The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘church’

The Vatican & In-Vitro Fertilization: They Need to Enter the 21st… No, the 20th, Century

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 5, 2010

Okay, I saw this earlier today and I just couldn’t contain my disgust: Dr. Robert Edwards received the Nobel Prize for medicine this week due to his pioneering work on in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  Since the first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978 (a woman who also happens to now have her own child), over 4 million children have been born to parents through this application of medical science to the problem of infertility.  That’s not what is disgusting me – read on…

Dr. Edwards and his wife (left) along with Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby”, and her son.

In the process, we have learned a huge number of fundamental things concerning human reproduction & fertility.  Most people would call that progress, but not the Vatican…

Vatican official criticizes award of Nobel Prize to Robert Edwards

An official with the Vatican criticized the decision to award the Nobel prize for medicine to British doctor Robert G. Edwards for his work on in vitro fertilization, Italy’s official news agency ANSA reported Tuesday.

Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said giving the award to Edwards was “completely inappropriate,” according to the news agency.

He said Edwards’ work had created a market for human eggs and created problems of embryos being frozen, the news agency said. …

Apparently, the Vatican has decided to butt heads with the forces of progress & medical science on this one, even though IVF is widely accepted in society.  What’s the big deal?  Humans generated through this artificial process of procreation are just as human as the rest of us who came about the old fashioned way.  Is the Vatican harboring some secret fear of Frankenstein’s monster or something equally silly?

The thing that really bugs me about this pronouncement from the Vatican is not that they don’t approve of IVF – hell, no one is making their followers undergo IVF procedures – but that if they had their way, they’d outlaw IVF for everyone else.  And, while they’re at it, they would also probably like to do away with all birth control, since they seem to have a really big hangup about anything having to do with sex.

Ironic, seeing as how the Roman Catholic Church is run by a bunch of men who don’t know the first thing about sex… with adults, that is.

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ironically, Non-Believers Know More About Religion Than Believers

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2010

**Update: Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, has an excellent analysis over at the Chicago Tribune religion blog – check it out!

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In a widely reported poll today (here is the link to the actual Pew survey), it seems there are some rather counter-intuitive results regarding religious affiliation & level of factual religious knowledge in the United States.  Namely, from the survey, the non-religious (atheists & agnostics) are among the most religiously literate when it comes to knowing facts & details about various religions…

Survey: Americans don’t know much about religion

A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish. …

Now, while I am not a religious believer myself – I identify as an “Epicurean freethinker”, basically a modern-day atheist – I am a pretty serious student of religion and religious history.  I also include among my circle of friends & acquaintances people from all religious and non-religious backgrounds: Christians (including Catholics & Mormons), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so on.  However, I have to say that while I don’t believe any of the supernatural aspects of religion, I do understand how a knowledge of religion & religious history is advantageous in knowing more about who we are as a society.

This is why I am a bit amazed and upset by the results of this survey.  I would think that people who are sincere religious believers would want to be educated about the facts & history behind their faith.  If people don’t learn for themselves the factual information about the origins, history, and basic tenets of their own religion, then that opens them up to all manner of hucksterism in the name of God, etc.

For example, I know someone who is what I would call an ardent fundamentalist Christian; however, they are also terribly ignorant of the origins & history of their own religion.  When I try to have a discussion with them about where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, the formation of the early Christian Church, and so on, they just want to ignore me or change the subject.  It is almost as if they are uncomfortable with the very thought of learning about their religion, as if they have a fear that if they learn too much their faith might be shaken (perhaps it might be).  As a result, they are heavily influenced by those who would use Christianity for political and other nefarious purposes.

Perhaps that is what is going on with some religious believers: they want to remain willfully ignorant, because – as the saying goes – ignorance is bliss.  Or maybe they just want to be told what to believe by their religious leaders, either because they are a bit intellectually lazy (thinking about this stuff is hard work), they don’t have the time to look into it (if you’re working three jobs, it’s tough to study during what little free time you have), or they believe that if they question things they could be cast out of their religious community.  I’m sure it could be a combination of all of the above.

In any case, I think it is a sad state of affairs.  Knowledge, even the knowledge about religion, should be something that we aspire to collect & nurture.  Cultivating an environment of intellectual curiosity & critical thinking should be encouraged among the religious, partly because people can then arm themselves against those who would use their beliefs to manipulate them (such as politicians making bogus “Christian nation” claims or crusading faith-healers).

