, but here is the full text (with some edits of my own “ums” and “ahs” and filler rambling):

Andrew Jones: So, the Origins Project just literally had its fifth anniversary.

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, on Saturday [April 5, 2014].

AJ: I’ve seen some of the videos from it. You guys (sic)  host the Great Debates.

LK: Yes, we just had a Great Debate with 3,000 people on Saturday.

AJ: What I really like about the work I see coming out of there is that it’s a very interdisciplinary look at origins.

LK: Everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of consciousness, so it’s about as interdisciplinary as you can get. We call it transdisciplinary. That’s the buzzword at ASU [Arizona State University]. But we try to bring together people from vastly different fields to look at forefront questions and look at them in different ways and see which questions we can make progress in. And these questions, since they’re foundational, are often of interest to the public, so we often have a public event associated with them.

AJ:  Obviously, you got into that through cosmology and the origins of the universe, but what made you decide you wanted to make that the origins of everything?

LK: Well, actually, I began to think about this back when I lived here in this state of Ohio, but as I was thinking of ways to get people interested in the subject, I realized that cosmology, as exciting as it is, alone is just part of the question and that one could bring together lots of different fields and when I started to think about it, I realized that origins questions are really at the heart of the forefront of science. And, as you may or may not know, I have a broad interest in science, well beyond physics, and so I just thought: Well, since origins questions are at the forefront of science, and they are also at the forefront of the public’s interest, it would be a wonderful handle to allow us to look at really interesting questions anywhere, they all fit in an origins framework. And it would allow us to do just what we’ve done, to bring together people from different fields and it’s been incredibly successful. It was ambitious and I think a lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it did.

AJ: Yes, I wish something like that had been in place when I’d graduated. I have an undergraduate degree in physics. And, in addition to just being kind of tired of 16 years of college [I meant school], I also kind of got the sense there wasn’t much left to do, because at the time they were writing books like The End of Physics and so on.

LK: Yeah, I know, and that’s an unfortunate thing.

AJ: So if something like this had been there to make it clear how many good, rich questions there were still.

LK: Exactly! We tend to treat physics for kids as if it was done 200 years ago by dead, white men, but that’s just not it, though. The questions are vibrant and they’re of interest and they’re accessible to people, which is one of the reasons that I write and speak about them. Yeah, it’s unfortunate the way that we turn people off by doing that. And ASU, when the President of the university invited me to come, they were particularly attracted by this idea of interdisciplinary. I am part of a school of Earth and Space Exploration that has astronomers, astrophysics, geophysicists, planetary scientists, engineers, all in one place looking at these things. An example of the kind of interdisciplinary work we’re doing.

AJ: So, to get back to cosmology. Of course, your last book [A Universe From Nothing] was on the origins of …

LK: … the universe.

AJ: … of everything. And one thing I know you’ve answered in previous interviews, and I think in The Atlantic interview you really clarified this point, but so just since I have you here, I’ll just double check that my understanding is correct. The book, as I read it, is not saying that this is definitely what happened, it’s saying that we have an explanation of what could have happened. Is that a fair statement?

LK: We have a plausible explanation of what could have happened. More importantly, if you asked “What would be the characteristics of a universe created by nothing ... created from nothing by known laws of physics?” our universe has precisely those characteristics. Now does that prove it happened? No, because we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity, but it’s plausible. It’s become a lot more plausible in the last few weeks, with the discoveries from the cosmic microwave background and the gravitational radiation, which in principle take us back and directly allow us to measure what happened in the first 10-35 seconds of the big bang. But it was just that: This is plausible. And just having a plausible explanation is remarkable. Just like when Darwin developed the theory of evolution, he was plausible. He didn’t have all the data. He had fossil ideas and he had data suggesting this idea worked, and actually compellingly suggesting that it worked, but he didn’t know about DNA or the genetic basis of life and now we do, but at the time it was a plausible argument.

AJ: One of the things that I really like about things you’ve said repeatedly about science is about being honest about how we look at questions and not assuming we have the answer before we start.

LK: No, I think that’s … I mean, we teach kids as if the answers are important. It’s the questions that are important. And I think that not knowing is a wonderful thing and more parents and more teachers should be willing to say that. “I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure out how we might learn what the answer is.” Because that’s what we’re trying to teach in schools. It’s a process. Science is a process of trying to take this complicated world and figure things out and that means not knowing things and try to figure out how to get the answer. And not knowing is what I do for a living.

