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Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

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To Fund Or Not To Fund – A Sharing of My Mind With My Senators April 13, 2011

Posted by Bill in abortion, activism, Current Events, health, Uncategorized.
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I just sent an e mail to both of my Senators on the vote on whether to fund Planned Parenthood that is scheduled for tomorrow.  I know, rather late in the day but what can I say.  I am, for the second time in my life, a college student and all college students wait to the last minute to do anything – study for the major test, read the assignment, write the paper, send a letter to their representatives on important issues. 

Anyway, I rather liked the letter so thought I would share what I said.  I especially liked my argument against an anti choice argument that I have been hearing a lot of lately. 

Dear Senator

I am contacting you in regards to the scheduled vote on funding Planned Parenthood tomorrow.    For several reasons I would strongly urge you to vote to continue its funding.

First, none of the money that Planned Parenthood gets from the federal government goes for abortion. 

That money instead goes for greatly needed woman’s health services.  Women’s access to services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, physicals, contraceptives, tubal ligations and vasectomies, testing for sexually transmitted disease, sex education, and menopause treatments would be greatly impacted were Planned Parenthood not funded.  And yes, I know that other clinics and hospitals can perform these services, but not at the same price.  Which means that the poorer women would be the ones feeling the greatest impact of this cut.  Without this care our health care costs as a nation would increase. 

I realize that many have argued that by providing Planned Parenthood money for its other health services for women it has freed up money for Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.  By this reasoning though we should also not be funding any social programs with ties to a religious group. 

Currently a religious group’s social programs can receive federal money as long as they ensure that the money goes for the social work and not for proselytizing or the support of their religion.  In this manner we manage to avoid the Constitution’s prohibition of government financial support for churches. 

However, using the same logic used above about Planned Parenthood funding, we should not be doing this since the funds provided by the government free up other moneys that the church can use to further its religion; a violation of the Constitution.

So, I would assume that if you decide to vote against continued funding of Planned Parenthood for the above reason then you will also at some point vote against federal funding of faith based charities for the same reason. 

I would also like to point out that Planned Parenthood’s promotion and distribution of effective contraception for women have quite likely prevented many more unwanted pregnancies that would have resulted in abortions than the number of abortions they have actually performed.  Any reduction of their ability to provide quality sex education and contraceptives would result in an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies as well as an increase in number of abortions.  Especially of “back alley” abortions that resulted in the maiming and deaths of so many women before abortion was legalized. 

In summary then I will state that the federal funding of Planned Parenthood does not go for abortion.  It does however go to preventive care that is so necessary for the health and the healthcare costs of not only the women in America but of our country as a whole. 

Please vote to continue funding of Planned Parenthood. 

Now, some things I did not include in this letter because around 500 words is all I figure a politician’s aide has time for and I also did not want to take the focus off the fact that Planned Parenthood’s main services are health and prevention and not abortion include the facts that:

1)      Abortions are legal.  Funding them should not be an issue. 

2)      Abortions are often necessary to save the life or health of the mother.

3)      Do we really want to make rape and incest victims carry through with their unwanted pregnancy?

4)      Many of the fetus’s aborted were either not likely to live anyway or were going to be born are permanent cripples or vegetables.  Or were likely to live only a few pain filled days anyway. 

While I know that both my senators are likely to vote to defund Planned Parenthood I wanted to at know my stance on this issue and that they have made at least one of their constituents unhappy.

Moral Outrage vs. Moral Good March 5, 2011

Posted by Bill in abortion, Christianity, Current Events, health, Politics, Religious Right, Uncategorized.
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The great state of Texas is about to pass more restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.  This restriction is in the form of requiring a sonogram test to be taken anywhere from 2 to 24 hours (still being worked on by our high minded representatives) before an abortion along with requiring the women to view the image, listen to the heartbeat, and listen to the doctor describe its development. 

Hoozah!!!

The march towards doing away with the moral acid (abortion) that has burned and stained our nation for so long continues!

Or does it?

For those who are anti-choice/pro-life and who are celebrating this seeming victory I have a question:

Are you more interested in reducing the number of abortions or in expressing moral outrage and becoming “morally pure”?

I ask because when looking at abortion rates around the world something becomes very clear very quickly.  Those countries with the lowest abortion rates have legal and liberal abortion laws.  Those countries with the highest rates of abortion either have very restrictive abortion laws or have made abortion totally illegal. 

Western Europe has the lowest rate of abortion in the world at 12 per 1,000 women between 15 and 44.    We, with our mix of abortion rights with restrictions come in at 21 per 1,000 women.  Of course this is still much better than the Latin American countries where it is not only restricted but also usually illegal.  Their abortion rate is 31 per 1,000 women. 

Now another item that I notice is that in many of these countries where abortion is legal, birth control is also available.  In fact Western Europe actively teaches about contraception and works to make sure that it is easily available. 

Personally I believe that it is this linkage with birth control that has helped bring down the abortion rate in countries that allow abortion, although I freely admit that I cannot find research showing this to be true.

However given the following facts:

 –         Countries with high abortion rates are those in which abortion is illegal or severely restricted. 

–         Countries with low abortion rates are those in which abortion is legal.

–         Countries with freer access to contraceptives have lower abortion rates.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people wish to make abortion illegal.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people usually do NOT support contraceptive education, nor do they support making it more easily accessible. 

