January 7, 2013

Wealth Inequality in the United States

WealthInequality_1

The Bottom 50% of US households only hold 1.1% of the total net worth. The Top 1% of households hold more wealth than the bottom 90% of US households. 99% of US households only hold 65.4% of the total net worth.

WealthInequality_2Regardless of what you think we should do about this inequality in wealth, the fact of the matter is, a modern society cannot function to its fullest potential with so much wealth in the hands of so few.

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December 29, 2012

What if we treated crime like an illness?

There will come a time in this country where we treat all criminals like we treat people with mental illnesses, not like criminals.

Crime is often referred to as one of society’s ills, and until we treat it like an illness, we will never be a truly great society.

December 1, 2012

A Science-friendly alternative to Creationism and Intelligent Design

In this blog entry, I would like to provide a religious explanation for the origins of the Earth and the universe, that allows for a literal interpretation of religious beliefs, but does not directly conflict with evolution, cosmology, and other scientific explanations. I will refer to this explanation as Naturogenesis, because I am better at coming up with ideas than naming them.

Before I go into what Naturogenesis itself is, I’d like to provide some background and my motivations.

My purpose for stating this alternative is to prove that religion and science do not need to be in direct conflict. For people who choose a literal interpretation of their religious beliefs, they can still hold those beliefs without having to reject science and the general consensus of scientists.

I want religious people to be able to use this explanation and embrace it over creationism and intelligent design because those ideas are seriously flawed and have been proven to be flawed many times over, so the sooner religious people abandon these views, the better. They are not vital to religion, and in fact cause a disconnect between believers and the modern scientific world.

This should go without saying, but since this is a blog post, I don’t expect any compensation for this idea, even if others claim it for themselves. I just want this idea to spread, and to help end the conflict between science and religion. This is not just a cynical way for both sides to cop out, but a genuine attempt on my part to reconcile science and religion, a task that so many more qualified than me have undertaken as well.

I am not a theologian. I considered myself a Christian for several years in my youth and adolescence, but without going into the details, I have since become an atheist. I have read more of the Bible than On the Origin of Species. I am a physicist, not a biologist, so do not consider myself an expert on evolution. My intent is for this post to be accepted or challenged based on its merits alone, and not on my pedigree or background.

At the same time, I am not someone who directly profits from the conflict between science and religion, or the resolution of that conflict. Indirectly, I hope to profit by providing a way to end this conflict, so that religion and science can coexist and better spend their resources towards efforts other than undermining each other.

With this post I’m focusing primarily on the Christian views and beliefs, because that is what I’m most familiar with. However, I believe this concept can subsequently be applied to most other religions that feel science conflicts with their beliefs.

So without further ado, here is the basis for Naturogenesis, the science-friendly alternative to creationism and intelligent design (I am actively avoiding trying to call it a theory, hypothesis, or any terminology related to science, since it is purely meant to be religious based. In my mind, explanation and alternative are adequate):

NATUROGENESIS

According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, God created the Earth and the universe in seven days and he did it only a few thousand years or so ago. But when he did, he created a universe that was already 14 billion years old, which included an Earth that was already 4.5 billion years old. This includes the fossils in the earth with the correctly aged radioactive isotopes. In other words, Naturogenesis proposes that God created an old Earth/universe.

According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, God created all the living creatures, including human beings. But when he did, he created them according to the laws of evolution and other natural processes that occur in the world and the universe. In other words, Naturogenesis proposes God created evolution, the Big Bang, and the other natural processes verified by science.

God created the universe according to all the scientifically-verifiable laws we have discovered or will ever discover, because the universe was meant to exist and function without God being necessary. In other words, Naturogenesis proposes God created an autonomous universe.

Naturogenesis does not refute the idea that God can also intervene in the universe at will. However, he does so in ways that obey the established natural laws.

Naturogenesis does not require scientific evidence to support religious beliefs or religious beliefs to be supported by scientific evidence.