AJ: In research for this, I read your article on the recent inflation results … the gravity wave article. And I loved that you said, “I did this thing a few years ago. Now that didn’t turn out to be right.” You would never hear a theologist …

LK: Yeah, they know they’re right, which means they don’t know anything.

AJ: But, I loved the honesty about, “We tried this. It didn’t work.” And scientists embrace that, because it leads us forward.

LK: Yeah, well, absolutely. I think, um …

AJ: That wasn’t really a question.

LK: No, I think honesty is a key part of science. Honesty and full disclosure. I like to try and think I do that, take that beyond science. But being wrong is a central part of science and being willing to say you’re wrong. In fact, Woody Allen says in our movie, too, he talks about it. I think the point is that’s how we make progress. I have had, I think, many beautiful ideas and unfortunately nature wasn’t smart enough to adopt them.

AJ: So, I have a couple of questions that are related to again kind of the questions of origins. I was wondering of one thing. In the past, you have expressed … I’m not sure if skepticism is quite the right word, but not exactly being “on board” with string theory as enthusiastically as some people are. Is that still kind of a fair assessment? Or was that ever really fair? Because it’s hard to get a clear handle on it. Or does that fall in the “we don’t know” category?

LK: I wrote a book, called Hiding in the Mirror, which I called a “fair and balanced look at string theory,” in the non-FOX News sense. My point was that string theory is based on a lot of fascinating ideas. However, it has been the least successful great idea in science in the sense that it hasn’t yet made touch with observation in any way. We still don’t know if the ideas of string theory are right. They’re really well motivated; it’s not as if they aren’t well motivated. But it was strongly hyped. And I guess I was against the hype, not the theory. It’s not even a theory. It’s unfair to evolution to call string theory a theory. It’s not a theory. A theory is something that has been tested robustly by experiment and it’s unfair to evolution to call it a theory. I said that many years ago and Brian Greene used to get mad at me, but now he agrees with me. But I think the point is that it’s fascinating and we’re studying it, it just hasn’t had any great successes in terms of demonstrating that it can help us understand the universe. Maybe it will one day. And, as I say, some of my best students have become string theorists, I just wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. No, just kidding.

AJ: One question I had was about the Higgs boson. One thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve gotten mixed results from different people in the science community, so I’ll get your take on it. I’ve heard that the Higgs boson that’s seen is kind of the garden-variety Higgs. There’s no evidence of supersymmetry

LK: No, there’s no evidence at all, and it’s very disconcerting to many people, because … Actually, many of us thought, I thought – another example of being wrong – I thought supersymmetry would be seen before the Higgs. It was easier, in principle, to be seen at the Large Hadron Collider. So the fact that it hasn’t been seen is telling. Now, what happens when the Large Hadron Collider turns on again next year will be quite important. Now I’d say that there’s more evidence that supersymmetry might be correct after the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang, because the scale that’s picked out is the scale of grand unification which is picked out if supersymmetry is part of things. So, it gives me maybe a little more confidence that supersymmetry may be seen, but it’s kind of remarkable that it’s all working out at that scale. But if supersymmetry isn’t seen at the Large Hadron Collider, then we know that we’re missing something important. And it’s a nightmare scenario. If only the Higgs is seen, in some sense, it’s a nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t tell us what is happening.

AJ: Well, let’s discuss the film for a few minutes. One thing I’m curious about, and this is probably something you address in the film, but what motivated you to go from kind of the straight just “here’s the facts” science to really being an advocate for atheism, if that’s not overstating it.

LK: I’m not an advocate for atheism; I’m an advocate for science, and that I’ve always been, so there’s nothing new about that. What I am is … By being an advocate for science I’m asking people to be willing to accept the reality, the empirically reality of the universe, the evidence. Having their beliefs conform to evidence, rather than the other way around. And, naturally, that implies – since there is no evidence of purpose to the universe – that implies that the tenets of organized religion in the world are not consistent with science. And one should be willing and upfront to say that. I think that by pretending there are some things which are not subject to questioning, we do everyone a disservice. And so, I think the point, what really got me involved in it was, again, in Ohio, right here, in Columbus, where this movie is. I got involved in the Board of Education here in Ohio was trying to essentially get rid of the teaching of evolution in schools and the biologists weren’t speaking up and I had a public pulpit, so I spoke up, and it got me involved and I came here to a big even with the school board for 1,500 people, me and another scientist debating these two nudnicks from the Discovery Institute. And that kind of got me, just protecting science from religious dogmatism, that sort of established that. And once that happened, I’ve been fighting that fight. And I’m against religious dogmatism. It’s not as if I’m out to be an advocate for anything. Except, atheism is just open questioning. It’s not a belief system. It’s just saying you don’t accept things without evidence or good reason for accepting them and that you allow your beliefs to change. As you pointed out, being wrong is really a central part of science. It’s not a central part of religion, where you assume the answers before you ask the questions, and that does a disservice to thinking and action. And if you don’t base your public policy on sound empirical evidence, then the public policy is going to be irrational. And we can’t afford that in the modern world.