I feel comfortable in stating that the anti-choice/pro-life people, in their efforts to promote morality and eliminate the killing of fetuses are instead working to actually increase it by creating the conditions for abortion rates to increase. 

Kind of ironic that. 

As for myself, I consider myself a pro-choice/pro-life person.  I believe the woman has a right to choose for herself.  However I would like our country to  create a setting in which choosing abortion would be rare or even non-existent.    Given what can be seen around the world that involves a setting in which abortion is legal and not surrounded by these roadblocks and a greater emphasis on contraceptive use. 

Now my choice is fairly easy.  I look at the evidence and go with it. 

However the anti-choice/pro-life  people have a harder decision.  They first have to decide what is more important to them – reducing abortions or being morally pure.

Important Enough To Read, But Not Important Enough To Listen To January 8, 2011

Posted by Bill in Constitution, Current Events, Politics, Right wing.
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First the House Republicans make a huge production about the importance of reading the Constitution on the floor of the House.  Then when they read it, most do not stay all the way through.   Attendance was rather sparse for this supposedly important event. 

In fact the speaker of the House, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, second ranking Republican in the House, could not even make time to stay and respectfully listen to the document they supposedly hold in such high regard and whose reading was so important. 

Now I am not going to state whether this was just a political stunt on the part of the Republicans or not.  If it was it was clumsily done.  If it was generated by a sincere appreciation of the Constitution and an honest belief of the importance of reading it aloud in the House – well that sincerity and honesty must be only half felt.  Otherwise they would all have attended and stayed throughout the reading. 

And would have read the complete Constitution. 

They left out the bit about slavery and also omitted the 18th amendment.  Even though both were later changed they are still part of the original historical document.  The Original…. that is something that Republicans have made into a bit of a fetish. 

For example, take their mantra of original intent.  That sounds nice –  just look at how our founders understood the Constitution and follow along.  However there is a huge problem with this, that being when you cite original intent you must also ask which founder’s original intent. 

A quick look at history shows that our founders, many of whom were at the Constitutional Convention and helped write this document, disagreed vehemently with each other on the meaning  of what they wrote and how best to implement it.  In fact, at times the rhetoric of their disagreements reached truly Glen Beckian proportions in terms of its vitriol.   

Republicans are fond of quoting just one of the founders and ignoring the voices of the other founders who disagreed.  For example, I recently carried on a conversation with a very conservative Republican individual who argued that our social security, welfare, and many other such programs were unconstitutional since they were not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.  In fact, he was for eliminating about 90% of our government as unconstitutional.

He further stated that liberals and the courts have erred in their reading of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution that has been used to justify some of these programs and cited Jefferson and Madison as the basis of his views.  He seemed to believe that their beliefs on how to interpret this clause was shared by all of our founders.

Before I post my response to this claim let me point out that it should be fairly obvious that the Constitution was meant to be interpreted.  It is too short to be an effective guide to forming and running a government without being interpreted.  Just think of government policies or even private industry policies and how long they are as they try to deal with every circumstance.  Now compare that to the length of the Constitution, even with the amendments, that is our guide to running a complete national government. 

It is an conceit born of ignorance to think that the Constitution can work without interpreting it.  Especially since this greatest of all political documents has to deal with a changing world – internet, easier travel, better communications, improved technology and medicine, etc – all of which create issues our founders never had to deal with. 

I was pleased that in doing research for my response that this point had been brought up in previous Supreme Court rulings. 

As for my response to my very very conservative Republican: 

You seem to overlook the fact that our founders did NOT agree with each other.  This holds true both for the meaning of and how to properly implement “the general welfare” clause as it does for every other section of the Constitution. 

In fact, Madison’s co-author of the Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton, disagreed with Madison and Jefferson and took a much broader view of what this clause meant.  This broader view was one that at least two other of our founders, Washington and Monroe, shared.  

Now, while it was not until the 1936 U.S vs. Butler ruling that the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that Hamilton’s more literal and broader interpretation of the “general welfare” clause was the correct one there were several other rulings that laid the foundation for a  broader interpretation of the Constitution along the lines that Washington, Adams, Monroe, and Hamilton argued for.  

For example, Jefferson and Madison argued against a national bank by stating that it was not explicitly allowed by the Constitution.  Hamilton, with Washington’s concurrence, argued that it was necessary in order to carry out the provisions of the Constitution.  Hamilton won, both in the Congress at the time and later on in a Supreme Court ruling – McCulloch vs. Maryland in 1819.

In that ruling, Chief Justice Marshall argued that Congress can act on both explicit and implied powers.  He stated that this must be so just as a matter of pragmatism; that if all the means of implementing the explicit powers were listed the Constitution would become much too lengthy to be practical or to be understood.

In other words, the Constitution was a framework of basic ideas that would need interpretation to be fleshed out into a working government. 

In this particular case his ruling said that since Congress had the explicit powers to issue and borrow money, collect taxes, and maintain armies then they had the implicit power under the “necessary and proper” clause to establish a National Bank.  

In this decision Justice Marshall wrote that:  “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional…” 

He also stated that the Constitution “…intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crisis of human affairs.”

