Monthly Archives: December 2011

Science, I don’t need no stinkin’ science!

Many lay people seem to be schizophrenic when it comes to science.  Science is great when it is beneficial.  We can thank science for cell phones and computers, faster cancer diagnosis and better treatment, safer food and drugs, and more energy efficient cars and appliances.  Everyone likes technology as a result of science.  However, when we apply science to human origins all bets are off.  “I didn’t come from no stinkin’ monkey.”  Evolutionary science causes peoples’ hackles to be raised.  Everyone becomes a skeptic.  Most feel that it’s okay if we don’t understand how a cell phone works or how a CT scanner can see into us.  Science is magic in these cases, and we are content with that. But try to explain descent by common ancestry and science doesn’t apply.

So where does the disconnect happen?  I think it is related to how the public defines science and its understanding of how science progresses.  I don’ t think our public education system does a good enough job of promoting science literacy and reinforcing what science is and how it works.

As a Biology professor, each semester I begin with the obligatory lecture on What is Science?  This give me a twice yearly chance to contemplate definitions of science, philosophy of science, and why science is important (if in fact, it is important at all).

The Science Checklist

When most people define science they list science classes in high school or college. A list of courses is not a definition.   I define science as a self-correcting way of knowing about the natural world.  Science is both a body of knowledge (not just facts) and a process by which to gain knowledge about the natural world.  A good way to recognize science is by way of the science checklist as assembled at the  understanding science website. 

How is science done and how does science progress?  Oh,

Convoluted wheels of science

that’s an easy one, right?  Scientists use the scientific method.  That’s what your high school science teacher and textbook writers want you to believe.  Unfortunately, there isn’t really A scientific method.  The scientific process is different each time it plays out.  I won’t get into it in detail here.  Let’s call them the Convoluted Wheels of Science and understand that the process of science meanders through the four main wheels: exploration, testing, community feedback, and benefits.

Why is science important?  Or more precisely,why should everyone understand  what science is and how it is done?  Crikey!  Why not!  A realistic understanding of the world is essential everyday.  Global climate change is a good example to start with.  Some purported news channels suggest climate change is not happening, that the data are fabricated, and that the scientific community cannot even agree among itself if climate change is real.  Start with the easy part, the scientific community cannot agree on the reality of climate change.  This is patently false.  The National Science Foundation has a good summary of the Climate change data here.  The fabrication of data is also easy to deal with.  It has been suggested that Philip Jones of the Climate Research Unit in England, falsified or utilized flawed data.  I don’t know if he did or not, but it doesn’t matter for two reasons.  First, his data were not the only data indicating climate change, there are many independent data sets corroborating the hypothesis for global climate change.  Second, the scientific community will sort him out.  His research will be subjected to peer review and replication.  Every discipline has “bad apples.” That doesn’t make the whole discipline bad.    For more on the importance of science to everyone, look here.

So, to wrap this up, Science is a body of knowledge and the process by which this knowledge is generated.  The process is convoluted and different each time it plays out.  Finally, SCIENCE IS IMPORTANT!  If you think you “don’t need no stinkin’ science,” you are deluded, ignorant, and sadly mistaken.

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Spiritual rape

Today was supposed to be a day filled with happiness and pride.  Instead it is filled with sadness, anger, and dismay.  I was forced to listen to a Christian pastor thank Jehovah, Jesus, and all the other code words for the Christian God at a public school graduation ceremony.  While I don’t have to believe what he said, I had to endure it.  It was akin to spiritual rape.  I don’t say this lightly.  Rape is serious.  Follow the parallels.  Sex is consensual and gratifying.  Rape is forced and unpleasant.  Prayer is personal or consensual and gratifying when done at the right time in the right place.  When it’s done in inappropriate places at inappropriate times, it too is  forced and non-gratifying.

The graduation ceremony I attended today at a state university had in it’s program an invocation and a benediction lead by a pastor from the community.  I might add, it wasn’t the generic secular kind of invocation and benediction.

I could handle a secular invocation.  Graduation is a rite of passage for the students involved as they begin the next phase of their lives.  Invocation comes from the latin, invocare,  which means to call on, to give, or invoke. It would be perfectly acceptable to call on these students to go forth and be good citizens, or invoke them to do great things.  Instead, the moment was taken from them by thanking God for guiding them and helping them through college, etc., etc.  The students accomplished this, not God.  Jeepers, he’s supposedly omnipotent.  He doesn’t need a college degree!  Let the students take credit for their accomplishments

The benediction was even more sickening as the pastor droned on and on about Jesus and what not.  To be honest, I stayed in my seat and looked around at all the other faculty wondering how they could stomach a blatant disregard for other people’s beliefs.  The faculty are supposed to be thinking people, not sheep!  I know some of them disagree with the graduation prayers, but don’t want to make waves or they need to protect their bid for tenure.  I think it is our job to rock the boat.

Some would say, “But we’ve always had an invocation and benediction.”  I would say “we also thought women shouldn’t work out of the home and that the Earth was flat.”  It’s the 21st Century for Pete’s sake (that’s a biblical reference for those who care).  The University’s Strategic Plan says we need to embrace our role in a global society.  News Flash! Not everyone on the globe is Christian.  It is true Christianity is the largest world religion, it accounts for about 33% of the world’s population.  That means 67% of the world is something other than Christian.  So, unless our role in the global community is Christian proselytization, we need to re-think the prayer at graduation.

