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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Was the USA founded as a Christian nation?

The Treaty of Tripoli should have put this myth to bed before it even became a myth. It states” “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion…” A government treaty created in the initial years of our country, signed by the President and ratified by the Senate, stating we are not a Christian nation. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the Treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers – two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.

Because Article VI, clause 2 of the United States Constitution renders ratified treaties "the supreme Law of the Land", this confirms that the government of the United States was specifically intended to be religiously neutral.

President Adams signed the treaty and proclaimed it to the nation on 10 June 1797. His statement on it was a bit unusual: “Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.”

There is no mention of Jesus anywhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. It should also be noted that there is no religious test to hold federal office. Many of the founders were Deists and although there were also many Christians, it was agreed that the nation should not adopt a specific religion.

"Although it had its share of strenuous Christians ... the gathering at Philadelphia was largely made up of men in whom the old fires were under control or had even flickered out. Most were nominally members of one of the traditional churches in their part of the country... and most were men who could take their religion or leave it alone. Although no one in this sober gathering would have dreamed of invoking the Goddess of Reason, neither would anyone have dared to proclaim his opinions had the support of the God of Abraham and Paul. The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit." (Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention, pp. 147-148.) 

Much has been made of Benjamin Franklin's suggestion that the Convention open its morning sessions with prayer. His motion was turned down, however, and not again taken up. Franklin himself noted that "with the exception of 3 or 4, most thought prayers unnecessary." (Ferrand, Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, rev. ed., Vol. 1, p.452.)

“One of the embarrassing problems for the early nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was that not one of the first six Presidents of the United States was an orthodox Christian.”
The Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1968 Edition, p. 420

Jefferson wrote voluminously to prove that Christianity was not part of the law of the land and that religion or irreligion was purely a private matter, not cognizable by the state. (Leonard W. Levy, Treason Against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy, New York: Schocken Books, 1981, p. 335.)

So much is Jefferson identified in the American mind with his battle for political liberty that it is difficult to entertain the possibility that he felt even more strongly about religious liberty. If the letters and activities of his post presidential years can be taken as a fair guide, however, he maintained an unrelenting vigilance with respect to freedom in religion, and an unrelenting, perhaps even unforgiving, distrust of all those who would seek in any way to mitigate or limit or nullify that freedom. (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, pp. 46-47.)

... Jefferson, who as a careful historian had made a study of the origin of the maxim [that the common law is inextricably linked with Christianity], challenged such an assertion. He noted that "the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or that such a character existed .... What a conspiracy this, between Church and State." (Leo Pfeffer, Religion, State, and the Burger Court, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 121.)

... The most revealing writings concerned the commonly repeated maxim that Christianity was part of the common law. In two posthumously published writings, an appendix to his Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court and a letter to Major John Cartwright, Thomas Jefferson took issue with the maxim. He traced the erroneous interpretation to a seventeenth-century law commentator who, Jefferson argued, misinterpreted a fifteenth-century precedent. He then traced the error forward to his favorite bête noire, Lord Mansfield, who wrote that "the essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law." Jefferson responded with a classic, positivistic critique: Mansfield "leaves us at our peril to find out what, in the opinion of the judge, and according to the measures of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion, obligatory on us as part of the common law." (Daniel R. Ernst, "Church-State Issues and the Law: 1607-1870" in John F. Wilson, ed., Church and State in America: A Bibliographic Guide. The Colonial and Early National Periods," New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 337. Ernst gives his source as Thomas Jefferson, "Whether Christianity is Part of the Common Law?")

The First Amendment to the Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." This gets broken down into two areas. The first is the Establishment Clause, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.". Thomas Jefferson made sure the intent of this clause was well understood with his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In this letter he stated very clearly that there was a "wall of separation between church and state," which led to the expression "Separation of church and state."  Thomas Jefferson didn't see himself as writing a minor, unimportant letter because he had it reviewed by Levi Lincoln, his attorney general, before he sent it. Jefferson even told Lincoln that he considered this letter to be a means of "sowing useful truths and principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets." He also had it reviewed by Postmaster General Gideon Granger of Connecticut.  That Jefferson consulted two New England politicians about his messages indicated that he regarded his reply to the Danbury Baptists as a political letter, not as a dispassionate theoretical pronouncement on the relations between government and religion.

The second part of the amendment, the Free Exercise Clause", is what the Christians try to hang their hat on in regards to be allowed to do anything in regards to their religion. However, the courts have generally ruled that while most individual religious exercise is allowed, this does not prohibit the government from passing laws that impact certain religious practices. The first case to examine this clause was Reynolds v. United States. This was a case dealing with the prosecution of a polygamist. He tried to argue protection under the Free Exercise Clause, but the court ruled against him.

Jefferson's Danbury letter has been cited favorably by the Supreme Court many times. In its 1879 Reynolds v. U.S. decision the high court said Jefferson's observations "may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment and agreed that the intention of the First Amendment was "to erect `a wall of separation between church and state."

Jefferson believed in the principle of church/state separation so much that he created political problems for himself. Unlike Presidents Washington, Adams, and all following presidents, Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and thanksgiving. It is not, as some charged, because he was an atheist or because he wanted others to abandon religion.
Instead, it was because he recognized that he was only president of the American people, not their pastor, priest or minister. He realized that he had absolutely no authority to lead other citizens in religious services or expressions of religious faith and worship.

