Atheist Fodder. There is no better support for atheism than the greed and mismanagement of finances by church leaders. On November 6, 2007, a questionnaire was distributed by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, to six leading televangelists concerning their lavish lifestyles with private airplanes, trips to places like Fiji and Hawaii, multiple homes, and Rolls-Royces. We have already seen several articles in atheist publications alleging that this is proof positive that the only people who believe in God are those who stand to gain something by doing so. We have two points to make here: (1) for every dishonest religious charlatan there are dozens of others who do good work and sacrifice of their own resources to help others. Painting everyone with the same brush is simply dishonest. (2) The Does God Exist? program always has its books open to anyone who wishes to examine them, and welcome anyone to visit our offices and/or home (our main office is in our home). --Reference: Time, November 26, 2007, page 51.
Atheist Sunday School. Twenty percent of 18- to 25-year-olds profess to having no religion, and many of them want to instill their faith in atheism and secular humanism into their children. To do that, Atheist Sunday School has been established at the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and similar programs are scheduled to open shortly in Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Portland. Camp Quest in Ohio has been operating for some time now as a summer camp. It is interesting that while many churches are dropping their Sunday school programs, and discontinuing summer camps, atheists are installing them to teach their values and prepare their children to live as atheists in a pluralistic world. --Reference: Time, December 3, 2007.
The Golden Compass Stirs Faith Controversy. Philip Pullman is a writer who has a series of books called His Dark Materials which is a trio of fantasy novels which have sold more than 15 million copies. The first volume called The Golden Compass has been made into a movie which is playing around the country and is being promoted as another film like The Lord of Rings and Harry Potter. The enemy in this film is the Christian church, and Christianity Today describes the material as "The Chronicles of Atheism" (December 2007, page 36). Pullman claims he is only attacking religion when it is intertwined with politics, but there is a clear gnostic flavor to the material and gross misconceptions about the nature of God. I can only wonder what would have happened if, instead of attacking Christianity, Pullman had attacked Islam. (Additional material on Pullman is in Time, December 10, 2007, page 84.)
The Cratered Earth. One of the main assumptions of evolutionary theory is uniformitarianism--the belief that the only processes that have affected Earth and life on it are things that are operational today. One evidence that opposes that assumption is the evidence that asteroid and comet collisions have radically altered the earth and its ecosystem in a catastrophic way. One challenge to this evidence has been to say that these things happened too rarely to ever be of significance in the overall scheme of things. In Astronomy (January 2008, page 60) is a map of the world with confirmed and probable impact sites marked on the map. One hundred seventy-nine sites are given as proven impact locations and 111 are given as probable--a total of 290 impacts. The article states that there are "hundreds of additional candidate impact locales which await more definitive study." Astronomical impacts by objects from outer space do seem to be viable agents for change in the history of Earth--they cannot be ignored.
Appendix Is Not Vestigial. One of the old arguments to support the naturalistic evolution of man has been that we have many organs that are vestigial. The idea is that they were useful at one time, but throughout the millennia because of disuse they have no purpose. One of the examples used in the old days was the appendix, and many of us have had our appendix removed because it was believed to be inconsequential to living on planet Earth today. A team of researchers at Duke University have shown that the appendix is perfectly designed to promote the use of biofilms. Biofilms are a newly discovered part of our bodies that aid digestion, make vital nutrients, and crowd out harmful invaders. The greatest concentration of these vital biofilms in humans is in the appendix. In rats and baboons biofilms are concentrated in the cecum, a pouch that sits at the same location. Our appendix is placed in the right place and has the right shape to use biofilms in an efficient way. Immunologist William Parker says "If you don't have something like the appendix to harbor safe bacteria, you have less of a survival advantage. --Source of data: Discover, January 2008, page 69.
Mummy Hadrosaur. Once in a while a specimen of ancient life is found in such good condition that even soft tissue can be studied and understood. A specimen found in North Dakota is in such good condition that skin, ligaments, tendons, and even some internal organs are preserved. By calculating body mass, muscle mass, and flexibility of tissues scientists can get a more complete picture of how this herbivore lived. It is becoming obvious that this animal traveled faster than a T. rex. Another specimen found in Niger has 500 teeth arranged in 50 rows across its jaw and gives strong indication of being a grazer like a cow. The tools God had in the prehistoric world to prepare Earth and its resources for man were pretty amazing. --References: Science News, November 24, 2007, page 325; and AP release in the South Bend Tribune, December 3, 2007, page A5.
Prison Purge Is a Problem. Chaplains were directed in August of 2007 to clear the shelves in their prison libraries of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that were not on the approved list of resources. Only 150 book titles were allowed in each category, and there are some 20 categories covering everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. We have not been able to see the list, but since we supply materials and are not a political organization, we suspect our donated materials have been discarded. Most of our nearly 10,000 students in prisons, take our free courses, and that is not library material. Donated DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes will probably not survive this governmental action. There are some prisoners in New York who have filed a lawsuit claiming that this violated their exercise of religion, but it is based on things surrounding September 11, 2001, and is not likely to be changed. --Source: Austin American Statesman, September 22, 2007, page F5.
Origin of AIDS (Again). Ten years ago or so in this column, we reported that there was strong documentation that AIDS got into the human population from monkeys. The evidence was that in the 1930s HIV jumped from West African chimpanzees to people. The virus does not affect chimpanzees, but became very potent in humans and was spread rapidly in the gay community. The virus jumped to Haiti in homosexuals visiting from Africa, and then came to the U.S. mainland in the same way. In Science News (November 3, 2007, page 275) a new study is announced which backs up this model pretty well. Researchers studying 25-year-old blood samples have been able to confirm the jump from Haiti to the US mainland around 1969. Homosexual practices like anal sex provide a rapid transmission system for viruses like HIV and challenge that lifestyle as being a destructive one.
Stem Cell Advances. The rate at which new discoveries are being made in stem cell research is staggering. We mentioned in this column several issues back that Komodo dragons had been observed to reproduce by parthenogenesis or virgin birth. Scientists duplicating this process are convinced that stem cells can be generated without having a fertilized egg--from virgin eggs. Several chemical techniques have also been reported using normal skin cells and changing them to become stem cells. All of these new techniques offer a solution to the stem cell problem, because aborted babies are not necessary to produce them. In our November/December 2007 issue we had an article about stem cells and all the wonderful things they can be used for. Now we see that some of the ethical barriers to stem cell work are being removed and researchers can get out of the political issues and work on this exciting new area of study. --Data from Science News, October 20, 2007, page 248.
Lucy Travels. The media has made quite a spectacle out of the traveling exhibit of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis). Discovered in 1974, Lucy is the most complete afarensis specimen found by anthropologists to date. Claiming that it is a missing link, as many media reports are doing, is very misleading. The specimen was three feet six inches tall, had a brain size of just over 400 cc (smaller than a chimpanzee), a monkey-like V-shaped mandible (lower jaw), and had a femur and humerus (upper leg bone and upper arm bone) that were the same size--another monkey characteristic. The position of the sacrum and the hip suggests that Lucy might have been erect, and that makes her of special interest to anthropologists and their theories about how man became erect. Lucy is very interesting, but not a missing link.
Reminder: Canyon Lands Seminar. See our March/April 2008 issue for information on this year's summer seminar in the Canyon Lands. If interested, contact Queenslander Tours at 877-865-6711 (toll free) or e-mail Mark Story at Mark@QLTours.com.
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