Other would say, “But we’re in Northwestern Oklahoma, everyone is Christian.”  I would say to that, “Bull honkey!”  There are many other faiths or spiritual beliefs practiced in Northwestern Oklahoma.  I know some Jewish, Hindu, atheist  agnostic, and Naturists  in the area.  Most people are afraid to say what they truly believe for fear of ostracization and ridicule.

If neither of these arguments convince you, you are  self-righteous and contemptuous.  Many people point to the first amendment of the constitution and cry foul.  The first amendment has the separation clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…  Unfortunately, this does not apply to college graduations.  In 1992, the US Supreme court decided in Lee v. Weisman that school officials could not promote prayer at public secondary schools.  It did not address the university level.  Then in 1997, Tanford v. Brand failed to extend the earlier ruling to public post-secondary schools because coercion was the pivotal issue and it stated that college kids were mature enough to know they were not being coerced.

So, while insensitive and rude, prayer at college graduations is legal.  Let it be said then, that it sucks to be a justice-minded freethinker.  Don’t we want to graduate students that embrace diversity in all of it’s forms.  The university should take the lead here and stand as an example.


Bacon really does make everything better!

This is going to be one of those odd-ball posts that have nothing to do with science nor with religion.  Nonetheless, it is, I think, a post that needs to be made.  It’s all about the magic of bacon.  That’s right, bacon.  That salty-sweet, greasy and sensuous pork product we all hate to love.

It has been said that bacon makes everything better.  If you think about it, it really does.

Bacon Cheeseburger, Macaroni and Cheese + Bacon, Little smokies wrapped in bacon.  Shoot, even Lettuce and tomato are better with bacon.

So one has to ask, how can bacon make Christmas better?  I suppose a Christmas goose with bacon wrapped drumsticks would be pretty good.  But how could bacon REALLY make a lasting impression on Christmas?

How about a Nativity centered around Bacon? I wish I would have thought of it, but someone beat me to it.

So there it is, in all of it’s glory.  But what does it really mean?

Consider the birth of a Jewish baby born in an all pork stable.  He is surrounded by pork animals and his parents are clothed in porken robes. In the Jewish tradition, pork, is considered “Unkosher,” or treif.    In a more general sense though, pork is defiled or profane. So Jesus wasn’t just born in a stable (no doubt, a humble beginning for the  King of Kings), but in this interpretation of the Nativity, he was born in a pork stable.  For someone of Jewish heritage,then, it doesn’t get any worse than this.

His parents aren’t just a blue collar family (his dad was a carpenter and his mom got pregnant before they were married.  They didn’t have trailers back then, but if they did…), in this interpretation, they’re whitetrash wrapped in pork.  This baby is definitely starting out behind the 8-ball, yet rises up to become the savior of Mankind.

Even the animals made of little smokeys and sausage foreshadow the profanity this little guy is going to have to overcome on his path to becoming the shepard of God’s flock.

So, that’s my take on this rendition of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then again, maybe someone, somewhere, just happened to have some extra meat and pretzels, and some extra time on their hands.

I’ll leave it for you to decide.  Leave a comment on your interpretation of this masterpiece.   If you are interested in the Kashrut that lists the Jewish food laws, check out this site.

Until my next post, Peace, Love, and Bacon…


Don’t think, just be

I have been working on a post about bacon and Christmas, but that is going to have to wait.  I have my undies in a bunch and need to vent a bit.  The bacon Christmas connection will have to come later this weekend…

Friday I got one of my regular emails from the American Humanist Association.  There was a brief story about their recent ad campaign to raise awareness about bigotry toward atheists.  The holiday season seems to heighten everyone’s sensitivities about this sort of stuff (which is interesting in and of itself).  Along with the story was a picture of the ad.  I found the ad to be thought provoking, so I thought it would be enlightening for our students to post a few copies around campus.

On our campus, all bulletin board posts need approval.  So, I went to get approval at the student affairs office, and was promptly denied!

Say what!  I asked why and the guy in charge said it had nothing to do with a student organization.  Alright, well, according to our University’s new Strategic Plan, one of our core values is Diversity.  Under the value of diversity it reads, “Promote the expression of differing opinions and beliefs.”  PROMOTE!  Either he didn’t get the memo or the Strategic plan is lip service.  It really does look good on paper.

Okay, maybe for some strange reason the post was considered religious.  I’m not sure how a non-belief can be religious, but each to their own.  So I tried  a different tactic.  In the faculty handbook he states something to the effect that in our teaching we should encourage critical thinking in our students.  What could encourage critical thinking more than a poster that says atheists are discriminated against in a community that is predominately Christian. I would hope a student would read that and think, “Hmm, bias against atheists?  What reason would someone have for being atheist? Wait, what reason do I have for being Christian?  What is the source of my beliefs?  How do they differ from an atheists beliefs.  I should go to the website on the bottom of the add and find out more.”  I made the argument to the one in charge that my teaching extends beyond the classroom.

He retracted his initial No dice stance, and said that he would take my comments under consideration.  If I don’t hear back from him by Monday I should give him a call.  This is a clever ploy, as next week finals start on Tuesday so traffic on campus will be much reduced and the impact of the ad will be much reduced.

I am going to check out the American Humanist website a bit further to see if I can find a flier that is not so seasonal that i might have up and read to go the first day of the Spring semester.

Perhaps I should close with a few questions reads might comment on:

Why would a university administrator’s knee-jerk reaction be to deny a post that raises awareness for a diversity issue?

More importantly, why is it okay to post advertisements for fellowship dinners at the Baptist Student Union or the Wesley House and not okay to post a sign that suggests there are people in the community that have different beliefs than the majority? (Note to point: I saw a sign near the student affairs office advertising a Christian Addiction support group.)


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