"The constitutional principle of separation of church and state has given Americans more religious freedom than any people in world history. Around the globe, those suffering under the heavy heel of government-sponsored religious oppression look to America's church-state model with longing. The "wall of separation between church and state" is America's bulwark of true religious liberty."
-Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Let us not forget this little historical tidbit. On Feb. 10, 1864, a contingent of clergymen from Xenia, Ohio, and Sparta, Ill., prevailed on President Abraham Lincoln and Congress to amend the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, redefining America as a “Christian” nation. In his 2006 book, “American Gospel,” Jon Meacham refers to historian Morton Borden’s account of the meeting, during which Lincoln graciously promised to examine the clergy’s request, but reminded them that amending the Constitution was no easy undertaking — then allowed it to die a natural death.

Why would there have been a need for religious leaders to ask Lincoln and Congress to redefine America as a Christian nation if it was founded as a Christian nation as so many keep incorrectly stating? Why would Lincoln not have asked them why he should do something so redundant, if America had always been a Christian nation? Gosh, could it be something simple like the fact that America was not founded as a Christian nation and this was well known and acknowledged during the early years of the country?

If you would do a little historical research, you might find yourself surptised by the FACTS. You might be surprised, for example, to learn that in the early years of this republic, while most of those founding fathers were still alive and well, religion was no big deal to most people. Consider, for example, the period between 1776 and 1890, during which fewer than half of Americans even bothered to affiliate them with a local congreagation of believers. Percent of Americans Who Belong to a Local Congregation
1776 17%
1850 34%
1870 35%
1890 45%
1906 51%
1916 53%
1926 56%
1952 59%
1980 62%
1990 64%
2005 69%
Source: Finke, Roger and Starke, Rodney, The Churching of America 1776 – 1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1992. Data for 2005 are taken from Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe, Baylor University Press, Waco, Texas, 2008, p.12

You might also consider doing some independent research on the consumption of alcohol during the formative days of this nation. Historians who have studied this subject have concluded that the per capita consumption of alcohol in the colonies and during the westward expansion was far in excess of today”s. Alcoholism was rampant and it is a bit of a miracle that our hardy pioneer forefathers got as much accomplished as they did, given their proclivity to swill so liberally on John Barleycorn. Hardly reflective of the sobriety that should characterize any “Christian nation.”

So fluid had been the conditions of American life toward the end of the eighteenth century, and so disorganizing the consequences of the Revolution, that perhaps as many as ninety percent of the Americans were unchurched in 1790. (Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, p. 82.)

In the mid-eighteenth century, America had a smaller proportion of church members than any other nation in Christendom. American religious statistics are notoriously unreliable, but it has been estimated that in 1800 about one of every fifteen Americans was a church member ... (Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, p. 89.)

Barry Goldwater, former US Senator (R-AZ), said on Sep. 15, 1981 in a US Senate speech:
"By maintaining the separation of church and state the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars... Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northem Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state? The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives... We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."

I will not deny that many of the citizens of the USA are and have been Christians. However, we are a secular country, that allows everybody the right and option to worship as they like, including the right to not worship at all. This is one of the freedoms that all we enjoy. And why would anyone want the government to decide what is the right religion? They might pick the wrong one! :)

The flood of Noah

The laughable Flood of Noah. A disgusting story of evil, incompetence, mass murder, tons of shit and inbreeding. A flood for which there is no evidence for, by the way. A flood that not only did not happen, it COULD not happen the way it is told. If the entire world is covered in water, that means it is covered in seawater. (Really, try it for yourself. Mix a bowl of salt water and fresh water and see what you get. Here’s a hint – you get salt water.) If the entire Earth is covered in salt water, it will poison the ground. That is why armies used to salt the earth of lands they invaded, so that it was ruined to try and grow more crops. There is no fresh water for anyone to drink because all the fresh water supplies have been destroyed by the ENTIRE EARTH BEING COVERED IN SALT WATER. If it rains, it rains into salt water bodies. The fresh water fish could not survive in the salt water environment. The salt water fish would be at risk since the salinity of the water would be reduced. So, we have no fresh water to drink and cannot grow new crops.  If you start eating the animals from the ark, you keep them from reproducing. Of course, that does not stop Noah from sacrificing some of them immediately. Not that it matters. Keep in mind that two animals are not enough to provide the genetic diversity needed to sustain an animal population. Some animals like termites need an entire colony to sustain themselves.

(For more on genetic diversity, please watch this video.)

Towards the end of the voyage, Noah sent a dove out to look for signs of life.

Genesis 8-

8:8 Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;
8:9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.
8:10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;
8:11 And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

But an olive tree could not survive the flood.  And if any seeds happened to survive, they certainly wouldn't germinate and grow leaves within a seven day period. In fact, they would have no chance to grow at all. Remember, all the land is now filled with salt.

Did it ever occur to you to wonder why the children of Noah immediately began creating new god myths? Can you really imagine that if Noah and his family had really survived the flood, their children would not be the most devote and religious people ever in the history of the world? Yet, according to the time frame of when the flood occurred in the bible, the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Indians had already built immense societies at the same time that the flood occurred. If they were the descendants of Noah, they had the worst short term memory of any people ever known on the planet.

The physics of Noah's Ark are impossible. The flexibility of the wood being used opens gaps wide enough to dump hundreds of gallons of water a minute into the "ship."

As a ship that large floats, there are tremendous strains and stresses over its length, and wood is flexible enough to make it impossible to keep the hull together. Wood is fairly flexible when subjected to large strains - trees caught in torrential floods bend and don't break. It's why wooden ships only reached certain sizes during real-life world history, bigger ships had to be made out of steel.

