November 2008


From Wired.com:

Your corn is sweeter, your potatoes are starchier and your turkey is much, much bigger than the foods that sat on your grandparents’ Thanksgiving dinner table.

Most everything on your plate has undergone tremendous genetic change under the intense selective pressures of industrial farming. Pilgrims and American Indians ate foods called corn and turkey, but the actual organisms they consumed didn’t look or taste much at all like our modern variants do.

From Skepticblog:

In this week’s SkepticBlog, I propose a challenge to my readers: find a passage from any ancient text, not just the Bible (although you can use that as well), that appears to match a scientific principle, law, fact, or discovery and then submit your entry as a comment at the end of this post.

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From MSNBC:

OREGON CITY, Ore. – When Dr. Seth Asser saw row after row of flat headstones marking children’s graves in a small cemetery not far from the end of the historic Oregon Trail, he knew many of these early deaths should not have happened.

The children’s parents relied on faith healing, instead of doctors.

From timesonline.co.uk:

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

PZ Myers weighs in on this story.

Link to the journal article.

From The Onion:

Everybody has this image of “crazy Christians” based on what they hear in the media, but it’s just not true. Most Christians are normal, decent folks. We don’t all blindly follow a bunch of outdated biblical tenets or go all fanatical about every bit of dogma. What I’m trying to say is, don’t let the actions of a vocal few color your perceptions about what the majority of us are like.

Like me. I may be a Christian, but it’s not like I’m one of those wacko “love your neighbor as yourself ” types.

God forbid!

I’m here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren’t anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We’re not all into “turning the other cheek.” We don’t spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn’t mean we’re all obsessed with extremist notions like “righteousness” and “justice.”

Full article

From Newsweek:

On Nov. 5, Todd Strandberg was at his desk, fielding E-mails from around the world. As the editor and founder of RaptureReady.com, his job is to track current events and link them to biblical prophecy in hopes of maintaining his status as “the eBay of prophecy,” the best source online for predictions and calculations concerning the end of the world. Already Barack Obama had drawn the attention of apocalypse watchers after an anonymous e-mail circulated among conservative Christians in October implying that he was the Antichrist. Former “Saturday Night Live” ingénue Victoria Jackson fueled the fire when, according to news reports, she wrote on her Web site that Obama “bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ.” Now Strandberg was receiving up-to-the-minute news from his constituents in Illinois. One of the winning lottery numbers in the president-elect’s home state was 666— which, as everyone knows, is the sign of the Beast (also known as the Antichrist). “It is very eerie, and I take it for a sign as to who he really is,” wrote one of Strandberg’s correspondents.

Full article.

I need to find one of these rapture believing Christians that is so confident that Obama is the anti-christ they are willing to make a wager on it. It would work like this:

  1. Find someone that is certain the “end times” are upon us now that Obama has been elected and the rapture will happen within his first term in office
  2. Make the wager that after his 4 years in office the rapture will not have happened.
  3. Offer them $10,000 today in return that if the rapture hasn’t happened by the end of Obama’s 4 year term, they pay me back 4 times that amount: $40,000.
  4. Profit.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Nonbelievers Think the Time Is Right to Better Organize Their Nonreligion and Swell the Membership; ‘Reason’s Greetings’

From GamePolitics.com:

A great deal of blood has been spilled in the name of religion over the centuries, and the maker of a new board game hopes that parodying religious violence will bring him Earthly rewards.

USA Today reports that Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination is billed as “the world’s first satirical board game of religious warfare,” and includes playing pieces such as Jesus wielding a cross and a chain gun-toting Buddha.

Full article

From Reuters:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Bill Maher, on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” frequently refers to the Old Testament of the Bible as the Book of Jewish Fairy Tales. The description might anger the pious and the fundamentalists, but guess what? Maher’s close to the truth.

A visually stunning two-hour special edition of “Nova” examines decades of archaeological studies that contradict much of what is in the Bible. The entire Exodus story is debunked, as is the idea that the Israelites were monotheistic following the contract made between God and Abraham. It turns out idol worship was common through the reign of King David and right up to the Babylonian exile.

Is the Bible the word of God? Only if God dictated it to dozens, maybe hundreds, of different writers, each of whom wrote and modified stories using different patterns of language over a period of centuries.

To be sure, writer-producer-director Gary Glassman does not dismiss the Old Testament as a collection of fairy tales. He asserts that the stories, though provably false in many cases, were intended to give identity to the Israelites, a group likely made up of former Canaanites, nomads and runaway slaves. Also, the Bible provided the Israelites with a moral framework.

The special, narrated by Liev Schreiber, is not likely to sit well with those who believe that the Bible, despite its internal inconsistencies, should be interpreted literally. Then again, science and religion have had a long history of conflict until, ultimately, the former prevails.

This special is on PBS Tuesday Nov. 18:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/

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