Naturogenesis does not reject scientific evidence because it conflicts with religious beliefs, or religious beliefs because they conflict with scientific evidence.

These are the basis of this explanation that is Naturogenesis.

So for example:

Q. According to the Bible, Noah created an Ark that held all of the animals on the Earth and that a giant flood wiped everything else out. According to science, this could not have possibly happened. Does that mean we need to reject science to keep our beliefs in tact? Or does it mean we need scientific evidence that it occurred to believe that it actually happened?

A. Because the story of Noah is religious in origin, it should not require scientific evidence to support its validity. Choosing to believe it does not require rejecting the scientific evidence that refutes its validity.

In a world without creationism/ID, this answer would not be controversial for a majority of people, religious or not. However, creationism/ID have required people to take a stand on one side or the other, and so Naturogenesis is necessary to separate the two realms once again.

I hope part of the reaction to this idea is an outcry along the lines of, “Hey, why didn’t anyone ever think of this before?” I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with these ideas, but here’s what I think happened.

Part of the reason that I’m proposing this alternative is also to show that the primary purpose of creationism and intelligent design has always been to push religion into schools and proselytize students. Naturogenesis should be favored by Christians because not only does it allow a literal interpretation of the Bible, but also provides an explanation for scientific evidence like why according to scientists the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Creationism only does the former, while intelligent design only does the latter. The only thing Naturogenesis lacks is a reason to be taught in schools, since it does not purport to be a scientific theory. Just like most believers do not feel the need to prove the existence of God, or Heaven, or Jesus, they should not feel the need to prove Naturogenesis. As a result, there is no need to teach Naturogenesis anywhere except in church, or in the home. I think this is also why an alternative like this, where a creator-God works through evolution and other natural processes, has not been embraced by religion, because their intention all along has been to get religion into public schools, in any way possible. Undermining science has just been a means to that end.

Some people will probably argue that there is no need for Naturogenesis because it’s just codifying what the average believer probably does to reconcile their beliefs with science. However, without a formulation like Naturogenesis, these believers have no religious-based way of allying themselves with science against the creationists/IDers. There are likely believers who would rather stand on the side of science, and personally reject the views of creationism/ID, but because both are on the side of religion, they feel more of a natural allegiance to the creationists. With Naturogenesis, they can say, “Hey, I still believe what I believe, but I also think scientists know what they’re talking about, and I don’t want my religious views to be in the same venue as science.” I think it would be a benefit for the science side to have believers like this on their side, because ultimately if what they want is for science to be generally accepted by religious people, there needs to be a way for them to keep their religious views in tact.

In arguments with evolution-deniers, one of the arguments they almost always make to me is that the conflict is just as much the fault of scientists as it is the religious. Scientists demand that the religious change their views to more line up with the scientists’, just like the religious demand that science lines up with their views, goes their argument. And Naturogenesis (though this is the first post that I’ve actually coined the term) is always the argument that I go to. If Christians believe in a God that created the Earth, why can’t they believe in a God that created a 4.5 billion years old Earth? If they believe in an omnipotent God, what’s the difference to him of making a raw egg or a scrambled egg? If they believe in a God that created the Earth and the universe, then why can’t they also believe in a God that created evolution and plate tectonics and the Big Bang? They cannot come up with a good explanation for this incongruity in their beliefs. And this is why I feel the conflict between science and religion has mostly been a push by the religious, and their views are the ones that need to be altered.

I know that there are some on the religious side who simply do not want to coexist with science, just like there are some on the science side who do not want to coexist with religion. So they may not see a need for Naturogenesis to replace creationism/ID as the primary religious explanation. I would argue that it’s still in their best interests.

Naturogenesis is useful to the religious because it allows them to embrace science without feeling that it violates their beliefs. After all, they didn’t originally base those beliefs in science, so they should not require science to support those beliefs. And unless they would rather live a life like the Amish, religious people who reject scientific concepts that conflict with their views but continue to benefit from all the other scientific advances, like modern medicine, the internet, and computers, face looking like hypocrites on a daily basis.