In other words this unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court in 1819 stated that the Constitution had to be interpreted to be a workable document and may have to be “adapted” to changing times.   

As a side note I should mention that Daniel Webster argued this case before the Supreme Court and argued brilliantly for a broad view of the Constitution.  He obviously won the case. 

Perhaps I should let Alexander Hamilton now have the last say here. 

 [A] criterion of what is constitutional, and of what is not so … is the end, to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority. ”

In other words, broad readings of the Constitution are Constitutional.  And have been argued to be so by many of our founders from the beginning.

The Silver Lining About Wikileaks December 6, 2010

Posted by Bill in Afghanistan, barack obama, Current Events, Korea, Obama, Politics, Terrorism, Uncategorized.
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While my first reaction to the Wikileaks adventure was to prosecute them and to wonder how bad the diplomatic fallout would be, my second reaction on reading the specifics was to applaud the professionalism of what our government is doing to solve the many problems around the world.  

What really tickled me was that  Sarah Palin, in an interview about her new book, was asked what she would do differently that President Obama about North Korea.  After going on about our need for energy independence and how vulnerable she feels as an American with President Obama in charge of our security she finally answered that she would pressure China to lean on North Korea to get them to behave. 

Sure enough that is what President Obama and his people are doing.  Guess we don’t need Sarah Palin as president after all.  And ain’t that a relief, you betcha. 

Anyway, these leaks giving our diplomats an embarrassing moment.  However they do have the virtue of showing that the Obama administration is doing the right things in protecting and furthering America’s security and interests.  

I thought that this column by Leslie Gelb that appeared in the Dallas Morning News today summed up my thoughts very nicely. 

From   http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/viewpoints/stories/DN_1206edi_gelb.29020a91c.html

Leslie Gelb: How the WikiLeaks scandal actually helped the U.S.
In explaining his deed publicly, WikiLeaker Julian Assange suggests that what he’s doing is uncovering American misdeeds and lies. Yet here’s what he missed in what he turned over to the drooling press: Our diplomats were doing a good job.

Indeed, when you turn off his nonsense and stop listening to the strange commentary on cable news and even on the front pages of great newspapers, when you actually read the documents, here’s what you see: American leaders and American diplomats trying to solve crucial world problems.

U.S. policymakers and diplomats are shown, quite accurately, doing what they are supposed to do: ferreting out critical information from foreign leaders, searching for paths to common action and struggling with the right amount of pressure to apply on allies and adversaries. And in most cases, the villain is not Washington, but foreign leaders escaping common action with cowardice and hypocrisy.

Washington needs China’s help in bolstering sanctions against Iran, and China balks for fear of jeopardizing its oil and gas flow from that country. The Obama team arranges for Saudi Arabia to guarantee any loss in supply to China. If the world wants to slow or even prevent Iran’s march to nuclear weaponry, this is a key path to doing so.

The U.S. discovers that North Korea has manufactured medium-range missiles and is trying to deliver them to Iran through China. The Obama team discovers this, informs Beijing and asks Beijing to stop the transfer. Beijing declines. Really creepy.

Yemen’s leader takes public responsibility for American missile attacks against al-Qaeda in Yemen. He wants to diminish the power of these terrorists, as do Americans and most others in the world. The “lie” by the Yemeni president is a harmless way to get a critical job done — that is, the job of fighting international terrorism. WikiLeaks tears away the political cover of Yemen’s leaders.

No country has anywhere near as much influence over nutty North Korea as China. So, U.S. diplomats are searching desperately to figure out Chinese thinking about North Korea in order to compose a plan for avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula. So, the Wikileakers expose some Chinese leaders who are actually trying to give us some insight into Chinese thinking about North Korean craziness. They won’t do that again soon.

Time and again, as one actually reads these cables, one has to be heartened by the professionalism and the insights of U.S. diplomats. What are they doing? They are not lying, and U.S. leaders are not lying. They are actually, believe it or not, trying to solve problems. That seriousness of purpose and the professionalism to execute it is what jumps out at you in these materials.

So, the naïve say, it’s good to show the effectiveness of our diplomats. Give me a break. Ask any American diplomat to choose between looking intelligent in leaked cables and making progress toward avoiding war.

None of this is to say that there should not be leaks, or that the press should not pursue classified information that is necessary or very helpful to a sensible public debate on policy. If a U.S. administration is lying, or distorting the facts, or telling one story to the public and another to itself, then by all means, let’s have it out in public. If the U.S. government is concocting intelligence in order to justify wars, let’s hope an enterprising reporter finds it out for the rest of us.

But the WikiLeaks dump is not about providing essential information to Americans or to others — information they need for serious policy discussion. This massive trashing by WikiLeaks of a legitimate effort by the U.S. government to preserve confidentiality is the very least a shame and at the most, a crime.

 Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009). A longer version of this essay first appeared in The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com. © 2010 RTST, Inc.

Yes America, There Are Moderate Muslims September 5, 2010

Posted by Bill in Islam, Muslims, Religion, Terrorism.
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With the controversy over building a Mosque near ground zero the beliefs of Muslims has been much discussed.  Unfortunately much of that discussion has been in the guise of misinformation and error; the result of biases, hatred, and a very human desire to take a complex situation and keep it simple – even if it does not match reality.