Even many of the largest wood ships (still mucho smaller than the ark! According to the Biblical description, it was a barge roughly the size that would fit inside of one of our football stadiums!) built by master shipwrights at the peak of the shipbuilding art required numerous pumps and countermeasures to avoid sinking.

Here's one reason large wooden ships have a limit: Hogging.

"Until the 1920's a large percentage of the world's shipping consisted of large wooden ships and their plague, after plain old rot, was "hog". A ship floating quietly in still water is subjected to external forces. These are the weight of the vessel on its cargo (downwards) and the buoyancy force (upwards). Archimedes showed us that for a floating vessel, these two forces must be equal in magnitude. For a floating rectangular piece of wood, they are also equal in distribution. For most normally shaped ships, the distribution is not equal. For example, when an empty ship has more weight (relatively heavy structure, engines and equipment) in the ends, and more buoyancy in the middle. This "excess" of buoyancy in the middle cause the middle to rise up and the ends to bend down -- a hog in profile. The opposite condition is sagging. For old wooden ships, this resulted in a long term, plastic deformation. The total curvature could be a meter or more in larger vessels. Some vessels like the Wapama hogged so much that they nearly broke in two. Hogging is no longer the problem it was in the 1920's when it threatened the nation's merchant fleet -- because those ships have sunk!

"Wooden ships, even wooden warships like USS Constitution, are actually quite weak even when new. Although solid shot may have ricocheted from their sides, they are generally unable, over time, to resist the fairly small forces they are subjected to moored in still water. There is a false idea that amazingly still has some following, that wooden ships were strong because they would flex. In fact, relative movement between structural members allows fresh water to enter the hull structure, carrying rot fungus spores deep inside.

"Engineers have often attempted to analyze the structures of wooden ships as if they were homogeneous box girders. This is a common misapplication of beam theory. Actually, a wooden ship, especially as it ages, more closely resembles a rather weakly bound bundle of reeds. These reeds are free to slide past each other. If traditionally built wooden ships were box girders, then one would expect to see many tensile failures amidships in the upper deck of a severely hogged vessel; however, this is not the case. Failures in longitudinal structure are infrequent and tend to be scattered almost uniformly throughout the vessel. The idea of "strength decks" or "extreme fiber" is largely irrelevant to the meaningful analysis of old wooden ships. Microscopic investigation reveal a generally low level of stress in "hogged" structural members. There often is evidence of plastic behavior, creep, around fastenings. Large overall deflections in the hull can be achieved with a very small amount of creep around the fastenings.

"The bundle of reeds metaphor implies that the ship is comparatively poor at resisting longitudinal loads due to a weakness in shear. Wooden ships are generally stiffer in lateral loading since the transverse frames are like individual beams. As a vessel ages and softens, even these relatively stiff beams can suffer large creep deflections. USS Constellation is an extreme example of an old, soft wooden ship and probably has large lateral deflections as well as hog -- behaving more like a wet wicker basket than a bundle of reeds. Pushing up on the bottom of the basket causes the sides to bulge out and the bilges to drop. This is evidently the case since the keel has deflected over two feet and there is much less curvature in the upper decks. The vessel is also soft transversely. That is apparent from the curvature of the gun deck which is hogged in several distinct undulations. The upward force on the bottom comes from an unequal distribution of the weight and buoyancy forces on the vessel. In a newer, stiffer vessel it is possible to minimize this net force by the judicious placement of ballast both longitudinally and transversely in the bottom of the vessel.

Also note that fewer than 50% of the world's cultures have flood legends. In his book Die Flutsagen: Ehnthographisch Btrachtet(1891), Richard Andre collected a compendium of flood myths (~90 traditions) from around the world . Of these:

26 were "descendants" of the Babylonian story

43 are totally independent in time and place from the Babylonian story

Most telling was the absence of flood stories from much of Europe, northern and central Asia, Africa, Arabia, and Japan (very strange IF there a world-wide deluge...that all these places should have NOT ONE story).

Andre reached the conclusion that IF everyone were the descendants of a small number of survivors from a single flood, THEN there would be a flood story in every culture and these stories would be consistent with each other.

It also shows the immorality of the biblical god. He commands us not to kill, but then kills almost everyone on the planet in a worldwide flood. This included infants. Can a one day old baby sin? Did all the one day old babies sin the day of the flood, the day they were born? What was the sin? (please no original sin answers – since we were all were supposedly born with that, and god allowed Noah and his family to survive with that sin, what other sin required their death? Now Noah was supposedly a righteous person, which is why he was allowed to live. Why did the other seven people also deserve to live? They were supposedly as evil as all the rest of mankind. Were they less sinful than a one day old infant? Was that sin so terrible that the baby deserved to be drowned in a flood? DROWNED!!! Do you have children? Should they have been drowned on their first day? If someone tried to drown your one day old baby for committing that same sin, what would be your response to that?

Someone, who shall properly remain anonymous, suggested that all the water needed to flood the Earth existed as liquid water surrounding the globe (i.e., a "vapour canopy"). This, of course, it staggeringly stupid. What is keeping that much water from falling to the Earth? There is a little property called gravity that would cause it to fall.

