The Bible and Science

PZ Myers explains; I agree.

Just a quick blog post to give you all something to read and think about. Not here. On The Humanist Web site.

That’s where you’ll find an article titled “Comes a Horseman” by PZ Myers. In it, you’ll find this paragraph, near the end, which (to me) sums up why we should all be concerned about religion, especially in our schools:

And this is why I oppose religion. It’s not because it kills people, although it does. It’s not because it poisons everything, although it does. It’s not because it is nothing but a philosophical construct even though that’s all it is, and I actually kind of like philosophical constructs. Even moderate religion is an exercise in obscurantism, the elevation of feel-good fluff over substance. I oppose it because it is a barrier to understanding, a kind of simplistic facade thrown up to veil knowledge with a pretense of scholarliness. It’s an imaginary shortcut that leads people astray, guaranteeing that they never see the real glory of a cell or of the stars. And I honestly hope that once people see the creation story for what little it is–one thin sheet of tissue paper–they will be able to crumple it up and toss it aside.

Read the whole thing.

Why Isn’t “Childhood’s End” in my Local Library?

But boatloads of religious and mystical crap are?

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died in 2008. He was an award-winning science fiction author — and that’s an incredible understatement given the number of awards and his impact not only on science fiction but science itself. Most people know him for his novel 2001: A Space Oddyssey, which was made into a ground-breaking science fiction film in 1969.

Childhood's End CoverOn the day he died, Twitter was filled with commentary about his work. But it wasn’t 2001 that came up again and again. It was his 1953 book, Childhood’s End.

From Clarke’s Wikipedia entry:

Many of Clarke’s later works feature a technologically advanced but still-prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars (and its original version, Against the Fall of Night), Childhood’s End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In Clarke’s authorized biography, Neil McAleer writes that: “many readers and critics still consider [Childhood’s End] Arthur C. Clarke’s best novel.”

Indeed, Childhood’s End is so outstanding among Clarke’s work that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

I’m pretty sure I read the book, but I honestly don’t remember it. My science fiction reading was done mostly in my late teens and I consumed a lot of Clarke’s work. Rendezvous with Rama remains my favorite of his books. But when so many people on Twitter were raving about Childhood’s End, I made a mental note to track it down and read it (again).

Time passed. I’ve halted all book buying in an effort to stem the tide of incoming clutter at my home. I wanted to read something other than the books on my reading pile. Something to escape the real world. And I remembered Childhood’s End.

So I visited Wickenburg’s Public Library to pick up a copy.

And was surprised to learn that they didn’t have it.

Not that it was simply out on loan. They just didn’t have the book in the library.

They had 2001, 2010, 2061, and even 3001 (which I didn’t even know existed). And there was another Clarke title on the shelf — although it wasn’t listed in the computerized card catalog. But no Childhood’s End — which many consider his best work. No Rama, either.

I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised. They didn’t have Carl Sagan’s Contact, either. That book had been made into a movie starring Jody Foster. You’d expect it to be present on the shelves, but … well, I’ll get to my reason why in a moment.

I looked around the library for what they did have. The New Arrivals section bore little resemblance to the New Arrivals tables at the Barnes and Noble I visit near our Phoenix place. Those were new, noteworthy books. I only found one of them in Wickenburg: The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson. I grabbed it. There was very little fiction and much of the fiction they did have had Christian crosses on the binding. That’s Wickenburg’s way of noting that a book is Christian literature. They do the same thing with mysteries and science fiction, but the New Arrivals area had far more crosses on bindings than other symbols.

I wandered back to the paranormal section of the nonfiction shelves, hoping to find some of the books I’d seen listed on various skeptics sites. To their credit, they had Flim Flam! by James Randi — an excellent read that I reviewed here. But that was the only title for skeptics. Meanwhile, they had over two dozen titles by Sylvia Browne. And the health section was stuffed with books about unproven remedies and health regimens.

I wandered back toward fiction and started actually looking at the bindings. That’s when I started noticing that there was an unusually high percentage of books with that Christian cross on it. Christian fiction. The library was full of it.

But it only had four books by Arthur C. Clarke.

I looked around. Other than a young woman surfing the net on her MacBook Pro, I was the youngest patron in the place. I’m in my 40s. The rest of the patrons were 60+.

I went to the desk and asked if the library could get books from other libraries in Maricopa County. I was told no, the library is run by the Town of Wickenburg and is separate.

I asked why the library didn’t become part of the Maricopa County library system. I was told that then Wickenburg would be told what books it had to carry.

“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” I said.

“Yes, it would,” the librarian replied. “We know what our patrons want to read.”

They do? Sure fooled me.

I’m a patron, but I don’t want to read any of the Christian fiction and pro pseudoscience crap that fills the shelves. I want to read bestsellers, the classics, and award-winning fiction. I want to read non-fiction that educates me about science and philosophy and opens my mind to critical thinking.

Clearly, I’m not going to get any of that at Wickenburg Library.

And that brings me back to my suspicions on why Contact and more books by Arthur C. Clarke and other thought-provoking authors are not in the library: the themes of these books have the audacity to suggest that there might not be a God. That the meaning of life might be something beyond what’s in the Bible. That science and a reality based on known facts are important to our survival as a species or civilization, more important than man’s religions.

Censorship at our local library? I’m convinced. Why else would they refuse to be a part of one of the biggest library systems in the state?

