Thursday, July 30, 2009

Francis Collins: It's Poor Reasoning, not Faith, that should Disqualify Him

A number of bloggers and editors have commented about President Obama's appointment of Dr. Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health (NIH). Collins is a rare specimen, both a born-again Christian as well as a brilliant and accomplished scientist. Collins discovered the genetic flaw that causes cystic fibrosis, and later headed the Human Genome Project.

Comments from the likes of scientists Sam Harris and Steven Pinker express worry that Collins' religion will be used politically, or that it will interfere with a balanced management of NIH policies. In a reply, Lisa Miller of Newsweek claims that Collins' work should be the sole test of his qualifications, and by that test, she asserts that Collins is unquestionably fit for the job.

I disagree. Not with Miller's premise, but with her conclusion. Collins should indeed be judge by his work: All of it, not just his science.

If Francis Collins' 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, is included as part of his resumé, as it must be, then by any measure, he is unfit for the job. When evaluating the man's competence as a decision maker, you could take all of his science achievements and set them on one side of the scale, and set The Language of God on the other side, and that book alone would tip the scale into the negative territory.

I've never understood what all the hullabaloo is about The Language of God. It is so full of logical fallacies a kindergartner could find them. I bought the book hoping for a real challenge, a genuine, well-reasoned explanation of how a highly-respected scientist is able to separate the domains of religion and science. I was sorely disappointed.

Collins spends a good part of the book explaining why evangelicals and creationists simply can't be right, what the scientific method is and why we should respect it, and spends a great deal of time criticizing the "God in the Gaps" crowd. "God in the Gaps" happens when scientists are able to explain something that formerly seemed magical; God is pushed out of that domain, and squeezed into ever-narrowing gaps in science's understanding of the universe. Collins does an excellent job of explaining this, and of berating those who try to cling to their God by pointing to the few remaining gaps and crying "It must be God!"

Then, his entire thesis comes crashing down, as Collins starts to explain his own faith, which proves to be the most massive case of God-in-the-Gaps I've ever seen. Collins, one of the most brilliant and accomplished scientists of our times, simply gives up all logical thought, and makes up some of the most obvious rationalizations I've ever encountered. Collins squeezes God into every gap he can find, doing exactly the thing he spent so much energy warning us about in the first part of his book.

In my opinion, a man who is capable of such a gross breach of rational thought, and who can't even see the glaring flaws in his work when it's about religion instead of science, has a lot to answer for. His appointment by President Obama may make political sense, but if we were judging purely by scientific credibility, Dr. Collins would not make the cut.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Comets Make Nonsense of Creationism

I'm constantly amazed how much evidence I see on a daily basis that can't possibly be explained by creationists. It boggles the mind that they can ignore so many in-your-face facts and cling to their 3000-year-old mythology.

The latest example is the amazing images of the "black hole" in the clouds of Jupiter caused by a comet strike last week.

Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer in Austrailia, discovered the scar near Jupiter's south pole last week and sounded the alarm to the astronomy community. The Hubble Space Telescope was quickly aimed at Jupiter, capturing some great images (in the video above).

Try as I might, I can't figure out how a creationist would explain comets, asteroids, meteorites and other planetary debris and space junk. Why would an omnipotent god create a solar system with junk flying around that could destroy his creation? Why would such a god leave junk flying around at all? In fact, if this purported creator's goal was to create humankind for his own enjoyment, or to worship him, or whatever reason purportedly motivated him, why would he even create planets?

What's more, all you have to do is look at the orbits of some of these comets, and a bit of algebra tells us that their orbits are sometimes much longer than 6.000 years. In other words, they've been circling (elipting?) the sun for much longer than the creationists claim is the age of the universe! The only possible explanation is that this mythical creator deliberately created all of the hundreds of thousands of comets, millions of asteroids, and billions of chunks of rocks that we call meteors, not to mention eight extra planets that serve no purpose at all, for no apparent reason, and he created them with orbits that were, for some inscrutable reason, meant to fool us.

He also put all of those photons in the sky streaming towards us from other stars, so that even though these stars are millions and billions of light years away, their light is already reaching us.

This is a mighty strange god, isn't it? Quite the trickster. Or maybe he's just a figment of our collective imaginations, one that some of us have outgrown but others still cling to.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Good Riddance to Sarah Palin

It looks like Sarah Palin is destroying her own career, and saving us the trouble. By stepping down as governor of Alaska, in spite of her claims to the contrary, she is breaking her promise to the voters of Alaska, and her commitment to serve in the office of governor for her elected term. Honorable politicians serve out their terms in spite of hardship and adversity; Sarah Palin is nothing more than a quitter.