Let's look into that from a physical standpoint. To flood the Earth, it would require 4.252 x 109 km3 of water with a mass of 4.525 x 1021 kg. When this amount of water is floating about the Earth's surface, it stored an enormous amount of potential energy, which is converted to kinetic energy when it falls, which, in turn, is converted to heat upon impact with the Earth. The amount of heat released is immense:

Potential energy: E=M*g*H, where
M = mass of water,
g = gravitational constant and,
H = height of water above surface.

Now, going with the Genesis version of the Noachian Deluge as lasting 40 days and nights, the amount of mass falling to Earth each day is 4.525 x 1021 kg/40 24 hr. periods. This equals 1.10675 x 1020 kilograms daily. Using H as 10 miles (16,000 meters), the energy released each day is 1.73584 x 1025 joules. The amount of energy the Earth would have to radiate per m2/sec is energy divided by surface area of the Earth times number of seconds in one day. That is: e = 1.735384 x 1025/(4*3.14159* ((6386)2*86,400)) = 391,935.0958 j/m2/s.

Currently, the Earth radiates energy at the rate of approximately 215 joules/m2/sec and the average temperature is 280 K. Using the Stefan- Boltzman 4'th power law to calculate the increase in temperature:

E (increase)/E (normal) = T (increase)/T4 (normal)

E (normal) = 215 E (increase) = 391,935.0958 T (normal) = 280.

Turn the crank, and T (increase) equals 1800 K.

The temperature would thusly rise 1800 K, or 1,526.84 C (that's 2,780.33 F...lead melts at 880 F.). It would be highly unlikely that anything short of fused quartz would survive such an onslaught. Also, the water level would have to rise at an average rate of 5.5 inches/min; and in 13 minutes would be in excess of 6' deep.

Finally, at 1800 K water would not exist as liquid.

Take a look at this video on the Math of the Great Flood

It is an absurd story from any perspective.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keeping kids in line

2 Kings 2:23-24

New International Version (NIV)

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road,

some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said.

“Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down

a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods

and mauled forty-two of the boys.

We've all been there. You're walking along, minding your own business, when a gang of cocky, young whippersnappers start hurling abuse at you. Most of us would just keep walking, or maybe, yell some insults back or flip them the bird. Elisha, however, decides to take it one step further. Invoking the name of God, he summons some bad ass bears to come and kill them.
Christians are constantly asking for prayer in schools to help get today's kids in line, but I beg to differ. We need bears in schools. If every teacher had the power to summon a pair of child-maiming grizzly avengers, you can bet that schoolchildren nowadays would be the most well-behaved, polite children, ever. It's a simple choice: listen to the biology lesson, or get first-hand knowledge of the digestive system of Ursus horribilis.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Does god abide sin?

God’s holy nature cannot abide sin. I have read this statement about the biblical god for years. He hates sin and punishes people who do sin. But how realistic is this statement? 

If the biblical god really hated sin and could not abide it, then why the creation of the universe? The concept of god is that he is perfection. He has been and will be perfect for all eternity. He is also considered to be all knowing. That means that he knew that the creation he was going to make would be corrupted by sin. But how is that possible since he cannot abide sin? We are asked to believe that a perfect god decided to proceed with the creation of the universe, even thought this creation would insert sin into the universe. And this god cannot abide sin! I submit this is an absurdity. Either god can abide sin, since it is so abundant in the universe he created, or the idea that the biblical god cannot abide sin is without merit. I would say that the actual fact is that there is no god behind the curtain, but let us stay with this idea for the time being. 

Consider the elements of sin that he has allowed by creating the universe. Creates Lucifer who rebels against him. Sin!  Creates Adam and Eve who disobey him. Sin! Kills everyone to fix the problem except a righteous person but ends up with the exact same problems of people sinning. Instead of showing that god cannot abide sin, this shows a god who wallows in sin. He obviously loves sin.

The standard Christian response about sin is that humans are responsible. However, that glosses over two points. First, Lucifer rebelled before the humans did. Therefore, mankind is NOT responsible for sin. We are being punished for something that we did not originate. We are also being punished for something others did, which the bible says should not occur. Children are not punished for the sins committed by their parents; neither are parents punished for the sins of their children. Each of us is responsible for our own sins.

Ezekiel 18:20

Second, and this is the most important point, god knew all this would occur before he started with the creation week. God was fully and completely aware that all this would happen (he is all knowing after all). However, he decided to go forward and start the process that will end up with sin being introduced into his "perfect" and previously sinless universe. However, keep another important point in mind. This god cannot ABIDE sin. Not the least little tiny sin, can he abide. It is like a germaphobe deciding to live in an unflushed toilet filled with crap. It could not happen because this god would never abide sin, according to the fable. 

The entire story is one absurd premise on top of another. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jesus and the fig tree

This story in the bible has always amused me. Jesus is taking out his frustration on a tree that was not purposefully attempting to upset him. A tree cannot do any conscious acts of rebellion or defiance. It is hardly the fault of the tree that it was barren. If fact, if he is all knowing as it is claimed, then he should have already known before approaching the tree that it was bare of any figs. Since he was supposed to be all powerful, why not make the tree bare figs instantaneously as another miracle?

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.
When evening came, they went out of the city.
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Here is an article that attempts to explain the bizarre verse.

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree, when figs weren't in season?
Some light is shed on this passage by an article in Hard Sayings of the Bible by F. F. Bruce:
Was it not unreasonable to curse the tree for being fruitless when, as Mark expressly says, "it was not the season for figs"? The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called "The Barren Fig Tree" published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). "Now," wrote Christie, "the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner. They grown to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off." These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh  in Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later. So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh,  that is a sign that there will be no figs. Since Jesus found "nothing but leaves" - leaves without any taqsh- he knew that "it was an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree" and said as much.