And my tax dollars are paying for this?

When I asked whether I could get a Maricopa County library card, the librarian confirmed that I could — but not there. “Aguila has a branch,” she told me.

Aguila is a farming community 25 miles west of Wickenburg. I’d estimate that at least 25% of the population doesn’t even speak English. Most people live in trailer homes. It’s a sad, depressed community with nothing much to offer. The possibility that it might have a better library than Wickenburg boggles my mind.

“If you get a Maricopa County library card, it’ll cost us money,” the librarian said. It was almost as if she were asking me not to, just to save them a few bucks.

What she didn’t realize was that she gave me even more reason to get one. I think my husband will have to get one, too.

Fortunately, there’s a branch of the Maricopa County Public Library walking distance from our Phoenix place. I guess I’ll be getting my reading materials there, on Wickenburg’s dime.

Why Do Atheists Care about Religion?

I couldn’t have said this better myself.

I’ll let the video explain it all.

Religulous

A movie review.

ReligulousI just watched Bill Maher’s documentary, Religulous. It’s been in my Netflix queue for some time now and I recently let it ride to the top. I watched it on my second monitor while doing some relatively mindless work on the other.

The movie was just what I expected: Bill Maher trying to talk reason to religious zealots. While his breakaways to movie scenes and comic subtitles were generally amusing, much of the rest of the movie was quite disturbing. It isn’t Maher’s views that bother me — I share them. It’s the stubbornness of the religious zealots he spoke to. They simply did not want to listen to reason.

Want some specific examples?

He spoke with Christians about Jesus and pointed out that an ancient Egyptian god named Horus shared much of Jesus’s history, from virgin birth to crucifixion and resurrection. This is documented in ancient Egyptian writing. Yet the Christians refused to acknowledge that the Egyptian myths exist. How can they be so stubborn?

He pointed out to Christians that the New Testament, which forms the basis of Christianity and Christian beliefs says nothing about homosexuality being a sin. He pointed out other things that are and are not in the Bible. If what he said contradicted current Christian beliefs, however, these people denied what he said. They clearly had no clue what was in the holy scriptures they swore was the word of god.

He pointed out to Muslims that the Koran contains multiple references about violence against non-Muslim “infidels.” They either denied the meaning of those references or tried to claim that they applied to another time.

He had similar confrontations with Jews, Mormons (and ex-Mormons), and members of other religions.

This went on for nearly two hours.

This was exactly what I expected and, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much. It’s an argument he’ll never win. None of the atheists will. People have faith — blind faith in whatever it is that they believe. They ignore the evidence that they’re wrong. They go on believing, thinking that they’ll be rewarded someday while the non-believers — or the people that believe in Brand X religion — will be punished.

Meanwhile, they keep fighting and hating and killing and keeping their women and children in the dark ages intellectually — all in the name of their god.

It makes me sick.

I’m not quite sure what Maher intended to do with this movie. He’s obviously not going to convert anyone. There wasn’t enough comedy to make it fun to watch. Was he just trying to give atheists a bit of support in their quest for reason? To convince us to speak out as he has?

What’s the point?

This reminds me of a post I read last week on Think Atheist, “Why Talk About It?.” In it, the blogger compares religion to collecting stamps:

When you are in safe company, you poke fun at the stamp collectors and their silly beliefs. You find comfort in the fact that you are not the only sane person around. In a world of stamp collectors, you are one of only a few non-stamp collectors.

Maybe that’s what Religulous was all about: To remind us that we’re not the only ones who don’t collect stamps.

The Creation Museum

Yeah. Science lies. Believe this crap instead.

I learned this morning that the Creation Museum’s attendance exceeds expectations. I find this factoid distressing.

If you haven’t heard of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, consider yourself lucky. This bible-story-gone-wild uses exhibits to illustrate biblical explanations of the natural world. In doing so, it’s attracting thousands of Christian school students on field trips. From the Courier-Journal article:

Inside, the students learned from displays that, contrary to mainstream textbooks, science supports the Bible’s accounts of the Earth’s creation in six days; that the Grand Canyon was created suddenly in Noah’s flood; that dinosaurs and humans lived together; and that animal poison did not exist before Adam’s original sin.

This, as a “supplement” to science lessons.

My first exposure to the Creation Museum came from a John Scalzi photographic tour titled “A Visit to the Creation Museum, 11/10/07.” I clearly remember viewing the photos and great captions Scalzi put on Flickr; I was stuck at the FBO at Las Vegas McCarren Airport, waiting for a helicopter mechanic to replace my alternator belt, feet up, surfing on my laptop. It was the highlight of the day. Also quite enjoyable was Scalzi’s blog post, “Your Creation Museum Report.” It really got to the meat of the matter. I recall reading it, wondering how long it would be until the “museum” was laughed out of existence.

And then this report about its popularity, complete with stories of visits by school children as part of their science lessons. Those school groups make up 20 to 30 percent of the attendance.

Ouch.

Now my question is this: Of the 70 to 80 percent of other visitors, how many of them are visiting, like Scalzi did, to take in this spectacle of ignorance and close mindedness? How many of them want to see irrationally designed models and dioramas depicting impossible scenes from natural history? How many of them just go for a good laugh?

I hope that most of them do. The alternative — that people actually believe this crap — is too frightening to consider.

It’s bad enough that they’re exposing our children to it.