11-6-17 Does the size of the universe prove God doesn't exist?
The weight of galaxies, and the press of years, seem to sweep us towards atheism. ientists now know that the universe contains at least two trillion galaxies. It's a mind-scrunchingly big place, very different to the conception of the universe we had when the world's major religions were founded. So do the astronomical discoveries of the last few centuries have implications for religion? Over the last few decades, a new way of arguing for atheism has emerged. Philosophers of religion such as Michael Martin and Nicholas Everitt have asked us to consider the kind of universe we would expect the Christian God to have created, and compare it with the universe we actually live in. They argue there is a mismatch. Everitt focuses on how big the universe is, and argues this gives us reason to believe the God of classical Christianity doesn't exist. To explain why, we need a little theology. Traditionally, the Christian God is held to be deeply concerned with human beings. Genesis (1:27) states: "God created mankind in his own image." Psalms (8:1-5) says: "O Lord … What is man that You take thought of him … Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!" And, of course, John (3:16) explains God gave humans his son out of love for us. These texts show that God is human-oriented: Human beings are like God, and he values us highly. Although we're focusing on Christianity, these claims can be found in other monotheistic religions, too. If God is human-oriented, wouldn't you expect him to create a universe in which humans feature prominently? You'd expect humans to occupy most of the universe, existing across time. Yet that isn't the kind of universe we live in. Humans are very small, and space, as Douglas Adams once put it, "is big, really really big." Scientists estimate that the observable universe, the part of it we can see, is around 93 billion light years across. The whole universe is at least 250 times as large as the observable universe. Our own planet is 150m kilometres away from the sun. Earth's nearest stars, the Alpha Centauri system, are four light years away (that's around 40 trillion kilometres). Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains anywhere from 100 to 400 billion stars. The observable universe contains around 300 sextillion stars. Humans occupy the tiniest fraction of it. The landmass of planet Earth is a drop in this ocean of space. To paraphrase Adams, the universe is also really, really old. Perhaps over 13 billion years old. Earth is around four billion years old, and humans evolved around 200,000 years ago. Temporally speaking, humans have been around for an eye-blink. Clearly, there is a discrepancy between the kind of universe we would expect a human-oriented God to create, and the universe we live in. How can we explain it? Surely the simplest explanation is that God doesn't exist. The spatial and temporal size of the universe gives us reason to be atheists.(Webmaster's comment: But size doesn't matter! One can not prove anything about a negative. Anyone can make up any God they want and no one can prove it doesn't exist! The burden of proof has to be on those that claim the existance of a God! And they can't!)
10-25-17 How science transformed the world in 100 years
How science transformed the world in 100 years
In an essay for the BBC, Nobel Prize-winner and Royal Society President Sir Venki Ramakrishnan contemplates the nature of scientific discovery - how it has transformed our worldview in a short space of time, and why we need to be just as watchful today about the uses of research as we've ever been. If we could miraculously transport even the smartest people from around 1900 to today's world, they would be simply astonished at how we now understand things that had puzzled humans for centuries. Just over a hundred years ago, people had no idea how we inherit and pass on traits or how a single cell could grow into an organism. They didn't know that atoms themselves had structure - the word itself means indivisible. They didn't know that matter has very strange properties that defy common sense. Or why there is gravity. And they had no idea how things began, whether it was life on earth or the universe itself. These days because of fundamental discoveries we can answer or at least begin to answer those mysteries. That has transformed the way we see the world and often our everyday lives. Much of what we take for granted today is a result of an interplay of fundamental science and technology, with each driving the other forward. Almost every modern invention has one or often many fundamental discoveries that make it possible. Sometimes, these fundamental discoveries were hundreds of years old. Neither jet engines nor rockets would be possible without a knowledge of Newton's laws of motion. There are big moments in science, like the discovery of the structure of DNA that shift our perspectives. But even that discovery was a milestone that built on work by Darwin and Mendel and presaged today's biotechnology where the entire DNA of a human being - the human genome - has been sequenced. That in turn has given us the ability to figure out how things go wrong in genetic diseases and potentially how to fix them. Scientists were recently able to modify the genes of a young girl to cure her cancer. We are no longer a complete black box, although our complexity is such that we are only just beginning to understand how our genes regulate the body and how they interact with our environment.