However, this is an absurd argument. If the tree was  "an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree" and would never bare any fruit, there was no reason to curse it so that it would never bare any fruit. That would already be the destiny of that tree and the curse would not add anything to the situation. Keep in mind this part of the verse. " When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs". The story tells us that the reason for the tree having no figs was that it was the wrong season. Therefore, to try and claim that Jesus was only cursing the tree since it would never bare fruit is to disregard the test. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

God and the New Physics by Paul Davies – book review

This is not a book about God: it is a book about what was in 1983 the new physics , by a distinguished scientist who would go on six years later to edit a massive scholarly work called The New Physics, who would then start getting interested in life on Earth, extraterrestrial life and (right now) the physics or mechanics of cancer.
  1. God and the New Physics
  2. by Paul Davies

In other words, Davies is interested in all the questions raised 3,000 years ago by the Pentateuch; and in the increasingly intractable questions of how the universe began, how life began and how we came to be.
Atheism, like Christianity, requires an act of faith. There is no evidence whatsoever for the non-existence of God, and there is plenty of evidence for His existence. However, this evidence is entirely anecdotal, highly subjective, often conflicting and not subject to scientific rigour.
So in 1984 a new physicist picked up an old question first formulated perhaps 1,600 years ago by that great thinker St Augustine of Hippo, and 800 years ago by St Thomas Aquinas: can God's signature be seen in the universe He created?
This is called natural theology: it has an honourable place in the history of science. Francis Bacon recommended it, Isaac Newton practised it, 17th century biologists like John Ray puzzled over the ambiguities it exposed.
The physics has moved on since Davies wrote this book, but it seems to have stayed in print, and sold steadily, for reasons that become quite clear as one reads it: the big question of life, the universe and everything is not how, or when, or what, or even Who, but the ever-open and hugely enjoyable question of why?
Davies picks his way patiently through all the areas of argument - the definition of life's complexity; the insubstantial abstractions of mind and soul; the idea of self; the enduring argument about whether there really is such a thing as free will; the problem of defining words like "miracle"; the mystery of time; the question of whether this universe is an accident or part of a bigger plan; and the riddle of why all the values and constants of physical forces seem so exquisitely tuned to produce and sustain life (but only, as far as we know, once).
He quotes generously from other sources – sometimes a bit too generously – and always fairly. But it is precisely from such position statements that Davies can start asking interesting questions and delivering even more interesting insights.
For instance, is God a necessary being, containing the explanation for His own existence? That has become a meaningless question because the universe now turns out to contain within itself the reason for its own existence. So it, too, is in the theological sense necessary. If God is an effect that does not require a cause, why cannot the universe exist without a cause?
Set against that are the enigmatic questions raised by probability: if the universe was just a quantum accident, a random event, the odds against it containing any appreciable order are, says Davies "ludicrously small". And I am especially grateful for the vivid way Davies expresses just how ludicrously small.
For example, if the explosion that delivered the universe had varied by one part in 1060 – yes, one followed by 60 zeroes – what we see around us would not exist and we would not be here to see it. "Suppose," says Davies "you wanted to fire a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away. Your aim would have to be accurate to that same part in 1060."
He makes some of the usual points: that there is no case for invoking "a god of the gaps" to explain what science cannot account for, because history shows that sooner or later science quite often does get to explain the once seemingly inexplicable.
The notion of an omnipotent, benevolent Creator is addressed as a contradiction: if God cannot prevent evil, then He is not omnipotent; if He is omnipotent, then the evil is of His making too. The idea of free will provided by an omniscient Creator, too, contains its own paradoxes.
Some of these points are classic angels-on-a-pinhead stuff. Some of them are made much more interesting by the advances of cosmological physics and quantum theory, because the universe really does look like the ultimate free lunch, fashioned from nothing; bootstrapping itself into existence by a series of mathematically demonstrable steps.
But this raises a problem, and not just for those of us who were educated in the religious tradition, with parents who did not question the idea of God, and who still wistfully cling to the idea that there are things that are right, and things that are wrong, and that this rightness or wrongness might not be explained only by subtle sociobiological pressures over evolutionary history.
Even if we no longer buy the idea of seven heavens, seven cardinal virtues or seven choirs of angels, we still have an uneasy sense that our lives are for something.
The problem is defined as "nothing-buttery". That is: are humans "nothing but" a collection of molecules, nothing but a set of survival machines for their genes? Is the universe really pointless and purposeless? And if it is, why does it contain even one species that suddenly can look at the evidence and frame such a question?
This is not a book that will comfort unquestioning believers. Why should it? For them, blind belief is its own comfort. For the rest of us, Davies provides a richness of patient reasoning, and yet another chance to marvel at the universe in which we seem so lucky to maintain precarious and limited leasehold.


This is an argument that our universe is "one of a kind." But that is not so. Whatever combination of physical constants may have occurred if the explosion had varied, it would be one of a kind. You might insist that the kind that our universe is (one permitting the development of life as we know it) is a special kind and that none of the other kinds would be special. But there is no reason to believe that. Assuming that other combinations of physical constants are physically possible, there is no reason to believe that all of them would result in a universe with less variety and complexity than our universe. For all anyone knows, maybe one or more of those alternate universes would have a lot more variety and complexity than does ours. There may not be life as we know it, but that does not mean there could not be life. The problem is that no one has any idea what sorts of things might emerge over time in universes having physical constants different from ours. There is no way for our science, at its present stage, to extrapolate that sort of information from what we know.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is the Christian god actually all knowing?

