What looks like a stream of light between the ground and the clouds, and sometimes inside of clouds. It is followed by thunder, a loud noise.

Lightning can be very frightening, to the point that psychologists have invented a word for the fear of it: “astraphobia”. Lightning can also be dangerous. Lightning can injure and even kill, it can split trees, it can damage buildings, and it can start fires. It can also damage electrical components, and knock out electricity-distribution systems.

Not surprisingly, many people have considered it a weapon wielded by some deity, and sometimes even a deity itself. Wikipedia has a big list of lightning and thunder gods. The Greek god Zeus is well-known for throwing lightning, and the Germanic god Thor makes lightning with his hammer. We also find in Psalm 18:14 that the God of the Bible also throws lightning. Looking away from western Eurasia, some North American First Nations people considered it the flapping of a supernatural bird, the Thunderbird.

But something changed. What was it?

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Some Xian Fundies: No ET’s

David A. Weintraub has written a book, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?. Google Books gives us some snippets of it, and they include some other fundies’ arguments. Advanced ET’s imply a big no-no among fundies: evolution. Then ET’s having advanced wisdom or conquering death being a challenge to Xianity. Then the Fermi Paradox and then how Genesis 1 implies that the heavenly bodies were not created to be homes for ET’s. Then how belief in ET’s is supposedly a result of belief in “evolutionism”.
Would Finding Alien Life Change Religious Philosophies? about David Weintraub’s book.

Public polls have shown that a large share of the population believes aliens are out there. In one survey released last year by the company Survata, 37 percent of the 5,886 Americans who were polled said they believed in the existence of extraterrestrial life, while 21 percent said they didn’t believe and 42 percent were unsure. Responses varied by religion: 55 percent of atheists said they believed in extraterrestrials, as did 44 percent of Muslims, 37 percent of Jews, 36 percent of Hindus and 32 percent of Christians.

Some of these variations may be due to the demographics of the various groups — it would be interesting to try to sort that out.

Weintraub found that some religions are more accommodating to the idea of E.T. than others. Those with an Earth-centric spiritual point of view are the most likely to be made uncomfortable by questions about the discovery of aliens. Certain evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, for example, are of the opinion that God’s sole intent was to create people here on Earth. Some believe that if God created life anywhere else, it would say that in Genesis, Weintraub said.

But other fundies may disagree. David Weintraub notes the speculations of the founders of Seventh Day Adventism. But present-day SDA’s may not agree, and they may be closer to the anti-ET fundies. Something that also applies to the various SDA offshoots, like Garner Ted Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God and its offshoots.

Catholics and mainline Protestants tend to have much less trouble with the idea of ET’s, and believers in other Abrahamic religions and also Asian religions also have little trouble with the idea.

After the fold: lots of fundies on how there are no ET’s.

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The continued rise in US secularism

James L. Haught has posted on the continued rise of secularism in the United States A Huge News Story, Barely Noticed | Unreasonable Faith. In much of Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan, the fraction of worshippers has dropped to 5-10%, but the US continues to lag behind this trend, with its megachurches and TV evangelists.

But the US has been belatedly following along. “Nones” have been rising from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008, Catholics and mainline Protestants have been declining, and young people have been dropping out of organized religion at 5 or 6 times their historic rate.

James Haught notes that this trend will likely hurt the Republican Party and help the Democratic Party, because of how more secular voters tend to vote, but I suspect that the Republican Party may try to adjust its message to appeal to more secular voters.

Many Americans are still creationists

Sad but true. Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism. Furthermore, Americans are behind the citizens of many other industrialized nations in support for evolution (Level of support for evolution).

But that’s slowly changing. Belief in creationism has dipped slightly in recent years, but belief that God had no involvement in humanity’s evolution has been rising. It has approximately been steady at 9%, but after 2000, it has been rising to today’s figure of about 16%. The remaining alternative is that God had guided humanity’s evolution, which continues to get a lot of support.

Not surprisingly, more educated people are less likely to believe in creationism and more likely to believe in God’s non-involvement, and more frequent churchgoers were the opposite. Turning to politics, Democrats and Independents were much alike, while Republicans were much more likely to believe in creationism and less likely to believe in God’s non-involvement. It is yet another indication that the Religious Right is an important part of the Republicans’ base, but not that of the Democrats.

I think that many of the leaders of the US’s less fundie churches have done their followers a disfavor by not explaining why they don’t consider creationism True Christianity or whatever. By simply saying “God did it!” without further explanation, they let their followers become creationists. If they seriously believe something like what Galileo had believed, that the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go, then they ought to think of some way of communicating that to their followers.

Keith Porteus Wood at the UN today

Wood is addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council, speaking on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) about child abuse in the Catholic Church.

Historic First: Secularist Organization Meets with White House Staffers

On February 26, 2010 was a historic first: the first time any Presidential staffers ever met with members of a secularist lobbying group. It was the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group supported by several secularist organizations, from American Atheists to Camp Quest to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers to the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

They had three main concerns:

  • Protecting Children from Neglect and Abuse as a result of exempting religious organizations from the standards applied to other organizations. A certain Liz Heywood has suffered from a long-running bone infection that led to a leg amputation, all because her Christian-Scientist parents believed that the physical world is an illusion, that disease is really false beliefs, and that materialist medicine is worthless. She was unable to show up, so a SCA staffer read a statement from her.
  • Ending Military Proselytizing, including coercing or pressuring soldiers to attend religious services.
  • Fixing Faith-Based Initiatives; ensuring that religious organizations that receive Federal funding for secular activities not discriminate or proselytize, and that secular alternatives to them be available.

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PZ Myers: Humanist of the Year

PZ Myers: Humanist of the Year

PZ Myers: Humanist of the Year

Paul Zachary Myers, professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris, has been named Humanist of the Year by the publishers of the The Humanist magazine, a publication of the American Humanist Association. It is a pleasure to see an “Old Atheist” organization honoring a “New Atheist”.

PZ, as he is often called, acknowledged this honor in Cover Boy, linking to the text of his acceptance speech.

PZ has long worked in evolutionary developmental biology, “evo-devo” for short, and he currently works on zebrafish development, though he has a fascination with cephalopods. He has named his blog Pharyngula after the “pharyngula” stage that vertebrate embryos go through. He describes his blog as “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal”; he blogs about biology, politics, religion, and whatever else might interest him. He makes no secret of his atheism and opposition to religious follies; he has satirized fancy theology as The Courtier’s Reply.

So congratulations to him!