AJ: What is your next project after this?

LK: Well, I have a lot of projects. I’m in the middle of scientific papers. I just wrote, what, 2 last week, because of these new discoveries. I’m writing a new book, but I won’t go into that yet, except that it will follow up on A Universe from Nothing, in a different sense, and address more of the question of why we’re here rather than could something come from nothing. Another fundamental question that in some sense is a religious one. And what I want to do, what I’ve done with these books is show that these fundamental questions that have been the basis of theology and philosophy, science is addressing in new ways. And it’s changing what we mean, but that’s okay. That’s okay. It’s called learning.

Emphasis Mine

See:

Creationist Battle With Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos Is Humiliating For America

Source: Politics USA

Author: Rmuse

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. Belief is closely related to faith that is confidence in a person, deity, or religious dogmata absent of facts. Faith is often a synonym for hope, and hope is relevant to any discussion of religion because without a shred of proof a religion’s dogma is true, its adherents can only hope they are not being deceived by teachings with no basis in fact. Young children believe a kindly senior citizen from the North Pole who makes an overnight visit to every child on Earth, and even as they start suspecting Santa Claus is a myth they still hold out hope he is real. Obviously hope, belief, and faith are no substitutes for facts, and yet there is a large segment of Americans that contend without reservation their religious beliefs are immutable and unquestionable truths uttered from their deity’s lips.

The ongoing, and one-sided, battle between creationist Ken Ham of “Answers in Genesis” notoriety and highly-regarded astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of Fox’s Cosmos is humiliating for America because Ham typifies the right wing evangelical Christian ignorance founded on ancient mythology. Dr. Tyson is not involved in Ham’s battle because one thing he likely learned early in life is that it is futile for a scientist to dialogue with religious fanatics who base their arguments on factless faith. Each episode of the scientific series brings a new charge from Ken Ham, and it is apparent that his primary target is not Neil deGrasse Tyson or Cosmos, but science itself.

Each week without any “answers in Genesis” to support his claim that Cosmos and Tyson are wrong about the Universe, age of the Earth, or why evolutionary theory is fact, Ham resorts to Republicans’ Koch brother tactic of questioning the veracity of scientists. If Ham could find the “answers in Genesis” he claims repudiate science or Neil deGrasse Tyson’s empirical data to back up facts supported by peer-reviewed scientific research, he certainly would have presented them by now. Despite offering no facts to support his creationist sophistry except “bible,” it has not stopped Ham from weekly assertions that science is fraudulent because, like every good scientist, Tyson readily admits science, by nature, is an evolving process and does not have all the answers. That is the primary difference between science and devotees of the creation myth; creationists claim to have all the answers because god.

After the first Cosmos episode, creationists led by Ham demanded the program give equal time to young Earth creationists who were livid that Tyson dared assert the Universe and life on earth started without god. Of course, giving the ignoramus sect parity with a leading scientist to promote their absurd contention that all Americans need to know about the cosmos is that in less than a literal week Christianity’s deity created the Universe, Earth, as well as life. Maybe the program’s creators should have given Ham a very, very short segment to expound how the Universe came into being in six days if for no other reason than exposing the bible creation story for what it really is; an inconsistent child’s fantasy.

Generally, an answer is a reply to a question that is relevant to the said question, and since Ken Ham represents about half the American population clinging to the Genesis creation myth, it is worth summarizing the creation story to expose its inconsistency with itself. Ham and about 150-million Christian Americans take it on faith the answer to how the Universe and life on Earth came into being is in Genesis, but it is likely they never read farther than “In the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). If they read all 21 verses in Genesis chapter one, they would comprehend why they are the subject of ridicule for claiming science is an abomination and the creation myth is an immutable truth.

According to answers in Genesis, on day one god created heavens and Earth and said, “Let there be light” and divided light from darkness and called the light day, and the darkness he called night. On day two, god made the firmament in the midst of the waters and divided the waters under the firmament and above the firmament, and god called the firmament heaven in spite of already creating heaven on day one. On day three, god said “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” He called dry land Earth and the waters seas, and while he was at it he created vegetation.