The idea of an all knowing god is one that Christians have not thought though very well. Let’s take a look at gods track record. Creates Lucifer who rebels against him. Didn't see that one coming. God knew that Satan would rebel in heaven, yet he created him anyway AND called him the greatest of his angels.Creates Adam and Eve who disobey him. Didn't see that one coming. God knew that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit, yet placed the tree within easy access of the two. Kills everyone to fix the problem except a righteous person but ends up with the exact same problems, Didn't see that one coming. God knew that Noah and his kin would start sinning as soon as they got off the ark, yet, he decided to start over with humanity with these flawed people. It is like realizing that a batch of bread is tainted and throwing it away, yet making another batch of bread with the same mixture and then being surprised that it is also tainted. Sends Jesus to Earth to fix the problem and allows his son to get killed. He saw that one coming. Somehow this was his master plan all along. (Why he didn't start off with the death of Jesus is anyone’s guess – That all knowing stuff is really hard) And he still ends up with the exact same issues and problems. Didn't see that one coming either. Now, this perfect god somehow created imperfect laws that Jesus had to fix.  And since Jesus was involved with the creation, why didn't he simply tell pops about all this at the beginning and avoid all the problems and bloodshed? Perhaps god enjoys a good massacre?

The Bible says God is perfect in knowledge, knows all thoughts, all secrets, sees all and no-one can hide from God. See: 1 Samuel 2:3,Job 28:2437:1642:2Psalm 44:21139:4,7-8147:5Proverbs 15:3Jeremiah 16:17,23:24Acts 1:24Hebrews 4:13Matthew 10:30 and 1 John 3:19-20. Yet there are plenty of times when God doesn't know things, such as where people are. Check these verses:
  • Genesis 3:8-13 - Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord, amongst the trees of the garden, and God had to go find them, and then asks them questions. Either Adam and Eve are so dumb that they can't grasp that God is all-knowing, or, God is genuinely asking because it doesn't know the answers.
  • Genesis 18:20-21 - "20Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”"
  • Genesis 32:22-30 - In this obscure story, Jacob wrestles with God in bodily form and sees God face-to-face. God asks Jacob what Jacob's name is; yet an all-knowing god would surely know!
  • Numbers 22:9 - Balaam and some Moabite officials spend a night waiting for God, who duly pops down for a visit, "And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?" An all-knowing God would have known.
  • Job 1:72:2 - "And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it."
  • Hosea 8:4 - Some princes of Israel were set up without God's knowledge.
Sometimes, it is said in the Bible that God tests people. In Deuteronomy 8:1-2 God reveals that the 40-years in the wilderness was a test done by God to find out what was in people's hearts - whether they would still obey orders. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 God sends some false prophets and wonder-workers as tests to see if people will follow other gods, and in 2 Chronicles 32:31 God is doing similar fact-finding tests. Yet an all-knowing God, creator of all time, knows exactly who will pass any tests, and knows exactly what is in everyone's heart. So either God is lying about his reasons, or, god is not actually all-knowing

Atheists are mad at god, right?

The most obvious reason why everyone should recognize that this myth is false is the simple fact that you can't be angry at God unless you believe that God exists. This means that anyone who is angry at God must be a theist, not an atheist — an atheist is a person who doesn't believe in any gods at all. Atheists therefore cannot be angry at any gods.
The only way an atheist could experience anger in the context of a god would be like how someone might be angry at a character in a novel — but in such a case a person isn't really angry at the character, but experiencing anger in a more diffuse and undirected manner. You can't really be angry at a fictional character any more than you can love or hate a fictional character. The experience of such emotions in the context of fiction certainly doesn't cause a mentally balanced adult to start believing that the characters actually exist.
This means that it's logically impossible for atheists to be angry at god for any reason, but it's not the only basis for refuting this myth. We can also point to the empirical fact that atheists don't report, discuss, or experience this alleged anger. Unless religious theists who believe this myth also believe that atheists are engaged in a massive, coordinated conspiracy to cover up the truth, we must assume that if atheists as a whole were angry at God then there would be significant and clear evidence for this fact. We'd see atheists discussing it amongst themselves, for example, in the innumerable forums and groups where atheists spend their time.
Not only does no such evidence exist, but when asked directly atheists deny that they experience such anger at God. At most, some atheists may report that they first started down the road to atheism when they experienced some contradiction between what the expected from God and what actually happened. It might have been a trivial matter, like getting something for Christmas, or it might be something major like people suffering around the world. It might have induced anger in this person or it might have simply induced disappointment.
Whatever the case may be, it's unusual for atheists to keep experiencing these emotions or to still regard the experience as a foundational to their current atheism. It may have inspired them to start questioning their religious beliefs and being exercising greater skepticism towards everything they had previously taken for granted, but by now their atheism is based on more substantive arguments and ideas than whatever might have gotten the ball rolling years ago.
If this myth that atheists are angry at God after not getting something they wanted is both logically impossible and not at all supported by any available evidence, why on earth do people not only believe it but regularly assert with such conviction? They can't arrive at this as a logically necessary conclusion from the nature of atheism and they certainly didn't conduct any surveys that demonstrated common attitudes among atheists, either in their community.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Women fake moans to end sex early, boost male ego

The restaurant scene from "When Harry Met Sally" taught us that women's cries of ecstasy in the midst of the final wrap-up may not exactly be authentic. But it's not just during orgasm (fake or otherwise) when ladies turn the auditory effects up a notch. According to a study on "copulatory vocalization," 66 percent of women surveyed said they moaned during earlier stages of sex to speed up their partner's climax, while 87 percent did so to boost his self-esteem. "Women also reported making noise to relieve boredom ... [and] fatigue," researchers state. Dr. Ruth can't resist weighing in, tweeting an invaluable clue for drawing out real peals of pleasure: "Most women have orgasm during foreplay."

