Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mapping the Stem Cell Contoversy

The University of Minnesota has an informative graphic, the World Stem Cell Map, that provides a graphic representation of worldwide policies with respect to the use of human embryonic stem cells. Also on this page are links to a series of other Global Maps of Human Technological Development.

The UnWASHed and the Unchurched

An update from The Barna Group (a religious polling organization) suggests that as many as 34% of American adults are "unchurched." Lest we get too excited, they point out that only 24% of these folks are atheist or agnostic, (but, hey, that's still more than 8% of the population, which is consistent with previous polls).

Even among those professing some degree of religioius belief, the majority apparently reject such disturbing notions as biblical literacy and an interventionist deity.
They are only half as likely to firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches (25% agree with that notion); are less likely to possess a biblical view of God (only 46% see Him as the “perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe” who still rules His creation today); and are less likely to believe that the most important purpose of life is to “love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul” (63% agree).
Barna also finds that:
Surprisingly, “downscale” individuals (i.e., no college degree, below average household income) also are much more likely than their “upscale” counterparts (i.e., college graduates with above-average household income levels) to stay away from local churches.
One has to wonder if there are ways to reach out to the Unchurched and the UnWASHed by offering more options to form Humanist communities, and by making Humanism more accessible to those lacking advanced degrees in science or philosophy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Culture of Life

Now that the U.S. Congress and our president have seen fit to circumvent the U.S. Constitution in order to exercise their will in private matter, a federal court prepares today to hear the latest appeal in the Terri Schiavo case (Federal Court to Hear Schiavo Case Today). One has to wonder why those most likely to believe that a better life awaits her are fighting so vigorously to prolong such a meaningless existence here on Earth.

While there may be legitimate controversy over Ms. Schiavo's supposed advance directive, and even if there were a modicum of hope that she might one day regain consciousness and some cognitive function, it is hard to imagine that this case warrants the attention of all three branches of our federal government. Perhaps Mr. Bush should be true to his ideals of vesting power in individuals to make personal decisions, and allow the appropriate courts - in this case, Florida's state courts - to intervene when necessary to resolve a family dispute.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

On the Ash Heap of Science

The 19 March 2005 New York Times features the story "A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcano," describing how some Imax Theaters have succumbed to pressure from proponents of "intelligent design" or creationism in refusing to show films with "evolutionary overtones."
People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including "Cosmic Voyage," which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; "Galápagos," about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor.
Science museums - often the last refuge of rational thought in cities battling the forces of ignorance and zealotry - would do better to invite the controversy, even at the risk of losing funding. If such a fundamental principal of the biological sciences cannot be discussed in public, what difference if the museums close their doors?

Religious fanatics have exploited the public's ignorance of science for too long. Humanists and other thinking people must find ways to improve and strengthen science education, at all levels, if the U.S. is to maintain its leadership in science and technology.

Perhaps we should ask our pharmaceutical companies to put a disclaimer on each bottle of pills or vial of vaccine saying "warning: research, development and testing of this product was based on principals of evolutionary biology." Or create a directory of physicians who value prayer more than biological science. Or post a notice at each gas pump noting that "the fuel you are purchasing was discovered by exploiting our knowledge of the Earth's geology over its billions of years in existence."

Monday, March 14, 2005

On Bush's Social Security Initiative

The odd thing about President Bush's initiative to reform Social Security is his concern that, in 13 years, Social Security will be funded partly from general government revenues. For some reason, this seems to bother Bush to extreme. It bothers him enough to want to change the most successful government program in history, to transform it from being solvent for 13 more years to being trillions of dollars in debt almost immediately.

Right now, Social Security taxes are being used to fund the general government operations. Social Security is running a surplus. Funds from the surplus taxes are being transferred to pay for the rest of government.

Why doesn't this bother Bush? This is a guy who is creating the biggest budget deficit in history. He thinks it is critically important to cut income taxes, as well as taxes on dividends and capital gains, which are benefits to wealthy individuals. But when a regressive tax like the Social Security tax is being used to fund the government, that doesn't bother him.

This is a clear indication of Bush's priorities, and it indicates his motivation for changing Social Security. He isn't concerned with the lower and middle income people who disproportionately pay for and benefit from Social Security now. He is concerned that income taxes on wealthy people may someday be necessary to fund the benefits.

Could it be that he is also concerned about stock brokers, who will be able to charge fees when they trade the vast amount of money from the Social Security fund? Could he be interested in the rise in stock prices that will occur when all the money is used to buy stocks, which will benefit people who already own stocks more than those who will get "personal accounts"?

Maybe someone should ask Bush what he really wants to accomplish, and who he really wants to benefit, before this program is driven into debt.