On day four there are more recreation events where god said, “Let there be lights to divide the day from the night; God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day (Sun) and the lesser light to rule the night (Moon).” He made stars as well that, like the day and night on day one, were already created as part of “the heavens and Earth” and divided the light from the darkness he called day and night. On day five, god said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

On day six, it appears god recreated day five’s “every living creature” and “created man in the image of god he created him; male and female.” According to “answers in Genesis,” god rested on the seventh day, but he should have kept working because in Genesis 2 it says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And god blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it he rested from all his work which god had created and made.” But in verse seven, god recreated “man of the dust of the ground, breathed into him the breath of life that made him a living being.” Later in verse 21, god remade the woman from one of the man’s ribs and it begs a question the “answers in Genesis” never answers; why did god create man and woman, day and night, heaven and Earth twice?

The truth is that it does not matter one iota what the bible creation myth says, or that 46% of Americans believe it is factual. However, it does matter that men like Ham, the Koch brothers, and Republicans use the ancient bible mythology to deny science that is having a deleterious effect on the whole of humanity. There is no difference between Ham challenging Neil deGrasse Tyson by sowing doubt about science with no “answers in Genesis,” and the Koch Republicans who spending millions in advertising questioning the validity of the overwhelming majority of scientists’ assertions that global climate change is real and poses an existential threat to mankind. Neither the Kochs nor religious fanatics like Ham ever present valid arguments to prove their positions because they do not exist, and they clearly understand that a tragically large segment of the population will reject science for irrational belief because god and bible.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is doing America a great service by attempting to educate the population about science and how it has taken humanity from believing religion has the only answers to dispelling every religious preconception men in positions of power still use to control superstitious people into supporting them as they rape and pillage the Earth. It is likely that creationists, and 46% of the population that clings to Genesis for answers, are incapable of comprehending even a fraction of the science Neil deGrasse Tyson is exposing to the masses every week because their cognitive abilities have been permanently retarded by childish dependence on archaic bible mythology.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.politicususa.com/2014/04/27/creationist-battle-neil-degrasse-tyson-cosmos-humiliating-america.html

Neil deGrasse Tyson Under Attack from Christians Who Want More Biblical Creationism on His Show

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Conservative Christians are really mad about the reboot of the legendary science series Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The complaint? That an ancient myth about creation invented by Hebrews thousands of years ago is not being included in a show that is there to teach science. Christian conservatives have been taking to the airwaves complaining about the non-inclusion of ancient myths in a science program, with Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis whining, “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them,” and Elizabeth Mitchell of the same organization decrying the show for having “blind faith in evolution.” (She’s just straight up lying here. Evolution is well-established by evidence, something Cosmos covers in its second episode.)

While it’s tempting to laugh off the idea that a creation myth should be injected into what is supposed to be a science program, maybe it’s not as zany as it initially seems. After all, anthropology is a science, and a creation myth segment could be a great way to introduce the way scientists study ancient cultures. But there’s no reason it has to be the one in the Bible, which everyone knows already. There’s been thousands of creation stories throughout time, so in the interest of fair-and-balanced, why not given one of these others a chance? Here are some potential creation stories, and the pros and cons for telling each one.

1. The ancient Greeks. Chaos, a goddess who also happens to be the entire universe, gave birth to Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the sky. Brother and sister married and gave birth to a bunch of Titans. One of those Titans, named Cronus, had a bad habit of eating his children, but Gaia was able to hide one of those babies, named Zeus, away from him. Zeus’ wife managed to get Cronus to barf up all his eaten children, and those children ended up, alongside Zeus, defeating their father in battle to become the Greek gods we all know and love. The invention of people is something of an afterthought in this legend, but a big deal is made out of how one gentle Titan, Prometheus, gave the people fire. This irritated Zeus, because he just really didn’t like people for some reason, and so he chained Prometheus to a mountain and made a bird steal his liver on the daily. He then punished people for fire-stealing by giving them a woman named Pandora who opened a box that released sin into the world.

Pros: The image of the sky copulating with the earth is pretty cool. The animations you could come up with for Cronus vomiting up his children would also be entertaining.

Cons: Just as with the story of Eve and the apple, this is a misogynist creation myth that blames all the misery and sin in the world on women.

