Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Christians Worship Trump

In America today, Christianity consists entirely of the worship of Donald Trump. Christians believe that everything Trump says is correct and must be believed, is good and must be obeyed. The Bible, and Jesus, are totally irrelevant to modern American Christianity.

Of course, you will immediately say that there are millions of Christians regarding whom this statement is incorrect. And you would be right, of course. I happen to know a few and so do you. But there are many other millions of Christians who loudly proclaim the near-divinity of Donald Trump.

What I have chosen to do, for the sake of simplicity, is to assume that all Christians are worshipers of Trump. I will then make individual exceptions for those Christians who make a public denunciation of Trump in some way or other. If you are a Christian who does not worship Trump, your denunciation must be public, as on Facebook, or a blog. Something that is searchable on the internet. You cannot secretly worship Jesus while publicly worshiping Trump.

I realize that it is something of a risk to identify yourself as a Christian who denounces Trump. His followers have guns and love them. But the danger is not nearly as great now as it will be later, once Trump’s worshipers have more power. And your public denunciation is likely to have more of an effect now than later.

The German churches largely went along with Hitler. If they had stood up to him in 1933, history might have been different. But by 1939 it was no longer possible for the churches to change anything. By then, not just Germans but Vichy French and other sympathizers were committing acts of unspeakable cruelty—acts that they might sincerely have not wanted to commit—while claiming that they were just following orders.

Some possible places to post your opposition to Trump:

  • The website (keep a copy)
  • On Facebook
  • Your blog

So if you identify yourself to me as a Christian, I will assume that you worship Trump and wish Him to be the great spiritual leader of America. But I will ask you if you have publicly denounced Trump, and where you posted your statement. If you can answer that question, then I will concede that you are a Christian. Otherwise I can only assume that you are a worshiper of Trump, with whom for my own personal safety I must communicate as little as possible.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

So, You Want the Gospel?

So, you want the Gospel? I wouldn’t suggest going to church to find it. Just listento this song by Glen Campbell, who died yesterday.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughtful Quotes from All the Light We Cannot See

One of the best books I have recently read is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which was a best-seller last year. It is so well-written and thoughtful that it was compelling despite an adventurously fragmented arrangement of short chapters. A blind French girl and a young Nazi radio operator were both very aware that the universe is full of photons that we must perceive with something other than our eyes.

“Why bother to make music when the silence and wind are so much larger?”

“...she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never see a photon sent from the sun.”

“But God is only a white cold eye, a quarter-moon poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking as the city is gradually pounded to dust.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dinosaur Trackways on the Blank Slate of the Mind

I have posted this essay on my science blog as well, but I include a final paragraph on this blog that was not on the science blog.

The last couple of days, I have had the privilege of working, again, with Glen Kuban down in the bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas (Dinosaur Valley State Park). Usually we work alone, or with a couple of other people, but this time there was a little crowd. A BBC film crew brought their cameras and even a photographic drone to get video footage of the dinosaur trackways, which I have written about numerous times previously in this blog, for example here). They also came to interview Glen, who has worked on these tracks (and knows each footprint by name) for 37 years, and he will not get some worldwide recognition for the work he has done. Congratulations, Glen! You deserve it.

Watch for the BBC video when it comes out. It will be called Rediscovering T Rex. The trackways in the park are not T. rex, but there are very few verified footprints of T. rex. But in the Paluxy river bed you can see long trackways of Acrocanthosaurus, which was similar to T. rex in many ways. The BBC does not yet have an American distributor for this video, so far only Canada and France, but I’ll bet that within a year or so you can find the video on Amazon or your local library.

I have posted a YouTube video of Glen and the film crew, if you want to experience what it was like to be there.