Her fall once again illustrates what a good friend of mine once said: "We Christians aren't better than everyone else, just forgiven." I really like that philosophy. It's the Evangelical Christians like Sarah Palin, with their holier-than-thou attitudes, their claims to moral superiority, and especially their firm conviction that there is only one side to every question, that make me sick. Their beliefs and actions are anti-American, anti-democracy, and even un-Christian. So, although I rarely take pleasure in another's misfortune, the fall of Sarah Palin makes me happy.

It will be satisfying to see her reduced from a national political figure, a vice-presidential nominee and potential future president, to a talk-show host and political has-been. Even the Republicans are disgusted with her quitter attitude. She's toast, and we're glad to see her gone.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Faith healing" causes another child's death

It just makes me sick to read another one of these stories. A young girl died while her parents and other members of their religious sect tried to heal her with prayers rather than seeking proper medical care. The girl had diabetes, not a pleasant diagnosis, but she could have controlled the disease and grown up to have a happy, healthy life.

Instead, her life was tragically cut short by ignorance. Although I would like to blame her parents, they are just as much victims of this fraud as their daughter. Their sect teaches that God will bring cures, a belief that is plainly, blatantly wrong.

The obvious and glaring answer to this foolish belief (assuming you believe in God) is that God did provide a cure for this child. He gave us all brains, so that we could learn about His universe, about biology, physics and chemistry, and invent cures for the diseases that God chose, in His infinite wisdom, to inflict upon us. God provided the cure, these parents rejected His wisdom in favor of ancient voodoo and hocus pocus.

Or maybe there is no God, we're on our own, and we have to take care of each other. What a beautiful concept.

How very tragic, for the girl, for the parents, and for all of us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Southern Baptists Again Show Hatred of Gays

This one is too much to ignore. The Southern Baptists claim to "love the sinner, but hate the sin" when it comes to gays, but this thin veil, this lame attempt to cover up their true feelings, is coming unraveled. The SBC's news organization just published this hateful news piece, which shows their true colors. Here are a few of their official statements:
LaBarbera took issue with Barna using the term "homosexual Christians." "My test is to substitute another sexual sin and see if it makes sense," he told "Would we be talking about a survey of porn-using Christians or incestuous Christians? That sounds stark, but that's, I believe, the appropriate biblical analogy."
Got that? Homosexuality and incest are equivalent. Or how about this gem:
I think there are Christians who struggle with the sin of homosexuality — but proud homosexual Christians? That's an oxymoron to me in the same way as I would say proud adulterous Christians.
So a gay couple who love and support each other, remain faithful and modest, for decade after decade, are no better than the philandering Senator Ensign who cheated on his faithful wife? Ensign's philandering was a terrible personal tragedy for his wife, who suffered embarrassment, humiliation and the loss of everything she'd worked so hard for in her marriage. How can anyone possibly think that two men or two women who find love and companionship are even committing a sin, much less a sin of the same magnitude as adultery?

If I believed in God and the Heaven/Hell myth, I know one thing: Mr. LeBarbera and his cronies in the Southern Baptist Church would be the ones headed in Satan's direction.

Jimmy Carter Quits Southern Baptist Church

I've always admired former President Jimmy Carter for his genuine honesty and integrity. These seem like such simple principles, yet they are sadly lacking in so many politicians. My opinion of the man shot up even more with his announcement that, after sixty years as a member of the Southern Baptist Church, he is leaving the Southern Baptist Church because of their oppressive policies about women.

And Mr. Carter didn't just sever his ties, he did so with strong words, calling the SBC's policies oppressive, and reminding us that their Biblical justifications are the same ones used to excuse slavery, genital mutilation, violence and rape around the world.

The SBC, of course, couldn't take it gracefully, and had to do a bit of mud-slinging in an attempt to save face. They called Mr. Carter's actions "politically motivated," which is pretty funny considering that Mr. Carter has already achieved and retired from the highest office in the land. One has to wonder just how SBC thinks Jimmy Carter will further his career by speaking his mind.

P.S. Thanks to all my loyal subscribers for sticking with me through my recent hiatus from this blog. Personal events and priorities kept me away for a while, but it looks like I'm back now.