10-4-17 The problem is guns
The problem is guns
Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas over the weekend, killing at least 59 people and injuring over 500 more. It is, at the time of writing at least, the worst mass shooting (outside of pogroms of non-Mormons, black people, and Native Americans) in U.S. history. Once again, the country is awash with shock, horror, and grief. But what this shooting does is demonstrate unusually clearly where America's gun violence problem comes from. The problem is guns. Paddock set up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, nearly 500 yards from the music festival. He had a huge arsenal of weapons — indeed, far more than any one person could have realistically used. He broke two windows in the hotel room, which gave him a clear view into the festival across the street. Paddock's weapons were not exotic illegal machine guns, either. As this New York Times analysis of the shot pattern demonstrates, despite the closely spaced shots, Paddock probably did not have a fully automatic rifle, as it sounded much more like a semi-automatic equipped with a "bump-fire" device. This legal accessory achieves very rapid fire by using recoil to activate the trigger repeatedly. The shooting took place over a period of 10 minutes, and it's likely most of the dead were killed in the first minute or two, before people started to scatter and take cover. The right-wing vision of a "good guy with a gun" being an effective deterrent for any kind of shooting is and always has been ludicrous. But Paddock's actions expose this fantasy perhaps more explicitly than ever before.
8-13-17 White supremacy: We are not the home of the free. We are a land of hatred for all non-whites and non-Christians, and denying all others their rights as human beings is the objective of the white supremacy groups. They would establish a White Male Dictatorship and establish death camps just like the Nazis did for all others; Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, Immigrants, LGBTs, any non-white or non-Christian! They would re-establish salvery and lynchings, and women would become totally subservient to men! We cannot claim to be the land of freedom as long as these groups continue to exist in America. In Europe they are outlawed and imprisioned. Just being a racist there will put you in prison. The Europeons know full well from the Nazis what kind of evil these groups represent. As long as these terrorist groups are tolerated America can not claim any moral superiority over other nations. WE ARE the immoral nation of the 21st century!
8-9-17 Are atheists really morally depraved? The idea defies logic
Are atheists really morally depraved? The idea defies logic
Even in secular countries people are instinctively biased against atheists, a study has found. But the prejudice will hopefully die out soon, says Bob Holmes. Are atheists as moral as religious believers? Surprisingly, even atheists seem to think not. This belief is almost certainly wrong, but it reflects a long-standing bias that morality stems from faith. Fortunately, there is hope this bias can be beaten. The latest evidence of anti-atheist attitudes comes from a study led by Will Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. Gervais polled more than 3000 volunteers to glean views about atheists and believers. They came from 13 countries with a wide range of faiths. Gervais used a trick to get people to reveal what they really think. He told volunteers a story about a man who tortured animals as a child and grew up to become a serial killer. Then he asked half of them whether it was more likely this man was A) a teacher, or B) a teacher who did not believe in a god. For the other half, option B was a teacher who was a religious believer. The correct answer is always A. It is always more likely because, there are always more teachers than teachers who are atheist or who are believers. But Gervais found that people still chose option B when it matched their intuitive notion of how things should be. In almost every country surveyed – Christian, Muslim, Hindu or secular – more people made the error when option B was the atheist rather than the believer, which suggests they found an atheist mass murderer more plausible than a religious one. Remarkably, even responders who said they did not themselves believe in any god showed the same pattern. (Webmaster's comment: Out of the 225 mass shootings in the United States in 2017 so far most have been by white male Christians full of hate for somebody or another.)
8-8-17 Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
A leaked report says evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is strong – but it remains to be seen how the Trump White House will react. Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change, according to a leaked US report. Since 1980, the average temperature in the US has risen significantly, with the past few decades the warmest for 1500 years. The report, written by scientists from 13 federal agencies, is still awaiting approval from the Trump administration before it can be officially published, but a draft copy was obtained by The New York Times. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” say the authors in the draft report, with thousands of studies contributing to an irrefutable body of evidence. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they say. The report points out that the ability to attribute some extreme weather events to climate change is improving. It says there is relatively strong evidence that humans contributed to the European heatwave in 2003 and the record temperatures in Australia in 2013. Globally, it is extremely likely that humans are responsible for over half the mean temperature increase since 1951, the authors say. The leak comes as it was reported by The Guardian yesterday that senior officials at the US Department of Agriculture are now instructing staff to speak about “weather extremes” instead of climate change. “It is disturbing that scientists had to leak a draft of a new government report warning of dire climate change impacts because they fear the Trump administration will try to suppress it,” says Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. “Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has arrived.” (Webmaster's comment: The fix is in!)
