Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slipping Down the Slope

One of the worst assumptions a religious person can make is that anyone that does not believe their particular version of god doesn't really understand their religion or their god.  I could be making a huge generalization when I say this, but it does appear to me to be a wildly popular argument from middle-aged people toward young adults.  I would venture to say that this argument has become a half-hearted fallback position for religious people over 40.

For those of you in-and-around my generation that find yourselves falling back to this elitist position, let me make this point very clear.  More often than not, this argument is fallacious and could not be further from the truth.

The argument generally goes as follows:
  • Older religious person:  "We are living in the end-times!  Non-believers will mock me for saying this, but you cannot deny the predictions in the Bible.  The Bible even says non-believers will mock me!  SEE!?!?  Nobody could've predicted that."
  • Younger skeptic:  "I don't think end of the world predictions were new when that book of the Bible was written..."
  • Older religious person:  "So what?  All of these horrible things are happening just like what the Bible said would happen.  Jesus said that he would return and God gave us warning signs for his return.  Have you not noticed all these earthquakes and hurricanes and floods?"
  • Younger skeptic:  "Yeah, but with science we understand more now and with modern technology we're exposed to more news from around the world.  We know more than they ever could have.  And doesn't the Bible also says in Matthew 16 and 24 that Jesus would return within the lifetimes of his disciples?"
  • Older religious person:  "People are still ignorant of the coming of Christ.  I just care about all these people that will not accept Jesus by the rapture!  It is so sad to me that all of these people will spend an eternity in Hell!"
  • Younger skeptic:  "Wait, so you're saying that I'm going to burn in Hell forever?"
  • Older religious person:  "Once you completely understand Christianity, you'll understand my faith."
If you are arguing for the legitimacy of your religion, please... PLEASE don't do this.  All it takes is two sentences from someone like me to tear down your entire argument:
"When it comes to the Bible, I guarantee I know as much as or more than you do about it.  And it is because of that fact that I am an atheist."
 If you're old enough to make assumptions based solely on smugness, then you're old enough to know what happens when you assume...  Besides, don't let your complacency plug your ears.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kicking Demon-Butt for JESUS!

I can think of several things that are sure to make money in America:
  • Jesus
  • Crosses
  • Fighting skills
  • Demons
  • Attractive young women
But when you put them all together, you have the sure-fire, money-making combination of these young demon-fighters from Arizona!  In my best Michael Buffer voice - ahem...

"Ladies and gentlemen, raise your crosses as I introduce you to...  Brynne Larson...  Tess Scherkenback... and Savannah Scherkenback... LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!":

(image from the BBC article by Lucy Wallis)
I kid you not, these "freedom fighting teenagers" advertise the ability to exorcise demons and return those various maligned spirits straight back to Hell where they belong.  (I use quotes for the word teenagers since one of them - Savannah - is listed as being 21.)

It will come as no surprise to any legitimate, practicing Exorcist that the ass-kicking apple doesn't fall far from the tree with at least one of these three.  Sure, all three of them can already defend themselves, and others, by being black-belts in Karate.  But since most of us are not practicing Exorcists, you should know that the skills needed to combat demons doesn't come from Karate training.  No sir.  For exorcisms you see, you need a bona fide holy man, which they just so happen to have in Brynne's father, Reverend Bob Larson.  This modern religious hero and conqueror of rogue phantoms claims to have performed over 15,000 exorcisms himself.  15,000!!!  That's a lot of vanquished imps and succubi, my friends!

The services that these three are offering to mankind are not being performed just to make money.  Heavens no!  That is just ludicrous according to Reverend Larson.  He doesn't expect money for exorcising the unclean; but then again, these special skills do come at a price:
"He [Reverend Larson] asks for a voluntary donation of a couple of hundred dollars or pounds when he and the girls perform a one-to-one exorcism, and rejects the idea that spiritual services have to be free of charge."
I don't know where to stop laughing at these three and their silly parents.  But then again, I don't know what's worse; the fact that these families are outright lying just to put on some sort of sick religious theater or the fact that there are people that actually believe this nonsense.

