5-16-18 Do more people believe in God in Trump's America?
US Vice-President Mike Pence has said "faith in America is rising once again" - thanks to President Donald Trump. America's religious climate has shifted in recent years, but has it been in the direction Mr Pence suggests? "Faith in America is rising again because President Trump and our entire administration have been advancing the very principles that you learned here in the halls of Hillsdale College," he told a crowd at a Christian conservative campus in Michigan on Saturday. "In fact, the percentage of Americans who live out their religion on a weekly basis - praying, going to church, reading and believing in the Bible - has remained remarkably consistent over the decades, even as the population of the United States has grown by leaps and bounds." The vice-president also claimed that "relative to the population, four times as many Americans go to church on a regular basis than at the time of our nation's founding". According to Greg Smith, associate director for religion research at the Pew Research Center, Mr Pence's claims do not appear follow the numbers. "The data we do have do not suggest a recent increase in the share of Americans who are highly religious," Mr Smith told the BBC. "The vast majority of Americans do say they believe in God, but those numbers are ticking downward," he added. As for Mr Pence's suggestion that more Americans are going to church in modern times? Aside from sheer population differences from 1776 to now, the figures do not support that claim either, according to Mr Smith. "We've begun to see in recent years smaller but noticeable declines in the share of Americans who say they believe in God, who say religion is important to them in their personal lives, who say they pray every day and we've seen declines in the share of Americans who say they attend religious services regularly," he said. A 2017 study published in Sociological Science showed that those who are intensely religious are still going to church consistently and frequently, but once-a-week attendance is dropping. Mr Smith also noted the data shows the number of Americans identifying as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular is "growing very, very rapidly". "The share of Americans who identify with Christianity is declining because the share of Americans who identify with no religion is growing," Mr Smith said. A 2017 study by the Public Religion Research Institute also tracked a diminishing white Christian presence across the US. In 1996, 65% of Americans identified as white Christians. Over the last decade, that number has dropped to 43%.
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.)
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
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.)
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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