6-4-17 Secret Mexican diary sheds light on Spanish Inquisition
Secret Mexican diary sheds light on Spanish Inquisition
A story of torture, betrayal and persecution is captivating Mexicans almost 500 years after it happened. The dramatic life and death of the Carvajal family in 16th-Century Mexico is in the spotlight after a decades-long search for a national treasure came to an unexpected happy ending. Luis de Carvajal "The Young" came to Mexico - then known as New Spain - with his large, well-to-do family during the early colonisation of the Americas. His family governed part of northern Mexico and soon made enemies, including a power-hungry viceroy keen to topple him from power. The ambitious viceroy discovered that Luis de Carvajal was a practising Jew, a crime punishable by death in the times of the Spanish Inquisition. Older relatives had urged Luis de Carvajal to convert to Catholicism for his own safety, but he staunchly stuck to his faith. When he was first arrested, the authorities let him off with a warning but kept tabs on him. Far from giving up his religion, Luis de Carvajal became a leader in Mexico's underground Jewish community. When the inquisitors caught up with him again a few years later, he was sentenced to death. He was just 30 years old. Before he was executed, he was tortured so badly that he revealed the names of 120 fellow Jewish people, historian Alicia Gojman explains. His captors forced him to listen as those "heretics", which included his own mother, were tortured in the cell next to him. (Webmaster's comment: Another proud moment in Christian history! They would love to bring the Inquisition back and get rid of all us evil people who think differently. It would be the punishment we so richly deserve! Many Christians are not nice people.)
5-22-17 In US, Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low
In US, Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low
The percentage of U.S. adults who believe that God created humans in their present form at some time within the last 10,000 years or so -- the strict creationist view -- has reached a new low. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. adults now accept creationism, while 57% believe in some form of evolution -- either God-guided or not -- saying man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.
- 38% say God created man in present form, lowest in 35 years
- Same percentage say humans evolved, but God guided the process
- Less-educated Americans more likely to believe in creationism
5-14-17 There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
The events of this week have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Oval Office is occupied by an ignorant, impulse-driven lunatic. Just how much of a lunatic is President Donald J. Trump? So much so that he fired the director of the FBI in a fit of pique despite the fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation of whether and to what extent the president's own campaign colluded with Russian intelligence services to manipulate the election that landed Trump in the White House. If self-inflicted wounds can range from a paper cut to a bullet in the brain, this is something like the accidental amputation of a leg just above the knee: The victim can still get around, but he's undeniably and irreversibly hobbled, not to mention weakened by a near-fatal loss of blood. But not even that gruesome metaphor manages to capture the extent of our president's distinctive form of self-destructive madness. There isn't a single office holder, political operative, experienced staffer, or journalist in Washington who wouldn't have grasped in an instant that firing James Comey under such circumstances would be massively harmful to the president's efforts to defend himself against the Russian allegations and could well open himself up to a credible (or perhaps more than credible) charge of obstruction of justice. Even bomb-thrower extraordinaire Stephen Bannon understood it!
4-11-17 Faith of the faithless: Is atheism just another religion?
Faith of the faithless: Is atheism just another religion?
The taunt that atheism is religious thinking in disguise undermines its claim to be a better way to run the world. The truth is more complex than you might imagine. I RECENTLY discovered that I am a member of a downtrodden minority, one of the most mistrusted and discriminated-against in the world. As a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gender male, this is not something I’m used to. But my minority status is undeniable. I am an atheist. I’m not complaining. I live in one of the world’s most secular countries and work for a science magazine, so it hasn’t got in the way. But for atheists living in societies with a strong religious tradition, discrimination is a real problem. In the US, atheists have one of the lowest approval ratings of any social group. Non-believers are the only significant minority considered unelectable as president – and “unelectable” turns out to be a pretty low bar. Even when atheists don’t face open hostility or discrimination, we often have to endure put-downs about the sincerity of our (lack of) beliefs. One of the most common is that “atheism is just another religion anyway”. There is no way to prove or disprove the existence of god, the argument goes, so to deny it is a leap of faith. Ergo, atheism is just like a religion. If atheism really is just another religion, its claim to be a superior way to run the world is fatally weakened. All the criticisms it flings at religion – of being irrational, dogmatic and intolerant – come flying back with interest, and progress towards a more rational and secular society is undermined. So is it true? Is atheism just another religion? (Webmaster's comment: For what it's worth I have found that the Atheist community has at least as many intense haters as the Christian community does.)
The New Hate Crime: The Muslim Ban!