They even go so far as to assert that the Harry Potter series actually has real spells from witchcraft books.  Of course, none of them bother to tell us how they know all of this.  They don't even bother to tell us which Harry Potter book they are referring to, nor do they give us the title of the specific witchcraft book where we can find these spells, nor do they explain how it was that J.K. Rowling sneaked all that evil past her publisher.  But who cares!  As long as people know the truth!  From the article, young Tess explains:
"The spells and things that you're reading in the Harry Potter books, those aren't just something that are made up, those are actual spells. Those are things that came from witchcraft books."
Yes, of course!  Because these young Christians are just trying to educate the ignorant masses, not trying at all to make a few extra dollars/pounds off of THAT money tree.  Am I right?

Harry Potter aside, the common theme to most of these young "Crusaders for Christ", or "Exorcism by Mortal Kombat", is to pull on the nostalgic strings of older generations.  Many older people wouldn't admit it, but they have nothing but contempt for most young people; consistently blaming younger generations for anything from rampant sex and immorality, to corruption and narcissism.  (I attribute it to some form of jealousy or regret for bygone opportunities, but I could be wrong.)  Thus, when they read stories about teenagers like these three, it sets off some fictitious memory of their younger, more idealized selves... and it makes them the perfect prospects to be played for fools.

Which means that these three are nothing more than showgirls, pandering to the incessant need for older people to feel superior.  And that cultural phenomenon is why these girls are not laughed off the stage.  For proof, one need only to read what is my favorite quote from the article:
"We think it's OK to train teenagers to get drunk and have sex, but to do moral things for God, oh let's not train them to do that," says [Reverend] Larson.
I see.  So that's what's going on with the crazy kids these days!  All this time, parents have been training their teens to break the law and sex each other up!  Why, all they need is to be trained to fight demons!

Now, I no longer live in Arizona, so someone that still lives there will have to explain to me exactly what the devil those people are teaching their kids in that state (pardon the pun).  I never thought I'd say this, but boy am I glad my wife and I moved our family to Texas.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Visual Compilation of Contradictions

There's not much to this post beyond showing you how wonderful the Information Age is:


The BibViz Project website offers a visual and interactive illustration of all of the Biblical contradictions collected from The Skeptic's Annotated Bible.  From BibViz web page, you can hover over a reference line and see the verses that represent the contradiction.  Spectacular!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our Woeful Legacy

While reading this op-ed piece in the New York Times by Adam Frank, an Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester, my state of mind began to slowly decline until I felt downright lousy.  By the end of his article, I had become so ashamed that it was as if I had knocked a 3 year-old child off his or her tricycle.  In more ways than I think he realizes, this professor has directed the uncomfortable spotlight of truth directly on me and my generation.  And I hate it.

Sure, there are far too many people in our country who actively combat the foundations of modern science, but that's not the problem.  The problem is the far greater number of people who impulsively believe these people simply because:
  1. They are excessively self-assured.
  2. They sound remarkably convincing (good salesmanship).
  3. They yell a lot.
  4. Wave an ancient book around.
The fact that so many people so blindly adopt these ancient explanations for the natural world is precisely the reason our society will be held accountable to future generations.  And we should be utterly embarrassed at ourselves for allowing this to happen.

History will look back upon the inquisitive generations before us, who dedicated themselves tirelessly to scientific discovery, as directly contributing to the growth of humanity.  However, I do not believe those same historians will be so kind to those in and around my generation.  When I consider all of the work that so many pioneers of scientific discovery have bestowed upon us, it honestly disappoints me that so much of this effort has been so flippantly discarded or just downright ignored by so many in this country.  As a glaring example, many Americans - 46% to be precise - have completely abandoned the vast mountain of evidence supporting modern biological science in lieu of mythical explanations of the natural world written well over 3000 years ago.

