As humanity’s understanding of the universe evolves, our religious beliefs change along with it, and the result is that every new religion bears the stamp of the time and place in which it first arose. Mormonism is an example – Joseph Smith used “seer stones” to translate the Book of Mormon, and claimed that the Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrew tribes, at a time in American history when both those ideas were in vogue. Today’s post concerns a… Read more

I’ve been following, with some incredulity, a battle brewing in Congress over a military-spending bill and whether it will include money to buy more F-22 Raptors, a jet fighter used by the Air Force during the Cold War. Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists that these planes are not needed, a contingent of Congresspeople are bent on putting that spending back into the budget – forcing the military to take these planes against their will! Bizarre as this sounds,… Read more

I’ve got to give the government credit: they’ve been doing an excellent job cracking down on criminals who try to hide behind religion. Between Kent Hovind, Warren Jeffs, and now a new conviction, federal prosecutors have been diligently enforcing the law against creeps, con men, and petty tyrants who claim that the law of God gives them license to break the laws of society. This month’s creep is Tony Alamo, former head of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. On Friday, Alamo… Read more

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on optimistic populism, or how free markets can be a force for good: by spurring efficiency and innovation, they increase the total amount of wealth in the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living for all people. I also noted the irony that libertarians, the fiercest defenders of the free market, so often misunderstand this. In their jeremiads against taxation, they’re implicitly buying into the view that wealth cannot be… Read more

The history of anti-Semitism in the Christian church is a long, sad story. Ironically, this faith which began as a sect within Judaism has been responsible for many more atrocities against the Jewish people than any of their other enemies. For centuries, Christian Europe reviled Jewish believers as Christ-killers, and Jews were accused of ludicrous crimes like “host nailing” (stealing consecrated communion wafers and driving nails through them, to crucify Jesus anew) or draining the blood of Christian children to… Read more

This month’s Poetry Sunday features another poem by Robinson Jeffers, an American poet of the early twentieth century. Born 1887 in Pennsylvania, Jeffers was the son of a Presbyterian minister who taught his son Latin and Greek. Nevertheless, Jeffers did not follow in his father’s footsteps. Rather than theology, he became enthralled at a young age with the natural world, and became an avid outdoorsman and follower of scientific discoveries in biology, astronomy, and other areas. Jeffers found his voice… Read more

By way of Dangerous Intersection, I came across this sorrowful, beautiful story: He spent his life conducting world-renowned orchestras, but was almost blind and growing deaf – the music he loved increasingly out of reach. His wife of 54 years had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So Edward and Joan Downes decided to die together. Edward Downes, a renowned British conductor who headed the BBC Philharmonic and served for five decades as a music director for the Royal Opera House,… Read more

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 3 Up until now, Jonathan Wells’ critiques of evolution, although misguided, have been fairly sophisticated, touching on topics such as abiogenesis, the Cambrian explosion, and embryology. That’s about to change. In this section, Wells and Strobel haul out the most breathtaking, shameless lie bandied about by creationists: that there are no such things as transitional fossils. This opening quote foreshadows the direction they’re going: I was under the impression that [Archaeopteryx] was featured in… Read more

I’ve been reading this essay from Sikivu Hutchinson in the L.A. Watts Times, which calls on black atheists to come out of the closet while acknowledging the difficulties they face in doing so. The cultural barriers, she says, are even greater than for white atheists: African-American culture is “heavily steeped” in Christian dogma, the legacy of a “culturally specific survival strategy” – in the slave era, it served them as a unifying force and a source of comfort (despite the… Read more

While we’re on the topic of science and the public, I came across another opinion poll worth mentioning: a survey released this month by Pew, Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media, which analyzes how the public views scientific achievement and what professional scientists think of how their work is covered in the media (HT: Obsidian Wings). There’s lots to chew over in this report, but I want to focus on this section, which shows how many ideas that are… Read more

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