To sum up: we need skeptics & critical thinkers in all areas of human endeavor, including religious believers within their religious communities.  Since the majority of the U.S. population is religious, the more ignorant they become about their own beliefs, the more susceptible they become to erroneous claims & extremism – and that can affect all of us.  If you know someone who is religious, or are religious yourself, take some time to actually learn more about their (or your) faith.

Posted in philosophy, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

An Actual Geocentrism Conference? Are You Frakkin’ Kidding?!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 25, 2010

You know, there are days when I think I’ve seen it all.  I think to myself: “there are some things which are just too stupid, crazy, and/or ‘out-there’ that nobody will attempt to believe & defend.”  And then something like this crosses my email inbox: an actual conference, titled “Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right”, which attempts to seriously argue for… get this… geocentrism. You know, geocentrism – the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe.  You know, geocentrism – the notion which has become, and deservedly so, synonymous with the Dark Ages & all manner of backward and nonsensical thinking.  You know, geocentrism – the completely defunct idea which even the modern Catholic Church itself has admitted as having no merit whatsoever!  Yeah, that geocentrism…

Actually, before I facepalm myself into a state of blissful unconsciousness over the incredible level of stupidity embodied by this conference, allow me to seriously address the entire question of geocentricity.  I wish to do so because of two reasons: 1) if these pseudoscientists are holding a conference, they are attempting to get more media attention and must thus be countered; and 2) it seems that a whopping 18% of people in the United States actually believe the Earth is the center of the universe (which is far too many)!  So here goes…

First off, I’m going to hit just a few major points in this post.  If you want a much more thorough treatment of this topic, go see Phil Plait’s post over at Bad Astronomy; and if you are interested in reading more about the history of geocentric models of the universe, I suggest you check out Wikipedia as a starter.

Now, let me begin by saying that if you don’t have any education at all in the topic of Earth & space science, astronomy, physics, and what-have-you that I can understand an almost blind acceptance of geocentrism for one simple reason: it certainly appears that everything in the sky moves around the Earth.  Look in the sky and you’ll see the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, etc all moving – from your frame of reference – around the Earth.

Of course, a little more thought, along with a deeper analysis of astronomical data, will show that the geocentrism as mentioned by these “Galileo Was Wrong” goofballs is totally bogus…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in astrology, creationism, physics denial/woo, religion, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Big Butter Jesus is Toast!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 15, 2010

Okay, like everyone else on the Internet, I just cannot pass up the opportunity to write something about the “Touch Down Jesus” or “Big Butter Jesus” statue outside of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio (technically, it was called the “King of Kings” statue).  Last night this six-story tall statue was destroyed after, of all things, lightning struck it and burned it to the ground, leaving nothing more than the metallic frame behind.

Leaving aside the obvious jokes, which – believe me – are legion and spreading like wildfire across the Internet, I have to say I’m glad that no one was hurt.

But on a more serious note, I have to ask two questions:

1. Isn’t there a Biblical commandment against worshiping graven images? Wouldn’t one think that “Big Butter Jesus” statue was a violation of said commandment? Putting my theology hat on, couldn’t one surmise that perhaps this was a sign from the Almighty to NOT have such a statue?  Somehow I don’t think many Christian fundamentalists will see it that way…

2. The damn thing cost $250,000 to build, and it was a bloody eyesore!  Couldn’t these folks find something more useful to do with the money – like feed & clothe the homeless, perhaps?

In any case, in a final tribute to our burned (melted?) buttery friend, I share with you all this Youtube video of a wonderful song written back in 2007 by comedian Heywood Banks 🙂

Posted in humor, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 11, 2010

In the ongoing fight to promote good science education in the United States, sometimes I think it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing.  The U.S. has some of the best universities in the world, and we do a huge amount of cutting edge scientific research in a variety of fields – indeed, our federal budget for scientific research dwarfs that of other nations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a very dedicated creationist movement in this nation which seeks to tear down any kind of science they view as contrary to their fundamentalist religious views. And they’re willing to destroy the scientific education of the country’s young people in the process.

Case in point, here are two recent stories outlining this dichotomy:

1. Hubble Space Telescope shows earliest photo of the universe – This is an example of what I was referencing as the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of cutting edge science.  The HST has generated an optical photograph of the early universe, a mere 600 million years after the big bang (which is very soon after the big bang, since the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).  The photograph shows evidence of the formation of the earliest galaxies in our universe, and it adds yet another layer to our knowledge of cosmic evolution and how the first stars & galaxies formed.  Indeed, it is hard not to be awestruck when contemplating the full implications of such a scientific discovery – here’s the photo…

When understood in the full context of the big bang, the expansion & evolution of our universe, the formation of our own solar system, and the evolution of life on Earth, this is an amazing thing!  As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We are star stuff – a way for the cosmos to contemplate itself.”