 This is my attempt to at least slow the flood of wrong and incomplete information and make people think about what is being said.   Our mainstream media should be focusing on this, but are not.  What follows are things that should be in our mainstream media, but are not.  

 

The Holocaust

From The Jewish Daily Forward:   http://www.forward.com/articles/130013/

Krakow, Poland — It was a perfect summer day at the Dachau concentration camp. The clear skies and pleasant breeze seemed almost offensive. And there, beneath the main monument, a bronze sculpture of writhing bodies intermeshed with barbed wire, was an uncommon sight: a group of Muslims leaders prostrate in prayer.

At the end of the service, prayer leader Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, offered up an additional prayer: “We pray to God that this will not happen to the Jewish people or to any people anymore.”

Siddiqi was one of eight American Muslim leaders on a study tour to Dachau and Auschwitz that was co-sponsored by a German think tank and the Center for Interreligious Understanding, a New Jersey-based interfaith dialogue group.

Mosque Near Ground Zero

From http://www.news9.com/global/story.asp?s=13032103

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City Muslim group said the religious freedom issue has already been settled, but said sensitivity is needed over whether to build a Mosque near Ground Zero.

The American Muslim Association of Oklahoma took out a full page ad in Monday’s “Oklahoman.” It’s a call to move the project to a mutually agreeable site. Spokesman Saleem Nizami said it’s time for moderate Muslims to speak out. He said the teachings of Islam demand sensitivity.

“It has become an iconic date 9/11 and the twin towers, so there is something related to that and people are becoming emotional. It is our duty to make sure we pacify and move away,” said Nizami.

Despite good intentions and the legal right to build on that spot, the sensitivity teachings of Islam demand a new location.

“We’ve got to take into consideration the sentiments of the people. What difference does it make if it is there or five miles from there? It’s not going to make any difference,” Nizami said. “If the purpose was to get Islam and the West relations going together, this has brought more division actually.”

And Nizami said the reason for that division is extremism on both sides.

“It’s time that people who are practical stood up. It was due a long time ago,” the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma spokesman said.

“With this ad I hope people realize that yes, there are people, who are Muslim, and who are just like anybody else. And who are solid 100 percent U.S. citizens, defending the Constitution, living by the rule of law. They want to make their lives here, they want to be part of this whole country,” Nizami said.

From

  http://bigpeace.com/jmwaller/2010/08/24/more-muslims-speak-out-against-ground-zero-mosque/

 Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf bills his plan for an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero — which the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to vote on tonight — as a platform for interfaith cooperation, dialogue and understanding.

But the plan is obviously provocative and confrontational — and it’s hard to imagine that Rauf didn’t know that long before it became public.

That’s one big reason why American Muslims, like other Americans, should reject the project — particularly if they really want to adhere to traditional Islamic principles. I say that as a Muslim convert since 1997.

Traditional, moderate Islam teaches Muslims living in non-Muslim-majority societies to obey the laws and customs of the country in which they reside. They must avoid conflict with their non-Muslim neighbors whenever possible.

Yet it was no secret that a major Islamic construction project near Ground Zero would offend many New Yorkers; indeed, American Muslims themselves were uneasy about the idea from the beginning. Rauf, while he preaches peace, chose the path of controversy and provocation by originating this mosque project.

Muslim leaders dealing with non-Muslims are also supposed to practice moderation — not only in words, but also in their deeds and associations. Rauf portrays himself as a

spiritual moderate. But he has maintained links with Muslim radicals, including enablers of terror, whom he declines to disavow. These include the Malaysian politician Mahathir Mohamad, who supports Hamas’ Gaza dictatorship.

The imam refuses to identify the prospective financial contributors to his undertaking — so we don’t know if there are any radicals among his donors.

American Muslim leaders, especially Sufis and other moderates who assert that peace may be attained through dialogue, cannot accept any alignment with Hamas or any similar organization.

Nor, for that matter, can Muslim leaders allow any accommodation with the clerical tyranny in Iran or with such extremists as the Saudi Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch) or Pakistani jihadism. Unfortunately, such groups now heavily influence American Islam.

Muslim radicals may see the argument over the Ground Zero mosque as a test of whether Muslims have equal rights in America.

But Muslims will gain such security through sensitivity to their non-Muslim neighbors and resolute opposition to radicalism, not through defiant posturing or defending extremist activities.

Denouncing Terrorist Acts 

From   http://www.mfsd.org/

Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) joins the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind (JUHI, an organization with 10 million Indian Muslim clerics as its members), in strongly denouncing all those responsible for the serial bomb blasts in Bangalore (Karnataka state) on Friday and Ahmedabad (Gujarat state) on Saturday. It extends condolence and expresses its solidarity with the innocent victims of this cowardly and inhuman violence in both cities.     

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts in Bangalore, which apparently were deliberately timed for soon after Friday prayers. Meanwhile, through an e-mail sent out minutes before the first blast in Ahmedabad, an as yet unknown entity calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen” has claimed it committed the dastardly deed “in the name of Allah” and in retaliation, among other things, for the killing of Muslims during the Gujarat genocide in 2002.  