But why?  Is it easier for these people to hold onto their beliefs simply because they were born into them?  Is it more comfortable to believe that your existence is infinite (well, AFTER you're born that is.  Nobody seems to care about all that time before you were conceived by your parents - but I digress.)  Or is it this notion that ancient cultures were somehow more in tune with some universal consciousness and in turn possessed the ability to perform superhuman feats?

All of this gives me reason to be disappointed in my contemporaries.  Because this generation does not strive to understand the Universe as we have in the past, nor do we display the same fervor for discovery as our predecessors.  Instead, my generation has chosen:
  • Belief in ancient texts over the magnificence and wonder of the Universe.
  • To openly dismiss solid and heavily researched principles of science.
  • Bronze Age myths and deistic magic over the breadth of data in modern biology.
  • To put their children, and the rest of us for that matter, at risk of serious infection by abandoning modern medicine over unfounded belief and very dangerous lies.
  • To maintain a rigid stance of divine exceptionalism and extraordinary privilege, with no consideration of future generations (this includes our population explosion and anthropogenic climate change).
  • To ignorantly regurgitate misinformation, bumper-sticker platitudes, and political sound bites with absolutely no requisite proof of these claims.
  • To brazenly criticize "gaps" in scientific knowledge without the same demand for consistency in your religious text.
Our grandchildren deserved better from us, and we've already let them down.

*** Edit ***

Another example - North Texas has issued a measles alert after 9 people have been diagnosed with the infection.  And this outbreak has been linked to a vaccine-denying megachurch in Tarrant County.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cowboy Immunity

The most disturbing trend in the United States these days is the extent to which a, "Stand Your Ground" law is being exploited.  Take, for example, this story from South Carolina where a man named Shannon Scott and his lawyer, Tim Rutherford, are arguing that Scott should not be prosecuted for the murder of an  innocent, 17 year-old bystander, Darrell Niles.

Back in April of 2010, Shannon Scott's daughter called him as she and her friends were on their way home from clubbing.  His daughter claimed that they were being followed by another carload of teens, which Scott referred to as, "woman thugs."  Scott then met his daughter and her friends outside his home, where he told them to, "Go inside and lie down on the kitchen floor."  Armed with a .38 caliber pistol, Scott arbitrarily shot and killed Niles, who was sitting in his car across the street.

It has not been established if there was any other gunfire that night simply because there was so much conflicting testimony.  However, according to the police report, Scott fired first.

Too bad poor Darrell Niles can't tell his side of the story.  And to me, this story goes way beyond Trayvon Martin because we're not talking about some idiot picking a fight with the victim and then shooting the victim when the idiot is losing the fight.  We're talking about giving people like this gun nut** the capability of shooting first, and then hiding behind a defense like, "I was scared for my life!"  It is horrifying what this guy and his attorney are trying to do.  Because if they are successful in their argument, this case will broaden the, "Stand Your Ground" law to the point that anyone with a gun can fire without reasonable cause, with as many bullets as they want, without ever thinking twice about where and in whom those bullets might land.

Here's the part that mortifies me:
"When someone like Scott, in fear for his life, shoots his gun, '...they cannot be expected to shoot straight always because they are not supposed to have their life in jeopardy,' Rutherford said."
Excuse me???  You're damn right I expect someone who is taking the law into their own hands to shoot straight.  And furthermore, I don't care if you feel your life is in jeopardy.  If you take an innocent life simply because you're a trigger happy ego maniac, then your rights are forfeit.

Again, from the article:
"It’s terrible, but Darrell Niles, a 17-year-old innocent bystander, just got in the way, they said. 
'He simply ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time,' Rutherford said."
Got in the way?  Wrong place at the wrong time?  Boy, I'll say.  "Wrong time" takes on a whole new meaning: young Darrell was in the wrong state in a time where rampant fear and paranoia are coupled with a obsessive gun culture.

** Anyone that has a sign in his window that reads, "Fight Crime - Shoot First" qualifies as a gun nut.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Unclean beast! Get thee down!