Naturogenesis is also useful to the scientific community, because it eliminates the pressure for science to compromise or abandon facts because of religion, and allows science defenders to measure whether or not religious people are truly trying to reconcile religion and science, or if they are just trying to proselytize. It removes the religious basis for attacking and rejecting widely-accepted scientific concepts like evolution and the age of the earth.

I know that for a lot of people on both sides, Naturogenesis is not a complete idea to completely settle the debate. However, I think both sides would benefit in the long run if this idea were embraced and eventually gained more acceptance than creationism/ID.

Again, I’m not trying to get a book deal out of this idea, but I do want it to spread, evolve, and perhaps even provide value to the whole evolution-creation debate, and wider religion-science conflict.

September 19, 2012

What do we expect from our government?

I rely on the government for many things. For some reason, freely admitting, and being grateful for this, makes me a deadbeat, moocher, entitled, victim, or worse, to some people.

I rely on the government for student loans, for a quality education which I would otherwise be unable to afford. Not everyone needs this, but I do.

I also rely on the government for ensuring the food I buy is not going to make me sick. For ensuring the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, traffic signs and signals to work properly so I can get to my destination safely and on time. For ensuring the police, firefighters, and other emergency first responders in case the worst should happen. For ensuring the water I drink isn’t contaminated by commercial companies over which I have no control. For ensuring none of the products I buy, from cars, electronics, appliances, clothes, tools, or hygienic products kill me. For ensuring I and the people around me receive decent educations. For ensuring competing companies can’t conspire to charge exorbitant prices for the things I really need. I need all of these things. Not only do I need these things, but everyone does.

I rely on the government for these things, because ensuring these responsibilities to anyone else ensures they will be more expensive, less reliable, and not something from which everyone would benefit.

To get these services which I think are basic and necessary and should not be considered luxuries, I am willing to pay higher taxes. I’m willing to pay taxes so that not only do I get these services, but so do my wife, children, and everyone else in this country.

Paying more taxes does not necessarily mean that I get these and more services, though. Sometimes, I’m just paying more taxes so other people can pay less taxes. In some cases, for example when the people are unemployed and cannot afford to pay as many taxes, I will accept the extra burden, because these people need the help. In other cases, like when the people do not need the extra help, then I do not accept the extra burden of more taxes. Not only do my taxes no longer go to providing services for everyone, but neither do those taxes that those other people no longer have to pay. Maybe those people do deserve extra privileges, but I don’t think it comes at the price of making other people suffer more than they have to.

Democrat. Liberal. Communist. Socialist. In the end, I don’t care what people try to label me. I’ll only identify with whatever label most closely matches, “trying to bring about the best world for as many people as possible, not just myself.”

September 7, 2012

Some programs just shouldn’t be privatized

Now that we’re on the road to universal health care, a question that I think we should be asking is, shouldn’t we just do away with the health insurance system? And most types of insurance, for that matter?

I realize that the knee-jerk reaction is to point out how far-fetched it would be for our country to head in that direction. After all, so many jobs and so much money is made off the insurance company, so the resistance they would mount over any such initiative is bound to be extraordinary.

However, ultimately these companies are making money by providing (and in many cases, withholding) protection for people, that really shouldn’t be treated as a luxury. If a person is sick and needs health care, they should be able to receive it, regardless of what type of coverage they might have, if any at all.

The federal government already invests tons of money investigating and preventing insurance fraud, so that proves that people recognize that the government should be involved in these matters.

Obviously, this means that we end up paying more taxes, but in the long run, it’s bound to cost the average citizen less than heath insurance premiums, life insurance premiums, house insurance premiums, and car insurance premiums. People don’t like when their taxes are raised, sure, but the tradeoff is more security when it comes to the important things in our lives, and a healthier, safer society as a whole.

Some people will dismiss these arguments simply because it makes me sound like a socialist, but I don’t think it makes you a socialist to argue that some programs and services just shouldn’t be privatized.