Sigh, so it is not our amazing skills in bed????? How depressing.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why are there government sponsored chaplains in Congress?

The fact that government sponsored chaplains existed from the beginning is not a sign that the Constitution's authors never intended to separate church and state,
James Madison wrote in Detached Memoranda:
Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.

The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship against the members whose creeds and consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics and Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the veil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers, or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.

If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Congress would suffice for the purpose? How just would it be in its principle? How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience? Why should the expense of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Executive or judiciary branch of the Government. ...

Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one.

None of this mattered when the Supreme Court decided the constitutionality of legislative chaplains in Marsh v. Chambers, 1983. According to Chief Justice Warren Burger's majority opinion, chaplains are constitutional simply because they have always been around — they are now a tradition. There was never any attempt to judge the practice of hiring congressional chaplains against tests, like the Lemon Test.  They stated the ultimate authority for the position lies in the Constitution which states that the House and Senate may each choose their officers, with no restrictions on what kind of officers may be chosen. Using that authority, both chambers have continued to elect an officer to act as Chaplain.
This was probably because chaplains would immediately fail any sincere legal tests. Chaplains have absolutely no secular purpose. Second, they have the effect of advancing certain religious beliefs and inhibiting others. Finally, the existence of chaplains clearly results in an entanglement of religion and government. Even the earlier Sherbert Test would be violated, because there is no "compelling state interest" in having taxpayers support the existence of such chaplains.
However, people are human and humans are not always consistent with their actions. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doomsday prophet vows to quit predicting the Rapture

Preacher Harold Camping is leaving it to the Mayans. The 90-year-old head of Family Radio incorrectly predicted the Rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, and when that didn't happen he aimed for Oct. 21, 2011, which also failed. "We have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world," Camping said in a statement on the Family Radio website. His bad timing on the Rapture became a huge media event, mostly to mock him, but some of his followers quit their jobs and donated their life savings ahead of the event. Camping said he has sinned by promoting May 21 as Judgment Day and says he has no plans to ever predict the date again.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pants' washing instructions read 'Give it to your woman'

A pair of chinos has sparked a Twitter debate over what's funny and what's downright sexist. Emma Barnett, the digital media editor for the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph tweeted a pic of the washing label on a new pair of pants her boyfriend purchased. The label gives wearers basic cotton instructions, as well as the tip, "or give it to your woman, it's her job." The company that sold the pants, Madhouse Fashion, responded by tweeting that it had failed to proof the care instructions, which it says were "clearly meant to be a joke," and "will be more careful in the future."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rush Limbaugh's comment

Rush Limbaugh is under fire for calling a Georgetown University law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" for supporting wider availability to contraceptives. Now, I agree that I think Rush used poor judgment in his decision to attack this women. I also think the reactions to his comment are absurd. Rush is a Conservative commentator. His audience is composed of people who agree that the government has no place in the health care decisions of the American citizens. He likes to stir the pot and create controversy. Free speech is still the law of the land, last time I checked. However, that is not why I think the reactions from the left are absurd. It is because when they make similar comments, no one from their side complains one little bit. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Lets review some examples. Ed Schultz on his radio show called Laura Ingraham a “right wing slut” and a “talk slut.” Not a peep out of the lame stream media, no crowing from the “feminazi's,” no advertisers targeted and pulled from his radio or MSNBC show. All Schultz got was a few days suspension from MSNBC, which basically turned out to be a little vacation for Schultz. Then you have David Letterman on CBS. In 2009 he said that Sarah Palin had that “slutty flight attendant look.” Crickets from leftists and the media. There were no ads pulled, or even threatened.

Then of course you have Bill Maher. Now, I like Bill. He is incredibly humorous at times. He is also often throwing insults at conservative women. Leftists, of course, do not seem to care. One of his most famous moments was calling Sarah Palin the "C" word.  (Rhymes with blunt) Maher claims he’s allowed to make comments like that because he doesn’t have any sponsors on HBO. However, even if there are no sponsors to be worried about, how about some outrage from women groups or the media over how that demeans women?

When the Left gets outraged when one of their own denigrates women, then they can complain when someone from the Right does it. Otherwise, they merely show that their protestations are just for show.

 This is a copy of the Sandra Fluke testimony. I did not hear her speak and I was curious about what she actually said. Ironically, she never once discussed having sex. She discussed birth control coverage strictly from a medical standpoint. She discussed the problems that other women have.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why would a Christian want school prayer?

One topic that always causes frustration (on both sides of the issue) is whether students should be allowed to pray in school.