3-10-17 Trump travel ban: US states launch legal challenges
Trump travel ban: US states launch legal challenges
Several US states have launched legal challenges against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban. Mr Trump signed an executive order placing a 90-day ban on people from six mainly Muslim countries on Monday. New York maintains the new directive is a ban on Muslims while Washington says it is harmful to the state. Oregon and Massachusetts later also joined. The ban begins on 16 March, with the White House saying it is "very confident" of winning in court. Mr Trump's original order was more expansive but it was defeated after a legal challenge initially mounted by Washington and Minnesota. Lawyers for those states say their original complaint applies to the revised order and are pursuing their cases. Other states have joined the bid too, while Hawaii has launched a separate action.
- Oregon - said the order hurts residents, employers, universities health care system and economy
- Washington - it has "same illegal motivations as the original" and harms residents, although fewer than the first ban
- Minnesota - questioned the legality of the move, suggesting the Trump administration can't override the initial ban with a fresh executive order
- New York - "a Muslim ban by another name", said the attorney general
- Massachusetts - new ban "remains a discriminatory and unconstitutional attempt to make good on his campaign promise to implement a Muslim ban"
- Hawaii - argued it would harm its Muslim population, tourism and foreign students
Some Very Bad News Right Out of Hitler's Playbook!
2-18-17 'Enemies of the people': Trump remark echoes history's worst tyrants
'Enemies of the people': Trump remark echoes history's worst tyrants
At a different time, in another country, it was effectively a death sentence. Being branded an "enemy of the people" by the likes of Stalin or Mao brought at best suspicion and stigma, at worst hard labour or death. Now the chilling phrase - which is at least as old as Emperor Nero, who was called "hostis publicus", enemy of the public, by the Senate in AD 68 - is making something of a comeback. In November, the UK Daily Mail used its entire front page to brand three judges "enemies of the people" following a legal ruling on the Brexit process. Then on Friday, President Donald Trump deployed the epithet against mainstream US media outlets that he sees as hostile. "The FAKE NEWS media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" he wrote on Twitter. The reaction was swift. "Every president is irritated by the news media. No other president would have described the media as 'the enemy of the people'", tweeted David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama. Gabriel Sherman, national affairs editor at New York magazine, called the phrase a "chilling" example of "full-on dictator speak". Steve Silberman, an award-winning writer and journalist, wondered whether the remark would prompt Trump supporters to shoot at journalists. The US president's use of "enemies of the people" raises unavoidable echoes of some of history's most murderous dictators. (Webmaster's comment: The real enemy of the people is sitting in the Oval Office!)
Bring out the protest songs!
We're going to need them again!
We are going to need to take to the streets again and voice our resistance to oppression. Trump will:
- Revoke executive orders to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination
- Order the Justice Department to work against legal abortion
- Order the Justice Department to work against reproductive healthcare
- Sign an executive order that gives people the right to discriminate against others while masking it as "religious freedom"
- Push for a repeal of the federal law that bans partisan politicking by nonprofit organizations (i.e. churches will be able endorse and give money to political candidates)
- Put extremists like Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and on lower federal courts
- Eviscerate (gut) reproductive rights
- Roll back LGBTQ rights
- Embrace crude forms of xenophobia
- Appoint advisors who've make a career out of peddling hate
- Call for a registry of Muslims (same as Nazi Germany did to Jews)
- Trade in ugly forms of Islamophobia
- Not demand gender equality
- Not reject sexism and misogyny (brags about sexually assaulting women)
- Work to have gay people cured through therapy
- Work to have church-state separation removed because it is an "extra-constitutional doctrine" and is a recent thing that is "unhistorical and is unconstitutional"
This is all detailed in the latest issue of The Humanist. I strongly suggest reading it.
Some Very Bad News
2-15-17 Hate groups increase for second consecutive year as Trump electrifies radical right
Hate groups increase for second consecutive year as Trump electrifies radical right
The number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in a row in 2016 as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) annual census of hate groups and other extremist organizations, released today. The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. The growth has been accompanied by a rash of crimes targeting Muslims, including an arson that destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas, just hours after the Trump administration announced an executive order suspending travel from some predominantly Muslim countries. The latest FBI statistics show that hate crimes against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the year in which Trump launched his campaign. The report, contained in the Spring 2017 issue of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, includes the Hate Map showing the names, types and locations of hate groups across the country. The SPLC found that the number of hate groups operating in 2016 rose to 917 – up from 892 in 2015. The number is 101 shy of the all-time record set in 2011, but high by historic standards. “2016 was an unprecedented year for hate,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow and editor of the Intelligence Report. “The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists. In Steve Bannon, these extremists think they finally have an ally who has the president's ear.”
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