Intelligence agencies have yet to establish whether the self-styled Indian Mujihideen is a real entity or a mere cover for the heinous crimes of some terrorists, Muslim or otherwise. For MSD, all forms of terrorism — committed anywhere in the world and irrespective of the cause, ideology or religion used to justify it — are to be unequivocally condemned. However, it applauds the Jamiat’s view that for a Muslim such nasty deeds are doubly reprehensible if committed by any Muslim since Islam categorically prohibits the targeting of innocents under any circumstance, not even in self-defence. The Quran clearly states that the targeting of even a single innocent person as equivalent to the massacre of all humankind. It may be recalled that less than two months ago, the Jamiat had organised a massive rally of half-a-million Muslims in New Delhi to swear allegiance to a fatwa against terrorism issued by the Darul-uloom Deoband.

And

There are no words that can condemn strongly enough the vicious terror attack on Mumbai, its residents and guests from all over the world. The ruthless attack is an attack on the soul of India and Mumbai, a country and people who have always been hospitable to people from all over the world.

We not only condemn this attack. We deeply mourn the loss of our finest policemen, chiefs and constable, who bear the brunt of vicious political vendetta when they carry out their duty.

India needs to stand united in the face of such an attack. Politicians of all hues and political parties with different affiliations must be compelled to implement structural and qualitative police reforms that have been repeatedly recommend by National Police Commission Reports since 1981 until 1989.

Terrorism and violence of all kinds needs to be meticulously dealt with. Our investigative and intelligence wings must be freed of political pressures and compulsions. There must be a depolarized and decommunalized discourse on terror. We need the immediate implementation of reforms in Indian Intelligence and the Indian Police Force.

Fatwas against Terrorism  

http://www.mfsd.org/Fatwas%20for%20peace%20ed.pdf

“As for suicide bombing, Islam forbids suicide, it forbids the taking of one’s own life.  Attacking civilians, women, children, and the elderly by blowing oneself up is absolutely forbidden in Islam.  No excuse can be made for the crimes committed in New York, Spain, and London and anyone who tries to make excuses for these acts is ignorant of Islamic Law (Sharia), and their excuses are a result of extremism and ignorance.”

And

2005: Fatwa, 500 Muslim clerics, UK July 18

‘Suicide bombings vehemently prohibited’

Response to suicide bombers who attacked three London subway trains and a double-decker bus, killing more than 50 people.

More than 500 British Muslim religious leaders and scholars issued a fatwa in response to the London bombs yesterday. Around 50 Muslim religious leaders from the British Muslim Forum (BMF) stood together by the Houses of Parliament to hear the fatwa read out.

Islam condemns the use of violence and the destruction of innocent lives and says suicide bombings are “vehemently prohibited”.

“We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism in the world. We pray for the peace, security and harmony to triumph in multicultural Great Britain.”

The BMF is an umbrella group launched in March 2005 with nearly 300 mosques affiliated to it. The fatwa will be read out in mosques across the country on Friday.

Another public statement, denouncing the suicide bombings, was made by more than 40 Islamic leaders and scholars at a meeting at London’s Islamic CulturalCentre, organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

http://www.indcatholicnews.com/fatwa.html

 And

2005: Fatwa, Islamic Commission of Spain, March 11

‘Osama, al Qaeda outside Islam’

Response; on the first anniversary of the bomb blasts (‘Europe’s 9/11) in local train stations in Madrid on March 11, 2004 that killed 191 people and injured 1,500.

According to the Sharia, all who declare halal or allowed what God has declared haram or prohibited, like the killing of innocent people in terrorist attacks, have become Kafir Murtadd Mustahlil, that’s to say an apostate, by trying to make a crime such as the murder of innocents, halal (istihlal); a crime forbidden by the Sacred Koran and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad.

As long as Osama ben Laden and his organization defend the legality of terrorism and try to base it on the Sacred Koran and the Sunna, they are committing the crime of istihlal and they have become ipso facto apostates (kafir murtadd), who should not be considered Muslim nor be treated as such.

We declare that Osama ben Laden and his organization Al Qaida, responsible for the horrible crimes against the innocents who vilely were assassinated in the terrorist attack of 11 March in Madrid, are outside the parameters of Islam; and the same goes to all who wield the Sacred Koran and The Prophet’s Sunna to commit terrorist acts.

Based on this fatwa, we have requested the national government and Spanish mass media to stop using the words Islam or Islamic to describe these malefactors, given they are not Muslim nor have any relationship with our Ummaor Islamic Community; instead needing to call them Al Qaida terrorists, but without using Islamic as an adjective, since as it has been declared above, they are not legally so.

http://www.webislam.com/?idn=537

 And 

2005: Fatwa, Fiqh Council of North America, July 28

‘Criminals are no martyrs’

Response to the 7/7 bomb blasts in London. 145 Muslim organizations, mosques and imams in USA endorse the fatwa issued by Fiqh Council.

The Fiqh Council of North America wishes to reaffirm Islam’s absolute condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism.

Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any othermethod of attack is haraam – or forbidden – and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not “martyrs.”

The Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, states: “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)

Prophet Muhammad said there is no excuse for committing unjust acts: “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.”

In the light of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah we clearly and strongly state:

1. All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haraam (forbidden) in Islam.

2. It is haraam for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence.

3. It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.

We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism. We pray for the safety and security of our country, the United States, and its people. We pray for the safetymand security of all inhabitants of our planet. We pray that interfaith harmony and cooperation prevail both in the United States and all around the globe.