2. Ancient Japanese creation myth. The gods, kicking around in the formlessness of space, decided to stir Earth into being so they had something to occupy their time. Two of them, a man and woman, do this little stirring dance-like routine, but the lady steps on the man’s lines, speaking before he does. This causes their babies to be rejects they have to throw out. So the couple redoes their little stirring routine and she acts more submissive this time around. Female submission, being magic, means that this time around, she is way better at producing usable children. Those children end up being a bunch of islands, because Japan, as you know, is a bunch of islands.

Pros: Many creation myths show the gods copulating the world into being, but few really spend much time on their pre-child dating life. This story has the appeal of a rom-com, complete with a dance scene.

Cons: Misogyny, just like in the Bible and the Greek creation myth. For some reason, men the world over were fond of making up creation stories that concluded with a lesson about how women are always screwing things up and therefore should not be allowed to have power.

3. Ancient Egyptian creation myth. The first god to emerge from chaos is named Atum. He, um, spits–okay, let’s be honest, he masturbates–and out shoot his two children, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. (That, or he masturbates into his own mouth, rolls it around, and spits out his kids. I mean, it’s not, objectively speaking, any grosser than the methods we use today.) They commit incest, which is common in creation stories, making a god of earth and a goddess of sky. More incest results in more godly grandchildren, who get into ugly power struggles that result in the creation of the underworld, which was a big deal to ancient Egyptians.

Pros: This one is a winner for fans of body fluid. Not just because of Atum’s baby-making strategies, but because Tefnut’s name actually invokes body fluids in ancient Egyptian. Not particularly misogynist, either, suggesting that you can have a creation story without making “and women are terrible” the kicker.

Cons: People seem really unimportant to this story, so the narcissists in the audience might get bored. Also, as entertaining as Atum’s baby-making methods are, showing it on prime time TV would be impossible to get past the censors, even with Seth McFarlane’s support as a producer.

4. Ancient Norse creation myth. Fire and ice meet in the middle of nowhere to create Ymir, a large and sweaty giant who produced other giants by sweating them out. There was also a giant cow who licked salt licks until gods emerged from them. A salt lick god and a giant-sweat giantess got it on and produced Odin, who is their major god. Odin killed Ymir, the sweat creator, and built the earth out of his body, which means that if you’re taking a dip in the ocean, you’re swimming in sweat giant blood. The gods made people out of trees, which is a little nicer than the Bible’s God making people out of mud and ribs.

Pros: For one thing, the Avengers movies have made Norse mythology a little more familiar with their use of the god Thor as a character. More importantly, you can show giants emerging from another giant’s armpit while the gods bust out of salt licks. What’s not to love?

Cons: While watching a giant sweat out other beings is safer for broadcast television than watching an Egyptian god ejaculate out his children, it’s also not nearly as entertaining. Also, while you have to give points to the Norse for the loopiness of the image of a cow licking a salt lick until it ejects gods, cows just don’t make for good TV.

No one wants to hear the same old snake-and-apple routine we’ve all heard a thousand times before, but Cosmos could definitely give “equal time” to a creation myth while making it entertaining and educational. Just pick one of these four, or any of the thousands of others anthropologists have gathered over the years. Not that this would placate the conservatives demanding that ancient mythology be given a spot on a science education program. After all, a segment on creation myths would only serve to show that the myth in the Bible is just one of many, and lead many viewers to conclude that there was no more an Eve eating an apple than there was a Pandora opening her box.

Emphasis Mine

See:http://www.alternet.org/belief/neil-degrasse-tyson-under-attack-christians-who-want-more-biblical-creationism-his-show?utm_source=Amanda+Marcotte%27s+Subscribers&utm_campaign=e55cac7c27-RSS_AUTHOR_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f2b9a8ae81-e55cac7c27-79824733

Why Religious Fundamentalists Are So Excited About Charter Schools

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

(N.B.: it might also be noted that public school teachers are usually organized in collective bargaining units – anathema to conservative thinkers.) 

“It is no secret that Republicans dislike public education. They view it as a burden on the taxpayer and do not believe paying for someone else’s kid’s education should be their responsibility. Just this month Senator Paul Ryan (R-WI) was quoted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) saying that kids who receive free school lunches have parents who do not care about them at home.

Ryan, like the rest of the Republican Party, sees public schools as a free handout, a program used by poor people who cannot afford private school and a secular institution that removes God from kids’ lives. They also know that everyone’s tax dollars pay for this and they have a plan to stop it.

