Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stupid AND Poor.

Here's something interesting. Religious people, on average, are less wealthy than non-religious folks. Probably has something to do with them not being as smart as rational people, I would have thought. Let's face it, if you believe in a magical malevolent sky fairy, I'm sure it's pretty easy to be taken in by pretty much any old scam, I would think.

The study examines why conservative Protestants are dramatically overrepresented at the bottom of the U.S. wealth distribution and concludes that the cultural understandings that accompany conservative Protestant beliefs influence wealth ownership directly and indirectly.
But there is a reason for it, it seems. According to Lisa A. Keister, Duke professor of sociology and author of “Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty,” published in the March issue of the American Journal of Sociology,
The direct influence stems from conservative Protestants’ unique approach to finances -- in particular the belief that people are managers of God’s money and excess accumulation of wealth should be avoided.
In addition, conservative Protestants have tended to be less educated and have large families beginning at younger ages; and fewer conservative Protestant women work, all of which indirectly contribute to slow asset accumulation.
A couple of the reasons made me laugh out loud. Apparently, conservative christians tend to ask for
...Divine advice, advice from clergy and other religious advice about money and work...More conservative Protestants than other people surveyed are likely to pray about financial decisions, for example.
Clearly, it's not helping. Let's be real here, you can't trust your kid with a priest, so why would you trust him on money matters also? And, not surprisingly, low educational attainment is a factor too:
Education is one of the strongest predictors of wealth, and conservative Protestants have significantly less education than members of other faiths.
So there you go. Christians: Stupid and poor.

Late Easter....

I know it's a little late for Easter, but I thought since it was a festive time, I'd add a few quotes from George Carlin (courtesy of the "Orgy of George" desk calendar for last weekend):

I have as much authority as the pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham will lead a nationwide prayer vigil and ask God to do something about America's moral climate. God will promptly strike all three of them dead.
(Note - Jerry met his maker, or not, depending on your viewpoint, last year)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Religion at work.

According to CNN, religion in the workplace is on the rise:

Religion, like sex and politics, once was considered inappropriate watercooler talk. Not anymore. Prayer sessions, religious diversity groups and chaplains..., along with rabbis and imams, have become more common across corporate America in the past decade.
This makes no sense. Work is for, well, work and religion is for Sundays. Please keep the two separate. I may just have to start a pink unicorn or yellow bunny (appropriate for Easter) worship group just to keep things fair. I like the last quote though:
There are more places to pray in America than (there are) pizza parlors. Go to them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Religion, Obama and McCain

Religion is once again rearing it's ugly head in American politics. Barack Obama has been forced to distance himself from the words of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. It's possible that it may be enough of a "scandal" to ensure Hillary Clinton's victory in the democratic race for President. And that's sad.

The culture here in the US is one where even the slightest whiff of scandal can drag down even the best candidates. We have to stop focusing on minor issues - here, it's what someone close to a campaign (not the candidate, note) said a few years ago that is controversial. We need to be listening to the candidate's views on the big issues of the day - the economy, the war for example, rather than the scandal of the day.

It's worth noting that associating with anyone religious can get you into this kind of trouble. If it's not Obama, it's McCain with John Hagee, who has preached that Hurricane Katrina was the result of God's wrath against gay people, and that he's happy about the Iraq war because it will hasten Armageddon. And McCain is "proud" to have his support.

Candidates are caught in a quandary. They need to pander to the religious nuts, but come off just looking stupid. They have to decide whether stupidity will get them more votes than rationalism. Unfortunately, it looks like it does.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Talk Like a Physicist Day

Who knew?

Today is Talk Like a Physicist Day.

It's also Einstein's Birthday

Oh! and International Pi Day.


Right, I'm off to go do some physicsy things, like sending streams of electrons through cyberspace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Teh Stupid - it's spreading!

...let us count the states where teh stupid is spreading....

