Friday, May 19, 2017

How Religion "Advances"

Today it is relatively rare to find racist Christianity. Nowadays, fundamentalist megachurches proclaim that members of any race are equally invited to donate money to their coffers. But it wasn’t so long ago that many white fundamentalist Christian groups did not want to associate with members of other races.

It is even rarer to find Christians who insist that the Earth is the center of the universe. The only example of which I know is http://www.fixedearth.com. But it was not very far in the past that churches all insisted on geocentrism as a fundamental belief.

In these and in many other cases, the advances in belief—advances toward racial harmony and a scientific understanding of the universe—were the result of forces and processes that were not inherently religious. After slavery was abolished, people began to gradually realize that people of other races were fully human and deserved the same rights as one’s own race. Partly this was due to the utter failure of supremacists to find scientific verification for their beliefs, but mainly, I believe, because more and more people became acquainted with members of other races and discovered, usually pleasantly, that people they might once have disdained were actually nice, ordinary people. In many cases it was devout people who led the push toward racial harmony—and there is hardly a better example than Martin Luther King Jr.—but it was not religion itself that led these advances. None of the leaders, or followers, of racial integration re-read their Bibles and discovered, “Holy Moley! Right there is a verse that we’ve been overlooking for two thousand years.” The Bible did not change. There were, or so the fundamentalists claim, no new revelations from God. The advances in racial harmony, inside and outside of churches, came from accumulated experience which most religious groups have now acknowledged. Reason and experience led the way; religion followed.

It is clear that the conversion of religious people to heliocentrism occurred because science advanced, and religion followed.


Science, experience, and reason are the head of the animal of society; religion is the tail, sometimes wagging, sometimes dragging.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Flicker of Hope for the Future

On May 13, I joined with some volunteers from Up With Trees, a Tulsa organization that plants and maintains trees, mostly on public land in cooperation with the city government. This organization applied to Americorps, the federal entity that coordinates many different volunteer efforts. Americorps approved their application and sent about eight young Americans to help Up With Trees in city-wide tree maintenance activities for three weeks. On May 13, the young people (who received room and board, and a small stipend) helped Up With Trees prune and mulch the trees in a municipal park in the Greenwood district of North Tulsa. It was a perfect spring morning and I could not have been in a better place.






Nor could I have been with better people. These young people came from many places such as Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, Georgia, and New Jersey. Some had just graduated from high school, some from college. Two of the college graduates majored in political science and wanted to have some environmental influence on government policy. Politicians spend their time saying ridiculous things to get people to vote for them, but when work has to be done and done right, they (we hope) rely on their advisors, among whom these two young women may eventually number. One was a child psychology major, who had never heard that there was such a field of study as environmental psychology. A human habitat that includes trees makes people feel better and heal from injuries faster. Planting trees produces measurable social benefits. And then there was the young woman, just out of high school, who wanted to study both engineering and art, because she wanted to produce sculptures that produced energy, for example artistic wind turbines for municipal parks. It is on this kind of creativity that the only hope of our future rests.

Tree work is far from the only thing that the Americorps students are doing. They also help low to moderate income people prepare tax returns and provide activities for school children. Their next stop, after Tulsa, is Ferguson, Missouri, where they will help kids, many of them from families that feel that the dominant white culture is oppressing them. They need to learn positive responses, to help their communities, rather than to create an expensive and dangerous law enforcement problem.

I was glad to spend a relaxing morning with these students, to hear their stories, and to let them know that scholars such as myself take their aspirations seriously and appreciate their devotion to making the world better.

This is the American model of improving our shared public spaces: the federal government allocates money to young people to work for the public good before entering their careers. It is money well spent. The French model, based on my limited observations last summer, is a little different. There, the government uses a great deal of money to hire people to do all the work in shared public spaces. I watched a team of five government employees in Strasbourg cutting away weeds from cracks in sidewalks and streets. I think the American way is probably more cost effective. But there are politicians in America who think that any spending on the public good is a waste of money. These opponents of the shared public good are undermining the future of America. Americorps students are doing a lot of good for not much money. A degenerated park in North Tulsa, or disaffected youth in Ferguson, can be costly problems. If politicians would only look past the economics of campaign donations and see that supporting public service is an inexpensive way to accomplish essential goals.


The students in the Americorps group had many different goals in life, but just one purpose: to make America better.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Hagfishes

I just posted a Darwin video about hagfishes. They are disgusting but also are beautiful examples of evolutionary adaptation. Let creationists work on that one.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Emmanuel Macron's video

In just the few moments since I posted my last essay, I encountered this video in which Macron specifically invited American climate scientists.

Go East, Young Man

Horace Greeley famously urged young Americans to go west. But my advice to young academics is to go east.

Unless personal ties totally prevent you from going there, China would probably be a wonderful place for young American scientists. In two recent issues of Science magazine (9 December and 16 December, 2016), China bought huge advertisements to tell you young American scientists how much they want you. They bought 72 pages of some of the most expensive advertising in the magazine world to invite you. This is in addition to the numerous smaller advertisements about which I reported earlier this year. Though they did not say so, it is clear that they are capitalizing on the hostility that American scientists are receiving from the Trump Administration.

France has made their call even clearer. At the head of the news section in the February 10, 2017 issue of Science, there is a quote from Emmanuel Macron, who is the new president of France. Macron issued a “solemn call” to American scientists. He said, “From next May, you will have a new homeland: France.”

The American federal government, and numerous state governments (such as Oklahoma, where I live), scientists are considered to be liabilities and even mildly dangerous. A law that its sponsors intended as a way of rescuing students from evil scientists narrowly missed passage in the Oklahoma House.


Personally, I just want to hold out until retirement. But for those of you younger scientists who have a little career flexibility, consider accepting an offer from a country that wants you.