I am eagerly sharing this new information with my colleagues, students, and friends & family.  Hopefully, this new discovery will be added to the wealth of knowledge in our public schools’ science curriculum and more students in the future will learn about it.

Alas, sadly, this leads me to my second point…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Shootings & Media Myth

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2009

Some of the big stories in recent days have been about various public shootings – one in an Illinois church, another in a school in Germany, and a third in an Alabama shooting spree. The media is making a really big deal out of all of these incidents.

Please understand, I do not mean to belittle the horror and loss of those unfortunate enough to have been directly affected by these events, but there is such a thing as over-emphasis on these things. Reading some of these headlines and listening to the media drone on and on about these tragedies has the effect of magnifying the apparent danger of shootings.

The problem with such wall-to-wall media coverage of such shootings is that it, either intentionally or not, gives people the impression that crazed gunmen are laying in wait to murder innocent people at school, church, or in the public square. The reaction from the media and those who pay too much attention to these stories is overblown and way out of proportion to reality.

For example, I teach at a high school, and in the couple of years after the Columbine tragedy, the administration at my school went a little nuts on the whole security question. I was involved in that work, and in retrospect I can tell you that it was little more than an exercise in collective hysteria. In fact, a wave of such hysteria seemed to sweep over the country over the years regarding fears of school shootings.

The hysteria seemed to climax a few years ago when filmmaker Michael Moore released his movie, “Bowling for Columbine”, which (in my opinion) played upon these fears to push a political agenda.

bowling for columbine

But how much danger is there really to you as an individual and society at large from this apparent epidemic of gun-wielding maniacs? Very little, if you look at the statistics & evidence.

For example, according to the Youth Violence Project, the perception of gun violence at schools as projected by the media and activists is in no way a trustworthy reflection of reality…

How often can a school expect a student-perpetrated homicide?

Media attention to sensational cases has generated the perception that there is a high risk of a student coming to school and killing someone. This perception of high risk has led to extreme zero tolerance policies and profiling of some students as potential killers. However, a review of the National School Safety Center’s report (http://www.schoolsafety.us/School-Associated-Violent-Deaths-p-6.html) identified 93 incidents when a student came onto school property and killed one or more persons over the worst ten-year period, 1992-3 to 2001-02. This means an average of about 9.3 cases per year or about once a month during the school year. Although we should strive to prevent all such cases, in a nation of 119,000 schools, a rate of 9.3 cases per year means that the average school can expect such an event about once every 12,800 years (119,000 divided by 9.3). This calculation is not intended to be a precise measure of risk, but an indication that there is a huge gap between the general perception of risk and the actual rate for the average school.

And here is more data from the Youth Violence Project…

Homicides in U.S. Schools
shooting1
Caption: Contrary to public perception, school homicides declined after 1993, although from 1997 to 1999 there was a series of copycat shootings stimulated by unprecedented media coverage. Source: National School Safety Center report (includes only cases of student-perpetrated homicides on school property) . http://www.schoolsafety.us/School-Associated-Violent-Deaths-p-6.html

Now let’s put the few shooting deaths that occur due to student-on-student gun violence at schools into a broader context…

Causes of Death in Young People
shooting2
Caption: The risk of death by school homicide is miniscule in comparison to other causes. According to the National Center of Vital Statistics, the leading cause of death among young people is accidents (primarily motor vehicle accidents). Although there were 2,261 homicides of school-age youth in 2004, almost all of them took place outside of school. According to a report of the National Center for School Safety, there were just 10 student homicides at school that year. This makes the risk of homicide about 226 times greater outside of school than at school. Source: National Center of Vital Statistics, 2004. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss.htm

So the bottom line is that media myth-makers are dead wrong when they imply that our schools, churches, and public squares in general are not safe from gun-wielding maniacs. Sadly, too many in the media choose to exaggerate the violence as a way of gaining ratings, and this leads people to have a distorted view of reality as a result.

For reference, here are some great skeptically-oriented books on this and related topics. I heartily recommend them so that the next time you are presented with similar stories, your Baloney Detection Kit is in tip-top shape and ready to deal with the nonsense…

The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner
Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best
Media Mythmakers by Benjamin Radford

Posted in media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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