Religion: Best Intentions, Useless Today

© Jordan Smith

I feel like religion definitely had a purpose, many years ago. Its inception was our first attempt at scientific exploration and philosophy. Before our species had the scientific knowledge to ponder such questions as why items fall to the ground? Or how does it rain? We first had the thirst for knowledge – curiosity. This is a lovely statement about the good nature of humanity and in fact most life on earth. We are a curious bunch. Ignorant of basic facts, and without any true measurements or understanding of life, we, as a species attempted to fill the gaps in our knowledge with explanations – sadly this lead to a one size fits all answer ‘God did it’

 

As we know from religious scripture, all 3 of the monolithic religions tried and completely failed to understand science. From the old Jewish bible which claims men come from dirt & women come from the ribs of men, to the Quran which claims the sun sets in the mud & sperm comes from the back bone & ribs (spot the copycat pattern?) To the new Testament which claims men can rise from the dead and walk on water.

 

Funnily enough, religious claims of astounding miracles happened often up until the invention of the camera and video camera, then suddenly, God stopped letting people walk on water or showing himself in the clouds – then Photoshop was invented, and back came the claims of divinity – along with airbrushed supermodels and images of teenagers with oddly placed beer cans in their hands. I’m not saying there is a connection between the fact miracles disappeared when humans had the opportunity to prove or disprove them … Actually I am, miracles are bullshit, the connection is clear.
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A Couple of Hellbound Apostates Visit the Wichita Mountains

If you were expecting or even – God forbid – hoping for another rant, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news: I think I need to give it a rest for a while. I’ll say only this before taking my leave of that somewhat continuous, reiterative and baleful project: because of the way fundamentalist religious dogma with all its patriarchal connotations warped the members of my family for generations, I’m genuinely sorry I was born into that family, and somewhat resentful as well. That’s a pretty heavy thing to say, ain’t it? I have always tried to treat my son in such a way that he won’t feel about his father the way I feel about mine. Some of you who read this know full well what I mean because that’s the way you feel – and chances are, religious dogma played a role in it. Those of you who can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that way, also don’t know how lucky you are to have dodged such a bullet by a fortuitous accident of birth.

 

Now, on to brighter things. On Friday, I met my friend Nicole King (whose beautiful, thought-provoking and touching essays you’ve probably encountered on this blog) for a long-overdue visit to the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. The Wichitas are a fascinating igneous province whose history is quite unlike that of any other mountain range known to me. It’s a series of granite outcrops that trend roughly east-west for some sixty miles from near Lawton to a bit beyond the appropriately-named town of Granite. They aren’t large as mountains go: the maximum topographical relief is probably no more than 1700 feet or so. On approaching them, one is immediately struck by the fact that there are no foothills: the massifs simply rise directly out of the surrounding plains. This is, to say the least, unusual, and there is of course a good reason for it, which I’ll get to eventually. (One will not discover that reason by reading the Holy Bible.)

 

After lunch at the celebrated restaurant in Meers – a charming establishment that occupies a ramshackle collage of old mining structures and serves up wonderful food and delicious locally-brewed beer in 22-ounce bottles – we headed up into the mountains to enjoy that great proliferation of wildflowers that has followed in the wake of unprecedented flooding in this geologically-fascinating region. The three hours we spent kicking around up there afforded a golden opportunity to revisit some of the unusual features of one of my favorite places on Earth.

 

The granite of the Wichitas has been dated to early in the Cambrian Period, about 524 MYA give or take 1.2 million either direction. That’s a very good date, established and corroborated by a number of radiometric “clocks” – various minerals (especially zircons) contained within the granite that incorporated radioactive isotopes into their structure at the time the magma chamber that produced that granite was slowly cooling under miles of overburden.
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Fundamentally Fundamental about the Fundamentals of Fundies: Facepalms of Biblical Proportions

Despite loose usage of the term and the tossing about of its diminutive form, “fundamentalist” is not a pejorative: the word was invented by conservative Christians for purposes of self-identification and bears an exact meaning that has only secondarily to do with attitude. I’m well acquainted with the history of this word because it is my interesting fortune to have been raised in one of the small, fractious, separatist, backwater Christian sects that coined it around the turn of the 20th century.