  • Florida (although we won a battle there, there's still unrest amongst the nuts)
  • Texas (again, one battle won, but it's certainly not the war)
  • New Mexico: "Academic Freedom" which is defined as teaching anything but the facts of evolution. Of course, academic freedom doesn't extend to creation myths beyond the bible.
  • Oklahoma: An "Academic Freedom" bill that would protect students who give answers based on their religious beliefs, and not the facts:
    Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student, in any public school shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific views.
    At least there are some in Oklahoma who are vehemently opposed -from the Edmond Sun:
    On Monday the Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee took direct aim at the integrity of science education in Oklahoma’s public schools, and thereby threatened the economic prosperity that Oklahoma so desperately needs. Intelligent Design is a false theory. It contains no testable hypotheses; it has proposed none. Intelligent Design is not science, and teachers who propose it to their students as science, and as a legitimate alternative to evolution, are violating the sacred trust they have with society, with their employers, with their students, and with themselves to practice academic responsibility, that all important correlate of academic freedom.
  • Delaware: This story is incredible - I can't believe school board members are this backward. Here's a quote:
    During the meeting, Doe said, "a guy stood up and said the last one to oppose school prayer was [atheist leader] Madalyn Murray O'Hair and she disappeared never to be seen again." (O'Hair was abducted and murdered). Hearing that, Doe said, "sent chills down my spine. But people laughed, and they hooted and hollered, and applauded this guy" Doe said, adding, "He used to be a school board member."
  • Minnesota: Another "academic freedom" bill that's anything but.
Just keeping track. I'll keep adding to the list. Note that this is just in the last couple of weeks - I'm sure there's more insanity out there. Let me know if you spot anything.

Monday, March 10, 2008

7 More Deadly sins.

OK - let's see what the Catholic Church has come up with to add to the list of the worst things possible:

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

Bishop Girotti said that mortal sins also included taking or dealing in drugs, and social injustice which caused poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”.

He said that two mortal sins which continued to preoccupy the Vatican were abortion, which offended “the dignity and rights of women”, and paedophilia, which had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the “human and institutional fragility of the Church”.

The mass media had “blown up” the issue “to discredit the Church”, but the Church itself was taking steps to deal with it.

Alrighty then. So we've got:

1) Ruining the Environment (Don't litter!)
2) Running morally debatable scientific experiments (Nanotechnologists - watch out!)
3) Messing with DNA (that's just too sciency, and science is bad)
4) Taking drugs (aspirin excepted, I assume)
5) Causing poverty or getting rich (er...isn't the church one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet? And, I thought avarice was covered already)
6) Abortion
7) Pedophilia (although the media has blown up the issue of clergy sex abuse, apparently.)

The Catholic Church - breaking its own rules since 64AD

Seems to me to be a rather ad hoc list (and just the teensiest bit hypocritical), like they came up with it sitting round in Starbucks one Friday afternoon. I would have thought they could have come up with a couple hundred more if they were really trying. How did they come up with the list? Who voted? Which sins didn't make the cut? Staring at computer porn maybe? Listening to Marilyn Manson? I can just imagine the debate in the Vatican "....well, his music is pretty nasty, but I just love the makeup!"

The Pope also complained that an increasing number of people in the secularised West were “making do without God”.

...and quite happily too, I might add.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Newsflash: Earth Not 6000 Years Old!

This may come as a bit of a surprise to the Young Earth Creationists out there, but we have a pretty good handle on the age of the universe, and it's not 6,000 years old. Nope. It's 13.73 billion years old, give or take 120 million years.

It's the 120 million number that amazes me - we know the age of the universe to fantastic accuracy. What's more, we also know the age of the Universe when recombination occurred to within 3,100 years ( Recombination happened when electrons were first able to be captured by protons, forming neutral hydrogen for the first time after the big bang) just 375,938 years after the big bang.

How do we know this much cool stuff? It's all in the five year report of NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), measuring the Cosmic Microwave Background - the photons that are left over from the big bang. Phil Plait has an excellent overview of the process:

It’s those photons WMAP sees. After 13.7 billion years, the expansion of the Universe has cooled the light, stretched its wavelength from ultraviolet to microwave. Another way to think about it is that the temperature associated with each photon went from thousands of Kelvins down to just a few, less than 3, in fact. That’s -270 Celsius, and -454 Fahrenheit.

That light emitted just after recombination tells us a vast amount about the Universe at that time. By carefully mapping the exact wavelength of the light and the direction from where it came, we can tell the density and temperature of the matter at that time. Incredibly we can also tell how much dark energy there was, and even the geometry of the Universe: whether it is flat, open, or closed.

Truly incredible. The important thing is that these results agree with the theory to an amazing degree - we can have high confidence that our theories of the beginning of the universe are not too far off the mark. That's what science is all about - generating testable theories that are either supported or knocked down by direct observational evidence. It's a process that has brought us incredibly far in our understanding of nature, and continues to build our knowledge.

Testable: what science is, and what religion isn't.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Score one for the good guys

Actually, score two.