We were at the trackway site that was made infamous in the 1970s-era creationist movie Footprints in Stone, where creationists claimed that human footprints overlapped dinosaur footprints, thus proving, they claimed, that the entire evolutionary timetable of Earth history was wrong. The evidence of human footprints in 110-million-year-old mud (now limestone) was skimpy and some of it faked. Most creationists, even those who have not publicly disavowed the “manprints of the Paluxy,” pretty much ignore them. The son of the producer of the creationist movie, when he discovered that his father had misled his viewers about these footprints, destroyed all remaining copies of the movie. There was no discussion of this uniquely American controversy with the BBC crew, even though they knew about it, because it is such a dead issue even among creationists; certainly European viewers would wonder why anyone took so much as two breaths to talk about the supposed man-prints.

But there are still passionate creationists, mostly in the Glen Rose vicinity, who believe that the supposed man-tracks are real and that they prove that not only are all evolutionary scientists wrong, but even most creationists. They are a crazy little cult. They still have a museum right near the state park, although it appears to be on the skids and is now only open two days a week. I have posted essays in this blog about the Mantrack cult in the past (for example here). The state park personnel who were with Glen, me, and the BBC crew told me that this little cult has so effectively spread the hoax that lots of visitors still ask them how to find the man-tracks. It gets pretty intense sometimes, and rather than to create a confrontation, the park personnel sometimes have to simply walk away or busy themselves with some other park visitor.

We sort of expected that some members of this cult would come and try to disrupt the BBC filming. This did not happen, however, perhaps because there were a half dozen park employees on the scene. This track site is hard to find but the cult members, some of whom own adjacent land, can get there. They act as if they also own the river bed, and have in the past tried to keep Glen from studying the tracks. Actually, the river bed belongs to the state of Texas.

But one of the cult members came by, claiming that he was taking photographs for the City of Glen Rose. I very much doubt that the city government actually sent him, however. They might have posted some of his photos in the past, but he was acting in no official capacity. Of course, this man, whose name I forgot, and just as well, started going through his little speech about how belief in the man-tracks took less faith than belief in what he called “strict evolution.” Glen had told me beforehand almost verbatim what this little speech would be. It is as if the cult members are programmed to give their little speeches, and they will not respond to anything you say. They act as if they are brainwashed.

But that was not actually the precipitating event. The man started by saying that a cold front was coming through this weekend, and that it would only be about 92 degrees instead of the normal 97 degrees. This, he claimed, disproved the entire science of global warming. As I am one of the climate scientists that Donald Trump hates and Emmanuel Macron loves, I had to point out that this was an invalid conclusion. Global warming does not mean that temperatures never decrease; it means that they increase more, and more often, than they decrease. Well, this was all the cue he needed to self-identify as a right-wing extremist (or words to that effect; I did not yet so label him) and launch into his speech.

This man went on to comment on the fact that paleontologists have stopped using the genus name Paluxysaurus and started using Sauroposeidon instead. This shows, said the man, that scientists are wrong about this and, why not, everything else also. But changing names of organisms reflects the ongoing process of coming to better understand the evolutionary history of the organisms. And, of course, science advances because scientists make mistakes and then learn from them, something that religious cults almost by definition cannot do. Cults believe themselves to be directly inspired by God, and to admit one mistake totally undermines their reason for being.

I wish to make two points from this. First, the religious fundamentalists are now attacking all of science and education on two fronts. Formerly, they focused all their attention on evolution. Now, they also consider climate scientists to be servants of Satan. This is why scientific and educational organizations, all the way from national and international organizations such as the AAAS and NCSE to local ones such as the Oklahoma Academy of Science and Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, of both of which organizations I am a past president, disseminate as much information about climate science as about evolutionary science.

The second point explains the title of this essay. The lumpy limestone of Dinosaur Valley State Park has proven to be one of the most creative blank slates upon which a religious cult can write its own version of the history of the universe. The dinosaur footprints are real enough. The supposed man-tracks are incomplete dinosaur footprints. On some of these prints, the dinosaur toes have eroded away. On others, the creationists have deliberately ignored the dinosaur toe prints. Early creationists film footage and notes show clearly that they knew the dinosaur toe marks were present. In a few infamous instances, creationists have even carved human toes on the dinosaur prints, or carved entire fake human footprints in the limestone. Rather than getting insights from the evidence in the limestone, they have used the limestone as a blank notebook on which to write their own version of reality, a version not even shared by most creationists.