 

By the time I was born at mid-century, Missionary Baptist churches all over the U.S. South proudly touted their fundamentalist bona fides on the signs that identified them: “Independent – Bible-believing – Fundamental.” While dismissing the historic creeds as the inventions of fallen man, such churches showed not the least hesitation in publishing “statements of faith” (as though “creed” meant something different) sometimes disguised as “church covenants,” and those published statements always included an article such as “We believe the Bible to be the divinely-inspired and wholly inerrant Word of God.” Fundamentalists of the other monotheistic religions hold a similar attitude regarding their various “holy books.” Belief in the divine origin of a “sacred scripture” is essential to fundamentalists of all sects, because it’s the primary premise – often unspoken – in all of their arguments.

 

What I wish I could say to fundamentalists of all stripes (and wish they could hear me when I say it) is that their foundational premise is false. The Bible is most certainly not the Word of God: it has no more to do with the (alleged) creator of the universe than the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or the Left Behind series.
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Reading the Myths Aright, Part II

In Part I of this essay, I left off my reading of Genesis 3 with verse 7. At that point, the Fall was a fait accompli as evidenced by a sudden flush of shame and an ineffectual attempt by our first parents to cover their nakedness; all that remains to tell of this story is the defense, the verdict, the sentencing and the dolorous postscript. As I take up the tale at verse 8, I try to see it through the eyes of a Bronze-Age agriculturalist/pastoralist. It’s useful to ask oneself from time to time, “If I were a Mesopotamian farmer living 4,000 years ago and hearing a tale like this from a recognized religious authority, what would it mean to me?”
 

(8) They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (9) But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
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Problems on the Forefront of Physics – Part 2: Dark Matter and Dark Energy

The question “What is the universe made of?” is one of the most fundamental questions one could ask about reality, yet the lack of answers leads to one of the biggest problems in modern astrophysics and cosmology. It would first appear that the observable universe is chiefly composed of matter and energy, right? Well, that’s actually not true at all. Everything we can see, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, every star and every galaxy in the sky, every atom and every photon of energy, constitute roughly five percent of the entirety of the universe. What about the rest? What else is there? Roughly twenty-seven percent is dark matter, and a whopping sixty-eight percent is dark energy. Not a single human on this planet knows what dark matter and dark energy are, unless of course they haven’t told anyone. All we can do at the moment is measure the effects of what we call dark matter and dark energy on the physical universe, and apply these labels to the unknown.

Before we get into the history and details of dark matter, know that the term “dark matter” is a misnomer. We don’t know if what’s causing the observed effects that we call dark matter is actually made of matter (although popular hypotheses suggest that it could be baryonic matter or weakly interacting massive particles), we have no clue what it is. There are observations that we can’t explain, and we call them dark matter. That’s it. We’ll come back to this and go into more detail in just a bit.

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The Big Bang Model – A Timeline of Events Explained

The Big Bang, apart from being a popular TV sitcom, is a cosmological event describing the origin of the universe in scientific language. It is an attempt to marry the present observable properties of the universe with our fundamental understanding of the laws of physics and to work that backwards in time as far as possible. It tends to be flung around in discussions and debates as a popular buzz word and is met with harsh criticism by proponents of supernatural creationism for example, those who assert that God created the universe. The problem, I find, is that most people who are aware of the big bang theory are very much unaware of how it works. Furthermore and perhaps most troubling, they are unaware that people far more educated than themselves, who are experts in cosmology and astrophysics, have their own doubts and criticisms about the theory, which they are still trying to square with current observational data. Having said that, if you interpret this as an admission of how weak the theory is, you are dead wrong. The reality is precisely the opposite. It’s the continued rigor of scrutiny applied by the scientific community that has refined the big bang theory to the degree of accuracy that it holds today. It is necessarily incomplete because we lack a Grand Unification Theory as well as a way to account for much of the mass in the universe but it is still the best theory available and will continue to solidify into a complete model as we inevitably uncover the missing pieces of the puzzle, given sufficient time.
The Big Bang in a Nutshell
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