 Democracy 

 From http://www.mfsd.org/msddeclaration.htm

 Unfortunately, some from among the Muslims make the job of their adversaries very easy. In India and internationally, those who claim to speak or act in the name of Muslims or Islam, help reinforce the image of Muslims as a community of  ‘fundamentalists’, ‘fanatics’, ‘extremists’, ‘anti-nationals’, a people ‘unprepared for, or incapable of, peaceful coexistence with others’.

 To some extent the media, too, is to be blamed: because of its preference for sensationalism, it plays up the statements of hotheads and muckrakers, while moderate, liberal voices find little mention, if at all. While continuing to consistently challenge the words and deeds of fanatics and extremists, Muslims for Secular Democracy proposes to consistently engage the media on its editorial choice that wittingly or unwittingly contributes towards building a negative image of Muslims.

 For minorities targeted by fascist forces the only guarantee of survival with dignity lies, not in gaining the so-called ‘goodwill of the majority’ as the RSS advises, but in the defense of India’s Constitution that guarantees them fundamental rights as equal citizens.

To defend the Constitution is to uphold the basic values enshrined in them against all sectarian, divisive, communal worldviews: not the sanghis alone. It is not possible to fight Hindu communalism without fighting against Muslim communalism, nor is it possible to fight Muslim communalism without fighting against Hindu communalism, because the different communalisms feed on each other.

 And further in:

By secularism is meant the insistence on a clear separation between religion and politics, between matters of faith and affairs of the state; by secularism is meant clear rejection of the idea of a theocratic state in the modern world.

To be secular is to affirm the universality of that principle, its applicability to all countries, irrespective of who constitutes a minority or majority.

Secularism rejects not only the theocratic state but also a majoritarian state that discriminates between citizens on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity; or, worse still, that pits one section of society against another. The claim that Hindu Rashtra would not be a theocratic state is no good news, because a non-theocratic fascist state can be worse.

 And

Later, it was felt that this, too, is not enough since tolerance implies a relationship between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’. It was then that the idea emerged that for people of different sects to coexist peacefully, it is essential that matters of faith are separated from affairs of the State, so that the State had no religion. This separation of State/politics and religion was understood to mean not equal respect for all religions — Sarva dharma samabhav as the RSS argues — but the State’s aloofness from religious matters.

To say that the State has no religion does not mean that the State is anti-religion. Nor does it mean that State heads or other State functionaries have to be non-religious or anti-religious, or that they could not go to pray in a church, mosque or temple. Or, to take another example, no religious education was to be permitted in state funded schools. This obviously did not mean that children were prohibited from learning about their religion, but only that it was left to parents and communities to make private, non-State, arrangements for religious education).

And

Since last Saturday, Muslims have joined fellow-Indians in Mumbai city and elsewhere in the country to, condemn the barbaric assault on our metropolis, mourn the loss of precious lives, pay homage to those brave policemen and commandos who laid down their lives in the line of duty and express outrage at the all-too apparent collapse of our entire system of governance. 

Now on Sunday, December 7, 2008 Mumbai’s Muslims will assemble in large numbers in front of the Chatrapati Shivaji Train Terminus (VT) at 3 p.m. to condemn all extremist and terrorist activities in the name of Islam and to denounce extremist Muslim organisations and leaders who have openly declared themselves as enemies of India. Taking the lead from Mumbai, Muslims from Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkota, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bengluru, Chennai and other cities will hold similar demonstrations in their respective cities, same date, same time.  

From the FBI website  http://www.fbi.gov/hq/ood/dcla/baltimore.htm

Imam Yahya Hendi is the Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick in Frederick, Maryland and the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. He also serves as a member of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, Fordham University, and Hartford Seminary. Imam Hendi also teaches a very popular course at Georgetown University, “Inter-Religious Encounter.”

Imam Hendi was one of the Muslim leaders who met often with President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy. Imam Hendi frequently visits and lectures at churches and synagogues hoping to create positive relationships. In his lectures, he focuses on issues related to gender relations, world peace, political justice, and inter-religious and interfaith issues.

Imam Hendi has appeared on many national and international television and radio shows as an expert on interfaith dialogue and on Islam and Muslims. He has hosted several events to bring various religious and community leaders together. A graduate of the FBI Baltimore Citizens’ Academy, Imam Hendi participated in the grand opening of the Baltimore Division’s new building. In addition, Imam Hendi sponsored a tour of the Baltimore Division for the youth of the Islamic Society of Frederick.

To summarize then, one of the lies being spread is that all the terrorists who committed 9-11 and other atrocities are representative of all of Islam.   These people say that all Muslims are committed to undermining democracy, are willing to kill the innocent and think it justified, are committed to bringing about a strict and harsh version of Sharia Law. 

 A look at the above selections shows this to be false. 

 Further, a little reading of Islamic writings will also reveal differences in interpretation of the Qur’an and its application to life today, including differences in belief in how Sharia law is meant to be applied.   This and the fact that there are many different sects within Islam just as there are within Christianity should all be more than enough that Islam is not a monolithic religious system hell bent on killing all non-Muslims. 

This attempt to make the terrorists representative of all of Islam is not only a lie, but a lie that harms our fight against terrorism. 