September 2, 2012

How do we address violence in this society?

Two days ago, an ex-marine killed two people and then himself at the New Jersey grocery store where he worked.

Last week, a 15 year old Maryland high school student opened fire on the first day of class, injuring one other student.

Nine days ago, a man in a business suit shoots an ex-coworker five times in the head at the Empire State Building, before being killed by two cops, who also injure 9 bystanders in the process.

18 days ago, a man shot and wounded a security guard at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. before being stopped. The attack appears to be politically motivated.

28 days ago, an Army veteran killed six and wounded four at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, before apparently committing suicide.

And most notably, it’s only been 44 days since James Holmes opened fire in an Aurora, CO movie theatre, killing 12 and wounding 58 others.

While many of these perpetrators had troubling backgrounds, none of them would actually fit our general ideas of a violent criminal.

So how do we respond to these isolated incidents of extreme violence by non-repeating offenders?

Do we lump them in with the way we respond to ordinary criminals? Or do we try to implement programs to identify and prevent these isolated incidents from occurring?

Up until now, the way we have been responding has done little good.

Collectively, we hold our breaths and cross our fingers and pray the next time doesn’t come, and then what? When it invariably comes, we all look at each other and shrug. Make some empty condolences, and then repeat the whole scenario.

Like all other social problems, this one does not have a simple solution. But because of that, we effectively don’t try to find any solution at all.

This country no longer tries new ideas to solve our problems. It’s either try the same old, tired, ineffective tactics that paint with a broad brush and clearly do not work, or don’t try at all. Treat it like we can’t do anything about it.

As a civilized society, we should always strive to completely eliminate tragedies like these, no matter how implausible. Because one is already too many.

August 28, 2012

My Personal Political Platform, Plank #1

I would vote for any candidate today who would say the following:

“I will never use ‘tradition’ over substance to justify any of my policies. All tradition ever does is stand in the way of progress and reason.

August 25, 2012

The Roles and Values of Colleges and Universities

I love this letter: Charles Negy, Professor, Says Students Showed ‘Religious Arrogance And Bigotry’ In A Letter Later Posted On Reddit

The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life’s most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.”

This is why, despite the derogatory monikers of ivory towers and liberal indoctrination mills, universities are vital to society and our nation. It’s not about indoctrination, it’s about exposing you to a wider world than you’ve ever experienced before.

Colleges and universities are needed to make our kids smarter about the world, period.

August 21, 2012

The GOP and their horrible priorities

This author better illustrates my previous post.

August 21, 2012

A message for anyone who’s thinking about voting Republican

To anyone who is thinking about voting for Romney/Ryan, or any other Republican this season, largely on their economic plans and rhetoric on fiscal responsibility and without regard to their other policy stances, I have a message for you:

Wake the hell up.

To have an idea of what will really happen if Republicans win a majority of the contests this year, we need only look back to the midterm elections only two short years ago. The “Tea Party-backed Republicans who stormed into the House and into state legislatures around the country promised to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility,” much like they are doing this year. But once elected into office, their true MO becomes clear:

1. Attacking abortion and women’s rights

2. Attacking evolution and trying to push religion back into schools

3. Attacking Obamacare and the very notion of cheaper health care for everyone

4. Attacking gay rights and same-sex marriage

5. Disenfranchising as many voters as possible using voter id laws, specifically to win elections

Absolutely none of this has anything to do with job growth and economic recovery. In fact, pushing these policies often comes at the expense of the more pressing economic problems we face.

The point is this: the modern day GOP has no other way to grasp the more general class of voters needed to win elections than by focusing on the poor economy. But all their other agendas often go against the majority of these voters. Somehow, they’re able to convince people that if you vote for them on this one issue, then they’ll be fine with not pressing all these other issues that would make them look bad. They’re trying to do it again this term, and if it works, it’s going to result in the same bullshit.

Don’t let them keep winning with this strategy.