Friday, February 08, 2013

According to NASA scientists, a small asteroid will pass close to the earth next week. Apparently this object will pass closer than most communication satellites. While this object does not appear to be a harbinger of extinction (slightly larger than the now retired STS), it has the potential and should it strike to cause untold loss of life, environmental and property damage. One would think that such an event would be a clarion call for the people of the world to unite in mutual aid and peace. Perhaps the events of the past couple of decades have soured me on “human nobility” or “there’s good in all of us” declarations. What I believe we will see is the usual religious ranting of Christian, Muslim or (insert your group here) fundamentalists proclaiming their god has sent this as a warning to the others to give up their heathen (infidel) ways. If this chunk of celestial rock should hit the United States, I am sure that the usual suspects, Pat Robertson, Westboro Baptist Church, et al will “praise God” for showing us “His” wrath for allowing abortion, gay marriage, re-electing Obama, this list goes on. The other side of the coin is that even though the calculated, predicted path of this little beast does not show it colliding with the earth, I am sure much credit will be claimed for saving the earth and ultimately humanity through prayer.

I am annoyed by this religious fervor for a number of reasons. The first being that throughout the entire 4.5 billion years of the history of the formation of the solar system and planets the earth has been hit countless millions if not billions of times by intergalactic detritus. Evidence of this is the many still noticeable meteor craters that can be seen. It still is to this day being bombarded continually by objects as small as grains of sand up to, fortunately not as often, car sized “rocks” and larger. There is no “guiding hand” directing these “dumb” bombs from space. Any child that has looked at a basic astronomy book understands what is happening, except those who have been told science is lies. Of course the scientific method that has produced every modern convenience used by these religious fundamentalists is acceptable, just not when it crosses swords with their beliefs. The second reason for my annoyance and I think on a more important level is that the idea that there are “them” out there. You know the ones that don’t believe in the “right” god or “our good book” or our interpretation of “the good book”. How can we advance and evolve as a global civilization if one half of the population thinks the other half needs to be beaten into submission? Of course there are also the predictable side effects of “Us vs. Them”. One of these effects being the ability to dehumanize the opposition. Thereby making it easier to torture and kill them and find acceptable limits of “collateral damage”.

The third and last and probably least reason religious fervor annoys me is that it wastes everybody’s resources. It wastes the time of the scientific community to have to explain for the umpteenth time that “no the earth is not the center of the universe and here’s why we know this”. It wastes our governments’ and ultimately my tax money kicking these troglodytes out of the science classrooms when they try to “teach the controversy”.  The list goes on.

So my hope is that as this visitor flies past our planet at least one person looks up and the light of reason, rationality and understanding lights up and pushes back the darkness of religious indoctrination just a tiny bit.

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So a made-up panic over centuries old Mayan calendars and the all the mind-numbing stupidity that went with it can cause the internet to blow up and a man at NASA to work full time answering emails about the end of the world, but a REAL asteroid that's basically going to skin our atmosphere in a literal close call causes no outbreak of insanity and looting of hifi's.

This, my friend, is why I sometimes wonder about the future of humanity.

A group of nomads travel through a valley known for harboring bandits. Not unexpectedly, they are attacked. Their wealth plundered, the men and children are killed, the women turned to slaves. Later, another group seeks passage through the valley. They pray to their god constantly, nearly unhinged by fear. Fortunately, they arrive at their destination unscathed. Still later, another group, hearing rumors of successful passage, are emboldened to attempt the same journey. Like the first group, they are attacked and destroyed.

The message from the second group? God is great. God will provide, reward and protect those who worship him.

The message for the rest of us? Shit happens. Bad people do bad things. Be prepared for the worst case scenario. Use science to determine how to deal with life. Nothing lasts forever. Etc., etc., etc...

That one asteroid misses us does not mean we have lived through gods grace. That one asteroid impact the planet and killed nearly everything does not mean they were being punished. It means there's a lot of asteroids out there and some of them will hit us. Some of them are small and some of them are big. That the media just found out about them and are exploiting their existence for $$$ does not mean we have just headed into a shower of death. It just means we have one more thing to study and one more thing to learn how to handle.

An interesting factoid I recently read was that a survey of all religions operating in the US reveal only 11% of the population embrace a religion that rejects evolution.  That is really puzzling in that 46% of the population are creationist.  That means 35% reject those concepts that are acceptable to the religion they embrace.  These people not only slept through all their science classes, apparently they were also snoozing in the pew.

Part of the explanation may be a striking gap between Americans' personal beliefs and the official views of the faiths to which they belong. Whereas only 11 percent belong to religions openly rejecting evolution, Gallup reports that 46 percent believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. Why is this "belief gap'' so large? Interestingly, this isn't the only belief gap surrounding a science-religion controversy: whereas 0 percent of Americans belong to religions arguing that the Sun revolves around Earth, Gallup reports that as many as 18 percent nonetheless believe in this theory that used to be popular during the Middle Ages. This suggests that the belief gaps may have less to do with intellectual disputes and more to do with an epic failure of science education.

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