First this sort of thinking deprives us of valuable allies – moderate Muslims.   A quick look at history shows that when moderate voices are silenced or rendered powerless then radicals take over.  Russia’s fall into communism is a valuable object lesson in this regards.

Next these arguments play into the terrorist’s hands.  They make a very effective propaganda tool for them; it provides supporting evidence for their claims that America is not really a land of religious freedom but instead a Christian nation intolerant of other religions and beliefs. 

Let me make clear that these people have a right to voice their opinion and I will defend their right to do so.  But just because they have a right to do so does not mean that their words are wise.  They are not.  Instead they are foolish and harmful, but no one ever said only wise speech was protected by our Constitution. 

Both of the above arguments are about how this hateful and wrong rhetoric effects us externally.   However there is a much more dangerous result that might arise is these voices are not answered with the truth. 

Usually this sort of rhetoric is just  a prelude to arguing that Islam should not enjoy the same protections under our Constitution that all other religions have.  That is an internal threat that is far graver than any external damage that might be done.    

Our Constitution and its protection of all it’s citizens rights are what makes the United States such a great country.  It is why so many immigrate here, why so many want to live here, why it has served as an example to so many new democracies.  

The terrorists wish to destroy that greatness.  With their blind arguments and hateful speech those lumping all Muslims as terrorists are helping the terrorists in their efforts. 

Islam encompasses a whole range of beliefs, just as Christianity does.  Many Muslims are our natural allies in the fight against terrorism, but only if we do not turn them against us by turning this into against a religion instead of a war against terrorism.

A Creationist Myth About Science And Evolution May 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Creationists often point to the fact that science can change.  Using evolutionary science as an example they are always bringing up items such as finding what was thought to be an extinct species still living or finding that land plants existed in the Cambrian period when it had been thought none did or finding that evolution may have occurred in starts and stops instead of a smooth progression as evidence against evolution.   

 Somehow they feel that changes such as these and others show that science cannot be trusted.  That science keeps having to correct itself.   They are blind to the reason why this occurs and why, far from being a sign of weakness, it is one of science’s towering strengths. 

 The reason for this is human knowledge is always incomplete.  We do not know everything and to pretend that we do is both arrogant and foolish.  

 Lets use a logic word puzzle for an example. 

 Suppose that you know that there were four horses in a race and each was wearing a different color.  The question is what horse was wearing which color and in what order did they finish. 

 Given only the information above you couldn’t even begin to guess.  However say that you did some research and found out that the four horses were named Dare Devil, Bitter Twist, After Dinner, and Catch Me. 

 You also found out in your research that the colors they were wearing were blue, red, green, and yellow. 

 We know more but not enough to answer the question with certainty.  We know the names of the horses and the colors that were worn.  We can now speculate on where each horse placed and what color they wore.  And then do the research to see if we were correct.

 Lets say that initially we thought that Catch Me was first and was wearing red.  Next was Bitter Twist wearing yellow, followed by Dare Devil wearing green and After Dinner wearing blue.  

 Now we do a bit more research, looking into newspaper articles, talking to people who were betting on the track that day, talking to jockeys, etc.  And we find out that Catch Me was last. 

 We were wrong on where Catch Me placed.  However does this negate that Catch Me was in the race? 

 No.

 Does this negate that the other three horses were in the race?

 No. 

 Does this negate that each was wearing one of the colors listed?

 No. 

 The basics are still true and are not affected by being wrong on the order.  In fact we are now closer to knowing for sure who place in which spot and what color they wore. 

 In fact our research did verify that Catch Me was indeed wearing red.  So that part was also correct.  We have increased out basic knowledge.  Our total knowledge of the race has increased, although we still do not know with certainty who won the first three spots nor what colors they wore. 

 Next we find a picture of the race taken on the home stretch.  It shows Bitter Twist and After Dinner going nose to nose with Bitter Twist having a very slight lead.  Right on their heels is Dare Devil. 

 Unfortunately the picture is a black and white one so we cannot really discern the colors they wore.  However we make our best guess based on how light and dark the colors were. 

 Based on this evidence we now believe that Bitter Twist won the race and was wearing Green.  Next was After Dinner who was wearing blue.  Third place was Dare Devil wearing yellow.  And of course we already know for sure that Catch Me wearing red came in last. 

 Now while we have some evidence for all of the above the evidence for the first three places is not as certain as that for last place.  And sure enough, after doing even more in depth research we find out that parts of our answer above is wrong. 

 We find out that Bitter Twist stumbled and as a result fell to third place.  We also find out that he was actually wearing blue instead of green. 

 We find out that Dare Devil surged at the very last minute and won the race.  We were correct though in that he wore yellow. 

 Finally we find out that After Dinner, wearing green, actually came in third. 

 Notice how finding out the truth about some of the more speculative parts (because of  current insufficiency of evidence) did not in any way negate those parts that had solid evidence. 

The fact that we were wrong initially on who won the race did not in any way negate the fact that a race occurred, that four horses were in it and that they were wearing different colors.

The fact that we were wrong on the first three places did not in any way negate the above nor did it negate the fact that we were correct on which horse came in last.  And we were correct on some of the colors worn by the horses.

 Science is just like this.  It has a bedrock of well established and amply evidenced theory and facts.  The fact that sometimes it is wrong on some of the speculations based on this bedrock does not negate the bedrock.  