*** PLEASE NOTE: This is not The Onion ***

Some things are just so ludicrous, they stand on their own merit and do not require any commentary whatsoever.  I give you, Creation Today:




That's right, dragons were real because if they weren't, well then god just compared our adversary to a make-believe creature that never existed.  He said it, not me.

This is just so stupid that I have absolutely nothing to add.  Heck, I'll just add one of my favorite lines from Dragonslayer:
"...if it weren't for sorcerers, there wouldn't be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings... soaring... and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours... Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit... crippled... pitiful. Spiteful!"
I take that back, I think this video seems appropriate, too:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Studying the Edge of Death

Yesterday I read something that I found truly fascinating.  A team of researchers from the University of Michigan Health System published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that showed that within the first 30 seconds after clinical death in rats (where the heart stops):
"... all of the rats displayed a widespread, transient surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with a highly aroused brain."  
Notice the word "all"?  That's significant because any scientific study expects outliers.  But in this scenario, each brain reacted in exactly the same manner.

Thus, with this initial data in hand, the team then decided to confirm the results by getting a bit more, ahem, data.  They chose a few more Rattus norvegicus volunteers and switched the method of death to asphyxiation.  Again, the results were nearly identical to the patterns of those who preceded the suffocated rats in death (the original set of lucky volunteers who succumbed to cardiac arrest.)

This is a remarkable study because it’s the first time that researchers have actually studied and quantified the dying brain.  I think most people would agree that it's not that big of a leap to extrapolate this phenomenon to human beings.  Since we are mammals with similar – albeit much bigger – brains, then consequently it is highly likely that our brains behave in a similar fashion.  This, too, would be the first natural explanation for near-death experiences with clinical evidence to support it.

Notice I said, “most people.”

In steps Jeffrey Long, MD, a radiation oncologist and self-proclaimed skeptic-turned-believer, who claims:
“The majority of near-death experiences cannot be explained by such a study.”
How so?  Where is your contradictory evidence, beyond simple hearsay and personal anecdotes of near death experiences?  But of course Dr. Long has to issue a statement disagreeing with this study without a shred of contradicting evidence.  How else can he sell more of his, “Evidence of the Afterlife” books if he was to agree that this study has the potential to show that his initial premise of near-death experience is full of new-age religious nonsense?

I recall that Dr. Michael Shermer has also discussed this phenomenon on several different occasions, each of which pointing to the same naturalistic conclusion.  Dr. Shermer writes that oftentimes death is a process that can take two, five, even 10 minutes to complete, with the brain producing hallucinations while in a state of hypoxia.  Yet people like Dr. Deepak Chopra and the good Dr. Long continue to muddy the water with ideas of some mystical universal consciousness, or an esoteric human soul that transcends the body.  Rubbish!  Both of these ideas are both pure conjecture and have no basis in science.

Admittedly these near-death experiences sound impressive and were certainly very real to the person whose brain was busy dying.  But then again, how would these people know the difference?  Our brain is how we interpret stimuli, so of course our brain will believe what it forced upon on itself (assuming that the patient remembers it.)  But these experiences are no more real than someone who has woken up in a state of confusion after a vivid dream.

This phenomenon is why Dr. Long is able to sell so many books with stories of people who have been yanked back from the brink and claim to have experienced something divine.  These patients are very convincing because they themselves are completely convinced that it occurred.  And naturally, people who have been raised with the notion of heaven and hell will buy this nonsense hook, line, and sinker.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Judge Not

When I first saw this story I thought it was an article from The Onion, but upon second glance I realized it wasn't. Tennessee Judge Lu Ann Ballew has ordered the parents of Messiah DeShawn McCullough to change his first name to "Martin" because:
"The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ."
A religious judge in a religious area of the country decides to trample on the rights of parents to name their child as they see fit, and she's so comfortable in her decision that she goes on public record with foolish rhetoric that is undeniably religious.  How absurd are the religious extremists willing to be when, "Messiah" evokes this kind of response?  Moreover, how comfortable can she really be in her faith if the name, "Messiah" sends her into such a tantrum that she simply abandons her impartiality?