It is unclear whether these cult members are dangerous. Of the hundreds of videos I have posted on my Darwin Youtube channel, the only ones on which rabidly angry comments have been posted were those in which I showed Glen Kuban at work in the Paluxy riverbed. A couple of times I have wondered whether to report these creationists to the FBI, but their comments were just short of personal threat. Of course, there were atheist comments also, which insulted the creationists. The creationist comments did not threaten the atheist commentators, Glen, or myself with any violence; they merely hoped that God would rain down fire and brimstone from the sky to destroy us and our children, that’s all. The blank pages of limestone on which this cult writes its version of reality includes at least the hope that everyone who disagrees with them will be destroyed.

I must now add that I have had many of the same experiences as many of the readers of this blog. We have been driven away from doctrinal religions because of fundamentalists and the rabidly violent things that they believe. Is this fair? Should I reject Christianity because of fundamentalists who believe that God wants them to have their guns ready to use against the rest of us? Of course there are members of every religion who esteem the pathway of peace. There are lots of churches, and mosques, that proclaim peace and love. Should they be held guilty for what their bloodthirsty co-religionists do and say? No, but here is the problem. There is nothing within the structure of religion itself, particularly not the doctrinal ones such as Christianity or Islam, that prevents hatred and violence. I consider peaceful Christians and Muslims to be enablers of the violent ones because they believe that their scriptures are, in fact, the sword of the Lord. I have the greatest esteem for Jesus of Nazareth, even while I totally reject Christianity. Christianity is a system of violence and oppression that has falsely taken the name of Jesus as justification for its destructive evils.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Religion and Human Misery, Worldwide and Throughout History

Throughout prehistory and history, religion has been a major source of human misery. Since the beginning of our species, religion has allowed some members of a society, and some societies, to dominate others, because they claim the authority of their god to do so. Most, if not all, religion is a delusion, but cultural selection (the social equivalent of natural selection) has favored it not because it was true but because it provided fitness benefits to its practitioners.

This delusion has been prevalent in the human species since the beginning. Civilization developed independently and differently in the Old World and the New World, but in both cases religion allowed powerful people in the cities to dominate masses of teeming poor and miserable victims. The list of atrocities carried out by the world’s first kings—who ruled more than just their village or small confederation of villages—is impossible for any sane human to comprehend all at once. Babylonian kings flayed their victims alive. Even the reputedly moral Israelites put whole cities to the sword. Chinese emperors carried out mass executions. African kings made some of their armies march into the sea and drown. And in America? More presently.

Peter Watson wrote The Great Divide back in 2011. This book is a quixotic quest to make sense out of all human history. This prolific writer must be a genius but his task was impossible. However, his book did help me understand one thing a little better. What caused history to take a different trajectory in the Old World from the New?

The major answers to these questions were, to my understanding, not very different in Watson’s book than in the more famous books (Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse) by Jared Diamond. The Old World had wild plants that could easily be bred into crops; wild animals that could easily be bred into livestock; and a geography that allowed easy movement of technologies and people east and west along latitudinal lines. North and south movement was more difficult because of climatic differences, something that was particularly important for crops. Agricultural civilization developed in both hemispheres, but much later in America, which is much narrower, especially in tropical Mesoamerica. New technologies diffused very slowly from one part of the New World to another.

But Watson also wrote about something I’d not considered: religion. He gave examples, just a few from countless ones, of the cruelties imposed in the name of religion. But something happened in the Old World that was different from the New.

All religions, Watson explains, began as shamanistic religions, in which a religious cult leader would go into a trance and believe himself or herself to be transformed into a spirit animal, or at least convince others of it.

In the Old World, this gradually transformed into religions in which there were fewer and fewer, and more powerful, gods, with priests who were not shamans. This was associated with the rise of agricultural civilizations, in which kings, standing in for gods, imposed order.