First, nothing prevents students from praying anytime they want in school. Many do it all the time, especially on exam days. Students can pray individually and they can get together and pray in groups. What is not allowed is for the school to require students to pray. There are many reasons for this prohibition. The primary one is that the US Constitution does not allow it. This has been confirmed in multiple court cases all over the country. A secondary reason is that it creates a hostile environment for students who do not accept that prayer. This is not just an atheist issue. There are many religions in the world besides Christianity and many of them are opposed to prayer in public school. Public schools need to be inclusive, not exclusive. Religious prayer does nothing but cause divisions.

Second, Christian attempts to put prayer into schools run directly counter to biblical teachings.  Jesus said prayer should be a private affair devoid of public display:"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room (or closet.) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret..."  (Matthew 6:5-6 RSV). Now, I give no consideration that this bible verse has any relevance since I am not a Christian. However, this verse should be relevant to Christians who believe that the bible is god’s law to mankind.

Nothing could be clearer than the following verses:

Matthew 14:23
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
Matthew 26:36
36. Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
Mark 1:35
35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
Mark 6:46
46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
Luke 5:16
16 And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
Luke 9:18
18. And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?
Luke 22:45
45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,
 (Jesus prayed alone, as he said people should -- not in public)

Acts 10:9
9. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
 (Peter prayed in private)

Matthew 23:14
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Mark 12:40
40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Besides, It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow groups to distribute bibles in classrooms during the school day. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. This means that Gideons cannot be present inside your child's classroom or on public school grounds to distribute bibles. Public school officials—including principals and teachers—cannot hand out bibles or otherwise facilitate the distribution of bibles. 

Courts have determined that allowing bible distribution at public schools—especially to elementary students who cannot make the distinction between private religious speech and state-sponsored speech—is unconstitutional not only because it appears to be government endorsement of Christianity, but also because of the social pressures students feel to accept the bibles. Moreover, these practices infringe parents' rights to direct the religious, or non-religious, upbringing of their own children. 

In one of the leading federal court decisions on this topic, Berger v. Rensselaer Central Sch. Corp., 982 F.2d 1160 (7th Cir. 1993), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, held that classroom distribution of Gideon bibles to fifth-graders violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In striking down the school district's policy permitting Gideons to distribute bibles at the schools, the court stated, “. . . the Gideon Bible is unabashedly Christian. In permitting distribution of ‘The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ along with limited excerpts from the Old Testament, the schools affront not only non-religious people but all those whose faiths, or lack of faith, does not encompass the New Testament.” It is significant that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand this decision, just as it let stand Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954) four decades earlier. The law is clear.>>>> 


Finally, theists try to argue that taking prayer out of school is the reason that school performance has been dropping. This is breathtakingly absurd. There are many reasons why the US public school system has been failing our children, however, school prayer is NOT one of the issues. The reasons are a lack of parental involvement, a dumbing down of the educational standards and  a lack of authority and consequences for poor behaviors when students act up. These are serious issues and the school system does need to be retooled. However, we waste valuable time and resources fighting over a complete non-issue when school prayer dominates the dialogue.

Today, the United States’ high school graduation rate ranks near the bottom among developed nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And on virtually every international assessment of academic proficiency, American secondary school students’ performance varies from mediocre to poor.

Reading Literacy
In 2003, the United States ranked 15th of 29 OECD countries in reading literacy, and with a score of 495, came in near the OECD average of 500 (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics 2004). However, a printing error invalidated the U.S. reading section of the 2006 PISA assessment, so the current U.S. standing is unknown.

Scientific Literacy
The United States ranks 21st of 30 OECD countries in scientific literacy, and the U.S. score of 489 fell below the OECD average of 500 (OECD 2007b).
One quarter (24.4 percent) of U.S. fifteen-year-olds do not reach the baseline level of science achievement. This is the level at which students begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to use science and technology in life situations (OECD 2007b).

Mathematics Literacy
The United States ranks 25th of 30 OECD countries in mathematics literacy, and the average score of 474 fell well below the OECD average of 498. Scores have not measurably changed since 2003, when the United States ranked 24th of 29 countries (OECD 2007b).
Over one quarter (28.1 percent) of American fifteen-year-olds performed below the baseline level of mathematics proficiency at which students begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics actively in daily life (OECD 2007b).

Problem Solving
In 2003, the U.S. ranked 24th of 29 OECD countries in problem solving, and the average score of 477 fell well below the OECD average of 500 (OECD 2004).
Half of American students fell below the threshold of problem-solving skills considered necessary to meet emerging workforce demands (OECD 2004). National surveys corroborate this finding; for example, 46 percent of American manufacturers say that their employees have inadequate problem-solving skills (NAM 2005).

Equity in Achievement
The United States has an average number of students who perform at the highest proficiency levels, but a much larger proportion who perform at the lowest levels. The United States is the only member country to have relatively high proportions of both top and bottom performers (OECD 2007b).
Although American white students’ average science score of 523 ranked above the OECD average, Hispanic American (439), American Indian and Native Alaskan (436), and African American (409) students all fell far below (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics 2007). These groups scored similarly to the national averages of Turkey and Mexico, the two lowest-performing OECD member countries.
The difference between the science scores of two students of different socioeconomic backgrounds is higher in the United States than in almost any other country (OECD 2007b).
First-generation immigrant students in the United States lag an average of 57 points behind their native counterparts, which is the equivalent of nearly two years of schooling. Second-generation U.S. immigrants perform no better than first-generation immigrant students (OECD 2007b).
Four of the five member countries that have higher proportions of immigrants than the United States also have higher national scores than the United States (OECD 2007b).