I've even seen some people try to justify her actions by asserting that Judge Ballew was just thinking of the child.  In fact, Judge Ballew even suggested that herself:
"It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is."
How so, exactly?  Please explain how that name would put this child at odds with a lot of people?  According to a link from the BBC, there were more than 700 babies named "Messiah" in the United States last year.  So who is going to be offended by that name other than you and the overly sensitive Christians trying to come to your rescue?

If you don't find this whole thing distressing enough, read some of the comments on WBIR.com, the website of a Tennessee news station.  Luckily, most of them want the judge removed.  Other comments, however, show you just how low religious extremism has gone.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reality vs. Imagery

After seeing several posts and photos of the Sun shining through the clouds on a couple of different social media sites, I had a thought.  Why is it that some very common and very natural phenomenon tend to inspire religious awe?

Here's the first example:


Isn't that breathtaking?  This is a picture of the Grand Teton National Park and was taken by my Mom.

For you personally, what first comes to mind when you see this?  Does it provoke an emotional response or a sense of spirituality?

Here's my take: I love how the sunlight just pours through those broken clouds.  Since I was very young, I've loved this visual effect.  First of all, it's undeniably gorgeous.  But second, it always takes me back to a game I played with myself where I enjoyed visualizing myself floating above the Earth with the Sun behind me, and seeing the shadow on the Earth from space.  Ah, memories...

Now here's the second photo of this experiment:


This is a picture of the annular solar eclipse in May, 2012, and was taken by me.

Okay, now what first comes to mind when you see this?  Does it provoke an emotional response or a sense of spirituality?

Is there a difference in perception from one event to the other?  How so?

From my point of view, I think the second picture is far more inspiring than the first.  (And no, it's not because I'm the one that took the picture.)  WOW!  In just one simple photograph, I get to see the relationship between three different celestial bodies and stand in awe of the magnitude of the distances involved just to bring this image to my eye.

I'm betting there are those that have a far different perception of the two images, and my thought is that this is likely due to emotional programming at a very young age.  Most people living on the Earth now are not particularly inspired by eclipses (nor do eclipses provoke a sense of spirituality) because we have been taught that this is simply the Moon sneaking in front of the Sun.  On the other hand, the first image is so frequently used in religious imagery in Christian circles, that many people instantly associate it with faith, God, or Jesus.

So what do you think?  What's your perception of these two photographs?  I'd really appreciate some feedback from both sides on this thought.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Magic in Science Textbooks?

The vocal creationist minority in the Texas State Board of Education has again forced itself upon Texas schoolchildren by inviting six creationists to the final review of science textbooks submitted for adoption.  The TFN Insider published an article yesterday that provides the names and the credentials of the creationist/intelligent design proponents that they have identified at the review thus far.  Judging by the names that I recognize, it would appear that my state is headed to yet another push for rewriting science to fit the beliefs of local Christians.

Pathetic isn't a good enough word for what they're attempting to do.  Since these proponents of religious magic only know enough to understand that the scientific method is their worst enemy, they've decided instead to redefine science with politics.

Basic science is not up for philosophical or religious debate because anyone is more than welcome to try to prove these theories wrong.  If you think someone is wrong, don't argue against it - give it a go!  The Bible, on the other hand, is by its very nature a philosophical book that simply does not stand up to the extraordinary rigors of science.  You are more than welcome to believe what you want, but as far as modern science is concerned, the Bible is no different than a book on Hobbits, Elves, or Wizards.

Popularity of a particular idea also plays no role in the scientific method.  As a matter of  fact, popularity frequently leads to further study and sometimes leads to the idea being quickly and summarily debunked.  (See Cold Fusion.)

In this day and age, we should be ashamed as a species that there are those that are still trying to place inadequate answers and anecdotal nonsense into science textbooks.  You cannot simply dream-up a catchy phrase for an empty idea and expect that idea to stand next to theories that have been proven and reinforced for well over a hundred and fifty years.  And in case anyone didn't realize it: YES, as of July 31st, 2013, the Theory of Evolution has stood for 154 years (and counting).  NO, you're not the first group of religious people to try to use political manipulation/popularity instead of the scientific method to disprove Darwin.  YES, shame on you for trying again.