But in the New World, there were fewer agricultural civilizations, and they rose later: the Mound Builders, the civilizations of Mexico and of Peru. And, something I’d not considered, the New World has far more species of hallucinogenic plants. Priests continued to be ceremonial shamans using hallucinogens to connect with the spirit world in America long after it had mostly stopped in the Old World. (Indeed, in the Old World, starting in several places independently about 500 BCE, many people began challenging religious tradition with demands for justice and morality, examples being the Old Testament prophets, Buddhism, and Taoism.) I’d also not considered that Old World people could not get stoned as much—they preferred mild drugs like alcohol—because if they did it would be dangerous for them to handle large livestock animals, animals that the New World inhabitants did not have.

And it wasn’t just hallucinogens; in the Native American civilizations, people induced a trance state by self-brutalization. The Spanish conquistadors saw a king and queen come out and, in public, lacerate themselves: he drew a rope through his own penis, she through her tongue. Once there was a contest to see how many sticks a man could run through his tongue; the winner pierced his tongue with 405 sticks. In Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest, there were 1500 ball courts. In these games, the losing team was sacrificed, and sometimes the winning team also. Archaeological evidence indicates that at the major city in North America before the European invasion, Cahokia (in modern Illinois), when one of the chiefs died, his relatives were killed also, as well as fifty women aged 15 to 18 years of age.

Some of what we know about the extremes of religion in ancient America come from their own records (those that the earliest Spaniards did not burn); but it is also based on historical observation, and not just by the conquistadors. In 1720, a French explorer, Le Page du Pratz, was visiting a Natchez village, when the chief died. At his funeral, the chief’s two wives and six concubines were stupefied then strangled. At least, in North America, the cruelties were less extreme than those I describe below.

Much has been written about the cruelty of the conquistadors who massacred and enslaved the Native Americans, starting with Columbus’s expedition. I have written a lot of it myself. I have repeatedly called for the elimination of Columbus Day. This is all true. But the Aztecs and Incas were not peaceful civilizations hacked to pieces by demonic Europeans. If anything, the Native American civilizations had continued the self-feeding spiral of religious cruelty far beyond anything that had evolved in the Old World. In the Old World, human sacrifice stopped. Had it continued, and had it undergone an autocatalytic explosion, it would have produced something like what the Aztecs and Incas had.

Aztec warriors would raid more and more distant towns and bring the captives to Tenochtitlán. Some warriors would flay the skin from the victims and then wear it until it rotted away, which was a religious display of renewal and resurrection after death. Warriors were given the flayed skin of girls to wear. Every student of history has learned about the Aztec sacrifices in which the priests cut out the still-beating hearts of victims, eviscerated them, rolled their bodies down the pyramid steps, then cut off and made stew out of the limbs. This was often after pulling out the teeth and fingernails of the captives. Hundreds of children were sacrificed, particularly by the Incas, after cutting their ears off.

Both the Aztecs and the Incas had to keep expanding their territories not because they needed food for an expanding population, or because of the desire to rule larger empires. Indeed, with no horses or wheeled vehicles, a central priestly government simply could not control a large empire, nor could they import heavy tributes or perishable food. (Old World agriculture produced mostly grains, while New World agriculture produced mostly perishable products, except dried corn, which was actually a late product.) Almost all that they wanted was sacrificial victims with which to feed their ravenous, unpredictable, and horrible gods. Sacrifices intensified, starting about 1440 CE (by the Mayan calendar) and continuing until the conquest in 1521. By the time of conquest, the Aztecs were processing twenty thousand victims a year. It was a spiral of cosmic paranoia. They were worried that their sun good, Huitzilopochtli, might run out of food; this was at a time when the sun was, in fact, getting dimmer because of eruptions of volcanoes such as Popo (Popocateptl) not far away from the Aztec capital city. There was no American equivalent of a supreme God who could be satisfied with prescribed animal sacrifices. While the Old World had storms and droughts and volcanoes, the New World was rife with them. The Native Americans were much more afraid of their gods than the Eurasians had ever been of theirs.

Some Pre-Columbians could see that human sacrifice was becoming crazily excessive. The Toltec leader Topiltzin tried to stop human sacrifice, but failed.