The evidence for evolution occurring is still just as strong as it was before even though scientists believed at one time that there were no land plants during the Cambrian.  Just as being wrong on the order of who won the races did not negate the fact that a race had occurred run by four horses so too land plants in the Cambrian not negate the fact that evolution has and is occurring.

 Further this methodology does not pretend it knows everything and desperately ignore new evidence.  It accommodates it and uses it to increase the bedrock knowledge that science does posses. 

 That is why science keeps gaining in knowledge while those who are so arrogant and foolish as to believe that a book gives them all knowledge lose ground.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

ACLJ In Africa February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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Just found out that both Kenya and Zimbabwe are drafting new constitutions. From what I have read this is not necessarily a bad thing. However what concerns me is that the American Center For Law and Justice (ACLJ) is apparently going to help both countries out in drafting their new constitutions.

For those who may not know who the ACLJ is, they are a Christian right wing group that loves to take cases challenging the separation of church and state and also suits supporting challenges to evolution. They love all right wing causes from defending torture to stopping healthcare reform. They are exactly the wrong sort of group to provide information on how to write a constitution.

While much of their work may be good – for example their stand against making Sharia Courts a part of the Kenya Constitution – I am afraid that they will write in protections for Christian churches and in particular churches that follow most closely what they believe.   Or at the very least write in protections for views they support. 

At this stage this is more of a strong concern due to their track record on constitutional issues here in America and their strong ties to the Christian right wing. I have not been able to find any specifics on what their exact suggestions in regards to the Constitutions of both countries. I hope my concerns or misplaced but fear they are not.

What would be especially ironic in the case of Kenya would be if the ACLJ helped create a constitution that would allow fundamentalists churches and thoughts to have a greater say in the government. Can you imagine creationists in charge of the museums and science in one of the countries that has provided our clearest fossil evidence of hominid evolution?

I also am concerned about such things as reproductive rights (that includes birth control and is not just a code name for abortion people), gay rights, and religious rights.

As I said I do not have any information on exactly what they are suggesting for the Kenya and Zimbabwe constitutions. And to be honest, given the problems these countries have, the new constitution may still wind up better than what they have despite the ACLJ input.

I do know though that our Constitution was founded without help from Christian organizations or any religious organizations. I know that many of them were against our Constitution at the time of its ratification. And I know why the separation of church and state was instituted in our country.

Given the religious conflicts in Africa between Muslim and Christian that same sort of concern and sensitivity should be present in any attempt to create a new constitution. The ACLJ does not have that sensitivity.

Given the tremendous devastation that AIDS is wreaking in Africa government policies in regards to health and sex need to avoid being limited because of the beliefs of one religion.

The ACLJ does not have that expansive a view.

I only hope that my concerns are misplaced or that their role is limited and that other groups, more moderate, sensitive, and expansive, play a greater role.

Declaring Darwin Day – The Why Not January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in barack obama, Church and State, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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Just recently I found out about a petition circulating to have President Obama declare February 12 Darwin Day. It is an attempt to gain recognition among the general public of the great scientific accomplishments of Charles Darwin and the fundamental place his thoughts, ideas, and theories have in biology today.

 http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/318/t/10503/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=2221

I did not sign it and in fact am arguing against the whole idea.

Let me first state that I am a firm supporter of evolution. I have looked at the evidence and read numerous articles and books from both sides – evolution wins hands down. The fact that organisms have changed and evolved over time is as firm a fact in science as any.

Further Charles Darwin’s theory on how evolutionary change occurs – natural selection – still holds as either the sole or one of the primary mechanisms of evolutionary change.   I also think that Charles Darwin completed the scientific revolution which consisted of changing explanations about how nature works from God did it to natural processes. This had with scientists such as Galileo and Newton in the physical sciences, but finally finished with Darwin taking this view into the life sciences.

There is no doubt that Charles Darwin was one of the greatest and most influential scientists in history.

So why am I not signing the petition and urging others not to sign?

Not because I disagree with what it says but because I believe that this is the wrong way to go about showing the public that evolution is not only good science but a fundemental part of biology. Not only is it the wrong way but I feel it can actually be counter productive.

Currently the only reason creationism is a threat to science is because so many believe and support it. The leaders of the creationist movement (and I am including Intelligent Design which is just a subset of creationism) have managed to organize those numbers into a very effective political machine. It is their mix of religion and politics that is posing a threat to effective teaching of science.

A part of their arguments is that evolution is supported by an atheistic establishment, one that does not want to acknowledge the new “evidences” that show evolution wrong and creationism right (remember the movie Expelled?).

Given that,  imagine how well having the President proclaim Darwin’s Day will play. The creationists, good public realtions swills that they are, will use this as evidence that since evolution could not cut the mustard as a science that the establishment is once again resorting to politics. This petition would only  provide more fuel for their arguments.

My proposal?

 Have President Obama proclaim a Science Day.

A day in which we recognize the achievements and accomplishments of science and scientists such as Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, and others are recognized and their achievements and influence on our society and world listed and enumerated. And in the company of these giants have Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. Put him in his proper place on a par with Einstein and Newton.

That would be a far better and more effective way to defend evolution than this well intentioned but not well thought out petition.