I frequently hear how atheists are just angry, or that we're aggressive, or that we should just keep to ourselves because religion isn't hurting anyone.  For some reason most people forget times like these, where the religious views of conservative politicians are being used to dictate what is and what is not science.  Religious leaders, and religious people for that matter, have so mastered the claim of personal persecution that they cannot recognize when they are victimizing their own populace.  Or perhaps they simply don't care.

The vast majority of the country will usually wave their hand at events like this, since they don't see the value in worrying about what's going on with Texas.  However, what these good people don't realize is that since Texas is so much larger than other states, and since Texas requires that the same books will be used for the entire state, and since science publishers will offer discounts to other states to get them to buy the science books the publisher's already paid to have printed, then the Texas State Board of Education can and often does dictate what material gets added or removed in various science books used by other smaller states.

Do you care now?

Friday, July 5, 2013

If God Really Wrote the Ten Commandments...

I had a thought the other day, what if the Bible had actually been written by a god - what would it look like?  More specifically, what if a god actually had handed down ten rules/commandments that we were all supposed to follow?  What would those rules say?  What would they look like?

Oh, and I'm hoping to get a little audience participation on this post, so anyone reading this is welcome to add/subtract from my list by commenting below.

First Disclaimer: For those skeptics out there, remember to skip the obvious objection that there is no god.  Also, think about what a hypothetical god would have likely written 3500+ years ago had it concluded that 1) its creation was starting to get out of hand and 2) these people's attention span was far too short for a list of fifty items and thus, it had to limit itself to a measly ten rules.  Also assume that people will still be able to break these rules - as holds true for the current ten biblical commandments - which means we'll have to assume a deistic god in the sense that this god can create a universe, it just cannot intervene.

Second Disclaimer: For the religiously inclined out there, remember that this is just an exercise and you do not need to post the original ten commandments.  We've read them.

My list is below.  Of course, a couple from the biblical list are included here for obvious reasons:
  1. Do NOT kill fellow human beings.
  2. Do NOT rape fellow human beings.
  3. Do NOT steal from fellow human beings.
  4. Do NOT commit another human being to slavery.
  5. Do NOT ignore the sick or the hungry; make certain to share what I provide for you.
  6. Do NOT discriminate against your fellow human beings; whether by sex, color, group, intelligence, or anything else. Embrace the differences I have created for you.
  7. Do NOT fear one another.
  8. Resolve disagreements with compromise.
  9. Educate yourselves so long as you live.
  10. Wash yourselves, especially your hands. (A simple recipe for soap as well as a simple recipe for antibiotics follows this list.)
There's my ten.  I look forward to seeing any ideas for a better list.  Let the editing begin!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Exploits of God's Wrath

I have become so accustomed to the religious community pouncing on a tragic event, that I actually had somewhat of an imaginary lottery going on in my head as to which high profile leader would be the first one to blame modern society for the tornado in Oklahoma.  But then I realized I had forgotten the twisted rules of the game of religion: exploiting natural disasters depends wholly on the region in which that disaster occurred.

If the religious right has a strong foothold in the community and the local politics, all religious leaders are required to fire up the prayer machine to get their god to ease the suffering of others.  (Let's not even address the argument that for some strange reason, all that prayer and religious influence still didn't prevent the disaster in the first place.)  If, however, the religious influence is negligible or the local politics do not measure up to the will of their dogma, then the religious leaders are free to exploit human suffering to the fullest extent.  Oh, and make sure to remember that they can and should speak for the almighty (in his absence, of course.)