Their only desperate hope to escape from this cycle of bloodshed appeared to be that the god Quetzalcoatl would come from oversees and rescue them. Cortez came, and the Aztecs thought that he must be Quetzalcoatl.

Meanwhile, the conquerors from the Old World were just as evil, with the exception of not having human sacrifice. The Spaniards roasted their captives alive, or cut off their noses, lips, or chins. Many European scholars of many lands (Juan Sepúlveda, Cornelius de Pauw, Oliver Goldsmith, etc. etc.) wrote that Native Americans were little more than animals and had no right to not be killed. A few, like Bartholomé de las Casas, stood up for the humanity of the natives.

When the Old World met the new, religiously-inspired massacre met religiously-inspired human sacrifice. Not only in society after society, but by entirely separate evolutionary development in the two hemispheres, religion facilitated, even demanded, the greatest cruelties the human mind could devise.

What do we do about it? Do we give up religion? Can we? Would it change anything? I do not have time to write, nor you to read, any attempt at answering that question right now.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Republican Party: Fertile Ground for Racism

The Republican Party is extremely fertile ground for racists. I am not saying all, or even most, Republicans are racists. But their extreme passion, based on gut feelings and opposed to all facts and reason, is exactly the mental framework in which racism thrives. Most Republicans are not racists, but nearly all racists are Republicans. When a racist Republican creates publicity, the Republican Party is quick to distance itself, but I am not sure whether this is sincere or is merely an attempt to avoid notice. And, as the presidency of Donald Trump has shown, the Republican Party welcomes the support of racists even while disavowing them.

One recent example was a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives from Tennessee. Candidate Rick Tyler’s slogan was Make America White Again, and his campaign website was His big billboards were featured in a 2016 news channel article. I presume that he lost the election, probably even the primary, because his website is no longer up.

It is particularly puzzling that this candidate emerged from Polk County, Tennessee, which is in the very heart of the homeland of the Cherokee Tribe. The candidate owns or owned a restaurant in Ocoee, very close to the birthplace of my sixth-great-grandmother Nancy Ward, one of the most important leaders in Cherokee history. If anyone should know that America has never been all-white, it should be people from Polk County, Tennessee! But this line of reasoning is lost on people like Tyler and to a lesser extent on Republicans in general, because they specifically reject evidence and reasoning.

And racists use the Christian religion specifically to promote their agenda. Notice the billboard in the article link; it shows people praying.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Why I Do Not Plan to Talk with Global Warming Denialists

This essay is an expansion of the one I published today in my science blog.

I live and work in Oklahoma, the hotbed of creationism and climate change denialism. I feel like I am a missionary in a hostile tribe just because I accept scientific evidence. I am, for the most part, personally reclusive about my knowledge of evolution and climate change. I, of course, am quite clear about them when I teach and write, but I seldom engage in discussion about them with people who disagree. The only neighbors who know my views are those who have first declared their similar views to me.

I tell everybody I can about botany, the science of plants. But the reason I seldom speak in person about the sciences of evolution and global warming is that I will almost certainly experience personal attack if I do. Today, I joined in with other activists at an information table outside a farmer’s market to tell people about global warming. This is something I have not done before and probably will not do again. Most of the people who went by were supportive, to varying degrees. This is something you might expect from the visitors to a farmer’s market. But there was one climate change denialist who decided to subject me to a barrage of lies and tried to make me feel like I was a force of darkness and repression.

Okay, I started it. A man and his wife and baby were leaving the farmer’s market. Our information table was not within the market itself, but in the lawn of a nearby church that had specifically invited us to be there. I spoke first. I said, “Thank you for coming to the Farmer’s Market. By doing so, you have helped to reduce your carbon emissions, because you have bought local produce that has not been trucked across the country for thousands of miles.” I thought this was a positive thing to say.

But this was when the man decided to launch his attack. He said that there has been no global warming for the last ten years. I told him that my own research has clearly demonstrated global warming over the last twelve years. (I will present some of my data in another essay.) He simply said that I was lying and had made all of my data up.