Not only did Mike Huckabee finally bow out of the race for President last night (so I won't have to move to Canada), but a creationist was defeated for a spot on the Texas school board also. Barney Maddox, an avowed creationist, would have tilted the board of education towards insanity (see Time for more details), but his challenge was held off by the moderate incumbent, Patricia Hardy, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

texas board of education results

Social conservatives failed in their attempt to take control of the State Board of Education on Tuesday when incumbent Pat Hardy of Fort Worth retained her seat against a challenge from Cleburne's Barney Maddox.

Hardy, a career educator, has been a moderate voice on the board. The 15-member body still shows a close ideological split, but Hardy has helped keep it on a straight path.

Maddox's entry in the race had set the stage for debate over the scientific theory of evolution, which he has described as "fairy tales." Hardy took a better course: Teach kids about all theories, she said, from creation to evolution, and give them enough information to make up their own minds about what to believe.

She's wrong about teaching all theories especially where one has no evidence to back it up and one has the full support of the entire scientific community, but it does preserve the teaching of evolution in the state, which had been under fire, and it's better than the alternative.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Avalanche on Mars!

This is just an incredible picture. the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took a picture of an avalanche in progress. Here's the shot:

Mars Avalanche
The Bad Astronomer has more info on an amazing piece of luck.

Bible and a Pinhead

Oh, sorry - that should be "bible ON a pinhead". Silly me.

Following up on my post from a week or so about folks in the US being "morally against" nanoscience, maybe this story will help to raise the numbers a little. According to Ananova,

Israeli scientists say they've created the world's smallest Hebrew Bible - on a gold-coated silicon chip smaller than a pinhead.

Scientists at Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, were able to pack the 308,428 words on to a 0.5mm square of silicon by etching its surface with particle beams.

He said he now wanted to take pictures of the nano-Bible and blow it up to a seven-by-seven metre poster, which will make it "possible to read the entire bible with the naked eye".

The tiny Bible was developed as part of an educational drive to increase interest in nanoscience among teenagers.

So, there you go. Increasing nanoscience interest amongst teenagers.

Sheesh. There must be a better use of resources.

Bill Maher on Religion

I've been meaning to post this for a while now. Last month, comedian Bill Maher appeared on Larry King live to promote his new movie "Religulous". I only caught the last few minutes (I can't stand Larry King - it's clear he usually has no idea who he's talking to or what he's talking about - time to retire Larry!!), but have looked for the video clip ever since. Well, here it is:

In the clip, Bill responds to Catholic League president William Donohue's criticism of him. Now, I've blogged about Donohue before - here and here, and it's clear he's as nutty as a fruitcake, but I was impressed by Maher's response - he articluates what a lot of us have been saying about faith - why put it on a pedestal? Why can't we criticize faith? Here's the transcript:
KING: Back with Bill Maher. Catholic League President William Donahue says that you really have it out against Christians and he would love to duke it out with you in the ring. He's a very, very passionate Catholic, as you know.

MAHER: Oh, yes. Aren't they all? I used to be a Catholic. I saw that on Keith Olbermann's show, and I thought he had the right response after the man threatened to beat me up, just as Jesus would handle it. I hope we can avoid a fight. If I'm attacked, I will defend myself.

KING: Do you suspect when "Religulous" comes out to get a lot of flak?

MAHER: Yes, but I get a lot of flak anyway. That's been their trick for hundreds of years. They say the word faith and somehow we all have to back off and pretend that what they believe is not destructive, and I won't do that. And there are millions of people who won't do that. The minority that is what I would call rationalists, that is people who don't believe in something supernatural, something that was obviously fables that were written by men before men knew what a germ or an atom was. OK?

Yes, we're rationalists. That's like 20 percent of people under 30. That's a bigger minority than lots of minorities. They just don't speak up. I'm hoping this movie and this movement will encourage people to speak up about this. They accuse me of being a Catholic bigot. First of all, I don't have it out especially for the Catholics. I think all religions are coo-coo. OK? It's not just the Catholics.

I'm not a bigot. Just because I wish for the demise of an organization that I think is entirely destructive to the human race, that doesn't make me a bigot. I also wish for demise of Hamas and the KKK. Not that on every score the Catholic Church is the same as those two organizations. But to me they are destructive organizations. I'm not a bigot because I root for their downfall.

KING: But you can offend them?

MAHER: I have been doing it for 15 years. They're perfectly within their rights to be offended. But they're not going to shut me up. They're not going to do it by saying the magic word, faith. This is what I believe. Yes, you believe it. I'm going to say why it's dumb. (emphasis mine)
I think this is critical - we need to start to speak up and let everyone know that faith in God is just as crazy as faith in pink unicorns, or, praise his noodly appendages, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.