Here's a very short list of a few of the recent tragedies and the idiots that gave their god credit for murder:

  • Jerry Falwell - September 11, 2001 attack on the US.
  • John Hagee - 2005 hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans.
  • Pat Robertson - 2009 earthquake in Haiti.
  • Michelle Bachmann - 2011 hurricane Irene and earthquake in Washington D.C.
  • Glen Beck - 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

There are far more, but hopefully the point is clear.  These are the people that are willing to step in front of a microphone and confidently tell the public two wildly absurd statements.  First, the creator of the universe has given them the privilege of speaking for him (again, while he's away); and two, the creator of the universe murders relatively small groups of people if he suddenly realizes that everyone else isn't doing what they ought to be.

Now I realize that I shouldn't just single out the high profile religious leaders or politicians.  Equally as bad are the every-day religious folk who blithely regurgitate "miraculous" survival stories of extremely fortunate people... and dogs... and cats... and even horses.  All the while completely ignoring the human suffering that has already occurred or continues to occur.  Seriously, how can anyone justify calling the reunion of a dog with its master a "miracle" while standing in the street of a neighborhood obliterated by a tornado?

Sometimes it seems that this desperate search for god in the rubble of a tragedy has become so routine that a good portion of our society really doesn't give much thought as to what exactly these people are actually saying.

I suppose the point of this post is that while you think about the poor victims of Oklahoma, please... please think before you speak for the almighty.  Take the stained-glass blinders off for a few minutes.  Do it before you try to inject your god into an event which ultimately serves no purpose.  And why not think about those people that lost everything, or lost a loved one, or lost their lives?  Then, rather than try to pray away the sorrow and pity you feel, DONATE.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Global Citizens

A recent comment by someone I know, I won't say who, gave me the inspiration to finally come out of my writing hiatus.  In order to protect the individual's anonymity, I won't quote the comment verbatim, but the gist of their thought was this:

"... Today I saw another family with a rather large number of children.  I have a rather large number of children.  Maybe big families are making a comeback!!!"
As a scientist I say, boy I hope not.

What concerns me the most about the modern trend of having 3 to 5 children per couple can be summed up with simple mathematics.  Let's begin, shall we?  We'll start off simple with just two parents: Terry and Sherri.  Terry and Sherri have a total of four children, two children per parent in the succeeding gene pool.  (From now on we'll flex our science muscles and refer to this as the "replacement rate".  In our first example, this would be a replacement rate of 4.0.)  Now, Terry and Sherri's kids: Mary, Keri, Harry and Barry, pair up accordingly and marry (eww, shallow gene pool) and follow in their parent's footsteps and also have a replacement rate of 4.0.  Four kids per set isn't bad, right?

Well, if you're moderately savvy, you'll immediately see a very troublesome trend.  Even if we don't consider previous generations - in other words, once each couple gets all children to reproductive age, they die - this mythical population will explode.  And it will explode in a hurry - an exponential hurry.  If you want to try this at home, get a calculator and put in 2 raised to the 30th power and see how many people you get.  That's 1,073,741,824 children in just 30 generations...  Yikes.

Now let's consider resources for this exploding population.  Food, water, living space (you know, the offspring need enough space to develop, not to mention the couple needs enough space for at least four rounds of hypothetical hanky panky), clothing, and the means to barter for these resources - you know, money.  Remember, resources, by definition, are finite.  What happens when our mythical population explodes and these basic resources become scarce?  Double yikes.

I know this is a horrible comparison, but if you were to watch a colony of bacteria growing in a medium of limited resources - say a petri dish - you'll sit by and witness a colony thrive for a few generations only to eventually collapse and die due to lack of nutrients.

Note that I'm not even considering the possibility of a link between fertility rate and poverty, as this question has been going on for well over 100 years.  However, it seems I'm not the only one that believes that higher standards of living can be attributable to lower fertility rates.

I don't mean to be harsh, but at some point our species has to grow up and consider the consequences of our actions...  For example:  Rather than thinking about yourself and your own selfish needs, how about considering your future beyond a few months?  Do you have the means to accommodate that many children?  And how about an even bigger question:  Do you think our tiny little planet can continue to provide food and water for an exploding population of human beings?  Are you willing to risk your child's future, or lack thereof, on your own selfish need to keep having babies?