But he did not stop there. He said that the government must have paid me thousands of dollars to do my research, and that I was being paid to say that global warming was occurring. I told him that I had done my research entirely for free. I would have told him that I gathered my data about budburst dates in deciduous trees by simply writing them down almost every day for two months each of twelve years, something that required no money. But I didn’t have a chance to do this. He just called me a liar again.

Next he said that Barack Obama was an evil man, a liar, and a hypocrite because of all the fuel that he burned in Air Force One to go to Paris to sign the climate agreement. Of course, when Trump uses a lot of jet fuel to fly to his personal vacation resorts at taxpayer expense, it is just fine. According to an AP report by Chad Day, published last month, “Flying Trump to Mar-a-Lago on Air Force One twice cost at least $1.2 million.” The report continues, "...documents made public Thursday by Judicial Watch are some of the first to put even part of a price tag on Trump's frequent visits to his Palm Beach, Florida, club. The numbers reflect only the costs associated with the president's plane, Air Force One. Not included are expenses for Secret Service protection or support vehicles provided by the Department of Defense, which must be airlifted into place." This is just fine, according to Oklahoma Republicans, but Obama flying to Paris to sign the climate agreement was evil.

Why did the man criticize Obama flying in Air Force one? The key was that the man called Obama a hypocrite. You see, the reasoning seems to go like this. Democrats say that burning unnecessary jet fuel is bad for the climate. Republicans, however, say that they can burn all the jet fuel they want for any reason whatsoever. Therefore, if a Democrat ever burns any jet fuel at all, it is hypocrisy. For Republicans, however, it is not, since they say it is not a problem. This is like a thief saying that it is okay for him to steal money, but not okay for a person who disapproves of theft to do so.

So the only time a denialist will so much as listen to someone who disagrees with him or her is if that person lives in a hovel and is not responsible for any carbon emissions. Well, I don't quite live in a hovel, but I am very frugal in my energy use. I didn't get a chance to tell him this, but if I had, I imagine he would have called me a liar, just as he did regarding my research.

The man's final attack was to say that environmentalists wanted to keep Africans poor and diseased and miserable because we want them to not have any electricity, any at all. This is, of course, not true, but I didn't have a chance to say this. Another person who was with me started to say it, but the man refused to listen to it. We tried to tell him that locally-generated solar and wind energy makes electricity more accessible to rural African villages than would building billion-dollar power-plants, precisely because it would save the expense of thousands of miles of transmission lines from point of production to point of use.

I did get a last few words in to the wife with the kid. She told me she came to the market for safe food. I said that, even though we disagree, she was part of the solution to the climate problem. What she was doing was good for more reasons than she had known. I think she might have been inclined to agree with me on that one point—I sensed a distinct lessening of tension—but I think she did not want her husband to see her agreeing with me about anything.

There are some evolution and climate change denialists who are reasonable people, not necessarily in their approach to the information but at least in their approach to me. There are denialists who will not call me an evil liar. But they are rare enough that I think I will just stay away from any personal discussions on these subjects.

I think it is about time for this old missionary to retire. At some point, it is time to move to some place in which one is not constantly in fear of personal attack. France looks like a pretty good place, especially since the new prime minister has specifically invited climate scientists such as myself to move there. As explained above, if you accept science in Oklahoma you are subjected to the same kind of verbal attacks as black people were throughout the South in the pre-civil-rights era. If I had been black in the 1950’s and France had invited me to come, I would have taken the invitation very seriously.

The reason I include this essay in a religion blog is that the denialists, like the creationists, are inspired by religious fervor. They worship Trump and the Republican Party. Their response to anyone who disagrees with them about anything (not just these issues but all others) is the same as a medieval Inquisitor reacting to someone he declared to be a heretic. To them, creationism and global-warming-denialism are the only essential parts of Christianity. I really do feel like a missionary who is about to be beheaded. I feel like a black man about to be lynched in the early twentieth century. I need to live in a secular society, and soon.