Enter school vouchers. Not a new idea by any means, school vouchers came into being nearly 140 years ago in Vermont and Maine, but not how we know them today. In 1955, economist Milton Friedman brought them into the national spotlight in a paper titled, “The Role of Government in Education.” The whole plan was a way to fund private schools and tuitions with taxpayer dollars. Though the program introduced by Friedman gained little steam at the time, the ideas sat around the Republican Party think tanks for some time, and starting in 1989, the idea started to take off.

In 2012 Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal introduced legislation allowing parents to use vouchers to send their children to private schools. These vouchers work something like scholarships where poor students may be taken out of the “failing” public school and placed into a private religious school.

Jindal only placed about 8,000 poor students in the entire state into these private schools and the data from the LEAP testing done each year showed that those students in the private schools scored drastically lower (40% at or slightly above grade level) than the state average (69%)1.

Blogger Lamar White looked into the discrimination that goes into the private schools benefiting from the voucher system:

Private schools, after all, are prohibited from using race as a factor in admissions. But they’re not prohibited from using religion or sexual orientation. And Louisiana’s voucher program is funding schools that actively and purposely discriminate against children who are not members of their sponsoring church. In fact, in some cases, we’re actually being asked to pay more to schools for tuition for students who don’t belong to the school’s sponsoring church than we pay for a student who does. We’re subsidizing a parallel system of schools that discriminates against kids for being gay or being physically or mentally disabled (because private schools are not subject to the same standards with respect to disabled students as public schools are).

White showed that taxpayer dollars, through the voucher system, are paying for educational institutions to discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation. Though the Unites States Constitution strictly prohibits this discrimination, these religious schools have learned to exploit loopholes through church and state separation.

The private schools do not have to teach science in the same way public schools do. Louisiana private schools are known for teaching that Darwin was wrong, and that the answer to how life came to be on earth is not evolution but creationism. They have also taught that the Great Depression was overblown by liberal propaganda.

This voucher project has not been deemed successful in Louisiana. Failing test scores and the butchery of science education on taxpayer dollars has left the state with subpar educational standards, money diverted from public schools to religious institutions and rampant discrimination.

After looking at this experiment, the Republican Party must be ready to shelve this idea, right? Not exactly.

On In January 2014 Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill to the Senate titled Scholarships for Kids (S. 1968 /H.R. 4000). The bill is a nationwide voucher program that would turn 63 percent of public school education funds into private school vouchers. Now, Alexander’s bill does not touch federal education money for subsidized school lunches, students with disabilities, and students in schools on federally impacted land or military bases, but the Republicans have that covered too. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced his bill, the Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, to expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, children living on military bases, and children living in impoverished areas.

If you think that sounds too good to be true, it is. Scott’s bill is a voucher system for those who need the funding most. Alexander’s and Scott’s bills combined would devastate the public school system. Together these two bills would turn all federal educational funding into vouchers and students living in poor, rural areas and students with disabilities would lose out.

The private school system, which is predominantly comprised of Catholic or Christian religious schools, would benefit greatly by not only receiving tuition fees, but also government funding. They would be free to teach whatever religious-based education they please while taxpayers pick up the tab.

As seen in Louisiana, students are not benefiting from vouchers. Regarding another city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is also using a voucher system, Politico reported that, “Just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools.”

Politico went on to report about the standards of scientific education in these schools and that Zach Kopplin, a student activist fighting for a proper scientific education in the US, found that in more than 300 voucher schools teaching biblical creation, some are even going so far as to teach young earth creationism—the belief that the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old.

Despite its failures, the Republican Party has been able to sell vouchers as saving taxpayers’ money while also giving them a choice in their children’s education. The idea has become a rallying cry of the Tea Party members and Libertarians inside the Republican Party. Libertarians see this as a step toward the privatization of education, removing government from the equation completely, and putting your child’s education on the free market. Former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson was known for his voucher program launch for childcare in New Mexico, which resulted in a large boom in business for unregulated religious childcare institutions.

Many parents fall victim to this propaganda because they are unable to afford to send their children to fancy private schools and believe voucher programs will give them access to an education better than what’s available at public schools. Sadly, what these parents are left with are kids who get rejected from the school voucher scholarships and are made to return to their now more poorly funded public school, if they are lucky. Why lucky? Because overfunding private schools with vouchers will mean closing many public schools in the poorest of communities and forcing parents to drive one to two towns over to get their children to school.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, CA. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-religious-fundamentalists-are-some-biggest-beneficiaries-charter-schools?akid=11639.123424.KDdpVA&rd=1&src=newsletter974344&t=13